Deceptiveness – Mehdi Hasan

I’ve never taken to Mehdi Hasan. He talks too fast, making one specious point after another and moving on before you can spot the flaw, relying on the tongue being quicker than the mind. Also the fact that I’ve heard him come out with everyone’s favourite doctored quote “…he who kills a soul… etc” doesn’t endear him to me. Nor that he can still use the wretched term “Islamophobia” with a straight face.

However, when someone used the clip of him at the Oxford Union debate in support of their positive view of Islam I thought I’d take the trouble to slow him down with the pause button in order to examine his claims:

1. “A Muslim mathemetician called Muḥammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi came up with algebra and algorithms”.

Irrelevant and overstated. Although the word “algebra” came from one of al-Khwarizmi’s innovative mathematical procedures and the word “algorithm” is taken from his name, he did not come up with them. In both cases he was working from pre-existing works by Indians or Greeks.

2. “Although I wrote about anti-semitic prejudice in the Muslim community modern anti-semitism comes from the Judaeo-Christian tradition”.

Well, a lot of it does but he does not mention that the intense, even demented, anti-semitism in the Muslim world today has been incubating quite independently from Christianity ever since the Jewish tribes rejected Mohammed as a prophet. He was cursing the Jews on his death bed and today Muslims refer to them five times a day in their prayers as “those who earned your anger”.

The following hadith has been incorporated as part of the Hamas charter:

“The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews”. (Sahih Muslim 41:6985)

3. “The journalist Tom Friedman told me if Islam were running Europe in the 1940’s there would be 6 million more Jews alive today”.

What a fantastically silly thing to say (if my aunt had….well, you know the rest), particularly since Muhammad Amin al-Husayni the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem spent most of the war in Berlin enthusiastically supporting the Nazis’ final solution and recruiting Muslims to fight in the Waffen SS.

In 1944, while speaking on Radio Berlin, al-Husseini said “Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion”.

4. “Atheists see all religions as evil, violent and threatening”.

Firstly, is it not comical when people who complain that Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc happily do the same to other religious or anti-religious groupings?

Secondly, how could anyone at all, atheist or religious, who knows about Jainism, Buddhism or the actual teachings of Jesus or Mohammed accept the equal malignancy of all religions? As a comparison Mohammed ordered stonings, Jesus said “He who is without sin cast the first stone”.

5. “Crusades, Inquisition, Lord’s Resistance Army, pogroms etc”.

Why do Muslims always hark back to the Crusades as an unforgivable aggression against Muslim lands and which the West is meant to feel guilty for? They were a pin prick compared to the Muslim crusade a few hundred years before which expropriated Christian lands from Palestine to Spain.

And, as for the LRA (and Leviticus, another favourite of Islamic apologists), is it not significant how far from the teachings of Jesus the practitioners of this particular false equivalence have to go to find anything resembling the actual words and deeds of Mohammed?

6. “113 out of the 114 suras of the Koran start by introducing Allah as a god of mercy and compassion”.

So what? I start all my letters “Dear…”, usually to people who are not dear to me at all. It’s the content that counts and we all know what is in most of the suras.

Just as an example, this is how one unremarkable sura (111) continues after introducing Allah as a god of mercy and compassion:
“May the hands of Abu Lahab be ruined, and ruined is he.
His wealth will not avail him or that which he gained.
He will [enter to] burn in a Fire of [blazing] flame
And his wife [as well] – the carrier of firewood.
Around her neck is a rope of [twisted] fiber…”.

7. “Islam is not pacifist but only allows military action in certain limited contexts”.

Unfortunately Mehdi does not detail these certain limited contexts or give scriptural justification, not surprisingly since it is a hotly contested area. Let us just say that:

a. There are suras which appear to require only that the neighbouring people are unbelievers to attract the Muslims’ violent attentions.

b. The renowned scholar Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Bouti (assassinated Damascus 2013) seems to have drawn a different conclusion from Mehdi:

“The concept of Holy War (Jihad) in Islam does not take into consideration whether defensive or an offensive war. Its goal is the exaltation of the Word of Allah and the construction of Islamic society and the establishment of Allah’s Kingdom on Earth regardless of the means. The means would be offensive warfare. In this case, it is the apex, the noblest Holy War. It is legal to carry on a Holy War.” (“Jurisprudence in Muhammad’s Biography”)

c. In the later part of his career when he had the military strength Mohammed certainly invaded neighbouring tribes and kingdoms simply to convert or subjugate them.

Here is Mohammed writing to the Christians of Aylah in Northern Arabia:
“I will not fight against you until I have written thus unto you. Believe, or else pay tribute. And be obedient unto the Lord and his Prophet….Come then, before trouble reach you. I commend my messengers to you. Give to Harmala three measures of barley; and indeed Harmala hath interceded for you. As for me, if it were not for the Lord and for this [intercession of Harmala], I would not have sent any message at all unto you, until ye had seen the army. But now, if ye obey my messengers, God will be your protector, and Mahomet, and whosoever belongeth unto him”.
(Sir William Muir “The Life of Mahomet”)

d. His successors did likewise, presumably under the impression that they were following Mohammed’s intentions, conquering every kingdom or empire from Spain to the borders of India within 120 years of Mohammed’s death. Either that or it was the most spectacular and sustained campaign of self defence in history.

8. “Suicide bombings and terrorist acts are done for political not religious reasons”.

Mehdi has half a point here but Islamic terrorism is conducted not for political or religious reasons alone but for political and religious reasons together. In Islam, unlike all other major religions, politics and religion are inextricably intertwined. That is why terrorists, such as the Woolwich butchers, quoted both Koranic verses and political grievances.

9. “Shaykh Tahir-ul-Qadri published a 600 page fatwa condemning the killing of all innocents and all suicide bombings unconditionally without any ifs or buts”.

Not even the odd if or but? You might wonder how he dealt with the so called terror verses of the Koran. It turns out that he did not have to because he was working from his own translation which renders every violent act defensive with the addition of helpful comments. Just like that….for instance:

Sura 9:123 “O believers! Fight against those of the disbelievers who are around you (i.e., who are directly involved in hostilities and terrorist activities against you). And (fight in a way and at a time that) they find in you toughness (of might, valour and defensive capability). And bear in mind that Allah is with those who guard themselves against evil.”

Helpful, no doubt, to those desperate to believe in the religion of peace or to those wishing to encourage them, but would it convince your everyday jihadi?

10. “Where is the book of Sharia law? It doesn’t exist. People argue over what Sharia law is.”

It is hard to know what point Mehdi is making here. Is it that because there is no one unchanging statute book that there is nothing to worry about? You might as well say that because Islam is fractured into many sects that it presents no problem to the non-Muslim world.

According to Robert Spencer “Sharia in reality is marked by a remarkable uniformity: the four Sunni schools of Islamic law agree on about 75% of all rulings. Whenever and wherever we see Sharia implemented, it looks essentially the same. Changes and variations come in when Sharia provisions are relaxed or dropped altogether, as in secular Turkey — but that is not some different version of Sharia, it is no Sharia at all”.

11. “If a tiny minority of Muslims are committing acts of terrorism why aren’t the rest of us doing it?”

a. Because there is no need. Jihad (the struggle to promote Islam) comes in many forms other than violence, such as contributing to charities which help terrorists or by spreading the influence of Islam through proselytising, lawfare and endless demanding and complaining (note the Arab saying “Show a victim’s face and you will take over”).

As Ibn Khaldun the mediaeval historian said:
“In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force“.

b. Not everyone follows their religion closely or is neccesarily aware of their obligations, especially as many Muslims merely recite the Koran in Arabic, a foreign language to the majority. Sadly, the more seriously a believer takes Islam the greater the likelihood of violent jihad. How often do we hear of a terrorist that he was becoming more devout in the preceding months, such as this British Jihadi fighting in Syria:

“It wasn’t taught to me that Islam is peace and there’s no fighting.
It is peace but it requires fighting.
The duty of a Muslim is to love jihad.
One of the sayings of the prophet peace be upon him whoever does not go jihad or doesn’t even talk about it dies with the characteristic of of hypocrisy.
I am actually a Muslim following the way I should be.”

7 thoughts on “Deceptiveness – Mehdi Hasan

  1. Richard

    My response to these apologists would be somewhat different.

    I would note three (out of many possible) things that exist in the modern world that indicate the non-tolerant and non-merciful nature of Islam. These are:

    1. The nonexistence of Christian Churches (or places of worship for any other non-islamic faith) in Saudi Arabia.

    2. The continued refusal of the Turkish state to return the Hagia Sophia to the Orthodox church (and the likelihood that Erdogan will make it a Mosque again) in spite of generous offers from Russia to pay all the expenses. If this were done it would hugely enhance Russian tourism and make Turkey a lot of money – but no religious prejudice trumps economic good sense.

    3. The blasphemy laws in Pakistan – with attendant consequences for people like Asia Bibi).

    None of these is the work of a terrorist group – all are the work of Islamic governments with the enthusiastic support of a large part (possibly a majority) of their muslim populations.

    I would say to the apologists who tell me Islam is peaceful and tolerant: “Go away and persuade these people of the error of their ways – when you have done that then, and only then will I take you seriously.”

    1. ECAW's blog Post author

      All valid points about Islam’s intolerance but the proposition being debated was whether Islam is a peaceful religion. Aren’t you conflating the two things?

      1. Richard

        Actually my point was this. People like Mehdi spend their time trying to persuade US that Islam is peaceful. Why do they direct their arguments at us – rather than at all those Muslims in the world who spend their time demonstrating the exact opposite by their actions? If they succeeded in persuading other Muslims to be peaceful and tolerant (and in my mind these two things go together, how can you claim to be peaceful whilst being intolerant?) then it would also persuade me. However they don’t seem to be even trying to do this. This suggests to me that the whole argument is actually a smokescreen. They know that they are not very convincing – but they realise that there are many out there who want to believe them and who won’t give their ideas any scrutiny.

      2. Jurek Molnar

        The main problem of the question is the fact that Islam and its religious authorities lack intellectual depth and is – contrary to Christianity – very hostile towards philosophy. Islamic thinking is not able to master ambiguity, historical thinking and has never developed any form of complex metaphysics. A rare exception to the void that is usually the realm of philosophical thinking in the Muslim/Arab world is Mohammed Al-Jabri (who died 2010). I have written a short introduction to his works:

        But apart from him (and two or three others) there is nothing that matches the requirements. The question whether Islam is a peaceful religion or not, is misleading. It is as peaceful or warmongering as any other in any given circumstances. Wars are fought anyway, with or without religion, with or without this particular ideology, for reasons of political gambits, economic crisis or imperial ambitions. What Islam lacks to become a truly peaceful religion is a culture of self reflection, self criticism and philosophical argument, which has validity outside religious doctrine. When Thomas of Aquin declared that there are two kinds of truth, one from god, one from the abstract laws of rationality, he put the division of a separation between religion and politics, church and state into the heart of Christian theology, which became a blueprint for philosophical thinking in Europe, even preparing philosophy for a departure from any religious doctrine. Theological thinking in modern Christian philosophy is as complex and critical as any other philosophical structure.
        Regarding Islam, it killed its chance for a true intellectual culture when it banned Averroes, whose ideas grew in Europe where it encounters an already developed philosophical environment, which was able to make progress with it. Inside Islam this branch died at the end of the 13th century. What followed is no surprise. The world of Islam lost the historic battles against Europe and Christendom and the growing awareness of this defeat produced terrorism, ISIS and the Iranian threats against Israel. A tradition of intellectual inquiry and concepts of objective truth outside the religious doctrine makes a good society.

  2. scrapTheBBC

    PS. but then, spit is supposed to have healing qualities in the religion of terrifying nonsense, isn’t it?

  3. scrapTheBBC

    Good analysis here, its a shame you weren’t in the debate. Most worryingly of all, our supposedly brightest and best students were lapping up his drivel enthusiastically..

    1. ECAW's blog Post author

      This debate is a toe-curling illustration of Islamic apologists’ bad faith and our pathetic eagerness to be told reassuring lies and half truths. I seem to have developed a special dislike of Mehdi. He keeps cropping up in these posts much as I try to keep him out.

      I found out recently that Robert Spencer had already done the same thing with the debate:

      It’s almost humbling to see how a master goes about it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s