Bertrand Russell's "Why I'm not a Christian" was a short set of essays, starting with a rather civilized debate about proving the existence of God. Though taken from that title, Warraq's book is an altogether larger exposition that is hardly a tea time discussion given that thousands of people have been killed and continue to be killed in the name of Islam, and that there are serious issues to explore including layers of history and the growth of learning and the intellect in the Islamic world, up until today. The book describes several historical schools of the faith and also chronicles the lives of several poets, free thinkers and philosophers from the Islamic world. It culminates in the thorny issue of what Islam represents in the West as well as in its heartlands such as Pakistan, where a woman is raped every three hours. Warraq himself originated in Pakistan and has had enough exposure to an Islamic education to tease out what is effectively a polemic against dogmatic religion of any form, monotheism in particular, with his ire focussed against Islam. The book is often a literature review with passages from several authors, mostly from sources that are out of copyright. Not all the sources are unimpeachable, though there is enough material to create a body of evidence to make his points. The book indicates that the word Islam is complex and one ought to distinguish between what Muslims are and do as against the set of teachings they are expected to practice. This book is not an attack on Muslims but a treatise that investigates the origins of Islam, the creation of a politicized empire building creed and its consequences in history.
This book is suitable for Muslims to understand their history and faith and non-Muslims alike. So long and comprehensive was the book (c. 360p) with ample sources and references, that I feel I have learned all I wish to with regards to Islam and the Koran (for the time being) in a critical light. It encompasses history, geography and biographies of notable Middle Eastern Intellectuals, many of who suffered for their heretical positions. It also offers trenchant researches on the origins of Islam and Koran. Since this book, Warraq has made tremendous contributions to Islamic scholarship and study, stimulating debate and reform movements. Readers can follow up the leads and references offered to draw their own conclusions. I found the book a very interesting read and have made a meal of reviewing it by chapters given there was much that was new in it. I think that Warraq writes impartially unlike Robert Spencer and his treatment overall is more scholarly, though Warraq states that he is not a scholar as such, and his is as much a literature review as much as a polemic.
At the introduction the book states that Islam can be classified three ways. It is what the prophet of Islam and the Koran taught. It is what was made of this teaching in terms of commentaries, interpretations and Sharia law. Finally it is Islamic culture and civilization in general. Islam 3 has many good points that sometimes contradict Islam 1 and 2. E.g., art and music are features of Islamic civilization although art is frowned on in Islamic texts. Female circumcision on the other hand and the wearing of veils for all Muslim women is not in the Koran, though they have been historically applied as Islamic.
Chapter 1 - The Rushdie Affair; Chapter 2 - The Origins of Islam; Chapter 3 - the Problem of Sources; Chapter 4 - Muhammad and his message; Chapter 5 - The Koran
A Jew Ibn Kammuna in Bagdad wrote a book in 1284 critical of Muhammad. This caused so much uproar, that he was smuggled out in a box and his career was over. Having being condemned to death, his life in exile was short. This compares well with events in 1989 when Muslims were in uproar about a chapter in Salman Rushdie's book and wanted it banned for blasphemy, a grave Islamic sin. Several people were killed in the process and history repeated itself (not for the second time). The Rushdie affair spurred Warraq as an ex Muslim to speak out about Islam and reveal to most of us, why such a fuss was created and justifications behind this. There was generally and still remains a climate of ignorance about Islam and Warraq has set out to expose the myths, hypocrisy and provide a context to account for the hurt displayed by some Muslims.
Warraq catalogues a number of ancient and modern scholars who dared to question, criticize or try and liberalise Islam and the sorry fate that awaited many of them, from losing their jobs, their lives or having to flee their homeland. Warraq poses the problem as a serious threat to scholarly and intellectual freedoms in the Arab world and asks sincerely as other scholars have, whether Islam has any place as a system of truth or a workable political system in the modern world. He tries to ask if Islam can represent moderation quoting from the late Ayatollah Khomeni:
"Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! ... Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! ..."
Apparently, here is a dictionary definition of Jihad or holy war. Warraq then explains that several Iranian intellectuals were highly supportive of Rushdie (understandable in the context of Khomeni's bile) and wrote letters in his support. Ironically, it was Western intellectuals and commentators who seemed to support the fatwa on Rushdie's life as opposed to intellectuals in the Islamic world.
Chapter 1 summarises the rise of Islamic scholarship in the West with serious attempts made to understand the faith, from the 17th century to early 20th century explorations, including the views of Voltaire, Carlisle, Gibbon, Schopenhauer, Popper and (later on) romantics like Burton who translated the Arabian Nights. Warraq explores several views concerned with Islamic tolerance or lack, teasing out historical and scientific criticisms, particularly in contrasting and comparing Islam against Christianity.
Warraq starts by exploring the relationship between Islam and pre-Islamic cultures. Islam is seen as syncretistic in the light of allied Semitic and Aryan influences. Pre Islamic Arabic deities, associated rituals and customs are explored including the pilgrimage at Mecca. Warraq reveals connections between these and other elements such as Zoroastrianism, the Sabians, Indian religions with a brief exploration of prevailing traditions. The Jinns in the Islamic tradition still represent an undercurrent of poly or pantheism, a tradition that Muhammad seems to have accepted. Islam is particularly indebted to Christianity and most solidly Judaism, with which an extensive comparison is made. It transpires that the Koran contains much that is in the Jewish tradition and the more authoritative tradition (with regards to certain passages) rests on Jewish sources of which the Koran is an incomplete, disjointed facsimile, e.g., Jesus's mother Miriam is conflated in the Koran with Miriam, the sister of Moses.
The sources of Islam starting with the Koran are explored, together with a listing of its commentaries and dates. The available sources for the life of prophet Muhammad are also listed with dates, along with the names of the compilers of the Hadith such as Al-Tabari and Ibn Ishaq. There follows a review of critical Western scholarship of Islam that concludes that much of the Islamic canon was still in evolution as late as the eleventh century with its roots in the eighth or ninth century, around two centuries following the prophet. There is a great deal of interesting history and geography here with some radical reassessments on the prophet's biography.
The theses of Cook, Crone and Hinds from the 1970s is picked up that traces the origins of Muhammad not to Mecca but to the area around Palestine. Non-Muslim sources reveal a radically different if sketchier Muhammad who was effectively linked with Samaritans, united Jewish tribes and may have proclaimed the coming of a Messiah. He split off a new movement from traditional Jewry, in a parallel move to the traditional Muhammad's alleged shift from Jerusalem to Mecca. This Muhammad probably lived a little later than the Arab Muhammad, indicating the theoretical possibility of a false tradition and ideology emerging in the Hejaz later.
Warraq begins by contending that the Non-Muslim Muhammad may be more complimentary to Muslim interests given "the picture that emerges [from Muslim sources] is not at all flattering. Furthermore, Muslims cannot complain that this is a portrait drawn by an enemy." Chapter 4 explores the history of Muhammad based on Islamic sources.
Once more, Western historical studies are analysed and the traditional life of Muhammad is scrutinised in the light of the state of pre-Islamic Arabs, in contrast with the post-Islamic hegemony. Several sources point out to the emergence of Muhammad as a relatively peaceful monotheist, eventually turning into powerful, intolerant despot. His battles, assassinations and treatment of Jewish tribes is recounted, representing an unprepossessive portrayal with very little to admire in his treatment of opponents or even mild critics. He seems to have exulted at receiving the heads of his enemies. Muhammad's fallibility at times is exposed with a serious questioning of the revelations he pulled out to justify much of what he did in love/lust, war and punishment. No other warrior seems to have had recourse to so much divine sanctions to justify his every action that seemed questionable, even to his followers at the time. Read more ›