When I look at Islam I see only a sadistic ogre who thinks the world is flat, a cynical or delusional warlord with big ambitions, and a cult which mandates death for anyone leaving or criticising it.
But other people see something entirely different, so different that they convert to it (or as Muslims prefer to say revert since all babies are born Muslim and it is just their Christian or Buddhist or atheist parents who lead them astray). Do they see something which most people are unable to appreciate, or is it more that they manage not to see things which are blindingly obvious to the rest of us?
Here are some conversion accounts displaying different aspects of the phenomenon.
Firstly the Intellectuals.
Arnold Yasin Mol is a Dutch convert, theologian and teacher of Islamic Studies. He says in this interview with historian Andrew Holt:
“It was at Leiden University where I fell in love with classical Islamic theology (ilm al-Kalam) and exegesis (tafsir)…The rational theologians (called the Ahl al-Kalam), philosophers, and legal scholars (especially of the Hanafi school), finally made me feel at home in the 1400 years of Islamic community and tradition.”
Burhan al-Din al-Marghinani was an important Hanafi legal scholar, presumably one of those Mol so admires. He wrote the highly influential Hanafi manual of Islamic law, the Hedaya.
The interview with Holt happens to be about homosexuality which Mol says is considered a crime in the Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of jurisprudence but not the Hanafi one (because zina only includes heterosexual acts). This is true as you can see from Chapter 1 of the Hedaya, “Of Zinna, or Whoredom” (p.1). So the Hanafi school is more compatible with modern Western views on this issue.
But I am primarily concerned with Islamic attitudes towards infidels, specifically with regard to jihad. On p.154 of the Hedaya it says:
“War must be carried on against the infidels, at all times, by some party of the Mussulmans. The sacred injunction concerning war is sufficiently observed when it is carried on by any one party or tribe of the Mussulmans; and it is then no longer of any force with respect to the rest. It is established as a divine ordinance, by the word of God, who has said, in the Koran ‘SLAY THE INFIDELS’; and also by a saying of the prophet, ‘war is permanently established until the day of judgment’.”
This passage is particularly interesting because it answers the question sometimes raised by Islamic apologists “If Islam commands jihad then why aren’t all Muslims doing it”?
But more importantly it shows the Hanafi school aligned with the other schools on this issue, as we see from The Reliance of the Traveller, the Shafi’i equivalent of the Hedaya:
o9.1 “Jihad is a communal obligation. When enough people perform it to successfully accomplish it, it is no longer obligatory upon others.”
o9.8 “The caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians until they become Muslim or else pay the non Muslim poll tax [ie jizya].”
o9.9 “The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslim.”
I wonder what Mol’s position is on the Hedaya passage. If he accepts it as valid then he is declaring himself my potential enemy. If he does not then I would be keen to know what has changed in the last 800 years to render it no longer of concern to non-Muslims. Perhaps I’ll ask him.
[ Update: I did ask him and he was good enough to send me this link to the Open Letter to Baghdadi, from a group of Islamic scholars, with his commentary.
Unfortunately I could not find anything in the section on jihad which either specifically, or by extrapolation, answered my question about the Hedaya. It appears from Mol’s commentary that some scholars think jihad is only defensive and some think it can be offensive, some think jihad is historically limited and some think it is forever. Therefore you can pick and choose according to taste as Mol does from his Hanafi perspective, as the signatories of the letter do from their perspective and ISIS do from theirs.
If you are really interested in the Open Letter I suggest reading Robert Spencer’s dissection of it here. ]
Nuh Ha Mim Keller is an American convert, and translater of the Shafi’i manual of Islamic Law, The Reliance of the Traveller mentioned above. He recounts his long journey from doubts about Christianity to certainty within Islam here.
In the process he visits Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Sartre and comes to the conclusions that the twentieth century “could no longer answer a single ethical question”, and that “without revealed religion no valid objection could be raised to the strong eating the weak”.
He found certainty but we might ask whether he found the morality he was looking for. Why? Because of the content of The Reliance of the Traveller which, elsewhere, he says he translated “out of personal need for a shari’a manual, to know and practice Islam in my own life”.
Here are a selection of rulings from it.
Just as examples, on what moral basis does it mandate the mutilation of young girls’ genitals (section e4.3) or the execution of believers who don’t keep up with their prayers (section f1.4)? None at all except that Mohammed reportedly once said something to that effect.
There was a time when Keller struggled with the moral relativism of the West. I suspect, or at least hope, that in those days he would have reacted with horror at such injunctions. But no longer. He has submitted to Allah and the arbitrary moral absolutism of “If Mohammed said it, it’s okay”. I do not call that morality at all but rather a complete abdication of moral responsibility, on a par with “I was only following orders”. What do you think?
Here is another conversion account, by Timothy Winter (aka Abdal Hakim Murad), a British convert and Islamic scholar at Cambridge University.
It consists of the familiar tale of teenage alienation and disenchantment with Christianity intermingled with a love letter to Islam, exemplified by this sort of sentiment “the Koran, that ‘shy bride’, would take years to unveil herself. At the outset, she seemed to dazzle me with her unworldly strangeness, and the purity of her ego-less diction”.
It is evident that all three of these intellectuals have fallen in love with various aspects of Islam; the (alleged) beauty of the language, the (supposed) profundity of the philosophy, the (apparently) beneficent effect on its adherents etc.
But it is also notable what they do not mention; Allah’s frankly disturbing habit of torturing forever anyone who doesn’t believe in him (enter the word “fire” into this Koranic search facility if you think I’m exaggerating), Mohammed’s career as a merciless warlord as shown here in the Sira and the vile rulings of Islamic Law as shown above from The Reliance of the Traveller.
How do they manage to overlook these rather obvious and very ugly things? Beats me, but there is the old saying “There’s no fool like a clever fool”.
Then the Captives:
Al Qaeda insurgents in Mali recently released two captives. Both Johan Gustafsson and Stephen McGown converted to Islam during their six years of captivity. Gustaffson was only pretending, in hopes of improving his situation, but it turned out that McGown meant it.
He told reporters that he entered Islam of his own accord (well there is no compulsion in religion is there?) after which he received better treatment.
He went on to say “I see many good things in Islam. It requires a very good character, a very strict character”. Naturally, it requires a very good character to kidnap and hold to ransom complete strangers, keeping them in constant fear for their lives for six years. Only racists and Islamophobes would quibble with that.
Once McGown has spent time readjusting with his friends and family, perhaps someone will explain Stockholm Syndrome to him, “the condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity”.
Come to think of it, don’t ordinary Muslims, in particular Muslim children, have a lot in common with captives like Mcgown? At home and in the madrassah and the mosque they get the constant message from those they depend on that Allah has his eye on them, weighing them up for an eternity of paradise or hell depending on how sincerely they internalise the message. And in earthly terms they can choose between acceptance from an all encompassing culture or exclusion from it, or even worse, for rejecting Islam. As Dawkins says, this is child abuse.
Yes, we know the same happens in other religions but these days far less starkly. It was at Sunday school that my mother was first shown a picture of Jesus in agony on the cross and told it was on account of her sins. She said “I don’t like this” and her big sister shielded her and said “You don’t have to look”. Perhaps that is what made her a lifelong atheist. But even in those days when, as a teenager, she chose to have nothing more to do with the church, there was no comeback, no social exclusion, no family blackmail or worse.
But we all know that for young Muslims rejecting Islam means risking the loss of their family, their social network and possibly their lives. If they find support it will be from ex-Muslim groups made up of people like themselves, usually needing to maintain anonymity for obvious reasons. It is the sort of thing that our intellectuals above never touch on, and just one of the reasons I tend to regard their musings with less than admiration.
We can piece together the story of Morten Storm from sources like this and this.
He grew up in Denmark, the product of a broken home with violence and drunkenness involved. As a teenager he joined a criminal gang. In prison he came into contact with a British Muslim who helped him establish himself in Britain after his release. Storm accepted Islam and quickly gravitated to the violently supremacist groups in London.
The ease with which gang members and criminals find a home in Islam, in prison or out of it, has been widely noted. And why wouldn’t they? Mohammed united the meanest tribes in Medina, the Aus and the Khazraj, to form the biggest, baddest gang in the area. When Storm read about the caravan raiding and dividing the booty he must have thought “That’s the prophet for me!”
He spent some years trying his best to “strive in Allah’s way” but he was balked in his desire to create mayhem in Somalia because Mogadishu airport was closed down. Recounting his frustration, he says:
“All my dreams about jihad were ruined. I was like, ‘that can’t happen, why?’ I was so hurt, and really, really upset and angry. I couldn’t comprehend.
“It made me sit up all night. I came back, opened the laptop and typed ‘contradictions in the Koran,’ something I had never dared ask before. If I had some doubts I had suppressed them. Then I picked up the Koran and confirmed it. It took a couple of days, and then I said: ‘F**k it. I spent ten years of my life and I was just about to get killed for this.’
“So I called the PET.” (PET is the Danish security service for which he subsequently worked, along with MI6 and the CIA, against Al Qaeda).
His conversion out of Islam is more interesting, to me at least, than his conversion into it because he did something both intelligent and unusual. He did some factual research! And not just the kind of research which will strengthen existing beliefs but the kind that risks disproving them.
He explains that it says in the Koran if you find contradictions in it then it is not from God (he is referring to verse 4:82 “Do they not then consider the Quran carefully? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much contradictions”).
He found plenty of contradictions, in particular one between free will and pre-destination, and concluded the Koran could not be from God. You may say that is a very simplistic understanding of Islam but Allah is himself a very simplistic deity. No one made him give such a hostage to fortune but like the pub know-it-all he could not resist bragging. Other gods have the sense to keep it vague about easily checkable claims but Allah, in his overconfidence, makes endless howlers, exhibiting all the scientific understanding of your average 7th century Arabian camel trader. There’s a coincidence.
These contradictions and absurdities are clearly and calmly exposed in Peter Townsend’s excellent book Questioning Islam.
The one which sticks in my mind is the inability of the supposed designer of quantum mechanics to master basic fractions, as shown in the Koranic rules of inheritance. They don’t add up, and had to be tidied up by later scholars with the Laws of Awl and Usbah.
Wouldn’t it be nice if more people, on both sides, were prepared to do a bit of factual research? Muslims dare not and infidels can’t be bothered, content to parrot the platitudes issued by the four P’s…Press, Politicians, Professors and Priests (courtesy of Daniel Pipes). If they did examine the texts then an ever increasing body of people would come to realise what nonsense Islam actually consists of, rendering it a worldwide laughing stock.
You would think that Islam itself would wither and die in the 21st century. A civilisation that understands what shooting stars actually are against a god who tells us he made them as missiles to throw at devils? It should be no contest, but it isn’t. In fact, Islam is growing in strength; the strength of ignorance, fanaticism and violence (plus a fair bit of oil money) while Western civilisation is experiencing an absurd loss of confidence, wallowing in self-laceration over past wrongs, real and imagined, encouraged by those who wish to destroy us.
The Jihadi Wife:
This conversion account in ISIS’s in-house magazine Dabiq (p.36) is the story of a Finnish woman who goes by the name Umm Khalid al-Finlandiyyah. She started out noticing that her family and society only paid lip service to Christianity and ended up in Syria with her husband and children.
As usual, when converts get into the theology, it is the Christian trinity that bothers her most:
“The main thing that didn’t make sense to me about Christianity was the Trinity. I would wonder, how could the “son” of God be crucified? How could a “part” of God – according to the Trinity – be crucified? How could a human being be God, and then become humiliated and have a humiliating death?”
She marries a non-practising Muslim, has children with him then divorces:
“At that point, I really wanted to learn about Islam, and because of the blessed events of September 11th, I would always see Islam mocked in the media, but I was still curious and wanted to find out more about this religion.”
David Wood explains here the odd phenomenon of interest in Islam spiking after jihadist atrocities in the West, sometimes leading to conversions.
A Muslim friend lends her a copy of the Koran:
“What struck me most as I was reading the Quran were the verses about Hellfire and the punishment in the Hereafter.”
Most people are too polite to mention Allah’s torture chamber for unbelievers, as though they know grandpa gets up to some weird things in the attic but prefer not to put their head round the door. But an inclination to take hellfire seriously is something Umm Khalid and I share. The difference is that she was frightened by it whereas to me it is proof that Allah was just a figment of Mohammed’s imagination. How ridiculous would it be that the designer of galaxies would be so petty and spiteful, particularly since he tells us that he decided who would believe in him in the first place?
She capitulates to Allah’s threats:
“Not long afterwards, I knew that this religion really was the truth.”
She recites the shahada in her Muslim friends’ home and they teach her how to pray:
“It was a wonderful feeling. After continuously searching for the truth, finding it was just such a relief. I felt so much peace.”
She remarries, this time to a practising Muslim. Then:
“At one point, my husband started telling me about jihad and about having the sound creed.”
Her husband is arrested for terrorism but:
“it was probably the best thing that happened to me because it opened my eyes to the importance of hijrah I can’t even describe the feeling when you finally cross that border and enter the lands of the Caliphate.”
“Every day you’re thankful to Allah for allowing you to perform hijrah and to live under the Shari’ah. Life in the Islamic State is such a blessing”
“After four months of us being here, my son was martyred, and this was yet another blessing….what could be better than him being killed for the cause of Allah?”
“As for those people who cannot perform hijrah, I advise you to attack the Crusaders and their allies wherever you are, as that is something that you are able to do. Don’t be tricked by the apostate “scholars.” The truth is out there and it isn’t hard to find as long as you open your heart to it.”
A sad, sad story, I am sure you will agree. She was clearly a very impressionable young woman, one of nature’s cult members just waiting to be claimed by the right cult.
But in Islamic terms what did she do wrong? Muslims are enjoined to follow the example of Mohammed, and what do ISIS do that Mohammed and his companions did not do? Apart from the obvious differences of modern technology, you can tick off their shared activities: robbery, beheading, ransoming, crucifixion, amputation, sex slavery, forced conversion, jizya, stoning, the use of terror, takfir, immolation and throwing homosexuals off high buildings (further details here).
It seems to me that Mohammed’s religion is like a black hole around which believers orbit, more or less affected by its gravitational pull. There are those who maintain a stable orbit on the periphery, merely observing the five pillars. Some, closer in, support but don’t themselves engage in jihad, and some like this young woman get sucked right in to their doom, unprotected by any solid identity. Poor girl. I expect she’s dead now. Or perhaps back in Finland, free to continue Allah’s work like this hero of Islam who made the news just yesterday.
And finally the Churchmen:
Well, it’s the only explanation isn’t it, considering how assiduously they work to advance Islam at the expense of their own flock. Like the one below who said – can you believe it? – “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”