The non-speech on Islam and coexistence

What Dr. Habib Siddiqui should have said at Vanderbilt

James M. Arlandson

At an interfaith conference at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Habib Siddiqui delivered a speech on March 11, 2006, titled "Islam and Co-existence." Normally, speeches at universities are sparsely attended, so they do not make an impact outside of the conference room.

However, three days later Siddiqui’s speech was published in a Muslim magazine, and on March 17, 2006, this speech was also posted on a large Muslim polemical and outreach website (here). These postings raise the stakes considerably. Plus, he often writes on a wide range of topics on the web (see Supplemental material, below), so he must be challenged.

The speech is intended to explain why Islam promotes peace and love for all peoples and why it can be a bridge builder between Judaism and Christianity, for example. If only we understood this most misunderstood religion, then we would not conclude that it is violent at its core. Instead, we would conclude that everyone could coexist with it in its original form in the Quran.

But is this "peace and love" the only theme in the Quran? Siddiqui quotes extensively from it, but does his choice of verses represent all of it? Does he disclose everything we need to know about original Islam to conclude that it is nothing but peaceful and tolerant?

Though this article pertains to a particular speech on a specific date, it brings up long-range issues about "Islam and co-existence" and how to analyze this religion today.

To understand the Quran, it is crucial to know about Muhammad’s Hijrah (Emigration or Flight) from Mecca to Medina in AD 622 (an historical fact that Siddiqui ignores when he quotes the Quran). Muhammad received revelations in both cities. While he lived in Mecca, traditions say that they came on him in AD 610, and at first he was unclear about their meaning. But most of his fellow Meccans did not like them. However, since he has no raw, physical power in this city, he has to take a docile, submissive attitude towards his opponents. The Meccan suras (chapters in the Quran) reflect this historical reality. Under persecution he has to leave Mecca behind, and he arrives in Medina. At this major stage, the revelations change in tone. He becomes bellicose. He raises a lethal band of raiders and eventually a large army. Textual reality of the Medinan suras in the Quran likewise reflects this historical reality.

Since Siddiqui’s speech and this article quotes or refers to the Quran often, the readers may see the verses for themselves. This website has multiple translations. At the end of his speech, Siddiqui cites the older translator Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall approvingly, so I use his translation throughout my critique.

Also, space does not permit me to quote Siddiqui’s speech paragraph by paragraph. Instead, I often summarize a section or a Quranic verse. Readers should click on the very first link, above, to view the entire speech for themselves (it’s not long). Finally, I follow Siddiqui’s sections in his speech, but I turn five of them into questions.


(1) Siddiqui’s says about the critics and researchers of his religion:

". . . there is no denying that 9/11 has provided bigots, racists, and self-proclaiming ‘experts’ and ‘think tanks’ to define Islam in ways that only unmask their level of hatred and bigotry. The ‘Islam’ they define is simply unknown to my people."

Analysis: Which source documents of early Islam have "his people" read or not read? Is it bigotry to report what the Quran and the hadith (traditions about Muhammad outside of the Quran) say about his prophet and religion? Is it hatred to report what the early biographer Ibn Ishaq or early historical documents record about the violence in his religion? These sources seem pleased to record it, as we shall see throughout this critique.

Siddiqui is concerned over the definition of Islam that "his people" could not recognize. The more important question concerns Muhammad. Would the founder of Islam recognize the following description of Islam, sketched out by Siddiqui, that is exclusively peaceful, or not? The evidence is overwhelming that the original Prophet would not, as the rest of this article will show.

(2) In another paragraph he condemns all forms of violence, and up to a point he is right to condemn this.

Analysis: But Siddiqui makes some errors and omissions. He assumes, for example, that Jim Jones of the Guyana mass suicide and David Koresh of the Waco incineration were Christians, but they were not. They deviated far from the New Testament and its teaching of love demonstrated by Jesus Christ. Next, he says that there is genocide in Iraq. By whom? The allied forces? Would Siddiqui please be specific? His use of this word is careless, by any objective standards. Finally, he mentions Christianity’s "colonization and massacre" of unarmed civilians across two millennia. But when did Jesus and the first generations of Christians take up arms to kill people or to impose a dhimmi tax on those who refused to submit? For the first few hundred years they did nothing but preach peacefully. Per contra, it is a fact that Islam engaged in colonization and massacres and forced taxes for over 1,400 years of its entire existence—and is still oppressing the Sudanese and other Africans.

This article has a timeline of Islamic aggression up to the European Crusades: The Timeline of the Islamic Crusades.

(3) Siddiqui locates the violence perpetrated by Muslim youth, not in Islamic theology, but their

. . . apparent inability as a human being to comprehend and/or tolerate monumental hypocrisy and double standards that he sees, plus the mistreatment of his fellow brethren as third-class citizens of this planet. From one continent to another, he sees how his fellow human beings are massacred, maimed and mutilated; how colossal abuses of human rights are routinely carried out against them. And yet there are none, not even their own leaders in the post-colonial nation-states, who speak and take action for them. It is a sad and humiliating experience for them.

Analysis: Here Siddiqui seems to have a strategy of ennobling the cause of Islamic violence, as Muslim youth see the worldwide "hypocrisy" and "mistreatment of his fellow brethren as third-class citizens." Again Siddiqui needs to be specific. Does he speak of Guantanamo Prison and the imprisoned terrorists who were shooting at the large coalition that liberated Afghanistan? The truth is simpler, hiding in plain view. It is Islamic countries that wreak havoc on the world, by dictatorships that kill even Muslims, by the oppression of women, and by the policies that kill anyone who speaks out against Islam or leaves it. Would Siddiqui explain why Christian Palestinians do not volunteer to become human bombs, even though they are as equally "oppressed" (his idea) as Muslim Palestinians? What if Siddiqui found one or two who did? Still, why do Muslims make up the majority of these homicide-suicide killers?

The list of other abuses is long, but they come directly from the Quran (see the Supplemental material, below). This article analyzes torture in the Quran and early Islam. Islamic theology cannot be excluded from the motive of young people to become human bombs, as this article demonstrates from the terrorists themselves and the Quran itself.

Background information about Islam

(1) In this section of his speech, Siddiqui speaks about the "class struggle between the forces of light and darkness, good and bad, truth and falsehood." It is odd that he blends the Marxist phrase "class struggle" with spiritual struggle, but I let that pass. The more important part is found in these words:

Islam came as a guiding light into a dark world – a world that needed a lightning bolt to wake up from its deep slumber. It came in an age of truth-defying Ignorance when the worship of one True God from China and Japan in the East to Morocco and Iceland in the West was replaced by worship of myriads of demigods. There were false notions of superiority and egotism on the basis of race, color, tribe and ethnicity.

Analysis: The ancient Greeks produced a very high culture (fine arts, literature, philosophy, architecture), and they were polytheists—to use only one example. In fact, it could be argued that they created a much higher culture than Mecca or Medina did in the first third of the seventh century. Further, does Siddiqui believe that it is self-evident that polytheism needs to be destroyed by violence? Is this what he means by a "lightening bolt"? Muhammad believed this. That is why he and Abu Bakr (his right-hand Companion) forced all polytheists throughout the Arabian Peninsula to die or to convert without the third option of tolerance (Sura 9:1-5, see "No Monopoly" below for an analysis). Though I personally am no supporter of polytheism, in today’s world we must tolerate all beliefs, provided they do not perpetrate physical harm on others.

(2) What about Islam lifting people out of false notions of superiority and race and ethnicity?

Analysis: In a verse in Sura 9, probably the last sura to be revealed, Muhammad believes that simple desert Arabs are the hardest in unbelief and hypocrisy.

The Quran in Sura 9:97 says:

The wandering Arabs are more hard in disbelief and hypocrisy, and more likely to be ignorant of the limits which Allah hath revealed unto His messenger.

Why does Muhammad scold the wandering Arabs as being the most stubborn of all peoples in his exaggerated discrimination and generalization? First, he was a city-dweller, and a natural prejudice built up in them against desert nomads. Second and most important, many of them did not support Muhammad’s wars, either financially or personally as soldiers. In Sura 9 the peaceful prophet for humanity takes off the gloves and says that the desert Arabs, his fellow Medinans, and the so-called hypocrites (nominal Muslims who will not jump when he cracks the whip) are either for him or against him in military campaigns and their adherence to Islam. He had just returned from the Tabuk Crusade with 30,000 jihadists to wage war on the Byzantine Christians. He had heard a rumor that they marshaled a large army, but they never showed up. Be that as it may, Muhammad is not the role model for the world about the equality of all humans. People were equal if and only if they joined Islam. If not, he imposed a second-class citizen tax, known as the jizyah, on Jews and Christians. Polytheists were killed.

(3) Siddiqui continues in this section:

Coming into a world that was stained by corruption and disintegration, Islam provided a unique pattern that was unknown in the entire history of mankind. Islam provided three basic elements - faith in one God (Allah), reform of self and reform of the society at large. Islam remained as a religious commitment, a socio-economic-political program, but above all a vehicle for the "continuous reform" of the society.

Analysis: Does Siddiqui really believe this? Islam’s "unique pattern that was unknown in the history of mankind"? Does he ignore Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament? Moses established divine law and the prophets preached reform and fidelity to one God. Jesus was a reformer within Judaism, and eventually his reform movement became a worldwide religion. For the first few hundred years Christianity turned the world upside down without violence. In contrast, after Muhammad died of a fever in AD 632, Muslim armies, led by a series of Caliphs who exercised an authoritarian right to rule the world, stormed out of the Arabian Peninsula and conquered societies to the north, east and west—societies that had done no harm to Islam. So what kind of "reform" and "program" was this, anyway?

See this article that discusses the Islamic invasions of Italy proper and the harsh laws that the Islamic rulers imposed, derived from the Quran and reliable hadith.

Further, would Siddiqui please inform us where Islam has produced a beneficial "socio-economic-political program" that the world today should adopt? Where is the pattern? Medieval Cordoba, Spain? Muslims invaded this land in the early eighth century and forced its way on to people, complete with pogroms (an apter word than program).

Where is the model for "continuous reform"? Muhammad did not lead by example. Throughout his life in Medina, he was more than willing to conquer any tribe or city that stood in his way. In AD 630 he conquered Mecca after eight years of Muslim raids and conflicts that hampered its trade. This is an historical fact: in the ten years that Muhammad lives in Medina (AD 622-632), he either sent out or went out on seventy-four raids, assassination hit squads, battles and large wars. Thus, original Islam in those ten years did not know long stretches of peace. Is this what Siddiqui means by a "socio-economic-political program"? Is this what he means by "continuous reform": Muhammad's continuous conquests that force people to reform (read: conform)? The Quran in the Medinan suras reflect this historical reality, but he seems too eager to omit these verses from his speech (see Medinan Sura 8 in its entirety for many jihadist verses).

No doubt Siddiqui will appeal to "colonialism"—the catch-all word that is supposed to answer all questions and end all discussions. But would he be specific, please? Americans gave the Saudis technology to draw oil out of the ground. Now we buy it at fair market price—expensively too. There is nothing wrong with this exchange. Further, it is a fact that Islam has been the most "colonialist" force on this planet, and what have these conquered countries produced? Very little. What good things would have happened in them if Islam had not taken them over? Little Israel’s great progress and freedom give us a hint.

Does Islam reject racism and preach alternative criteria?

(1) Siddiqui in this section says that Islam rejects racism that permits only certain ethnicities and tribes to get into heaven.

Analysis: Islam has the messy problem of storming out of Arabia and conquering people left and right, after the Byzantine and Persian Empires had worn themselves with wars. According to Tabari, an early Muslim historian, it seems that most conquered people wanted nothing to do with Islam. They preferred to keep their own religion. As we shall discover below, Islam could not leave this alone. It had to impose a second-class citizen tax. Next, before this worldwide conquest, Arabia was not as diverse as the Mediterranean world during Jesus’ lifetime and the first generations of Christians. His followers went out along the highways preaching the gospel of genuine peace and true love, and they turned the world upside down with this message, despite being persecuted. Islam is not really the best example of a paradise on earth.

(2) Siddiqui quotes from two verses in the Medinan Sura 2 (111 and 112), which say that Allah created the nations and that if anyone does good deeds and submits to Allah, then he will have nothing to fear.

Analysis: This sura is regarded as the earliest one after Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. Muhammad wants to be accepted by all peoples, so the two verses that Siddiqui quotes from it reflect this desire. But he fails to mention an unpleasant verse in Sura 9 (and there are many in this sura). Recall that this sura is the last one to be revealed, and many Muslims believe that it abrogates or cancels earlier verses that seem to promote "peace and love." The unpleasant verse calls Muslim jihadists to wage war on Jews and Christians (People of the Book or Scripture) for theological reasons, not for any aggression on their part.

The Quran in Sura 9:29 says:

Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.

This verse says nothing about a real and physical harm done to Islam. Muhammad gave Christians and Jews to the north during his Tabuk Crusades three options: (1) fight and die; (2) convert; (3) or submit and pay the second-class-citizen jizya tax for the "privilege" of living under Islam.

Is there unity of mankind in Islam?

Siddiqui quotes from Muhammad’s speech during his final pilgrimage. This quotation talks about blacks and whites getting along in peace and harmony.

Analysis: However, the Quran—revealed from Allah himself—is much more powerful than a farewll speech. These verses from Sura 98 say that the Quran corrects the Bible. And Jews and Christians, or People of the Scriptures (= the Bible), are at risk of going to hell if they do not follow some aspects of Islam.

98:1 Those who disbelieve among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters could not have left off (erring) till the clear proof came unto them, 2 A messenger from Allah, reading purified pages 3 Containing correct scriptures. 4 Nor were the People of the Scripture divided until after the clear proof came unto them. 5 And they are ordered naught else than to serve Allah, keeping religion pure for Him, as men by nature upright, and to establish worship [salat] and to pay the poor-due [zakat]. That is true religion. 6 Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings. (My insertions)

Verse three says the Quran contains the "correct" Scriptures. This implies that the Bible is inferior. Verse five says that Jews and Christians must do salat (prayer five times a day) and give zakat ("required charity"). The Islamic way of practicing religion is victorious over other ways. Verse six categorizes unbelievers among the People of the Scripture (= the Bible) with idolaters, the most impure of all humans. The context says that these unbelievers do not follow Islam’s way.

See these verse for more examples of the inequality of humankind outside of Islam: Sura 2:217; 3:22; 7:147; 9:17; in 9:28 polytheists are abominable; 9:69; 68:35-36; in 7:179 and 25:44 pagans are like cattle, even worse. These verses show that purity is achieved by works, and only a Muslim’s works are good enough: 4:10; 20:113, 21:94, 99:7, 2:25, 2:62, 2:82, 2:277.

Therefore, the harmony between blacks and whites is based on Islam. A black or white Christian is not up to par with a black or white Muslim. What hope does a non- Christian have, like a Hindu? Islam shuts out unity for everyone other than a Muslim, who is the purest of all in Allah’s sight. It is one thing for a religion to call for unity under its flag, so to speak, but Siddiqui should not imply that all peoples around the globe are equal even if they live outside of Islam. But let us return to Muhammad’s farewell speech. He says in his speech that husbands may hit their wives and that adulterers should be stoned to death (Ibn Ishaq, pp. 651-52). These two policies fit perfectly with the Quran and reliable hadith. Is it any wonder why Siddiqui left this out of his own speech at Vanderbilt? Islam would appear so violent and intolerant, according to its source documents—not according to any researcher today who is allegedly hateful or bigoted, as Siddiqui says in the introduction to his speech.

The Quran in this Medinan sura says that during judgment in the Last Day, some faces will be blackened and sent to hell, whereas some faces will be whitened and sent to heaven (the word "some" has been added by the translator).

On the Day when (some) faces will be whitened and (some) faces will be blackened; and as for those whose faces have been blackened, it will be said unto them: Disbelieved ye after your (profession of) belief? Then taste the punishment for that ye disbelieved. (Sura 3:106)

Next, this verse, from Meccan Sura 39, repeats the same theme of black skin deserving or symbolizing harsh judgment and hell:

And on the Day of Resurrection thou (Muhammad) seest those who lied concerning Allah with their faces blackened. Is not the home of the scorners in hell? (Sura 39:60)

Thus, "black skin" is not viewed positively in the Quran, whether in a Meccan or Medinan sura.

Moreover, the Quran endorses slavery—not merely permits it because it was too deeply entrenched in society. Muhammad himself traded in slaves.

The Quran in Sura 47:4 says:

Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks until, when ye have routed them, then making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom till the war lay down its burdens. That (is the ordinance) . . . .

The Muslim victor has two options for prisoners: grace (free release) or ransom (payment to get the prisoner back). The third option in other passages is for the raider to keep prisoners for himself, especially women with whom he may have sex—that is, rape.

The Quran in Sura 4:24 says:

And all married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your right hands possess. It is a decree of Allah for you.

The following hadith shows a sad snapshot of abuse in original Islam. The passage matter-of-factly talks about disrobing a recently captured female prisoner of a Muslim raid. Salamah the Muslim raider was "fascinated" by her. But Muhammad wants her for himself. Why?

So we [Salamah and his captured girl] arrived in Medina. I had not yet disrobed her when the Messenger of Allah . . . met me in the street and said: Give me that girl, O Salamah. I said: Messenger of Allah, she has fascinated me. I had not yet disrobed her. When on the next day, the Messenger of Allah . . . again met me in the street, he said: O Salama, give me that girl, may God bless your father. I said: she is for you, Messenger of Allah . . . By Allah, I have not yet disrobed her. The Messenger of Allah . . . sent her to the people of Mecca, and surrendered her as ransom for a number of Muslims who had been kept as prisoners in Mecca. (Muslim no. 4345)

Muhammad did not give her family the option of ransoming her. He did not give her back freely, as an example for the world to stop the slave trade. "I hereby give the girl back as an example that all Arabs must stop this trade! I do this especially as an example to the new community of Muslims I’m founding!" These clear announcements are crucial for a fledgling religion that traffics in slavery, not merely permits it because it is was too deeply entrenched in the surrounding culture. Instead, he is depicted here as ravenously wanting the hapless girl. "Give me that girl!" And he trades her for some Muslims who had been kept as prisoners in Mecca, which was not involved in the raid or in her life. So trade or exchange is a fourth option for a slave-owner, even if this means selling a slave far away from her family.

The slave trade was lucrative for Muhammad and his original Islam. It traded in slaves throughout its history, and still does today in some parts of the world, like Africa. Is this what Siddiqui means by Islam’s unique and unparalleled "socio-economic-political program"?

Does my criticism imply that the West has behaved flawlessly in this area? Of course not. But did original Islam—the one found in the Quran? No. So why did Siddiqui leave this out of his speech?

See this page that references reliable hadiths on black slaves.

Is there no monopoly in Allah’s message?

(1) Siddiqui quotes the Quran about the unity of the messengers that preceded Muhammad:

"And there is not a nation but a warner has passed among them." [Sura 35:24; cf. Suras 2:213 and 10:37]

The call of the Qur’an is a call to unity of belief: "He has laid down for you the religion which He enjoined upon Noah, and which We revealed to you, and which We enjoined upon Abraham, Moses and Jesus: Establish the religion, and be not divided therein." [Sura 42:13]

Further: "Lo! This, your religion, is one religion, and I am your Lord, so worship Me. And they have broken their religion among them, (yet) all are returning unto Us." [Sura 21:92-93]

Analysis: It is true that the Quran speaks of a wide range of messengers. But these and other Quranic passages in this section are taken from either the Meccan suras, when Muhammad has no military might to conquer the Meccans and anyone else, or they are taken from early Medinan Sura 2, when he still did not have a strong enough army to conquer tribes and cities. So whether in Mecca or early Medina, it is only shrewd politics to preach tolerance. After Muhammad grows in military power, this tolerant message that has an expiration date will be drowned out by ultimatums: either convert or die and burn in hell.

Before we get to the Medinan verses, we should note Meccan Suras 42:13 and 21:92-93, quoted just now, above. They imply that Islam comes out on top. Thus, it does not matter, in practical terms, whether any past society had a warner or messenger in it. Islam is destined to control the world. Also, traditional and Quran-believing Muslims refuse to accept prophets who come after Muhammad and who carry a holy book, such as Nanak, founder of Sikhism, and his book, the Guru Granth Sahib, and Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon. For Muslims who follow the clear teaching of the Quran, these prophets challenge the claim that Muhammad is the last and the seal of the prophets and messengers, though he said this about himself (Sura 33:40). So viewed superficially, Siddiqui’s portrayal of Islam as open-minded appears noble. But looked at more deeply, the Quran and Muhammad do not tolerate later messengers and warners who supersede and replace him and it.

It is true that Biblical Christianity does not accept later holy books that claim to supersede it, especially when the later revelation distorts the gospel and the person of Jesus Christ and preaches violence against Christians—all of which the Quran does. But Siddiqui implied in his speech that Islam is "open," rises above exclusion, and embraces all messengers. However, it does not accept later messengers, particulary if they supersede Muhammad. So Islam is not quite as open-minded and tolerant as Siddiqui says it is.

Again, Sura 9 reveals Muhammad’s violent policy against polytheists. Verse 5 says:

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free.

This hadith leaves no doubt about Muhammad’s mission in Arabia and his known world:

Narrated Ibn 'Umar:

Allah's Apostle said: "I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform a that, then they save their lives an property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah." (Bukhari; see a parallel hadith here)

Siddiqui omits from his speech Muhammad’s mission of fighting people until they repeat Islam’s confession of faith, say their prayers the Muslim way, and pay the required charity tax. Is this what Siddui means by "no monopoly"?

(2) Siddiqui would like Islam to reconcile the differences between Christianity and Judaism:

Islam presents itself as a way to reconcile the differences between Jews and Christians. The compromise offered by Islam affirms common elements between Judaism and Christianity, and accepts Moses and Jesus Christ (AS) as two of the greatest prophets of all time, sent for guidance of humanity. Islam accepts the virgin birth of Jesus and considers both Mary and Jesus (AS) as chaste and pious, but rejects Trinity.

Analysis: At first glance, this Islamic reconciliation between Jews and Christians appears noble and grand. But at bottom, Islam as a go-between would be disastrous, according to Sura 9:29, which commands Muslims to fight the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) for no material reason, but for theological reasons (see Does Islam reject racism, above). It is true that the Quran accepts the virgin birth, but it also denies the Sonship of Christ on the strange notion that God must have sexual relations with a wife or consort to have a son (Suras 3:58-60; 4:171; 5:72-75, 116; 9:30; 19:33-34). Something is wrong here. According to the Quran, on the one hand Allah creates Jesus in the Virgin Mary, but on the other, Allah is not the Father of Jesus, and he is not the Father’s Son. Regardless of this confusion, Christians who are educated in their New Testament reject this false notion of physical relations, and they cannot deny Christ’s Sonship and at the same time remain consistent with their sacred text.

This article clarifies Jesus’ role and fully human and fully divine natures according to the New Testament. For more information on the Quran’s confusion about Jesus, go directly to the Conclusion of this article.

But even if Islam were to act as a go-between on non-abstract policies, then has it provided enough evidence that it would remain peaceful? Right now, relations between Jews and Evangelical Christians in America are flowing smoothly. Do we need Islam to come in between us? I have studied the Quran carefully and can find no contribution that it can make as an intermediary between the two faith communities, which the Bible does not already make. Nonetheless, as far as I’m concerned, if Muslims want to join the dialogue, then they must leave their holy book far behind them in public, especially in areas of legislation. Islamic law must never be considered in deliberations, for it is too harsh and barbaric.

And this brings us to a hard question. How did Muhammad treat the Jews in reality?

This article, Muhammad and the Jews, describes his expulsion, execution, and enslavement of three major tribes. This one focuses on the Qurayza tribe of Jews, whom Muhammad slaughtered and enslaved.

(3) Siddiqui quotes from more Quranic passages that seem to promote Islam’s tolerance of Jews and Christians and their messages: Suras 4:150-151; 2:177; 5:44, 46; and 2:62. However, it is not hard to find intolerance near these verses.

(4) Siddiqui quotes Sura 4:150-151 that says no one should distinguish between messengers or preachers of God’s way.

Analysis: But Sura 4:153-163 launches into a long polemic against the Jews and how wrong they are in the past and in Muhammad’s days. This means that they are wrong to reject Muhammad as the last messenger of Allah.

(5) Siddiqui quotes Sura 2:177, which exhorts people to do good deeds.

Analysis: However, Sura 2:174-176 promise the fires of hell for those who conceal the Scriptures. This seems to parallel Muhammad’s polemics against the Jews who were accused of concealing their Bible (Sura 2:140).

(6) Siddiqui quotes Sura 5:44 and 46, which comes around AD 628 when Muhammad has a lot of power. These two verses indicate that the Torah and Gospel have validity.

Analysis: Siddiqui omits Sura 5:45, which imposes retaliation, literal eye for eye. Would radical Muslims want to impose this around the world? The linked article has news reports and analyses that show that they would indeed. Also, Sura 5:48 asserts that Muhammad and his Scriptures confirm the Bible, but the Quran has final authority over it. Thus, Islamic tolerance comes with a price. Islam must rule over the "reconciliation" that Siddiqui promises.

(7) Finally, Sura 2:62 says that Jews, Christians, and Sabians who do good works will have no fear during Judgment.

Analysis: Sura 2:65 says that Allah turned some disobedient Jews into apes. "And ye know of those of you [Jews] who broke the Sabbath, how We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised and hated!" Early biographer Ibn Ishaq says that Muhammad referred to Jews as "brothers of monkeys" (pp. 461-62). The Quran promotes tolerance in one verse, but nearby a verse reveals intolerance and insults. Also, as a Christian who is educated in the Bible, I do not believe that my good works get me into heaven. Only Christ’s good work on the cross does this—a bodily and literal crucifixion that the Quran denies in Sura 4:157. (See this article that examines the fine nuances of Sura 4:157).

Since this section is long, here is a quick summary. Siddiqui says that Islam has no monopoly in religious matters. However, Sura 5:48 does promote an Islamic monopoly because the Quran takes final priority; that Jews are often condemned in the Quran (Sura 4:153-63); that people, especially polytheists, are forced to convert or die (Sura 9:5); that Allah is not above turning Jews into apes and pigs (Suras 7:166; 2:65; 5:60); and that Muhammad uses this degradation in an insulting manner in his life, according to Ibn Ishaq.

Does Islam abhor coercion and intolerance?

In this section, Siddiqui quotes from theses verses: 2:256; 18:29; 2:114; 22:40; 109:6; 35:25; 42:48; 18:29. Then he concludes with these words: "All these verses make it clear that there is no room for coercion or compulsion in matters of faith."

Analysis: Again, Siddiqui quotes from Meccan suras, except in two references. It should be recalled that the Meccan suras promote a modicum of peace and tolerance, but after Muhammad’s Hijrah from Mecca to Medina, his tone changes. He becomes belligerent. But in Sura 2, early in Medina, he wants to be accepted by the non-Muslim Medinans and the Jews, so some verses reflect peace.

First, Sura 2:256 says that there is no compulsion in religion, but Sura 9:5, a much later verse, says that there is compulsion (see "No Monopoly," above). Why would not hard line Muslims use this later verse to force people to convert? Why did not Siddiqui quote and deal with this violent verse?

Second, Sura 2:114 says that anyone who forbids the mention of Allah’s name in places of worship is unjust. This is true as far as it goes. Anyone who forbids freedom of worship is wrong. But this is precisely what Muhammad did after he conquered Mecca. He prohibited non-Muslims and polytheists from going on a pilgrimage to the Kabah shrine in the city. To this day, non-Muslims are not permitted anywhere near this Black Stone (Sura 9:17, 28). In fact, churches are not allowed to be built or Christians may not carry their bibles in the Islamic "Holy Land": Saudi Arabia. They may get arrested or killed.

Does Islam welcome diversity in matters of faith?

(1) Siddiqui quotes these verses: 30:22; 11:118; 5:49 (sic, it should read v. 48); 2:136; and 10:99.

Analysis: Only two verses are revealed during Muhammad’s life in Medina; the rest come from Mecca. Since the Medinan suras have far more violence in them, we limit our focus to them. Many Muslims believe that the Medinan suras take priority over the Meccan ones—certainly the violent fanatics believe this, and they are the Muslims who harm people.

First, Sura 5:48 seems to say in context that Allah has assigned a law and a path to Jews, Christians, and Muhammad. But we should recall that earlier in the same verse, a long one, Muhammad says that the Quran has priority over the Bible. So Islam’s tolerance reaches only so far. None of this "dueling sacred texts" would matter if it remained in the abstract, but Islam seeks to impose its views and policies on everyone in down-to-earth, practical ways.

This imposition of practical policies on all of society—beyond simple conversions of souls—spells danger for humanity. For example, Sura 5:33 commands in a legal context torture and mutilation of criminals. And Sura 5:38 commands in a legal context that the hands of male and female thieves should be cut off. Also, Sura 5:51 preaches intolerance: "You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies." It is not hard to find violent and intolerant verses next to the peaceful ones.

Second, Sura 2:136 shows Muhammad ordering the believers (Muslims) to tell Jews and Christians that Muslims believe in the patriarchs and prophets of old, making no distinction between them. Supposedly, this shows Islam’s tolerance and open-mindedness of other religions. However, verse 137 reveals which message is the best one (Islam): "And if they believe in the like of that which ye believe, then they are rightly guided. But if they turn away, then are they in schism" . . . . Thus, Islam must be the determining factor in matters of faith. The Jews and Christians will be in schism—not Muhammad and his Muslims. Never mind that Muhammad is the newcomer to Medina who stirred things up with his message and who distorts Judaism and Christianity. As the later religion, it may be fairly said that Islam is in schism. Regardless, Islam must come out on top in its "tolerance."

(3) Then Siddiqui describes a utopia under Islam during the Middle Ages, citing Medieval Christianity’s mistreatment of non-conformists and Jews and Islam’s tolerance of them.

Analysis: No one should deny plain facts. Christianity indeed became abusive in some policies and practices in the Middle Ages. But these rhetorical questions must be asked: Did this brand of Christianity stray from the original teachings of Jesus and the New Testament? Is Islam above such excesses when it ruled over lands that Muslims conquered? The answer to the first question is yes (Christianity did stray), to the second, no (Islam is not above excesses).

Islamic tolerance throughout history has been questioned of late, notably by Robert Spencer in his book, The Myth of Islamic Tolerance.

This book, The Legacy of Jihad, by Andrew Bostom, is the antidote to the false belief that life under Islam was always a bed of roses—the roses have big thorns. He provides many source documents, some translated for the first time. Here are online samples. This two-part article (here and here) recounts Muslim atrocities in Palestine. This two-part article (here and here) demonstrates that jihad produced the European Crusades.

This book challenges the extent of Islam’s contribution to the West and the world, also examining the alleged backwardness of the West vis--vis Islam in the Middle Ages and later.

These two articles also doubt the standard line that Islam sustained or contributed significantly to western philosophy and science: here and here.


Siddiqui expresses a noble hope:

My hope is that inter-faith programs like this would help peace-loving people of this planet to come together to fight and oppose bigotry and intolerance in whatever shade they come.

Everyone hopes for the unity of peace-loving people to fight and oppose bigotry and intolerance. I certainly hope for this. And interfaith dialogue is always welcome.

But the problem with Siddiqui’s speech is that he omits too many bigoted and intolerant verses in the Quran that command fighting the unbigoted and tolerant. The speech he should have delivered before this one would have listed several dozens of such verses. Then he should have read each verse out loud. After that, he should have explicitly renounced them.

However, he seems to believe that the Quran is good for humanity as written. But this whitewash or idealistic and nave belief may end up hurting humanity. What would happen if Muslims were to preach nothing but "tolerance" and then paradoxically force some European countries, for example, to pass laws that limit criticism of this religion?

Maybe if we reversed our roles for a moment, Siddiqui and other Muslims would understand my assessment of his speech, which was delivered at an interfaith conference, after all.

Let’s imagine, contrary to fact, that Muhammad lived six hundred years before Jesus. Let’s also imagine, contrary to fact, that Jesus said throughout his ministry that those who refuse his message should be fought. But he also spoke words of peace that promise Muslims no fear in the afterlife. In his last (fictional) discourse (= Sura 9), he says explicitly that Muslims and Jews should be battled and killed. Further, during his entire ministry he and his followers in fact killed people in raids and wars. Peace and love, battles and wars, mixed together. His disciples carry on his commands to wage war after he dies—even all the way to today, especially when they read the last (fictional) discourse of Jesus. Let’s imagine, finally, that Siddiqui and moderate Muslims look around the world and observe (imaginatively) that it is Jesus’ disciples who do most of the killing of people and the blowing up of things today, in the name of their religion.

Given this (counterfactual and imaginary) scenario, would Siddiqui like it if I delivered a speech that quoted only the peaceful verses in my holy book? Would he like my speech if I did not renounce the violent verses in my holy book and the practices of my Founder? Would he like it if I called researchers of my religion who dug up these unpleasant truths bigots and haters? Maybe these researchers would be baffled, fairly asking this question of me: Why would you throw these loaded terms and accusations at us, instead of admitting that violence exists at the core of your religion and instead of reforming your religion—beginning with the violence and intolerance in your holy book, which you quote so admiringly? Why do you deny plain evidence in it?

However, let’s return to reality now. Jesus did not teach or commit violence. But Muhammad did. In reality, he fits the imaginary description of Jesus, sketched out just now. Thus, the problem with Siddiqui’s speech is that it does not fully disclose all of Islam. He left out the violent parts. Too many uninformed readers and citizens of any country struggling with Islam may accept its peaceful countenance or facade. But it hides a sword behind its back.

If Habib Siddiqui would like to do the right thing, then he should expose the sword of Islam for the whole world to see. But his speech leaves the sword hidden.

James M. Arlandson may be reached at

Supplemental material

Here is a sample of Siddiqui’s views on other topics:

In this article Europe is the invader and imperialist, but Siddiqui forgets that Islam invaded and became imperialist over nations outside of Arabia—and even over tribes in it. However, for Siddiqui and most Muslims, Islam is the eternal victim.

This article for a Pakistani newspaper records his opinion on President Reagan shortly after the President’s funeral. His opinion is not very flattering.

Siddiqui criticizes Serge Trifkovic, who wrote a devastating criticism of Islam in The Sword of the Prophet. Siddiqui is not afraid to use such terms as "repulsive," "slanderous," "poisonous," "lies," and "half-truths."

The following articles list many abuses in the Quran itself and in early Islam. Each listed item has supporting articles, which go into more detail.

Why I do not convert to Islam cites passages in the Quran that are violent and oppressive or downright bizarre.

Top ten reasons why Islamic law is bad for all societies offers links to the real world and demonstrates that Islamic law, based squarely on the Quran, is oppressive. Islam does not promote human rights by western standards.

Top ten rules in the Quran that oppress and insult women cites the Quran on such matters as slave-women being sexual property or husbands being permitted to hit their wives.

Top ten reasons why Islam is not the religion of peace shows why Islam is violent.

Finally, one ploy that Siddiqui—and many Muslim polemicists and propagandists—use to deflect attention away from violence in the Quran is to reference warfare in the Old Testament. The fact that he has to appeal to these ancient wars means that he has lost the game already. Muhammad came 600 years after Jesus, who showed us a better way. Thus, Siddiqui fails to realize that for us Christians Jesus Christ has fulfilled this sacred text, so we are not required to wage wars that were time-specific (3,400 years ago), location-specific (the Holy Land), and limited in purpose. This article explains the differences between the Old Testament’s limited wars and Islam’s wars of worldwide conquest, and so does this article. This one replies to Muslim polemics on the topic.

Copyright (c) by James Malcolm Arlandson and used by permission. Originally published as two articles at part 1 and part 2. Later they were slightly edited for Answering Islam.

Other articles by James Arlandson

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