No God but God / A review (II)

A continuation

3. Logical and objective analysis according to chronological events:
As I mentioned in the last post, Aslan’s objective in his book was “an argument for reform”. To do so, he first presented the pre-Islamic history, and then he drew a biography of Muhammad portraying him as a messenger of peace, and trying to prove that Muhammad’s message was an egalitarian one. Then he presented contemporary Islamic history, for comparison reasons to show how Muhammad’s message was distorted with time. He specifically attacked traditional Moslems (of both Sunni and Shiite factions) , claiming that they were the main reason why Islam took a diversion from its origional message until it reached the flinty Islam that is spreading today. But unfortunately, his efforts gave exactly the opposite message he was trying to convey. Aslan stance was often more defensive than logical, and he wasn’t able to provide enough evidence for his claims.

First of all, Asaln, stretched himself too often to compare Islam to other religions in order to make a point. “Like great Jewish patriarchs Abraham and Jacob; like the prophet Moses and Hosea; like the Israelite kings Saul, David, and Solomon; and like nearly all of the Christian/Byzantine and Zoroastrian/Sasanian monarchs, all Shaykhs of Arabia – Mohammad included – had multiple wives, multiple concubines, or both.” This reminded me of my own children when they were kids, when one of them did something that he wasn’t supposed to do; he’d rationalize his action by pointing a finger at his brother, and saying, “he did the same”. And although this is expected from children of young age; but I did not expect this from a learned scholar like Aslan. If someone else committed a wrong act, that does not make the act right. The God of Muhammad was precise in Quran to the minutest details, he even instructed Muhammad to marry his adopted son’s wife; Zaynab Bint Jahsh, which was not such an important issue compared to polygamy and keeping concubines. Even his wife Aisha mocked him by saying “your God is quick to provide for your desires”. This God did not bother to stop polygamy, nor to abolish slavery because that was not to the prophet’s desires! Not to mention that by marrying his adopted son’s wife, the most inhumane act of “outlawing adoption in Islam” was instituted. But that did not seem to bother Aslan, all what he wanted to prove was that there was nothing wrong with what Muhammad did, and that other prophets did the same.

Second, Aslan struggled too hard to show that Muhammad neither was an expansionist, nor his message was political, as is understood by contemporary traditional Moslems. In fact, he even posited that Islam is egalitarian by nature, ignoring the quotes of Quran that discriminates between genders, and failing to provide historical evidences to his claims. He attempted to alienate Islam from politics, denying the fact that Islam is a totalitarian and a complete system, with laws, social system, economic rules, as well as its own method of theocratic government was in vain, he even slipped more than once when he proved the opposite, “ As shaykh of Ummah, it was Muhammad’s responsibility to forge links within and beyond his community through the only means at his disposal: marriage.” Why would someone forge links with other tribes if the purpose was not political?
Even when he touched the issue of slavery in Mecca, Aslan tried to portray it as a well-intentioned move toward social reform and not a political revolution on Quraysh, “this (slavery issue) was a radical message, one that had never been heard before in Mecca. Muhammad was not yet establishing a new religion; he was calling for sweeping social reform.” And in my opinion, this is an underestimation of the prophet’s ingenuity. The consecutive events of Muhammad’s life show that he had other priorities in mind. One was to bribe the slaves into following him for the false hope of freedom, which he never granted by abolishing slavery when he had power. And the other was to strike an arrow at the heart of Quraysh economy.
Slaves were considered a vital force on which Qurysh economy depended, especially at the pilgrimage period of the year. Not to mention the two-times a year, trade caravan trips to the North and to the South, which without the slaves could have collapsed. Quraysh didn’t care about their slave’s religions, or cared if they followed any prophet. Nor they cared about prophets, prophets at those times were dime-a-dozen, and Mecca was a pluralistic society; anyone was free to worship the God or Gods of his liking. In fact, Qurysh’s main resource depended on Ka’ba and its pilgrims who came from all over Arabian Peninsula to worship diverse Gods, all collected in Ka’ba. But Mohammad’s aim was total political control directed to a “universal Islamic rule” as the traditionalist Sayed Kutb of the Moslem Brothers said, and not just a social reform. Slaves and women in Islam were used and abused as political tools, or military incentives. War Sabayas (women slaves) whose husbands, brothers and fathers were killed in cold blood were distributed among the warriors. Muhammad even married Rayhana Bint Zaid right after slaughtering her husband with the 700 Jews of Bano Qurayza. And what was worse; is when Aslan justified what Muhammad did to Bano Qrayza by using quotes of apologetics like Karen Armstrong’s “normal reaction for treason”. That was a very cheap trick. May be Aslan thought by doing so he’d shoot a fish in a barrel, forgetting that Muhammad was the intruder who fought the Jews of Yathrib with their very means of living which he, himself confirmed when he said that Muhammad, “eradicated their (Jews) economical monopoly over Medina and greatly reduced their wealth.” And also forgetting that all what Muhammad wanted from those Jews was conversion, if they had done that, none of the 700 Jews would have been brutally slaughtered. Shouldn’t this incident at least give some indication of Muhammad’s goals? And the message of Muhammad was never egalitarian; his traditions are filled with examples to show that individual’s feelings and rights are trivialities when it comes to the benefit of the whole nation. No human being in the history of the world had come up with such a wit to enforced conversion by military as well as other tactics but Muhammad. In this respect he could be rated as ingenious warlord, but not humane and definitely not a messenger of a peaceful religion that Aslan was struggling to present.
Now going back to politics, Muhammad first used economic pressures on both his opponents, Quraysh and the Jews of Yathrib. Then he used force. As Muhammad got stronger in Yathrib, especially after his victory in Badr, his real motive started to materialize when he formalized the constitution of Medina, forcing the Jews who did not want a part in his fights to protect Moslems. Muhammad was an outsider who fought them in their own resources, how did he expect their loyalty? No wonder the Jews never ceased to betray him! But their betrayal was not the reason why Muhammad annihilated the Jews from Medina, Muhammad could not tolerate any other religion, he wanted Islam to be the greatest empire on earth, like Alexander the Great’s or other great empires of his time, only his dream was much bigger; he wanted an Islamic dominion of the world . He also was a great visionary at that when he drew a long-term plan for Islam expansion, by forbidding Moslem women’s marriage to non-Muslims unless they converted, for according to Islamic dogmas, children follow their father’s religion. Not to mention the financial pressures he exerted on Thimmis (Christians and Jews), which I will come back to later. No wonder why Islam is becoming the fastest growing religion in the world today with such a coning tactics. Enforced conversion does not only mean using the sword, I’m sure Aslan realizes that.
As for the egalitarian and pluralistic Islamic state of Andalusia (Spain), which Aslan and other apologetics are so proud to present as the real Islam, there was nothing Islamic in the Spain of the “711 AD until 1492 AD”. Abd al-Rahman Aldakhil; the one who was responsible for the civilized Islamic states of Spain was the descendent of Bano Ummayah. More accurately from the same tribe that descended from Abu Sufyan and Hind who never believed in Islam, but were forced to accept it at the Opening, or peaceful conquering of Mecca by the Muslims. And their ruling system was more of a Monarchy than Islamic. Civilization prospered in that society because it was closer to secularism and pluralism than the Islamic system of Muhammad.
Aslan did not even hesitate to twist facts when he talked about Aisha’s age at marriage: “and while Muhammad’s union with a nine-year-old girl may be shocking to our modern sensibilities, his betrothal to Aisha was just that: a betrothal. Aisha did not consummate until after reaching the age of puberty.” I really don’t know what Aslan meant by the age of puberty. There is a tradition on the tongue of Aisha herself saying that she was betrothed at six. And when she became nine, while playing on her swing, her mother took her to the prophet to be wedded. Is nine considered the age of puberty?
In another part of the book, Aslan said:” Quran- a message of revolutionary social egalitarianism must be separated from the cultural prejudices of the seventh century Arabia” . Quran was revealed, and taught to be recited in Arabic language. Any translation of the Quran to another language is considered an interpretation. That’s why when Islam spread among the non-Arabic speaking nations it was mandatory for them to learn Arabic. And language is a part of culture just as religion, so I don’t see how Aslan is proposing to take Quran out of its culture. Besides, Aslan himself admitted that the revelation received by Muhammad could have been some kind of conscious awaking or enlightenment. Where would this enlightenment come from, if not from the culture that planted its first seed? Quran is by no means egalitarian, it’s a system of life that spouses specific coded rules, and spiritual rituals are only one part of that system. A real Moslem is the one who takes the whole system, not only the parts that appeal to him. Therefore, Quran’s capability to be adopted anywhere, does not mean that one could alter its verses, but rather change the culture of that place to fit the verses. Exactly how it’s done in the West with Muslim communities. When people migrate, they take their culture of dress code, language and morals, of which all are elements of that religion, with them.
Moreover, Aslan gave excuses to the raids on Mecca’s caravans after Muhammad settled in Yathrib, and gave it legitimacy, ” in pre-Islamic Arabia caravan raiding was a legitimate means for small clans to benefit from the wealth of larger ones.” How more pathetic this statement could be, to be connected to a prophet that was calling for morals? Muhammad was respected in Mecca before Islam, and was dubbed Alameen, a word that describes a person whom one can entrust money, property, even family. Stealing is not a trait of Alameen (the trustworthy). And caravan raiding was never legitimate, trustworthiness and honesty in the old Arabia was considered an honor Arabs prided themselves for, all their pre-Islamic poetries attest to that. Otherwise, why would Quraysh be bothered to go on wars with Muhammad after the raids?
There is a proverb by Machiavelli, “the ends justify the means.” And Muhammad’s goal at that time was to take his revenge from Quraysh for kicking him out of Mecca, and also to accommodate his followers, especially the Mohajireen (the ones who migrated from Mecca). He also needed to strengthen himself as a warlord. And by doing so he set a model to follow, especially to those traditional religious leaders of today like Hamas who do not believe in democracy, yet they participate in it, for the end always justifies the means.

These were just few examples to show how Aslan, like other Moslems, never analyze Islamic history with common sense, nor portray Muhammad’s biography based on those events, but rather are directed by their partialities, which will be the theme of the evaluation on my next post.
I wonder if Aslan was analyzing the actions of someone else, would he have perceived the events through the same lens? I doubt it. And therefore I do not give him any point on his analysis, for I found it directive and not objective.

To be continued

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  1. Trackback: No God but God / A review (III) « The Ultimate

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