How To Argue With A Muslim: “Out Of Context”, by Ibn Warraq

I take a slight step to the side from Why I am not a Muslim to introduce this piece by Ibn Warraq (reproduced in full, with a link at the end)


It is quite common to hear two arguments from Muslims and apologists of Islam, the language argument, and that old standby of crooked, lying politicians, “you have quoted out of context.”

Let us look at the language argument first. You are asked aggressively, ‘do you know Arabic?’ Then you are told triumphantly, ‘You have to read it in the original Arabic to understand it fully’. Christians, even Western freethinkers and atheists are usually reduced to sullen silence with these Muslim tactics; they indeed become rather coy and self-defensive when it comes to criticism of Islam; they feebly complain “who am I to criticise Islam? I do not know any Arabic.” And yet freethinkers are quite happy to criticise Christianity. How many Western freethinkers and atheists know Hebrew? How many even know what the language of Esra chapter 4 verses 6-8 is? Or in what language the New Testament was written?

Of course, Muslims are also free in their criticism of the Bible and Christianity without knowing a word of Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.

You do not need to know Arabic to criticise Islam or the Koran. Dr. Paul Kurtz, founder of the Center for Inquiry, and Prometheus Books, does not know Arabic but he did a great job on Islam in his book The Transcendental Temptation [1]. You only need a critical sense, critical thought and skepticism. Second, there are translations of the Koran by Muslims themselves, so Muslims cannot claim that there has been deliberate tampering of the text by infidel translators. Third, the majority of Muslims are not Arabs, and are not Arabic speakers. So a majority of Muslims also have to rely on translations. Finally, the language of the Koran is some form of Classical Arabic [2] which is substantially different from the spoken Arabic of today, so even Muslim Arabs have to rely on translations to understand their holy text. Arabic is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Aramaic, and is no easier but also no more difficult to translate than any other language. Of course, there are all sorts of difficulties with the language of the Koran, but these difficulties have been recognized by Muslim scholars themselves. The Koran is indeed a rather opaque text but it is opaque to everyone. Even Muslim scholars do not understand a fifth of it.

Let us now turn to “you have quoted out of context”. This could mean two things: first, the historical context to which the various verses refer, or second, the textual context, the actual place in a particular chapter that the verse quoted comes from. The historical context argument is not available, in fact, to Muslims, since the Koran is the eternal word of God and true and valid for always. Thus for Muslims themselves there is no historical context. Of course, non-Muslims can legitimately and do avail themselves of the historical or cultural context to argue, for instance, that Islamic culture as a whole is anti-woman. Muslims did contradict themselves when they introduced the notion of abrogation, when a historically earlier verse was cancelled by a later one. This idea of abrogation was concocted to deal with the many contradictions in the Koran. What is more, it certainly backfires for those liberal Muslims who wish to give a moderate interpretation to the Koran since all the verses advocating tolerance (there are some but not many) have been abrogated by the later verses of the sword.

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Critical reading for Western leaders

Just over one-third into Why I am not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq, one comes across:

Perhaps it was Charles Watson who, in 1937, first described Islam as totalitarian and proceeded to show how, “By a million roots, penetrating every phase of life, all of them with religious significance, it is able to maintain its hold upon the life of Moslem peoples.” Bousquet, one of the foremost authorities on Islamic law, distinguishes two aspects of Islam that he considers totalitarian: Islamic law, and the Islamic notion of jihad that has for its ultimate aim the conquest of the entire world, in order to submit it to one single authority.

This is Islam.

I wonder then about the intention behind the term “Islamism”, if not to insulate Islam from its own damnation. Ibn Warraq doesn’t use it himself (in this book), although he does use the term “Islamist” four times. Others whom I admire, such as Maryam Namazie, speak of “Islamists”, “Islamism” and “political Islam”. I have real difficulty with this. I understand the need to distinguish a particular position, programme and set of actors who strain every fibre of their being day and night to bring about what is described in the passage quoted above, i.e., what Islam seeks. That being so, would it not be more accurate (and honest) to describe “Islamists” simply as Muslims, and find other ways of describing those Muslims who do not seek what Islam seeks? After all, how can a “Muslim” not seek what Islam seeks?

Nothing can do the world and humanity a greater disservice than to suggest that the wave of terrorism that’s been unleashed upon the world is somehow a deviation from Islam, when it is precisely what Islam is. So we are concerned not to hurt the feelings of all the peace-loving Muslims in the world, in most cases including our own, gentle parents, then we need to find another way. It is unforgivable to lie to them just because we cannot be honest with ourselves.

When I will not defend your right to say it

Aren’t we a bit smug with ourselves when we trot out our super-superior principle: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”? Is this simply too comfortable, too precious and too self-affirming to be subjected to critique, another principle we pride ourselves on? What is the meaning of the trope “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it,” in a context where it is not reciprocated. In a context where someone can call for me to be killed for saying something that they disagree with, e.g., anywhere where Muslim sensibilities are involved, shouldn’t we instead be saying, “You may disapprove of what I say, but I will defend my right to say it”?

Only in a context of the generalised acceptance of the free exchange of ideas does, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” have any meaning. A context in which you can be killed for what you say is not a context of the free exchange of ideas (Hall’s presumption, and by extension, Voltaire’s). It is absurd to be concerned with defending the freedom of speech of someone who’s out to kill you precisely for exercising that very freedom of speech. If he does kill me, then I should have defended to the death my right to say so, not his.

And finally, where does this fine, unassailable principle stand with the army of pseudo-liberals ready to attack whenever they perceive an utterance offensive to Muslims? Yet they claim unto themselves the right to say whatever they want. At least Muslims don’t care tuppence for a principle they never claimed for themselves. So no, I will not defend your right to say it. I will defend my right to say it.

Why do civilised men put up with this?

Some societies practise gender segregation. Those are usually societies in which women are regarded as either defective or deficient in some way. Muslim societies are not the only ones to see their female population as some kind of impediment to the optimal functioning of society. Whichever of those societies it is, gender segregation is only one of a collection of measures aimed at “mitigating” the negative effects of the presence of females amongst them. Other measures include restricted behaviour, prescribed dress, reduced responsibility, etc., supported by disregard and suspicion of, condescension towards, and even contempt for women. This last list of societal and male behaviours towards females, while remaining in evidence in Western societies, is an aberration there, rather than a defining characteristic. It is very much on the defensive as it is neither socially, nor legally tolerated. What is often overlooked is that, on the whole, Western men have learned to both respect women and control their sexual impulse. In other words, they are civilised men.

Men in societies that practise gender segregation can learn neither respect for women, not control of their sexual impulses. In other words, they are uncivilised men. Worse, they make it incumbent on women to control male sexual urges and hold women responsible for those urges being acted upon. In Muslim societies, it is a woman’s failure to conceal from the male gaze any aspect of herself that might inflame any random man’s sexual excitement, that is responsible for that man attempting to have sex with her. She is held responsible not only for her own sexual conduct, but that of all males in the society. In a society such as that, the male conception of women is anything but that of another human being entitled to the rights and respects that all humans are entitled to. If they hadn’t rape a woman or girl, or availed themselves of a sex worker before marriage, then the first woman their are likely ever to get to know intimately, or have the possibility of a proper conversation with, are their wives. I say “possibility”, for that is all it is. It is an exceptional man, indeed, who does not see his relationships to his sisters and his wife or wives as anything other than relationships of control. In a society such as that, a woman’s wearing the hijab, the burqa, the chador, the niqab, or any attire designed to de-sexualise her before the male population as a matter of personal protection, speaks of an uncivilised male population; a male population who are but animals, as far as their own sexuality is concerned.

So what does a woman who insists on wearing the hijab, the burqa, the chador, the niqab, etc., in the West say about Western men? Isn’t she actually saying to all Western men, “If I do not cover up like this, you will rape me”? And why do Western men put up with grossly offensive suggestion, especially after they’ve gone through decades of educating themselves and learning how to relate to women as equals. Western men and women can take pride in the fact that when behaviour that’s generally associated with Middle Eastern males are evident in Western males, both men and women oppose such behaviour. Donald Trump offends (and frightens) not only Western women, but Western men, too, and both are out there working to eliminate the threat that he (and others like him) poses — even disregarding the unhelpful zealotry that some feminists can display. So if Western men have come as far as they have in their relations with women, why are they putting up with being told by certain women in their midst that they are no better than their Middle Eastern and North African counterparts? Are they afraid of being called sexist, or “Islamophobic”? Do they not know that just as we have allies in them, they have allies in us?

“Why I am not a Muslim” by Ibn Warraq

I’ve just started on Why I am not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq. This is not an anecdotal account of a personal road to epiphany (valuable as those may be), but a meticulously researched, robust critique of Islam. Warraq, by his own account, held off on publishing his book, but the outburst of Muslim and Western insanity surrounding the publication of The Satanic Verses convinced him otherwise. Why I am not a Muslim is not a work that can be easily faulted and I look forward to also reading whatever flack it might have drawn, although I will not be defending Warraq against anyone who hasn’t at least done him the courtesy of first reading his book.

As I’ve done in the post Providing cover for jihad, and When will Allah be put on trial? I will discuss my thoughts in response to what I’m reading, rather than give a review of the book per se. Talking of which, is anyone familiar with a comprehensive contemporary review of ex-Muslim critiques of Islam?


Providing cover for jihad

Ibn Warraq, in Why I am not a Muslim, reviews the work of Qur’an critic Ali Dashti, Twenty-Three Years, of which he says,

Dashti ridicules the superstitious aspects of much ritual, especially that which occurs during the pilgrimage to Mecca. Muhammad himself emerges as a shifty character who stoops to political assassinations, murder, and the elimination of all opponents. Among the Prophet’s followers, killings were passed off as “services to Islam.” The position of women under Islam is examined and their inferior status is admitted. The Muslim doctrine of God is criticized. The God of the Koran is cruel, angry, and proud—qualities not to be admired. Finally, it is quite clear that the Koran is not the word of God, since it contains many instances that confuse the identities of the two speakers, God and Muhammad.

For his troubles, the octogenarian endured three years of torture in Khomeini’s prisons. Before his death in 1984, Dashti is reported to have said, “Had the Shah allowed books like this to be published and read by the people, we would never have had an Islamic revolution.” Still warm in my inbox is news of a conference that “promotes understanding of Islam.” Of course such efforts do nothing of the kind, their organisers often failing to understand Islam themselves. What they promote is niceness towards Muslims, as do all efforts to dissociate jihadis from the wider Muslim body politic. By imagining that they are protecting the nice Muslims they know, they in fact, end up protecting none other than the killers, terrorists, mutilators, beheaders and enslavers whose very raison d’être is nothing less than bringing about worldwide Islam. By that I do not mean the cuddly Islam of the conference and coffee morning organisers, but the Islam of the Holy Qur’an.

What such efforts, and especially criticism of critique of Islam and the Qur’an do, is provide cover for those who would carry out the commandments of the Qur’an to continue their groundwork unnoticed. In other words, wittingly or unwittingly, they are repeating what the Shah of Iran has done: forbidding any criticism or critique of religion and thereby facilitating their own subjugation to it.

One small step towards safe countries for women

A short piece on same-sex marriage in Melilla and Ceuta, two Spanish enclaves in Morocco, landed in my inbox this morning. Two things strike me: firstly, “the EU obliges Spain to grant homosexuals refugee status.” In other words, being gay and living in a country that officially persecutes gay people means you pre-qualify for entry to the European Union, a safe region for homosexuals. While passage to the EU is not assisted (any more so than for any other category of asylum seeker), it does establish the principle of safe countries offering presumptive asylum to people at risk by virtue simply of their existence. The Safe Countries for Women concept, #safeCFwomen, is based on the same principle, except that it includes assisted passage to a safe country for women and girls living under Shari’a, or at risk of FGM, or sex slavery.

Foreign aid donor countries agonise over how to ensure that their aid ends up in the intended hands, and how they can be sure that they are making a difference. It’s simple: use the aid budget to pay for passage to a safe country (for women and gay people) before paying for anything else. There is a great deal more that can be said on this.

Secondly, the report reminds me, once again, that the received wisdom of colonialism and imperialism as irredeemably bad needs to be challenged (again).

Ziauddin Yousafzai

On 13 July 2013, this landed in my inbox. Like me, undoubtedly, millions were moved to tears upon seeing Malala Yousafzai deliver her UN speech. It just struck so many chords with me: Muslim, woman, brutal conditions, surviving attack, transformative education, my own daughter a month away from becoming a teenager, my mother teaching me to read after having taught herself to do so, our collective humanity… I cried so much that I couldn’t watch it properly and had to try again later.

It’s coming up to the third anniversary of that speech. I just watched it again today and yes, it’ll always move me, though this time I noticed the Youth Delegates (they had escaped my notice before), and, I am pleased to say, this time no tears. The Youth Delegates, the next generation of humans, coming forward, their big eyes speaking of their wonder at and excitement about the adult world they are peering into from the threshold, and that their young speaker had been so cruelly shot into. My feelings were those of a humanist, an optimist and a parent.

Gratifying as it is to see the tree in bloom, I want to write not of the tree, but of the one who nurtured it, Ziauddin Yousafzai. The father of Malala Yousafzai embodies what I have in mind when I talk of Muslims freeing themselves from Islam. Taliban – Ziauddin – Malala directly reflects the concatenation Qur’an – Islam – Muslim that I discussed before.

As far as the Qur’an is concerned, most Muslims have already rejected the founding book of their religion. Their attachment to their identity as Muslims makes this appear otherwise. ‘Muslim’ is inseparable from ‘Islam’, and ‘Islam’ inseparable from ‘Qur’an’, but because Islam is something distinct located between Muslims and the Qur’an, the Qur’an-Islam association can be split, thus liberating the Islam-Muslim association from the Qur’an. …In other words, jettisoning the Qur’an would enable Muslims to both retain Islam, and refashion it anyway they want.

Ziauddin Yousafzai is a man. Yes, his gender is obvious, but its implications and their profound significance aren’t necessarily so. Yousafzai is not only a Muslim man, he is a Muslim man who brought up a daughter in an Islamic state, i.e., a state that enshrines Shari’a in its constitution. Pakistan is a state the logical conclusion of which is the Taliban. It is a system geared towards the entrenchment and reinforcement of the Qur’an – Islam link in the concatenation. Given the legal, statutory and cultural framework of the society, Ziauddin Yousafzai should harbour resentment that his first-born is not male (his first child, also a girl, was stillborn), he should certainly not be encouraging Malala, especially as Allah has blessed him with two sons, he should not be educating girls, and especially not teaching them confidence and independent thought. It is no exaggeration to describe his actions and attitudes as seditious in the context of Pakistan.

From the Taliban’s point of view, it would be better to assassinate both father and daughter. Thankfully, both of them are still with us. Ziauddin Yousafzai is not a flash in the pan. He is not an exception, even if he were the only one around. Even more significant than Ziauddin Yousafzai is the possibility of Ziauddin Yousafzai. It is a possibility that, together with a number of other developments both within the Muslim world and beyond it, signal the beginning of the Götterdämmerung of Allah as we’ve come to know him. When Malala opened her UN address with “In the name of Allah, the most beneficent, the most merciful,” was this the same Allah that the Taliban would-be assassin exalted with “Allahu-akbar” as he shot her? My contention is that it is not. The Allah of Zaiuddin and Malala is on the Islam – Muslim side of the concatenation, while the Allah of the Taliban is on the Qur’an – Islam side.

That a Ziauddin Yousafzai is possible in the Islamic state of Pakistan attests to the extent of encroachment of humanity into the preserve of that most anti-human of forces, the Qur’an, and the formation of individual autonomy in a society steeped in relations of personal dependence. That a Malala Yousafzai is possible in the Yousafzai household attests to the maturing of the autonomous individual under the guidance of an autonomous Muslim male, not one locked into relations of personal dependence, as would be consistent with Shari’a (and that Wafa Sultan so evocatively describes in A God Who Hates as “simultaneously a master and a slave”). The autonomous individual, Malala Yousefzai, has made her Allah in her own image, and practices Islam as she chooses. To this extent she is exercising religion as an act of freedom, no different to someone doing so in a land where freedom of religion is enshrined and protected.

For now, she finds herself, indeed, in a land where freedom of religion is enshrined and protected. Back in Pakistan, when the Taliban came calling, they came from the Qur’an to reassert the integrity of the chain Qur’an – Islam – Muslim that Ziauddin had corrupted with his abomination. It is noteworthy that the Taliban felt the need to react to the affront to the Qur’an that Malala represents, even if she herself cannot be expected to see it this way. It is a reaction to the encroachment of humanity and the autonomous individual onto Muslim society, and of a kind with the butchering of Bangladeshi bloggers, the hounding of Egyptian and Iranian atheists, and recent legislation in several Muslim countries criminalising atheism (the perfect Qur’an is apparently not enough to keep atheism at bay). The Qur’an makes no distinction between whether you have a different Allah or no Allah at all — it wants you dead. The many Ziauddin Yousafzais appearing in all their guises in all walks of life are saying “Enough!”

When will Allah be put on trial?

Although it’s not yet Friday everywhere in the world, I’ve launched back into Wafa Sultan’s A God Who Hates early this morning, as I said I would. So far, I only have one disagreement with Wafa, but that’s not important now. On everything else, so far, we agree, including that all Muslims are victims of Islam. I would like to share a bit where she talks about the hierarchy of oppression and control in Islam. She recalls an Iranian friend saying, “I hate God more than I hate my father. My father and I are both victims of that criminal called Allah.” Wafa then goes on to add:

Saddam Hussein was his victim, too. Was Saddam Hussein not completely convinced that he represented God and his Prophet on earth? Did he not believe that the Kurds and the Shia should be crushed because they had not obeyed him, even though God had ordered them to obey their ruler? Why should we put Saddam Hussein on trial before trying that “God”?

This is exactly what I, and so many others, are doing. I’m doing it by putting his “perfect and unalterable” final word, the Qur’an, on trial. Wafa, according to what I’ve read so far, does a damn fine job on the Hadith. She makes me impatient to get to Ibn Warraq.

Why I joined Freethought Blogs and what I’m doing here

I signed up at the time of the Great Schism, and am not familiar with the developments that led up to it. I was first attracted to Freethought Blogs because of the name, but then found that Taslima Nasreen and Maryam Namazie are here, too — I wanted in! I’d been looking for a way to contribute my thoughts, insights, feeling and experiences both to fighting Islam directly and to supporting in whichever way I can, those fighting Islam, and also the victims of Islam, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. This is against a wider backdrop of wanting to reduce the hold that religion still has over so many lives. But I also want to be seen to be taking a stand for humanity and for civilisation. I especially want to acknowledge the people of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, amongst the most civilised, generous and kind people in the world who, in their beautiful naivety, opened their arms, their hearts and their countries to beings they couldn’t possibly have begun to suspect capable of the gross outrages they’ve since been repaid with.

I say this and I take this stand because no matter what remorse a Muslim might feel or express in response to Muslims’ abuse of European generosity, such remorse cannot be unreserved, for the simple reason that the victims are not Muslims and so, on some level, deserve what they got and are getting. When the victims are Muslim, then it’s either right and proper (like killing your daughter because she looked at a boy) or they simply screen it out. It never happened; it isn’t happening. Whether it’s the slaughter of Shi’a in Iraq or the butchering of bloggers in Bangladesh, it leaves them cold. A Jewish friend once asked me to explain why it is that when Jews harm Muslims, all hell breaks lose, but when Muslims harm Muslims, there is silence. She had hit the nail on the head.

Violence and brutality are integral to Islam, so that’s OK. But Muslims are also the highest of all human beings, God’s favoured, the believers, recipients of God’s final word delivered to them especially by the most perfect human being, God’s most beloved and final messenger, Muhammad, personally. It is beyond an outrage that a non-Muslim should presume to harm a Muslim. It violates the very order of creation. In the same vein, they resent their dependence on people they see as beneath them. They hate that people they regard as no better than animals should give them help. So when they go on the rampage in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and all over Europe, they are taking revenge for the humiliation of having to take help from such people. In their minds, they are putting things right; putting things back the way they should be. The Qur’an made them thus.

I intend to expose the evils of the Qur’an at every turn, and this blog gives me plenty of opportunity to do that. At the same time, I hope that the victims of Islamic terrorism, Muslim women, those struggling against their religious upbringing, victims of religious abuse of all kinds, those baffled by Muslim behaviour, those moderate Muslims for whom the lies have become unbearable, those converts to Islam who now find themselves in a quandary, those risking life and limb to liberate the Muslim world from Islam, and those who recognise what the Muslim Brotherhood is up to, will find something positive and meaningful in my words.

I know how the Muslim mind works and I also know that the average (or even above-average) Western non-Muslim cannot grasp this. Some of their conduct repels them so much, they find it so devoid of sense, and it militates so violently against every value they proudly claim to their bosom as their inheritance from the Enlightenment, that not only is the Muslim mind, as described by any ex-Muslim, unimaginable, their own minds rebel against knowing such things.

So the best that I can do, as far as our non-Muslim Western friends are concerned, is to expose, expose and expose again, and with hope, they might begin to see, that we are all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, victims of Islam. As far as the Muslim world is concerned, I am here to undermine the ruling elites and denounce the clergy whenever I can, and to raise the profile of the numberless autonomous individuals who are dragging their societies, kicking and screaming, into the modern world. Every time I post as a Freethought blogger, I send the words “free thought” whizzing around the world to appear on countless computer screens everywhere, including right in the face of Islam, where they translate as, “I will not be intimidated.”