Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Muhammad: A Brief Biography

Most westerners are abysmally ignorant of the life of Muhammad.  They therefore accept everything that Muslims say at face value, for they have no other choice.  Here is a thumbnail sketch of the life of Muhammad.  It’s by no means complete, just sort of a skeleton for the curious reader to use as a springboard for his or her own exploration into the most successful cult in world history.
Everything We know about Islam and the life of Muhammad comes from Islamic sources.  There are simply no other sources that say a word about Muhammad during his lifetime.  The first mentions of Islam from western sources is Theophanes, who only wrote about the Islamic conquests starting in the invasion of Syria in 634.
My take, in a nutshell, is that Muhammad was a deeply troubled person, with a history of abuse as a child, and some deep mental problems, including, but not limited to epilepsy, paranoid schizophrenia and acromegaly.  This is the general consensus of psycho pathologists who have studied the physical descriptions of Muhammad, his seizures and his general behavior.  He set himself up as the voice of Allah shortly after he started experiencing auditory hallucinations, which were frequently associated with painful epileptic seizures.  He gathered a cult following of a dozen or so from the usual fringe elements of society who seem to be attracted to that sort of thing.  In this way he was no different from David Koresh, Jim Jones, Charles Manson. . . etc etc.  The local townsfolk in Mecca tolerated his eccentricities because he had a couple of powerful patrons in his wife and his uncle.  Still, he was something of a laughingstock in the town and the butt of considerable low grade abuse, sometimes physically.  When this happened, he would call down the fires of hell with Allah’s authority on them, which just increased the abuse he received.  The townsfolk of Mecca were understandably concerned about their relatives who had subscribed to his cult, just like any parent or family member would be today.  After the death of his first wife, Muhammad incensed the community by taking multiple wives, particularly his favorite Aisha, who by her own account was betrothed to him at the age of 6 and deflowered at the age of 9 (He was 53).
The basis of Muhammad’s prophecy was half-remembered scripture and apocryphal writings that Muhammad had heard when he was a caravan manager to Syria.  He was intensely spiritual, and hung on every word he could get about Judaism and Christianity.  Unfortunately, he was illiterate, and had no way of discerning canon from apocrypha, and never received a foundation in scriptural history or theology, so his understanding of the stories he heard lacked context and meaning.  In his “revelation” he freely mixed Judeo-Christian beliefs with pagan Arab legends and beliefs.
All of the passages from the Quran you commonly hear today from Muslim apologists concerning the rights of women, tolerance towards other religions, etc came from this period in Mecca.  Muhammad was a very nice man who only wanted you to believe him, and the only tool he had at hand was persuasion.  Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is that once he gained temporal power, Allah rescinded most of those nice passages, and replaced them with harsher, totalitarian teachings.  The Quran directly contradicts itself on most all of these issues, and Islamic tradition holds that the later revelations supersede and abrogate the earlier ones.  He was even asked about this, and Allah responded that he could replace his teachings at will.  This is a real problem for Islam, since all Islamic teaching derives from the point source of Muhammad over a very short period of time.
When his wife and uncle passed away, so did his protected status, and a lynch mob was organized.  Muhammad saw it coming and evacuated Mecca for Medina, where he had been invited by the Jewish tribes there who were curious about this prophet who seemed to be prophesying according to their own tradition (His fascination with Judeo-Christianity manifested itself with long recitals of half-baked stories mashed together from the Judeo-Christian scriptures).
Muhammad had a short-lived period as a rock star in Medina, and was accepted by the underclass Ansari Arab tribe because he seemed a political lever to increase their status among the higher class Jewish tribes that lived there and worked the date orchards.  The Jews quickly rejected him as a prophet, because his ramblings didn’t correlate with their written scripture.  They began to demand payment on the loans they had extended him (Leading to the Quranic injunction against usury).
It was at this time that Muhammad started resorting to assassination to silence his detractors. 
Muhammad put together a ragtag raiding band and sought to raid the yearly caravan returning from Syria to Mecca to supply the Hajj during Ramadan (The Hajj and Ramadan were polytheistic Arab traditions that long predated Muhammad, and they were the principle source of income for the very poor community of Mecca).  Mecca got wind and sent an interdiction force to intercept him.  Muhammad missed the caravan, but engage the Meccan militia in his first military engagement and defeated them, taking prisoners.  This military success emboldened him, and he and his Ansari marauders began a full-time pastime of raiding surrounding Arab settlements for plunder.  Word got around, and his legend grew, and attracted followers because the credulous Arabs felt that his successes spoke for his legitimacy.  There’s a number of Hadith that suggest that bribery was a common way for him to ensure faithfulness.
The Jews of Medina fared poorly, and he one by one picked off the tribes of Medina, appropriating their land and industries, and either forcing the Jews to leave, or selling them into slavery.  Had the Jews banded together and stood firm, this never would have happened, but they remained balkanized by tribal ties, and were divided and conquered by Muhammad.  The largest tribe lasted the longest, but the Banu Qarayza were eventually exterminated, their men and boys slaughtered in an all day orgy of beheading, and their women and children sold into slavery.
Long story short, Muhammad gathered together an army of 10,000 Bedouins as a result of his successful campaigns of Banditry, and marched on Mecca, which surrendered without a fight.  Muhammad moved in with a list of public enemies, who he had executed.  The remaining years of his life were spent consolidating the rest of the Arabian peninsula and enhancing his power and prestige (remember, he got a cut of 20% or all booty, most of which then went to bribing his followers for their loyalty).
When he died, Islam splintered and most of his followers left.  His closest followers fought over who would succeed him.  Abu Bakr won the title of Caliph and waged a civil war across Arabia to return the apostates to the fold by force.  Shortly after that he invaded Persia and Syria.  The Sassanid and Byzantine empires were exhausted from a war they had just fought over Syria in 627, and were in no shape financially or militarily to repel an invasion of horse and camel mounted barbarians.  Islam spread through offering three choices:  Accept Islam, Pay the infidel’s Jizhya tax, or die.
Muhammad’s teaching were incoherent and often situational.  His child bride Aisha observed that Allah seemed to bend over backwards to accommodate Muhammad. Allah commanded that Muhammad’s adopted son divorce his wife, because she was very beautiful and Muhammad wanted to marry her.  Muhammad endorsed and practiced codified rape among his female captives, in some cases raping his new wives before the bodies of their fathers and husbands were even cold.  Islamic tradition has it that these women enjoyed this very much.  The requirement of needed four witnesses to convict a rape comes from his favorite Aisha having been found in a compromising situation and Muhammad didn’t want to condemn her by his own laws, so Allah required there be four witnesses (there were only three).  This condemned untold future generations of women to suffer rapes without justice, because of an impossibly high standard needed to convict.
Muhammad was a thief, a liar, a murderer, a torturer, an adulterer, a pedophile and a megalomaniac.  A thoroughly dangerous and despicable man.  I’ve touched on the high points in his career, whole volumes are filled with his petty cruelty, his sick sense of humor, and the literal atrocities that he commanded and endorsed.  From a Christian’s perspective, many of the Islamic teachings are Satanic, and the well-read Christian will have no problem identifying Allah as the Prince of Lies from the Bible. I was once told that it was in bad taste to compare Muhammad to Hitler.  I tend  to agree, it’s an injustice to Hitler.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Exceeding the Challenge of the Quran

The Quran is a compilation of many of the revelations of Allah To Muhammad during his life.  It has no particular order – the surahs are arranged in the order of the longest to the shortest.  It was not compiled in a chronological order.  This causes a problem for the scholar, since it’s self-contradictory, and by Islamic tradition, the later revelations supercede the earlier ones.  To the rational mind this begs the question of why the omnipotent Allah changed his mind and redacted what he wrote – a problem even more perplexing when you consider that Allah is supposed to have penned the Quran before he created the universe.  Much of the Quran derives from Judeo-Christian writings, including scripture, apocryphal stories, and the midrash.  It makes no distinction between, or even acknowledges the source materials.  The derivation lacks scholarship – it is more like a recital by someone who half remembers something he was taught but never understood.
The Quran was originally delivered in a rhythmic, poetic style unlike anything ever encountered in Arabic culture to that time.  It was delivered in a time when the Arabs were first experimenting with writing, and the Arab language had not been codified into a written language.  The Quran was intended to be memorized by the faithful.  The earliest written Qurans, commissioned during the Uthman caliphate, were written in a primitive Arabic form that lacked vowels and diacritical marks, rendering the text very difficult to decipher even for the native speaker.
Muhammad was quite proud of his creation, and though he specifically denied being able to perform a single miracle, Muslims claim that the Quran is a miracle.  This reminds me of some people I know who, after having read one book in their life, proclaim that book to be the greatest book ever written. 
More people in the west have been studying the Quran in the last decade, and it has consequently come under fire like never before in its history.  The Muslims response to criticism is that we do not understand it because it must be recited in the original Arabic to be appreciated.  This makes no sense at all.  Am I to believe that Allah is the Architect of the Universe, and that the Quran is the ultimate and final revelation by the deity who designed and created Everything, and he couldn’t get his point across in any way except one of the most complex and difficult languages to ever grace the planet?  Is Allah really that incompetent, that his words, his will cannot bear translation?
In the Quran, Allah commanded Muhammad to challenge all of creation to create a book of the stature of the Quran:
“Say: ‘If all mankind and the jinn would come together to produce the like of this Quran, they could not produce its like even though they exerted all and their strength in aiding one another.’” (Quran 17:88)
Next, Allah made the challenge ostensibly easier by asking those who denied its divine origin to imitate even ten chapters of the Quran:
“Or do they say that he has invented it? Say (to them), ‘Bring ten invented chapters like it, and call (for help) on whomever you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.” (Quran 11:13)
This final challenge was to produce even a single chapter to match what is in the Quran, whose shortest chapter, al-Kawthar, consists of only three verses:
“And if you all are in doubt about what I have revealed to My servant, bring a single chapter like it, and call your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful.” (Quran 2:23)
I’ll answer that challenge.  To start:
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven–
    A time to give birth and a time to die;
         A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
    A time to kill and a time to heal;
         A time to tear down and a time to build up.
    A time to weep and a time to laugh;
         A time to mourn and a time to dance.
    A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
         A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
    A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
         A time to keep and a time to throw away.
    A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
         A time to be silent and a time to speak.
    A time to love and a time to hate;
         A time for war and a time for peace.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
And then:
 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
 - 1 Corinthians 13
Muhammad was a deeply paranoid man, from all accounts.  He reflected the love his sycophantic followers bestowed on him, and condemned all others to hell-fire – a condemnation he frequently backed up through execution and assassination.  Muhammad’s love amounted to lust for material things – wealth and sex.  Indeed, by the account of St. Paul, Muhammad was a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal.  St. Paul also chides Muhammad 500 years in advance in this passage by pointing out that Judeo-Christianity was mature, had grown out of the harsh fire and brimstone early days of the Torah, yet Muhammad sought to take monotheism back 2000 years and recreate a barbaric time when whole populations were to be exterminated to make room for new Gods.
 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.
He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are  the  gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are  those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
-The Gospel of Matthew 5:1-19
There you have but three examples among the myriad that far exceed the Quran.  I challenge any Muslims scholar to demonstrate any place in the Quran which has such prose; inciteful, meaningful, philosophical.  The Bible is intended to make the reader think, to examine his own soul and seek to mold himself according to the tenets God lays down.  The Bible challenges us to be bigger than we are, to embrace God’s creation with love.  It does so in a simple, expressive prose, using imagery that’s easy to understand, and words that transcend language.  No matter what language these passages are translated to, their meaning remains clear, the poetry is in the tapestry of ideas that the words create, not in the rhythmic rhyme of a preschooler’s chant.
The Quranic challenge had been met and far surpassed long before Muhammad ever started hearing voices.  This is why the bible is a forbidden book in most Sharia compliant societies today, because the true Word of God puts the mindless, incoherent ramblings of Allah to shame.
My challenge to all Muslims is to put aside your prejudice, and examine the scripture God prepared for you long before Muhammad spoke, and decide for yourself which is the word of God.