PART I: FIVE GENERAL ERRORS COMMON TO WARRAQ AND OTHER ANTI-MUSLIM WRITERS
1. There is a failure to recognize that Islam emerges out of a
past that is then integrated into Islam. Or rather, this is considered
to be some kind of a flaw, rather than a simple fact of all human
reality. Everything and everyone comes out of, is influenced by,
and incorporates a cultural past. This would appear to be a simple
fact of all reality, but seems to be a problem for anti-Muslims.
Islam, like anything in human experience, comes out of a very
specific historical and cultural milieu. Thus, the word "Allah"
was known and used before the Qur'anic revelation. Rituals and
pilgrimages to the Ka'ba were practiced before the onset of the
Qur'anic revelation and were then adapted for Muslim use. Muhammad
(saws) knew of and interacted with the Jews and Christians and
hanifs of the times-- he was aware of their theologies.
Arabic, like all languages, incorporated words from other languages
which are then in the Qur'an. This is all accepted in Islam, and
causes no problems. It seems strange to me that it would. Be that
as it may, it is common in anti-Muslim writings to use the above
points as some kind of a negative proof against our claim that
the Qur'an is a revelation from God and Muhammad is a messenger
from God. Warraq is no exception, though the logic of such a position
escapes me. Indeed, it seems absurd and in denial of simple reality.
He also, like others hostile to (or just grossly ignorant of)
Islam portrays Muhammad as a power-hungry hedonist-- perhaps not
realizing that he is only repeating wartime propaganda from the
2. There is a failure to treat the Qur'an and sunnah as a whole.
Muslims themselves make this mistake, and so cannot be too upset
when those hostile to Islam do it too. So, for instance, people
will take ayats from the Qur'an with no reference to other qualifying
ideas in the Qur'an and with no reference to the historical situation
at the time of the incident of revelation. (And I didn't even
mention the centuries of commentary on the Qur'an and sunnah!)
We often see this in Muslims who are possessed of an inordinate
hatred for our Jewish cousins, or an inordinate hatred of non-Muslims,
or who are harshly judgmental towards their Muslim brothers and
sisters who may understand the Qur'an and sunnah a bit differently
than they do. Such people will cite verses related to times of
war, take them out of context, and disconnect them from the ethos
presented by the Qur'an and sunnah as a whole. This same error
is then used by those hostile to Islam in order to portray the
Qur'an as advocating things such as aggressive violence and abuse
This error can be a manipulative technique used by both violent
and sexist Muslims, and by anti-Muslims trying to prove that Islam
teaches and encourages violence and sexism.
We must always remember, and confront anti-Muslims with the idea
that the Qur'an and sunnah present to us a whole, a gestalt,
a total world-view, and an élan. Islam presents
a unified, integrated, consonant portrait of all aspects of human
reality. It denies nothing about actual human behavior and experience
and so discusses all aspects of it and how the parts interrelate
and, most importantly, how it can be ennobled and improved. The
Qur'an acknowledges human behavior as it is, and seeks to ennoble
Islam presents what we might call the tawheedian world-view.
Anti-Muslims do not grasp this, or realize what it means, or ignore
it. Many Muslims who have been influenced by other types of world-view
such as the ethnocentric, nationalist or Newtonian-Cartesian also
fail to truly grasp this.
What this means in this context is that we cannot even accurately
discuss Islamic views on topics such as gender relations or warfare
without also, at the same time, discussing Islamic views on economics,
social justice, sexuality, political relations, etc. In Islam,
the whole illustrates the parts, and the parts, in turn, illustrate
the whole. Any discussion of particular ayats that may appear
to countenance aggressive violence or sexism must also, at the
same time, refer to other seemingly unrelated topics. In Islam,
many topics that may seem unrelated to some people are in fact
related and shed light on each other and cannot be discussed apart
from each other.
In the US we have a saying: "He misses the forest for the
trees". That is, the person is so caught up in details he
misses the totality of what is in front of him or her, and so
misunderstands that at which he or she is looking. A forest is
a total ecosystem. Will the person who looks only at individual
trees understand the dynamic system that is the whole forest?
Of course not. So too, we have to "grasp the ethos"
of the Qur'an and sunnah-- the tawheedian world-view-- attempt
to communicate it to non-Muslims, and use it to rebut the misrepresentations
of Islam put forth by anti-Muslims such as Ibn Warraq.
3. There is a failure to recognize Muslim self-criticism. The
ummah as a whole knows this generation's practice of our religion
is, at best, poor. (Though we certainly debate the causes and
cures of this test from God and pray we are the generation to
establish an Islamic Renaissance.) I know of no Muslim who would
argue that we today exemplify-- by any stretch of the imagination--
the principles and ideals of Islam. Anti-Muslims (including Warraq)
ignore this. They will then hold up to us a mirror that does indeed
reflect back our poor submission to the will of God, but they
attempt to then portray this as normative, exemplary Islam.
When we acknowledge our own faults and defects and poor practice
we are freed to respond effectively to those who would turn our
faults into a weapon against the Qur'an and sunnah. Our collective
and individual sins and defects do not indict the Qur'an and sunnah,
they indict us.
4. There is a confusion of Arab or others' cultural practices and customs with Islam. Again, this
is something that many Muslims do themselves. Anti-Muslims such
as Warraq will present unique ethnic cultural practices and
beliefs that may appear negative or even repulsive to those from
other cultural backgrounds. The manipulative technique is to then
equate issues related that cultural practice to Islamic teaching, or
to Islam's effect upon that particular culture. Such attitudes ignore the
incredible cultural and ethnic variety of the ummah and the simple
demographic fact that most Muslims are not Arab, but Indonesian.
This cultural and ethnic variety is rather apparent in the United
States and seems difficult to ignore.
Islam presents the unique idea of a community that we might call
post-ethnic and post-nationalist. Islam calls humanity to a community
based upon shared belief in tawheedian monotheism-- not upon blood,
nor genetics, nor nationalist identity. Many people, however,
express their ethnic and nationalist pride, identity or yearning
in the name of Islam and use Islamic language and Islamic sounding
rationalizations to cover up their true ethnocentric and nationalistic
desires. We thus provide ammunition for anti-Muslim propagandists.
Muslims have failed to truly begin to disentangle Islamic ideals
from socio-cultural expressions, and have not yet truly wrestled
with the relation between Islamic principles-- applicable to all
times and people-- and specific ethnic/cultural/nationalist realities
that challenge today's ummah.
5. Perhaps the greatest general error in Warraq's writing, and
in similar writings, is yet another error also practiced by many
contemporary Muslims. It is a failure to recognize the importance
of literary genre when approaching the Qur'an, or any text,
for that matter. That is, what "type of book" is the
Qur'an? The Qur'an is not a history book, nor is it a science
text. At its most basic it is a book that addresses the issue
of that Who (or which) transcends humanity-- and it uses stories
to do so. More specifically, it uses parables: stories meant not
just for entertainment, but for teaching. Any specific legal injunctions
in the Qur'an can only be understood with reference to the stories
of the Qur'an. No anti-Muslim even attempts such a thing. Many
Muslims seem to forget to do this.
Muslims set themselves up for problems when they try to convince
non-Muslims of the truth of the Qur'an by resorting to the "scientific
facts" approach to the Qur'an, or by portraying the Qur'an
as some kind of a history book. It is not. It is a type of literature
we call "scripture" and needs to be read properly as
a scripture. (Indeed, does not the Qur'an itself mention something
of how to read it?)
We do not read a book of poetry in the same way that we read a
book on the science of botany. They are two different literary
genres. Interestingly, both types can communicate truth
about reality, but by using different methods of communication
and styles of literature. We can read a poem about a tree and
say "Yes, that is true of trees". We can also read a
scientific paper about a tree and say the exact same thing, but
if we treated the poem like a scientific paper, or expect poetic
beauty from a scientific paper we are going to be in big trouble
rather quickly! So too, when Muslims treat the Qur'an as something
it is not. We then have only ourselves to blame when anti-Muslims
ridicule us by turning this against us.
When we understand the dynamics of literary genre and how
that effects our understanding of any book whatsoever we are armed
with a powerful weapon to refute the false statements of anti-Muslims.
The above five general points seem to be present in any type of
anti-Muslim writing and Warraq's book is no exception. And yet,
at the same time, Warraq does point out problems with contemporary
Muslim practice and with contemporary Muslim theology that are,
in my opinion, right on target. For instance, he writes on page
149 that "Blind dogmatism has shut Muslims off from the intellectually
challenging and exhilarating research, debate, and discussion
of the last century and a half." This appears to me to be
true and at the heart of the issue. It is my opinion that Muslims
are, in general, stuck within a Medieval theological mindset.
In my opinion it is this collective failure to grow and develop
theologically-- represented by the phrase "closing the doors
to ijtihad"-- that gives birth to today's poor practice of
Islam and thus anti-Muslim books. If we were known for our piety,
as we are to be known, who but the insane would be hostile towards
In addition, Warraq, and similar writers, will list atrocities
done by Muslims, or done in the name of Islam, as if this somehow
necessarily reflects upon the actual teachings of the Qur'an in
light of the sunnah. The illogic of such a move is obvious to
any thinking person and can be easily dismissed.
These books, though ostensibly about Islam per se, are
in actuality about the poor state of contemporary Muslim practice
and religious education. At the same time, this lack of theological
sophistication that helps fuel anti-Muslim polemic also leaves
the vast majority of Muslims without the intellectual tools needed
to respond appropriately to anti-Muslim polemic such as Warraq's.
Jeremiah D. McAuliffe, Jr., Ph.D.