Should I become a Muslim? The Islam question was raised in September 2006 when the Al-Qaeda movement issued a dawah: an invitation to convert, to ‘Americans and other unbelievers’. However, such a decision shouldn’t be made without careful consideration. It seemed to me that an assessment of the relevant evidence and arguments would be necessary before I could make an informed choice, so I began to look into the basis of Islam. And the following is the result.

A.P.R. June 2009

Chapter 1 Introduction ...................................... 1 1.1. Muhammad: hero or zero ........................ 1 1.2. Why do Muslims think the Quran was composed by God? ........................................ 2 1.3. The approach taken in this book.............. 2 1.4. Sources of information............................ 3 Chapter 2 The Muslim Story of the Origins of Islam ................................................................. 6 2.1. A brief summary of the origin of the Islamic scriptures........................................... 6 2.2. Discussion ............................................ 10 2.3. The secret of my successor.................... 18 2.4. Conclusions .......................................... 21 Chapter 3 Working the Audience ..................... 22 3.1. Introduction .......................................... 22 3.2. Early responses to the hecklers.............. 23 3.3. Abrogation............................................ 29 3.4. The perks of the job .............................. 39 3.5. Concluding remarks .............................. 46 Chapter 4 The Claim of Science in the Quran.. 48 4.1. Introduction .......................................... 48 4.2. Water.................................................... 49 4.3. The sky................................................. 51 4.4. The earth............................................... 56 4.5. Biology................................................. 60 4.6. Humans and other creatures .................. 62 4.7. Dr. Bucaille’s guilty secret.................... 66 4.8. Summing up ......................................... 69

Chapter 5 The Claim of Inimitability ............... 72 5.1. Introduction .......................................... 72 5.2. Characteristics of the Quran.................. 73 5.3. The Muslim claim of proof ................... 78 5.4. Final remarks ........................................ 86 Chapter 6 The Claim of the Quran’s Prophecies ........................................................................ 89 6.1. Introduction .......................................... 89 6.2. What do the ‘Romans’ verses refer to?.. 90 6.3. The curious incident.............................. 93 6.4. An alternative explanation .................... 94 6.5. A prophecy of Nostradamus-like quality95 6.6. A failed prediction in the Quran ............ 96 6.7. Final remarks ........................................ 98 Chapter 7 Aspects of Islamic Law.................... 99 7.1. Introduction .......................................... 99 7.2. Free will and the future ......................... 99 7.3. Adultery.............................................. 107 7.4. Slavery ............................................... 110 7.5. The Rules of Inheritance in the Quran. 113 7.6. The conclusion.................................... 118 Chapter 8 Islam’s Cousins............................. 120 8.1. Introduction ........................................ 120 8.2. The lessons of history ......................... 121 8.3. Keeping the faith ................................ 128 8.4. The secret of Islam’s success .............. 135

Chapter 9 The Real Origin of Islam............... 142 9.1. Voices in my head .............................. 142 9.2. The episodes of ‘inspiration’............... 143 9.3. A rational explanation......................... 146 9.4. Non-Muslim objections....................... 151 9.5. Discussion: a summary of the evidence, and what it implies..................................... 158 9.6. Final remarks ...................................... 162 Chapter 10 Summary..................................... 164 10.1. The choice to be made ...................... 164 10.2. The origin of Islam ........................... 164 10.3. The Quran’s style.............................. 167 10.4. The Quran’s contents ........................ 169 10.5. Where the Quran really came from.... 172 10.6. Conclusion........................................ 173 References..................................................... 175

Chapter 1 Introduction
1.1. Muhammad: hero or zero
There is only one legitimate basis for adopting a particular religion: that one believes its claims to be true. In the same way, there is only one legitimate basis for rejecting any religion: that one believes its claims to be false. Islam claims that, around the year 610 in what is now Saudi Arabia, Muhammad ibn Abdullah began to receive messages from the Biblical God (‘God’) and that he continued to receive them until his death in 632. Subsequently, according to Islam, the messages were compiled into a book: the Quran, which thereby became a book of guidance, setting out the behaviour that God expected from humankind. It is clear, therefore, that the Quran must be either entirely the word of God or entirely the product of human imagination. It is either 100% genuine or 100% spurious, with no middle ground possible. If it is the former, a large fraction of the earth's population has, for nearly 1400 years, ignored the explicit wishes of their creator. If it is the latter then, for the same period, the whole of Islamic civilisation has been based on a document which is, in essence, a fake. No happy medium exists, even in principle: Muhammad is either hero or zero.


1.2. Why do Muslims think the Quran was composed by God?
The Muslim case for divine authorship is based upon a number of claims about the content and qualities of the Quran. From the description in [1] of the original works by the medieval Muslim theologians Abu Bakr Muhammad al-Baquillani (whom we shall meet again in Chapter 5) and Abu Abdullah alQurtubi, they can be summarised as follows. It is maintained that: 1. The Quran is inimitable and superior to all other works in Arabic 2. Its statements about the natural world must have been produced by divine revelation 3. Its prophecies and promises have all been fulfilled 4. Its legislation cannot be surpassed 5. Its comprehensiveness cannot be matched 6. Its effect on the hearts of men fulfils human needs Claim 6 can perhaps be ignored since all other religions (which Islam considers to be uniformly false) produce the same sensation of fulfilment as far as their adherents are concerned.

1.3. The approach taken in this book
My intention is to review Islam as it is conventionally presented and to assess whether its central claim is to be believed. What follows is therefore concerned not with whether Islam is good or bad, but with whether Islam is true or false. If we are to attempt an assessment of the truth of Islam, then it might be assumed that an investigation of the question of the


existence of God should play a part since, in order for Islam to be true, it is necessary that God should exist. However, this issue can be sidestepped. If the Muslim belief that there is proof of God’s authorship of the Quran is well-founded, then this also provides proof of His existence. If it is not, then the objective of the investigation has been achieved without the question of God’s presence or absence ever needing to be resolved. So, to make things easier, I am going to assume the fundamental monotheists’ position of belief in the existence of the Biblical God and I am also going to accept as accurate the Muslim accounts of the historical origins of Islam, so that the question boils down to a straight run-off between God and Muhammad as sole author of the Quran. I am going to examine critically each of the above claims from the perspective of the Muslim beliefs that God: is all-powerful and all-wise (as stated in the Quran), and intends Islam to be the religion followed by the whole world (see Section 2.1.2)

1.4. Sources of information
I have nothing to gain from drawing upon controversial or hostile sources of information unless the subject under discussion is not treated adequately elsewhere, so I try to stick to Islamic sources of information wherever possible. In reviewing Islamic sources, particularly the primary scriptures, I remain well aware of the usual responses to critical reviews which are carried out by non-Muslims, these being that the reviewer: 3


has quoted from a poor translation; has misunderstood a passage; has quoted a passage out of context;

The translation of the Quran used for most of the quotations is that of Arthur Arberry (1905-1969), a former Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge [2]. According to [3]: “The translation is without prejudice and is probably the best around. The Arberry version has earned the admiration of intellectuals worldwide, and having been reprinted several times, remains the reference of choice for most academics. It seems destined to maintain that position for the foreseeable future.” Nevertheless, a single translation is insufficient, so I always cross check the meaning against some or all of the translations by Yusufali, Pickthal, Shakir [4], Al-Hilali and Khan [5], Sarwar [6] and Rodwell [7] (the translations seldom differ in ways which are significant to the following discussion, by the way). I also consult the tafsirs (commentaries) of Ibn Kathir [8] and Maududi [9] and the book on Islamic law by Al-Misri [10] in order to confirm that the interpretation is correct. Other sources are referenced in the text. The orthodox account of the origin of the Quran has been presented in many sources. This article draws mainly on two, both of which are available on-line. The first is by a Christian Missionary, Edward Sell [11] and the second is by a European convert to Islam, Ahmad von Denffer [1].


1.5. So….
In a nutshell: we have a book, and a story of how it came to be compiled, and we have to decide whether the book was composed by an almighty, all-knowing being or by an uneducated 7th century Arab. A moment’s consideration makes it clear that there exists such a vast gulf between the respective abilities of these two candidate authors that the evidence should therefore come down emphatically on one side or the other. And, indeed, it does.


Chapter 2 The Muslim Story of the Origins of Islam
2.1. A brief summary of the origin of the Islamic scriptures
Islam maintains that, around the year 610 in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, Muhammad ibn Abdullah was designated as God’s final Messenger, or Prophet, and began to hear divine communications, relayed to him by the Archangel Gabriel. He continued to receive these messages until his death in 632 and, subsequently, the messages were compiled into a book: The Quran. The Quran is regarded as the actual word of God and remains the primary source of guidance for Muslims. Given the overwhelming importance of the sacred task that Muhammad had allegedly been entrusted with it is remarkable that, at the time of his death in 632, no complete, approved written Quran is believed to have existed, though there were reputedly a number of partial or private versions, either written or preserved in people’s memories (7th century Arabia being primarily an oral culture) plus a large number of fragments recorded on diverse media. According to Islamic history, in 633, the first Caliph (i.e. Islamic ruler, or successor to Muhammad), Abu Bakr commissioned the production of a complete written Quran, though there is no evidence that this became anything more than a personal copy kept by Abu Bakr 6

then, after his death, by the next Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab and then by Umar’s daughter (and one of Muhamamad’s widows) Hafsa. The situation remained unaltered until 653 when the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, determined that a standardised version should be created, since Muslims in Iraq and Syria (parts of the ever-growing Islamic empire) had variant versions which had given rise to quarrels. His scribes went over Abu Bakr’s version (retrieved from Hafsa), rendering it in the Meccan dialect. Uthman then commanded that all other copies (including Hafsa’s) should be burnt, leaving the revised version as the official and only representation of the Quran, and so it remains to this day. In what follows, the locations within the Quran of selected passages are denoted by (Qa:b), where ‘a’ is the Sura (i.e. Chapter) number and ‘b’ is the verse number. As stated in Chapter 1, the Arberry translation [2] is the version usually used for the quoted passages.

2.1.1. Collection of the Hadiths
The Quran is not the only Islamic scripture. There are also the Hadiths: a large body of anecdotes concerning the things Muhammad said (providing an interpretation of the Quran) or did (thereby providing an example of correct behaviour or ritual), which are second only to the Quran in terms of the reverence in which they are held. The Hadiths, together with biographies such as [12] are also the source of other aspects of Islamic law not covered by the Quran such as, for example, the death penalty for renouncing Islam (apostasy) or the use of stoning for adultery. The two main Hadith collections were compiled over 200 years after Muhammad’s death. Extracts


from the Bukhari collection [13] are referred to by the key (Ba:b:c), referring to Bukhari, Volume ‘a’, Book ‘b’, Hadith ‘c’. Hadiths from the Muslim collection [14] (named after the man who compiled them, rather than the religion) are denoted (Ma:b), referring to Muslim, Book ‘a’, Hadith ‘b’.

2.1.2. A few key features of the Quran
The detailed contents of the Quran are not the subject of this chapter. However, a few of its features need to be mentioned. The most basic is its purpose. At the very start of Sura 2, the Quran tells us: “That is the Book, wherein is no doubt, a guidance to the Godfearing ” So the Quran is a book of guidance and the ‘Godfearing’ are Muslims (and Muslims only). What were God’s intentions in revealing the Quran? The following quotation is from [10], a manual of Islamic law available in an English translation. In Section o8.0, which deals with renouncing Islam, a number of acts which entail apostasy are listed. One of them is: “To deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message….to be the religion followed by the entire world.” which is self-explanatory. An important point for all nonMuslims to appreciate is that the Quran is intrinsically an Arabic text. The basis for this view is (Q12:2): “We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran; haply you will understand.”


God’s word, therefore, is in Arabic and Arabic only. Any attempt to render the text in another language is not simply an act of translation, but potentially one of alteration. Therefore, translations are regarded with caution within Islam; a translated Quran is considered not to be a true Quran, but more like an interpretation or commentary. Although it is less widely known, it is also believed that the Quran was originally revealed in seven different forms. The source of this belief is contained in the Hadiths. (B3:41:601) reports: Narrated Umar: “I heard Hisham bin Hakim bin Hizam reciting Surat-al-Furqan [one of the chapters of the Quran] in a way different to that of mine… Allah’s Apostle [i.e. Muhammad] said…. ‘The Qur’an has been revealed in seven different ways, so recite it in the way that is easier for you’.” One final significant aspect of the Quran is the question of the dependence of its rulings upon the context in which they first appeared. The situation is described by Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress [15]: “For the last 1400 years, Muslims and their religious scholars have dealt – and are still dealing – with the important question of how much of the Quran is binding on Muslims at all times and how much of its teachings apply only to the age of the Prophet Muhammad and the particular circumstances in which he and his followers lived. This is a continually difficult question, but one on which impressive scholarly work has been done; more yet is needed.”


2.2. Discussion
According to Islam then, the almighty God intended that His religion, specified in the Quran and elaborated upon in the Hadiths, should be the one followed by the entire world. One might therefore expect that His plan for revealing and spreading Islam to the world would exhibit evidence of having been conceived and executed by an intellect far superior to our own. Let us consider the evidence and see if this is so. If it is not, we may tend to favour the competing explanation: that Muhammad was one of countless individuals, past and present, who heard ‘voices’ and that the Quran was, therefore, entirely a product of his own mind.

2.2.1. The use of prophets
For those brought up with Christian, Jewish or Islamic beliefs, the concept of prophethood may seem so familiar as to be barely worthy of comment. Yet, as a means for an almighty being to channel His communications to humanity, it seems to be rather an odd choice, given that He must surely have the power to broadcast His message simultaneously to all the world’s peoples, if He so wished. In addition to being extremely slow and inefficient, the use of prophets suffers from the drawback that each prophet has to establish his own credibility. In ancient times, as now, there was no way, even with the best will in the world, for a person to distinguish reliably between a real prophet and a false one. So the question is: why would God risk the rejection of His words by choosing a method of revelation which lacks credibility because it is so obviously open to fakery and selfdelusion?


As described more fully in Chapter 3, Muhammad’s early attempts to spread the word to his fellow Meccans is a case in point, with the experience being a slow, frustrating and sometimes dangerous one. As a result of the general scepticism and hostility, early conversions to Islam happened slowly. It is estimated in [16] that, 13 years after he had started, Muhammad’s converts numbered only around 100. His lack of success and the persecution of the early Muslims caused him and his followers to migrate to Medina, some 200 miles to the north, after which his fortunes improved markedly. The simple fact is that most of Muhammad’s compatriots, when given the free choice (an arrangement which was not to last), did not believe him. This difficulty in getting the Message across continues to the present day. That God was aware of the credibility problem is beyond doubt, since the Quran describes how previous prophets were challenged, mocked, taunted, accused of being frauds and sometimes attacked. Tellingly, the Quran also abounds (see Chapter 3) in both defensive self-reference (e.g. Q41:44) and in tirades against the unreasonable stubbornness of unbelievers (e.g. Q15:14,15). Remarkably, God was not content with this state of affairs and contrived to make things even more difficult. In (Q31:25), the Quran tells us that “Even so We have appointed to every Prophet an enemy among the sinners; but your Lord suffices as a guide and as a helper.” The reference to other prophets is significant. The Quran maintains that, prior to its appearance, ‘every nation’ was sent a prophet (Q16:36), with the total number being estimated by


later commentators as anything up to 200,000 ([11], p239). The perplexing use of designated ‘enemies’ to hinder the efforts of the prophets indicates quite unambiguously a process whereby God is enacting His master plan with one hand while undermining it with the other and may explain the almost complete fruitlessness of His previous efforts. Even accepting this hindrance, one cannot help wondering how, given this saturation coverage of the Earth’s peoples, God’s word failed to survive past the Iron Age except within one tribe: the Jews. Even in their case, according to Islam, the scriptures were corrupted. That this ‘prehistory’ is believed to have occurred is an underappreciated feature of Islam. Under normal circumstances, i.e. if the actions were being attributed to a human cause, a record of one partial success in couple of hundred thousand attempts would result in the person responsible being demoted, dismissed or executed, depending upon whom he answered to. However, in the case of a plan attributed to God, no such conclusions can be countenanced. The apparent failure has to be represented as a success or, alternatively, blamed on someone else. The ‘someone else’ is non-Muslim humanity; the ones who failed to take heed of the prophets and (in the case of the Jews) corrupted the Scriptures. However, Islam also claims that God causes and foresees everything and had therefore deliberately caused the previous difficulties. This contradiction leads directly to the perplexing Islamic stance on free will which holds that, God’s complete control notwithstanding, humans are to be punished (in the afterlife) if they fail to follow the straight path provided by Islam. This is discussed further in Chapter 7.


2.2.2. The creation of the Quran
The story of the revelation of the Quran is as puzzling as the story of the earlier prophets. Despite the latter’s almost total failure, God again selected the same method of transmission. Furthermore, although God’s message was supposedly intended for all peoples and for all time (‘the religion followed by the entire world’), Islam maintains that God has expressed it only in Arabic; this being then, as now, a minority language in world terms. Then, there is the problem of the seven versions. There are enough Hadiths on this subject to make this conclusion unavoidable for Muslims yet, oddly, not nearly enough to reflect its significance. If the story is true, Muhammad would have had to have spoken all seven each time a passage was revealed yet, in the Hadith quoted above, Umar (the same Umar whose daughter Hafsa became one of Muhammad’s wives) was unaware that alternatives even existed. In the absence of any evidence as to what the seven forms of the Quran might have been, Muslim scholars have, for centuries, tried to square the circle of there being seven forms originally, yet only one now, without any alteration having taken place. There is, unfortunately, no wiggle room here since the Quran predicts its own uncorrupted and complete preservation (Q15:9), so any loss or alteration cannot be acknowledged. There is no support for the contrived ‘explanation’ that these seven forms were merely different Arab dialects [1] and the idea that God would create seven separate versions in order to indulge the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula, yet ignore the major languages of the rest of the world, is surely too implausible, even for an account for


which suspension of one’s critical faculties is a prerequisite. Muhammad’s revelation concerning the existence of seven versions must surely strike the uncommitted reader as his attempt to finesse himself out of the consequences of previous occasions when he had failed to recall correctly the exact wording of a verse. The case of the seven versions is not the only occasion where what appears to be a simple human failing is given a divine gloss. (Q2:106) refers to verses which God supposedly had ‘cast into oblivion’; caused Muhammad to forget, in other words. The same verse describes the process whereby delivered verses were supposedly abrogated, or superseded, by later ones; a strange procedure for a text which had supposedly existed in Heaven since the beginning of time and a problem for subsequent generations since the original chronology was lost. (Q22:52) relates an occasion where verses had to be retracted because ‘Satan’ had deviously slipped them into Muhammad’s mind and (Q3:7) refers to verses which are ‘allegorical’: incomprehensible, as far as the reader is concerned. These are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.

2.2.3. The years following Muhammad’s death
Muhammad was a mortal man and, in 632, he died as the result of the rapid worsening of an illness. Upon his death, the Quran was left in a somewhat disorganised state. Verses existed in people’s memories, in incomplete and differing compilations and on various unusual media, such as the shoulderblades of sheep [1]. Von Denffer asks us, with almost desperate optimism, “What arrangement could have been better…?” ([1], p33). The answer is, of course: a collected, approved copy of the kind produced later by Uthman, whose decisive though


dictatorial action was responsible for the preservation of the Quran from 655 to the present day. Von Denffer also tries to maintain that the retrieval of these fragments during the initial compilation under Abu Bakr was a simple matter of visiting Muhammad’s old house, collecting the fragments and parcelling them up with string. The comment of Zaid Ibn Thabit (B6:60:201), to whom the task fell: “By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains (from its place) it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Quran.” suggests otherwise. For Muslims, the dogma of an unchanged Quran clashes uncomfortably with the fact that their own literature records that different versions of the Quran were in circulation after Muhammad’s death. One only has to contemplate the gravity of Uthman’s decision to burn copies which had existed since Muhammad was alive to appreciate that the differences must have been significant. Moreover, parts of the Quran were evidently lost forever, as described in some detail by Gilchrist [11], who cites examples recorded within early Islamic literature. The most unambiguous statement to this effect comes again from Umar (B8:82:816): “I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, ‘We do not find the Verses of the Rajam (stoning to death) in the Holy Book’ and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that Allah has revealed”


Umar’s concerns were well-founded, because the stoning verse is, indeed, no longer there. This infamous Islamic punishment for adultery nevertheless remains in force because of evidence in the Hadiths that it was sanctioned (and personally carried out) by Muhammad himself. There is no way to reconcile the information in the early Islamic reports with the dogma of an unchanged Quran except with a level of wishful thinking which only the preconvinced can achieve.

2.2.4. Context
Attempts by Westerners to quote the Quran back at Muslims are often met with the response that the non-Muslim has failed to take into account the context of the original ‘revelation’ and has therefore misinterpreted the text. The passage by Elmasry [15], quoted above, largely gives the game away: Muslims are also bemused and have failed to resolve the problem even to their own satisfaction in nearly one and a half millennia of ‘impressive scholarly work’. As with the case of the previous prophets, the implications of the above are profound, but hardly ever aired. The difficulties that Elmasry describes imply that God jumbled together commands designed to cover temporary circumstances with those of a more general application and gave no indication how to tell the two apart, resulting in confusion which has lasted for over 1350 years. Moreover, no amount of impressive scholarly work can resolve this problem, since no further information will ever become available. There is no more stark example of the problems that the above gives rise to than the controversy surrounding the notorious passage known as the ‘Sword Verse’ (Q9:5): “..slay the


idolaters wherever you find them”. Unfortunately, ‘God’ fails to make clear whether this applies for all time, or not, with the result that some Muslims believe one thing and the rest, the other. The verse which, almost single-handedly, defines the relationship between Islam and the rest of the world, is ambiguous.

2.2.5. Conversion of the unbelievers
An obvious necessary step in the adoption of Islam by the entire world is that unbelievers should convert into Muslims and it is reasonable to enquire as to how this conversion was supposed to have been achieved. Many features of the Quran itself and of its emergence seemed designed to promote doubt and to discourage free, rational conversion and, as far as can be determined, the overwhelming majority of Muhammad’s fellow Arabs behaved exactly as anyone would behave today if confronted by someone claiming to be a prophet (Chapter 3). They did not convert en masse until Muhammad had gained a good deal of entirely non-spiritual power. The obstacles to informed rational conversion for the remainder of the world’s peoples are even more severe. The Quran is in Arabic; most people do not speak Arabic. The message has to be spread throughout the earth, so the Quran has to be translated. However, the Quran cannot be translated and remain the Quran. For this to be resolved according to God’s intentions, it would appear that everyone on earth needs to learn Arabic and, in order for the contents of the Quran to be appreciated fully, it should preferably be learned as a first language. However, even in parts of the world which have been Muslim for some considerable time (e.g. Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan and Iran), this has not taken place. This leads to the


strange situation of the supposed words of God being repeated reverentially by non Arabic-speaking Muslims, even though they have no clue what they are saying. Was this God’s intention? So what, exactly, was God’s plan for conversion of the unbelievers? We may not have been told the details but, presumably, what took place over the next 1350 years was its realisation. But it seems scarcely credible that, with all the means at His disposal, God selected, as his method of mass communication, jihad – military conquest by the Arabs and their converts. Yet that is largely how Islam has been propagated. And despite its initial brutal success, God’s method for spreading Islam has been somewhat ineffective ever since the Arab/Muslim war machine ground to a halt several centuries ago. After nearly 50 generations, most of the unconquered world remains unconvinced by Islam’s message. How much simpler and more successful it could have been; how much bloodshed could have been avoided, if a more elegant method of transmission had been selected.

2.3. The secret of my successor
The introduction to this chapter described the roles that the first three Islamic Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab and Uthman ibn Affan played in the production of a standardised Quran. However, the confusion arising from Muhammad’s failure to perform this task himself was minor compared with the shambles which occurred during the power vacuum which followed his death, for his most significant oversight was his failure to specify adequately the process by which his successors should be chosen.


The following is only the briefest of summaries of the turmoil which took place in the next few decades. Upon Muhammad’s death, a cabal which included Umar appointed Abu Bakr, in opposition to a rival grouping who supported Muhammad’s cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, thereby immediately causing a schism which grew into the division between Sunni and Shia versions of Islam. The cause of the split was the proto-Shia belief that Muhammad had given his blessing to Ali in a public statement of support, with the essence of the dispute hinging on the meaning of a single word. Such is a typical consequence of a religious movement wedded to literalism and a founder who had a propensity for ambiguity. Abu Bakr lived for only another two years and spent most of his time as Caliph putting down the rebellion of a number of tribes who tried to leave the Muslim fold. On his deathbed in 634, Abu Bakr returned the favour to Umar, strongly recommending him as the next Caliph, again to the considerable annoyance of the Ali supporters. Umar’s reign saw a huge expansion in the Islamic empire until, in 644, Umar was stabbed to death by a captured, enslaved and humiliated Persian. Uthman was selected as the next Caliph by an appointed committee. The Islamic empire continued to grow under Uthman, but so did the opposition to his rule, partly from religious and partly from economic motives. In 656, riots broke out in Medina and Uthman was assassinated by a grouping which included one of Abu Bakr’s sons. Finally, Ali, who had been involved in the opposition to Uthman, was appointed Caliph.


At this point, things began to turn really unpleasant. A small group of dissidents, including a cousin of Abu Bakr and Muhammad’s widow Aisha raised an army to overthrow Ali. Ali was victorious, but faced another problem when Muawiya ibn Abi-Sufyan, the Governor of Syria and a relative of Uthman’s, demanded that the murderers of Uthman be brought to justice. This Ali refused to do and a further conflict began. After a battle between the two factions resulted in stalemate, Ali agreed to put the matter to arbitration under Islamic law, with a neutral adjudicator. Not only did Ali lose the judgement, and then fail to accept it, but his agreement to the arbitration procedure in the first place was seen by some of his own side as a violation of Islamic law. Eventually, it was a member of this zealous sub-faction, later named the Kharijites, who assassinated Ali in a mosque. Muawiya became the next Caliph and at this point, this brief summary ends. The first four Caliphs: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali are revered in Sunni Islam as the ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs’, so called because of their supposed devotion to true Islam. However, of these four Caliphs, three were murdered; two by other Muslims and their reigns saw internecine fighting and the acrimonious and permanent split of Islam into Sunni and Shia, with this being caused predominantly by Muhammad’s vagueness when he spoke in support of Ali. So, how is this to be explained in Islamic terms, if no errors can be admitted in either God’s plan or in Muhammad’s execution of it? Even if this criticism of Muhammad’s political judgement is thought to be a little harsh, it is surely an unavoidable conclusion that God must then have failed to realise that a section of the Muslim community had interpreted Muhammad’s statement concerning


Ali in an unintended and potentially calamitous way. If this seems like an uncharacteristic oversight for an all-knowing being, then an alternative conclusion is available, as set out below.

2.4. Conclusions
Anyone considering the above must surely find it a challenge to discern any evidence of divine planning in the haphazard and, at times, chaotic sequence of events leading to the creation and compilation of the Quran that we see today. Furthermore, when judged against the supposed divine goal of the adoption of Islam by the entire world, many features of the process: the futile efforts of the (alleged) previous prophets, the confusing, Arabic-only message, the failure of Muhammad to provide a written, approved copy, the absence of any effective strategy for the rational conversion of the unconvinced and the postMuhammad infighting, are simply inexplicable. The alternative explanation; that the Quran was composed piecemeal, consciously or unconsciously, by Muhammad alone, fits the story perfectly.


Chapter 3 Working the Audience
3.1. Introduction
It is a strange quirk of Western culture that the credibility of a religion is determined more by the its age and size than by the plausibility of its claims. It is therefore a useful exercise to set aside the baggage of a religion’s history and to imagine how things must have been at its very beginning or, alternatively, to imagine what would happen if its founder had waited until the present day before appearing on the streets a modern town. By this means it is easier to judge whether one would have been among the convinced or the unimpressed. It is strange to contemplate but, for a short while, Islam consisted of just one man. Even after Muhammad had gathered his first few recruits, Islam remained, for more than a decade, indistinguishable by its nature or its size from any other of the thousands, more likely tens of thousands of cults which have existed over the course of history (see Chapter 8 for examples). In fact, as mentioned briefly in Chapter 2, the first 13 years of Muhammad’s mission in his native Mecca were so ineffective that, during this period, he accumulated only about 100 converts [16]: an average recruitment rate of less than one every six weeks. Those who believe that the Quran is so miraculously eloquent that its audience immediately recognise its divine authorship (Chapter 5) should bear this in mind. When one considers being confronted by someone who claims to be receiving ‘messages’: from God, the spirit world, aliens or whatever, it is not difficult to see why the Meccans were as 22

difficult to win over as people would be today. There was nothing initially to distinguish Muhammad from a run-of-themill street soothsayer and, in addition, the verses which Muhammad revealed, claiming that they were words of God, seemed to place disproportionate emphasis upon events which affected Muhammad personally and spent a suspiciously large amount of time in defensive self-justification. If his claims, as a result of their intrinsic implausibility, were difficult to accept then, why should anyone believe them now? The verses of the Quran, alternately influenced by criticism and by setbacks in Muhammad’s mission on one hand, and by his growing power and increasing hold over his followers on the other, betray their human origins. The following presents a selection of examples presented in the approximate order in which they took place. The order follows the chronological sequence proposed by Soyuti, as summarised in [11]. The actual order of suras is uncertain (compare Soyuti’s sequence with those of Noldeke and Muir in [11]) and some suras contain verses from different times, so the true story can never be known, but this approach does provide an indication of the ad hoc, ephemeral and parochial nature of at least some of the Quran’s pronouncements. The Soyuti sequence number of each sura quoted is shown in braces, e.g. {22}.

3.2. Early responses to the hecklers
Muhammad’s resemblance to a street soothsayer was more than just superficial, for the style of the early Quran resembled a type of rhyming or assonant prose known by the Arabic term saj, which soothsayers of the time tended to favour ([18], p6566) and was as clear a sign of the Quran’s true origin being from within Arab culture as one could wish to find. When this


was pointed out at the time, the Quran responded (Q69:40-42) {16}: “It is the speech of a noble Messenger. It is not the speech of a poet (little do you believe) nor the speech of a soothsayer (little do you remember).” Although these verses are regarded by Muslims as ‘confirmation’ of God’s authorship, such responses in fact consist of nothing more than Muhammad making the same claim twice: the first time as himself, the second time as ‘The Quran’. Having been fobbed off with this retort, the doubters would, quite reasonably, have then enquired as to why Muhammad had been selected for such an exalted role. However, when they asked ’Why was this Quran not sent down upon some man of importance in the two cities [i.e. Mecca and the nearby town of Taif]?’ (Q43:31) they were told by (Q43:32) {19} that it was none of their business to question God’s methods. Enquiries as to why the Quran was in Arabic (rather than, say, Hebrew, Latin or Persian) were headed off with the response (Q41:44) {25}: “Had We [i.e. God] sent this as a Quran (in the language) other than Arabic, they would have said: …What! (a Book) not in Arabic and (a Messenger) an Arab?”. If the obvious next question: “So why did God choose an Arab?” was ever asked, neither it nor its response were recorded in the Quran. Muhammad also faced incredulity within his own family. His uncle, Abu Lahab, and his aunt categorically rejected Muhammad’s claims and the relationship between them soured to such an extent that Abu Lahab and his wife became the subject of a short, ill-tempered sura (Q111) {48}: “Perish the hands of Abu Lahab, and perish he! His wealth avails him not, neither what he has earned; 24

he shall roast at a flaming fire and his wife, the carrier of the firewood, upon her neck a rope of palm-fibre.” Those at the time must have wondered why an almighty God would bother to comment upon a personal squabble, why He would issue what is, in effect, a curse when He had the power to put the curse into effect and why He should be annoyed at a situation which He (according to Islam) had deliberately created. For those of us in the present day, who are aware of Islam’s developed claim that the Quran is intended for all peoples and for all time, the inclusion of a spiteful sura about a 7th century Arab of no historical or theological significance seems all the more remarkable. The criticism evidently continued. The Quran professes itself to be ‘clear’: easy to understand and is held to be so by Muslims. Nevertheless, it is evident that parts of it are incomprehensible, and were even for Muhammad’s Arab contemporaries. (Q3:7) {73} conceded as much: “It is He who sent down upon you the Book, wherein are verses clear that are the Essence of the Book, and others ambiguous.” but decided to go on the attack, suggesting that those who drew attention to the ‘ambiguous’ verses were just troublemakers: “As for those in whose hearts is swerving, they follow the ambiguous part, desiring dissension…” while explaining that “..none knows its interpretation, save only God” And the Quran returns to the subject of its own dubious credibility time after time after time. Often, it seems to be the


hecklers, rather than God, who are driving the content and forcing Muhammad to issue retorts from ‘God’ in order, presumably, to convince his followers that he and God had everything under control. The next passage turned out to be worth its weight in gold (Q4:82) {74}: “What, do they not ponder the Quran? If it had been from other than God surely they would have found in it much inconsistency.” The passage establishes for Muslims the characteristic of ‘containing no (or ‘not much’?) inconsistency’ as both a property of the Quran and as a criterion for its divine authorship, thereby telling future Muslims what to think and how to think it. Both positions are, of course, untenable: the Quran does contain inconsistencies (see Section 4.6) and consistency is, in any case, hardly so miraculous that only God can achieve it. Accusations that Muhammad was simply a fraud or that he was bewitched or was being coached in Judaism (which Islam often resembles) are referred to in the text a score of times, as are his conspicuous failures to provide a miracle to prove he was truly a prophet. Muhammad is reported in the Quran as being accused, unjustly of course, of being ‘bedevilled’ and a ‘lying sorcerer’ and the Quran ‘fairy-tales of the ancients’ and ‘a hotchpotch of nightmares’. How can a divinely-authored book be so preoccupied with papering over the cracks of its own lack of credibility?

3.2.1. The problem of the existence of unbelievers
There must have come a time when Muhammad’s manifest lack of progress itself became a cause for comment for, since


Islamic dogma insists that all things happen only because God wills them to happen (Chapter 7), why should unbelievers exist at all? This caused Muhammad to introduce ‘explanations’ as to why this should be so. One of these: that God had arranged ‘enemies’ for each of the prophets, was discussed in Chapter 2. Another is the notion that God has ‘set a seal’ on the hearts of certain individuals (Q2.7) {68}, either as the cause of, or as punishment for, their initial doubt. Either way, the ‘seal’ ensured that they would continue to fail to recognise God’s word. It is worth again considering the problem from the point of view of the contemporary Meccans. They had not had satisfactory answers to their questions concerning the Quran’s and Muhammad’s authenticity and they had listened to Muhammad’s use of the form of speech favoured by street soothsayers. Insufficient time had elapsed for the claimed ‘proofs’ (Chapter 1) of the Quran’s divine origin to come into effect and they had been told (see Chapter 5) that no miracles were to be forthcoming in order to prove that what Muhammad was saying was true. They had seen the Quran described as ‘clear’ yet also be admitted (Q3:7) to be in part incomprehensible; verses had been superseded, withdrawn and even forgotten (Section 3.3). Surely even present-day Muslims must concede that, even if the Meccans’ decision to reject Muhammad turned out to be mistaken in the long term, it was the only sensible decision based on the information they had so far been provided with. Furthermore, those whom Muhammad had failed to convince were not given the credit for having a legitimate point of view; non-Muslims were kafirs, normally translated as ‘unbelievers’


(or sometimes ‘infidels’), but implying those who recognise the truth of Islam but cover it up. (Q2:109) states: “Many of the People of the Book [i.e. Christians and Jews] wish they might restore you as unbelievers, after you have believed, in the jealousy of their souls, after the truth has become clear to them.” and the early biography of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq [12] asserts that “...the Jewish rabbis showed hostility to the apostle in envy, hatred and malice because God had chosen his Apostle from the Arabs”. In fact, the Quran is preoccupied, if not obsessed, with those who do not accept that it is the word of God. The word ‘unbeliever’, or one of its various synonyms, occurs some 430 times in the Arberry translation, with many occasions being accompanied by some insulting remark or threat of eternal damnation. Unfortunately, this view of non-Muslims is set in stone in Islam and is held today as firmly and literally as it was 1350 years ago. Some 700 years after Muhammad, Ibn Kathir wrote ([8], in discussing (Q2:106)): “Allah described the deep enmity that the disbelieving polytheists and People of the Scripture, whom Allah warned against imitating, have against the believers, so that Muslims should sever all friendship with them.” And in 1961, the writer and traveller Frithjof Schuon observed [19]:


“That anyone should be able to oppose Islam with a good conscience quite exceeds the Muslim's imagination”. Therefore, one of the problems in writing a response such as this book is that Islamic theology already provides the pretext for dismissing it without a moment’s thought.

3.3. Abrogation
The intrinsic implausibility of Muhammad’s claims was worsened when, early on, the Quran began to contradict itself. Verses 73:1 to 73:4 require Muslims to pray for almost half of the night {23}: “O you enwrapped in your robes, keep vigil the night, except a little (a half of it, or diminish a little, or add a little), and chant the Quran very distinctly” One can imagine that this proved rather difficult, so ‘God’ (who had, seemingly, failed to anticipate the problems) reduced the burden somewhat (Q73:20): “…recite of the Quran so much as is feasible.” It is fairly well known that alcohol is forbidden in Islam. This is confirmed in Verse 5:93 {111}: “O believers, wine and arrow-shuffling, idols and divining-arrows are an abomination, some of Satan’s work; so avoid it; haply So you will prosper. ” What, then, do we make of Verse 4:43 {74}, which indicates a toleration of alcohol (at least outside the mosque)?


“O believers, draw not near to prayer when you are drunken until you know what you are saying” This brings us to one of the stranger features of Islamic theology, which holds that, although the Quran is timeless, self-consistent and perfect, some of the later verses nevertheless abrogate (i.e. supersede) earlier ones. According to (Q2:106) {68}: “And for whatever verse We abrogate or cast into oblivion, We bring a better or the like of it; do you not know that God is powerful over everything?” As before, it is evident that the local sceptics jumped on this. The Quran responded with what amounts to little more than a playground insult {107}: (Q16:101)“And when We exchange a verse in the place of another verse and God knows very well what He is sending down – they say, ‘You are a mere forger!’ Nay, but the most of them have no knowledge.” In practical terms, the principle of abrogation is difficult even for Muslims because, since the original chronology of the verses was not preserved (see above), it was not always obvious which of the competing verses was the later one. A further problem arises because there is no general agreement as to whether candidate verses disagree or not. Different schools of thought have been unable to agree upon whether Quran verses can be abrogated by later rules in the Hadiths and the total number of identified abrogations has varied from several hundred, to as few as five [20]. And all this in a book which declares itself (Q3:7) to be ‘clear’ in a religion it describes 30

(Q5:3) as ‘perfect’. The change of rules concerning alcohol is explained away within Islam by the argument that giving up alcohol was sufficiently difficult that a staged approach was necessary. This is a plausible argument, though it does not take account of the fact that, after Verse 5:93 had been revealed, anyone wishing (or having) to convert to Islam would have to go cold turkey. However, the argument that God was breaking people in gently does not explain the instances where the changes in the Quran’s laws go in the opposite direction. The Quran originally had high expectations of a Muslim’s ability in battle (Q8:65): “…if there be a hundred of you, they will overcome a thousand unbelievers, for they are a people who understand not.” but had to moderate these expectations later (nowadays Q8:66, the very next verse): “Now God has lightened it for you, knowing that there is weakness in you. If there be a hundred of you, patient men, they will overcome two hundred” Whereas the argument of gradually raising the bar has some plausibility, the idea that God should reduce his expectations has none. Islam is quite explicit in its belief that God knows exactly what will happen in the future (Chapter 7). How is it, then, that He does not foresee that a man who prays half the night will be too sleepy to be of any use the next day, or that one man cannot be expected to defeat ten enemies?


And there is more. Verse 2:106 {68} above mentions verses which have not just been replaced, but have been ‘cast into oblivion’: forgotten, in other words. It is entirely possible that Muhammad could have forgotten verses occasionally; the Hadith mentioned in Section 2.1.2 suggests that he made mistakes in recalling the exact wording and had to invent a cover story that the Quran had been revealed in seven different forms. The following (M4:1720) is even more explicit: “Aisha reported that the Apostle of Allah … heard a person reciting the Quran at night. Upon this he said: ‘May Allah show mercy to him; he has reminded me of such and such a verse which I had missed in such and such a sura’.” However, simply forgetting a verse was not acceptable: the disappearance had to be attributed to God. The early Quran confirmed this idea: (Q87:6,7) {8}: “We shall make thee recite, to forget not save what God wills” The following Hadith, though not necessarily applying to Muhammad himself, indicates that the idea had already occurred to him: (M4:1726) “Ibn Mas’ud reported Allah’s Messenger… saying:’ Wretched is the man who says: I forgot such and such a sura, or I forget such and such a verse, but he has been made to forget’.” The implication is unambiguous: Muhammad had forgotten verses. According to Islam, God had therefore revealed verses


which had been written down since the creation and then arranged to have the verse forgotten almost immediately. Again, one can only imagine the scorn which must have been heaped upon Muhammad when the sceptical Islam-watchers of Mecca heard of his ‘explanation’ for his poor memory.

3.3.1. A complete U-turn
The direction that Muslims face to pray is known as the Qibla. It is well known that the Qibla is in the direction of Mecca. What is less well known, at least in the non-Muslim world, is that, for a while, it was towards Jerusalem. The Qibla remained in the direction of Jerusalem for about eighteen months after the migration to Medina until, suddenly, Muhammad announced that God had changed the rules. Instead of facing north towards Jerusalem, they should face south, towards Mecca. And so it has remained ever since. As with the other sudden changes of policy, it fell to Muhammad to fend off scepticism and ridicule from the unconvinced. First, there was the tried and trusted implied insult: (Q2:142) {68} “The fools among the people will say, ‘What has turned them from the direction they were facing in their prayers aforetime?’” Then, the ‘explanation’: (Q2:143) {68} “…We did not appoint the direction you were facing, except that We might know who followed the Messenger from him who turned on his heels…”


which indicates that God specified the previous Qibla as some kind of test of sincerity. The argument that, in the early days, when recruitment was extremely difficult, an unpopular and unfamiliar prayer direction was necessary to winnow out unworthy individuals is difficult to support in the light of the claim that God requires everyone to convert. In addition, why should God set up a test, when He knows its outcome? Untypically for a book supposedly in existence for all earthly time, the Quran seems to imply that the change to Mecca was initiated in response to the wishes of Muhammad: (Q2:144) “We have seen you turning your face about in the heaven [i.e. in hope that God would change the Qibla]; now We will surely turn you to a direction that shall satisfy you.” A more plausible explanation is given in [16]. Muhammad had tried to enlist the support of the Jewish tribes in Medina, but had been unsuccessful and had, in the meantime, recruited a significant amount of Arab support. The change of Qibla signified a break with the Jews and Arabisation of Islam. As Dashti says: “For the Jews this decision was an alarm signal” ([16], p88). It was indeed.

3.3.2. Overhead cranes
The following verse, (Q22:52) {53} was supposedly addressed to Muhammad: “We sent not ever any Messenger or Prophet before you, but that Satan cast into his recitation, when he was reciting; but God annuls what Satan casts, then God


confirms His signs” This verse refers a passage which was reportedly removed from the Quran: the passage of the ‘cranes’, otherwise known by a phrase which has become a byword for Islamic intolerance: ‘The Satanic Verses’. The story goes as follows. While still in Mecca, Muhammad had become estranged from his own tribe, the Quraysh, who still worshipped the pagan goddesses al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat. Muhammad was anxious for a reconciliation. The early biography by Ibn Ishaq takes up the story ([12], p165): “.. it would delight him if the obstacle that made his task so difficult could be removed; so that he meditated on the project and longed for it and it was dear to him. Then God sent down ‘By the star when it sets your comrade errs not and is not deceived; he speaks not from his own desire’ [i.e. the start of Sura 53] and when he reached his words [(Q53:19,20) {15}] ‘Have you thought of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other?’, Satan, when he was meditating upon it and desiring to bring reconciliation to his people, put upon his tongue ‘these are the exalted cranes, whose intercession is approved’.” The acknowledgement of the existence of the goddesses and particularly their description as ‘exalted cranes’, this being a reference to the soaring, graceful birds and a great compliment, was a fundamental U-turn from the strict monotheism of Islam and was a popular concession with the Quraysh. According to Islamic tradition however, Gabriel visited Muhammad (though not, it seems, immediately) and told him that the ‘cranes’ line 35

was not from God, but an insertion by Satan. The verse praising the goddesses was annulled and replaced by (Q53:23): “They are naught but names yourselves have named, and your fathers; God has sent down no authority touching them.” which re-established the orthodox Islamic teaching. As a comfort to Muhammad, God then revealed (Q22:52), quoted above, to set things straight. Is this story true? Did Muhammad speak the ‘cranes’ verse, then withdraw it later? Despite the fact that the story was part of standard Islamic tradition for centuries, it appears nowadays to have become an embarrassment to some and efforts seem to be underway to discredit it. Certainly, the story seems to imply that God had been outmanoeuvred by Satan but, from an outsider’s viewpoint, the traditional account of the story does not seem any more implausible than the Muslim version of the origin of Islam, so it is not entirely clear why Muslims are uneasy about it. However, seen from a more objective stance, the story appears to be yet another example of Muhammad altering his teaching. Modifications to doctrine or verses forgotten were attributed to God; major errors committed under pressure (which must have been considerable) were blamed on Satan. The last sentence of (Q53:23): “God has sent down no authority touching them” looks suspiciously like a reference to the deleted verse and, even if the ‘cranes’ story is untrue, something along these lines certainly happened at some time, because (Q22:52) says so. Again: another retraction; another blow to Muhammad’s credibility.


3.3.3. Sister Mary
The conversion of non-Muslims to Muslims is an original and abiding goal of Islam. Consider now a much-criticised verse of the Quran concerning Mary, the mother of Jesus, which states (Q19:27-28) {113}: “Then came she with the babe to her people, bearing him. They said, ‘O Mary! now have you done a strange thing! O sister of Harun [Aaron]! Your father was not a man of wickedness, nor unchaste your mother.’”. The problem lies with the ‘sister of Aaron’ phrase, implying that Muhammad had confused Mary with Maryam (Miriam), the sister of Aaron and Moses, who had lived centuries before. Significantly, this apparent mistake was noticed at the time, as referred to in the following Hadith (M25:5326): “Mughira b. Shu’ba reported: ‘When I came to Najran, they [the Christians of Najran] asked me: You read “O sister of Harun” in the Quran, whereas Moses was born much before Jesus. When I came back to Allah’s Messenger I asked him about that, whereupon he said: “The (people of the old age) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostles and pious persons who had gone before them.”’” The Islamic explanation is that ‘sister’ in this instance simply means someone of the same tribe. Even Rodwell [7], a Christian clergyman, finds it difficult to believe that Muhammad, with his obvious knowledge of Biblical theology, could have made such a mistake. However, this explanation is not convincing, Christian assent notwithstanding. One would expect the terms ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ to be given to one’s


contemporaries, but not to one’s ancestors or descendents. If Mary’s people had wanted to imply descent from Aaron, would they not have used ‘daughter’? Furthermore, there is an earlier verse which seems to confirm the error: (Q66:12) {51}“And Mary, Imran’s daughter, who guarded her virginity” In Islam, Jesus is considered to be an entirely human prophet, but miraculously born of a virgin. Therefore, the Mary in (Q66:12) is definitely the mother of Jesus. Imran (Amram in the Bible) was the father of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, so Muhammad appears to have made the same mistake twice. The only way out of this difficulty for Muslims is to assert, in addition to the above special pleading concerning the unconventional use of the term ‘sister’, that Mary’s father just happened to have the same name as Miriam’s: an unlikely coincidence. Even if the above assertion is maintained, why would God utter something which seems like an obvious howler, and which has caused scepticism ever since it was revealed, when the problem could just as easily have been avoided? A further related example occurs in Muhammad’s apparent misidentification of the components of the Christian Trinity: (Q5:116) {111} “And when God said, ‘O Jesus son of Mary, did you say to men, “Take me and my mother as gods, apart from God”?’” Again, if the purpose is to convert Christians to Islam, why invite disbelief like this?


3.4. The perks of the job
3.4.1. Good times
It is commonly acknowledged, though seldom experienced personally, that having groups of adoring followers increases one’s opportunities for sex considerably. That Muhammad was able to take advantage of this and still remain within the strict constraints of Islamic law was due to a number of dispensations which were ‘revealed’ at convenient moments. Muslim men are allowed up to four wives. However, according to Quran Verse 33:50 {50}, Muhammad, and only Muhammad, was entitled to an unlimited number. “O Prophet, We have made lawful for you your wives whom you have given their wages and what your right hand owns [This refers to slave girls who then, as now, may be raped at will (Chapter 7)], spoils of war [ditto] that God has given you, and the daughters of your uncles paternal and aunts paternal, your uncles maternal and aunts maternal, who have emigrated with you, and any woman believer, if she give herself to the Prophet and if the Prophet desire to take her in marriage, for you exclusively…” The implications of this were not lost on his (very) young wife Aisha, who commented (B6:60:311): “I said (to the Prophet), ‘I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.’” a comment which has lost none of its bite in the more than 1300 years since it was delivered.


When Muhammad developed a desire for his adopted son Zaid’s comely wife Zainab, she was offered to him by her husband. He initially refused since she was, after all, his daughter in law. A new revelation then came his way, allowing him to marry Zainab and chastising him lightly for previously being so scrupulous (Q33:37-38) {50}: “…So when Zaid had accomplished what he would of her, then We gave her in marriage to you….There is no fault in the Prophet, touching what God has ordained for him” As Goldsack [21] says: “Can the intelligent Muslim reader believe, we ask, that the words quoted above are indeed the words of God? Is it not rather self-evident that the whole passage, instead of being a revelation direct from God, was deliberately framed and promulgated by Muhammad in order to justify his conduct?” The correct answers to these two questions are ‘apparently’ and ‘yes’ respectively. In another incident, Muhammad became attracted to his Egyptian slave-girl, Mary. This aroused the jealousy of his wives, who scolded him and made him swear an oath to keep his hands off her, which he failed to do. However, they were subsequently overruled by yet another revelation accompanied, again, by the lightest of divine slaps to the wrist (Q66:1,2) {51}: “O Prophet, why do you forbid what God has made lawful to you, seeking the good pleasure of thy wives? And God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. God has ordained for you the absolution of your oaths. 40

God is your Protector, and He is the All-knowing, the All-wise.” and a warning to his wives not to be selfish, because (Q66:5): “It is possible that, if he divorces you, his Lord will give him in exchange wives better than you, women who have surrendered, believing, obedient, penitent, devout, given to fasting, who have been married and virgins too.” The whole verse bears all hallmarks of a threat by Muhammad, and a rather spiteful one at that. In particular, the phrase “It is possible that..” indicates an degree of uncertainty not characteristic of an all-knowing deity.

3.4.2. Bad times
Helpful revelations also appeared at times of personal stress, with one noteworthy occasion being when Aisha was rumoured to have spent a night of illicit passion in the desert with another man (B3:48:829). Shortly after the incident which gave rise to the rumours, Aisha fell ill for several weeks and was nursed by her mother at her parents’ house. According to Aisha’s testimony [12], the incident in question had an entirely innocent explanation and so Aisha, who was young and naive, had no inkling that it would give rise to malicious gossip. Aisha remained, during her illness, unaware of the growing rumours which had already reached the ears of Muhammad and it was only after she had recovered that he confronted her and suggested that she could confess her sin to God, who would forgive her. This, since she was innocent, she refused to do. The difficulty was resolved when another revelation arrived.


The relevant verses, (Q24:11-19) {97}, which target the rumour-mongers, are as follows: “Those who came with the slander are a band of you; do not reckon it evil for you; rather it is good for you. Every man of them shall have the sin that he has earned charged to him; and whosoever of them took upon himself the greater part of it, him there awaits a mighty chastisement. Why, when you heard it, did the believing men and women [i.e. the Muslims] not of their own account think good thoughts, and say, 'This is a manifest calumny'? Why did they not bring four witnesses against it? But since they did not bring the witnesses, in God’s sight they are the liars. But for God's bounty to you and His mercy in the present world and the world to come there would have visited you for your mutterings a mighty chastisement. When you received it on your tongues, and were speaking with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge, and reckoned it a light thing, and with God it was a mighty thing. And why, when you heard it, did you not say, ‘It is not for us to speak about this; glory be to Thee! This is a mighty calumny’? God admonishes you, that you shall never repeat the like of it again; if you are believers. God makes clear to you the signs; and God is Allknowing, All-wise.


Those who love that indecency should be spread abroad concerning them that believe -- there awaits them a painful chastisement in the present world and the world to come; and God knows, and you know not.” If the author of this passage had truly been an all-knowing deity, an obvious and effective declaration might have been (something along the lines of) “I, God, see all, and nothing untoward happened”, in contrast to the long-winded rant quoted above. Strangely, the verses contain no such direct statement of exoneration. Most say nothing more than ‘Don't pay attention to gossip’, which may be sound advice but, given that the creator of the universe had allegedly decided to intervene in the matter, it is hardly the unambiguous declaration of innocence that one might have hoped for. And the more detail one adds to this story, the less divine the revelations appear. Several weeks had passed since the incident in the desert and the rumours had spread unchecked, with Aisha out of the picture and unable to defend herself. So, when did ‘God’ step in to sort things out? According to ([12], p497), Aisha had just finished her tearful declaration of innocence to her husband when: “..the apostle had not moved from where he was sitting when there came over him from God what used to come over him..” and the above verses were revealed. Yes, it was several weeks too late and it occurred at the very moment when Muhammad had himself become convinced of Aisha’s fidelity. Quite a coincidence, is it not?


Islamic texts (e.g. [8], [12]), following the Quran, are full of pious indignation that anyone could possibly have believed the rumours about Aisha. Note, however, that Muhammad had offered her the opportunity to confess: “..if you have done wrong as men say..” ([12], p496). Furthermore, according to Aisha: “The story had reached the apostle and my parents, yet they told me nothing of it though I missed the apostle’s accustomed kindness to me. When I was ill he used to show compassion and kindness to me, but in this illness he did not and I missed his attentions. When he came in to see me when my mother was nursing me, all he said was “How is she?” so that I was pained and asked him to let me be taken to my mother so that she could nurse me. “Do what you like”, he said.” So, Muhammad himself had doubted Aisha’s innocence to the extent that he behaved coldly towards her during her illness, leaving all subsequent claims of Muhammad’s righteousness and the lack of moral backbone in others looking rather hollow. Furthermore, one of the above verses (Q24:13) points out that any accusation of adultery must be supported by four witnesses, a principle of Islamic law stated in (Q24:4). Was this rule simply invented for this occasion in order to help exonerate Aisha in the eyes of his followers? If so, then it is yet another example of enduring rules being framed on the spur of the moment for Muhammad’s own convenience. If not: if it had been formulated previously, there is a more serious problem. Muhammad’s doubt, described above, implies that he had disregarded the principle himself, almost as if he knew that it was bogus.


If the rule had predated the Aisha episode, one might speculate as to how it came to have that precise form since, as discussed further in Chapter 7, it seems to be an adulterers’ charter. This suggests that a man with frequent sexual opportunities might find that such a rule meshed perfectly with his requirements. The apparently arbitrary nature of the ‘four witnesses’ requirement may therefore not be quite so arbitrary after all. The affair involving Aisha was not the only example of damaging gossip that Muhammad had to contend with. After the battle of Badr, rumours spread that Muhammad had misappropriated some of the spoils, to be specific: a red robe. Again, the Quran came to the rescue with (Q3:161) {73} which confirmed that “It is not for a Prophet to be fraudulent…”. Had the author of this revelation been an all-knowing God, he could have assisted Muhammad’s exoneration by naming the actual thief and revealing the hiding place of the red robe, but no such revelations took place. In a quite astonishing verse the Quran, God’s supposed final message to mankind, commands people not to turn up too early for a meal at Muhammad’s house, nor to bore him with small talk (Q33:53) {50}: “O believers, enter not the houses of the Prophet, except leave is given you for a meal, without watching for its hour. But when you are invited, then enter; and when you have had the meal, disperse, neither lingering for idle talk; that is hurtful to the Prophet, and he is ashamed before you; but God is not ashamed before the truth.”


Any comment would be superfluous. The passage speaks for itself.

3.5. Concluding remarks
What else should one conclude from Muhammad’s use of the saj verse form other than that he, a man whose cultural traditions mandated the use of saj in street oratory, was the originator of the verses that he spoke? To claim that God composed the Quran raises the problem of explaining why He should have framed His eternal pronouncements in a manner similar to that of the 7th century Meccan crackpots. Aleem’s statement [18]: “By [the soothsayer’s] very nature he was bound to use ambiguous language and saj provided him with a handy material. Small compact sentences, sounding very grandiose but devoid of any sense, or capable of being interpreted in innumerable ways, form the bulk of these sayings…” ostensibly concerns soothsayers but, in the context of the article, looks like a sly dig at the Quran itself. Whether uttered by soothsayers or not, being expressed in verse surely diminishes any serious work. It is evident that the importance attached by the Quran to contemporary events increases according to their proximity to Muhammad himself and that this is another obvious clue to who the real author was. In addition, when a book of eternal guidance to all mankind, composed by an all-powerful allknowing deity, issues directives to aid someone’s love life and to warn people off turning up early to his dinner parties, you must surely conclude that something is not quite right. In fact,


as described above, the Quran contains so many obvious signs of human authorship, and vacillating human authorship at that, it is a wonder that Muhammad achieved any converts at all.


Chapter 4 The Claim of Science in the Quran.
4.1. Introduction
In 1976, a book was published which claimed that the Quran “..does not contain a single statement that is assailable from a modern scientific point of view”. The book: ‘The Bible, the Quran and Science’ [22] had been written by a French doctor, Maurice Bucaille, who became interested in Islam after he was appointed family physician to King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. In the early chapters, Bucaille proclaims articulately, enthusiastically and with apparent sincerity that the scientific accuracy of the Quran is such that “I could not find a single error…“ and that “…there can be no human explanation” for its contents. Such a claim was not new. Something similar had been expressed in the 13th century by the Islamic scholar Al-Qurtubi (see Chapter 1), but here was an educated Western non-Muslim putting forward a detailed and, seemingly, carefully argued case that, more than 700 years after Al-Qurtubi, the science in the Quran still stood up to scrutiny. To the Islamic world, frustrated by centuries of failure to convince the non-Muslim world that the Quran was miraculous, the book was enthusiastically received. It became a best seller and its existence fuelled the growth of the ‘Science in the Quran’ movement, a movement which is supported today by the enthusiasm of countless individuals on the internet, each endeavouring to push the claim even further and to publicise new ‘discoveries’ of scientific predictions in the Quran’s 48

enigmatic verses. As summarised above, ‘The Bible, the Quran and Science’ does not make a feature of claiming that the Quran contains new information. It mostly promotes the weaker claim that there is no contradiction between the Quran and modern science and so falls short of the extravagant claims of Bucaille’s many successors. Nevertheless, it is perhaps a surprise that such a claim can be made at all for a book nearly 1400 years old, so it is worth attempting to determine how at least the illusion of scientific compatibility came about. This chapter therefore presents a brief review of Bucaille’s approach and an assessment of selected Quranic statements. It also discusses the evidence in the book for Bucaille’s guilty secret, of which more later.

4.2. Water
The Quran contains many statements urging people to be grateful to (or fearful of) God for various natural phenomena. Not surprisingly, given the desert location of Mecca and Medina, where Islam began, the Quran emphasises the importance of water in such verses as (Q39:21): “Have you not seen that God sent water down from the sky and led it through sources into the ground? Then He caused sown fields of different colours to grow.” and (Q50:9-11): “We sent down from the sky blessed water whereby We caused to grow gardens, grains for harvest, tall palmtrees with their spathes…”


with further references in (Q23:18,19), (Q36:34) and (Q56:6870). It is evident that such verses remain true to the present day by being expressed as straightforward qualitative observational statements. Bucaille nevertheless contends that the work of a mere mortal would inevitably reveal errors, but that “In the passages from the Quran, there is no trace of the mistaken ideas [concerning the water cycle] that were current at the time of Muhammad” Nevertheless, consider the following: (Q25:53)”(God) is the One Who has let free the two seas, one is agreeable and sweet, the other salty and bitter. He placed a barrier between them, a partition that it is forbidden to pass.” (Q55:19) “He has loosed the two seas. They meet together. Between them there is a barrier which they do not transgress.” The two verses, taken together, show that the ‘two seas’ refers to bodies of fresh and of salt water. Although the first of the verses suggests that the ‘barrier’ may refer to the land, the second shows that this is not so: it is located where the two seas ‘meet together’. Bucaille interprets this meeting as taking place at the mouths of rivers, a view that is consistent with the translations of Shakir [4], Yusufali [4] and Sarwar [6]. However, what point is being made by the verses? It is surely noting the remarkable fact that the sea does not turn the rivers salty, nor do the rivers turn the sea fresh. However, there is neither a physical nor a virtual barrier. The fresh water mixes fully with the sea and (as we now know) the status quo is maintained only because a similar quantity


evaporates from the sea and falls as rain upstream. Therefore, the statement that a barrier exists is simply incorrect and disproves, if further disproof were needed, the notion that the Quran was authored by an all-knowing deity. In addition, Bucaille’s favourite get-out argument: that God adjusted his descriptions so as to be comprehensible to 7th century Arabs, is particularly inappropriate in this case, for there were then, as there are now, no rivers (at least, no permanent ones) in Arabia. Most of Muhammad’s compatriots must therefore have been mystified by the reference to the ‘two seas’. The lack of Arabian rivers explains why the description of the ‘two seas’ is so muddled for, surely, even an unschooled riverbank dweller would realise that the separation between fresh and salt waters exists because of the continuous downstream flow. Muhammad’s meagre knowledge must therefore have been based entirely on hearsay from travellers familiar with (for example) the huge deltas of major rivers such as the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates. The Quran therefore does not demonstrate scientific knowledge of the water cycle; quite the opposite: it demonstrates nothing but a naïve ignorance, an ignorance consistent with its authorship by an uneducated 7th century Arab.

4.3. The sky
Though never stating unambiguously that the earth is flat, the Quran adopts a conventional pre-scientific geocentric stance and fails to distinguish adequately between ‘Heaven’ (where God is alleged to reside) and ‘the Heavens’ (space), so that a cryptic verse can be proclaimed as ‘scientific’ if it possesses an oblique resemblance to some finding within astronomy or cosmology, yet remain unassailable as ‘theology’ if it does not.


On many occasions in his book, Maurice Bucaille displays considerable inventiveness in perceiving the poetic imagery of the Quran as divine wisdom, but this inventiveness reaches its peak in the chapters dealing with ‘the Heavens’. A number of verses are helped along by scientific-sounding translations, such as that of the sun and the moon ‘travelling in an orbit’ where the Arberry translation refers to them as ‘swimming in the sky’ (Q21:33) which, incidentally, the Quran verses below imply is some sort of physical object: (Q22:65) “(God) holds back the sky from falling on the earth unless by His leave” (Q13:2) “God is He who raised up the heavens without pillars you can see…” As stated above, Bucaille takes the view that God expressed his concepts within the limited vocabulary of 7th Century Arabia and that therefore these concepts can now be freed from these constraints by means of the replacement of the original vocabulary by modern scientific terminology. This is a highly dubious process, and not just from a secular point of view. The idea that God was somehow prevented from expressing Himself properly does not seem compatible with the Islamic notions that the Quran is perfect and that God is unlimited in his power. Furthermore, since (according to Islam) God chose the time, the place and the language for his revelation, it seems somewhat insolent to imply that this choice impaired the effectiveness of what He had to say. From the non-Islamic perspective, the manipulation of the wording in this way just looks like cheating. In addition to giving God a helping hand with the terminology, Bucaille makes the most extraordinary interpretations of some


fairly vague statements, such as: (Q31:29) “Have you not seen how God merges the night into the day and merges the day into the night?” (Q39:5) “. . . He coils the night upon the day and He coils the day upon the night.” Bucaille states, obscurely: “This process of perpetual coiling, including the interpenetration of one sector by another is expressed in the Quran just as if the concept of the Earth’s roundness had already been conceived at the time-which was obviously not the case”. The statement, in addition to being largely incomprehensible, fails to note that the idea that the earth was a sphere had been around for centuries. Eratosthenes (276–194 BC) had even made a remarkably accurate estimate of its diameter. Sura 15, verses 14 and 15, speak of the unbelievers in Mecca: “Even if We opened unto them a gate to Heaven and they were to continue ascending therein, they would say ‘Our sight is confused as in drunkenness. Nay, we are people bewitched.’” The verse clearly says only that unbelievers would not recognise Heaven even if it was right in front of them. Bucaille, however, states that “It describes the human reactions to the unexpected spectacle that travellers in space will see”. Of course, the author of the Quran is not to blame for Bucaille’s over-active imagination. However, Sura 36 contains verses which reveal the primitive level of understanding underlying them. Verse 38 states: “The Sun runs its course to a settled place. This is the decree of the All Mighty, the Full of Knowledge.”


and Bucaille comments: “’Settled place’ is the translation of the word ‘mustaqarr’ and there can be no doubt that the idea of an exact place is attached to it”. The following recollection in the Bukhari Hadiths, along with the passage quoted above, suggest that Muhammad remained in complete ignorance about the true nature of the solar system: (B9:93:520) “I entered the mosque while Allah’s Apostle was sitting there. When the sun had set, the Prophet said, ‘O Abu Dharr! Do you know where this (sun) goes?’ I said, ‘Allah and His Apostle know best.’ He said, ‘It goes and asks permission to prostrate, and it is allowed, and (one day) it, as if being ordered to return whence it came, then it will rise from the west’” In discussing the following verse, Bucaille misses a most significant error: (Q36:40) “The sun must not catch up the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day….” Since the moon, along with the earth, orbits the sun, it is meaningless to speak of the sun actually ‘catching up’ with the moon, so the verse must (and does) refer to the apparent motion of the sun’s and moon’s disks across the sky. Because the moon orbits the earth in the same direction as the earth spins, its apparent speed across the sky is slightly less than that of the sun. The result is that the sun’s disk does indeed catch up and overtake that of the moon, an occurrence which can be clearly seen in sequences of photographs of a solar eclipse, of which one example is shown on the title page of this book. Furthermore, the sun overtakes the moon, in violation of (Q36:40), not just during eclipses (when both bodies happen to line up with the Earth, making the event visible), but once a month, resulting in the familiar phenomenon of the new moon. 54

The wording of (Q36:40) is sufficiently clear and unambiguous that no significant difference exists between the various English translations. Its meaning is, therefore, exactly as it appears. Even if, by some creative interpretation of the original Arabic, it could be argued that some other meaning than that suggested above was intended, it is evident that the suspicion raised by the dubious way that the verse is expressed is trivially avoidable. Had the first part been expressed as “The moon must not catch up the sun”, the astronomical interpretation would have been correct. Had it been omitted altogether, nothing would have been lost. To include it was the author’s decision and therefore the author’s error. Again, provincial ignorance, not divine knowledge, is evident in the verse. In addition to the remarks made above, it appears that the wording of the second part of the extract from (Q36:40): ‘..nor does the night outstrip the day..’ is superfluous. The following verse suggests a possible reason for its inclusion: that the author does not quite grasp the underlying natures of light and darkness: (Q25:45,46) “Have you not seen how thy Lord has spread the shade. If He willed, He could have made it stationary. Moreover We made the sun its guide and We withdraw it towards Us easily.” As a final observation: for a man selected to receive communications from God, Muhammad had a remarkably unsophisticated attitude to the harmless appearance of a solar eclipse. One of the Bukhari Hadiths (B1:8:423) reports that: “The sun eclipsed and Allah’s Apostle offered the eclipse prayer and said, ‘I have been shown the Hellfire (now) and I never saw a worse and horrible sight than the sight I have seen today.’” 55

4.4. The earth
As with the verses dealing with the sky and the water cycle, those mentioning the earth reflect an almost total lack of any understanding of natural processes. For example, the following verse tells us that valleys came before rivers, rather than the other way around: (Q27:61) “He Who made the earth an abode and set rivers in its interstices and mountains standing firm….”. In fact, the Quran is rather keen to emphasise the ‘stability’ of mountains, for example: (Q79:30-33) “After that (God) spread the earth out. Therefrom He drew out its water and its pasture. And the mountains He has firmly fixed….” with similar sentiments expressed in (Q16:15), (Q21:31) (27:61) and (Q31:10). Bucaille, who is outside his field of expertise, asserts the following: “These verses express the idea that the way the mountains are laid out ensures stability and is in complete agreement with geological data.” Strangely, given the appearance of permanence that mountains provide, the opposite is true. Over geological timescales, mountains are transient things and symptoms of instability, rather than stability. They grow as a result of major crustal movement and, once the force giving rise to them has ceased to operate, they sink and erode. The Quran is even more in error when it becomes more specific:


(Q78:6,7) “Have We not made the earth an expanse and the mountains stakes.” about which Bucaille says: “The stakes referred to are the ones used to anchor a tent in the ground”. The idea that mountains are like stakes, anchoring the earth’s surface to some sort of stable foundation, is an analogy which has probably never occurred to any non-Muslim geologist.

4.4.1. The Ark
The Quran mentions Noah many times because Muhammad is represented as Noah’s successor: a prophet sent to warn the people of the hazards of unrighteousness. It is difficult to decide the category under which the tale of Noah’s ark should be placed, since the sciences of geology, zoology and anthropology are all equally adamant that there never was a global Flood, that the earth’s animal life was not saved from death by being crammed into a wooden ship and that today’s human population did not descend from the survivors of this mythical catastrophe. Bucaille steers well away from this subject, for obvious reasons. However, it is sometimes claimed that the Quran’s account of Noah and the Ark is plausible because it does not make the mistake of representing the Flood as a global disaster but rather as a local event. It is therefore necessary to review what the Quran has to say about the subject of the Ark. The account in the Quran does indeed appear to avoid most of the impossibilities found in the Biblical story. There is none of the Biblical “..every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth” nor “…and the mountains were covered”. The Ark, according to the Quran, eventually runs aground on (but not ‘on top of’) ‘Mount Judi’, 57

sometimes identified as Mt. Cudi in the south east of presentday Turkey, about half way between the towns of Cizre and Sirnak. The Tigris river runs near to Mt. Cudi so it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a river flood could have deposited a boat on the bank close to the lower slopes of the mountain. So far, so good. However, things are not quite so straightforward. First, it is worth noting that the story of the Ark had been rattling around the Middle East for centuries before it was incorporated into the Bible. It appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a tale originating in Sumer (bronze age central Iraq) and involves a character by the name of Utnapishtim. It seems, therefore, that Noah was simply transplanted into an existing pagan tale. Second, it has even been proposed (see the entry for ‘Noah’ in [23]) that the attribution of the Biblical flood story to Noah was a mistake and that the ‘true’ captain of the Ark was Enoch, Noah’s great-grandfather. This would certainly avoid the uncomfortable conclusion that the man saved from global extermination because of his extreme righteousness was the same individual who had subsequently drunk himself into a stupor (Genesis 9:21) and placed a curse on his grandson because his (Noah’s) son had played some sort of prank on him when he was out cold and au naturel in his tent. If this is true then not only did the Quran simply repeat the error, but Muhammad’s role model was not actually the hero of the flood, but merely a vindictive sot. However, all this is mythology or, at best, history. To return to the Quran’s account: although there is no direct mention of the Flood as a global event, there is an unambiguous indirect reference. Verse (Q26:119) refers to the Ark as a ‘laden vessel’; verse (Q36:41) says of the unbelievers of


Muhammad’s time “We carried their seed in the laden vessel”. According to Maududi [9]: “’A laden vessel’ : the Ark of the Prophet Noah. … All the rest of mankind had been drowned in the Flood, all later human beings are the children of those who were rescued in the Ark.” and Ibn Kathir [8] says: “Allah saved him and the believers, apart from whom none of the descendants of Adam were left on the face of the earth.” Therefore, Muslims who claim that the Quran only deals with a local event (and therefore does not conflict with science) are failing to take account of all the Quran’s statements on the subject and are consequently expressing an opinion which runs counter to Islam’s considered view. Even without any reference to the ‘laden vessel’ verses, a little thought indicates that the orthodox view of what the Quran is saying must be correct. The Quran is deeply Biblical and refers to Old Testament stories frequently, without re-telling them to any great extent. The references to Noah and the Ark therefore relate to the Biblical version and not to some other account, for it would be remiss of the Biblical God to refer to an unfamiliar version without making it clear that this was a significantly different account from the one which people would assume. So, although you may read claims to the contrary, the Quran’s story of the Flood is indeed the same story as that in the Bible: a global catastrophe in which all the Earth’s inhabitants, except


for those on the Ark, were destroyed. As if to underline the point, (Q29:14) tells us what the Bible tells us: “Indeed, We sent Noah to his people, and he tarried among them a thousand years, all but fifty…”. And, since this chapter concerns the claim that the Quran is in agreement with modern science, it is only right to point out that humans do not live to be 950 years old.

4.5. Biology
When Bucaille is within his intellectual comfort zone, he commits none of the howlers that he makes when dealing with astronomy or geology. However, he is forced to confront the realisation that some Quranic statements relating to mammal physiology appear to be complete nonsense. Bucaille then steps beyond the bounds of merely lending a helping hand to the vocabulary, to the point where he simply rejects the existing translations because the errors can no longer be ignored. In the undoctored versions of the Quran, there is a strange description of the region where human sperm originates: (Q86:5-7) “So let man consider of what he was created; he was created of gushing water issuing between the loins and the breast-bones” (Arberry translation) There are considerable variations of detail in the English translations for the last verse: “Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs” (Yusufali) ”That issued from between the loins and ribs”. (Pickthal) 60

”Coming from between the back and the ribs.” (Shakir) There is also an equally inaccurate verse concerning the biology of mammalian milk production: (Q16:66) “And surely in the cattle there is a lesson for you; We give you to drink of what is in their bellies, between filth and blood, pure milk, sweet to drinkers” (Arberry) “ from what is within their bodies between excretions and blood…” (Yusufali) “ of that which is in their bellies, from betwixt the refuse and the blood….. “ (Pickthal) “ of what is in their bellies–from betwixt the faeces and the blood….” (Shakir) “ between dregs and blood, which is in their bellies…” (Rodwell) So, semen comes from between the backbone and the ribs and milk is formed in the bellies of cattle between faeces and blood, whatever that means. Bucaille now takes a step beyond the already dubious process of ‘modernising’ the Quran’s vocabulary. He now alters the sense of the text for no other reason than that it is wrong in its original form, expressing it as “ of what is inside their bodies, coming from a conjunction between the contents of the intestine and the blood” His justification for the alteration is that:


“These translations are the work of highly eminent Arabists. It is a well known fact however, that a translator, even an expert, is liable to make mistakes in the translation of scientific statements, unless he happens to be a specialist in the discipline in question….From a scientific point of view, physiological notions must be called upon to grasp the meaning of this verse” whereas, in reality, they have been used to correct the verse. The translators, though not experts in the sciences, were in no worse a position than the millions of others who have tried to understand the Quran. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that what they expressed in their translations is pretty much what the Quran says.

4.6. Humans and other creatures
As with the case of the Ark story, Bucaille avoids reviewing the Islamic accounts of human origins since Islam takes a hardline creationist stance. Humankind, it asserts, was descended from Adam and (though the Quran does not mention her) Hawwa, or Eve. (Q3:59) tells us that “He created him of dust, then said He unto him, ‘Be,’ and he was.” However, other verses tell us that he was made from clay (Q55:14), or from water (Q25:54). Although the Quran gives little additional information, the Hadiths relate that Muhammad considered Adam to have been 60 cubits (about 120 feet) tall (B4:55:543). None of the Islamic scriptures tells us in which era of prehistory the creation of Adam was supposed to have occurred, but (M4:1856) helpfully tells us that it took place on a Friday. 62

The Quran also makes a number of dubious statements regarding the Earth’s animal life. For example: (Q16:79) “Do they not look at the birds subjected in the atmosphere of the sky? None can hold them up (in His Power) except God.” As with (Q36:40) above, all the translations say more or less the same thing, implying that there is no ambiguity in the original. The verse says that birds can fly only because God holds them up. Now, it is true that Muslims believe that all things happen by the ‘will of Allah’, so (Q16:79) could be interpreted as a purely theological statement. However, it looks suspiciously like the verse is drawing our attention to the evident ‘miracle’ of the flight of birds, which is attributed to God’s direct intervention rather than to the lift produced by the shape and motion of their wings. This again is a sign of human ignorance, rather than divine knowledge. Bucaille clearly also had difficulty with this verse since, in addition to the substitution of the scientific term ‘atmosphere’ instead of the mundane ‘air’, he feels it necessary to misdirect his readers by including an irrelevant discussion of the alternative ‘miracle’ of migration.

4.6.1. Talking Ant
Not surprisingly, Bucaille also fails to include in his book the account of one of King Solomon’s expeditions with his army. Starting with (Q27:17) “And his hosts were mustered to Solomon, jinn, men and birds, duly disposed…” The verse therefore claims that (a) Solomon’s army contained a division of birds and (b) it contained another division of the Arab folklore beings called jinn who, according to (Q55:15),


were created by God from “..a smokeless fire”. The question of the existence of jinn presents something of a problem for the modern Muslim. To assert that they exist not only flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that they do not, but also implies the remarkable coincidence that only the Arabs, out of all the Earth’s cultures, had managed to discern them prior to the delivery, also to the Arabs, of the Quran, where their existence was ‘confirmed’. It must be tempting to consider the alternative explanation: that the Quran was composed by an Arab who had been brought up to believe in jinn. However, for a Muslim to deny the existence of jinn is to doubt the Quran, which entails apostasy ([10], Section o8.7): a capital offence. It is as if Irish law specified the death penalty for denying the existence of leprechauns. The account of Solomon’s journey does not get any more plausible, because the next verse tells us that “.. when they came on the Valley of Ants, an ant said, ‘Ants, enter your dwelling-places, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you, being unaware!’ ” Solomon understood the local ant dialect, though his response was rather dismissive: “But he smiled, laughing at its words….” and he proceeded to ignore the ant, and to concentrate instead on a rather edgy discussion with one of his birds (Q27:22 onwards). The story of Solomon and the ant is an old Jewish legend (see entry for ‘Solomon’ in [23]). Many of the Earth’s cultures have a variety of barmy folk tales but Islam is unusual in that, in


effect, it stakes its life on its own stories being true. For if the account of Solomon and the ant is untrue, then the Quran contains errors and the whole basis of Islam is false. It is indeed a heavy burden to place on the narrow shoulders of a talking ant. Muslim apologists are uncertain regarding the appropriate interpretation of the ant story. Those who prefer a rational explanation suggest that the inhabitants of the valley were a tribe called the ‘Naml’ (Arabic for ‘ant’), thereby avoiding the embarrassment of having to defend an indefensible position. However, the original Jewish story does indeed concern an actual ant, as the phrase “..lest Solomon and his hosts crush you, being unaware” implies. Furthermore, the ‘Naml’ explanation does not adequately deal with the subsequent implausible account of the man-bird dialogue and suggests that God included in the Quran an account so misleading that, for centuries, Muslims held the mistaken view that a warning voiced by a tribal leader was in fact given by an ant. The more traditional explanations portray Solomon as a Bronze Age Dr. Dolittle, miraculously endowed with the ability to talk with creatures. Although such a claim is no more implausible than many others within this and other religions, it nevertheless falls well short of explaining all the extraordinary features of the story. Although, according to the tale, Solomon possessed miraculous powers (including, presumably, very acute hearing), it is the abilities of the humble ant which are the more remarkable. Not only could it speak, it also achieved the feat of recognising Solomon from a distance and evidently already knew his name. Unless Solomon had previously dropped in for a chat from time to time, it is difficult to see how the ant could have come by this knowledge.


Remind us of your conclusion, Maurice. Ah yes: “.. the Qur’an does not contain a single statement that is assailable from a modern scientific point of view”.

4.7. Dr. Bucaille’s guilty secret
There is a perception that Maurice Bucaille converted to Islam as a result of his studies and his book certainly encourages that view. However, is it true? In a 1992 interview with the online Islamic Bulletin [24], Bucailles himself states: “I knew then [i.e. during his studies] that the Quran was the “Work of Allah” and had not been authored by any human being.” However, when asked the straight question “Have you embraced Islam?”, Bucaille fails to give a straight answer. He first replies: “..when God guided me to undertake a study of the Quran, my inner soul cried out that Al-Quran was the Word of God revealed to his Last Prophet Mohammed” which looks almost, but not quite, like ‘yes’. However, he goes on to say “About my faith and belief, God knows what is in one’s heart. I am convinced that if I identify myself with any creed, people will invariably dub me as one belonging to such and such group”


which sounds suspiciously like a ‘no’. Campbell (see [25]) has looked into this subject more thoroughly, and says “At a public lecture in Fez Morocco in either 1981 or 1983, a friend of mine asked during the question period whether Dr. Bucaille had become a Muslim. Dr. Bucaille said, “No”. And [25] also points out that the following passage occurred in the catalogue of the Islamic publisher and book distributor Pak Books in 1998: “Dr.Bucaille’s study of scientific information in scriptures gave him high regard for Qur’an and recognition of contradictions in Christian scriptures. Yet he remained a Christian.” So, what is the truth? Surprisingly, the answer can be found in Bucaille’s book, though it is carefully disguised by weasel words. He writes: “For me, there can be no human explanation to the Quran”. “..statements that simply cannot be ascribed to the thought of a man who lived more than fourteen centuries ago.” “Such statements….obviously do not lend themselves to a human explanation” “…the existence in the Qur’an of the verse referring to


these concepts can have no human explanation on account of the period in which they were formulated.” These are words which are carefully crafted to convince Muslims that he had been won over by the Islamic view of the Quran, but equally carefully avoiding the explicit anti-Christian conclusion that its author was God. This he never states, so leaving open the question of what type of being he considers responsible for the text. Dr. Bucaille may not have embraced Islam, but he has certainly embraced the Islamic practice of dissimulation ([10], Section r10.0). Muslims should perhaps consider why someone who appears so rapturously convinced of the miraculous origin of the Quran would not convert to Islam, particularly since “..God guided me..” to carry out the study in the first place. Kasem [26] has no doubt about Bucaille’s motives: “This charlatan found a great opportunity to make good money out of this situation.”. However, despite the fact that Bucaille achieved a good deal of fame in the Muslim world as a result of his book, and undoubtedly received large amounts of money, the idea that he planned a scam from the very start seems a little too good to be true. My own view of Bucaille’s motives is less damning than Kasem’s, though I would shed no tears if Kasem turned out to be right. I think that, for a long while during his studies, Bucaille did genuinely believe that the Quran was divinely authored: “ inner soul cried out that Al-Quran was the Word of God”.


However, I suspect that, at some point during his researches, Bucaille began to realise that this belief could not be sustained. The contrived special pleading that he was forced to make, time and time again, to support so many flagrantly poor descriptions of the natural world, must have had its effect. Nevertheless, to retract his nascent book was impossible. Too many close acquaintances were eagerly anticipating the glowing praise soon to be bestowed on the Quran by a Western scholar: people who included his distinguished employer, King Faisal, of whom Bucaille writes “The debt of gratitude I owe to the late King Faisal, whose memory I salute with deepest respect, is indeed very great.” So he decided to weaken his conclusions just a touch, publish anyway, and remain a Christian. Nevertheless, the conclusion seems inevitable: by the time he penned his final words, and though he didn’t dare to admit it, Bucaille had ceased to believe his own book.

4.8. Summing up
There are no verses in the Quran with any modern scientific content. Those of the Quran’s statements about the natural world which have survived unrefuted to the present day have done so not because they contain profound truths, but precisely because they contain no profound truths. Most are just everyday rustic observations; those which venture beyond the mundane often contain nothing more than an opaque mixture of poetic description, vagueness and mysticism. How did Muhammad largely avoid expounding a series of then-current but erroneous scientific ideas? Because he was interested only in theology, lived in an intellectual backwater and had not received a formal education, so knew nothing of them.


There remains, however, a residue of statements in the Quran which are both clear enough to be understood and specific enough to be identified as erroneous. Even ignoring the simple errors and absurdities which Bucaille overlooks or tries to divert our attention from, the descriptions of natural phenomena in the Quran are often so poor that they cannot be the product of divine revelation, nor even of an educated mortal. There is no sense in which (Q36:38) is an adequate description of the motion of the sun, nor (Q78:6,7) an adequate description of the geology of mountains, nor (Q86:5-7) a competent account of human biology. Are Muslims really suggesting that the above was the best that an almighty, allknowing deity could do? For anyone who believes that the descriptions quoted above are satisfactory, consider this: if you were marking an examination paper and you came across one of the above passages without realising it was a direct quote from the Quran, how many marks out of 10 would you give? And there is, of course, the problem of the talking ant. If anyone could suggest a reason why this story should not be regarded as absurd, it would be most interesting to hear it. Nevertheless, even if a plausible explanation of the account could be constructed, the problem remains that ‘God’ has included in the Quran a tale which appears ridiculous, with its resulting adverse effect on the book’s credibility. For an almighty being intent on the world’s conversion to Islam, this is a strange approach. The supposed existence of scientific references in the Quran, as with that of ‘inimitability’ (Chapter 5), is a myth, born of wishful thinking and inflated by exaggerated repetition. The continuous ‘discovery’ of new interpretations resembles the


‘discovery’ of new predictions contained in the quatrains of Nostradamus. However, while the latter is a relatively inconsequential pastime for devotees, the former helps sustain the delusion that the Quran is miraculous, thereby giving support to the grim edifice of Islam itself. Finally, one cannot explain away the Quran’s low score in Science by claiming (as Bucaille does) that God adjusted his descriptions to suit the average uneducated 7th century Arab. According to Islam, God composed the Quran for all people, for all time, and was happy elsewhere to include ‘ambiguous’ (i.e. incomprehensible) verses about other subjects (see Q3:7). So why not include accurate descriptions about the natural world for the benefit of later generations, even if they could not necessarily be appreciated at the time? The Quran was not composed for a 7th century Arab, it was composed by a 7th century Arab.


Chapter 5 The Claim of Inimitability
5.1. Introduction
Islam claims that the text of the Quran is of such a quality that no human can match it, and that this property provides proof that the author was God (see e.g. [1]). This section reviews this claim and the evidence cited to support it. If it cannot be supported, then Islam is founded on nothing more than the assumption that the voices and visions experienced by Muhammad were not the products of his imagination. That would be a flimsy basis for such a demanding system of belief. The Quran is referred to by committed Muslims as ‘glorious’, ‘sublime’, ‘perfect’, possessing ‘superb clarity’ and ‘perfect order’. Indeed, when one reads Islamic descriptions of the Quran, one gets the impression that there is no complimentary claim which would ever be considered an exaggeration. Muhammad al-Nafzawi, in his erotic work ‘The Perfumed Garden’ even suggests the use of the Quran as an aphrodisiac ([27], Chapter 7). In contrast, the Scottish essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was less enthusiastic, considering the Quran to have been: “…written, so far as writing goes, as badly as almost any book ever was” [28]. My own views on the Quran are closer to those of Carlyle than to those of al-Nafzawi, whose recommendations have proved disappointingly unfounded. 72

What is going on here? How can a book which is ‘perfect’ with ‘superb clarity’ simultaneously be as bad as Carlyle describes? Does the relentless torrent of superlatives from Muslim commentators imply that this is a truly unique written work, if only we had the knowledge of Arabic to appreciate it, or are these commentators simply behaving like the courtiers in the story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’: sycophants locked into an ever-rising spiral of flattery? These are the questions that we shall try to answer.

5.2. Characteristics of the Quran
If you were to begin reading a book which you understood to be composed by an all-wise, all-powerful deity and to be intended for all mankind for all time, you would not be surprised if you discovered that it displayed an awareness of all the earth, of all its peoples, of their past and of their future development. You would also not be surprised if the book showed exceptional clarity of expression and was wellorganised, succinct, precise, complete and consistent in its approach. You might then be surprised to discover that the Quran possesses none of these qualities. Its scope, outside the many references to Biblical tales, is limited to events contemporary with its origin and to the peoples, flora and fauna of the Arabian peninsula. It has no clear structure and its style and tone change markedly between the early and later suras – obvious even in English versions. It is long and repetitive, yet incomplete. Passages can be vague to the point of incomprehensibility. Despite claims to the contrary (see Chapter 4), all the verifiable information it contains was readily 73

available at the time. It is necessary to provide examples of the above, in order to forestall any accusations that these are just cursory insults. The limitations of scope, lack of structure, and change of style are evident even to the casual reader. Repetition may be readily seen by (for example) searching for such words as ‘chastisement’ or ‘unbeliever’ in the text. Incomprehensibility and incompleteness are less obvious. However, there should be no dispute regarding the former since, as discussed previously in Section 3.2, (Q3:7) acknowledges it: “It is He who sent down upon you the Book, wherein are verses clear that are the Essence of the Book, and others ambiguous….” The problem of incomprehensibility in the Quranic laws of inheritance is discussed in Chapter 7. Further examples are as follows. Twenty nine of the Suras begin with groups of Arabic letters: Sura 2, for example, begins “Elif, Lam, Mim” (i.e. A.L.M.). No one knows what these mean, but they are recited reverentially as an integral part of the sura they introduce. The verse (Q77:30) clearly presents a considerable challenge for the translator. Arberry [2] expresses it as: “Depart to a triple-massing shadow” whereas Shakir [4] tries “Walk on to the covering having three branches” and other translators have made a variety of guesses, all equally baffling. As a final example here, Bell [29] states “Sura 89 begins with four clauses so cryptic as to be unintelligible”. Other examples of words and passages which are not


understood, as well as examples of many other peculiarities, are given in [30]. Muhammad, in (Q3:7) above, had already suggested that the incomprehensible verses had deeper meanings. Muslim scholars continued to build on the idea. According to [31]: Zamakhshari and Fakhr al-Din Razi [two respected 12th century Muslim scholars] do not consider the existence of the allegorical verses as a defect but as a mark of aesthetic excellence and as being conducive to the development of culture and science.” Rather than the ‘ambiguous’ or ‘allegorical’ verses being interpreted as evidence that the Quran has a human author, they are treated instead as something virtuous. The concept that incomprehensibility = profundity was therefore in existence for nearly a millennium before it was rediscovered in the 20th century by the French. Next, incompleteness: some Islamic laws do not appear in the Quran and derive instead from the Hadiths, the collection of anecdotes about the things Muhammad did and said. Since Muslims do not consider that he made up this information himself, he must have had communications from God which did not make it into the Quran. Moreover, some of the Hadiths; the Hadith Qudsi or Sacred Hadiths [1] are considered to contain God’s words; words which again were not incorporated into the Quran. The Quran cannot therefore be complete, if divine pronouncements necessary to the formulation of Islamic law occur outside of it.


5.2.1. So, why the superlatives?
The above features of the Quran seem to be imperfections; what other interpretation can there be? So why is the Quran described by Muslims in a manner which implies that it is flawless? The answer lies in the Islamic view of the nature of the Quran. Muhammad’s fellow Meccans, who doubted his claims (Chapter 3), challenged him to perform a miracle. His response was that the Quran itself was the miracle that they sought. The Bukhari Hadith (B6:61:504) reports: “The Prophet said, ‘Every Prophet was given miracles because of which people believed, but what I have been given is Divine Inspiration which Allah has revealed to me.’ ” As a consequence, Muslims regard the Quran as a miracle. It should therefore be recognised that, when Muslims describe the Quran, the purpose is not to present an accurate description of what is seen in the text, but to bestow a degree of acclaim commensurate with the exalted status of the book and its alleged author. However, there is more to it. Muslims describe the Quran in glowing terms because that is how the Quran describes itself. An example: the Quran is described as ‘clear’: easy to understand. This is not because the Quran actually is easy to understand, but because the Quran repeatedly says so, in (Q11:1), (Q36:69), (Q15:1), (Q54:17) and (Q28:1) with other compliments to itself arising in (Q6:115), (Q15:87), (Q36:2), (Q50:1), (Q56:77), (Q72:1) and (Q85:21). To digress for a moment: Muslims are normally on safe ground within Islam when adopting and expressing opinions which correspond closely to passages in the Quran. However, non76

Muslims sometimes make the mistake of assuming that such opinions are based on empirical evidence; in fact, the opinion and the available evidence may markedly conflict. The description of the Quran as ‘clear’ is but one example. Another is the description of Islam itself as a ‘perfect’ religion. This is a view which has its basis in (Q5:3) “Today I have perfected your religion for you”, not in any assessment of Islam against a set of agreed criteria. To continue: perhaps the most misleading claim is that based on (Q2:256), “There is no compulsion in religion” (alternatively translated as the rather different “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Yusufali [4])), which holds that Islam does not force anyone into conversion (and never has). This claim, to the extent that it can be justified at all, rests on the almost imperceptible distinction between ‘compulsion’ and ‘coercion’: you can be coerced to do something, but you cannot strictly be compelled for the choice, ultimately, is yours. Evidence that Islam does indeed coerce non-Muslims to convert, and on a vast scale, is widely available in the history books (e.g. [32], and see Section 8.4.2). Moreover, Islamic law on jihad ((M1:30) or [10], Section o9.8), the payment by nonMuslims of the jizya tax ((Q9:29) or [10], Section o9.8) and the punishment of those who renounce Islam ([10], Section o8.1), all contain substantial, explicit and deliberate elements of coercion. The fact that the ‘no compulsion’ statement appears explicitly in the Quran is therefore seen to render it ‘truer’ than the (Islamic) empirical evidence which flatly contradicts it. Returning to the main subject: yet another disincentive to critical assessment of the Quran is the implied contempt for those who waver, as expressed in (Q3:7):


“It is He who sent down upon thee the Book….and those firmly rooted in knowledge say, ‘We believe in it; all is from our Lord’; yet none remembers, but men possessed of minds”. For those who have begun to feel that the analogy with ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ is perhaps an apt one, please compare the above verse with the claim, made by the swindlers in that famous story, that “this material has the amazing property that it is invisible to anyone who is incompetent or stupid.”

5.3. The Muslim claim of proof
Perhaps the main factor underlying Muslims’ certainty in their religion is the perception that there exists proof of the divine origin of the Quran. If the proof is believed to exist, then all appearance of imperfection must be illusory and can be dismissed without further consideration. How, then, do we investigate the claim that the Quran is miraculously inimitable? I know no Arabic and possess primitive abilities in the field of literature, yet it is necessary to attempt to assess the claim, since it lies at the heart of the Muslim belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong. The basis of the claim is that: (a) the literary qualities of the Quran self-evidently exceed those achievable by humans, and doubters have been challenged to write something equal to the Quran and have failed.


We shall now try to examine both parts of the claim.


5.3.1. Literary excellence?
Part (a) above represents an argument so ill-defined that it is difficult to know where to begin the task of assessing it, as it places the judgement of its validity firmly in the realm of the subjective and, because of the need for the assessor to be at least fluent in Arabic, beyond the reach of most of the Earth’s population. Fortunately, a claimed proof of the miraculous nature of the Quran based on (a) above, written by the 9th century Muslim scholar al-Baquillani has been translated in part by the Islamic scholar G.E. von Grunebaum [33]. AlBaquillani endeavours to show that the Quran is superior to two of the then most famous classical Arabic poems by means of a line-by-line critique of the latter. His views on both celebrated works are lengthy and unflattering, but the following give a flavour of his opinions. The first poem possesses “…diction which at one time splits a rock and at another time melts away, changes colour like a chameleon, varies like passions, whose grammatical construction teems with confusion”. A selected aspect of the second “…comes closer to incompetence than to eloquence and closer to barbarism than to excellence”. Unfortunately, in [33], the Quran is subject to no such scrutiny, its supposed superiority merely being asserted by means of the familiar gush of superlatives coupled, in this case, with complete gibberish. The Quran “ uniformly pure, splendid and brilliant. Its heterogeneity is homogeneous, its homogeneity is oneness, what seems remote in it is near, its original elements are familiar”. The style is also “…uniform, despite its variety” and the composition is “ ..beyond human imagination and thought”. Other parts of al-Baquillani’s work are quoted, and his main arguments summarised, by Aleem 79

[18]. While there is no doubt that the man had a way with words, his arguments (at least, as represented in [18]) are little more than florid but vacuous assertions of the superiority of the Quran over everything else, in all possible ways. His claim that even the words of the Quran, when transplanted to other compositions, ‘shine like jewels’ might strike the uncommitted reader as absurd. The review of the poems in [33] is hostile; that of the Quran, servile. This ‘proof’ of the superiority of the Quran is therefore seen, on closer inspection, to be a sham. It must reluctantly be accepted that the Islamic world is an unsuitable place to search for critical assessments of the Quran. Instead, we must call upon the writings of Western Islamic scholars. Readers must make up their own minds as to whether the following quoted views are rendered invalid by hostility to Islam; I see no sign that they are. The first opinion cited is that of Richard Bell (1876-1952). He explains [34] how the Quran is written in a form which is subdivided into verses which end with either rhymes or assonances which are largely produced by the use of the same grammatical forms or terminations, and observes that “The structure of the Arabic language, in which words fall into definite types of forms, was favourable to the production of such assonances”. Ref. [4] supplies a transliteration of the Quran, by which the reader may obtain a feel for the type of rhyming or assonance used. Bell describes how the content of the verses is sometimes manipulated in a rather pragmatic way:


“…so that we get phrases like ‘one of the witnesses’ instead of simply ‘a witness’ because the former gives the rhyming plural-ending, while the latter does not.” “Occasionally, a phrase is added at the end of a verse that is really otiose as regards sense but supplies the assonance, as in (Q12:10, 21:68, 79, 104). Sometimes the sense is strained in order to produce the rhyme, such as in [Sura] 4, where statements regarding Allah are inappropriately thrown into the past….the accusative ending on which the rhyme depends being thereby obtained.” Bell also observed the presence of excessive repetition in Sura 55, noting that the phrase “O which of your Lord’s bounties will you and you deny?” occurs eventually “in practically each alternate verse, whose sense they frequently interrupt”. Another early reviewer was Theodor Noldeke, who writes [36]: “The Muslims themselves have observed that the tyranny of the rhyme often makes itself apparent in derangement of the order of words and in the choice of verbal forms which would not otherwise have been employed, e.g., an imperfect instead of a perfect. In one place, to save the rhyme, he calls Mount Sinai Sinin (Q95:2) instead of Sina (Q23:20); in another Elijah is called Ilyasin (Q37:130) instead of Ilyas (Q6:85, Q37:123). The substance even is modified to suit the exigencies of rhyme. Thus the Prophet would scarcely have fixed on the usual number of “eight” angels round


the throne of God (Q69:17) if the word thamaniyah, “eight” had not happened to fall in so well with the rhyme.” The paragraph continues with another comment on Sura 55: “And when (Q55). speaks of ‘two’ heavenly gardens, each with ‘two’ fountains and ‘two’ kinds of fruit, and again of ‘two’ similar gardens, all this is simply because the dual termination (-an) corresponds to the syllable that controls the rhyme in that whole sura”. and he continues: “In the later pieces, Muhammad often inserts edifying remarks, entirely out of keeping with the context, merely to complete his rhyme. In Arabic it is such an easy thing to accumulate masses of words with the same termination, that the gross negligence of the rhyme in the Qur’an is doubly remarkable. ” Julius Wellhausen [37] points out another oddity with the ‘two gardens’ passages in Sura 55: there are two examples of the two gardens: seemingly a simple case of two alternative versions of the same text. The first version starts at Verse 46 and the second, at Verse 62. The reader is invited to verify Wellhausen’s observation using any available Quran. It would be unfair to omit the Islamic explanation of the double ‘two gardens’ passage, which is (B6:60:402):


“Allah's Apostle said, ‘In Paradise….there are two gardens, the utensils and contents of which are made of silver; and two other gardens, the utensils and contents of which are made of gold.’ ” Muhammad’s account brings to mind his other justifications of seeming errors in the Quran (see Sections 2.1.2 and 3.3.3). As with the case of the ‘seven versions’ (Section 2.1.2), the above suggests that Muhammad had spoken different versions on different occasions and was forced subsequently to conjure up the cover story that they were both correct and, in fact, described two different places. Unfortunately, since each version was, by then, a fixed text, there was then no room to shoehorn the explanation into the Quran, so it had to be supplied later in the form of an anecdote. Anyone who prefers the Islamic interpretation may wish to explain why God failed to supply the simple and necessary explanation (given in B6:60:402 above) in the Quran in the first place. Sura 55 therefore comes in for criticism for content contrived in order to fit the rhyme, for excessive repetition and for the perplexing occurrence of what seem to be two alternative versions of the same thing; the last two features being as obvious in English as they must be in Arabic. Again, we ask: by what possible argument could one claim that these are not flaws? Part (a) of the above claim is therefore seen to be without foundation. Part (b) is discussed below.

5.3.2. Imitators of the Quran
In addition to the books written in support of the claim of inimitability such as that by al-Baquillani, there are accounts of attempts by Arab poets to equal or surpass the Quran,


particularly in the second century after the death of Muhammad. According to Aleem [18]: “It is a most remarkable phenomenon in Arabic literary history that many of the best prose writers and also some poets of the early times are accused of trying at one time or another to rival the Quran. But the stories always end on the same note, namely, that they were obliged to abandon the attempt finding it beyond their power”. However, Aleem seems unenthusiastic about the truth of these stories, commenting “The stories sound very circumstantial….” and he follows this comment with the perceptive observation that “…the passage of time turns vague rumour into established history”. These words were published in 1933; one cannot help wondering whether Aleem would have felt comfortable or, indeed, safe in displaying such objectivity nowadays. Another review of supposed imitators is presented in the Islamic Awareness website [38]. However, on closer inspection, these claims are not so convincing. Indeed, most seem either to represent attempted parodies, to be merely in the style of the Quran, or not to be attempts at bettering the Quran at all. As with other ‘proofs’ such as that of al-Baquillani, the supposed evidence simply evaporates upon close inspection. Nevertheless, there is a more objective version of the claim of inimitability consisting, first, of a challenge, made in the Quran itself, to produce even one Sura equal to those in the Quran and, second, the assertion that the challenge has never been successfully met.


5.3.3. The ‘Sura Like It’ Challenge:
There are four verses in the Quran which present a challenge to unbelievers. They are: Produce an alternative Quran: (Q52:33-34) “Or do they say, ‘He has invented it?’ Nay, but they do not believe. Then let them bring a discourse like it, if they speak truly.” No? Then produce ten Suras: (Q11:13-14) “Or do they say, ‘He has forged it’? Say: ‘Then bring you ten suras the like of it, forged; and call upon whom you are able, apart from God, if you speak truly.’ “ No? Then produce just one sura: (Q2:23) “And if you are in doubt concerning that We have sent down on Our servant, then bring a sura like it, and call your witnesses, apart from God, if you are truthful.” with a similar challenge in (Q10:38). The challenge seems to provide an unusually objective means for deciding a religious dispute, though the Quran gives no indication that anyone responded to the challenge during Muhammad’s lifetime. Nevertheless, the challenge is still open! As an encouragement, it is worth noting that some of the early suras (near the back of the Quran) are less than 5 lines long. Sura 108 (in the English version) contains just 23 words. It seems implausible to claim that to write a sura like 108 is impossible, so what is the catch? The first catch is that, since the Quran is in Arabic, the 85

challenge must be met in Arabic also. Even on the most generous estimate, the number of Arabic-speaking nonMuslims amounts to less than 0.5% of the world’s population, leaving the vast majority of potential challengers unable to participate even if they wanted to. Then, for the aspiring participants, the requirement that the imitation verse should be ‘like’ the real one is a Catch-22. The Quran and the Hadiths give no clue as to the criteria, leaving the decision entirely to whoever judges the challenge. If the verses are too alike, then copying can be claimed. If they differ to a degree such that this accusation cannot be made, then the imitation can be rejected on the grounds that the resemblance is insufficient. Who would judge an imitation sura? Muslims would be unlikely to accept non-Muslims as judges. If qualified (i.e. devout, scholarly) Muslims could be persuaded to judge the challenge, the comparison could not be done ‘blind’, since anyone judging the contest would know that ‘God’ wrote Sura A and an unbeliever wrote Sura B. Even if the judge was, despite himself, impressed with a contribution, he would almost certainly consider it blasphemous to compare it favourably it with God’s work. A fair contest could never take place, and never has.

5.4. Final remarks
Muslims maintain their belief in the miraculous inimitability of the Quran in the face of obvious and abundant evidence that the book is not the masterpiece that it is claimed to be. There is no way in which the text of the Quran can be considered flawless. Obvious imperfections exist in the style, in the content and in the layout of the Quran and to recognise them requires not a fluent command of Arabic, but an open mind.


The idea that the Quran is miraculously inimitable was not developed by observation, but merely inferred from statements to that effect uttered by Muhammad, either as part of the Quran or in reference to it. Muhammad’s fellow Meccans, when in receipt of the early verses of the Quran, were unimpressed to such an extent that Muhammad achieved only around 100 converts in the first 13 years of his mission (see Chapter 3). This suggests that any miraculous properties of the text were so inconspicuous as to be overlooked completely by its target audience. If, as Aleem states in [18], the Islamic doctrine of inimitability took more than a century to establish, this must surely be some kind of clue to its credibility. The supposed divine strategy of providing inimitability (of all things!) as a ‘miracle’ contains an obvious flaw. Not only is the message of the Quran inaccessible to most of the Earth’s population because of the exclusive use of Arabic (Chapter 2), the claimed proof of its authenticity is therefore inaccessible also. This implies that Muslims, mindful of their duty to spread Islam to all the corners of the Earth, are given absolutely nothing with which to persuade non Arabic-speaking peoples of the truth of their religion, which may explain their reluctant use of conquest, slaughter and plunder as alternative means to the same end. It is difficult to be impressed by the much vaunted ‘Sura Like It’ challenge. Even if this had a history of objective criteria, unbiased judges and documented rulings (it has none of the above), Muslims should still keep a sense of proportion about the value of a contest in which at least 99.5% of those who may be motivated to compete are effectively barred due to an accident of birth. Moreover, one must ask why there are three


successive challenges in the Quran when the last, alone, is sufficient? If the author was God, why should He, knowing that humans could not produce even a single sura like the ones in the Quran, waste time with the earlier challenges to produce ten or more? At the very heart of the Muslim ‘proof’ of the divine origin of the Quran lies a subtle but unmistakeable clue to human authorship. The evidence which has been reviewed in the search for evidence of inimitability is admitted to be incomplete. However, it is noteworthy that, in Muslim reviews of the subject ([18], [38]) where the evidence could and should have been presented, it is absent. It is therefore suggested here that the existence of proof of the ‘inimitability’ of the Quran is merely an Islamic myth. If the supposed primary evidence for the truth of Islam is simply not presented to the non-Muslim world when the opportunity arises, the only possible conclusion is that it does not exist.


Chapter 6 The Claim of the Quran’s Prophecies
6.1. Introduction
Explicit prophecies are few and far between in the Quran. According to Pfander [39], Islamic scholars have claimed only a limited number of examples, these being contained in (Q2:21,22), (Q2:88,89), (Q3:10), (Q3:107,108), (Q3:144), (Q5:71), (Q8:7), (Q9:14), (Q15:9), (Q15:95), (Q24:54), (Q28:85), (Q30:2-4), (Q41:42), (Q48:16), (Q48:18-21), (Q48:27), (Q48:28), (Q54:44,45), (Q61:13) and (Q110:1,2). In truth, few of these have even the appearance of prophecies and most can be dismissed as requiring far too much creative interpretation on the part of the reader. Others seem no more than upbeat assessments of the prospects of the Muslims in forthcoming battles and can be viewed more as pep talks than prophecies. One, however, looks like the real deal. It concerns the ‘Romans’ (sometimes translated as ‘Greeks’) and refers to the Christian Byzantine Empire, whose capital was Constantinople. Verses (Q30:2-4) read: “The Romans have been vanquished in the nearer part of the land; and, after their vanquishing, they shall be the victors in a few* years. To God belongs the Command before and after, and on that day the believers shall rejoice” (* The original Arabic term seemingly means ‘three to nine’


years). Is (Q30:2-4) a real prophecy or something a little more mundane? This is discussed below.

6.2. What do the ‘Romans’ verses refer to?
The text of (Q30:2-4), like much of the Quran, is frustratingly unspecific, but most likely refers to the war between the Byzantines and the Persians, which took place over the Middle East and North Africa from 603 onwards. Of particular relevance are the victories by the Persians in nearby Jordan and Palestine (‘..the nearer part of the land..’) in 613/614, including the capture of Jerusalem [40], just 3 years after Muhammad first considered himself to have been chosen as a prophet. The Persian victories continued in North Africa until 619 but, remarkably, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius counterattacked and, between 622 and 626, retook the land that had been lost. In 630, he restored the Holy Cross, taken by the Persians in 614, to Jerusalem. From the Islamic point of view the Byzantines were, at least, believers in the Biblical God, so the Muslims cheered for them whereas the pagan Arabs supported the Persians ([4], re. (Q30:2-4)). The victory of the Christians was therefore a cause for celebration, thus explaining the end of the verse.

6.2.1. Are the verses a prophecy, and of what?
It is clear that the quality of any prediction contained in the above text depends upon the date when the verse first appeared. It is less obvious, and symptomatic of the contrived nature of the claim, that it also depends upon what is meant by ‘victory’.


If the verse first appeared just after the Byzantines were defeated in the Middle East (i.e. from around 615, up to about 619), then it is a genuine example of prediction (though not necessarily either supernatural or even remarkable). Unfortunately, a prophecy issued this early cannot refer to the final victory of the Byzantines (in 630) since this did not fall within the stated period of three to nine years hence. If the verse appeared after 622 (after the Byzantine counterattack had started), but before 627, ‘victory’ may indeed mean final victory. The predicted time period is then correct but, if the verse was issued towards the end of this period, it could represent nothing more than an optimistic assessment of the news from the front line, with the tide having already turned against the Persians. If it appeared between 627 and 630, the prediction is in error because the victory takes place in less than three years and if the verse appeared after 630, then the prediction is a fake. The best Islamic information allowing a dating of the verse is the hadith that the prophecy formed the basis of a bet between Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad’s Companions, and one of his fellow Meccans. Abu Bakr was reported to have waited for seven years, before eventually collecting his winnings, the latter event suggesting that the whole episode took place before the Muslims’ migration to Medina in 622 and dating the appearance of the verse to 615. This is the date favoured by Syed Abu-Ala Maududi [9]. However, if the authenticity or accuracy of the hadith is brought into question, then there appears to be nothing in either the context or the tense of the first sentence of (Q30:2-4) to say that the defeat had only just occurred. According to [41], Harun Yahya (a prolific author of naive Islamic apologetics) states that the verse appeared “around 620”: a significant difference. The reason for selecting 91

the later date is not given, but it could be simply that by pushing the date back as late as possible within the Meccan period, Yahya is able to claim that the final victory was the subject of the prediction. Of the two Muslim authors, Maududi is the scholar, Yahya more the populariser, so the view of the former represents the opinion which is more in line with the Islamic mainstream. It must then be emphasised that the claim is therefore emphatically not that the Byzantines were ultimately triumphant over the Persians (in 630); the verse supports no such interpretation because of the time limit. The prediction, as claimed, is fulfilled by the occurrence of only one single battle success by the Byzantines within nine years of their defeat in Jordan: hardly a marvellous piece of precognition. However, the aura of miraculous prophecy surrounding (Q30:2-4) relies heavily on the eventual complete Byzantine victory in 630: an event which was outside the scope of the verse. In fact, had the Persians rallied, regained the upper hand and conquered the Byzantines, the prophecy would still technically have been fulfilled. However, under those circumstances, it is doubtful if so much present-day weight would have been given to it. The appearance of a vague prophecy with a flexible time frame, and the subsequent identification of an event which satisfies it, should be familiar to Westerners as characteristic of the process which sustains the fame of Nostradamus, the 16th century author of many cryptic quatrains. It may then not be a complete surprise to learn that Muslims have managed to retrofit a second successful prediction into the verse. In 624, a small army of Muslims overcame a larger force of Pagan Arabs at the Battle of Badr. Since this was a cause of celebration among the believers it was taken as being consistent with, and


hence predicted by, the last part of the verse.

6.3. The curious incident
If (Q30:2-4) is regarded as a miraculous prophecy by presentday Muslims, imagine what the impact would have been at the time it was originally fulfilled. As discussed previously, Muhammad’s rise to power had been long, difficult and frustrating as he had been unable, by words alone, to convince his fellow Arabs that he truly was God’s Messenger. Now, a prophecy of significant events, known to have been delivered years before, had come true, against all the odds. Time to shout it from the rooftops. Yet, the evidence suggests that the extent of exploitation of the success was extremely limited; Abu Bakr collected his winnings (some camels), a few Arabs reportedly converted to Islam and that was it. The first biography of Muhammad ([12], p653) describes Heraclius’s triumphant return to Jerusalem, without so much as a hint that the event had been associated with a prophecy within the Quran. Ref. [12] even reports the interruption of Heraclius’s finest moment by an alleged prophetic vision in which he saw “..the kingdom of a circumcised man [i.e. Muhammad] victorious”. Shortly thereafter, Muhammad had begun to make overtures to (i.e. threaten), the Byzantines. Although the prophecy covered only the start of the Byzantine recovery, that would have been no reason not to play up its significance in political terms. However, again according to [12], Muhammad’s envoy’s discussions with Heraclius never touched upon the important matter of (Q30:2-4). Even with the future defeat by the Muslims having seemingly been foretold by Heraclius’s vision, and the unmissable opportunity to reveal the fulfilment of the


previous prophecy having thereby presented itself, no such statement was made. That was the curious incident: the prediction was granted no significance at the time. Seemingly, for whatever reason, (Q30:2-4) was not considered to be a prophecy of any consequence. As with the concept of inimitability (Chapter 5), the idea that it was miraculous is therefore surely a later invention.

6.4. An alternative explanation
The above suggests that the prophecy, if prophecy it was, was at best correct but unremarkable. However, Pfander [39] proposes an alternative explanation, noting that the Muslim scholar Al Baizawi had suggested that there was, at the time, no difference in written Arabic between the version given above and the alternative: “The Romans have conquered in the nearer part of the land, and they shall be defeated in a small number of years”. The verse therefore could have originally referred to the victory of the Byzantines over the Persians in 630 and their subsequent predicted defeat by the Muslims (which took place, after a number of attempts, in 1453). Hesham Azmy [42] objects to this variant explanation on the basis that such a change would not have been accepted at the time by the ‘hundreds’ of Quran reciters who knew the exact form of the original. This objection relies on the Islamic conceit that reciters existed in such numbers. In fact, as discussed in [17] (which draws on accepted Muslim sources), the number of reciters was significantly depleted at the Battle of Yamamah in late 632 and there is evidence that some of the Quran was thereby lost forever: an impossibility if Azmy’s assertions were true. Therefore, although there is no evidence


that the meaning of (Q30:2-4) was massaged prior to the production of an authorised Quran some 20 years later (see Chapter 2), the possibility certainly cannot be ruled out on the grounds put forward by Azmy.

6.5. A prophecy of Nostradamus-like quality
When considering the verdict on the prediction contained in (Q30:2-4), it is worth considering what standards we might reasonably expect from a Quranic prophecy, if the book was indeed composed by an all-knowing deity. Islam maintains that the Quran was written, along with the entire future of all God’s creation, on a huge slab referred to as the ‘Guarded (or ‘Preserved’) Tablet’ (or ‘Table’) (Q85:22); engraved stone being God’s preferred form of data storage. The Quran, according to Islam, has therefore been in existence for all earthly time. If this is the case, then it follows that all the then contemporary events to which the Quran appears to respond so swiftly were known in advance, with the Quran’s ‘response’ merely being revealed at the appropriate time in order to allow Muhammad and his fellow Muslims to react accordingly. If this is the case, then it follows that the all the text of the Quran is, in essence, prophecy; all the contemporary events to which it refers took place precisely as they had been preordained to do. So why, we must ask, is the extent of prophecy of future events so meagre, and the quality of the claimed prophecy so poor? Even in (Q30:2-4), the flagship prophecy of the Quran, there is no direct reference to the Persians, to the region in which the battles occurred or to the dates when they took place. Furthermore, the Quran predicted neither the final victory of the Byzantines, nor the date of their resurgence, preferring


instead to give an ambiguous statement of the first and a vague estimate of the second. However, there exists at least one prediction which got things completely wrong, as described below.

6.6. A failed prediction in the Quran
There is a story in the Quran about a heroic figure called ZulQarnain: ‘The two-horned one’ and his dealings with a tribe who feared ‘Gog and Magog’: warlike peoples of the East. Part of the story (Q18:92-97) describes how he helped the tribe by constructing a barrier between two mountains, so that Gog and Magog were safely walled in behind it. The first question to be answered is: who exactly was the twohorned one? He was, according to the evidence, Alexander the Great, based on (a) Alexander was sometimes represented (on old coins, for example) as having two horns and (b) the story of the building of the rampart appears in a fictionalised, earlier story of his exploits. That Zul-Qarnain was Alexander was accepted by Muslims for centuries, and it was only when the credibility of the story became more and more dubious that recent, rather forlorn attempts have been made to reinterpret it in terms of someone else. However, the argument as to Zul-Qarnain’s true identity is ultimately irrelevant because, whatever his true identity, there is the problem of the existence of the great barrier. The next few verses are the key (Q18:98-100) [Zul-Qarnain said] “But when the promise of my Lord comes to pass, He will make it [i.e. the barrier] into powder; and my Lord’s promise is ever true. Upon that


day We shall leave them surging on one another, and the Trumpet shall he blown, and We shall gather them together, and upon that day We shall present Gehenna [i.e. Hell] to the unbelievers “ This is an unambiguous prophecy that, one day, God will level the barrier, let the hordes loose and “..present [Hell] to the unbelievers” and, if anyone doubts that this is the correct interpretation, they are invited to consult Ibn Kathir’s detailed analysis [8]. Therefore, either the barrier is still there, with the hordes of Gog and Magog still waiting patiently behind it, or the barrier has already been levelled and Hell presented to unbelievers, an event which seemingly escaped everyone’s notice despite (according to [8]) the predicted simultaneous appearance of nearly five billion angels. It is unclear if modern Islamic scholars believe they have resolved this difficulty with a creative interpretation of the verses, or if they have adopted the policy of simply pretending that it does not exist. Maududi [9] seems to be attempting a diversionary tactic by trying to suggest that the phrase ‘when the promise of my Lord comes to pass..’ means either (or both?) the day when the wall crumbles to powder and the Day of Judgement. Without any obvious justification, he then asserts that the story of Zul-Qarnain ends at the end of verse 98 (‘… is ever true’) and that the following verses are just a brief Judgement Day refresher, with no direct connection to the previous tale. By such imaginative mental gymnastics is the myth of an error-free Quran maintained. However, as with the question of the identity of Zul-Qarnain, this reinterpretation rather implies that the previous understanding of the verses was completely mistaken: a stance which is difficult to reconcile with a belief that the Quran is ‘clear’. 97

6.7. Final remarks
Even if all Muslim sources are assumed to be historically accurate, the Quran’s flagship prophecy concerning the Byzantine victory over the Persians remains a weak affair and more remarkable for its vagueness, omissions and lack of contemporary impact than its predictive success. By contrast, the prediction of the levelling of the great barrier constructed by Zul-Qarnain is quite unambiguous and completely wrong. There is one further point to make. If Islamic claims are true, there is no reason at all why the prophetic accuracy of the Quran should not have continued after Muhammad’s death. Yet, as we know, there are no prophecies which successfully predicted events after Muhammad’s lifetime, for reasons which should, by now, be obvious.


Chapter 7 Aspects of Islamic Law
7.1. Introduction
If imposed rigorously, Islamic (Sharia) law regulates a Muslim’s life completely and suggests that God has an almost obsessive preoccupation with commonplace features of human behaviour. For the purposes of this book, we shall concentrate only on selected areas which show evidence of incompetence and therefore of human origin. These consist of the Islamic laws which govern adultery, the keeping of slaves and the distribution of the estate of a person who dies intestate. Before this, a discussion of a more general subject lying at the heart of the question of whether people are responsible for their actions: the Islamic views on fate and free will.

7.2. Free will and the future
As discussed in Chapter 6, Islam maintains that the entire future of all God’s creation is already written on a huge slab referred to as the ‘Preserved Tablet’. How might God have arranged this? The following would seem to cover the possibilities: a) before setting the universe running (so to speak), God predicted the precise future because he had arranged ‘natural laws’ which ensured it would develop in a predictable way. In this way, God would know the future (just as we have predicted





the future motions of the planets) but would not have determined it. God created the universe and the natural laws in such a way that it developed exactly as he wished, without His further intervention. God decided that His intentions would be better served by proceeding as in a), and making judicious interventions at appropriate moments. God created the universe and then manipulated each and every event in real time, as a chess player actively decides upon and instigates each move on the board.

How do these scenarios relate to the question of human free will? Decisions are normally considered to be ‘free’ if made (1) by someone capable of making them (i.e. a sane adult) (2) without coercion and (3) without prior brainwashing, though the latter might be dubious as a legal defence. If one also assumes the existence of an all-powerful deity, then we can add: (4) in the absence of direct control from outside. There is therefore nothing intrinsic in a), b) or c) above which prevents ‘free will’. However, d) is definitely out, for reasons discussed below. Now, which of these options are consistent with Islam? It is evident that only c) and d) qualify, since Islam maintains that God has intervened in human affairs many times (Chapter 2). If the intervention had consisted only of the sending of prophets, then human decisions would be just as free in c) as in a) and b). However, it seems that the interventions take place on a more fundamental level: (Q14:4) “God leads astray whomsoever He will, and He


guides whomsoever He will; and He is the All-mighty, the All-wise.” (Q2:6,7) “As for the unbelievers, alike it is to them whether you have warned them or have not warned them, they do not believe. God has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a covering” (Q16:93) “If God had willed, He would have made you one nation; but He leads astray whom He will, and guides whom He will” (Q9:51) “Say: ‘Naught shall visit us but what God has prescribed for us; He is our Protector; in God let the believers put all their trust.’” (Q57:22) “No affliction befalls in the earth or in yourselves, but it is in a Book, before We create it; that is easy for God” (Q76:29-31) “Surely this is a Reminder; so he who will, takes unto his Lord a way. But you will not unless God wills; surely God is ever All-knowing, All-wise. For He admits into His mercy whomsoever He will” The passages from the Quran swing our choice strongly towards option d): God controls completely everything that occurs in the physical world, and this is the general position taken by orthodox Islam. However, because of the fatal implications for free will implicit in this stance (see below), the subject remains a source of continuing confusion. Broadly speaking, and using the terminology used by Sell [11], those who take the uncompromising view that God determines everything are referred to as Jabarians (from the Arabic jabr, meaning compulsion). Orthodox Muslims (Sunnis) are


Jabarians. Those who take precisely the opposite view: that humans have free will, are known as Qadarians. The Qadarians were an offshoot of the Mutazilites, a sect which introduced rationalism and critical thought into Islam in the 8th century, before declining towards the end of the 10th. Naturally, there were, and remain, others who try to sit on the fence. Nevertheless, that d) is indeed the Islamic view is confirmed by the statement that “to believe that things…have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah” constitutes apostasy (i.e. leaving Islam) ([10], o8.7(17)).

7.2.1. Innocent, yet guilty
In the secular world, the complete determination of a person’s thoughts and actions by the will of another exists only in the world of fiction. In effect, this is nothing other than the phenomenon of ‘mind control’, used from time to time as the basis of movie plots. One of the reasons why this idea makes for successful entertainment is that the ethical decision as to who is the guilty party is straightforward and undisputed. There is no question in anyone’s mind that the person doing the controlling is responsible for the consequences (usually, in the movies, some dastardly crime), whereas the one being controlled is completely innocent, and normally unaware of the manipulation. As far as the present writer is aware, no one has ever suggested otherwise. However, there is a sting in the tail of several of the Quran verses quoted above. Although Verses 2:6 and 2:7 point to God as being responsible for the unbelief of the infidels, Verse 2:7 goes on to say: “…and there awaits them a mighty chastisement.”. Verse 16:93 immediately warns that “ and you will surely be questioned about the things you wrought. “. and


Verse 76:31 ends with “…as for the evildoers, He has prepared for them a painful chastisement..”. And so we arrive at the Catch-22 of Islam: God determines all we do, but holds us responsible for our actions, for the Quran includes verses which seem to indicate that humans have free will, after all: (Q41:16) “As for Thamood [a tribe], We guided them, but they preferred blindness above guidance” (Q18:29) “Say: ‘The truth is from your Lord; so let whosoever will believe, and let whosoever will disbelieve.’ “ (Q4:79) “Whatever good visits you, it is of God; whatever evil visits you is of thyself.” The difficulty is confirmed by the following, originally written by the Muslim theologian Muhammad al-Barkavi and quoted in [11]: “It is necessary to confess that good and evil take place by the predestination and predetermination of God; that all that has been and all that will be was decreed in eternity and written on the Preserved Tablet; that the faith of the believer, the piety of the pious and good actions are forseen, willed, predestinated, decreed by the writing on the preserved table, produced and approved by God; that the unbelief of the unbeliever, the impiety of the impious and bad actions come to pass with the foreknowledge, will, predestination and decree of God, but not with His satisfaction and approval.” The last sentence gives a hint that things are, perhaps, not as straightforward as they might seem. God, despite determining everything that happens, is sometimes less than pleased about


the result. Furthermore, God does not just react with disapproval or dissatisfaction, as implied by al-Barkavi above, He actually gets angry with those who do not follow His guidance: the very first Sura of the Quran says so in the form of a prayer: (Q1:7) “Guide us in the straight path, the path of those whom You have blessed, not of those against whom You are wrathful, nor of those who are astray.” and the ‘Abu Lahab’ sura (Chapter 3) confirms it. Islam therefore maintains the position that God is angered by events which He himself has caused. Al-Barkavi clearly sees the difficulty in this, ending his previous observation with the lame remark that: “Should any ask why God wills and produces evil, we can only reply that He may have wise ends which we cannot comprehend”. This is echoed by a remark on the SunniPath website [43] by the present-day Islamic scholar Faraz Rabbani: “As for how this works, it is beyond the understanding of the intellect.” Al-Barkavi and Rabbani have therefore committed the ultimate intellectual sin of taking a nonsensical piece of dogma and concluding on the basis of their preconceptions that it is, instead, a truth too profound for humans to comprehend. One should be fair to Islam at this point and suggest that this is an unfortunate trait of theology in general.


7.2.2. Fate
Many of the events in the physical world take place as a result of (or, if predetermined, ‘consistent with’) the human decisions which preceded them. It is therefore possible that one’s fate is inevitable but only if the decisions (one’s own, and those of others) which lead up to it were also inevitable, since the fate of any person will be seen, in retrospect, to be the culmination of a whole array of consistent circumstances converging upon the final moment. It therefore makes no sense to hold that the events were preordained but that the decisions which brought them about were not. Nevertheless, in a reference to the Battle of Uhud, which went badly for the Muslims, we hear (Q3:145): “It is not given to any soul to die, save by the leave of God, at an appointed time.” and (Q3:154): ”…Even if you had been in your houses, those for whom slaying was appointed would have sallied forth unto their last couches..” The Quran therefore states quite unambiguously that, whereas one’s fate is inevitable, it is actually independent of the decisions made prior to it. This is the basis of the well-known Muslim tendency towards fatalism. It takes only a little imagination to conjure up any number of ludicrous consequences of such a position. As an example, consider the case of a man deciding whether or not to shoot himself. Let us assume first that his preordained fate is to die. Islam’s position implies that, had he decided not to pull the trigger (which he was free to do), he would nevertheless have died a second later from some other cause. On the other hand, let us assume that his death is fated to occur at some other time


and in some other place. If he decides to shoot, Islam must surely maintain that he will survive the bullet which blows his brains out, and presumably remained unscathed. Of course, it could be argued that, under the precise circumstances which existed as he was considering his decision, the outcome – whether shoot or not – was inevitable and would therefore have been consistent with his fate. However, (Q3:154) clearly says otherwise: the decision was not inevitable; the Muslim fighters at the Battle of Uhud could have decided to remain at home, but would have died anyway.

7.2.3. Final remarks on free will
As with the question of ‘context’ (Chapter 2), Muslim theologians cannot agree on the question of fate and free will after nearly 1400 years, despite having an exposition in a book which they describe as ‘clear’. Islamic commentators, mindful that the Islamic position on free will and fate is contradictory, try to suggest solutions which selectively ignore the difficulties. As in other branches of religious apologetics, the defence of unworkable doctrine is carried out by the production of large quantities of verbiage, including impenetrable jargon, non sequiturs, misleading analogies and so forth. The idea that God “..has set a seal..” on the hearts of unbelievers as a reaction to their initial disbelief was mentioned in Chapter 3 as a strange tactic for a deity to adopt when His goal would seemingly require precisely the opposite approach. However, there are yet further problems. The initial disbelief (which was quite reasonable, given the evidence) would surely have been foreseen since it was, after all, written on the Preserved Tablet. Did God nevertheless wait until after the unbelievers had chosen their position, before simply


reinforcing it? Why? Furthermore, was any reinforcement necessary? The unbelievers would have been unlikely to change their views without further evidence, and none was being provided. Finally, the Muslim position is contradicted by history; the unbelieving Meccans, who had resisted Islam for two decades, all suddenly converted. Had the seal suddenly been removed? There is no scriptural evidence that this was the case. Or was it because the city had just surrendered to Muhammad and his large army? The above set of statements on fate and free will from the Quran could be viewed a collection of profound truths. However, it is proposed here that they are truly as confused as they appear. The Quranic verses were uttered at various times by Muhammad, who either did not appreciate the muddle he was getting himself into or realised it, but could abandon neither the concept of an all-controlling deity, nor of one angry at our disobedience. Just as in the instances of abrogation and of his additional romantic privileges, he relied on his followers’ loyalty, credulity and considerable persuasive powers to keep the lid on any dissent.

7.3. Adultery
Although God appears to take a dim view of adultery, in that He requires that adulterers should be stoned to death, He seems to make it all but impossible to prove that the crime has taken place. Islamic law requires that four upright male witnesses actually watch the act in all its essential biological detail, where the term ‘upright’ refers not to the men’s unrestrained state at the time, but to their prior piety. Non-Muslims do not qualify as witnesses because “..unbelief is the vilest form of corruption..” and Muslims who are “..without respectability,


such as a street-sweeper, bathhouse attendant and the like..” are also excluded ([10], Section o24) although, presumably, they would still be allowed to watch. This is a strange law. Most cases of adultery (one would assume) take place in private, and it would only be in cases of extreme carelessness that four unsuspected witnesses would be present. That these witnesses should also be pious men seems somewhat in conflict with the fact that they have gathered together in a group and are watching a couple having sex. However, if fewer than four witnesses are present, their testimonies are simply not sufficient. The rule means that a prudent adulterer should be able to continue with his activities in perpetuity without ever attracting a large enough group of spectators to be prosecuted for his deeds. This law actually caused trouble and protest during Muhammad’s lifetime, since it meant that a man who caught his wife in the act was powerless to do anything about it (other than to divorce her) (see [8]). Fortunately, further revelations appeared (though somewhat belatedly) allowing a wronged husband to swear four times that he did indeed see what he saw, and further allowing the wife to swear similarly that he did not (Q24:6-9). How this actually resolves matters is not obvious. Furthermore, it is yet another example of the Quran’s contents being modified according to the wishes of mere mortals. As described in Section 3.4.2, the four witnesses rule proved useful in helping Muhammad persuade his followers that his wife, Aisha, had not committed adultery as the then current rumours had suggested. Contained within the rather oblique


passage from the Quran relating to this incident, quoted in Section 3.4.2, is a statement which rather overplays its hand. It is (Q24:13), and reads: “Why did they not bring four witnesses against it? But since they did not bring the witnesses, in God’s sight they are the liars.” It is clear that the four witnesses rule, even as amended (see above), is unsatisfactory because it will clearly exclude from consideration many actual adulterous acts and, consequently, many entirely truthful testimonies from eyewitnesses. It therefore cannot be correct to say, as (Q24:13) does, that those who do not produce four witnesses are necessarily ‘liars’ (all the translations use this word), since they may be telling the truth. Nor does it help to add to the term ‘liars’ the phrase ‘ God’s sight..’. The fact is that if someone is knowingly telling the truth, they are not lying and that is all there is to it. At the very worst, they might be considered to be technically guilty of slander, but this arises from their having failed to comply with the letter of an over-prescriptive law. Muhammad’s own reaction to the rumours (see Section 3.4.2) suggests that he agreed with the above analysis. If the only consequence of this was that adulterers escaped the (severe) legal consequences of their infidelity, then only limited damage would have been done. However, this is not the only consequence. It is best to leave the description of another to a journalist from the U.K. (liberal) newspaper The Observer [44]: “For a rape trial to go ahead in Pakistan, four adult Muslim men, 'all of a pious and trustworthy nature', must have witnessed the attack and be willing to testify.


Evidence from female and non-Muslim witnesses is considered worthless. A woman who can't produce those witnesses can be prosecuted for fornication and alleging a false crime, the penalties for which are stoning, lashings or prison.”. This state of affairs is a direct result of the Quran verses quoted above. Yet, in Chapter 1, we see that an argument for the divine origin of the Quran is that “Its legislation cannot be surpassed”.

7.4. Slavery
The Quran condones slavery while condemning the eating of pork and the charging of interest on loans. It would be difficult to find anyone outside the Muslim world who agreed that the Quran had its priorities right. However, it is evident that even Muslims are somewhat uncomfortable with Islam’s toleration of slavery, despite its impeccable theological credentials. Slavery is represented as something Islam was forced to inherit from its Pagan predecessors. It was “…a system of ownership that Islam did not invent but found fully established and not possible to instantly abolish, so it rather encouraged its elimination in steps, with incentives” ([10], Sec. k32.0) Reference [10] (Sec. w13.0) also quotes Islamophile writer Titus Burkhardt, who tells us that “Slavery within Islamic culture is not to be confused with Roman slavery or with the American variety of the nineteenth century”. The Islamists’ favourite, Sayid Qutb, in his book ‘Milestones’ [45], was positively enthusiastic about it: “When Islam entered the central part of Africa, it


clothed naked human beings, socialized them, brought them out of the deep recesses of isolation, and taught them the joy of work for exploring material resources.” The mysterious activity which brought the African slaves so much joy: “exploring material resources” apparently denotes the pastime that we would normally refer to as ‘mining’. It is not known what researches helped Burkhardt and Qutb form their favourable opinions, but it is doubtful if they involved seeking the views of the slaves themselves. For a Muslim to assert that God has certain objectives is to enter a trap of his own making. The more earthly objectives which are claimed for Islam, the more the inability of Islam to achieve those objectives becomes apparent. If God’s plan was to phase out slavery by means of Islamic laws, it becomes a problem for Muslims to explain why the plan was such an abject failure and why it took the non-Muslim world to do it effectively. The Quran’s pronouncements on the various specifics of slavery, without condemning the practice in general, amount to a tacit approval. The result of this is that Islamic theology has justified and sustained Arab slavery for nearly 1400 years, as compared with the relatively brief, though industrial-scale slave trade between Europe and the New World. One can hardly imagine the sheer scale of the human suffering which took place as a result. Furthermore, it is worth bearing in mind that this approval, preserved in the Quran, remains as valid for Muslims today as it did for the seventh century Arabs. Furthermore, the Islamic claim that the Quran has the slaves’ (long term) interests at heart is based on dubious evidence. Current Islamic apologists also insist that Islam’s notorious rules relating to women are, in fact, based on a deep-rooted


respect for women’s wellbeing and chastity. However, it remains Islamic law that Muslim men are allowed to have sex with – the usual word in the West is ‘rape’ – their slave girls (who are referred to in the Quran as ‘what your right hands own’). The permission for this is contained in (e.g.) (Q4:3): “…marry such women as seem good to you, two, three, four; but if you fear you will not be equitable, then only one, or what your right hands own; so it is likelier you will not be partial.” Verse (Q4:3) suggests marriage as a cover, though this can be easily ended (by the man) in Islamic law. The following verses contain no such implication: (Q23:1,5-7) “Prosperous are the believers who…guard their private parts save from their wives and what their right hands own then being not blameworthy “ and again, almost identically (Q70:29-31) “and guard their private parts save from their wives and what their right hands own, then not being blameworthy” Nor does it matter if female slaves are already married: (Q4:24) “(Forbidden to you are) wedded women, save what your right hands own.” which leaves Islamic claims concerning the humane treatment of slaves and the respect for women looking somewhat hollow. However, the question of whether Islam is good or bad is not the issue. The issue is whether God created the rules in the Quran. If He did, and if His intention regarding slavery was truly to “encourage its elimination in steps”, one can only wonder at the wisdom of issuing eternal rules which


perpetuated it.

7.5. The Rules of Inheritance in the Quran
7.5.1. Introduction
The following presents a detailed description of one of the most straightforward and unambiguous errors in the Quran, involving that most exact of sciences, mathematics, in that most important of subjects, money. It concerns the division of a person’s remaining wealth (net of bequests and debts) after death. You would expect that an almighty God would make a competent job of setting out the rules. However, the rules are a muddle. Incompleteness could perhaps be forgiven on the basis that some of the details had been lost, but there is no excuse for incoherence, inconsistency and incomprehensibility.

7.5.2. The source
Which parts of the Quran deal with inheritance? In order to avoid accusations of misrepresentation, I have used the words of Ibn Kathir, author of one of the most respected tafsirs, or interpretations of the Quran [8]. He says, referring to Sura 4, Verse 11: “This [verse], the following [Verse 12], and the last honourable verse in this Sura [i.e. Verse 176] contain the knowledge of Al-Fara’id, inheritance. The knowledge of Al-Fara’id is derived from these three verses and from the Hadiths on this subject which explain them”.


It should be mentioned that the Quran’s rules have subsequently been refashioned into a workable (though not necessarily equitable) system for the distribution of a deceased’s estate. None of this subsequent rationalisation is of any relevance; only the coherence of the Quran’s rules is of interest, so later texts will be ignored and only the three Verses; 11, 12 and 176 of Sura 4 will be discussed. Muslims would be unlikely to argue with the proposition that God should be able to specify rules competently without the need for a helping hand from humans.

7.5.3. The rules
First: Verse 11; this reads (deep breath): “.. concerning your children: to the male the like of the portion of two females, and if they be women above two, then for them two-thirds of what he leaves, but if she be one then to her a half; and to his parents to each one of the two the sixth of what he leaves, if he has children; but if he has no children, and his heirs are his parents, a third to his mother, or, if he has brothers, to his mother a sixth, after any bequest he may bequeath, or any debt. Your fathers and your sons – you know not which out of them is nearer in profit to you.” Near the start of Verse 11, Arberry’s version [2] says “..if there be women [i.e. daughters] above two,…., but if she be one”, thus omitting the case of two daughters. Whose error is this? Rodwell [7], Pickthall [4], Sarwar [6] and Shakir [4] concur with this translation. However, Yusufali [4] and Al-Hilali & Khan [5] refer to “…two or more..”, thereby (temporarily) rescuing the verse. Maududi [9] states “The same applies in the


case where there are two daughters.”, therefore implicitly conceding that the original is deficient. To add further confusion, Ibn Kathir, who follows the latter opinion, comments “We should mention here that some people said the verse only means two daughters, and that ‘more’ is redundant, which is not true”, where the “some people” were undoubtedly informed Muslims. Already, the confusion is such that the same phrase has been taken by various scholars to mean (in standard mathematical notation), >2, ≥2 or =2. The conclusion is clear: the error is in the original text. Later in the verse, after the phrase “if he has brothers”, Yusufali and Al-Hilali & Khan add “(or sisters)”, clearly an inclusion not in the original Arabic. Maududi leaves the brackets off. Rodwell, Pickthall, Sarwar and Shakir stick to the all-male version, though Sarwar assumes that “brothers” specifically refers to the plural, i.e. to “more than one .. brother” rather than an implied “brother or brothers”. But that is not all. There is a further uncertainty about whether the verse applies to men and women, or just to men. Arberry and Rodwell use ‘he’ throughout whereas Yusufali, Al-Hilali & Khan and Maududi are equally consistent in using ‘the inheritance’ in place of ‘what he leaves’ and Sarwar similarly refers to ‘the legacy’ thereby making the verse applicable to both sexes. Pickthall and Shakir start off in a gender-neutral style, but then refer to ‘he’. As a final complication, where all the other translators refer to ‘children’ (…if he has children; but if he has no children… ), Pickthall says ‘if he have a son; and if he have no son’. The choice of which of the versions to adopt here needs to be


made carefully. They seem to group into Yusufali, Al-Hilali & Khan and Maududi on one side and everyone else on the other, with Sarwar at times going off on his own. It is evident that Yusufali and Al-Hilali & Khan, on a number of occasions, add words or phrases to assist with the generality and comprehensibility and it is for this reason that there is an obvious suspicion that they are giving ‘God’ a helping hand, as Bucaille did in Chapter 4. Furthermore, it is conceivable that Arberry et al did not worry about the implications of the rules, but merely translated what was there. Therefore, on the basis of this argument, it is assumed that the translation of the latter group (which includes Arberry) is the more accurate one. Verse 12, which has been separated here into two parts, specifies: “And for you a half of what your wives leave, if they have no children; but if they have children, then for you of what they leave a fourth, after any bequest they may bequeath, or any debt. And for them a fourth of what you leave, if you have no children; but if you have children, then for them of what you leave an eighth, after any bequest you may bequeath, or any debt. If a man or a woman have no heir direct, but have a brother or a sister, to each of the two a sixth; but if they are more numerous than that, they share equally a third, after any bequest he may bequeath, or any debt not prejudicial.”. Though not exactly transparent, the verse is rendered similarly by the various translators. As an aside, it is instructive to consider the extraordinary difficulties which even the early Muslims faced with the Arabic version of the second part of


the verse. According to Ibn Kathir, the opening phrase reads “If a man or a woman was left in Kalalah” where “Kalalah is a derivative of Iklil; the crown that surrounds the head” [8]. This phrase is essentially meaningless as it stands and a suitable interpretation, that of “a man who has neither ascendants nor descendants” or, as Arberry expresses it, a man or a woman having “no heir direct” was only arrived at by (essentially) informed guesswork. However, even this leaves it unclear as to the status of a spouse. Now, compare the second part of Verse 12 with Verse 176, reputedly the last part of the Quran ever to be revealed: “…concerning the indirect heirs. If a man perishes having no children, but he has a sister, she shall receive a half of what he leaves, and he is her heir if she has no children. If there be two sisters, they shall receive twothirds of what he leaves; if there be brothers and sisters, the male shall receive the portion of two females.” Now, compare the beginning of Verse 176 with the beginning of the second part of Verse 12. They appear to cover the same example of a man with no parents, children or spouse but with surviving brother(s) and/or sister(s). However, the rules in the two cases are quite different. A way out of this discrepancy, though it has no support in the Quran, is to assume that Verse 12 refers to the siblings having only the same mother as the deceased, i.e. half siblings. Verse 176 is then taken to refer to full siblings or to half siblings having only the same father as the deceased. Yet further problems arise when one tries to work out the numbers. In many instances, the fractions do not add to 1, meaning that there is money left over (whose fate the Quran


does not specify) or, worse, that there is a shortfall. For example: a woman with two living parents dies, leaving a husband and two daughters According to first part of Verse 12, the husband gets 1/4 of his late wife’s estate (“but if they have children, then for you, of what they leave, a fourth”). The daughters, according to Verse 11 (and assuming that the verse applies to both sexes) get 1/3 each (“..then for them two-thirds of what (he) leaves”) and, by Verse 11 again, the parents get 1/6 each (“..and to (his) parents to each one of the two the sixth of what (he) leaves, if he has children”), making a total of (1/4 + 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/6 + 1/6) = 1¼, or 25% more than the amount available. Of course, various ways out of these problems have been formulated, but only by adding further rules not in the Quran. The Quranic rules alone are, as the above discussion shows, badly flawed. For those readers whose interest in Islamic inheritance law has, against all the odds, been awakened by the above description, an account of the (Sunni) rules as applied in practice is given in ([10], Section L). Note, however, that because of the difficulties discussed above, Shiite rules are somewhat different.

7.6. The conclusion
As above, we are forced to ask: if the author was an almighty God, could He not have produced a clear, complete and consistent statement of His requirements? It is evident from (e.g.) [8] that a considerable amount of thought was brought to bear on turning the confused rules in the Quran into a workable system. That this rationalisation has been achieved is a tribute to human ingenuity; that it has taken place without an admission that the original rules were badly flawed is a greater 118

tribute to the human ability of self deception. The chaotic prescription in the Quran is so obvious a mark of human authorship, and careless human authorship at that, that one is forced to profess astonishment that this remains unrecognised by the entire Muslim world.


Chapter 8 Islam’s Cousins
8.1. Introduction
Muslims, ‘the best nation ever brought forth to men’, are probably largely unaware of the similarities between the origin of Islam and the origins of other religions, and between themselves and other religious adherents. In fact, Islam, far from being unique, is merely one example of an occurrence which has been repeating itself time and time again, on different scales, throughout history. Islam is just one of many religions which began with their founders believing that they were hearing the voices of higher beings. This phenomenon: hearing disembodied voices is, in fact, so common that, in all probability, it is happening to many people throughout the world as you are reading this. What is surprising is not just the frequency with which this perception occurs, but the number of times that affected individuals were able to convince other, apparently rational, men and women that actual communications were truly taking place. Even during his own time, Muhammad himself had to share the limelight with a rival ‘prophet’, Museylima, who had “..quite a good following” [18]. The phenomenon itself is discussed in Chapter 9. In this chapter we outline a number of other religions whose origin bears more than a passing resemblance to Islam’s and, using a number of other examples, discuss the means by which religious adherents avoid facing up to unambiguous evidence 120

of the falsity of their beliefs. Finally, the subject of this chapter returns to Islam and considers the reasons for its much greater numerical success, compared to the relatively modest achievements of many of its theological cousins.

8.2. The lessons of history
Over the course of history, many religions have been started by committed individuals who claimed to receive communications which only they could experience. Below are a few examples. In 1892, in the Japanese province of Tamba, Nao Deguchi had the first of her ‘spirit dreams’ where she found herself apparently addressed by a Shinto spirit named Ushitora no Konjin [46]. Her behaviour altered after the incident, to the extent that she was considered insane. Her thoughts of suicide were dispelled when the same being told her: “You must not die! Your life is all-important for the great things expected of you.”. She proceeded to engage in ‘automatic writing’, dictated by the spirit, and founded a religious movement, which went under a succession of names, but settled as Oomoto (‘Great Origin’). By the time of her death in 1918, she had written over 200,000 pages, none of which she could read because, like Muhammad, she was illiterate. Oomoto still exists, with a few tens of thousands of adherents. In 1935, Mark L. Prophet (yes, really) was allegedly contacted by El Morya, one of a class of beings known as the Ascended Masters, but rebuffed his advances due to theological differences. However, after a change of heart, Prophet made a reciprocal approach to El Morya (described as ‘Chohan of the 121

First Ray’). Prophet founded a movement called The Summit Lighthouse [47] and published a series of communications containing ‘profound teaching’ from the Ascended Masters, under the title of ‘Pearls of Wisdom’, which today runs to 75 books. After Prophet’s death in 1971 (after which he became the Ascended Master Lanello), his mission was carried on by his wife Elizabeth who, in 1974, renamed the movement the Church Universal and Triumphant and was able to consolidate her position by means of a number of supportive communications from the Masters. The CUT descended into paranoia, militarism and anti-social behaviour in the early 1990s In London in 1954, George King was shocked to hear a voice telling him that he was to become a member of the Interplanetary Parliament. According to his account: eight days of bewilderment later, he received a mysterious visitor dressed in white robes and, shortly after that, a message from an extraterrestrial known as Aetherius, one of the Cosmic Masters (not to be confused with the Ascended Masters), who sent King over 600 messages up to his death in 1997. The Aetherius Society [48] still exists, has a few thousand members and, thankfully, remains peaceful and relatively unobtrusive. In Persia in May 1844, Siyyid Alí-Muhammad declared himself to be the (Shia) Mahdi, the appointed successor to Muhammad just prior to Judgement Day and took the title of The Bab (i.e. The Gate), thereby forming an Islamic breakaway religion known as Babism [49]. However, the Bab is not the main player in this story. Despite the exalted status that he claimed for himself, and unusually for one who claims such things, he in turn foretold the coming of “He Whom God Will


Make Manifest”. Sure enough, in 1853, three years after the Bab’s execution by the Persian government (under pressure from the Islamic clergy), one of his devout followers, Mirza Huseyn-Ali, experienced a vision while imprisoned in a dungeon in Tehran. He recalled: “I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitated itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of My body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear.” [50]. On the basis of this, he concluded that he was, indeed, the one referred to by the Bab. This was the origin of the Bahai religion which, despite brutal persecution by the Islamic establishment, now has 6 million adherents. Huseyn-Ali’s remaining 40 years of life saw him maintain a prodigious output of written works, totalling more than 15 times the volume of the Bible. In 1820, Joseph Smith of New York went into the woods near his home in order to pray. He says that then: “I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction…..Just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun which descended gradually until it fell upon me….When the light rested upon me I saw


two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join….I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong….When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home.” [51]. However, it was not until another three years had elapsed that the following took place: “I discovered a light appearing in my room….when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen.…His whole person was glorious beyond description….He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni….He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates” The book, helpfully translated by Smith himself, was the Book of Mormon. The resulting religion: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints today has about twelve and a half million members. Smith’s and Muhammad’s experiences had a number of things in common. Their first visions occurred when they had taken


themselves off for a period of isolation in order to pray. Both founders saw themselves as restoring ‘original’ forms of religion. Both founders dictated ‘holy books’; both claimed that unique physical objects of divine origin and global importance (for Smith, the gold plates; for Muhammad, the Kaaba) just happened to be located in or near the towns where they grew up. However, none of these cases can match, in scale, impact or resemblance to Islam, an example from that world-within-aworld, China. The story of Hong Xiuquan, the Chinese Muhammad, is virtually unknown in the West. It should (but probably will not) serve as a warning against following leaders who claim to see God.

8.2.1. The Chinese Muhammad
In 1837, Hong Xiuquan (or Hung Hsiu-chuan in pre-Pinyin spelling) [52], [53] of Guangzhou (Canton) was ‘..carried in a sedan chair to Heaven’ where he met ‘..a venerable old man in black-dragon robe and high-brimmed hat’ who, it appears, was God. After a subsequent period of seven years of relative normality, Hong was suddenly seized with the belief that he had been chosen by God and began to preach his message, which involved urging his followers to destroy the artefacts of the native Chinese beliefs. Facing mounting opposition, Hong and his followers moved to Guangxi province and made several thousand converts among the Hakka people, a cultural group to whom Hong himself belonged. ‘Jesus’ then told Hong to ‘fight for Heaven’. His followers were now organised into military brigades, with men and women were strictly segregated. Those who failed to attend religious meetings were beaten with a hundred blows.


In the early 1850s, Hong’s followers began an armed uprising against the ruling dynasty and he declared himself as the absolute ruler of the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace. By 1853 Hong, commanding the Taiping Heavenly army, a force of nearly one million, took the city of Nanjing. Within the Heavenly Kingdom, many Daoist and Buddhist temples were burnt to the ground. Idolatry and the use of opium and alcohol were strictly forbidden. Polygamy was banned, though Hong himself reputedly had 88 concubines. In contrast to the case of Islam, to which the above so far bears an extraordinary resemblance, Hong’s new religion was shortlived. One of Hong’s followers, Yang Xiuqing, became his rival and the internecine warfare devastated the kingdom. In 1864, the ruling dynasty retook Nanjing, Hong Xiuquan committed suicide and the movement that he had founded died with him. Approximately twenty million lives had been lost as a result of Hong’s sedan chair journey to Heaven.

8.2.2. Will we ever learn?
The emergence of Islam should therefore be seen, not as anything out of the ordinary, but as just one example of a continuing process, common to all cultures and eras. Oomoto grew out of Shinto. The Summit Lighthouse emerged from the mystical religious movement known as Theosophy and the Aetherius Society from a blend of beliefs, with a good measure of UFOlogy thrown in. Mormonism and the Heavenly Kingdom were spinoffs from Christianity and Bahai was a spinoff from Islam, just as Islam and Christianity themselves emerged from Judaism.


In all cases, the splits occurred as a result of individuals who perceived that they had received messages directly from higher beings which, of course, is also the way Judaism itself originated. There is one very good and simple reason for this obvious similarity, and it will be discussed in Chapter 9. There are two main lessons to be taken from the above. First, there is no dividing line between those we would call ‘crackpots’ and those we would call ‘prophets’, other than that the former tend to see beings that they appear to have made up themselves, whereas the latter see beings who were already in the public domain. Second, there is no theological dividing line between a ‘religion’ and a ‘cult’. We simply tend to call these groups ‘cults’ when they are young small, poor and weak, but ‘religions’ or ‘faiths’ when they are old, populous, rich and powerful. If there is a meaningful distinction between the two terms, it usually concerns the amount of control that their founders (or their successors) exercise over the rank and file. We shall return to this issue shortly. What is evident from the above examples and the many other low-profile movements that pop into existence, then fade away or die with their founders, is that new religions are surprisingly easy to create [54]. Once started, whether the new religions number their followers in the thousands, millions or hundreds of millions are based on factors other than the plausibility of their beliefs; factors which include luck, lack of effective opposition (intellectual or physical), the zeal with which they are promoted and the disincentives presented to those who show signs of wavering. Before we return to Islam, there are just a few more religions to


consider. The first was very small and ceased to exist some while ago. Nevertheless, it is important because it gave rise to a whole new branch of psychology dealing with the stubborn persistence of treasured beliefs.

8.3. Keeping the faith
8.3.1. Believing when you know it ain’t so
In 1956, a report appeared in a Chicago newspaper describing how Dorothy Martin, a local woman, claimed to have been given messages in the form of “automatic writing” from alien beings. She had already convinced a group of believers, later termed the ‘Seekers’, some of whom had left employment, college, and spouse on the basis of what Martin had claimed about an inevitable apocalypse. However, Martin broke the golden rule of prophecy (‘Be Vague’) and made a definite prediction. She claimed that a flying saucer would rescue the group when world ended in a flood before dawn on December 21, 1956. The true believers waited but there came neither a flying saucer nor a great flood. What happened next? Did the Seekers face reality and disband amid embarrassment and recriminations? No, Martin ‘received’ another message to say that, as a result of the group’s actions, God had spared the earth. The previously reclusive group of believers then began a campaign to spread the message of their group to as wide an audience as possible. What Martin and her followers did not know was that, not only were they being hoaxed by various opportunistic practical jokers who had read the newspaper article, they also were being closely studied by a group of psychologists who had infiltrated their fledgling religion. Their observations of the 128

Seekers (in which Martin was represented as ‘Marion Keech’) and the research that followed became the basis of the theory of cognitive dissonance, which analysed the ways in which people adjusted their beliefs and attitudes in order to minimise the ‘dissonance’, or uncomfortable conflict, between them [55], [56]. The adjustment (‘dissonance management’) is commonly carried out purely for comfort: not a means of getting closer to reality, but a means of insulating oneself from it. To the Seekers, the pain of abandoning the belief into which they had poured so much emotional and material commitment would have been unbearable, so they created an alternative explanation for the failure of the prophecy, one which reinforced and elaborated upon the perception that they had been right all the time.

8.3.2. Dealing with the disappointment
The complete failure of the single specific prophecy upon which a religion is entirely founded would seem to be as close to a fatal blow as one could imagine yet, as we see above, abandoning the belief is, for many, not an option. Again, the reaction of the Seekers is not unique: the same thing happens time and time again, aided by a variety of forms of dissonance management. A couple of examples may illustrate the idea. The Millerites [57] were followers of the American amateur Biblical scholar William Miller who, on the basis of his interpretation of the Bible, concluded in 1822 that the Second Coming of Jesus would occur sometime in the next 20 years or so. As the end of the period approached, Miller narrowed down his time frame: it would occur between March 21, 1843 and March 21 1844. After the latter had passed by, the prediction was reviewed and alternative Jewish calendars considered in


order to identify the possible sources of error. A follower of Miller determined a revised date, April 18 1844, but this came and went, as did July 10. Finally, 22 October 1844 was taken as the last-chance prediction. It failed, and its failure became known as the Great Disappointment. As with the Seekers, some Millerites were sufficiently disappointed that they left the movement. However, again as with the Seekers, many renewed their efforts and tried to reinterpret the prophecy, with a number of sub-religions forming from their efforts. Judged from the perspective of the present day, the most successful of these was based on the view propounded by one of Miller’s followers (which also occurred as the result of a ‘vision’) that the October 22 date was correct, but the nature of the event was misinterpreted and that the Biblical prophecy actually referred to the entry of Jesus into a particularly holy region of Heaven. The movement became the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which today has around 10 million members. As an aside: seemingly, the Bahais (Section 8.2) have a stake in the above, for they regard Miller’s prediction as essentially correct, but referring to the emergence of Siyyid AlíMuhammad (The Bab) in May 1844. In 1994, the Jewish Chabad (or ‘Lubavitch’) [58] sect were shocked when their leader, Menachem Schneerson, died. Whereas many might be saddened, few would be as taken aback at the passing of a frail old man of 92 as his followers were, for they believed that Schneerson was the Messiah. Yet he was dead; what had happened? The followers could simply have recognised that they had been wrong, and they could have done this without in any way abandoning messianic Judaism. However, their belief in their 130

former leader and their anticipation of his imminent promotion were so strong that they had to find a way that their belief could be preserved, even in the face of conclusive evidence that it had been incorrect. A number of competing explanations emerged and were promoted with renewed vigour. Schneerson was still alive, but ‘concealed’ (as with the Shia Mahdi or, indeed, Elvis) and would be revealed at the appropriate time. Alternatively, he truly died, but was to be physically resurrected: an option which resulted in some of its more enthusiastic proponents sleeping near his grave. The movement’s present website [59] suggests a thriving community and now displays no sign of this past trauma, though doubtless there are many who still hope to see Menachem Schneerson again. However, to date, he remains dead.

8.3.3. Dissonance Management in Islam
The above examples are intended to illustrate nothing more than that committed religious adherents are perfectly capable of denying the significance of unambiguous evidence that refutes their beliefs in preference to facing up to the fact that their beliefs are wrong. Although Islam does include at least one prophecy which has failed (see Section 6.6) the prophecy does not form a major component of the religion, so its failure can be swept under the carpet without too much fuss. However, Islam does bet the farm on its doctrine that the Quran is clear, inimitable, errorand contradiction-free and superior to all other books. Denial and reinterpretation are therefore applied to the obvious violations of these claimed characteristics rather than, in the above examples, to failed prophecies.


As Chapter 3 discusses, the first to perform this type of process was Muhammad himself, who had over 20 years to provide himself, his followers and his successors with a range of theological ammunition with which to dismiss criticism and doubt. He was able to get the Quran to deny its own shortcomings and to grant to itself a range of virtues which it clearly does not possess, such as that of ‘clarity’. He included the ‘no inconsistency’ verse as both a statement of the Quran’s perfection and a bogus rule for confirming it, and threw in the ‘abrogation’ concept so that he could change the rules anyway. For good measure, he also provided a variety of ad hoc ‘explanations’ for obvious errors (Sections 2.2.2, 3.3.3). Muhammad further established the principle that unbelievers recognised the truth of Islam but had a ‘seal’ set on their hearts, that those who enquired too deeply into the inconsistencies in the Quran were just troublemakers and that others, particularly Christians and Jews, were driven by a range of ulterior motives, including jealousy, to plot against Muslims. These opinions which, if exhibited in an individual, would be thought a sign of mental illness, are a part of mainstream Islamic theology. Nevertheless, Muhammad did not do all the hard work. His successors established (though following Muhammad’s hints) the dogma that the Quran in inimitable and that non-Arabic speakers must inevitably fail to appreciate the Quran’s miraculous qualities. The position that critics inevitably quote poor translations and, as non-Muslims, simply cannot understand Islam seems to be a more modern invention, though it would certainly not be a surprise if it had its origin in one of Muhammad’s sayings.


Later Muslim commentators continued the process whereby obvious defects in the Quran are simply redefined as miraculous virtues. The identification of the ‘ambiguous’ (i.e. incomprehensible) verses as ‘a mark of aesthetic excellence’ was described in Chapter 5. Also discussed there was the occurrence in the Quran of small groups of letters, whose significance is unknown. Al-Hilali and Khan [5] describe them thus: “ of the miracles of the Quran and none but Allah (Alone) knows their meanings” In [60], the point is made that, in the Quran, ‘God’ refers to himself variously as ‘I’, ‘We’, ‘He’ and ‘God’ (i.e. Allah): seemingly a clear case of inconsistency. Khalid Zaheer, an associate professor of Islamic Studies at the Lahore University of Management Science, explains things thus: “It is a masterpiece of Arabic literature…The use of pronouns in the Quran…should be viewed from that perspective….To someone who knows the subtle delicacies presentations (sic) that are expressed in the highest level of literary taste, usage of the same pronoun can raise that work from the level of ordinary prose to a much higher level of literary taste” and he adds: “The Quranic style of presentation should not be critically examined from the point of view of ordinary logic” And this line of argument is ubiquitous, since no faults in the Quran can ever be acknowledged within Islam. On the topic of the Quran’s relaxed approach to organising its subject matter, the Quran-Islam website tells us [61]:


“Quranic verses deliver a truth independent within themselves. Various adjacent verses contain independent truths that are placed side by side. Having said that, it is still necessary for any person studying a specific subject in the Quran to study all the verses in the book that speak of the common theme. These are often found in a number of suras and not one single sura. Many readers have often arrived at false interpretations of Quranic verses simply because they studied one verse in isolation” The structure of the Quran, for which the descriptive words ‘random’ and ‘disorganised’ seem admirably suited, is never described in anything other than glowing terms. Yet, despite the author of the above piece acknowledging that the haphazard structure gives rise to misunderstandings among many of the Quran’s target readership, he fails to draw the conclusion that the book itself is at fault, preferring to blame instead the insufficiently dedicated reader. By means of techniques other than simple denial, the property of ‘consistency’ can be imposed on parts of the Quran which do not seem to exhibit it at first sight. Two seemingly incompatible statements, a and b, can be claimed not to contradict one another by, for example, specifying that b supersedes a, or that a applies in circumstance A and b applies in circumstance B. And this is exactly what takes place; the first approach is, of course, the principle of abrogation, and we saw an example of the second in Section 7.5. Moreover, virtually any two statements can be resolved in one way or the other, provided that we are allowed sufficient freedom to relax


our normal criteria of acceptability for the coherence of written works and to weave our own explanations as to what was ‘really’ meant. By such means, if they are diligently applied, willing Muslims can successfully avoid ever having to entertain the slightest doubt about their beliefs. Nevertheless, a leader would be remiss if he was to assume the unswerving loyalty of all his subjects. Further incentives are sometimes required. These are reviewed below.

8.4. The secret of Islam’s success
8.4.1. Total control
In Section 8.2.2 above, the distinction between a religion and a cult was discussed. What, apart from age and size, distinguishes the former from the latter? It is most commonly held to be the degree of control that the movement exerts over its members. How does Islam stand according to this criterion? The following was compiled by Michael Langone, editor of the Cultic Studies Journal [62], for people concerned that their relatives (usually offspring) have become ensnared by cults. It is a checklist of criteria by means of which the degree of manipulation and entrapment of the followers by the cult’s leaders can be judged. As far as I am aware, the list was compiled with no reference whatever to Islam and is presented below exactly as published, with some explanatory notes edited out for brevity. It reads as follows:


No. 1

Criterion The group is focused on a leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. The group is preoccupied with making money.

Relevance to Islam Though Muslims claim to worship only God, their reverence for Muhammad is worship in all but name. (B1.2.14): Narrated Anas: The Prophet said “None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind.”.


In the concept of jihad, Islam has history’s most aggressive recruitment technique. See Section 8.4.2.


The zakat tax for Muslims and the jizya tax for non-Muslim subjects are specified in the Quran. The most blatant example is Sura 8 of the Quran, which deals with the division of the spoils of war. According to Maududi [9]: “Spoils of war … essentially belong to God and His Messenger. They alone have the right to dispose of them. As for the soldiers who fight, they are not the rightful owners of the spoils; whatever they do receive should be considered an extra reward from God rather than their legitimate right.” According to Section a7.2 of [10]: “Unlawful knowledge includes … anything that is a means to create doubts”. Doubt itself, even “ intend to commit unbelief … in the future” is equivalent to leaving Islam which, if not retracted, is punishable by death ([10], Section o8.0).


Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.



Mind-numbing techniques are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

The most popular examples relating to modern cults seem to be “meditation, chanting, debilitating work routines” and so forth. In Islam, the 5-times-a-day prayer and the obsessive-compulsive ablution ritual (see below) certainly qualify. Muhammad’s detailed rules about all aspects of a Muslim’s life reach out from beyond the grave. As an example, detailed rules about ritual ablutions take up 50 pages of [10]. See also No. 10 of this table. In the Quran, Islam is asserted to be ‘perfect’, Muslims are ‘the best nation ever brought forth to men’, whereas non-Muslims are ‘..deaf, dumb, blind -- they do not understand.’. Islam might better be described as supremacist, rather than merely elitist. See Nos. 2, 7 and 13 of this table. Also, any number of news reports from around the world.


The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members.



The group has a polarized us-versusthem mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society. The group’s leader is not accountable to any authorities.


Muhammad, by force of arms, became the ruler of Arabia. Nowadays, Islamic clerics may govern, or strongly influence governments, in Islamic countries.



The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group. The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.

Ethical decisions are to be made entirely on Islamic principles: “ ‘good’ is what the Lawgiver [i.e. God or Muhammad] has indicated is good by permitting it or asking it to be done. ‘Bad’ is what the Lawgiver has indicated is bad by asking it not to be done. Good is not what reason considers good, nor bad, what reason considers bad” [10]. Guilt, and fear. Woe betide a Muslim in a strict Muslim society who is subject to a declaration of takfir: that he has done something such that he is considered an unbeliever. Not always applicable now that entire countries are Muslim, but still applies when young men become radicalised. Furthermore, suicide bombing most emphatically causes the more zealous to “cut ties with family and friends and to give up personal goals and activities” permanently.



Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with each other.


According to Kettani [63] “Once a Muslim finds himself in a non-Muslim environment, it becomes his Islamic duty to get organised with other Muslims” with the purpose of “establishing a viable Islamic community”. Assimilation into the wider community is not an option. Muslims are strictly not allowed to live amongst unbelievers ([8], re. (Q4:100)) because (Q4:101) “the unbelievers are for you a manifest foe.”


Out of 13 criteria, we have 13 direct hits and, in a number of instances (particularly Nos. 2 and 4), the degree of coercion is undoubtedly greater than in the type of present-day cult that Langone had in mind when he compiled the checklist. This, then, is one of the two main reasons for Islam’s success. The other is reviewed in the next section.

8.4.2. Jihad
The renowned Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) declared that ([64], Chapter 3, Section 31): “In the Muslim community, the jihad is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.” The Arabic word jihad (struggle) is undergoing something of a makeover at present in order to soothe concerns in the nonMuslim world. However, whatever the nuances of its meaning in Arabic, its use within Islam overwhelmingly refers to one specific activity. Jihad is defined in [10] only as follows: “Jihad means to war against non-Muslims and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion” That is: jihad in Islam is not a struggle to become a better Muslim, it is not warfare in self-defence, it is aggressive warfare to establish the religion, just as Ibn Khaldun says. Unfortunately, the reality of this has yet to be fully grasped in the western democracies, despite the fact that the jihadis are seldom reserved in declaring it.


In the decades following Muhammad's death, the Muslim Arabs spread out from the Arabian peninsula and conquered the regions we know today as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, parts of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco and the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus, Sicily, Rhodes and, partly, Majorca, Corsica and Sardinia. In the east, they failed, despite a number of attempts, to make extensive inroads into India. In the west, they crossed the straits of Gibraltar and conquered almost all of Spain and Portugal. They were only stopped from conquering Europe by military defeats at Constantinople in 718, at Tours, in mid France, in 732 and at Rome in 846. In the west, Islam was slowly pushed back out of Spain and Portugal (the Reconquista), though the process was not completed for another 800 years. Attempts at further Islamic expansion continued with repeated Arab attacks on Italy and incursions in the East, carried out by Turks, Persians and Afghans. India was invaded again in the late 900s, with Muslim rule over a fluctuating area of the country taking place over the subsequent centuries. In 1095 the first Crusade was launched, partly in response to a request from Constantinople, centre of the Christian Byzantine empire, in order to protect it from attacks by the Turks. The Crusades continued until about 1300 and they, along with attacks from the Mongol army, arrested Islam's military advance. Nevertheless, once this period had ended, the expansion began anew. Constantinople eventually fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Ottomans conquered Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Hungary and Romania, and


besieged Vienna in 1529 and again in 1683. Again, European land was regained from the world of Islam, this time by Austria, as the Ottoman Empire slowly declined. Finally, Islam lost territory close to home, as Palestine became Israel. The purpose of this summary is not to criticise Islam for past expansionism. After all, many nations, including the British, have done the same thing. It is not even to warn non-Muslims that the jihad will continue, even though it inevitably will since the underlying ideology has not changed one iota. The purpose of the summary is to emphasise that, with the exception of Indonesia and, arguably, South Saharan Africa, Islam was adopted as a belief only in the lands the Muslim armies conquered, was ignored in the lands where those armies failed to advance and rejected in the lands where the Islamic conquerors were overthrown. Even in the case of Indonesia, where the conversion was slow and piecemeal, there is no reason to suppose that it took place without the use of threat. Azra [65] comments: “There were of course some isolated cases of the use of force by some Malay-Indonesian Muslim rulers to convert their people or neighbouring populations to Islam”. The words “of course” are (of course) intended to preempt the anticipated criticism of Islam’s inherently violent method of expansion. However, they merely serve to draw attention to it. The fact is that the success of Islam has not been achieved because of any suggestion of plausibility in its doctrines; it has always had to rely (despite denials) on coercion to convert and on rigid control thereafter. The reasons why so few convert because they are convinced of its truth should be clear from the previous chapters of this book.


Chapter 9 The Real Origin of Islam
9.1. Voices in my head
A central part of Islamic doctrine asserts that Muhammad holds a unique position in history: the last of God’s Messengers. However, when viewed from a broader perspective, Muhammad was neither the first, nor the last, nor a particularly unusual example of someone who heard ‘voices’ that no one else could hear. We came across a few examples in Chapter 8. It is not just the founders of religious movements who have such experiences. The following is from an account given by Joan of Arc: “When I was thirteen years old, I had a voice from God…The first time I was very fearful…I heard this voice on the right hand side, towards the church and rarely do I hear it without a brightness. This brightness comes from the same side as the voice is heard. It is usually a great light…This voice was sent to me by God and, after I had thrice heard this voice, I knew that it was the voice of an angel. This voice has always guided me well and I have always understood it clearly.” If we are to believe that Joan’s visions were truly of an angel sent by God, we would be forced to conclude that God had, for a while, developed a particular interest in ending English rule in medieval France: a proposition which is difficult to accept, especially for the English. Therefore, is there a more mundane 142

cause that could have made all these people and, particularly, Muhammad have the experiences that they described? Let us consider Muhammad’s reported behaviour during his periods of ‘inspiration’.

9.2. The episodes of ‘inspiration’
Although there are relatively few accounts in the Hadiths, there is enough information for us to get at least a partial picture of the nature of these incidents. In order to avoid accusations of cherry-picking the information, I have quoted the relevant Hadiths below: none have been altered and none have been omitted, at least not intentionally. First, Muhammad suffered sudden losses of consciousness: (B5:58:170): ”When the Kaaba was rebuilt, the Prophet and 'Abbas went to carry stones. 'Abbas said to the Prophet "(Take off and) put your waist sheet over your neck so that the stones may not hurt you." (But as soon as he took off his waist sheet) he fell unconscious on the ground with both his eyes towards the sky. When he came to his senses, he said, "My waist sheet! My waist sheet!" However, when he experienced ‘visitations’, these were initially traumatic (as they were for Joan of Arc): (B1:1:3):”.. The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, "I do not know how to read. The Prophet added, "The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read 143

and I replied, 'I do not know how to read.' Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read but again I replied, 'I do not know how to read (or what shall I read)?' Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said, 'Read in the name of your Lord, who has created (all that exists) has created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous." Then Allah's Apostle returned with the Inspiration and with his heart beating severely. Then he went to Khadija bint Khuwailid [his wife] and said, "Cover me! Cover me!" They covered him till his fear was over..” They were intermittent: (B6:60:478):” …But a short while later Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration stopped for a while so that Allah’s Apostle was very much grieved…” and of varying intensity: (B1:1:2):”… and this type of Divine Inspiration is the hardest on me…” and of varying form: (B1:1:2)”Sometimes it is (revealed) like the ringing of a bell….and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says.”


During his spells, Muhammad was observed to sweat profusely: (B3:48:829): “So, there overtook him the same state which used to overtake him, (when he used to have, on being inspired divinely). He was sweating so much so that the drops of the sweat were dropping like pearls though it was a (cold) wintry day.” become detached: (B9:92:400): “…The Prophet stood up for a while, waiting. I realised that he was being divinely inspired.” move his tongue and lips involuntarily: (B6:61:564): “…And whenever Gabriel descended to Allah’s Apostle with the Divine Inspiration, Allah’s Apostle used to move his tongue and lips, and that used to be hard for him and one could easily recognise that he was being inspired” and his face used to change colour: (M30:5765):”..When inspiration descended upon Allah’s Messenger…he felt a burden on that account and the colour of his face underwent a change.” Let us consider these episodes. First, if one looks at them according to the Islamic explanation: that they were caused by the angel Gabriel, Muhammad’s first encounter is bizarre and unnecessarily distressing. Three times, the angel asks


Muhammad to read. To read what? Nothing seems to have been presented. Furthermore, the angel strangely seems to have selected for this task a man who cannot read. However, each time Muhammad points this out he is, in effect, tortured, with the angel taking no heed of the reply and repeating the request. Finally, Gabriel appears to abandon the idea and, instead, tells Muhammad something which makes very little sense. The whole episode is nightmarish and it is not surprising that Muhammad was profoundly affected by the experience. Therefore, given its incoherence, was the event really a divine visitation, or something altogether different?

9.3. A rational explanation
Imagine that you are a medical student and have been told that ‘Patient A’ who had, at times, suffered sudden bouts of unconsciousness, had reported receiving intermittent visits and messages from a superior Being. As a result, he had become convinced that he was a prophet and was compiling a book of messages that he had received. Moreover, when Patient A was supposedly experiencing these visits, his face changed colour and he was observed to experience anxiety or terror and to become detached, move his mouth involuntarily and to sweat profusely. You are now asked to come up with a list of possible causes for Patient A’s behaviour. How would you set about the task and what would be on your list? In all likelihood, you would search the appropriate medical textbooks (or modern equivalent) and compile a number of candidate conditions. Nowhere on the list would you be likely to put as a possible cause “actual visits from perceived Being”.


However, at the very top of the list would come a single condition which is capable of producing all of Muhammad’s symptoms. The condition is temporal lobe epilepsy, or TLE. Aside from religious hallucinations, discussed below, the symptoms are many and varied, but some are characteristic and quite common. These include [66]: a. b. c. d. e. fear or anxiety a wide-eyed, motionless stare lip smacking, chewing and swallowing changes in heart rate and sweating pallor or blushing [67]

All the features of Muhammad’s extraneous behaviour are symptoms of this condition, with c. above (“Allah’s Apostle used to move his tongue and lips, and that used to be hard for him”) being otherwise most unusual. Epileptic attacks are also known to be short-lived, varied in intensity and highly irregular. It is an almost perfect match.

9.3.1. Instant prophet
As well as the symptoms described so far, the most important side effects of temporal lobe epilepsy, as far as the world at large is concerned, are those producing religious mania (‘religiosity’). The neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran begins his book ‘Phantoms in the Brain’ thus [68]: “A man wearing an enormous bejeweled cross dangling on a gold chain sits in my office, telling me about his conversations with God, the "real meaning" of the cosmos and the deeper truth behind all surface appearances. The universe is suffused with spiritual


messages, he says, if you just allow yourself to tune in. I glance at his medical chart, noting that he has suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy since early adolescence, and that is when "God began talking" to him.” The subject of religiosity as a result of TLE is reviewed in [69], where the authors comment that mystical delusional experiences had been found to be ‘remarkably common’ in sufferers. The similarities between Muhammad’s experiences and some of the case histories reviewed in [69] are as clear as the similarity between the origin of Islam and those of the other religions reviewed in Chapter 8. A patient in the 19th century “..declared that God had given him a mission to reform the world by law.” and one of the patients treated by the authors of [69] “…completely believed everything he had seen and heard during the acute phase, and specifically rejected the idea that the experience could have been the product of a disordered mind. He considered that he had received a message from God to mend his ways and help others and the fact that he had been singled out in this way meant that he was God’s chosen instrument” Another heard the voice of ‘God’ say: “A human life is like a tree or shrub. It either grows straight up or bends and goes right over. As long as it is upright it has the hand of God”


which has the same kind of portentous yet empty quality exhibited by Muhammad’s first communication: it is the sort of pseudo-Biblical thing that believers feel God ought to say. An earlier review by Howden [70] covered similar ground. Of one of his case studies, the patient ‘J.I.’, Howden writes: “He tries to convert the attendants and his fellow patients, chiefly by threatening them with God's judgments if they will not do what he (J.I.) tells them. He is fond of the terrors of the law, and tries to impress on his hearers that he is a messenger sent by God to warn his fellow men to believe and flee from the wrath to come.” which is a pattern of behaviour which should be familiar to anyone who has read the Quran. Nao Deguchi’s first experience (Section 8.2) bears a startling resemblance to Muhammad’s. According to [46]: “The voice in reply commanded her to take up a writing brush. However there was no writing brush in the cell, and even if there were, unlettered as she was, Nao could not have written even a single word.” Nao also displayed strange additional behaviour traits when her ‘spirit dreams’ occurred. Again from [46]: “..she felt a great force in her abdomen. At this time all feeling of fatigue left her and her posture became erect and rigid, like an effigy in stone. Presently her body began to rock backward and forward and she would


raise and lower her feet alternately.” Also included in the (relatively short) list of symptoms in [67] are: epigastric [‘of or relating to the anterior walls of the abdomen’] sensations and automatisms, elaborated upon in [66] as ‘dystonic [‘sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements’] posturing’. Moreover, as required by all prophets who wish their works to outlive them, sufferers from TLE commonly display the symptom of compulsive recording of their thoughts or their ‘messages’: a behaviour termed hypergraphia [71], [72]. This is a feature shared by all those examples discussed in Section 8.2 and, of course, by Muhammad himself. The idea that Muhammad’s visions were caused by epilepsy is not new, having been proposed as early as the 8th century by the Byzantine Christian historian Theophanes. A study in 1976 concluded [73]: “Although an unequivocal decision is not possible from existing knowledge, psychomotor or complex partial seizures of temporal lobe epilepsy would be the most tenable diagnosis” Unfortunately, when ‘Patient A’ is replaced with ‘Muhammad’, even non-Muslim authors seem to forget the basic principles of their craft, and reason gives way to sloppy research, wishful thinking and the desire not to be seen to rock the boat. Their objections to the epilepsy diagnosis are


therefore reviewed below.

9.4. Non-Muslim objections
9.4.1. Closet Islamophiles
It is strange to consider, but some non-Muslims have an interest, whether personal, ideological, religious or even economic, in declaring that Muhammad was not simply an epileptic. Certainly, most religious adherents are sympathetic to the idea of direct ‘spiritual’ experience and are unwilling to delve too deeply into the possibility that at least some of these occasions may simply be dreams, delusions or hallucinations. Therefore Christians, particularly those of an ecumenical persuasion, may close ranks with Muslims when the reality of revelation is called into question. Paradoxically, non-Muslims who oppose Christianity may also side with Islam in order to maintain what they see as an appropriate political or religious stance. Islamic claims may therefore draw fraternal support from a variety of those who might be expected to adopt a more objective approach. Nevertheless, sympathetic non-Muslims should not be too eager to oppose the epilepsy theory since, if someone does not believe that God composed the Quran and cannot accept that some medical condition gave rise to the visions, then they are out of options: the only explanation left is that Muhammad was faking. The problem arises more acutely for those involved in Islamic studies. Although wishing to assess Muhammad from a nonMuslim viewpoint, they may be reluctant, for the sake of the 151

smooth running of their professional relationship with the Muslim world, to be seen to be expressing a view which implies that Islam is false. Some fairly creative equivocation is then necessary in order to make it unclear as to exactly what is being said. So, the Swedish theologian Tor Andrae writes: “If epilepsy is to denote only those severe attacks which involve serious consequences for the physical and mental health, then the statement that Mohammad suffered from epilepsy must be emphatically rejected [74]” the logic of which may best be assessed by comparing it with its equivalent: “If ‘driving a car’ is to denote only those cases which involve collision and death, then the statement that Elvis Presley ever drove a car must be emphatically rejected” Caesar Farah also adopts the sophistry approach. He deals directly with the epilepsy question by quoting the passage from Andrae above, despite its obviously fallacious form (though neatly based on a truism). He then makes the highly dubious comment: “Many personalities before Muhammad who were considered ‘psychologically sound’ had less to offer posterity… [75]”


Dubious? Well, if Farah does not accept the Muslim view of the origin of the Quran, then he should be honest enough to admit that all that Muhammad then had ‘to offer posterity’ was a book which was a fake. And what does he mean by putting quotes around ‘psychologically sound’? That the whole madness thing is just a social construct? Very R.D. Laing. Maxime Rodinson brings Theophanes back into the mix. His third sentence could mean whatever you wish it to mean: “Hostile Christians put it down to epilepsy. If this were so, it was a benign form. What is much more probable is that Muhammad's psycho-physiological constitution was basically of the kind found in many mystics [76]” The idea that ‘hostile Christians’ simply invented the idea of Muhammad’s epilepsy is a thread which runs through another sequence of opinions. Edward Gibbon, author of the celebrated 18th century work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was vehemently anti-Christian and yet a relatively uncritical admirer of Muhammad and of Islam. His assessment that the epilepsy diagnosis was “…an absurd calumny of the Greeks” [77] was more a manifestation of this attitude than a reasoned assessment of the evidence he had to hand.

9.4.2. The falling sickness
The question of whether Muhammad was an epileptic was considered by Owsei Temkin as part of what is regarded as the classic book on historical epilepsy: The Falling Sickness [78]. Temkin’s book is a wide scholarly review of how epilepsy has been viewed throughout history and, as part of this his review,


he includes a range of opinions concerning Muhammad. At times, it is unclear if Temkin is concurring with previous writers’ opinions or simply reporting them. However, he does give the overall impression that he is against the epilepsy explanation and, because of the high regard in which the book and its author are held and because later authors construct unjustifiably dogmatic arguments on the basis of his general tone (see below), a number of features of Temkin’s treatment of the subject are discussed here. Temkin’s research was clearly extensive and meticulous, yet he appears not to have had access to the Hadiths and to have relied instead on the early biographies, such as that of Ibn Ishaq [12]. The evidence contained in these biographies is consistent with the Hadiths cited above, but lacks the force of what are supposedly eyewitness testimonies. Nevertheless, Temkin is curiously reluctant to infer from this information anything in favour of the epilepsy diagnosis and, in parallel, fails to evaluate the weakness of some of his predecessors’ counterarguments. First, he echoes Gibbon’s misgivings concerning the Byzantine epilepsy story, stating: “The story has all the earmarks of religious and political propaganda.” The Byzantines were undoubtedly anti-Muslim and with good reason since, by the time Theophanes was born, Constantinople had been attacked twice by the Muslim Arabs, intent on capturing the capital of Christendom for Islam (see Sections


6.3, 6.4). However, it should be obvious that the question of whether Muhammad did or did not suffer from epilepsy cannot be decided on the basis of whether or not the diagnosis was also useful as Christian propaganda. Temkin also makes the point that the suggestion that Muhammad suffered from epilepsy had not been made, or at least reported, during his lifetime. For this to be considered as evidence against the diagnosis we would need to be confident that (a) epilepsy would have been recognised by Muhammad’s compatriots and (b) the opinions would have been recorded and preserved. Temkin appears to suggest that (a) above applies by quoting from a 9th century Islamic document written by the physician al-Tabari, whom he describes as an ‘Arabic author’. However, not only was this document written some 200 years after Muhammad’s lifetime, but Temkin commits, or at least perpetuates, the common misconception that Islamic authors with Arab names, writing in Arabic, were Arabs. According to the medieval Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun [64]: “…with few exceptions, Muslim scholars both in the religious and in the intellectual sciences have been nonArabs. When a scholar is of Arab origin, he is non-Arab in language and has non-Arab teachers” And, indeed, al-Tabari was a Persian and, before his conversion to Islam, a Jew. The Arabs themselves had achieved few scholarly achievements by the 9th century and could claim even fewer during Muhammad’s time. In addition, Mecca was a small desert town on a trade route: as a centre of


learning it had more in common with Dodge City than with Oxford, Vienna or Baghdad. Therefore, although epilepsy was known to ancient scholars and physicians, there is no reason to suppose that it was common knowledge in 7th century Mecca. Regarding (b) above: the fact is that, according to supposedly eyewitness accounts, Muhammad did indeed display visible symptoms which would have suggested epilepsy to someone familiar with the condition. That there is now no record of the suggestion means nothing more than that the diagnosis was never made or, if it was, it was ignored and has now been forgotten. The absence of evidence is very clearly not, in this case, evidence of absence. Finally, Temkin does venture his own opinion by citing the Quran itself as evidence against the epilepsy explanation: “It is hard to imagine that the Quran, a body of religious, legal and social instruction should largely be the product of a succession of hallucinatory epileptic attacks.” It is unclear how much of the Quran Temkin had actually read. It may be “..a body of religious, legal and social instruction.” but, considering how vague, abstruse and disorganised it is, there is no difficulty at all in seeing it as being “..the product of a succession of hallucinatory epileptic attacks.” (coupled with a degree of conscious input). Perhaps a view of Sura 101 will help illustrate the point: “The Clatterer! What is the Clatterer? And what shall teach thee what is the Clatterer? 156

The day that men shall be like scattered moths, and the mountains shall be like plucked wool-tufts. Then he whose deeds weigh heavy in the Balance shall inherit a pleasing life, but he whose deeds weigh light in the Balance shall plunge in the womb of the Pit. And what shall teach thee what is the Pit? A blazing Fire!” Unfortunately, Temkin’s conjectures have been picked up more recently by the clinical psychologist Vaughan Bell who writes unequivocally that Temkin has ‘debunked’ the epilepsy claim [79], when he clearly has not. Whether Bell consequently considers Muhammad to have been a fraud, he does not say.

9.4.3. Epileptophobia
Finally, number of unjustified objections to the epilepsy theory are based on the assumption that an epileptic could not have achieved what Muhammad achieved. Montgomery Watt, a professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, stated that: “Epilepsy leads to physical and mental deterioration and there are no signs of that in Muhammad..” for which he is chided by Freemon [73], who points out that: “A…..common misconception predicts that epileptics undergo brain deterioration.” It is a fallacy to assume that epileptics cannot produce coherent written works or lead others. The Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky was epileptic, as was the American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Whereas someone who suffered 157

hallucinations and delusions might be an unsuitable head of state of a secular democracy, it is quite feasible that such a person could act as an inspirational leader for an ideological or religious movement. The subjects of Section 8.2 became leaders of the movements that originated as a result of their ‘visions’ and the most successful, Hong Xiuquan, became head of an army of more than a million. The popular objections to the epilepsy explanation are therefore seen to be groundless, being based on intellectual cowardice, irrelevancies or misconceptions. Now, let us return to the actual evidence.

9.5. Discussion: a summary of the evidence, and what it implies
To summarise, the evidence given in Chapter 8 and in this chapter shows that: 1. A significant number of religions besides Islam have been founded by people who experienced sudden and unsettling visions of supernatural beings and, from these beings, intermittently received ‘messages’ which they felt compelled to record. 2. The movements founded in this way have usually been based on a religion (in the broadest sense of the term) with which the founder was extremely familiar. 3. The movements founded in this way have incompatible theologies. 4. Very similar experiences to those in 1. above have been recorded in people diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy.


5. Muhammad experienced visions and messages in a manner indistinguishable from those mentioned in 1. above. 6. Muhammad also experienced a number of other effects which are known symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy and most unusual otherwise.

9.5.1. What are the implications concerning religious experience in general?
It is a foundation of many theologies that religious experiences and visions are ‘real’, in that they involve some contact with, or glimpse of, one of the religion’s pantheon. Unfortunately, the adherents of each individual religion seldom face up to the problem of explaining how the members of the other religions, with different deities, can also experience equally real visions. In fact, people tend to have experiences which are coloured, if not entirely determined, by their own religious upbringing. Visions of Jesus, in his role as the Son of God, tend to occur only to Christians and, more specifically, appearances by the Virgin Mary tend to take place only in the presence of Roman Catholics. By contrast, in India [80] “One 40-year-old female with … seizures reported seeing images of the goddess Durga on 5 occasions over a span of 3 years. Another case, a 36-year-old male … dreamt of lord Shiva, who instructed him to visit a nearby temple. Both these cases became more religious after their experience.” The examples of Section 8.2 provide further evidence with, in each case, the individual concerned (even Hong Xiuquan, who 159

had received Bible lessons from an American missionary) experiencing visions which were entirely consistent with his or her existing beliefs. If such episodes were genuine, one would expect them to provide glimpses of only a small number of beings that actually exist and to reveal a consistent theology. In fact, they tend to exhibit as many incompatible deities and messages as there are mutually contradictory religions. Any religion which asserts that it is the only true religion must therefore hold that only those experiences which fall within its theology can be real and that all those which contradict it are false. However, the examples given in Section 8.2, whether arising from an identifiable medical condition or not, clearly demonstrate the existence of a common Prophet Syndrome which crosses racial, linguistic, cultural and religious boundaries. Given that there is no feature which could allow an impartial observer to differentiate between the testimonies of the various people who display it, it is difficult to argue that two causes so fundamentally different, that is: mental pathology on one hand and divine communication on the other, could produce indistinguishable results. Since many, if not all religions hold that their deities are superior in all sorts of ways, including intellectually, to humans, this implies that the gods deliberately arranged the symptoms of ‘real’ experiences to be the same as those of false ones. This, I would suggest, is so implausible that even a committed believer should find it difficult to accept.


9.5.2. What are the implications concerning Muhammad’s visions?
Even without an identification of the exact cause, it is clear that Muhammad’s bouts of ‘inspiration’ correspond to the Prophet Syndrome precisely, so that there is nothing to distinguish his experiences from those of a number of founders of other religions. The problem identified at the end of the previous section therefore presents itself even more starkly. If the allegedly almighty, all-knowing Biblical God was responsible for Muhammad’s visions, why did He choose a means whose outward signs can not only be faked, but which are also reproduced by a significant number of people who not prophets, but are clearly not faking either? The problem only gets more acute as more of the specifics are considered. Muhammad’s experiences, down to detailed sensations and behaviour, correspond to a recognised medical condition: temporal lobe epilepsy. Islam has no satisfactory explanation for the extraneous oddities of Muhammad’s behaviour during these episodes, for why should God create these superfluous effects, if all they achieve is to suggest strongly to later generations that their origin lay in some form of mental illness? Did the problem simply not occur to Him?

9.5.3. Summary
Although his name has been dragged through the mud by later writers, the Byzantine scholar Theophanes must have known what the subsequent critics had either denied or failed to discover: that Muhammad had indeed displayed unambiguous symptoms of epilepsy during his episodes of inspiration and that this condition, and not God, was the origin of the Quran.


The fact is that TLE (or some similar condition) has been producing almost identical prophet-like behaviour in its victims since time immemorial and it is a remarkable consequence of society’s bewildered response to these symptoms that acute sufferers may end up either in a mental ward or as founders of a religion. We should therefore not hold back from concluding that Muhammad really did suffer from TLE any more than we should hold back from concluding that Ludwig van Beethoven’s loss of hearing was due to a medical condition which caused deafness. A society which long ago abandoned the idea that strange or erratic behaviour is caused by demonic possession should not cling onto the notion that it might instead be due to angels.

9.6. Final remarks
9.6.1. Voluntary or involuntary?
Chapter 3 provides evidence which indicates clearly that Muhammad issued revelations whose content was very much to his personal advantage. This chapter concludes that he was in the grip of a powerful neurological condition. Are these two positions consistent? The strength of seizures varies greatly even within a single person, so some revelations could have been spontaneous and involuntary, others strongly shaped by Muhammad’s own wishes. After he had become convinced of his prophethood, he may even have identified his own conscious thoughts with divine inspiration, without ever deliberately committing fraud. 162

There is therefore no contradiction between the content of Chapter 3 and that of this chapter: the Quran contains all types of ‘revelation’.

9.6.2. The human condition
The most significant parallel to the case of Muhammad is yet to be mentioned. This is the case of Saul of Tarsus, a vigorous persecutor of Christians, who experienced a seizure and a vision of Jesus in the year 35 (or thereabouts) while travelling to Damascus. He converted to Christianity as a result and was the driving force in spreading it beyond the Jews to the world at large, becoming the Christian Saint Paul in the process. Since Christianity and Islam fundamentally disagree on the alleged divinity of Jesus, it is not possible that Muhammad’s and Saul’s experiences were both ‘real’ though, of course, it is perfectly possible that neither were. It is astonishing to consider that the world’s two largest religions, with perhaps three billion followers in total, may be based on nothing more than the epileptic seizures and subsequent altered personalities of two previously unexceptional men. Has any other medical condition, be it plague, malaria, influenza or smallpox, had so profound an effect on human history?


Chapter 10 Summary
10.1. The choice to be made
In response to the dawah, or invitation to Islam, issued by AlQaeda, I have reviewed what I see as the key evidence for and against the central claim of Islam: that the Quran is the word of the Biblical God (‘God’), dictated to Muhammad ibn Abdullah by the Archangel Gabriel. The conclusions drawn from the evidence considered in this book are summarised below. Detailed arguments in support of these conclusions are in the relevant chapters.

10.2. The origin of Islam
10.2.1. Are there signs of a divine plan?
Islam maintains that the revelation of the Quran was a purposeful act by God, whose intention was for the world to become Muslim (Section 2.1.2). However, anyone considering Islam’s version of its own origins must surely find it a challenge to discern any evidence of a guiding intelligence in the haphazard sequence of events leading to the creation and compilation of the Quran that we see today (Chapter 2). Many features of the genesis of Islam and the Quran are simply inexplicable when viewed as the supposed grand plan of an almighty deity. Equally perplexing, in that it implies repeated


failure on God’s part, is the Islamic belief that He had made many previous attempts to spread His message to other nations, with all these attempts being unsuccessful (Section 2.2.1). Furthermore, this belief remains uncorroborated by historical evidence from elsewhere in the world. The lack of success was perhaps inevitable. The use of unqualified, unheralded individuals in order to propagate the divine message is a strange tactic, given God’s supposedly unlimited abilities to spread the word by more effective methods. Furthermore, the role of ‘prophet’ intrinsically lacks credibility (Chapter 3), having been wide open to abuse, through fakery and self-delusion, throughout history (Chapters 8 and 9). One also cannot help but notice that the alleged divine plan, while requiring worldwide conversion, has no rational strategy for bringing it about (Section 2.2.5). The proof that anyone would reasonably require in order to make such an important decision, and which should be trivial to provide if the originator was truly God, is simply absent, and replaced only by repeated and intemperate denunciations of those who, quite reasonably, remain unconvinced (Section 3.2). These are unambiguous signs of an entirely human origin of the Quran.

10.2.2. Is Islam special?
Islam, far from being unique, is just one of many religions which began with their founders becoming convinced that they were receiving messages from higher beings (Chapter 8). Moreover, Muhammad’s experiences during his times of ‘inspiration’ bear a striking and detailed resemblance to those undergone by these other individuals (Chapter 9). The


appearance of Islam should then be seen not as anything out of the ordinary, but only as a typical example of a recurring event. That this same circumstance should occur time and time again within all cultures and eras is certainly more than coincidence but cannot, because of the inconsistent theologies revealed, be evidence of repeated divine communication (Section 9.5). A possible, indeed highly likely, natural cause is discussed in Section 10.5.

10.2.3. Why has Islam been so successful?
The Quran’s alleged miraculous eloquence went all but unnoticed among Muhammad’s fellow Meccans (Section 3.1). Moreover, the Arabs of the time were provided with no evidence to convince them of the truth of Muhammad’s words (Sections 3.2, 3.3), since none of the claimed ‘proofs’ of the Quran as God’s message (Section 1.3) applied during Muhammad’s lifetime. Conversion must therefore have taken place by other means. Subsequent conversions in non Arabicspeaking countries also cannot have taken place by free, rational choice, because the inhabitants could not, and still can not, understand the Quran. Islam’s numerical success cannot therefore have been achieved as a result of any underlying truth in its message, since even those who believe that an underlying truth exists must surely concede that this truth has always been, and remains, inaccessible to potential converts. What, then, are the reasons for Islam’s global achievements? With few exceptions, Islam was adopted as a system of belief only in the lands the Muslim armies conquered, was ignored in the lands where those armies failed to advance and rejected in


the lands where the Islamic conquerors were overthrown. Islam has (despite vociferous denials) always had to rely upon coercion to convert and upon rigid control thereafter (Section 8.4).

10.3. The Quran’s style
10.3.1. Obvious flaws
As many Muslims must realise in their hearts, the Quran is simply not the masterpiece that it is claimed to be. By any normal criteria, it contains flaws which are as obvious in English translations as they must be in the original Arabic, with these defects merely being redefined as miraculous virtues in order to maintain the fiction that the book is perfect. The text is undisputedly repetitive, inconsistent in style, incomplete and, at times, incomprehensible (Section 5.2). When carrying out a rational assessment of the truth or falsity of Islam, non-Muslims need to come to terms with the Muslim practice of bestowing uninhibited superlatives on all aspects of the Quran. The superlatives do not denote the results of a genuine critical assessment, but are simply an act of worship, based on the prior conviction that the book is indeed the word of God. The act of praising the Quran should be seen as nothing more than an exercise in the communal reinforcement of the doctrine upon which Islam is entirely based (Section 5.1). Claims of the Quran’s supposed miraculous virtues are without foundation, being based only upon the uncritical acceptance of assertions of its own perfection made within the book itself and on extreme and, occasionally, ridiculous exaggeration by 167

Muslim or pro-Muslim writers (Section 5.2). Moreover, the idea that all the Quran’s claimed miraculous properties are radiantly apparent in the original Arabic, but simply vanish without trace when the book is translated, is absurd. If the merits of human works of literature can at least partially survive translation, is it really being claimed that God could not have arranged this for His own composition? That God’s final message to all humanity was expressed in untranslatable verse, in Arabic; a language today spoken as a first language by less than 3% of the earth’s population, is so intrinsically implausible that Islam can surely be rejected on this argument alone. When one considers also that the style of the early Quran just happened to resemble a style favoured by contemporary Arab soothsayers (Section 3.2), there is simply no other possible conclusion but that the book originated not from God but from within 7th century Arab culture.

10.3.2. Inimitability
Muslims believe that the Quran is literally inimitable: that nothing comparable to it can be produced by mere mortals. However, this idea was not developed by observation, but simply inferred from statements to that effect uttered by Muhammad, either as part of the Quran or in reference to it (Chapter 5). The Quran challenges its readers to write a single sura (i.e. chapter) like those it contains. However, the claim that this challenge was taken on unsuccessfully by some of the giants of early Arabic literature appears to be based on nothing more than myth, endlessly retold and reinforced down the centuries (Section 5.3).


Muslims should also keep a sense of proportion about the value of a challenge in which the rules are unstated, which cannot be judged objectively and from which at least 99.5% of those nonMuslims who may be motivated to compete are effectively barred by being non Arabic speakers. Moreover, the challenge itself was issued after two previous challenges to write more extensive passages were ignored. A little thought must surely indicate that the previous, more difficult challenges were pointless if it is claimed that the last, easier one could not be met. Again, this is not a characteristic of a perfect book, nor of an all-knowing author.

10.4. The Quran’s contents
The idea that the directives in the Quran can only be interpreted correctly when the context of each revelation is understood undermines the whole claimed eternal nature of the book. It also implies that God jumbled together commands designed to cover temporary circumstances with those of a more general application and gave no indication how to tell the two apart, resulting in confusion which has existed to the present day (Section 2.2.4). Moreover, the orthodox Islamic position that the Hadiths: an extensive but essentially random compilation of recollections of the things Muhammad said and did, only fully compiled some two centuries after his death, are a necessary supplement to the Quran, undermines the claims even further.

10.4.1. Muhammad
An indication of the true identity of the author occurs when one observes that the importance attached by the Quran to then contemporary events increases according to their proximity to Muhammad himself. Some passages are clearly invented by 169

Muhammad for his own personal convenience. When a supposedly divine, timeless and universal revelation issues directives to aid Muhammad’s love life and to warn people off turning up early to his dinner parties, surely a glimmer of realisation must cross the mind of even the most devoted follower (Section 3.4).

10.4.2. The natural world
The Quran’s subject matter is often transitory and parochial, displaying no awareness of any lands beyond Arabia nor any understanding of the workings of the natural world. The claim that it contains nothing which contradicts modern science is a gross falsehood: there are a number of unambiguous examples of ignorance and error, together with references to talking ants and to jinn: Arab folklore beings, whose existence is no more real than that of pixies or mermaids. Furthermore, there is clear evidence within his own book that the modern champion of the ‘Science in the Quran’ movement, Maurice Bucaille, did not actually believe that God composed the Quran: a position which he takes great care to conceal (Chapter 4). Nothing in the Quran is quite as implausible as the passage concerning King Solomon and the talking ant (Section 4.6.1). If anyone could suggest a reason why this story should not be regarded as absurd, it would be most interesting to hear it. Nevertheless, even if a plausible explanation of the account could be constructed, the problem remains that the book’s author has included in the Quran a tale which appears ridiculous, with its resulting adverse effect on the book’s credibility.


10.4.3. Prophecy
Nor does the Quran contain any miraculous anticipation of future events (Section 6). Even when taken at face value, the celebrated prediction of the victory of the ‘Romans’ (Byzantines) over (it is assumed) the Persians is, at best, a much weaker affair than portrayed. Moreover, the fact that no political capital was made of it during Muhammad’s lifetime, when the perfect opportunity presented itself, suggests that it was not viewed as an important prophecy at the time. Its present-day appearance as an ancient prediction may therefore be an illusion or a later construct (Section 6.3). The unambiguous prophecy that the ‘great barrier’ erected by the leader Zul-Qarnain (usually assumed to be Alexander the Great) will be levelled, the warlike tribes Gog and Magog released and Hell presented to the unbelievers was simply wrong. This has not happened, nor will it ever happen, since the barrier and Gog and Magog, if they ever existed, exist no longer (Section 6.6). If Islamic claims of the existence of the ‘Preserved Tablet’, upon which the future of all mankind is set out, are true, there is no reason at all why the Quran should not have continued to foretell events after Muhammad’s death. Yet, as we know, there are no prophecies which successfully predicted later events, for reasons which should be obvious (Section 6.7).

10.4.4. Philosophy and Law
The Quran contradicts itself a number of times on the subject of whether mortals have free will or whether God controls their thoughts and actions. As with the question of ‘context’,


Muslim theologians cannot agree on a coherent interpretation of the Quran’s statements on this subject, despite having an exposition in a book which they describe as ‘clear’ (Section 7.2). It is evident that at least some Muslims are uncomfortable with Islamic laws which condone slavery, portraying them as an attempt to phase out the practice. If this was the goal, one can only wonder at the wisdom of the Quran issuing eternal, immutable rules which perpetuated it (Section 7.4). Islam’s requirement for four witnesses to be present in order for an accusation of adultery to be upheld makes the charge almost impossible to prove and benefits no one but the adulterers. Furthermore, it is a source of obvious injustice in that it can lead to the criminalisation of rape victims (Section 7.3). The Quran’s rules for the division of the estate of someone who dies intestate have not been framed competently. As well as being unclear and incomplete the rules can, under certain circumstances, give rise to the sum allocated being less, or more, than the amount available (Section 7.5).

10.5. Where the Quran really came from
Muhammad’s religious experiences were not unique. Many people undergo strikingly similar sensations, though only a fraction of them carry on to set up religions (Chapter 8). Furthermore, there exists at least one recognised neurological condition: temporal lobe epilepsy, which exactly reproduces the type of experience undergone by Muhammad, from the perception of receiving divine visitations and messages and the 172

compulsion to record them, down to the occurrence of odd aspects of involuntary behaviour during these episodes (Chapter 9). When it is acknowledged that such natural causes exist, it is surely an uphill task to argue that Muhammad’s experiences were nevertheless both unique and supernatural. Not only is clearly preferable to adopt the simpler explanation, the alternative implies that God deliberately set out to make Muhammad’s behaviour resemble the symptoms of a known neurological disorder, even down to details which are entirely superfluous. If Muhammad displayed a whole range of symptoms consistent with epilepsy, then it is surely reasonable to conclude that epilepsy was by far the most likely cause of the symptoms. A society which long ago abandoned the idea that strange or erratic behaviour is caused by demonic possession should not cling onto the notion that it might instead be due to angels.

10.6. Conclusion
In response to the dawah, or invitation to Islam, issued by AlQaeda, I have reviewed the basis of the Muslim claim that the Quran was composed in its entirety by an all-knowing, allpowerful God as His final and definitive message to mankind. The foregoing claim, despite being vigorously asserted and zealously defended, is contradicted by a wide range of evidence and supported by none. The Quran contains nothing, absolutely nothing, which would lead an unprejudiced reader to conclude that it had been composed by anyone other than a mere mortal. Indeed, the evidence that the Quran had a human 173

author is so overwhelming in quantity and so decisive in nature that only those preconditioned to ignore it could possibly think otherwise. Islam is clearly based on nothing more than the delusions, desires and opinions of a 7th century Arab and, as a consequence, is as false a system of belief as could ever be found. So: no, this unbeliever will not be converting.


The internet allows readers to access referenced material instantly, and for free, and I have tried to make the best use of this prolific source of information. However, information on the internet may change or disappear without notice and has a (sometimes undeserved) reputation for unreliability. So, where possible, I have provided references to electronic copies of source documents which have also been published on paper. If these can no longer be found at the web addresses I give, they can usually be located elsewhere after a little searching. Copies of the Quran are fairly easy to find. Passages quoted from books can often be inspected for accuracy and correct interpretation using Google Books, and the Scribd website is worth searching for anything and everything. I have tried to steer away from information which exists solely on websites, though I have included such sources if they seemed to be appropriate as, for example, in the case of the new religious movements discussed in Chapter 8.
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