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Why I Am Not a Muslim
Why I Am Not a Muslim
by Ibn Warraq
Edition: Hardcover
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443 of 488 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Why I Am Not A Mulsim": Bold, Brilliant, and Blasphemous, September 22, 2004
This review is from: Why I Am Not a Muslim (Hardcover)
In 1990 'Free Inquiry Magazine' published an article called "Why I Am Not A Jew" by David Dvorkin. In its introduction the following words appeared:

"Atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers - call them whatever they prefer, virtually all of them share one very large blind spot: they are almost all ex-Christians, and therefore they measure their shiny new non-belief not against belief in general, but against Christianity in particular. It is thus ex-Christians who write the literature that, to the world at large, represents the views of non-believers. Literature that is specifically intended to present the arguments against religious belief tends in fact to present the arguments against Christian belief."

To be sure, Dvorkin's claim has a very solid foundation in fact: most of the modern anti-religion and atheist doctrines and theories stem from a disillusionment and deconstruction of the Christian faith. From Voltaire to Bertrand Russell ("Why I Am Not A Christian", 1927), the main object of scrutiny and scorn has been the Gospel of Christ, a set of tenets and moral teachings Voltaire famously referred to as the "most ridiculous, the most absurd, and bloody religion that has ever infected the world." Fortunately, for Voltaire, there has been a vast body of research and testimony to substantiate his sacrilegious claims. Unfortunately for Voltaire, not all of them are directed at the Christian faith.

The Eastern faiths (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism) make no claims of exclusivity, i.e. that salvation can only be found in their dogmas. The Western faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), however, do. Each proclaims itself the utter and infallible word of God and seeks to subjugate the world to its will. That's where Ibn Warraq comes in. Like Dvorkin's essay and Russell's famous speech, Warraq takes the standard of Reason, Historical Scrutiny, and Speculation and applies it to Islam, the religion he inherited from his ancestors. What emerges is what can only be termed as a pioneering work, a revolutionary and giant body of research and analysis which stands as the most comprehensive, critical, and detailed look at the revelation, the history, the tradition, and the culture that is Islam.

Make no mistake about it: this book is a devastating piece of anti-Islamic propaganda, an unapologetic denunciation of a religion that has become a cultural and moral wasteland. It is with profound regret and unmitigated rage that Warraq assails Islam for serving as the impetus to History's worst human rights record: the suffocation of Reason and Freedom of Expression, the subjugation of Jews and Christians, the dehumanization of pagans, slaves, and even non-Arab Muslims, and a Holocaust against Womankind that continues unchallenged because of its self-declared 'divine' sanction. It will always baffle me that a majority of this world, a majority that happens to be female, is condemned, oppressed, and exploited by the very same ideology that tells them that their salvation is only attainable through self-effacement, and that they comply, reconciling themselves with such blatant notions of cruelty and misogyny. Such is the malicious legacy of the Patriarchal Faiths. I am not entirely convinced that Islam will survive the mounting call to reform, but what is apparent is that it will be Muslim women who intiate and maintain any such progressive reformation.

"Why I Am Not A Muslim" is important because it looks critically and historically at the whole of "Islam", concluding that it is nothing more than a 7th century Arabian narcissist's attempt to mimic Judeo-Christian monotheism with some Samaritan/Sabian overtones and a whole host of pagan rituals thrown in to make it more appealing to hordes of 'unbelievers'. Did you know, for example, that pagan Arabs worshipped Allah, placing him high in the hierarchy of their deities? That Muhammad was rejected by all the monotheists of his homeland (Jews, Christians, Sabians, Hanafis) before claiming his own 'perfect' monotheism? That the pagans had their own pilgrimage rituals which included running between holy sites and casting stones, as does the Muslim Hajj ritual? That the parallels between the prophethoods of Moses and Muhammad are too identical to have been distinct? This is but a minute sampling of what the book offers. Warraq's conclusions are indeed audacious and he blasphemes in virtually every sentence; however, it is difficult not to agree with his conclusions because they are based on historical accounts and not theologically inspired ones. Warraq examines not only the expected subjects (Muhammad, the Koran, the Origins of Islam, the status of Muslim Women and religious minorities) but some unlikely ones as well: the relationship between Islam and Totalitarianism, the compatibility of Islam with Democracy and Human Rights, the influence of Greek Science on Muslim Culture and, probably most telling of all, the history of atheists and freethinkers in Islamic civilizations. Truly, he has assembled an awesome body of research, and the wealth of information which resides in its pages makes it a valuable tool not only in Islamic critique but also in terms of the only subject that really matters: human nature and the ways of human thought. Ultimately, Warraq declares that Islam is just another name for the Arab Imperialism the peninsula witnessed between the 7th and 9th centuries.

Reading "Why I Am Not A Muslim" was a profoundly eye opening experience, even for someone like me who comes from a Sunni Turkish background. For example, I knew, as most people do, that Muhammad was a skilled general and a charismatic politician. I knew that he had fought in wars to defend his people, and, as happens in war, he killed some of his opponents. In spite of this, the image in my mind of Muhammad was always that of a gentle, reflective individual, in effect a Bedouin Jesus. According to Warraq and his sources, a completely disparate image emerges: gone is the humble messenger of God, and in his place is raised a merciless, bloodthirsty warlord, a man who spread the word of God by threatening lives instead of appealing to spirituality. A man who butchered 900 Jews of the Banu Qurayza tribe, taking the women and children as slaves and keeping the chief's daughter, Saffiya, among his collection of wives. He had hundreds of political opponents assassinated and looted their material and sacred resources. He had a mother of five killed while she was suckling her newborn. He had between 15 and 25 wives, and perhaps countless concubines. Here is a man who, at the age of 51, consummated with a nine-year-old girl, his child bride Aisha, whom he married when she was six (yes, six). The amazing thing is these accounts cannot be dismissed as `racist orientalism' for they are themselves corroborated by the Islamic tradition. Whether or not this tradition is reliable (or even credible) is a separate issue, for we have scant evidence directly linked to the life of Muhammad (or, as he was known to his tribesmen before his prophet days, Abul Kassim) but it is the tradition upon which the Islamic foundation is laid and is the only one we are given to consider.

Like Warraq, I too am an ex-Muslim, though I excised my Islamic identity several years before I had ever heard of "Why I Am Not A Muslim". I picked it up out of sheer curiosity and amazement that someone had dared to compose such a tome. I thought that if an ex-Muslim was courageous enough to take Islam head-on, in spite of what had happened to Salman Rushdie after the publication of "The Satanic Verses" (a book which is comparatively much kinder to Islam), then I, as someone who understood his positions and shared his dismay, had an obligation to read it. I would thereby recommend it to anyone with an interest in Islam, though it seems unlikely (and understandably so) that any Muslim would ever consider reading it.

Liberal intellectuals in the west are taken to task in the final chapter, but it is a criticism which must be considered as a double-edged sword for both Warraq's anti-Islamism and his Humanism; I can empathize with his frustrations. Islamic fundamentalists are ideologically similar to conservative right-wingers: if you have any doubts, look at the completely illogical and self-serving justifications offered by George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden for their voluntary wars- both claim God is on their side and both seek support by playing to the fears and ignorance of the masses. They are, however, politically opposed to each other (it's called OIL). Leftist intellectuals have made heavy allowances for the understanding and acceptance of Islam and other 'backward' cultures, offering some deeply convoluted apologies for its inhumanity in an attempt at hypertolerant inclusion. As a liberal, I understand the desire to respect and appreciate everyone's right to practice religion. As humanists, and as those who champion human rights (and let's be honest here- this is the domain of activist liberals in the West) we cannot overlook those same human rights in the name of multicultural tolerance. Yes, we are all entitled to believe what we want and to act accordingly, but we must insist that all rights are guaranteed to all human beings, even if those rights are in opposition to certain religious dogmas. To liberals, nothing is more important than being fair, open-minded, and inclusive. Warraq must concede that humanist values have been propagated by liberal reformers. But we liberals do have a standard to bear, and not all ideologies will be able to meet it. We must work for their reform, and this is especially true of Islam and its disastrous human rights record. Unfortunately, any criticism of Islam is immediately classified as racist orientalism or western imperialism, even if the criticism is coming from Muslims and ex-Muslims themselves. This interpretation of Islamic critique needs to be viewed as humanist reform and not colonialism.

What is clear in reading "Why I Am Not A Muslim" is that Ibn Warraq perceives his endeavor as a crusade against the falsehood that is Islam. Whether or not one agrees with him he must be given credit for assembling an immensely powerful compilation of evidence to make his case. It is about time that the same standards of historical criticism and humanist reform that were applied to Judaism and Christianity were applied to Islam. There is no good reason for them not to be. Islam has for too long resided in the dark shadow of self-seclusion, cutting itself off from the outside world in order to maintain and validate its own dogmas. Warraq's book is proof enough that Islam as it exists today is unacceptable; there can be no more Talibans or Ayatollahs or Wahhabi Saudis. To believe in the message of an Arabian prophet as that of God is one thing; to promulgate it upon human lives through force, threat, and annihilation is another, unacceptable and entirely at odds with humanity. I eagerly await the arrival of a tolerant, humane, and liberal Islam. But how will the Islamic Reformation take place? That remains a possibility wrought with tremendous hope and yet potential catastrophe. What is certain is that it must begin with each Muslim asking, "Why am I Muslim?" If the question can be answered beyond the call of hereditary inheritance and blind acceptance, then there is hope. But it must begin with individuals, and not councils or mullahs or imams. To quote David Dvorkin once again: "If Western civilization has made one single important contribution to the world, it is the concept of individuality: the idea that a man is what he chooses to be, not what his community ordains him to be; that each of us represents only himself and is not a mere cell in some familial or ethnic organism. This, to my mind, is the true essence of humanism."
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Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out
Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out
by Ibn Warraq
Edition: Hardcover
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92 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Muslims: The First Victims of Allah, July 27, 2004
Let me begin by saying that like the many authors whose testimonies comprise this anthology, I am a former Muslim, an apostate, and a liberal secular humanist. The Western-born son of a moderate Sunni Muslim family comprising of Turkish and Persian ancestry, I related completely to the sentiments expressed in the various declarations of kafiri (unbelief). It is quite rare that one comes across the idea of ex-Muslims, since apostasy is for most Muslims outside the realm of possibility, both because it goes against everything one has been taught and because it carries the penalty of death. I was once a slave to this type of thought process, though I was never a fundamentalist and never espoused any of the hate-rhetoric that one normally associates with extremist Muslims. I left Islam after reading its holy revelation, the Qur'an, which revealed itself to be nothing more than reworked Bible stories (which are themselves rehashes of pagan myths) peppered with ever-present threats of Allah's fury. I first started to question Islam when I fell in love with a man (who was a Jew, no less!) and went in search of an outlet which would allow me to live with human dignity in full light of my homosexuality. Like so many religious people who know better, I tried to reconcile with my ancestral faith's apparent irrationality, but Logic and Compassion won out.

'Leaving Islam' is probably the most reader-friendly of all of Ibn Warraq's anti-Islamic endeavors. It offers not only a historical account of the heretical teachings and persecution of Islam's most famous apostates, but also a comprehensive and global view of why an increasing number of Muslims are leaving the faith, either in favor of other religions (namely Christianity) or, more probably, atheism. The stories come from all corners of the world: Iran, Turkey, Bangladesh, Morocco, Tunisia, Malaysia, India, and even America. A disproportionately large percentage of the accounts come from (of all places) Pakistan. One wonders why this is--are Pakistanis more prone to doubt than other Muslims? Regardless of the disparate national origins of the authors, there is a concurrent thread through all the stories that binds them together: traditionalist (even fundamentalist) faith transmuting into deep disillusionment upon closer scrutiny of Islamic texts and doctrines. You might wonder why if that's all that it takes to get Muslims to abandon Islam why more haven't done so. The reasons are many and complex, and each author explains why apostasy was the only choice.

Though I don't expect many to be inclined to read it, I would recommend this book to any practicing Muslim. Many of the traditional Islamic arguments about its validity are deconstructed in this deeply personal and profoundly logical compilation. Though I was disappointed not to find a personal account of Ibn Warraq's own apostasy, the others were fascinating, revealing, and, frequently, heartbreaking. All the accounts are worth reading, but the one's which stood out most for me were those of Ali Sina, Abul Kasem, Parvin Darabi, Azam Kamguian, Taner Edis, Nadia, Denis Giron, Faiza, and Ben Hoja. Sina's account is particularly striking in that it outlines the various stages one goes through when one chooses apostasy (Faith, Denial, Confusion, Guilt, Anger, Sadness and, finally, Enlightenment: I think I am embedded in the Sadness stage, mourning constantly for all the lost lives and wasted potential). Five of the testimonies in the book are those of converts who adopted Islam only to leave it. Giron's story is exceptionally witty and humorous. Hoja's chapter, entitled 'Dark Comedy', had me chuckling and laughing out loud (the footnotes are uproariously funny) only to completely sock me in the gut and leave me in tears at the end. His story alone is worth the cover price.

Like all of Warraq's books, this one too shall incite fury and outrage because it shows the growing skepticism and self-loathing among Muslims who happen not to be Ibn Warraq, Salman Rushdie, or Irshad Manji. In his introduction Warraq refers to the various accounts as 'Cassandra Cries', which might give the impression that these apostates view themselves as helpless victims; they are anything but. Every contributor makes powerful, searing indictments of Islam, Muhammad, the Qur'an and God, which cannot be ignored or dismissed. It is no small thing to assert that Muhammad was a rapist, a warmonger, a mass-murderer and a pedophile. List these charges and images of Hitler, Idi Amin and Genghis Khan immediately come to mind, not the noble and humble Arabian sage who populates the hearts of billions. How can it be that the founder of one of the 'great' religions has enacted such brutality? But any balanced and honest reading of Islamic tradition can only lead to this conclusion. Either we accept that History lies about Muhammad or that we lie to ourselves about him. Will we, as humans, seek the Selective Salvation religion offers, or will we seek Truth? As Sina proclaims at the end of his story, 'Truth is a pathless land.'

One of the things I am constantly baffled by is the standard Muslim response to critiques and attacks of their faith: instead of utilizing rationalist techniques of debate, argument and logical defense, they respond with violence and death threats to silence the dissenters. These are the actions of people who either have no prepared way to defend their dogmas or know that the only way to uphold these doctrinal 'truths' is to make sure that no one is allowed to question them. Fascism, anyone? But it would be wrong to lay the blame on Muslims themselves; rather it is that 'pie-in-the-sky' deity who is culpable. Those who have read the Qur'an will concede that Allah makes all his proclamations about 'the one true faith' the same way: not by appealing to Reason or Logic, but with force and threat. 'Believe this, behave accordingly, or burn eternally in Hellfire.' This is basically the theme of the Qur'an. It is of extreme irony that all such threats are always preceded by the standard 'In the name of God, the Universally Merciful, the Singularly Compassionate.' Indeed. How, therefore, can we expect Muslims to project and live in any other way than through violence and irrationality when God himself dictates life's truths to them in the same way? If anything, they are merely mimicking God's way, which is what anyone would want to do. Muslims are the first victims of Allah.

I must also say that this relatively unknown and small field of Islamic Criticism owes great gallows of gratitude to freethinkers like Ibn Warraq, Salman Rushdie, Ali Sina, and Irshad Manji. It is our duty as freethinkers, reformers, and, yes, even as ex-Muslims, to assume a prominent role in the way Islam adopts to the shrinking modern world. We are, after all, unique in that we know firsthand the extremes to which Islam can be carried and carry its adherents. Yet we apostates have resisted, and in this 'reclaiming of the self' we have shown that Reason has the ability to retain as strongly as Revelation.

Islam is a Bedouin Fable, a tribal Arabian Mythology created to validate the Arab Imperialism of the 8th and 9th century. At some point, however, we all outgrow these moralistic, 'do-this-or-else' fairy tales, and--hopefully--learn to live with dignity instead of out of fear. Fourteen hundred years of self-annihilation and delusion is enough. Cassandra's Cries have, at last, become her Courage.
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