Sunday, October 04, 2015

How Not to Defend Islam

In a recent piece on Salon Qasim Rashid, described as "the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and Visiting Fellow at Harvard University’s Prince al-Waleed bin Talal School of Islamic Studies," takes Ben Carson to task for "absurd lies" about Islam. Some of Carson's claims about Islam may well be false—it is not true, for instance, that "Under Shariah law ... people following other religions must be killed.” Most Americans do not know much about other religions; there is no reason to expect Carson to be an exception. 

Rashid, who surely is well informed, writes:
Islam gave women equal rights in 610 that our own United States haven’t given even in 2015. To this day America has not passed the Equal Rights Amendment. Meanwhile the Quran 33:36 emphatically declares the equality of men and women:
“Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him…God has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.”
God may treat men and women equally but Islamic law, fiqh, does not. A daughter under Islamic law receives half the inheritance of a son—a rule directly from the Quran. A man is permitted to marry up to four wives, a woman one husband. A man may freely divorce his wife, a woman is not free to divorce her husband. Each spouse has rights to sexual intercourse with the other, but the rights are not the same.
In truth, the Qur’an only permits fighting in self-defense, or to protect  “churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques” from attack. Prophet Muhammad issued numerous charters with Christians, Jews, and pagans to affirm his commitment to universal religious freedom and equal human rights for all people regardless of faith.
Mohammed attacked and destroyed the  Jewish villages near Medina. In one case, after the village surrendered, all of the male inhabitants were killed at his orders. He fought a long war with the Quaraysh, his fellow tribesmen in Mecca, which ended only when they surrendered and converted.

When Islam began, the two great powers of that part of the world were the Persian Sassanid empire and the Byzantine empire. In the course of the first century after Mohammed's death his followers conquered all of the first and a large chunk of the second, one of the more impressive accomplishments of human history. It was not done by fighting in self defense.

Under Islamic law, the other peoples of the book—Christians, Jews and (probably) Sabeans—were permitted to live under Islamic rule. But they did not have "equal human rights." A Muslim man could marry a Christian or Jewish woman, a Christian or Jewish man could not marry a Muslim woman. Christians and Jews were required to pay a special tax, the jizya.

According to the Shafi'i school of law, the indemnity for killing a woman is half that for killing a man, the indemnity for killing a Jew or a Christian is one third that for killing a Muslim, the indemnity paid for a Zoroastrian is one fifteenth that of a Muslim (The Reliance of the Traveler o 4.9). Details vary among the four schools.

Rashid never mentions that the Ahmadiyya Muslim community for which he is the spokesman is a heterodox offshoot of orthodox Islam originating in India in the late 19th century, one that regards its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as the Messiah. For all I know his claims are true about current Ahmadiyya doctrine. But presenting them as  doctrines of Islam without qualification, when his sect represents about one percent of the total Islamic population, is roughly equivalent to a Mormon presenting Mormon doctrine as Christianity without qualification or explanation to an audience unfamiliar with Christianity. 

And, while his sect is free to choose its own legal rules, it is not free to change the historical facts to suit.


At 4:36 AM, October 05, 2015, Blogger Jay Maynard said...

It should also be noted that Ahmadiyya adherents are regarded as heretics and apostates, and ruthlessly hunted down and killed in Islamic countries in the Middle East. To call them Muslims in the hearing of a Sunni or Shiite or other Muslim is to start a short and very violent argument.

At 5:23 AM, October 05, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If what various holy texts prescribe as being moral determined whether a presidential candidate was fit for office, electing a Christian would also be a bad idea. The bible also encourages practices that are way outside of the legal confines of the US Constitution.

At 7:31 AM, October 05, 2015, Blogger Tibor said...

Anonymous: That is generally a good counterargument against the "Muslims are horrible because there are horrible things in Koran" argument. There are horrible things in the Old Testament too, it does not follow that Jews (even those who practice religion) are all fundamentalist crazies.

However, it is pretty much tangential to David's argument. I don't like people who cite a 7th century Islamic law and say "and therefore if we allow Muslims to come here, this will be the reality in 20-50 years in our country". But I don't like people who try to defend against the first by bending reality. Also, it is not just dishonest, it is stupid. If you lie about something that is easy to look up (and looks suspicious in the first place), people will stop listening to you even if you make good (and true) arguments otherwise. That is at least people who do not already agree with you before you've even said your piece.

I also find it interesting that he is comparing a secular document (US constitution) and a religious text (Koran). It is either just rhetoric or a remnant of the fact that under Islamic law, there is no clear division between the secular and the religious. I would guess the first though, in which case the comparison makes little sense.

At 8:33 AM, October 05, 2015, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:37 AM, October 05, 2015, Blogger Unknown said...

"Most Americans do not know much about other religions; there is no reason to expect Carson to be an exception."

It doesn't bother me if Carson is ignorant about Islam, but it does if he's unaware that he's ignorant.

At 11:37 AM, October 05, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find religion a very interesting component of civilization. On the one hand, it seems that it ought to provide a justice system that is not only cost-free, but polycentric. If there is something that you want to do that I don't like you doing, then as long as all I want is for you to be punished for doing it, I can believe that God will punish you in the afterlife while you can believe that he won't. As long as we both sincerely believe, our different and opposing views of what is just can both be satisfied at once.

Yet on the other hand, religion seems to have a habit of encouraging preferences that are fundamentally incompatible with the preferences of others. If all you are interested in is making yourself happy and fulfilled and so on, then there are lots of ways you can go about this, while allowing others to do what they like. Whereas if you are interested in claiming the entire world in the name of your god, or you believe that a particular bit of land has special holy value and no other similar patch of land is an adequate substitute, then that puts you more at odds with other people rather than less.

At 12:18 PM, October 05, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...


In principle, Islam has separation of law and state just as our system has separation of church and state. The law is not made by the ruler but deduced by religious scholars from religious sources, primarily the Quran and the traditions of what Mohammed and his companions did and said. In practice, of course, it's a lot less tidy.

For more details see:

At 12:27 AM, October 06, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Most Americans do not know much about other religions; there is no reason to expect Carson to be an exception."

But most people do not make public statements about other religions that can reach millions. And most people do not run for President...Surely those ARE distinctions between Carson and "most people" that DO give reason to expect Carson to be an exception.

At 12:11 PM, October 06, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...


Our present VP, while running for that office, publicly asserted that when the stock market crashed FDR went on nationwide television to reassure the nation. Compared to that level of ignorance of a subject one might expect a professional politician to be familiar with, Carson's somewhat blurred view of Islam strikes me as a pretty minor error.

It's not as if his statement is wholly baseless. Islamic doctrine is tolerance for the other peoples of the book—provided they surrender and agree to pay the required tax and in various other ways (varying from time to time and place to place) conform to the requirements imposed on them. With regard to other categories of non-muslims the situation is less clear, but at least one reading of it is that they are required to convert to one of the tolerated religions, leave the territory under Muslim control, or be killed.

One point I did not go into was that the essay, and a good deal of other stuff I saw, misrepresented either Carson or the Constitution. As best I can tell, Carson hasn't said that it should be illegal for a Muslim to run for president, merely that one shouldn't be elected. There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents voters from voting against a candidate because of his religion or trying to persuade others to do so. When JFK ran, one argument made against him was that he was Catholic, and I think similar arguments were made against Romney because he was a Mormon.

At 6:22 AM, October 12, 2015, Anonymous Daublin said...

Saddam Hussein was pretty bad on women's rights, and the motivations I've heard for this was that he was trying to appease Muslim leadership.

For example, Hussein legalized honor killings, and he reduced many retracted many of the civil rights women had come to enjoy in the decades before his rule. It's even worse if you include his son Uday Hussein, who was just unimaginably bad to women from a western perspective. For one example among many, Uday was known to behead prostitutes.

Sadly, all of this information is buried under information campaigns to either support or oppose U.S. involvement in Iraq. In a better world, Iraqi people--women and otherwise--would be more important than whether Coke or Pepsi is in charge in the American government. Nobody seems to care about the actual facts, and that's the saddest part of all.


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