Tuesday, 22 September 2015

5 Reasons the Qur’ān and US Constitution Can Coexist

Nicholas J. Bridgewater
22 September 2015

The Qur’ān and the US Constitution are seemingly incomparable documents. The former is a religious text which consists of revelations received by the Prophet Muhammad ibn ‘Abdu’llāh (c. 570 – 632 CE), a humble and unlettered merchant from seventh century Mecca, over a period of 23 years, beginning in 609 CE and concluding in 632 CE and then compiled into one volume by the third caliph, ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān, in about 650 CE. During the lifetime of the Prophet, the text was memorised by His companions and written down on leaves, bones and other materials. The memorised text was then compared with the written copies during the process of compilation, such that the text of the Qur’ān we have today is identical to the one revealed to the Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago. This has been confirmed by recent carbon dating of a manuscript of the Qur’ān held by the University ofBirmingham which proves that the Qur’ān was compiled shortly after the life of the Prophet. I have read the page which was presented online in Arabic and compared it to the modern Qur’ānic text, so I know what I’m talking about.

Despite the rhetoric of anti-Muslim polemicists, who have either relied on other polemical accounts, have not made a serious effort to study the Qur’ān and life of the Prophet, or have decided to deliberately misread and misquote the Qur’ān and cherry-pick the Prophet’s biography, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdu’llāh lived an incomparably virtuous and exemplary life. Even before He received His first revelation at the age of 40, Muhammad was known as al-Amīn—the Trustworthy—and was universally renowned for his honesty, trustworthiness and reliability. In this respect, He was similar to a certain category of human beings whose appearance throughout history is exceptionally rare, i.e. other Prophets, Messengers and Founders of great world religions, such as Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Jesus Christ, Gautama Buddha, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Still, compared with ordinary human beings, even figures as great as the Founding Fathers of the United States, Muhammad’s character and life are incomparable. 

Muhammad (peace be upon Him) did not have a high rank in the social order of the day. He was an orphan—His father died when He was young and He belonged to the Hāshimite clan, a subordinate branch of the Quraysh tribe which ruled Mecca. Mecca was a trading outpost which hosted the Kaaba, a cube-shaped temple which contained the statues and idols of many Arabian deities. According to legend, the Kaaba was originally built by the Prophet Abraham but His descendants, including the Quraysh, eventually turned to idolatry and paganism. Muhammad rejected the idol-worship of His day, preferring to meditate alone in a cave on a mountain which surrounded the city. He had a compassionate and fundamentally spiritual outlook on life and, like Moses, Jesus, Buddha and others before Him, spent much of His time reflecting on the nature of God and man. When He received His first revelation at the age of 40, it came as a tremendous shock. His wife, Khadījah, was a wealthy widow who was some years older than Him. When He told her of His revelation, she immediately supported Him and took Him to meet a Christian monk who confirmed that Muhammad was the Prophet anticipated in the book of Deuteronomy 18:15 (“The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken”).

His early revelations focused on the oneness of God, the need to abstain from idol-worship, caring for the poor and needy, performing prayer, the oneness of the Prophets and anticipation of the Resurrection, Last Day and Divine Judgement. Here’s an example of a short sūrah (chapter) from the Qur’ān, which enjoins caring for the orphan and feeding the indigent, as well as condemning religious hypocrisy:

Original Arabic of Sūrah 107

“In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
1. Seest thou one who denies the Judgment (to come)?

2. Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness),
3. And encourages not the feeding of the indigent.
4. So woe to the worshippers
5. Who are neglectful of their prayers,
6. Those who (want but) to be seen (of men),
7. But refuse (to supply) (even) neighbourly needs.”
Qur’ān, Sūrah 107 (The Small Kindnesses)

The Qur’ān proclaimed that the Torah, Psalms and Gospels were all divine revelations and recounted stories from the lives of the Prophets (e.g. Qur’ān 4:163, 5:44, 7:157, 5:110, 17:157, 21:105, 12, 19). Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus were all declared Prophets who brought divine messages to mankind and the early Muslims were required to recognise each of these Prophets and their scriptures as true. The early Muslims, like early Christians, consisted mostly of the poor and abject denizens of Mecca: the dispossessed, slaves, women, and other members of Muhammad’s clan. For a period of over ten years, they were persecuted, beaten and pressured to recant their belief ‘there is only one God’ and ‘Muhammad is His Messenger’ (lā ’ilāh-a ’illa llāh, muHammad-u r-rasūl-u llāh). Some were killed for their belief. Others lost everything they owned. Muhammad Himself was offered kingship of Mecca and political sovereignty if He would simply recant His belief in the oneness of God and would, instead, accept the worship of multiple deities and idols. Muhammad refused, proving that He had no interest in political power—His own wish was to serve God and His fellow man. Finally, the rulers of Mecca plotted to murder Muhammad while He slept. The clan leaders of Medina, a city not far distant full of date plantations, hearing of Muhammad’s reputation as a peacemaker and trustworthy individual, invited Him to come to their city and arbitrate their disputes. Medina was a city of multiple tribes and religions undergoing a period of conflict which only an impartial arbitrator could solve. Leaving the city secretly, Muhammad evaded the assassination plot and reached Medina together with one companion. Within a matter of a few years, Islam dominated the city, the first mosque was built and the first Islamic state was born.

Medina, showing the Mosque of the Prophet

This is the period when the much-discussed Shariah (sharī ‘ah) originated. The Shariah is simply the codified system of laws established through the Qur’ān and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The basis of the first Islamic state was religious toleration. Muhammad created a political covenant, in which Jews and Christians were given full religious freedom. Muslims were tasked with defending the city militarily and, in lieu of this, the other inhabitants of the city paid the jizyah—a tax to support the new state, much like modern taxes. Muslims also paid their own religious tithe—zakát—which was used to support the poor, orphans and the war-wounded, as well as other charitable causes. The early Muslim state was one in which the weak and poor of society were cared for and protected by the strong, where religions lived in peace and mutual toleration and justice was the highest standard. Women were given property rights and allowed to inherit. Prior to Islam, they were often regarded as little more than chattel to be inherited or possessed. Freeing slaves was proclaimed to be an honourable thing and the evils of slavery were moderated. Polygamy, which formerly had been unrestrained, was limited to four wives. However, this was allowed only if each wife could be treated equally—which is impossible for ordinary human beings. Hence many commentators argue that monogamy is in reality ordained. In contrast, Judaism and Christianity both allow unlimited polygamy. The reason most Christian denominations today are monogamous is due to the influence of Roman law.

The Qur’ān proclaimed the first rules of war and upheld human rights. These rules of war were summarised by the Caliph Abū Bakr:

“O people! I charge you with ten rules; learn them well!
Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.” 

Far from a warmonger, Muhammad engaged only in defensive warfare. Wars of aggression were not permitted, as evidenced in the following verse (2:190): “And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God. But if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression”; Qur’ān 4:90: “Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (guarantees of) peace, then God hath opened no way for you (to war against them)”; Qur’ān 60:8 – 9: “God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loveth those who are just”. In other words, the Muslims should continue to fight the pagan Meccans as long as they continued to try to annihilate them but, when they ceased aggression, peace should be established. The pagans of Mecca were determined to exterminate Islam and root this newly-founded threat to their regime. This was despite the fact that the Muslims had left Mecca in peace and did not want to force their religion on anyone. In fact, the Qur’ān forbids conversion by force (Qur’ān 2:256): “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things”.

Medieval Islamic scholars delving into science and medicine

So, now that I have established the incomparably good and modest character of the Prophet Muhammad and that He promoted religious toleration and peace, let us turn to the question of the Qur’ān’s compatibility with the US Constitution. The US Constitution has an entirely different background from the Qur’ān. It was written after a long period of societal and civilizational development characterised by the creation of the Magna Carta, enshrining the first limitations on government in the English constitution, the English Civil War and the establishment of the Bill of Rights, which provided further limitations, and the development of the European Enlightenment. It would perhaps be relevant, here, to note that the European Renaissance and the subsequent Enlightenment were inspired and initiated due to the revival of Greek learning which was preserved by Muslim scientists and scholars in Baghdad during the Islamic Golden Age. In fact, the establishment of universities, the development of Enlightenment philosophy, the foundations of medicine, architecture and the scientific method trace their origins ultimately to the Islamic civilization which came into being under the influence of the Qur’ān. This knowledge spread to European through Andalucia in Spain, through Sicily to Italy and through contact between the two civilizations during the Crusades. The US Constitution, then, would not have come about had there been no Islamic Golden Age, and there would never have been an Islamic Golden Age without the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’ān. It differs chiefly from the Qur’ān in that it is a man-made text, written through compromise, establishing a system of limited government and concepts of human rights developed over centuries of warfare and conflict.

Al-Jazari, a 13th century Islamic scientist

Louder withCrowder, in a blog post entitled “5 Reasons The Qur’ān Can Never “Coexist” WithThe Constitution… Ever”, gives a simplistic explanation of why the Qur’ān and the US Constitution can never co-exist. This is based on a popular and superficial understanding of Islam which focuses on verses in the Qur’ān which relate to the conflict between the monotheistic Muslims in Medina and the pagans of Mecca who sought to annihilate them. It also makes references to slavery and other practices which are supposedly encouraged within Islam. These are the five main arguments of the blog post, along with my response:

1. Crowder’s argument: It disallows free speech.
Crowder quotes the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This would seemingly allow unlimited free speech. However, that is not the case. Free speech, an excellent principle, must have certain limitations. In US constitutional law, false statements of fact are an exception from protection of free speech under the First Amendment. False statements of fact are not exempt from civil or criminal penalties, where these exist. Fraud, libel and slander and examples where free speech does not apply.

Guarantees of free speech also exist in the Qur’ān. For example, see 5:9:

“O ye who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that ye do.”

This verse establishes that justice and fair dealing are the highest standard of behaviour, whether for individuals or government. Hatred of others, e.g. caused by what someone writes or says, should not prevent someone from exercising justice. Justice is also said to be next to piety. What is piety? Qur’ān 2:177 explains that piety is not only belief in God, His angels, Book and Messengers, but also giving to charity, caring for the weak in society, freeing slaves, fulfilling contracts, and long-suffering in adversity:

“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards east or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing”.

This goes well beyond the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, which provides no guarantees for the protection of the poor, orphans, etc. Prior to the 13th Amendment, which was ratified in 1865, slavery was allowed by the Constitution and slaves were considered sub-human (along with Native Americans). In contrast to this, the Qur’ān declares that freeing slaves is the essence of piety, that every human being has an eternal soul and all people are children of Adam. There is, to put it simply, no religious justification for racism, prejudice or enslavement of human beings in the Qur’ān.

Disbelieving in the Qur’ān and the Prophet is not a cause for punishment in this life, according to Qur’ān 4:115: “If anyone contends with the Messenger even after guidance has been plainly conveyed to him, and follows a path other than that becoming to men of Faith, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and land him in Hell—what an evil refuge!” In other words, one should leave such a person to his own devices and he will be punished in the afterlife for his failure to accept the Prophet—not in this life. In fact, those who preach Islam should only do so in a beautiful and gracious manner (Qur’ān 16:125): “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance”. This is the opposite of spreading religion by the sword.

An 18th century device called a 'Scold's bridle',
used in England to punish slanderers as well as nagging women

Fraud, libel and slander, however, are not allowed under Islamic law, just as they are not allowed under US law or British law. The Qur’ān specifies the following (49:11-12): “O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong. O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it...But fear God. For God is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful”. In fact, most countries have laws against fraud, libel and slander. During the lifetime of the Prophet, individuals who slandered the Prophet were subject to punishment. Harsh punishments were not uncommon in ancient religions. Even in Leviticus 20:9, we find the following law: “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him”. In practice, this law is now applied too widely and too severely by modern-day fanatics, especially when it is applied to people who simply believe differently, which would contradict the Qur’ānic principles laid out above. Muslims, like everyone else, are required to obey the law of the land and cannot take justice into their own hands, as the Qur’ān specifies the following (4:59): “O ye who believe! Obey God, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to God and His Messenger, if ye do believe in God and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination”.

2. Crowder’s argument: Women are to be second-class citizens.

Roxelana, wife of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent
who played an active role in the affairs of state

Next, Crowder cites the 19th Amendment, which reads:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

This amendment was introduced in Congress in 1878, more than a hundred years after US independence and almost a hundred years after the original Constitution was written, at a time when women did not have the vote and were regarded as second-class citizens in US law. In fact, the amendment was not actually ratified until 1919, forty-one years after it was introduced. Thus the Qur’ān is being compared to the US Constitution as it existed in 1919, one thousand two hundred and eighty-seven years after the revelation of the Qur’ān was completed. Most historically-minded people would find it odd or absurd to hold a seventh-century text to the same standard as a twentieth-century one but, for the purposes of argument, let us see how the two compare.

Queen Rania of Jordan

Crowder claims to quote Qur’ān 2:282, with the following words: “The Prophet said, ‘Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?’ The women said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.” Actually, if he had investigated the matter himself, he would have realised that this is not a quotation from the Qur’ān at all. In fact, there are no verses of the Qur’ān which begin with ‘the Prophet said’. That is a common formulation of the Hadiths (i.e. the recorded utterances of the Prophet passed down through a chain of transmission), which are contained in a number of collections. These collections differ depending on whether one is a Sunnī or Shī‘ī as they have different opinions on the accuracy of transmitters. Instead of being from Qur’ān 2:282, the text Crowder cited is actually from Sahih Bukhari 3:48:826.

Qur’ān 2:28 reads as follows:

“O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as God Has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear His Lord God, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If they party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable Himself to dictate, Let his guardian dictate faithfully, and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called on (for evidence). Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for a future period, whether it be small or big: it is juster in the sight of God, More suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves but if it be a transaction which ye carry out on the spot among yourselves, there is no blame on you if ye reduce it not to writing. But take witness whenever ye make a commercial contract; and let neither scribe nor witness suffer harm. If ye do (such harm), it would be wickedness in you. So fear God. For it is God that teaches you. And God is well acquainted with all things. If ye are on a journey, and cannot find a scribe, a pledge with possession (may serve the purpose). And if one of you deposits a thing on trust with another, let the trustee (faithfully) discharge his trust, and let him fear his Lord. Conceal not evidence; for whoever conceals it, - his heart is tainted with sin. And God knoweth all that ye do.”

The only thing here which relates to women is the part which says “and if there are not two men, then a man and two men, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one errs, the other can remind her”. This is hardly a statement on the inferiority of women. Rather, one must understand it within the context of seventh-century Arabia, where women were regarded as sub-human. When Muhammad began preaching, women of that day and age were often regarded as chattel—to be inherited, exploited, enslaved and mistreated. The Qur’ān states that all people, men and women, are created by God and have immortal souls. It grants inheritance rights to women, allows them to own property, ordains that children must respect their mothers, and does not restrict them from attaining a high station in religion, scholarship or business. Muhammad’s first wife was a successful businesswoman. His youngest wife, ‘Ā’ishah, was a prominent Muslim scholar and transmitter of Hadiths. Many early Muslim women had high positions of respect and scholarship within the community. However, the Qur’ān contains laws which were revealed according to the circumstances of time. However much the Qur’ān exalts the station of women in society, it also has to accommodate the level of societal development that existed at the time. Men at the time were unlikely to accept the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man. The Qur’ān accommodates this by saying that there should be two female witnesses for every male witness.

In his book, No God but God, the renowned scholar of religions, Reza Aslan, writes: “Beginning with the unbiblical conviction that men and women were created together and simultaneously from one cell (4:1, 7:189), the Qur’ān goes to great lengths to emphasize the equality of the sexes in the eyes of God”. He then quotes Qur’ān 33:35 and 4:34:

“For Muslim men and women—for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God’s praise—for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward.”

“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means.”

Aslan goes on to write that “it is sufficient to note that women in the Ummah [i.e. the Muslim community] were, for the first time, given the right both to inherit the property of their husbands and to keep their dowries as their own personal property throughout their marriage. Muhammad also forbade a husband to touch his wife’s dowry, forcing him instead to provide for his family from his own wealth. If the husband died, his wife could inherit a portion of her property; if he divorced her, the entire dowry was hers to take back to her family... If Muhammad’s male followers were disgruntled about the new inheritance laws, they must have been furious when, in a single revolutionary move, he both limited how many wives a man could marry and granted women the right to divorce their husbands... Although long seen as the most distinctive emblem of Islam, the veil is, surprisingly, not enjoined upon Muslim women anywhere in the Quran. The tradition of veiling and seclusion (known together as hijab) was introduced into Arabia long before Muhammad, primarily through Arab contacts with Syria and Iran, where the hijab was a sign of social status”.

In fact, Reza Aslan points out that the tradition of veiling began around 627 CE when Muhammad’s wives were commanded to veil themselves (since Muhammad’s house was also the community mosque and they deserved a degree of privacy). This law, however, did not apply to the Muslim community at large.

So what about the quotation from Sahih Bukhari? Reza Aslan writes that “in their earliest stages, the hadith were muddled and totally unregulated, making their authentication almost impossible. Worse, as the first generation of Companions passed on, the community had to rely increasingly on the reports that the second generation of Muslims (known as the Tabiun) had received from the first; when the second generation died, the community was yet another step removed from the actual words of the Prophet... in less than two centuries after Muhammad’s death, there were already some seven hundred thousand hadith being circulated throughout the Muslim lands, the great majority of which were unquestionably fabricated by individuals who sought to legitimize their own particular beliefs and practices by connecting them with the Prophet... When Abu Said Al-Khudri swore he had heard the Prophet tell a group of women, “I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence than you,” his memory was unchallenged, despite the fact that Muhammad’s biographers present him as repeatedly asking for and following the advice of his wives, even in military matters”.

Even if we are to accept that Muhammad said the statement that Crowder quotes above, would that be sufficient to say that women are ‘second-class citizens’ according to the Qur’ān? No; as pointed out above, the Qur’ān and the Prophet exalted the station of women and gave them guaranteed rights which would not be enshrined in law in the West for many centuries.

3. Crowder’s argument: The Qur’ān allows for violence against one’s fellow man.
This would have to be one of the most absurd statements made against the Qur’ān. In fact, anyone with a cursory understanding of the life of the Prophet Muhammad would know that He was someone who endured persecution patiently for over ten years, who made a truce of peace with the pagans of Mecca (the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah) which prescribed a period of ten years of peace between the Muslims and pagans, and who forgave the inhabitants of Mecca when He did finally conquer the city, slaying no one, innocent or otherwise. He never killed anyone who wasn’t trying to kill Him and His entire community. Even the battles which He did fight were fought to defend the nascent Muslim community—a community of monotheists who cared for the poor and needy, who worshipped God and tolerated people of other faiths—from the aggression and merciless bloodthirsty pagans who sought to annihilate His community. Read the following quotations from the Qur’ān:

“And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God. But if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.” (Qur’ān 2:190)

“And the servants of (God) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!’” (Qur’ān 25:63)

“On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.” (Qur’ān 5:32)

“But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God. For He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things).” (Qur’ān 8:61)

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (Qur’ān 49:13)

As proof of his claim, which contradicts any holistic understanding of the Qur’ān, he cites 8:12, which says: “Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): ‘I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.’” This is written in the context of the Battle of Badr, which was fought on Tuesday, 13 March 624 CE. Prior to this battle, there were several small skirmishes between the Muslims and pagan Meccans in late 623 CE and early 624 CE. The Battle of Badr, however, was the first large-scale engagement between the two sides. In this battle, the Meccans, who were rich and powerful, fielded an army THREE times as big as the Muslim force. The Muslims were the underdogs, the embattled monotheists whose main aim in life was to worship God, respect all the Prophets (including Moses and Jesus), pray and act charitably to orphans, the needy and others. These were people who were more used to kneeling in prayer than they were to lifting swords to defend themselves. The Meccan army was an army of annihilation, come to eradicate their Prophet and their entire community—man, woman and child. Furthermore, Medina itself was threatened, a city in which Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in peace, and which the Muslims defended from this pagan onslaught. In such circumstances, the Muslims were commanded by God to fight the unbelievers, to strike fear into their hearts and slay them. Imagine the level of faith it required to stand up to such an army; imagine the faith it required to fight against the pagan Meccans, knowing that the whole existence of your community hung in the balance. If anything, Crowder should certainly admire this underdog army which stood up against oppression and tyranny and which supported. This is what jihād is, by the way, defending the Muslim community against an oppressive enemy. It is not ‘holy war’ à la Crusades or the modern so-called ‘holy war’ of ISIS and other perverse misinterpretations of Islam.

In fact, Muhammad was very reluctant to get involved in any type of warfare to begin with, as were many Muslims. As the Qur’ān itself states, Muslims disliked fighting and bloodshed (2:216): “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But God knoweth, and ye know not”. See also Q4:77. This is, again, not to be taken out context. It refers to fighting in defence of the Muslim community, which was a polity with a responsibility to defend its citizens, just as the US Constitution exists “for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty”. Sometimes war is the only way to defend liberty and is a necessary evil. In the Bible, we find numerous verses urging the Israelites to fight, yet I do not see Crowder saying the Bible and the US Constitution are incompatible. I wonder why? In Deuteronomy 7:2, we find: “And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them”.

The Qur’ānic position is different, as Muslims are encouraged to make peace with their enemies when the enemy desists from war. In other words, Islam forbids any kind of aggression but only allows defensive warfare. Deuteronomy, on the contrary, allows offensive warfare against infidels (e.g. Amalekites). In the New Testament, Jesus is even reported to have said that all of His followers should buy swords (Luke 22:36): “Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one”. He also says that He has come not to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34): “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”.

4. Crowder’s argument: Slavery’s cool. Especially if it involves women.
This next argument is yet another absurdity. Crowder cites the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which reads:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Thomas Jefferson with his whole family, from Family Guy

This amendment was passed by the Senate on 8 April 1864 and by the House on 31 January 1865, being ratified by the requisite number of states on 6 December 1865. Its adoption was proclaimed on the 18th of December 1865. As one of the three Reconstruction Amendments, it was adopted following the Civil War and imposed upon the defeated southern states who had to ratify it in order to be re-admitted into the Union. The original constitution of the United States, the Articles of Confederation, make no mention of slavery, leaving it as a matter for the states. By the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, slavery was a well-established institution in America. By 1790, there were 700,000 slaves in the United States, or about 18% of the population. In South Carolina, 43% of the population was enslaved, in Maryland 32% and in North Carolina 26%. Virginia had a slave population of 300,000 and 39% of its population was enslaved. Many of the Founding Fathers were Virginia slave-owners, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. George Washington even went so far as to catch an escaped slave. In the Enumeration Clause, slaves are counted as three-fifths of a whole person for purposes of awarding states a number of representatives. In Article 1, Section 9, Congress was also limited from prohibiting the importation of slaves before 1808. Many southern slave-owners used racial and religious justifications for their argument that slavery was a positive good. It took a lot of bloodshed and the tireless work of abolitionists to bring an end to slavery in the United States.

Bilal, about to give the first call to prayer, from The Message

How does Islam compare with this? As already mentioned above, many of the early Muslims were slaves and other oppressed people. Notable among these was Bilāl, who became the first person to perform the ‘call to prayer’ (adhān) in Islam. In His last speech on Mount Arafat in 632CE, the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab ... a white person has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” As already quoted above, in Qur’ān 2:177, we find that righteousness is defined as, inter alia, “...to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves...” The ‘ransom of slaves’ here means paying money so that slaves can be freed. In Qur’ān 24:33, it is ordained that slaves can obtain their freedom for money and that maids should not be forced into sexual activities: “And if any of your slaves ask for a deed in writing (to enable them to earn their freedom for a certain sum), give them such a deed if ye know any good in them: yea, give them something yourselves out of the means which God has given to you. But force not your maids to prostitution when they desire chastity, in order that ye may make a gain in the goods of this life”.

Kindness and compassion is required for slaves (‘those whom your right hands possess’), as with other people (4:36): “Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For God loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious”. In Qur’ān 90:12-17, God clarifies that part of following the Straight Path and being righteous is to free slaves (here referred to as ‘the bondman’): “And what will explain to thee the path that is steep?— (It is:) freeing the bondman; Or the giving of food in a day of privation, to the orphan with claims of relationship, or to the indigent (down) in the dust. Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion”. Freeing slaves is also an expiation for sins, i.e. a type of penance which allows one to atone for sins (5:89): “God will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths ye have sworn. But keep to your oaths. Thus doth God make clear to you His signs, that ye may be grateful”. Does any of this sound unreasonable? In Ephesians 6:5 (King James Bible), slaves are told to obey their masters as they would Christ yet, again, Crowder does not say the Bible and US Constitution are incompatible. Why is that? “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ”.

Despite all this overwhelming evidence of Islam’s position that slavery is not righteous and that freeing slaves IS righteous and something that people who truly follow God do, Crowder cites Qur’ān 33:50 as his evidence that Islam teaches that ‘slavery is cool’. That verse basically establishes some moral limits on sexual conduct. It sets out what is and what isn’t allowed. The Bible forbids adultery, but does allow the taking of slaves as war booty, and polygamy is permissible. All of these things are allowed according to the Bible, which is, many conservative Christians would argue, the basis of the American system and the foundation of the US Constitution. According to Deuteronomy 20:10 – 14: “When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee”.

Here’s Qur’ān 33:50:

“O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom God has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her.”

This establishes whom the Prophet can and cannot marry. In other words, He could marry the daughter of paternal uncle or aunt, the daughter of a maternal uncle or aunt, or any other believing women who were dedicated to the Prophet (i.e. righteous). He was also allowed to marry His slave-girls. However, as mentioned above (Qur’ān 24:33), one cannot force a maid to do anything sexual. Also, one is required to treat slaves with compassion, so rape would be out of the question. There is no doubt that extremist fanatics do practice rape, but this is not reflective of the Qur’ān and the compassionate laws it contains. The permission to marry slaves is also given in Qur’ān 4:25, where it says: “If any of you have not the means wherewith to wed free believing women, they may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands possess: And God hath full knowledge about your faith. Ye are one from another: Wed them with the leave of their owners, and give them their dowers, according to what is reasonable: They should be chaste, not lustful, nor taking paramours: when they are taken in wedlock, if they fall into shame, their punishment is half that for free women. This (permission) is for those among you who fear sin; but it is better for you that ye practise self-restraint. And God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful”.

In other words, this is a mercy for people who fear they might commit fornication if they do not get married, but self-restraint and monogamy are preferable. Previously married slaves are also lawful, but this should be read in conjunction with the following phrase which states, “provided ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property,- desiring chastity, not lust, seeing that ye derive benefit from them, give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed” (Qur’ān 4:24). Slaves who were captured in war with Mecca were pagans and their previous marriages were thus not regarded as valid, meaning they could marry their new masters. Could one have sexual relations with a slave who one possessed but was not married to? The mainstream interpretation of the Qur’ān says yes, as long as it is a slave one owns personally and not one owned by one’s wife. However, this should be read in line with verses about compassionate treatment of slave and Qur’ān 24:33 above. Rape, in any situation, is not permitted in the Qur’ān.

5. Crowder’s argument: Freedom of religion:

Yet another absurdity. As we have sketched out above, the first Islamic state was actually very progressive and tolerant towards other religions. Jews and Christians are both given a high degree of protection under Islamic law and allowed freedom of religion. Crowder cites the First Amendment to the US Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The Prophet Muhammad's Charter of Privileges to Christians

The Qur’ān provides a remarkably similar verse (2:256): “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things.” 

In that regard, the Qur’ān and the US Constitution are in full agreement. As to Congress making an establishment of religion, i.e. a state religion, this relates to an official religion that everyone must adhere to. The framers of the Constitution were trying to avoid the situation of Elizabethan England, wherein everyone was forced to attend church and only one church was allowed, the established Church of England of which Elizabeth I was the Head. Even today, although religious freedom and toleration reigns, England still has an established church. In Muhammad’s lifetime, He held the position of a Shaykh within Medina, intervening in disputes between the various Jewish, Christian and Muslim inhabitants. He did not expect Jews to follow Islamic law, nor did He force Christians to do so. He allowed them full freedom to practise their religions in peace just as the Muslims freely practised their own religion. When Mecca was conquered, Muhammad smashed the idols within the Kaaba and the populace willingly converted to Islam. Smashing idols might be regarded as a lack of toleration, perhaps, but no more than when the Israelite Prophets condemned the worship of Baal and other idols and false gods. The Prophet Elijah even went so far as to execute 450 Baalist priests on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:40 – “And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there”).

The Qur’ān specifically mentions the ‘People of the Book’, i.e. those who believe in the Bible, and promises them toleration and freedom of worship. This includes Jews and Christians. The Qur’ān goes further, however, mentioning the Sabians (i.e. Manichaeans, a small sect in Iraq) and Magians (i.e. Zoroastrians, the dominant religion of Persia at the time) as divine religions which should be tolerated. Zoroastrians believe in God and the Last Day and perform works of righteousness, so would fall under the category of “any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work rightesouness” mentioned in Qur’ān 2:62. Other religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, are not mentioned in the Qur’ān because they were not known to Arabians of the time, but the same principle could be applied to those religions.

The 'Three Wise Men' of the Gospels, also called 'the Magi',
belonged to the same religion as the Magians (i.e. Zoroastrians)
mentioned in the Qur'an, which tolerates their faith.

Here are some relevant verses: “...and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, ‘We are Christians’: because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (Qur’ān 5:82); “Those who believe (in the Qur’ān), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians—any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Qur’ān 2:62); “Those who believe (in the Qur’ān), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians—any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness—on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Qur’ān 5:69); “Those who believe (in the Qur’ān), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians, Christians, Magians, and Polytheists—God will judge between them on the Day of Judgment: for God is witness of all things” (Qur’ān 22:17); “Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (for the right): They rehearse the Signs of God all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous. Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for God knoweth well those that do right” (Qur’ān 3:113 – 115); “And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in God, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God. They will not sell the Signs of God for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and God is swift in account” (Qur’ān 3:199).

Thus there is quite clear evidence that the Qur’ān, far from being intolerant, was remarkable for its tolerance. It was, in fact, the first religious scripture in the history of the world to openly endorse religious toleration. Not only did it say that Judaism and Christianity should be tolerated but that they come from God, that the Torah, Psalms and Gospels were divinely-revealed, that Moses, Jesus and the Israelite Prophets were sent by God, that Jesus was born of a virgin, that Mary was a holy and chaste woman, and that the essence of the revelations of Moses and Jesus were preserved in the Qur’ān. Furthermore, it extended toleration to Sabians and Zoroastrians and gave a principle of toleration which could also be applied to other faiths. Even Pagans were treated humanely. They were only killed when the pagans warred against the Muslim community. Their idols were destroyed but this is comparable to the destruction of paganism found in the Old Testament. In contrast with the Biblical Prophets, Muhammad did not kill any priests or burn down any temples. In fact, when He discovered a painting of the Prophet Abraham, as well as an icon of the Virgin Mary with Child, Muhammad ordered that these should not be destroyed. In other words, even the icons and pictures of Christians should be tolerated. This was a remarkable principle of toleration established by the Prophet of Islam.

Now, what does Crowder cite as proof that Islam is intolerant? Qur’ān 9:5, which reads: “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful”. Read out of context, this would seem to be an exhortation that any pagan should be killed anywhere, at any time, except for the forbidden months. What are the forbidden months? These are Rajab and the three months of the pilgrimage season, Dhu’l-Qa‘dah, Dhu’l-Hijjah and Muharram, in which fighting is forbidden. This was a pre-Islamic practice, so both the pagan Meccans and the Muslims would have abided by this prohibition on warfare.

Now, who are the Pagans referred to in the verse? For that, we must look at the original Arabic: fa-’idha-nsalakha l-’ashhur-u l-Hurum-u fa-qtulu l-mushrikīna Haythu wajat-tumū-hum wa-khudhū-hum wa-q‘udū la-hum kulla marSad-in fa-’in tābū wa-’aqāmu S-Salā-ta wa-’ātu z-zakā-ta fa-khallū sabīl-a-hum, ’inna llāh-a ghafūr-u r-raHīm. The word used for pagan is mushrik, i.e. someone who commits shirk. What is shirk? Shirk means joining partners with God by worshipping multiple deities. There are very few people who would fit this category today. Even among Hindus, the vast majority believe in a supreme deity. Vaishnavas, for instance, hold that Vishnu is the supreme deity who sends Avatars of Himself, i.e. Messengers of God, throughout the ages. Many Hindus refer to God as Bhagavan or Ishvara. While many Buddhists do not believe in a supreme deity, Buddha referred to the existence of an unknowable Being: “There is, O monks, an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed. Were there not, O monks, this unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed. Since, O monks, there is an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated and unformed, therefore is there an escape from the born, originated, created, formed”. As such, it is really rather difficult to find a specific group of people this verse could refer to in the modern age when purely polytheistic, idol-worshipping religions seem to have gone out of vogue. The verse gives Pagans a way out of being killed, i.e. by ‘repenting’ (tābū), establishing prayer (’aqāmu S-Salā-ta) and paying a religious tithe (wa-’ātu z-zakā-ta) and God is proclaimed to be Oft-Forgiving (Ghafūr) and Most Merciful (RaHīm).

But, if we are to really understand Qur’ān 9:5, we have to put it in its historical context, as well as the context of the verses which surround it. Remember the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah that I mentioned earlier? There was a 10-year peace treaty between the Muslims and the Pagans of Mecca, initiated in March 628 CE. Arab tribes were allowed to join in alliances with either the Quraysh of Mecca or the Muslims of Medina. The tribe of Banū Bakr allied itself with the Meccans while Khuzā‘ah allied itself with the Muslims of Medina. Eventually, Banū Bakr attacked Banū Khuzā‘ah in a place called Al-Watīr. The Quraysh aided Banū Bakr with men and arms. While the Quraysh offered Muhammad material compensation for the attack, a revelation in the Qur’ān stated that the treaty had been broken and the consequence was that the Muslims would march on Mecca to end the pagan dominance of the city once and for all. The first verse of Surah 9 says: “A (declaration) of immunity from God and His Messenger, to those of the Pagans with whom ye have contracted mutual alliances”, i.e. those pagans who were in alliance with Medina should not be attacked. In other words, verse 5 cannot be read as a blanket statement that all pagans should be attacked as verse 1 already specifies that those tribes which had alliances with Medina should not be attacked. It is also a proof that the verse cannot be taken out of its historical context and applied to modern-day conflicts. In verse 3, it says: “And an announcement from God and His Messenger, to the people (assembled) on the day of the Great Pilgrimage—that God and His Messenger dissolve (treaty) obligations with the Pagans. If then, ye repent, it were best for you; but if ye turn away, know ye that ye cannot frustrate God”. God is here definitely stating that the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah has been broken and is no longer in force.

The following verse (4), states that Muslims should nevertheless maintain their treaties and obligations to the Pagans with whom they are allied—again proving that verse 5 is not a blanket statement that all pagans should be killed: “(But the treaties are) not dissolved with those Pagans with whom ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfil your engagements with them to the end of their term: for God loveth the righteous”. Then, in verse 6, God grants an asylum to any Pagans who ask for it, so that they may “hear the word of God”: “If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of God. and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge”. Again, this proves that not all Pagans are to be killed, everywhere, any time. Verses 12 and 13 clearly explain WHY the pagans should be attacked: “But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for your Faith—fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith: for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained. Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took the aggressive by being the first (to assault) you? Do ye fear them? Nay, it is God Whom ye should more justly fear, if ye believe!” Now, could any honest reader believe that this applies to a Hindu performing an act of puja (worship) for his murti of Lord Shiva? In what way has that Hindu violated an oath towards the 7th-century Muslims of Medina? Has that Shiva-worshipper plotted to ‘expel the Messenger’? No. So Verse 9:5, which Crowder proudly quotes, has no relevance to anything outside its historical context.

Splendours of Islamic architecture, Isfahan, Iran

Crowder provides links to TheReligionofPeace.com which claims that there are 109 verses of the Qur’ān which are open-ended, not tied to historical context, and proclaim violence towards “nonbelievers”. This is manifestly false. Anyone who has studied Islam at all would know that none of these verses refer to nonbelievers as a general category. All of them are tied to historical context and are NOT open-ended proclamations of war against the non-Muslim world. To start with, the Qur’ān doesn’t use any word for ‘non-believer’. It refers to the mushrikūn, i.e. specifically the pagans of Mecca. These are people who worship multiple gods in the form of statues and idols and specifically refers to the religion of the Meccans. The Qur’ān also mentions the kuffār (singular kāfir), often translated as ‘infidels’ or ‘unbelievers’. However, kāfir comes from the word kufr, meaning to cover or hide something. It is an active, not a passive thing. Am I just making this up to suit my own argument? No. The word kāfir conforms to a grammatical pattern in Arabic that makes it an active participle (ism fā‘il). Lane’s Lexicon defines the verb kafara as ‘he covered it, covered it over’ and gives the example of ‘kafara s-saHābu s-samā—The clouds covered the sky’. In other words, kuffār are those who actively try to suppress the truth by persecuting Muslims. These are not people who sit at home and say ‘I don’t think I believe in Islam’. They are people who go out and say, ‘I am going to eradicate Islam’. TheReligionofPeace does not seem to understand these terms at all, clearly due to a desire to spread misinformation. Non-believing groups are referred to the Qur’ān: e.g. Jews, Christians, Sabians and Magians, as well as general monotheists, and each of these are promised protection and toleration. Religious toleration is the law of the Qur’ān.

In conclusion, I would recommend that Crowder stop reading anti-Muslim websites and, instead, start reading a decent biography on the life of the Prophet, as well as the Qur’ān itself and other decent books on Islam. To get him started, here is a list of book recommendations:

Islam: A ShortHistory by Karen Armstrong 

A History ofIslamic Societies by Ira M. Lapidus 

The following are excellent books which are, unfortunately, out of print:

Muhammad at Mecca by W. Montgomery Watt (Oxford: Clarendon Press) (1972) -- if anyone can find an online text of this, please let me know.

Muhammad at Medina by W. Montgomery Watt (Oxford: Clarendon Press) (1972) -- this is, however, available online at Internet Archive.

The Legacy of Islam by the late Sir Thomas Arnold and Alfred Guillaume (1931), which explains the legacy of Islamic civilization within Europe. It's a fascinating read. This is also available at the Internet Archive.

If one is genuinely interested in understanding Islam and Islamic history, then I would recommend gaining some knowledge of Arabic, for which the following are useful for beginners:

Mastering Arabic 1 by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar 

Dictionary ofModern Written Arabic: Arabic – English: 4th Revised Edition by Hans Wehr and J.M. Cowan

If anyone has any other book suggestions, please put them in the comments below.

If you liked this article, please make sure to follow me on Twitter @Nicholas19. I will post new articles to my Twitter feed.

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