Is Islam Tolerant?

  On the One Hand

  On the Other...

  Hobgoblin of Little Minds

  Holy Terror

  Heartland History

  People of the Book

  The Wolf and the Lamb

  In the Arabian Peninsula

  Dead Poets Society

  Spanish Martyrs

  House of Saud

  The Pot and the Kettle

  Danish Cartoons

  Embassy to Heraclius



  Pope Benedict

  Greek Independence

  General Betray-Us

Dance of Death

The Koran on Holy War: On the One Hand...

There are verses in the Koran favorable to tolerance, like the admirable "Let there be no compulsion in Religion." (Koran Sura 2:257).

Mohammed was told at one point that he had fulfilled his duty by warning: "If they shall dispute with thee, then say: I have surrendered myself to God, as have they who follow me. Say to those who have received the Book, and to the common folk, Do ye surrender yourselves unto God? If they become Muslims, then are they guided aright: but if they turn away -- thy duty is only preaching; and God's eye is on His servants." (Koran Sura 3:18-19).

Both kinds of statements are found in the Koran, those favorable to tolerance and those quite adverse, and they are not evenly or randomly distributed along the time line. The chapters of the Koran are arranged not chronologically, but basically according to length; however, it is possible to set them in rough chronological order. In Mecca, Mohammed spoke as a seeker, in Medina as a warlord. So long as the faithful numbered only a few, Mohammed preached tolerance. But after he stands at the head of an army, the message changes.

It is only common sense not to fight when one's side is weak, as even the pagans realized: "Agesilaus, when he was the stronger, always forced his enemy to fight, and when weaker, always avoided a battle. By always practicing this, the highest art of a general, he passed through his life without a single defeat. . ." (Plutarch's Lives, Comparison of Agesilaus with Pompey, Chapter IV, Volume III, p. 319). Initially permission was given the faithful to fight in self-defense:

"A sanction is given to those who, because they have suffered outrages, have taken up arms; and verily, God is well able to succor them: Those who have been driven forth from their homes wrongfully, only because they say 'Our Lord is the God.' And if God had not repelled some men by others, cloisters, and churches, and oratories, and mosques, wherein the name of God is ever commemorated, would surely have been destroyed. And him who helpeth God will God surely help: for God is right Strong, Mighty:..." (Sura 22:40-42).

Secular movements like communism display a familiar pattern: so long as the party represents a minority viewpoint, it preaches tolerance; once it acquires the means, it practices something else. Ultimately military force would become for Mohammed, not means of self-defense only, but the preferred means for propagating his religion throughout the Arabian peninsula, as tradition records:

"The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: I am commanded to fight with men till they testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Mohammed is His servant and His Apostle, face our qiblah (direction of prayer), eat what we slaughter, and pray like us. When they do that, their life and property are unlawful for us except what is due to them. They will have the same rights as the Muslims have, and have the same responsibilities as the Muslims have." (Hadith, Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 14, Number 2635: Narrated Anas ibn Malik.)

It is in connection with this latter enterprise that verses of quite a different tenor from "Let there be no compulsion in Religion" start to appear, such as...

On the Other...

"And kill them wherever ye shall find them, and eject them from whatever place they have ejected you; for civil discord is worse than carnage: yet attack them not at the sacred Mosque, unless they attack you therein; but if they attack you, slay them. Such the reward of the infidels...Fight therefore against them until there be no more civil discord, and the only worship be that of God: but if they desist, then let there be no hostility, save against the wicked." (Sura 2:187-189).

"Only, the recompense of those who war against God and his Apostle, and go about to commit disorders on the earth, shall be that they shall be slain or crucified, or have their alternate hands and feet cut off, or be banished the land: This their disgrace in this world, and in the next a great torment shall be theirs -- Except those who, ere you have them in your power, shall repent; for know that God is Forgiving, Merciful." (Sura 5:37-38).

"Strike off their heads then, and strike off from them every finger-tip. This, because they have opposed God and his apostle: And whoso shall oppose God and his apostle. . .Verily, God will be severe in punishment." (Sura 8:12-13).

"O ye who believe! when ye meet the marshalled hosts of the infidels, turn not your backs to them: Whoso shall turn his back to them on that day, unless he turn aside to fight, or to rally to some other troop, shall incur wrath from God: Hell shall be his abode and wretched the journey thither!" (Sura 8:16).

"Say to the infidels: If they desist from their unbelief, what is now past shall be forgiven them; but if they return to it, they have already before them the doom of the ancients! Fight then against them till strife be at an end, and the religion be all of it God's.  If they desist, verily God beholdeth what they do..." (Sura 8:39-40).

"And when the sacred months are passed, kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them, and lay wait for them with every kind of ambush: but if they shall convert, and observe prayer, and pay the obligatory alms, then let them go their way, for God is Gracious, Merciful." (Sura 9:5).

"Make war upon such of those to whom the Scriptures have been given as believe not in God, or in the last day, and who forbid not that which God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who profess not the profession of the truth, until they pay tribute out of hand, and they be humbled.  The Jews say, 'Ezra (Ozair) is a son of God'; and the Christians say, 'The Messiah is a son of God'. Such the sayings in their mouths! They resemble the sayings of the Infidels of old! God do battle with them! How are they misguided!..He it is who hath sent His Apostle with the Guidance and a religion of the truth, that He may make it victorious over every other religion, albeit they who assign partners to God be averse from it." (Sura 9:29-33).

  • "...Bush said in a statement. 'By teaching the importance of compassion, justice, mercy, and peace, the Koran has guided many millions of believers across the centuries,' the president said."
  • (Reuters, 'Bush Sends Greetings to Muslims as Ramadan Starts,' Fri Oct 15, 3:25 PM ET)

Certainly to call Islam a 'religion of peace' misses the mark, not only given the history of this faith, but given the Koran's bellicose commands such as these:

"Believers! wage war against such of the infidels as are your neighbors, and let them find you rigorous: and know that God is with those who fear him." (Sura 9:124).
"When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till ye have made a great slaughter among them, and of the rest make fast the fetters." (Sura 47:4).
"Be not fainthearted then; and invite not the infidels to peace when ye have the upper hand: for God is with you, and will not defraud you of the recompense of your works." (Sura 47:37).
"Say to those Arabs of the desert, who took not the field, ye shall be called forth against a people of mighty valor.  Ye shall do battle with them, or they shall profess Islam.  If ye obey, a goodly recompense will God give you; but if ye turn back, as ye turned back aforetime, He will chastise you with a sore chastisement." (Sura 48:16).

"It is He who hath sent His Apostle with 'the Guidance,' and the religion of truth, that He may exalt it above every religion. And enough for thee is this testimony on the part of God. Mohammed is the Apostle of God; and his comrades are vehement against the infidels, but full of tenderness among themselves..." (Sura 48:28-29).

"Verily God loveth those who, as though they were a solid wall, do battle for his cause in serried lines!" (Sura 61:4).

"Fain would they put out the light of God with their mouths! but though the Infidels hate it, God will perfect his light.  He it is who sent his apostle with guidance and the religion of truth, that, though they hate it who join other gods with God, He may make it victorious over every other religion." (Sura 61:9).

"O Prophet! make war on the infidels and hypocrites, and deal rigorously with them.  Hell shall be their abode! and wretched the passage to it!" (Sura 66:9).

Extra-Koranic traditions take the same martial line: “Allah 's Apostle said, 'I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,” and whoever says, “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,” his life and property will be saved by me except for Islamic law, and his accounts will be with Allah, (either to punish him or to forgive him.)'” (Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 196).

Other hadith are similarly war-minded: "Allah's Apostle said, 'Know that Paradise is under the shades of swords.'" (Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 73).

"Once Allah's Apostle (during a holy battle), waited till the sun had declined and then he got up among the people and said, 'O people! Do not wish to face the enemy (in a battle) and ask Allah to save you (from calamities) but if you should face the enemy, then be patient and let it be known to you that Paradise is under the shades of swords.' He then said, 'O Allah! The Revealer of the (Holy) Book, the Mover of the clouds, and Defeater of Al-Ahzab (i.e. the clans of infidels), defeat the infidels and bestow victory upon us.'" (Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 210).
"Allah's Apostle said, 'I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror (cast in the hearts of the enemy), and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.'" (Hadith Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220).
"Paradise is for him who holds the reins of his horse to strive in Allah's Cause, with his hair unkempt and feet covered with dust: if he is appointed in the vanguard, he is perfectly satisfied with his post of guarding, and if he is appointed in the rearward, he accepts his post with satisfaction. . ." (Hadith Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 137).

These bellicose statements are very familiar, being highly publicized, and they are real: Mohammed really did say those things, at least in so far as tradition is reliable. While devout Muslims consider the text of the Koran to be true and reliable to the letter, the same cannot be said of the hadith: "The Sunna was not systematically collected and documented for at least two centuries after the death of the Prophet. . .The late documentation of the Sunna meant that many of the reports attributed to the Prophet are apocryphal or at least are of dubious historical authenticity." (The Great Theft, Khaled Abou El Fadl, p. 144). This is the ultimate license for cafeteria religion: the hadith are included among the ultimate sources for Mohammed's religion, but any one of them can be discounted if found objectionable. Given the undeniable historical fact that Mohammed ibn Abdallah was a seventh century Arabian warlord, and a singularly successful one at that, the brutal and bellicose hadith are not among the more incredible ones.

Hobgoblin of Little Minds

"Can they not consider the Koran? Were it from any other than God, they would surely have found in it many contradictions." (Sura 4:84).

Mohammed's point is well taken; the Koran, if it were God's revelation, should be free of contradiction. However, some readers may suspect a hint of contradiction between "Let there be no compulsion in Religion" (Sura 2:257) and "When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till ye have made a great slaughter among them, and of the rest make fast the fetters." (Sura 47:4). Moreover, sharia, Islamic law, specifies capital punishment for Muslims who abandon the faith. If the threat of execution is not 'compulsion,' then what is? Surely no one reports having made a 'voluntary' contribution to the thief who cries, 'Your money or your life!' Muslims resolve this evident contradiction in several ways.

A 'peace party' was in evidence even in Mohammed's day: "War is prescribed to you: but from this ye are averse." (Sura 2:212). This constituency, those who are averse to war, prefers to take "Let there be no compulsion in Religion" as the general rule, and perceives those exceptions to it found in the Koran as owing to special circumstances. In this view, infidels were treated harshly, not because they were infidels, but because they were covenant-breakers. To be sure, Mohammed ibn Abdallah is the pattern and example for believers; under the same circumstances they should do as he did, but what were the circumstances?: "The Prophet , while in a tent (on the day of the battle of Badr) said, 'O Allah! I ask you the fulfillment of Your Covenant and Promise. O Allah! If You wish (to destroy the believers) You will never be worshipped after today.' Abu Bakr caught him by the hand and said, 'This is sufficient, O Allah's Apostle! You have asked Allah pressingly.'" (Hadith Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 164). The faithful community was facing the prospect of extinction, a circumstance which cannot happen today.

The more bellicose party notes the time-line. The material in the Koran is not organized chronologically; the only organizing principle is length, the longer Suras are earliest, the briefest last. Taking clues from context and comparing with traditions found in the Hadith and biographies, a rough time-line can be drawn up indicating when a given message was first promulgated. This procedure reaches a point of diminishing returns when it is realized that the Suras themselves are likely composite and edited. However, a fairly reliable outline can be achieved, and once it is laid out, the confusion and contradiction of the raw material comes into focus. So long as Mohammed ibn Abdallah was shepherding a small flock of followers in Mecca, who had been voluntarily converted to his cause, he preached and practiced tolerance. He warned the people, as bidden, but left it in God's hands to rebuke the uncompliant, as He would "at last:" "Profess publicly then what thou hast been bidden, and withdraw from those who join gods to God. Verily, We will maintain thy cause against those who deride thee, Who set up gods with God: and at last shall they know their folly." (Sura 15:94-96). And indeed, what option but tolerance did Mohammed have at this stage in career? In time, the 'live-and-let-live' approach was superseded by permission for taking up arms in self-defense: "A sanction is given to those who, because they have suffered outrages, have taken up arms; and verily, God is well able to succor them: Those who have been driven forth from their home wrongfully only because they say 'Our Lord is the God.'" (Sura 22:40-41). The final, blood-curdling stage in this progression is achieved in Sura 9:5: "And when the sacred months are passed, kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them, and lay wait for them with every kind of ambush: but if they shall convert, and observe prayer, and pay the obligatory alms, then let them go their way, for God is Gracious, Merciful." On its face this calls for endless imperialist aggression against the whole wide world.

The terrorists and their allies reflect that Mohammed's milder, more tolerant pronouncements are earlier than the later 'strike off their heads' approach. This they interpret to mean that tolerance is the policy while the faithful community is too weak to wage war; holy war becomes desirable as soon as it becomes feasible. This approach imputes insincerity to the words of the Koran; the reader must mentally attach the stricture, 'for now,' to the Koran's tolerant passages. Mohammed ibn Abdallah waged war, not only to prevent the extinction of the faithful community, but to extinguish the pagans: "The Prophet on his death-bed, gave three orders saying, 'Expel the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula. . .'" (Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 288.) To do as Mohammed did means to enlarge the Muslim household by violence.

The progression of Muslim policy respecting religious pluralism, from initial non-violent toleration, to the permission for fighting in self-defense, to fighting for the expansion of the faith, was completed within Mohammed's own lifetime. It was no misunderstanding of those who came later, which left captives with the choice of Islam or death: "He said: 'Woe to you, Abu Sufyan, isn't it time that you recognize that I am God's apostle?' He answered, 'As to that I still have some doubt.' I said to him, 'Submit and testify that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the apostle for God before you lose your head,' so he did so." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 547).

The principle of 'abrogation,' that later 'revelation' can cancel out earlier material, is recognized by most Muslim jurists. It is one of the best tools interpreters have for bringing into order this mass of contradictory material. The jihadis' answer to 'no compulsion' is abrogation:

"The puritan response to the moderate position can be summed up in one word: abrogation. Abrogation means that all the verses that speak about tolerance or cooperation with non-Muslims are null and void. According to the puritans, it was God that decided to invalidate all the Qur'anic passages that admonished Muslims to be forgiving or to seek peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims. According to puritans, God encouraged Muslims to be forgiving and tolerant when Muslims were weak and could not afford to pursue a confrontational policy with non-Muslims. But once Muslims became strong, God commanded Muslims to seek the destruction of all non-Muslims — or, at a minimum, to be hostile toward them." (The Great Theft, Khaled Abou El Fadl, pp. 217-218).

Mohammed's prophetic career spanned twenty three years, from 610 A.D. to 632 A.D. This brief but tumultuous period saw Mohammed's rise from lonely voice in the wilderness to conqueror of Arabia. As the Dark Ages closed in, barbarian populations all around the Empire pressed inward, the semi-civilized Arabs no exception. Mohammed's successors continued his policy of aggression, and their conquests mapped out the greater part of the domain of the faithful to this day: Muslims (with exceptions like Indonesia) are people whose ancestors were conquered by Muslims and had these doctrines and practices imposed upon them. Without "compulsion," Islam would have remained a small, heretical sect, derivative from the Christians and the Jews but recognized by neither. Mohammed's success came through a method he himself realized was illegitimate!

This variable material serves as a Rorshach inkblot test, revealing the character of Mohammed's followers: those who love peace see in it peace, with the martial material limited and contained, relegated to a special case, while those who love war see in it war, with the peaceful material relegated to a special case. For the peace party, 'no compulsion' is the watchword: "Moderates consider this verse to be enunciating a general, overriding principle that cannot be contradicted by isolated traditions attributed to the Prophet." (The Great Theft, Khaled Abou El Fadl, p. 158). But the material is genuinely and irreducibly heterogeneous. Freed from any obligation to harmonize, the skeptical reader may notice that this man started as an earnest seeker after God and ended as a war-lord commanding a band of camel thieves and ethnic cleansers. Power corrupts: his commands are self-contradictory, because he changed, and for the worse. Like the man says, "Were it from any other than God, they would surely have found in it many contradictions."

Holy Terror

Modern times have seen the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. This movement rejected the West as morally decadent:

  • "As a result of his travels, [Sayyid] Qutb decided that America and Europe — indeed, the entire West — was irretrievably decadent and in a 'civilizational decline similar to the fall of ancient Rome.'"
  • (Sayyid Qutb, Signposts, 1964, quoted by Judith Miller, God has Ninety-Nine Names, p. 62).

This movement, born in concern for morality, has committed acts of shocking immorality. Witnesses to the horrific crimes perpetrated by Osama bin Laden in the name of Islam can scarcely avoid identifying Mohammed's heavenly visitant as he who transforms himself into an angel of light.

Are today's violent Muslim fundamentalists Islamic?

  Sayyid Qutb

  Is Killing Non-Combatants Islamic?

  Democracy and Islam

  Brother Muslim


  War of All Against All

  The Devil's Due

  What Do They Want?


  The Moral Landscape

  Geneva Convention

  A Christian Terrorist?


Heartland History

Historically the Koran's commendation of Holy War is not just of theoretical concern.  The heartland of the early church, the places where the apostles preached and founded churches, underwent a subsequent history bathed in blood. Intervals of peace and quiet were interspersed with terrifying spasms of violence. Not a little of this blood was spilled by readers inspired by the Koran. Churches mentioned in the New Testament include Antioch, Smyrna and Ephesus:

"And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch.  And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people.  And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." (Acts 11:26).

"Then suddenly, by a forced march, he [the Mamlook Baybers] surprised the great city of Antioch.  After four days the walls were scaled on 18th May, 1268. Every man in Antioch was massacred and all the women and children were sold as slaves. The immense wealth of this great city, once the Roman capital of the East and, in 1268, one of the rich depots of the oriental trade, was distributed among the Mamlook soldiers. Then Antioch was burnt to the ground.  It has, to this day, never recovered from Baybers' visitation...Baybers took much trouble to pose as the Muslim hero fighting religious wars, a position greatly facilitated by the fact that his principal enemies were Christians or 'heathen' Tatars. His insistence on the fact that religion and morality were essential to victory had its roots far back in Islam, even in Judaism.  For the same reason, non-Muslims were often massacred, prisoners of war were beheaded and churches were razed to the ground."
(The Lost Centuries, John Bagot Glubb, p. 278 and p. 281).

Baybers' attitude was,

"When he captured Antioch in 1268, he wrote to the city’s crusader ruler that, had he not escaped,
'[y]ou would have seen the crosses in your churches smashed, the pages of false Testaments scattered, the patriarchs’ tombs overturned. You would have seen your Muslim enemy trampling over the place where you celebrate Mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests and deacons upon the altars, bringing sudden death to the patriarchs and slavery to the royal princes.'"
(Jenkins, John Philip (2008-10-16). The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died (p. 125). HarperCollins.)

This is not what the average person would call toleration.

Other churches: "Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea." (Revelation 1:11).

"Bayazid had never been able to take Smyrna which was held by the Knights Hospitallers. From Kutahiya, Tamerlane marched, in December 1402, to besiege the town, which was built on a promontory jutting out into the sea...Many of the knights, however, were captured and decapitated and their heads built into a tower.  When Tamerlane moved to Ephesus after taking Smyrna, the children of the city came out to meet him singing, in the hope of winning his favor to spare Ephesus from pillage.  Annoyed at the noise, the Conqueror ordered his cavalry to ride them down, and the children were trampled to death beneath the hoofs of the horses...Throughout the whole of his career, Tamerlane claimed incessantly to be a pious Muslim.  His letters were full of quotations from the Qoran and the name of God was always on his lips."
(The Lost Centuries, John Bagot Glubb, p. 450 and 453).

While it may be objected that this man only followed the Mongol custom of his fore-fathers, building a giant pyramid out of the skulls of the population of conquered cities, Tamerlane was not an equal-opportunity killer, he preferred to kill Christians: "Although by this point the Christian element of the population must have been quite small, Timur did consciously target non-Muslims, boasting of 'washing the sword of Islam in the blood of the infidels.'" (John Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, p. 138.)

Malta is the place where Paul and his companions washed up after shipwreck: "Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta." (Acts 28:1). Little Malta also survived a monumental Turkish siege, whose participants did not disguise their religious aim: "A Knight from Navarre, Jean de Morgut, had killed a richly dressed Turkish officer and now displayed a gold bracelet stripped from the dead man's arm. Someone read out the Arabic inscription engraved on it: 'I do not come to Malta for wealth or honor, but to save my soul.'" (The Great Siege, Malta 1565, Ernle Bradford, p. 64). Who gave this man the impression that killing people is the road to salvation? Mohammed ibn Abdallah. As with Moslem campaigns of world domination in general, the besiegers were encouraged to kill for reasons of religion: "'Still the Turkish troops came on. Some of them stormed right up to the portcullis and began firing through its grille at their enemy within. 'Lions of Islam!' A dervish exhorted them. 'Now let the sword of the Lord separate their souls from their bodies, their trunks from their heads!'" (The Great Siege, Malta 1565, Ernle Bradford, p. 96). Little Malta did not attack the Turks; as per usual, the Moslem imperialists were the aggressors. Has history witnessed a more monumental swindle, than when Mohammed ibn Abdallah and his henchmen convinced millions of human beings that, if they stood on the front lines and allowed themselves to be struck down for the sake of the faith, they would enjoy the blessings of paradise? Imagine the astonishment of these hordes, who faithfully performed their part of the bargain and hastened their departure from this life for the benefit of empire, when they woke up in Hell?

The final result of this centuries-long process was the near extirpation of Christianity in its original home: "But unlike Islam, Christianity has not retained its original foundation, in that its original homeland—the region where it enjoyed its greatest triumphs over its first millennium—is now overwhelmingly Muslim." (Jenkins, John Philip (2008-10-16). The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died (p. 26). HarperCollins.) The people in the Muslim arc who persisted in holding on to Christianity, whatever the cost, are the survivors of a brutal holocaust. The history of countries like Armenia and Georgia is a long trail of tears: "In 1307, the khan Oljeitu ordered the Georgians to give up Christianity upon pain of destruction, and a savage war ensued." (John Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, p. 133). Call it what you will, but 'tolerance' isn't the word.


The Wolf and the Lamb

In Sura 2, Mohammed condemns military aggression:

"And fight for the cause of God against those who fight against you: but commit not the injustice of attacking them first: God loveth not such injustice:..." (Sura 2:187).

But the huge empire Mohammed's successors built up, in the name of religion, was not constructed on the basis of conflict in self-defense only!  As in Aesop's tale of the Wolf and the Lamb, to the conqueror, any rationale will do: "Wolf, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the Wolf's right to eat him. He thus addressed him: 'Sirrah, last year you grossly insulted me.' 'Indeed,' bleated the Lamb in a mournful tone of voice, 'I was not then born.' Then said the Wolf, 'You feed in my pasture.' 'No, good sir,' replied the Lamb, 'I have not yet tasted grass.' Again said the Wolf, 'You drink of my well.' 'No,' exclaimed the Lamb, 'I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother’s milk is both food and drink to me.' Upon which the Wolf seized him and ate him up, saying, 'Well! I won’t remain supperless, even though you refute every one of my imputations.'" (Aesop's Fables, The Wolf and the Lamb).  And, except for Indonesia, the high-water mark of Islamic military expansion is also the fold of the faithful.


People of the Book

Mohammed began his prophetic career showing favor toward the 'People of the Book,' even suggesting that Christians and Jews who follow their religions may be saved:

"Verily, they who believe (Muslims), and they who follow the Jewish religion, and the Christians, and the Sabeites -- whoever of these believeth in God and the last day, and doeth that which is right, shall have their reward with their Lord: fear shall not come upon them, neither shall they be grieved." (Sura 2:59).

But his tone grows shriller and harsher as it becomes clear neither Christians nor Jews were prepared to accept his new revelation. He came in time to condemn Christians as 'infidels':

"Infidels now are they who say, 'God is the Messiah, Son of Mary;' for the Messiah said, 'O children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord.' Whoever shall join other gods with God, God shall forbid him the Garden, and his abode shall be the Fire; and the wicked shall have no helpers." (Sura 5:29).

Mohammed's early dreams that the Jews would acknowledge his prophetic vocation were dashed on the rocks of reality; ultimately he would end up at war with the Jews of Arabia. He condemns them in the Koran as "a people who understand not":

"They (the Jews) will not fight against you in a body except in fenced towns or from behind walls. Mighty is their valor among themselves! thou thinkest them united -- but their hearts are divided. This for that they are a people who understand not." (Sura 59:14).

Both of the Koran's two conflicting perspectives on the "People of the Book" attract followers today. Islamic fundamentalists travel in the direction of medieval theologian ibn Taymiyya, who accuses Christian-loving Muslims of infidelity:

“Whoever believes that churches are houses of God and that God is worshipped therein, or that what Jews and Christians do constitutes the worship of God and obedience to Him and His Prophet, or that God likes such practices and approves of them; and whoever assists them to keep their churches open and to establish their religion, and does so out of a feeling of kinship or out of a sense of obedience—whoever does all these things is an infidel.” (Quoted p. 21, Freedom House, 'Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques,' [Document No. 52])

History displays Islamic regimes running the gamut, in their treatment of captive Christian populations, from benign neglect to genocide. Egypt was an overwhelmingly Christian country when it was overrun in the first onrush of the conquering faithful who spilled out of Arabia. Muslim rule in Egypt did not begin with forced conversion of the Christian population, but it would eventually work up to that:

"But in the eleventh century circumstances changed. The insane Fatimid caliph Hakim, the 'Egyptian Nero,' began a violent persecution of Christians and Jews all over his possessions. In 1009 he caused the Temple of the Resurrection and Golgotha in Jerusalem to be destroyed." (Alexander Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, 324 to 1453, Kindle location 6185).

Hakim destroyed or converted into mosques three thousand churches. Muslim rulers introduced a favored tool of bigotry, marking its objects with special insignia, in the ninth century, and Hakim picked up on that: "He demanded that all non-Muslims constantly wear a mark of their religions, a large wooden cross for Christians or a symbolic golden calf for Jews. " (John Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, p. 109).

Ultimately, like the mad Caligula, this murderous despot began asserting his own deity and was assassinated. To look at current events, in Africa, for instance, a critical mass of Muslims needs to accumulate in a country before there's blood in the streets. These Christians would thereafter be subject to terrifying spasms of persecution: "Although Egypt’s Christians had often been subject to outbreaks of persecution, the events of 1354 reached an alarming new intensity. Mobs demanded that Christians and Jews recite the Muslim profession of faith upon threat of being burned alive." (Jenkins, John Philip (2008-10-16). The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died (p. 97). HarperCollins.) Fear for one's life can be a powerful motivator, as indeed confiscatory taxation can also be; as a Muslim observer at the time smugly noted, "For when the Christians’ affliction grew great and their incomes small, they decided to embrace Islam" (quoted p. 98, John Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity). When people are in fear for their lives, you do get a lot of conversions, but they aren't voluntary.

The observer notices a process over time, a historical development of the Muslim regimes from toleration to threatened genocide, or genocide actually accomplished, as in Augustine's Carthage, modern Tunisia. So long as the Muslims are a small, foreign military elite perched atop a large mass of native non-Muslim population, they are 'tolerant.' And what option do they actually have? If the small group of Anglo settlers who proclaimed the 'Republic of Texas' had announced, 'And our first measure will be to massacre the Mexican population,' how long would their regime have lasted? Texas never would have been annexed by the United States, because people will fight when they are staring down the black hole of annihilation. They would have had to fight their way from settlement to settlement, 'pacifying' the population, if that population had thought the 'Republic of Texas' meant their death.

The Egyptians had no love for their Byzantine overlords; Byzantium was a high-tax state, perceived as corrupt, and there was already a difference of religion between the Chalcedonian faith of the Byzantines and that the Egyptians, who undoubtedly resented seeing their tax dollars go to promote views they did not share. If they had understood they were fighting for their own survival, they would have stood with the Byzantines. The Arabs start off, always in their empire, as a small, foreign, imported governing layer. But this population grows over time, as immigration from the 'mother country' is encouraged, and the ruinous taxation associated with 'dhimmitude' produces converts. The demographics change, until a tipping point is reached, when Muslims are no longer a small, foreign minority, but the majority. Then, intolerance on a large scale becomes possible. One would like to say that, when intolerance becomes possible, Muslim states nobly reject that option, but this would be counter-factual.

Muslims boast about the fabled toleration of Andalusia, Spain under Muslim governance. This is over-stated from the start, because it did not mean a Christian could say 'Mohammed ibn Abdallah was not a bona fide prophet;' say that, and you got killed. When the Muslims took Spain from the Visigoths, the vast majority of the population were Catholic Christians. They never held Spain long enough for the tipping point to be reached, when Muslims became the majority community. Likewise with the cultural ferment in the early Muslim empire; so long as there are Christians and Jews to translate texts from Greek into Arabic, we see civilization advancing; once these people are killed or expelled, it all sinks back into the dark night of the lowest possible theology and conception of God that an ignorant tyrant can enforce.

Muslims understand their own religion to be the final revelation, superior to prior faiths: "Allah sent the unlettered, of Quraish, Prophet Muhammad — praise and peace be upon him — with His Message for Arabs and non-Arabs alike, to the jinn and humanity. Therefore Allah superseded other religions by the Religion of Prophet Muhammad — praise and peace be upon him —except that which He confirmed amongst them. He favored Prophet Muhammad over all other prophets and made him the master of mankind, and declared incomplete any profession of faith which attests to Oneness, which is 'There is no god except Allah,' unless it is followed by the witness to the Messenger, which is your saying, 'Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.' He obligated all nations to believe in everything he informed of the affairs of here and the Hereafter." (Abu Hamid al Ghazali, The Foundations of Islamic Belief, p. 18-19). This sense of superiority occurs in conjunction with both approaches toward the People of the Book: specifically mandated protection, albeit as second-class citizens, and lethal intolerance,— both of which find support in the Koran and tradition.


In the Arabian Peninsula

Mohammed's grudge-match with the Jews ended with the Jews expelled from the Arabian peninsula: "The time came to raid the Jewish tribe of Banu Qaynuqa. One day Mohammed assembled the Jews in their market and urged them to accept him as the prophet of God...The Jews replied, 'O, Mohammed, you seem to think we are your people.  Do not deceive yourself because you encountered a people with no knowledge of war and got the better of them; for by God if we fight you, you will find that we are real men.' [Ibn Ishaq, p. 363; Ibn Athir, I, p. 154]...This was followed by a blockade until the Jews surrendered. Mohammed had ordered their death, but they appealed for mercy. Subsequently they were exiled to the north; their removable assets were distributed among the army and their land confiscated. Tabari reports that Mohammed's fierce anger was followed in later years by an order: 'Kill any Jew that falls into your power.' [Tabari, IV, p. 1006; Ibn Ishaq, p. 369]" (The Emergence of Islam, Mostafa Vaziri, p. 34-35). His policy was simple enough: "In the course of Mohammed's long persecution of the Jews, he made his decisive final message clear to his community: 'Let not two religions be left in the Arabian peninsula.' [Ibn Ishaq, p. 689]" (The Emergence of Islam, Mostafa Vaziri, p. 48).

"When God took away His prophet, Abu Bakr continued the arrangement until his death, and so did 'Umar for the beginning of his amirate. Then he heard that the apostle had said in his last illness, 'Two religions shall not remain together in the peninsula of the Arabs' and he made inquiries until he got confirmation. Then he sent to the Jews saying, 'God has given permission for you to emigrate,' quoting the apostle's words." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 525)

Mohammed's conduct of his campaign against the Arabian Jews set a low standard on the human rights front: "Sa'd judged that all the 700 men should be killed, their wives and children sold into slavery and their property divided among the Muslims. Mohammed cried aloud: 'You have judged according to the very sentence of Allah above the seven skies!' The next day Mohammed ordered another trench to be dug, this time in the souk of Medina. Some individuals were spared at the request of the Muslims, but the rest were tied together in groups and beheaded; their bodies were thrown into the trench." (Mohammed, a Biography of the Prophet, Karen Armstrong, p. 207).

The religious authorities of this country today haven't relented:

"You cannot allow Christians, Jews and Polytheists to stay in the Arabian Peninsula, regardless of whether they are women or men. This is so because Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) told us to drive them out of this Peninsula, and the Muslims have no need for them." (Shaykh Abdul-Aziz Bin Baz, quoted p. 87, 'Religious Edicts,' (Book, 36), Freedom House, 'Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques').

The reader will recall that this is the issue which drove Osama bin Laden into opposition, when the Saudi royal family graciously permitted American military personnel to enter the country, provided they conceal any unIslamic religious affiliation. In the vain hope of appeasing a fanaticism which cannot be appeased, the Bush Administration has complied with bin Laden's request and evacuated American forces from Saudi Arabian soil.


Charlie Hebdo Cartoon
Charlie Hebdo Cartoon

Dead Poets Society

Mohammed was not only spiritual leader to his flock, but their temporal ruler as well. In this capacity he compiled a human rights record which, while unsurprising for the seventh century, is no example to follow. He had people executed for lampooning him in verse:

"...Salim ibn Umayr took upon himself the job of getting rid of Abu Afk, a tribesman of Banu Amr ibn Awf. The latter was a poet who composed verses disparaging Mohammed and the Muslims and inciting his own tribe to rise against them. Even after [the battle of] Badr, Abu Afk still composed and disseminated abusive verse. Salim attacked Abu Afk in his sleep in his own yard and killed him. Likewise, Asma, daughter of Marwan, of the tribe of Banu Umayyah ibn Zayd, used to insult Islam and the Prophet by encouraging bad feeling against the Muslims. The Battle of Badr did not make her reconsider. One day, Umayr ibn Awf attacked her during the night while she was surrounded by her children, one of whom she was nursing. Umayr was weak of sight and had to grope for her. After removing the child from his victim, he killed her; he then proceeded to the Prophet and informed him of what he had done. When her relatives returned from the funeral, they asked him whether he had killed her. 'Indeed so,' said Umayr, 'You may fight me if you wish. By Him Who dominates my soul, if you should deny that she composed her abusive poetry, I would fight you until either you or I fall.' It was this courage of Umayr that caused the Banu Khutmah, the tribe of Asma's husband, to turn to Islam." (Muhammad H. Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, p. 242).

Unfortunately Mohammed, whose every tic and quirk is considered instructive by Muslims, did not respect the people's right to free thought and free speech: "A few months later, when the poet Ka'b had returned to Medina and was writing more defamatory verses to stir up sedition, Mohammed had him assassinated." (Mohammed, a Biography of the Prophet, Karen Armstrong, p. 185). Safety, Mohammed explained, lay in keeping quiet:

"They [the Jews] then came to Mohammed pleading their cause and accusing the Muslims of having killed Ka'b deliberately, in spite of his personal innocence. Mohammed answered, 'The man whom you claim to be innocent has indeed harmed us deeply and composed libelous poetry against us. Had he remained quiet like his co-religionists, nothing would have befallen him.'" (Muhammad H. Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, pp. 249-250).

Later, after Mohammed's conquest of Mecca, those not covered by his pardon included two songstresses, one of them named Fartana:

"Indeed, most of the men condemned to death had been forgiven. Only four were executed...[including] one of the slave women of Ibn Khatal who used to castigate the Prophet in song. The other slave-woman ran away, but was brought back and later forgiven." (Muhammad H. Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, p. 411).

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Spanish Martyrs

Muslims point with pride to the tolerance Muslim rulers afforded their Christian subjects in conquered nations like Spain. But a closer examination of the advertised toleration shows something else: "In 850 a monk called Perfectus went shopping in the souk of Cordova, capital of the Muslim state of al-Andalus. Here he was accosted by a group of Arabs who asked him whether Jesus or Mohammed was the greater prophet. Perfectus understood at once that it was a trick question, because it was a capital offense in the Islamic empire to insult Mohammed, and at first he responded cautiously. But suddenly he snapped and burst into a passionate stream of abuse, calling the Prophet of Islam a charlatan, a sexual pervert and Antichrist himself. He was immediately swept off to jail." (Karen Armstrong, Mohammed, p. 22). Under the American First Amendment, his response to his Muslim interlocutors would have been understood as protected religious free speech. But under the Muslim understanding of 'tolerance,' it's blasphemy, a capital crime:

"Perfectus, who served at the basilica of St. Aciscius just outside the city walls, was stopped one day on his way to market by a group of Muslims. Seeing that he was a priest, they asked him to explain the 'catholic faith' and to share with them his opinions about Christ and Muhammed. Fearing that he would only provoke his audience, Perfectus declined. But when the Muslims swore to protect him, he proceeded, in Arabic, to decry Muhammed as one of the false prophets foretold by Christ and as a moral reprobate who had seduced the wife of his kinsman.
"Though angered by the harsh attack, the Muslims respected their oaths and let Perfectus go on his way. But a few days later the priest ran into some of the same group, who no longer felt constrained by their earlier promise. Seizing Perfectus, they took him before the magistrate and testified that he had disparaged the prophet. As they led Perfectus to prison to wait out the holy month of Ramadân, he repeatedly denied his guilt. Only when he realized that his fate was sealed did he repeat his denunciation of Islam. On April 18, 850, Perfectus was decapitated before the crowds that had gathered to celebrate the end of the feast." (Kenneth Baxter Wolf, Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain, Chapter 2, The Martyrs of Cordoba).

What is troubling about Perfectus' execution is the realization that he could not, consistent with the Lord's demands on His people, have responded to the Muslims' challenge in any way that could have preserved his life. The Lord said, "But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 10:33). Nor is there any way a Christian could weigh Jesus, the mighty Maker, and Mohammed, a creature, in the balances and acknowledge Mohammed as the greater. If any less constitutes 'insulting' the Prophet, a capital crime, it's a wonder there were still any Christians alive in Spain to see its ultimate liberation. That Christians who 'insult' Mohammed deserve capital punishment has entered the conservative consensus of today's Islam through the popular and influential figure of Ibn Taymiyyah:

"Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah appeared two centuries later. . .Born in Harran in Mesopotamia in 1263. . .he fled before the Mongols to Damascus. There he became famous not only through his call to resistance but also through his campaign for the execution of a Christian who insulted the Prophet Muhammad." (Hans Kung, Islam, Past, Present & Future, pp. 384-385).

If all they mean by 'toleration' is the Christians were not executed on sight, that's lovely, but it doesn't meet the standard.


House of Saud

The royal house of Saudi Arabia maintain that terrorism is un-Islamic, with some justification as seen above. But the ideal of tolerance they do find compatible with Islam is this:

"Saudi Arabia does not permit the worship of any faith except Islam on its own soil. The prohibition was not officially suspended even during the Gulf war. Although Americans were preparing to fight, and perhaps die, for Saudi Arabia, they were not permitted to post pictures of Jesus, Moses, Abraham, or, for some reason, Adam and Eve. According to instructions from the U.S. Army distributed over Christmas shortly before the war, American soldiers were not allowed to display crosses, Jewish stars, or any other non-Islamic religious symbols. They were not permitted to hold Christian or Jewish services on Saudi soil. They were even ordered not to play Christmas carols unless they were instrumental. 'Jingle Bells' was 'acceptable,' the leaflet said." (Judith Miller, God has Ninety-Nine Names, p. 491)

It is astonishing that nominally Christian U.S. presidents consented to stamp out the free exercise of religion for Americans stationed in Saudi Arabia. When this officially Islamic regime proclaimed a jihad against the secular Baath party, one of whose founders was a Christian: "The fatwa, published in the Saudi, Arab-language paper Al Muslimoon, states: 'In the name of God...the jihad taking place against the enemy of God Saddam, ruler of the legitimate jihad on the part of Muslims and those assisting them in this respect..." (Judith Miller, God has Ninety-Nine Names, p. 493)...what did we do, naturally, but join in.


The Pot and the Kettle

Christian rulers have also committed atrocities, such as Ferdinand and Isabella's expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain. Truly the behavior of these nominal Christians was shameful, and the long, dark night of Muslim oppression from which Spain was at that time beginning to emerge is no excuse. Just as the interned Japanese-Americans of World War II were a group from within which the nucleus of a potential fifth column might have formed, so were the Jews and Muslims of reconquered Spain; yet no citizen can justly be punished for belonging to a group from which treason might conceivably be expected, if that citizen is not a traitor. Those fortunate Christians who were heirs of successful national liberation struggles to evict their Muslim overlords ought to have shown the world a better way, not expulsion and inquisition.

But no one holds up these monarchs as exemplars for Christians, whereas Muslims do hold up Mohammed. And Christians, from the very beginning, have always known better, even while not living up to their own profession:

"We are worshippers of one God, of whose existence and character Nature teaches all men; at whose lightnings and thunders you tremble, whose benefits minister to your happiness.  You think that others, too, are gods, whom we know to be devils.  However, it is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man's religion neither harms nor helps another man.  It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion -- to which free-will and not force should lead us -- the sacrificial victims even being required of a willing mind." (Tertullian, Ad Scapulam, Chapter II).

Here, for another example, is the admirable Edict of Milan:

"When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security...We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship.  When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion..."
(Edict of Milan, Internet Medieval Sourcebook).

By contrast, intolerance is enshrined within the Koran itself. Some people think that the Crusades of the Middle Ages are a classic example of Christian aggression: atheist Bill Maher is quoted as saying, "Christianity is perfectly capable of coming out of its dormant phase and once again becoming the violent, blood-lusty religion it was under the Crusades." (Newsbusters web-site, August 2, 2011, article by Aubrey Vaughan). But the Crusades were a belated response to more than four centuries of unremitting Muslim aggression. By the warlord Mohammed ibn Abdallah's death in 632 A.D., Arabia had been unified, by force of arms, under his control. Within the next hundred years, much of the Mediterranean world would be conquered by Muslim armies. Because the conquering Muslims promised tolerance, the majority Christian populace did not understand they were fighting for their right to practice their faith, rather than for unpopular Byzantine emperors. What the Muslim imperialists promised was tolerance, what they ultimately delivered was dhimmitude: a bait and switch. Once hard experience had taught the Christian world to understand the difference, and the conversion of the Turks to Islam had touched off a whole new wave of anti-Christian aggression, the Christian West made a belated stand, counter-punching to the Muslim heart-land.

What the Crusaders were reacting to was genocide: "The Byzantine border territory of Asia Minor was almost continuously exposed to the ruinous incursions of the Muslims who were exterminating or expelling the Christian population." (Alexander Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, 324 to 1453, Kindle location 6624.) Defenders point out that, like the Huns who devastated Europe, the motivation of the invading Turks was probably more economic and Malthusian than religious. Nevertheless the net result was that the light of Christianity all but went out in Asia Minor. When the butcher's bill came in, it turns out they killed an awful lot of people: "Asia Minor, which probably had 12 million people in the early Byzantine period, had barely half that by the thirteenth century." (John Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, p. 116). What the Christians who inhabited these regions were experiencing was unimaginable.

While Christians find fault with the doctrinal distortions and treacherous double-crosses of the Crusades, such as the sack of Constantinople, a friendly Christian city, it seems out of place for Muslims, heirs to the aggressors, to find fault with the circumstance that, if you invade other people's countries, at some point they will unite and fight back. This is a surprise? Whatever the failures and inadequacies of the Crusades, a faith community who suffer aggression patiently for four hundred years before taking a stab at a common defense are not notably "blood-lusty."

It is anachronistic to look back at the nations of the Middle East, among whom Muslims now generally number in excess of 90 per cent of the population, as if it this demographic profile prevailed at the time of the Crusades. When Mohammed ibn Abdallah's successors launched out conquering and plundering amongst the nations of the world, the Mideast was predominantly Christian. There were still huge remnant populations of oppressed Christians in those nations at the time of the Crusades. What the Crusaders were aiming for was a 'Reconquista,' like what happened in Spain, where the oppressed turned the tables on their oppressors, not a hostile effort to convert by force a monolithic population which was overwhelmingly Muslim. They failed, and the result is the Middle East we see today, which is not like Spain. Certainly the Spanish monarchs should have respected the human rights of those Spaniards who did not perceive the Reconquista as liberation; not everyone was dancing in the streets. It's a shame they did not, but the Muslim invaders in their turn had had no more respect for the rights of those Spaniards for whom the Reconquista was the answer to prayer, ending a long, dark night of oppression by the godless.

It is tragically true that those calling themselves Christians have not always lived up to their Lord's calling:

Mass Murder  
Mass Murder
Return to Answering Islam...

Danish Cartoons

Just as if centuries had not intervened, the same dynamic the Spanish martyrs encountered has recently been on display in the case of the Danish cartoonists.

Persian, Mohammed on Prayer Rug

Islamic tradition as recorded in the hadith prohibits, not only depicting the late prophet, but depicting anyone or anything:

Narrated Ibn 'Umar: "The Prophet said, 'The painters of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them, 'Make alive what you have created.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 647.)

Narrated Ibn Abbas: "The Prophet entered the Ka'ba and found in it the pictures of (Prophet) Abraham and Mary. On that he said: 'What is the matter with them (i.e. Quraish)? They have already heard that angels do not enter a house in which there are pictures; yet this is the picture of Abraham.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 570.)

"Narrated 'Aisha: 'I stuffed for the Prophet a pillow decorated with pictures (of animals) which looked like a Namruqa (i.e. a small cushion). He came and stood among the people with excitement apparent on his face. I said, "O Allah's Apostle! What is wrong?" He said, "What is this pillow?" I said, "I have prepared this pillow for you, so that you may recline on it." He said, "Don't you know that angels do not enter a house wherein there are pictures; and whoever makes a picture will be punished on the Day of Resurrection and will be asked to give life to (what he has created)?"'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 447.)

"Narrated 'Aisha (mother of the faithful believers): 'I bought a cushion with pictures on it. When Allah's Apostle saw it, he kept standing at the door and did not enter the house. I noticed the sign of disgust on his face, so I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I repent to Allah and His Apostle. (Please let me know) what sin I have done." Allah's Apostle said, "What about this cushion?" I replied, "I bought it for you to sit and recline on." Allah's Apostle said, "The painters (i.e. owners) of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection. It will be said to them, 'Put life in what you have created (i.e. painted).' " The Prophet added, "The angels do not enter a house where there are pictures."'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 34, Number 318)

"Narrated Muslim: We were with Masruq at the house of Yasar bin Numair. Masruq saw pictures on his terrace and said, "I heard 'Abdullah saying that he heard the Prophet saying, 'The people who will receive the severest punishment from Allah will be the picture makers.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 834).

"Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar : 'Allah's Apostle said, "Those who make these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them. 'Make alive what you have created.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 835).

"Narrated Abu Zur'a: l entered a house in Medina with Abu Huraira, and he saw a man making pictures at the top of the house. Abu Huraira said, "I heard Allah's Apostle saying that Allah said, 'Who would be more unjust than the one who tries to create the like of My creatures? Let them create a grain: let them create a gnat.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 837).

"Narrated 'Aisha: 'Allah's Apostle returned from a journey when I had placed a curtain of mine having pictures over (the door of) a chamber of mine. When Allah's Apostle saw it, he tore it and said, "The people who will receive the severest punishment on the Day of Resurrection will be those who try to make the like of Allah's creations." So we turned it (i.e., the curtain) into one or two cushions.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 838).

"Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: I heard Muhammad saying, "Whoever makes a picture in this world will be asked to put life into it on the Day of Resurrection, but he will not be able to do so."'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 846).

"Narrated 'Aisha: 'The Prophet entered upon me while there was a curtain having pictures (of animals) in the house. His face got red with anger, and then he got hold of the curtain and tore it into pieces. The Prophet said, "Such people as paint these pictures will receive the severest punishment on the Day of Resurrection ."'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 130.)

'Abdullah reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: "Verily the most grievously tormented people on the Day of Resurrection would be the painters of pictures." (Sahih Muslim, Book 024, Chapter 19, Number 5270.)

Abu Talha reported Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) having said: "Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture." (Sahih Muslim, Book 024, Chapter 19, Number 5249)

The hadith do not make the same claim to verbal inspiration as is made by the Koran, but are human testimony to the sayings and doings of Mohammed. They are evaluated the same way as any witness testimony. When a report is confirmed by numerous independent witnesses, as in this case, then it is likely genuine. Some interpret this verse of the Koran to prohibit "statues:" "O believers! surely wine and games of chance, and statues, and the divining arrows, are an abomination of Satan’s work! Avoid them, that ye may prosper." (Sura 5:92). Others read 'idols.'

Oftentimes Muslims have ignored Mohammed's prohibition of representational art. Having myself attended art school while the New York School was still trying to suppress realistic art, I can attest it is not an easy thing to stamp out. At least in my case, their implication that, if I wanted to draw pictures like that, I must not be very bright, made little impression. Little children draw pictures of mommy and daddy; who can tell them they mustn't? Media reports of a Muslim prohibition of Mohammed pictures specifically are evidently a compromise between Mohammed's actual teaching -- no pictures at all, unless abstract -- and the irrepressible human desire to depict, which has at times swept up Mohammed himself in its train:

Persian miniature, Gabriel speaking to Mohammed

If Muslims are serious about banning all depiction of Mohammed, they will first have to burn down their own museums. Some contemporary Shiites permit depicting Mohammed: "Shiite Muslims do not impose a blanket ban on representations of the prophet and some in Iran's provincial towns and villages even carry drawings said to be of Mohammed." (Iran: U.S., Europe Should Pay for Drawings, by NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer, February 11, 2006). Ayatollah al-Sistani's website,, addresses the permissibility of drawing in general:

"§ Question : Students are asked to draw a human being or an animal; the requirement is such that it is difficult for the student to refuse the assignment. Are they allowed to do the drawing? ...
"§ Answer : Drawing a non-sculptured figure is allowed. Based on obligatory precaution, it is necessary to refrain from drawing a sculptured picture of a living being." (

It is unclear what the Ayatollah means by "drawing a sculptured picture," which is prohibited, though perhaps he alludes to modeling in light and dark as is characteristic of Western art. Sketching in the shadows provides the viewer with another viewpoint, as it is said, 'the sun never sees a shadow.' It seems unlikely, however, that the decorated pillow to which Mohammed objected was done in elaborate chiaroscuro.

The Ayatollah permits respectful images of Mohammed:

"§ Question : Is it permissible to draw or produce a scene which shows the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), one of the past prophets or the infallible Imams (a.s.), or other luminaries and show it in cinema, on television or theatre?
§ Answer : If due deference and respect is observed, and the scene does not contain anything that would detract from their holy pictures in the minds [of the viewers], there is no problem." (

In some periods Muslims have obeyed Mohammed and have practiced abstract art and calligraphy solely. After all, Mohammed's criterion for exoneration: that artists must not only depict, but also animate, their creations, will be met by few. Those who believe everything they hear may expect Pygmalion to make the cut. Another interesting case is Jesus, reported in the Koran as a sculptor who fashioned clay birds which He then animated. (Of course, the people who originally crafted this story sought to underscore His deity, but the Koran is a grab-bag, bringing together miscellaneous incompatible information.) In the misguided governmental flood of empathy which has nurtured and validated the protestors' sense of grievance, I have failed to detect a tear for the artists whose entire profession has thus been consigned to hell-fire.

In those periods when Muslims obey Mohammed's prohibition of representational art, they also interpret the second of the ten commandments disjunctively, as intending to prohibit all representation:

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:4-6).

Christians usually understand this commandment to prohibit two things in conjunction, namely 1.) making graven images, AND 2.) bowing down to them. During their abstract periods, Muslims understand the commandment disjunctively: do not make graven images at all, whether you subsequently bow down to them or not. Experience fails to show that making graven images inevitably leads to idolatry.

People have at times done exactly what is prohibited: 'bow down' before (i.e. venerate) images. Christian iconoclastic movements have arisen in response to these evident abuses. The reformers' concerns on this score midwifed the production of pictures titled 'Still Life with Pears' and 'Landscape with Ducks,' images whose designed-in inertial drag precluded their plummeting down the slippery slope to pagan idolatry. Even religious imagery need not always prove a snare; Christian experience shows it can have a 'safe' didactic use.

In addition to his generalized malediction against all artists, Mohammed also reportedly warned his followers against exaggerating his importance:

Narrated 'Aisha and Ibn 'Abbas: "On his death-bed Allah's Apostle put a sheet over his face and when he felt hot, he would remove it from his face. When in that state (of putting and removing the sheet) he said, 'May Allah's Curse be on the Jews and the Christians for they build places of worship at the graves of their prophets.' (By that) he intended to warn (the Muslim) from what they (i.e. Jews and Christians) had done." (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 660.)

Narrated 'Umar: "I heard the Prophet saying, 'Do not exaggerate in praising me as the Christians praised the son of Mary, for I am only a Slave. So, call me the Slave of Allah and His Apostle.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 654.)

Supreme Court MohammedThe newspapers report that depicting Mohammed is prohibited to prevent idolatry. It is not clear why non-Muslims must be stopped from worshipping Mohammed when they feel no such inclination. In the past non-Muslims have felt no inhibition against producing images of Mohammed, even, oddly enough, on the frieze of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even during his life-time, the unlettered Arabian prophet was the subject of exaggerated adulation: "He got up from the apostle's presence having seen how his companions treated him. Whenever he performed his ablutions they ran to get the water he had used; if he spat they ran to it; if a hair of his head fell they ran to pick it up." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, pp. 502-503). Classifying imagery of him as idolatry only continues and intensifies this bad tendency, it does not countermand it. It is contrary to orders: ".  . .'A'isha told him: The apostle wore a black cloak when he suffered severe pain. Sometimes he would put it over his face, at others he would take it off, saying the while, 'God slay a people who choose the graves of their prophets as mosques,' warning his community against such a practice." (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 689).

Moreover, those offended also describe the drawings as 'insulting.' How can these images be idolatrous if they are also insulting, and how can they be insulting if intended as worship? We expect a pagan sun-worshipper to sing hymns of praise to the sun, not to hurl insults and abuse at that luminary. Worship entails praise, not insult. If these cartoons are insulting as alleged, then the accusation that the Danish artists offered them as idolatrous worship is absurd.

Islam is not in principle opposed to satire and lampoon of people's most deeply held religious beliefs: "Narrated Al Bara: The Prophet said to Hassan, 'Lampoon them (i.e. the pagans) and Gabriel is with you.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 435.) Other people's most deeply held religious beliefs, that is to say. Those protesting demand no more and no less than that non-Muslims share the reverence they feel for their beloved prophet...or at least keep quiet if they don't.

The Koran itself hurls gross insults at other faith traditions. For instance: "Those who claim that God is one of three have lied and committed unbelief...If they do not stop from propagating this lie, a severe punishment will fall upon them...The Messiah, son of Mary, is only a prophet, one among many prophets who preceded him." (Sura 5). Without actually hitting the target (Trinitarians do not believe that God is "one of three"), this statement intends to insult Christians, minus Jehovah's Witnesses and Unitarians. Muslims feel free to insult other faiths, but will allow no insult on the return path.

This ratcheting effect: Islam may freely insult, but not be insulted,-- produces a lop-sided result, where an openly blasphemous project like The Da Vinci Code may proceed without hindrance, but no insult against Mohammed is permitted. Incidentally, it is possible to blaspheme Jesus, because He is God incarnate. It is unclear how, if Mohammed is clearly understood to be a man and nothing but a man, it is possible to blaspheme against him. The cartoonists stand accused of insulting a man, not God; yet some Muslims accuse them of blasphemy. Recall, the anti-idolatry crowd wants to avoid images of Mohammed precisely to forestall any deification of this figure. The anti-idolatry crowd and the anti-blasphemy crowd need to sit down together and figure out once and for all whether they want to worship this man, or not. Then they can tell the rest of us what we are to do.

Blasphemy is by definition insult against God or what falls within the sphere of the divine: "blaspheme...To speak in terms of impious irreverence of; to revile or speak reproachfully of instead of reverentially: used of speaking against God or things sacred. [...] blasphemer...One who blasphemes; one who speaks of God in impious and irreverent terms." (Webster's International, 1965). To the pagan polytheist, the sphere of "things sacred" is quite extensive, but to the monotheist, there is One potential object of blasphemy. Some Muslims are quite willing to define insulting Mohammed as 'blasphemy,' and describe their prophet in conventional theistic terms as a being all of light: "'Imagine the most beautiful man in the world, the most handsome,' he said expansively, then waited a few seconds. 'He is not 1 percent as beautiful as the prophet, God's prayers and blessings upon him. He was so beautiful because of his closeness to God. He was all light. He had no shadow, according to his companions. How can you take an imprint of that?'" (Saudi Teacher Counsels Calm to Angry Students, by Faiza Saleh Ambah, Special to The Washington Post, Wednesday, February 8, 2006). This group badly needs to sit down with the anti-idolatry brigade, to learn why Mohammed must be counted in the sphere of the creaturely, not of the divine. As Abu Bakr explained upon Mohammed's death, "O Men, if you have been worshipping Mohammed, then know that Mohammed is dead. But if you have been worshipping God, then know that God is living and never dies." (The Life of Muhammad, Muhammad H. Haykal, p. 506). Since 'appearing in the funny papers' happens to other folks, why should this one individual be exempt? How can it be 'blasphemy' for a mere man to turn up in the funny papers?

Ascension of Mohammed, Persian, 16th century
Mohammed's marvellous steed is called 'Buraq.' The quickest way to find pictures of Mohammed is to search for pictures of 'Buraq,' because the guy perched on Buraq's back is always Mohammed. Googling for 'Buraq' yields the odd discovery of a Libyan airline named 'Buraq Air.' I wonder why they chose that name. Are safety-conscious managers nudging their customers with a veiled hint that a ticket on this airline buys you a trip through the wild blue yonder and a meeting with Jesus?

Mohammed discouraged posthumous veneration, not because he fully deserved it but was too modest to say so, but because he did not deserve it. By his own admission, Mohammed was a sinner: "'Walk righteously, sacrifice and be of good cheer,' he said, 'but none will enter Heaven on account of his deeds.' 'Not even you?' he was asked. 'Not even I,' he replied, 'unless God smother me in forgiveness and mercy.'" (Bukhari, quoted p. 95, An Introduction to the Hadith, John Burton.) Mohammed repented more than seventy times a day:

"Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah's Apostle saying. 'By Allah! I ask for forgiveness from Allah and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day.'" (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Invocations, Volume 8, Book 75, Number 319).

How can a man who needed to repent seventy times a day be beyond all criticism? It is idolatry to place this man beyond his proper sphere.

Detail, Sultan Muhammad Nur, The Night Journey of Mohammed on His Steed Buraq

The arson spree which greeted the Danish cartoons has yielded an epidemic of cowardice masquerading as empathy. Has it occurred to any of these compassionate souls, including those speaking for the U.S. State Department, that Muslim death threats may have hurt the feelings of the Danish cartoonists? Whatever happened to the sentiment, 'I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it'?

American newspapers, with the noble exception of the Philadelphia Inquirer, have badly failed their readers, substituting out-of-control and tendentious verbal interpretations for the offending cartoons. Why not reprint the cartoons and let their readers judge for themselves? Most readers, without seeing the cartoons, assume they are editorial cartoons like Doug Marlette's sketch of Mohammed transporting a nuclear bomb in a Ryder truck. But at least one of these images,-- the one with the guy leading the mule-- has no discernible satiric intent. In the peculiar way in which error chases its tail, readers who have been prompted to identify these drawings as satirical then complain, upon seeing them, that they are 'weak' or 'mediocre.'

The artist who represented Mohammed as horned is universally assumed to be following the European convention of representing the devil as two-horned. Is he? But the two-horned character of the Koran is a heroic figure: "They said, 'O Dhool Karnain [The Two-Horned], behold, God and Magog are doing corruption in the earth; so shall we assign to thee a tribute...'" (Sura 18:92-93). Whether one understands The Two-Horned as an end-times figure, or as Mohammed himself, where is the disrespect?

The Two-Horned is represented as a world conqueror blessed by God. In the centuries after his early death, legendary material encrusted Alexander the Great, who is depicted on ancient coins wearing double horns, in likeness of his reputed daddy, Ammon, according to king Philip's dream: "'I saw a god in a dream. He was very handsome, with grey hair and beard, and he had horns on his temples, both like gold; and in his hand he held a scepter.'" (Pseudo-Callisthenes, The Alexander Romance, p. 659, Collected Ancient Greek Novels, edited by B. P. Reardon), and its interpretation: "'. . .this child who is going to be born will reach the rising sun, waging war with all — like a lion — and capturing cities by force — on account of the spear beneath. As for your having seen a god with ram's horns and grey hair, this is the god of Libya, Ammon.''' (Pseudo-Callisthenes, The Alexander Romance, p. 660, Collected Ancient Greek Novels, edited by B. P. Reardon).

"Whatever the answers had been, Alexander was sufficiently satisfied to present rich offerings to the oracle. . .He also drew inspiration from earlier pharaohs by incorporating the horns of Amun's sacred creature, the ram, into his own royal regalia, and when the city of Mytilene offered him divine honors, he was portrayed on their coinage with the horns curling through his hair. The legend of the all-conquering 'Two-horned One' was born." (Cleopatra the Great, by Dr. Joann Fletcher, pp. 34-35).

Anyone who wonders what Alexander the Great is doing in the Koran, perhaps will explain what the Seven Sleepers are doing in there! So far as history reports, Alexander was an unreconstructed pagan, although his preceptor, Aristotle, was tending somewhat toward ethical monotheism and indeed became an elder brother in the faith to such luminaries as Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas. Both Jewish and Christian sources portray Alexander as in a sense commissioned by God:

"Let me give an instance of this: When Alexander the Macedonian was passing by Jerusalem in prosecution of his war against Darius, the High Priest of the Jews, arrayed in the robes of his office, came forth to meet him, whereupon Alexander dismounted from his horse and in a very kindly manner embraced him. And when his attendants reproached him for so doing and said: Why hast thou done so? he excused himself and said: When I set out at first from Macedonia, a man dressed in this this style was seen by me in a dream who said to me: Go forth and conquer. The result was that the King himself offered sacrifices to God and bestowed many gifts on the Temple, and accorded many privileges to the country of the Jews." (Cosmas Indicopleustes, The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, Book XII, p. 383).

Josephus saw a likeness between Moses' parting of the Red Sea and Alexander's transit of the Pamphylian Sea:

"As for myself, I have delivered every part of this history as I found it in the sacred books; nor let any one wonder at the strangeness of the narration if a way were discovered to those men of old time, who were free from the wickedness of the modern ages, whether it happened by the will of God or whether it happened of its own accord; — while, for the sake of those that accompanied Alexander, king of Macedonia, who yet lived, comparatively but a little while ago, the Pamphylian Sea retired and afforded them a passage through itself, had no other way to go; I mean, when it was the will of God to destroy the monarchy of the Persians: and this is confessed to be true by all that have written about the actions of Alexander." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 16, Section 5).

Realizing that Alexander was not, in fact, a world travelling evangelist for monotheism, Muslim commentators cannot see him as the 'Two-Horned,' though he it is. World conquest is programmed into Islam. The figure of Mohammed concealing a time bomb in his turban is indeed satirical, and might as well be the only image under discussion. Those who give voice to their offense at this image by phoning in bomb threats are beyond irony. They do not surprise their detractors; they resemble a man who smashes a mirror from anger at its insults.

The image where the artist has represented the children's book author wearing a turban with an orange falling onto it reportedly reflects a Danish proverb describing a stroke of good luck. Newspapers could help their readers by translating the captions, plus it would be helpful to inspect what sort of images we are no longer allowed to draw nor to see. The wildest interpretations follow the figure with a black rectangle superimposed on his face. Some perceive this as a blind man wearing modernistic dark glasses (how do they remain perched on the bridge of his nose?) These interpreters, who evidently dislike blind people and would think the less of Mohammed if he were blind, need to read Sura 80, 'He Frowned,' wherein Mohammed is chided for his rudeness to a blind man. How does blindness diminish Homer's achievement, or Milton's? No such thing is recorded of Mohammed in any case. It seems likelier to me the artist is following the broadcast convention of covering up the unmentionable with a black rectangle. Westerners generally perceive the exaggerated veiling of women, not as exaltation or protection, but as diminution, rendering them invisible, turning them into public non-persons, black ghosts who drift through society without a social face. Oddly enough, this is what happened to Mohammed upon his demise: he entered into the women's chambers, not allowed to show his face in society.


See for yourself whether these images are, as Karen Hughes says, "deeply offensive, even blasphemous to the precious convictions of our Muslim friends and neighbors" (quoted AP, February 18, 2006, At Least 15 Die in Nigeria Cartoon Protest), or whether governmental disdain for free speech is even more offensive.

Journey of the Prophet Mohammed, 15th century, Herat, Afghanistan

Those protesting these cartoons include government ministers and even heads of state. They have gone far beyond any legitimate protest. They want to extinguish the Danish artists' free speech rights, if not to extinguish the artists themselves. Protesting government include the Islamofascist regime the Bush administration has lately installed in Baghdad: "In the southern holy city of Karbala, Sheikh Ahmad Asafi, representative of revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, asked 'how dare the Danish newspaper insult Prophet Mohammed?'...Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, meanwhile, called for an official intervention from Denmark to calm the rising passions." (Iraq protests against Danish cartoons as Bush seeks funds, Fri Feb 3, 1:33 PM ET, BAGHDAD (AFP)). This is the government with whom Mr. Bush marches arm in arm: "we are proud to be their allies in the cause of freedom." (State of the Union Address, January 31, 2006.) The Danish prime minister has consistently and rationally explained that, inasmuch as his government does not control what the papers publish, he cannot answer for their actions. Evidently this is the brave new world which Mr. Bush and his followers wish to inaugurate: no one is allowed to insult the prophet Mohammed. These governments want not only to control the thoughts of their own populace, but to control what Danes in Demark are allowed to say and think. This is an unprecedented power grab, and American newspapers have acquiesced in it by suppressing otherwise newsworthy pictures.

Some in the Muslim community point to hypocrisy in the Western application of the principle of free speech. In Austria, for example, it is illegal to deny the Holocaust. The correct response to hypocrisy is not to abandon the principle imperfectly realized, but to abandon the inconsistency. European nations would benefit from a strong constitutional protection of free speech such as is afforded by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Under the shelter of the First Amendment it is, of course, perfectly legal to deny the Holocaust, the rotundity of the earth, the moon landings, WW II, the Armenian genocide, and whatever else one is disposed to deny. Whether any join in your denial depends on the plausibility of your case and the quality of the evidence you can marshal in its defense.

People in the newspaper business lionize H. L. Mencken, who made a career out of insulting Christians. Insulted Christians, though they may squeal with pain, do not bomb or torch, because their leader did not do these things: "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." (Isaiah 50:6). Given their zeal to insult Christians, the newspapers' reluctance to insult Muslims seems less a stand on principle and more a risk assessment, like the schoolyard bully who picks on the Quaker child whom he knows will not fight back.

The current dispute about the Danish cartoons is the latest installment in a centuries-long argumentum ad baculum conducted by the Muslim community. The Muslims say, if you insult our prophet, we will kill you:

"PESHAWAR, Pakistan - A Pakistani cleric announced a $1 million bounty for killing a cartoonist who drew the Prophet Muhammad as thousands joined street protests after Friday prayers..."This is a unanimous decision of by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the prophets deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end, will get this prize," he said." (Cleric Announces $1M Bounty for Cartoonist, By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer, Fri Feb 17, 4:38 PM ET.)

Insulting the prophet, of course, includes denying that he is a prophet, which all Christians are obliged to do should they wish to remain Christians, because this man denied a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith: that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. The Muslim ideal of tolerance specifies that, if any should think so, they must not say so publicly. The Christian minorities in Muslim lands live under this restriction; what is new here is the stunning global reach. Seizing control of the whole world's public square without enough boots on the ground to back it up might seem futile, were it not for the supine and apologetic response of governments including the Bush administration. The rioters have made it clear they intend to murder those who will not share their idolatrous reverence for their late prophet. It is the duty of government to defend citizens in the exercise of their God-given rights; this they have yet to do, even verbally.

Here we go again:

Embassy to Heraclius

  • "...Heraclius then asked for the letter addressed by Allah's Apostle which was delivered by Dihya to the Governor of Busra, who forwarded it to Heraclius to read. The contents of the letter were as follows: "In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful (This letter is) from Muhammad the slave of Allah and His Apostle to Heraclius the ruler of Byzantine. Peace be upon him, who follows the right path. Furthermore I invite you to Islam, and if you become a Muslim you will be safe, and Allah will double your reward, and if you reject this invitation of Islam you will be committing a sin by misguiding your Arisiyin (peasants). (And I recite to you Allah's Statement:)
  • "'O people of the scripture! Come to a word common to you and us that we worship none but Allah and that we associate nothing in worship with Him, and that none of us shall take others as Lords beside Allah. Then, if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are Muslims (those who have surrendered to Allah).' (3:64).
  • "Abu Sufyan then added, 'When Heraclius had finished his speech and had read the letter, there was a great hue and cry in the Royal Court. So we were turned out of the court. I told my companions that the question of Ibn-Abi-Kabsha) (the Prophet Muhammad) has become so prominent that even the King of Bani Al-Asfar (Byzantine) is afraid of him. Then I started to become sure that he (the Prophet) would be the conqueror in the near future till I embraced Islam (i.e. Allah guided me to it).'"
  • (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 1, Number 6.)

Muslims who adhere to the Hadith can scarcely reject the historicity of this episode, which shows that the project of spreading Islam by the sword was already present in the mind of the unlettered Arabian prophet; the blame cannot be shifted to his successors. As has been seen, Mohammed's attitude toward the 'People of the Book' follows a downhill trajectory from friendly admiration to the naked aggression of Sura 9, the Koran's last word on the subject:

"Make war upon such of those to whom the Scriptures have been given as believe not in God, or in the last day, and who forbid not that which God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who profess not the profession of the truth, until they pay tribute out of hand, and they be humbled. The Jews say, ‘Ezra (Ozair) is a son of God’; and the Christians say, ‘The Messiah is a son of God.’ Such the sayings in their mouths! They resemble the saying of the Infidels of old! God do battle with them! How are they misguided! They take their teachers, and their monks, and the Messiah, son of Mary, for Lords beside God, though bidden to worship one God only. There is no God but He! Far from His glory be what they associate with Him! Fain would they put out God’s light with their mouths: but God only desireth to perfect His light, albeit the Infidels abhor it. He it is who hath sent His Apostle with the Guidance and a religion of the truth, that He may make it victorious over every other religion, albeit they who assign partners to God be averse from it. (Sura 9:29-33)

As has also been seen, the Koran's own rule for reconciling its own contradictions is that the later verse should abrogate the former, not vice versa. If, as some would have it, the earliest chapters' teaching of tolerance should overrule this last declaration of war, then why the embassy to Heraclius, emperor of the Christian Byzantine empire, with its offer of conversion to Islam or war? While some Muslims and persons sympathetic to Islam prefer to believe it was not Mohammed but his successors who came up with the idea of world conquest, the letter to Heraclius stands in their way, showing as it does a progression, in the wrong direction. Reportedly, Heraclius replied politely, in the apparent belief that it costs nothing extra to be nice: "Heraclius sent a polite letter of acknowledgement and a trifling present to the unknown fanatic. . ." (Charles Oman, The Dark Ages, Book II, p. 168).

It should be noted there is some disagreement about the meaning of the word 'Arisiyin,' translated 'peasants' or 'subjects' but understood by some as a reference to the Arian heresy. According to this view, Islam is willing to live at peace with Christianity provided the latter religion abandons its conviction that Jesus Christ is God. But even if Islam offers Christians peace upon their desertion of their present affiliation to join the Jehovah's Witnesses, this is not what the people wish to do, no more than did Heraclius' people.

During the prophet's lifetime, the faithful staged an abortive raid into Mu'ta in Syria, meeting a vigorous Byzantine rebuff. What was Mohammed's intent? Apparently, the same as the intent of all the earlier and the later aggression, namely to spread the faith:

"The people went forward until when they were on the borders of the Balqa' the Greek and Arab forces of Heraclius met them in a village called Masharif. When the enemy approached, the Muslims withdrew to a village called Mu'ta. . .Yahya b. 'Abbad b. 'Abdullah b. al-Zubayr from his father who said, 'My foster-father, who was of the B. Murra b. 'Auf, and was in the Mut'a raid said, "I seem to see Ja'far when he got off his sorrel and hamstrung her and then fought until he was killed as he said:
"Welcome Paradise so near,
Sweet and cool to drink its cheer.
Greeks will soon have much to fear
Infidels, of descent unclear
When we meet their necks I'll shear."'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 534).

What is clear from this little bit of doggerel which was this man's dying testimony is that the Muslims were certainly not fighting in self-defense, as well-meaning people sometimes claim. How far did Mohammed's ambitions extend? Perhaps not as far as the world empire ultimately achieved by his successors, but certainly far beyond Arabia:

"Then he said, 'It may well be that the poverty you see prevents you from joining this religion but, by God, wealth will soon flow so copiously among them that there will not be the people to take it. . .but by God you will soon hear that the white castles of Babylon have been opened to them.'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 639).

Throughout his career as Arabian warlord he reportedly promised great things to his followers, "Yazid b. Ziyad on the authority of Muhammad b. Ka'b al-Qurazi told me that when they were all outside his door Abu Jahl said to them: 'Muhammad alleges that if you follow him you will be kings of the Arabs and the Persians.'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 222). And, "It was he who said on the day of the Parties, 'Muhammad promises us that we shall enjoy the treasures of Chosroes and Caesar whereas it is not safe for one of us to go to the privy!'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 243). Of course, whether Mohammed ibn Abdallah actually said any such thing is open to doubt; these traditions are only as good as those transmitting them, and it is easy enough to copy down names and invent an isnad chain: "The enemy came at them from above and below until the believers imagined vain things, and disaffection was rife among the disaffected to the point that Mu'attib b. Qusyahr brother of B. 'Amr b. 'Auf said, 'Muhammad used to promise us that we should eat the treasures of Chosroes and Caesar and today not one of us can feel safe in going to the privy!'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, pp. 453-454). If Mohammed did indeed promise his followers they would enjoy the wealth of Persia and the Byzantines, then they can hardly have felt they were innovating when, after his death, they went on to invade those territories.



Although given the confused state of the evidence, debate rages about many provisions of Sharia (Islamic law), on one point there is unanimity: "According to classical interpretations of the Shariah, the punishment for apostasy for a Muslim is death, and this is interpreted by many Westerners to mean the lack of freedom of conscience in Islam." (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Heart of Islam, p. 49). Under Islamic law, persons born to Muslim parents are not free to choose their religion: period. Abjuring Islam will become a capital crime wherever Islamist movements succeed in nullifying secular law in favor of sharia. Those politicians who are eager to spend U.S. tax dollars establishing Islamist regimes abroad are not securing a different kind of freedom, but ensuring its absence.

There was recently such a case in Afghanistan, where a Christian convert found himself at the mercy of a Sharia court. Afghanistan is Mr. Bush's show-piece of 'freedom:' "And the first time that doctrine was really challenged was in Afghanistan...And so we acted. Twenty-five million people are now free..." (President George W. Bush, March 20, 2006). They are not free, of course, to change their religion: "During the one-day hearing, the defendant confessed that he converted from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago...'But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law,' the judge said. 'It is an attack on Islam.'" (Portland Press Herald, 'Convert to Christianity faces death penalty in Afghanistan,' March 20, 2006). He was graciously allowed to flee the country.

Reportedly 'Allah's apostle' himself, Mohammed ibn Abdallah, recommended the death penalty in these cases, as reported in the hadith: Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57, where Allah's apostle is recalled as having said,

"Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him."

"Islam does not give provision for a Muslim to change religions. Allah and Prophet Muhammad both prescribed death as the punishment for apostasy, and any Muslim who does not heed the call to kill an apostate disobeys both Allah and his Prophet." (Hussein Hajji Wario, Cracks in the Crescent, p. 208).

Believers were not free to leave Rev. Jim Jones' Jonestown, nor are they free to leave Islam. At some times and places, Christians have endured the like indignity: "Alonso the Wise of Castile decreed the stake for all Christians who apostatized to Islam or to Judaism." (Henry C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Volume 1, Kindle location 3960). However, there is no Biblical warrant for this, nor precedent in the early church. It is difficult not to perceive it as tit-for-tat. Under Islamic jurisdiction, there is a ratcheting effect: Christians may freely become Muslims, but no return traffic is allowed. Thus the percentage of Christians in the population inexorably falls.



What is the etiquette of addressing a party whom one believes to be a false prophet? Muslims nearly swoon at the rudeness some Christians display. Yet Mohammed called a spade a spade. His success inspired copycats, including Moseilma. Mohammed did not hesitate to call this party a "liar," addressing a letter as follows:

“From Mohammed the prophet of God, to Moseilma the Liar!" (Quoted Washington Irving's Mohammed and His Successors).
Washington Irving
Mohammed and His

False prophecy is a horrid crime, as we all understand: "But is any more wicked than he who deviseth a lie of God, or saith, 'I have had a revelation,' when nothing was revealed to him?" (Koran, Sura 6:93). Not everyone who claims to be a prophet actually is a prophet; Mohammed acknowledged this, as a practical matter, just as everyone else does. We all take the "middle way:"

"Of a truth they who believe not on God and his Apostles, and seek to separate God from his Apostles, and say, 'Some we believe, and some we believe not,' and desire to take a middle way; These! they are veritable infidels! and for the infidels have we prepared a shameful punishment." (Sura 4:149-150).

They did not believe in Moseilma the Liar, and neither do we. You might almost say, "But is any more wicked than he who deviseth a lie of God, or saith, 'I have had a revelation,' when nothing was revealed to him?" (Sura 6:93).


Pope Benedict

The perception exists in much of the Muslim world that, while it is true Muslim conquerors subjugated by force of arms much of the Christian Mediterranean world, these populations' transition from majority Christian to overwhelmingly Muslim occurred only through the exercise of sweet reason. Does it not show the superiority of Islam, that so many people could be persuaded of its truth? The reality is more dispiriting. The Christian populace of Muslim-ruled nations,-- those who value their lives,-- are cowed into silence by legal intimidation. A Christian cannot legally explain to his Muslim neighbor why he is a Christian and not a Muslim. If he says that Mohammed was not a true prophet, has he not called him a false prophet? He has insulted the prophet; off to jail he goes.

In recent years, strangely enough, the Muslim world has sought to extend the zone of silence to the whole round world, even those areas not under Muslim military control. And even more strangely, some in the western media and political realm have encouraged them. How can it be, in a free society, that one individual, Mohammed ibn Abdallah, is beyond all criticism? How can it be that even atheists, who have no thought category corresponding to true prophecy, must refrain from calling this man a false prophet? Can there really be no conceivable room for improvement in this one individual's speech and deportment, when even the Koran chides him for rudeness to a blind man?

Recently the world has seen another of these strange displays, where someone who hints or intimates that perhaps Islam is not actually the perfect religion of peace, is met by the roar, 'You will believe that Islam is a religion of peace or we will kill you!' Turn on the TV and you see mobs cavorting about, like a barrel of monkeys spilled out onto the street, faces distorted with hatred, shaking fists, breaking glass, burning things, displaying death-threat banners, and generally adding to the labors of the Sanitation Department. We are told to believe that Muslims are peaceful and rational people. If Muslims are peaceful and rational, then who on earth are these people?

The latest demonstration involves Pope Benedict, who quoted a fourteenth century Byzantine emperor named Manuel II Paleologus, who said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." It turns out that the Pope does not agree with the Emperor, whom he has left swaying in the breeze. In public estimation, Byzantine emperors rank with Mafia dons, and other folks who conduct their business through secret murder rather than by open and above-board means. Yet who does not deserve a fair hearing? Let us then examine the Emperor's comment.

The Emperor addresses that subset of Mohammed's teachings which are "new." Mohammed did not make novelty his selling point; he claimed, not to be founding a new religion, but to be re-establishing a very old religion, the faith of Abraham: "They say, moreover, ‘Become Jews or Christians that ye may have the true guidance.’ SAY: Nay! the religion of Abraham, the sound in faith, and not one of those who join gods with God!" (Sura 2:129). Many of the tales retold in the Koran are already familiar to the Bible-reader. Mohammed retells the story of Moses and Pharaoh, of Joseph and his brothers, and of Mary and her baby. Even what is unfamiliar, like the tale of Ad and Themoud, he represents as old, depicting Moses as asking people if they had heard it (Sura 14:9). The unfamiliar embellishments he adds to these twice-told tales originated often with the Rabbis, not Mohammed, and were not intended to undermine the stories' original meaning. These stories were edifying in their originals, and are still; they teach man to reverence and serve his Creator. This material not "evil" nor "inhuman"; but neither is it "new."

The Emperor wants to examine what is "new." The Bible says the Athenians were always looking to see what was "new" (Acts 17:21). This is not necessarily what Mohammed was aiming at. Mohammed was greatly troubled by the proliferation of sects. His strategy for consolidating them was one of subtraction: take away from each sect its most distinctive and controversial teaching, and then they will agree. Thus Mohammed takes away from Christians the incarnation. But still no one agreed, least of all with Mohammed, who had thrown out the baby with the bath-water. And there are new teachings in the Koran. What sleepy reader has not snapped bolt upright on reading, "When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till ye have made a great slaughter among them, and of the rest make fast the fetters." (Sura 47:4). This is not what the reader expects, because it is "new."

The practice of forced conversion was not new, and cannot be blamed on Mohammed. The Hasmonean kings of Israel had forcibly converted conquered population groups like the Idumeans. How little stock the Jews themselves put on mass conversion is shown in their testy relations with the Idumean King Herod, whom no one thought really to be a Jew. Some European population groups were forcibly converted, upon military conquest, to Christianity in mass baptisms. Yet this practice shocked the conscience of those called upon to celebrate it, there being no warrant in scripture for a confession of faith given under duress. Readers of the books of Maccabees realize that religious coercion is not distinctive to monotheistic religions, the pagan Greeks having sought to compel conquered peoples to share in their religious practices. What what lacking prior to Mohammed is any 'scripture' which authorized the practice. That is new, and is indeed "evil" and "inhuman."


War Against Iraq

Greek Independence

Islam is comparatively benign in its treatment of Jews and Christians, who generally may remain alive and practice their religion if they submit as 'dhimmis,' second-class citizens subject to discriminatory taxation which ranges from burdensome to confiscatory, by comparison with its treatment of pagans like the Hindus, whose sufferings in India under Muslim overlords exceed what Christians endured in the Balkans or Sicily:

"Above all he [Aurangzeb] ordered the destruction of all Hindu temples throughout the land, including that in Rama's birthplace, Ayodhya." (Hans Kung, Islam, Past, Present and Future, p. 400).

They never had the intention of tolerating pagans like the Zoroastrians; those people, upon Muslim conquest of their homelands, received the option of conversion or death. Initially, the Christians and the Jews, the 'people of the book,' were offered a better deal: they were to be 'humbled,' and recognize the natural superiority of Islam and the fitness of the Muslims to serve as the governing class. However, this never actually happened; they never actually concurred that their own 'humbling' represented the natural state of things. Muslim rulers complained bitterly of the disloyalty of their Christian subjects. When the pagan Genghis Khan began his murderous rampage from the horse pastures of Mongolia to the gates of Eastern Europe, the Christians are known to have prayed, not that he would fail, but that he would convert to Christianity!— which, of course, never happened.

It turns out that it is perfectly feasible for Muslim rulers to convince their Muslim subjects that Islam is the superior faith, the last revelation to mankind, but Christians and Jews will always be dissidents to this social consensus. Feeling social comity essential, the rulers found the only way to achieve it was to massacre or expel the 'people of the book.' Thus today we look over a Middle East with tiny, remnant Christian populations, where once there was a Christian majority. The degree of brutality the Muslim rulers were willing to exercise is breath-taking. If some of these regimes had lasted any longer, they would have killed the last Christian in the region. When the Greeks, tired of their status as second-class citizens in the Muslim Ottoman empire, role in rebellion, the Turks resorted to mass murder:

"Across the Greek-speaking world, the Ottomans responded by a series of massacres, and many clergy died in the ensuing repression. The patriarch of Constantinople was hanged outside his cathedral—on Easter morning!—and other archbishops and patriarchs were hanged or beheaded, at Adrianople and Thessaloniki, and across Cyprus. Turkish massacres culminated in the slaughter on the island of Chios, where perhaps twenty thousand Christians were killed."

(Jenkins, John Philip (2008-10-16). The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died (pp. 157-158). HarperCollins.)

Eugene Delacroix, Massacre at Chios
Eugene Delacroix, Masssacre at Chios

The Greeks were far from alone in their experience of Muslim mercy. Mass murder was standard operating procedure for Christian minority groups within the Muslim Ottoman empire, ruled by the Caliph of the day. Christians were inevitably second-class citizens under Muslim rule, and were accordingly suspected of disaffection. The Ottomans carried out the most cruel atrocities against those Christians so unfortunate as to find themselves under Muslim governance, like the Armenians:

"Trebizond was likewise 'cleansed.' . . During 1915, it became another assembly point for the killing of thousands of Armenian Christians. As Lord Bryce records, 'They hunted out all the Christians, gathered them together, and drove a great crowd of them down the streets of Trebizond, past the fortress, to the edge of the sea. There they were all put on board sailing boats, carried out some distance on the Black Sea, and there thrown overboard and drowned. Nearly the whole Armenian population of from 9,000 to 10,000 were destroyed — some in this way, some by slaughter, some by being sent to death elsewhere.'" (Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War, p. 302).

The total death toll for the Armenian genocide is approximated as one million martyrs. I have never seen a body count for the Ottoman Empire in its entire course, though it must be vast. For the Muslim empires, as for Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, government means killing people. Fortunately Europe, which thanks to Charles Martel was not under Muslim rule, began to take an interest in the sufferings of the Greek Christians. During all his 'prophetic' career, Mohammed ibn Abdallah nourished the illusion that the Christians and the Jews really in their hearts knew he was right, they just wouldn't admit it. History shows that Muslim dominance over society can prevail, if accompanied by ethnic cleansing on a grand scale. Once hardly any but Muslims are left, it works just fine, because everyone (surviving) agrees that a society so structured, built on the deliberate denial of equality before the law, is just. The grand experiment was tried, and it was proved that the promises of the Koran fall to the ground.

General Betray-Us

Islam came very strong out of the gate; within a century of Mohammed's death, the Muslims had reached the high-water mark of their world conquests. In due time the Christian world woke up and responded; in course of time, the stagnating Muslim world had to suffer even the indignity of Western colonialism. But Islam is on the upsurge again, imposing restrictions on the liberty of Americans and Europeans to speak freely, thanks in large part to willing collaborators like General Petraeus:

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