Muslims often complain of the popular “misconceptions” about their religion in the West.
We took a hard look, however, and found that the most deeply held myths of Islam are the ones generated by Muslims and Western apologists. The only glaring exception to this is the misconception that all Muslims are alike (they aren’t), but even Muslims fall into this trap as well, as evidenced by the various contrary factions insisting that they are the true Muslims, while others are either infidels, hijackers, or hypocrites.
Don’t be fooled! Hear the myths, but know the truth.
Islam Means ‘Peace’
Lesser educated Muslims sometimes claim that the root word of Islam is “al-Salaam,” which is “peace” in Arabic.
The root word for Islam is “al-Silm,” which means “submission” or “surrender.” There is no controversy about this among Islamic scholars.
Submission and peace can be very different concepts, even if a form of peace is often brought about through forcing others into submission. As the modern-day Islamic scholar, Ibrahim Sulaiman, puts it, “Jihad is not inhumane, despite its necessary violence and bloodshed, its ultimate desire is peace which is protected and enhanced by the rule of law.”
In truth, the Qur’an not only calls Muslims to submit to Allah, it also commands them to subdue people of other religions until they are in a full state of submission to Islamic rule. This has inspired the aggressive history of Islam and its success in conquering other cultures.
Islam Respects Women as Equals
The Qur’an places men and women on equal foundation before Allah. Each person is judged according to his or her own deeds. Women have equal rights under Islamic law.
Merely stating that individuals will be judged as such by Allah does not mean that they have equal rights and roles, or that they are judged by the same standards. In fact, Sura 37:22-23 implies that women will be punished on Judgment Day for sins committed by their husbands.
There is no ambiguity in the Qur’an, the life of Muhammad, or Islamic law as to the inferiority of women to men, despite the efforts of modern-day apologists to salvage Western-style feminism from scraps and fragments of verses that have historically held no such progressive interpretation.
After military conquests, Muhammad would dole out captured women as war prizes to his men. In at least one case, he advocated that they be raped in front of their husbands. Captured women were made into sex slaves by the very men who killed their husbands and brothers. There are at least three Qur’anic verses in which Allah makes it clear that a Muslim master has full sexual access to his female slaves, yet there is not one that prohibits rape.
The Qur’an gives Muslim men permission to beat their wives for disobedience. It plainly says that husbands are “a degree above” wives. The Hadith says that women are intellectually inferior, and that they comprise the majority of Hell’s occupants.
Under Islamic law, a man may divorce his wife at the drop of a hat. If he does this twice, then wishes to remarry her, then she must first have sex with another man. Men are exempt from such degradations.
Muslim women are not free to marry whomever they please, as are Muslim men. Their husband may bring other wives into the marriage bed. She must be sexually available to him at all times (as a field ready to be “tilled,” according to the holy book of Islam).
Muslim women do not inherit property in equal portions to males. Their testimony in court is considered to be worth only half that of a man’s. Unlike a man, she must cover her head and often her face.
If a woman wants to prove that she was raped, then there must be four male witnesses to corroborate her account. Otherwise she will be jailed or stoned to death for confessing to “adultery.”
Given all of this, it is quite a stretch to say that men and women have “equality under Islam” based on obscure theological analogies or comparisons. This is an entirely new stratagem that is designed to appeal to modern tastes, but is in sharp disagreement with the reality of Islamic law and history.
Further Reading from the Qur’an:
Jihad Means ‘Inner Struggle’
Islam’s Western apologists sometimes claim that since the Arabic word, Jihad, literally means “fight” or “struggle,” it refers to an “inner struggle” rather than holy war.
This is extremely difficult to reconcile with the Qur’an, which, for example, exempted the disabled and elderly from Jihad (4:95). This would make no sense if the word is being used merely within the context of spiritual struggle. It is also unclear why Muhammad would use graphic language, such as smiting fingers and heads from the hands and necks of unbelievers if he were speaking merely of character development.
With this in mind, Muslims themselves usually admit that there are two meanings to the word, but insist that “inner struggle” is the “greater Jihad,” whereas “holy war” is the “lesser.” In fact, this misconception is based only on an a single hadith that is extremely weak and unreliable.
By contrast, the most reliable of all Hadith is that of Bukhari. The word, Jihad, is mentioned over 200 times in reference to the words of Muhammad and each one is a clear connotation to holy war. By contrast, Bukhari does not contain a single reference to Jihad within the context of “personal struggle.”
Islam is a Religion of Peace
Muhammad was a peaceful man who taught his followers to be the same. Muslims lived peacefully for centuries, only fighting in self-defense when it was necessary. True Muslims would never act aggressively.
Muhammad organized 65 military campaigns in the last ten years of his life and personally led 27 of them. The more power that he attained, the smaller the excuse needed to go to battle, until finally he began attacking tribes merely because they were not part of his growing empire.
After Muhammad’s death, his most faithful followers and even his own family turned on each other almost immediately. There were four Caliphs (leaders) in the first twenty-five years. Three of the four were murdered. The third Caliph was murdered by the son of the first. The fourth Caliph was murdered by the fifth, who left a 100-year dynasty that was ended in a gruesome, widespread bloodbath by descendents of Muhammad’s uncle.
Muhammad’s own daughter, Fatima, and his son-in-law, Ali, who both survived the pagan hardship during the Meccan years safe and sound, did not survive Islam after the death of Muhammad. Fatima died of stress from persecution within three months, and Ali was later assassinated. Their son (Muhammad’s grandson) was killed in battle with the faction that became today’s Sunnis. His people became Shias. The relatives and personal friends of Muhammad were mixed into both warring groups, which then fractured further into hostile sub-divisions as Islam grew.
Muhammad left his men with instructions to take the battle against the Christians, Persians, Jews and polytheists (which came to include millions of unfortunate Hindus). For the next four centuries, Muslim armies steamrolled over unsuspecting neighbors, plundering them of loot and slaves, and forcing the survivors to either convert or pay tribute at the point of a sword.
Companions of Muhammad lived to see Islam declare war on every major religion in the world in just the first few decades following his death – pressing the Jihad against Hindus, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists.
By the time of the Crusades (when the Europeans began fighting back), Muslims had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world by the sword, from Spain to Syria, and across North Africa. The Arab slave-trading routes would stay open for 1300 years, until pressure from Christian-based countries forced Islamic nations to declare the practice illegal (in theory).
Today, there is not another religion in the world that consistently produces terrorism in the name of religion as does Islam. The most dangerous Muslims are nearly always those who interpret the Qur’an most transparently. They are the fundamentalists or purists of the faith, and believe in Muhammad’s mandate to spread Islamic rule by the sword, putting to death those who will not submit.
The holy texts of Islam are saturated with verses of violence and hatred toward those outside the faith. In sharp contrast to the Bible, which generally moves from relatively violent passages to far more peaceful ones, the Qur’an travels the exact opposite path. The handful of earlier verses that speak of tolerance are overwhelmed by an avalanche of later ones that carry a much different message. While Old Testament verses of blood and guts are generally bound by historical context within the text itself, Qur’anic imperatives to violence usually appear open-ended.
By any objective measure, the “Religion of Peace” has been the harshest, bloodiest religion the world has ever known.
Islam is Tolerant of Other Religions
Religious minorities have flourished under Islam. Muslims are commanded to protect Jew and Christians (the People of the Book) and to do them no harm.
Religious minorities have not “flourished” under Islam. In fact, they have dwindled to mere shadows after centuries of persecution and discrimination. Some were converted from their native religion by brute force, others under the agonizing strain of dhimmitude.
What Muslims call “tolerance,” others correctly identify as institutionalized discrimination. The consignment of Jews and Christians to dhimmis under Islamic rule means that they are not allowed the same religious rights and freedoms as Muslims. They cannot share their faith, for example, or build houses of worship without permission.
Historically, dhimmis have often had to wear distinguishing clothing or cut their hair in a particular manner that indicates their position of inferiority and humiliation. They do not share the same legal rights as Muslims, and must even pay a poll tax (the jizya). They are to be killed or have their children taken from them if they cannot satisfy the tax collector’s requirements.
For hundreds of years, the Christian population in occupied Europe had their sons taken away and forcibly converted into Muslim warriors (known as Jannisaries) by the Ottoman Turks.
It is under this burden of discrimination and third-class status that so many converted to Islam over the centuries. Those who didn’t often faced economic and social hardships that persist to this day and are appalling by Western standards of true religious tolerance and pluralism.
For those who are not “the People of the Book,” such as Hindus and atheists, there is very little tolerance to be found once Islam establishes political superiority. The Qur’an tells Muslims to “fight in the way of Allah” until “religion is only for Allah.” The conquered populations face death if they do not establish regular prayer and charity in the Islamic tradition (ie. the pillars of Islam).
Tamerlane and other Muslim warriors slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Buddhists, as well as displacing or forcibly converting millions more over the last thousand years.
At best, Islam has a dual personality toward other religions. In some places they are explicitly cursed by Allah, in others there appears to be a measure of tolerance shown. There are about 500 verses in the Qur’an that speak of Allah’s hatred for non-Muslims and the punishment that he has prepared for their unbelief. There is also a tiny handful that say otherwise, but these are mostly earlier verses that many scholars consider to be abrogated by the later, more violent ones.
If tolerance simply means discouraging the mass slaughter of those of a different faith, then today’s Islam generally meets this standard more often than not. But, if tolerance means allowing people of other faiths the same religious liberties that Muslims enjoy, then Islam is fundamentally the most intolerant religion under the sun.
Islam and the “Golden Age” of Scientific Discovery
Muslims often claim that their religion fostered a rich heritage of scientific discovery, “paving the way” for modern advances in technology and medicine. On this topic, they usually refer to the period between the 7th and 13th centuries, when Europe was experiencing its “Dark Ages” and the Muslim world was conquering new populations and culture.
Although there is no arguing that the Muslim world was more advanced during this period than the “Christian” world, the reasons for this have absolutely nothing to do with the Islamic religion (other than its mandate for military expansion). In fact, the religion actively discourages knowledge outside of itself, which is why the greatest Muslim scholars throughout history tend to be students of religion rather than science.
First, the Muslim world benefited greatly from the Greek sciences, which were translated for them by Christians and Jews. To their credit, Muslims did a better job of preserving Greek text than did the Europeans of the time, and this became the foundation for their own knowledge. (One large reason for this, however, was that access by Christians to this part of their world was cut off by the Muslim slave ships and coastal raids that dominated the Mediterranean during this period).
Secondly, many of the scientific advances credited to Islam were actually “borrowed” from other cultures conquered by the Muslims. The algebraic concept of “zero”, for example, is erroneously attributed to Islam, but it was, in fact, created by the Hindus and merely introduced to the West by Muslims – along with the products of other cultures that were found to be useful to their new rulers.
In fact, conquered populations contributed greatly to the history of “Muslim science” until gradually being decimated by conversion to Islam (under the pressures of dhimmitude). The Muslim concentration within a population is directly proportional to the decline of scientific achievement. It is no accident that the Muslim world has had little to show for itself in the last 600 years or so, since running out of new civilizations to cannibalize.
Third, even the great Muslim scientists and icons were often considered heretics in their time, sometimes for good reason. One of the greatest achievers to come out of the Muslim world was the Iranian scientist and philosopher, al-Razi. His impressive works are often held up today as “proof” of Muslim accomplishment. But what the apologists often leave out is that al-Razi was denounced as a blasphemer, since he followed his own religious beliefs – which were in obvious contradiction to traditional Islam.
Fourth, even the contributions that are attributed to Islam (often inaccurately) are not terribly dramatic. There is the invention of certain words, such as alchemy and elixir, but not much else that survives in modern technology that is of any practical significance. Neither is there any reason to believe that such discoveries would not have easily been made by the West following the cultural awakening triggered by the Reformation.
As an example of this, consider that Muslims claim credit for coffee, since the beans were discovered in Africa (at the time, an important source for Islamic slave trading) and first processed in the Middle East. While this is true, it is also true that the red dye used in many food products, from cranberry juice to candy, comes from the abdomen of a particular female beetle found in South America. It is extremely unlikely that the West would not have stumbled across coffee by now (although, to be fair, coffee probably expedited subsequent discoveries).
In fact, the litany of “Muslim” achievement often takes the form of rhapsody, in which the true origins of these discoveries are omitted – along with their comparative significance to Western achievement. Scientific, medical and technological accomplishments are not something over which Muslim apologists want to get into a pissing contest with the Christian world. Today’s Islamic innovators are known merely for turning Western technology, such as cell phones and airplanes, into instruments of mass murder.
To sum up, although the Islamic religion is not entirely hostile to science, neither should it be confused as a facilitator. The great achievements that are said to have come out of the Islamic world were made either by non-Muslims who happened to be under Islamic rule, or by heretics who usually had little interest in Islam. Scientific discovery tapers off dramatically as Islam asserts dominance, until it eventually peters out altogether.
Islam is Opposed to Slavery
Islam is intolerant of enslaving human beings. The religion eradicated the institution of slavery thanks to the principles set in motion by Muhammad, who was an abolitionist.
There is not the least bit of intolerance for slavery anywhere in the Qur’an. In fact, the “holy” book of Islam explicitly gives slave-owners the freedom to sexually exploit their slaves – not just in one place, but in at least four separate Suras. Islamic law is littered with rules concerning the treatment of slaves, some of which are relatively humane, but none that prohibit the actual practice by any stretch.
The very presence of these rules condones and legitimizes the institution of slavery. Adding to this is the fact that Muhammad was an avid slave trader. After providing ample evidence of his activities according to the most reliable Muslim biographers, the Center of the Study of Political Islam summarizes their findings:
Muhammad captured slaves, sold slaves, bought slaves as gifts of pleasure, received slaves as gifts, and used slaves for work. The Sira is exquisitely clear on the issue of slavery. (Muhammad and the Unbelievers: a Political Life)
As such, this deeply dehumanizing horror has been a ubiquitous tradition of Islam since the days of Muhammad to the current plight of non-Muslims in the Sudan, Mali, Niger and Mauritania, as well as other parts of the Muslim world.
There has never been an abolitionary movement within Islam (just as the religion produces no organized resistance to present-day enslavement). The abolition of slavery was imposed on the Islamic world by European countries, along with other political pressures that were entirely unrelated to Islamic law.
Although horrible abuses of slaves in the Muslim world were recorded, there has been little inclination toward the documentation and earnest contrition that one finds in the West. The absence of a guilty conscience often leads to the mistaken impression that slavery was not as bad under Islam… when it is actually indicative of the tolerance that the religion has for the practice
So narcissistic is the effect of Islam on the devoted, that to this day many Muslims believe in their hearts that the women and children carried off in battle, and their surviving men folk, were actually done a favor by the Muslim warriors who plucked them from their fields and homes and relegated them to lives of demeaning servitude.
Shame and apology, no matter how appropriate, are almost never to be found in Dar al-Islam. Caliphs, the religious equivalent of popes, maintained harems of hundreds, sometimes thousands of young girls and women captured from lands as far away as Europe and consigned to sexual slavery. Hungarians were hunted like animals by the Turks, who carried 3 million into slavery over a 150 year period.
African slaves were often castrated by their Muslim masters. Few survived to reproduce, which is why there are not many people of African descent living in the Middle East, even though more slaves were taken out of Africa in the 1300 years of Arab slave trading than in the 300 years of European slavery. The 400,000 slaves brought to America, for example, have now become a community of 30 million, with a much higher standard of living than their African peers.
There is no William Wilberforce or Bartoleme de las Casas in Islamic history as there is in Christianity. When asked to produce the name of a Muslim abolitionist, apologists sometimes meekly suggest Muhammad himself. But, if a slave owner and trader, who commanded the capture and sexual exploitation of slaves, and left a 13-century legacy of religiously-based slavery, is the best that Islam can offer, then no amount of sophistry will be enough to convince any but the most ignorant.
Islam is Completely Incompatible with Terrorism
Islam is completely incompatible with acts of terrorism. It is against Islam to kill innocent people.
Even though many Muslims earnestly believe that their religion prohibits the killing of innocent people by acts of terrorism, the truth is certainly more complicated. This is why the Jihadis and their detractors are both able to point fingers at the other, while confidently insisting that they are the true Muslims.
In fact, the definition of an “innocent person” is far more ambiguous in Islam than Muslim apologists will lead others to believe. So, also, is the definition of terrorism.
First, consider that anyone who rejects Muhammad is not considered to be innocent under Islamic law. The most protected and respected of all non-Muslims are the dhimma, the “people of the book.” These would specifically be Jews and Christians who agree to Islamic rule and pay the jizya (tribute to Muslims). Yet, the word “dhimmi” comes from the Arabic root meaning “guilt” or “blame.” [“…the dhimmi parent and sister words mean both ‘to blame’ as well as safeguards that can be extended to protect the blameworthy” Amitav Ghosh, In an Antique Land]
So, if even the dhimma have a measure of guilt attached to their status (by virtue of having rejected Allah’s full truth), then how can non-Muslims who oppose Islamic rule or refuse to pay the jizya be considered “innocent?”
Within the Islamic community itself there is a category of Muslims who are also said to bear guilt – greater even than the average non-believer. These are the hypocrites, or “Munafiqin,” whom Muhammad referred to in the most derogatory terms. A hypocrite is considered to be a Muslim in name only. They are distinguished either by an unwillingness to wage holy war or by an intention to corrupt the community of believers.
When Muslims kill Muslims in the name of Allah (which occurs quite frequently), they usually do so believing that their victims are Munafiqin or kafir (unbelievers). This is actually a part of Islamic Law known as takfir, in which Muslims are declared apostates and then executed. (A true Muslim would go to paradise anyway, in which case he or she could hardly be expected to nurse a grudge amidst the orgy of sex and wine).
In addition to the murky definition of innocence, there is also the problem of distinguishing terrorism from holy war. Islamic terrorists never refer to themselves as terrorists, but always as holy warriors (Mujahideen, Shahid, or Fedayeen). They consider their acts to be a form of Jihad.
Holy war is something that Muhammad commanded in the Qur’an and Hadith. In Sura 9:29, he establishes the principle that unbelievers should be fought until they either convert to Islam or accept a state of humiliation under Islamic subjugation. This is confirmed in the Hadith by both Sahih Muslim and Bukhari.
In many places, the prophet of Islam says that Jihad is the ideal path for a Muslim, and that believers should “fight in the way of Allah.” There are dozens of open-ended passages in the Qur’an that exhort killing and fighting – far more than ones of peace and tolerance. It is somewhat naïve to think that their inclusion in this “eternal discourse between God and Man” was of historical value only and not intended to be relevant to present-day believers, particularly when there is little to nothing within the text that distinguishes them in such fashion.
Combine the Qur’anic exhortation to holy war with the ambiguity of innocence, and a monumental problem develops that cannot be covered over by mere semantics. Not only is there a deep tolerance for violence in Islam, but also a sharp disagreement and lack of clarity over the conditions that justify this violence… and just whom the targets may be.
Even many Muslims who claim to be against terrorism still support the “insurgency” in Iraq, for example, and often entertain the allegation that there is a broader “war against Islam.” Although the Americans in Iraq are trying to protect innocent life and help the country rebuild, Muslims around the world and in the West believe that it is legitimate for Sunnis to try and kill them.
Enjoying the sanction of holy war, the Mujahid reasons that it is permissible to attack fellow Iraqis – the ones helping the Americans… even if they are part of a democratically-elected Iraqi government. These non-combatants and combatants alike are believed to be the “Munafiqin” assisting the enemy “Crusaders.”
Although we use Iraq as an example here, this is the same rationale that is ultimately behind all Islamic terror, from the Philippines to Thailand. Wherever the religion of Islam is a minority, there are always radicals who believe that violence is justified in bringing it to dominance – just as Muhammad taught by example in places like Mecca and the land of al-Harith.
And what of the so-called “innocents” who suffer from the bombings and shootings? Even in Muhammad’s time they were unavoidable. The much-touted hadith in which Muhammad forbade the killing of women also indicates that there were such casualties in his conflicts.
If there is any doubt that he believed that the forbidden is sometimes necessary, it should be put to rest by an incident in which Muhammad’s men warned him that a planned night raid against an enemy camp would mean that women and children would be killed. He merely replied “they are of them,” meaning the men.
This is the slippery slope that is opened by the sanction of holy war. What starts out as the perception of a noble cause of self-defense against a supposed threat gradually devolves into a “let Allah sort them out” campaign through a series of logical steps that are ultimately justified by the sublime goal of Islamic rule.
Islam is not intended to co-exist as an equal with other religions. It is to be the dominant religion, with Sharia as the supreme law. Islamic rule is to be extended to the ends of the earth, and resistance is to be dealt with by any means necessary.
Apologists in the West often shrug off the Qur’an’s many verses of violence by saying that they are only relevant in a “time of war.”
To this, Islamic terrorists would agree. They are at war.
Islam is a Democracy
Islam is compatible with democratic principles. The religion itself is a democracy.
A democracy is a system in which all people are judged as equals before the law, regardless of race, religion or gender. The vote of every individual counts as much as the vote of any other. The collective will of the people then determines the rules of society.
Under Islamic law, only Muslim males enjoy full rights. The standing of a woman is often half that of a man’s – sometimes even less. Non-Muslims have no standing with a Muslim.
The Islamic state is guided by Islamic law, derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah. A body of clerics interprets the law and applies it to all circumstances social, cultural and political. The people are never to be placed above the Qur’an and Sunnah any more than man should be above Allah.
It is somewhat debatable as to whether there are any states in the Muslim world that qualify as actual democracies. There is no denying, however, that the tiny handful that are often held up as democratic nations are ones in which deep tension exists between the government and religious leaders, as the later often complain that it is an idolatrous system imposed on them.
Islam does not facilitate democracy.