Sunday, March 11, 2007

Letters on Islam

This blog is, was, and probably always will be about life in Thailand. Today though I'm taking a slight detour.

Anyone remotely interested in the issue of Islamic terrorism in the world today may find this exchange intriguing. Those only interested in Thailand can scroll up or down and find other articles quickly.

Readers know I've become absorbed with Islam lately. My interest was sparked by a particularly nasty event in southern Thailand. Brutal killings have become so frequent in the region that the event has become almost de-sensitising. However, one occurrence that shattered the awareness threshold was the random kidnap of a female teacher by a group of over one hundred people all from the same village. The teacher was beaten into a coma and died months later. The woman was chosen at random as a revenge attack for the arrest – not murder or conviction – of an Islamic militant. For me, this tragedy smashed through the usual excuses we hand to the Islamic community i.e. they are a minority of Muslims and they have been mislead or corrupted by a particularly nasty branch of Islam. Do those excuses apply when over one hundred locals all take the same vicious and brutal action against an innocent young woman? That question set me off on my search.

I've already made references to several very comprehensive and meticulous works on Islamic terrorism. Still, my moral code always tells me to seek an alternative viewpoint. With this in mind, I've spent the last few weeks perusing web sites and trying to make contact with figures in the Islamic community. Some have been welcoming, some have ignored me, a couple have been rude and some just dismissive.

One name that caught my eye was Professor Khaleel Mohammed. Khaleel caught my attention because of the notes on his website. As well as stating:
"If anyone wishes to have up-front, honest dialogue with me, with no hidden agenda or malice aforethought, I welcome this" , Khaleel offers a range of annotations I have found to be repeated among prominent Muslims such as……..

"[I] prefer to engage in discussion where facts, rather than fictions and prejudgments are presented"

"I have encountered racism, anti-semitism, as well as free discussion in Arab countries--the same as I have encountered in the U.S

"I do not have to apologize for that--no more than I expect every Christian to apologize to every Muslim and every Jew for the crimes committed in the name of Jesus during the crusades."

Not withstanding his clear social status as a professor, I could not resist the urge to humbly contact Mr. Mohammed and ask him some questions.

Before we start, let me explain that the hadiths and the surahs are the written records of Muhammed's life. The surah of Ishaq is the only written account of Muhammed's life written within two hundred years of his death, so you could say it is important to Muslims.

When I want to comment on something discussed in the e-mail, I'll type in bold to differentiate from the e-mail text itself.

OK, let's press on with the opening correspondence:

Dear Prof. Muhammed,

I feel urged to contact you after I read your website notes with great interest. I am not affiliated with jihadwatch or any other web site. I am not a Christian. I am a very interested and concerned observer who has studied not only the Qu'ran but also the hadiths and Ishaq's sira.

I notice that you consider yourself a scholar and prefer to engage in arguments where facts are abundant. I too feel that facts are lacking in many discussions about Islam and the Qu'ran and I trust that you are far more informed than most on this topic. Likewise, I share your concern over incorrect translations of the Qu'ran. Such understandings have become crucial in my adopted home of Thailand due to the numerous tragic deaths in the south of the country due to terrorism.

I would like to humbly request your assistance in understanding a few verses of the Qu'ran. I will pick just a couple of verses to avoid unnecessary polemics.

Tabari: "Arabs are the most noble people in lineage, the most prominent, and the best in deeds. We were the first to respond to the call of the Prophet. We are Allah's helpers and the viziers of His Messenger. We fight people until they believe in Allah. He who believes in Allah and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions from us. As for one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in the Cause of Allah. Killing him is a small matter to us."

Ishaq587: "Our onslaught will not be a weak faltering affair. We shall fight as long as we live. We will fight until you turn to Islam, humbly seeking refuge. We will fight not caring whom we meet. We will fight whether we destroy ancient holdings or newly gotten gains. We have mutilated every opponent. We have driven them violently before us at the command of Allah and Islam. We will fight until our religion is established. And we will plunder them, for they must suffer disgrace."

Professor, I am most concerned at numerous verses such as these. They come from widely accepted translations of Islamic texts and they are repeated in their nature. They clearly suggest that violence is acceptable against non-Muslims. I will not insult your intelligence by quoting Qu'ran verses but you are of course well aware of the repeated themes of Muhammed's paranoia, fear of demonic possession , chauvinism and repeated violence. These are not verses taken out of context or taken from a particular version of the Qu'ran. They are verses widely acknowledged and used by numerous English speaking Muslims.

I also would ask you to ally my fears over certain facts about Muhammed and Islam:

Muhammed married a girl believed to be six - nine years old.

Muhammed married the wife of his adopted son.

Muhammed believed that at times he was possessed by the devil: "The Satanic verses" (I believe that to a neutral observer, this could cause grave concerns for one's sanity)

Muhammed ordered the assassination of a female (Asma bint Marwan) who suggested he was a fraud.

I note with interest that you quite rightly prefer to use facts rather than polemics and vested agendas in debate However, I take issue with some of your comments: You suggest that you have experienced: "encountered racism, anti-semitism, as well as free discussion in Arab countries--the same as I have encountered in the U.S.". This may be true but it is misleading. As you are well aware, the vast majority of Muslim countries have far lower press freedoms, far less tolerance of religious freedoms and far less respect for women's rights than the US (of which I am not a citizen). I am not aware of any Western country allowing huge protests or having its leader issue a fatwah calling for execution of a book writer that was deemed to be offensive to its religion.

Likewise, you make a reference indicative of the argument of many who hold your stance: " That many Muslim regimes have confused Jihad and War is something that I admit to--but their crime is their own, and I do not have to apologize for that--no more than I expect every Christian to apologize to every Muslim and every Jew for the crimes committed in the name of Jesus during the crusades.". This is a simple "two wrongs make a right" argument. The crusades were evil and we can all see that. However they are past. In my home, people are being killed every day in the name of Islam and one would expect that if Islam is truly a peaceful religion, other members would be doing all they can to halt this.

I appreciate that you are surely a busy man but I have faith that as a respected scholar and someone who clearly has a voice on such issues, you will be able to respond and ally my concerns that I have laid out above. Allow me to repeat that I have no religious or other vested agenda and I am not relying on any 'interpretation' of the Qu'ran. I am merely someone who shares the concerns of many over Islam, a force that affects our entire world.

Kind regards,

I really didn't expect any response but two days later I received.......

With due respect, the quotes you came with were not from the Qur'an [Whoops! I introduced them as Qu'ranic verses but next to the quote I did clearly quote it as Ishaq] ........if they were, I would have known them, or would have expected you to provide the verse and chapter.
The other issues you mention have been answered by several scholars and I do not revisit issues that have been rejected ad nauseam.[Really? Read on]

That was great of him to respond, no doubt he must be in demand. Still he hasn't actually told us anything yet even though he clearly invited discussion on his site.

Dear Professor,

Thank you for your reply and please forgive my slip. Although I introduced the quote as being from the Qu'ran, the first quote was from Tabari's hadith chapter nine verse sixty nine, the second quote was from Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah (I did provide the verse number which was 587).

I appreciate your time, like mine, is in demand but if you could perhaps provide a link to any academic source which can explain or reject any of the issues I mentioned , I would be most grateful.

Thank you for taking the time to discuss this matter. I'm sure someone of your standing feels as I do that greater communication and understanding of such crucial issues can only help us all.


And the response..........

YOu mentioned these were "verses" from the Qur'an. [I did actually correct that in the previous e-mail] Neither Tabari's work nor Ibn Hisham's qualify as Qur'an. [But they are still integral to Islam and worth discussing surely?]Some academic works you may refer to are "Islam" by Fazlur Rahman, as well as "Islam in History" by the same author. There are several websites such as "answering Christianity" that deal with the issues you mentioned. As I noted, these are materials that have been long debunked, and I assume that there are academic scholars in your area that can provide you access to the refutations.

While I was truly grateful for the reply, it seems the professor is either purposely not reading my contact properly or simply doesn't really invite the debate he professes to. After the previous mail, I found a couple of interesting interviews with the professor [try a google yourself to see more] including this one where he claims the Qu'ran allocates Israel to the Jews. I also read an on-line debate with Mr Mohammed and I noted he is of the academic type that adopts a little linguistic snobbery in exchanges. I always try and imitate another's form of language if I am trying for profound communication with him or her. Again, not withstanding the fact that the professor is substantially more academically rewarded than I am as well as the fact that he has probably forgotten more about Islam than I know, there remains unanswered questions. Let me try again:

Dear Professor,

Once again I offer my sincere thanks for your esteemed reply. If you take a double check, you'll see that I did actually state that I would not insult your intelligence by quoting Qu'ranic verses although a multitudinous number of them cause me grave concern. I offered a couple of hadith verses as examples of my fears.

My gratitude for the links you offered. I have perused 'Answering Christianity'. My first impressions amounted to a poorly designed website with grammatically erroneous passages. Searching for content, I found some interesting polemics but the overall theme of the site is certainly not a fluent or perspicacious insight into Islam, it smacks of borderline paranoia and argumentation against Christianity. I am unaware of most authors 'rebutted' on the site but the polemicism against Craig Winn halts at interpretation of verses and undocumented and un-cited rebuttals such as the evidence of when the Qu'ran was first transcribed.

One rebuttal states that Winn cannot claim the first written record of the Qu'ran was made long after Mohammed's death, it then goes on to dispute Winn's claims of numerous grammatical errors. The piece supplies a link which leads to another link which leads to yet another link where the refuter immediately opens his defence by stating that the Qu'ran was written at least one hundred years after its revelation!

I continued to seek rebuttals or debunkation for the issues I mentioned in my mail to yourself. The site you gave defends - as opposed to debunks or rejects - the issue of Mohammed's marriage to a nine year old. I was unable to find any reference to the other topics.

I note your intriguing interview on frontpage mag where you propagate the concept that the Qu'ran states Israel belongs to the Jews. I am curious to ask: how do verses such as surah 59, verse 2 and surah 33 verse 26 incorporate this concept? The latter verse especially implicitly implies the capture of Jewish land. To a layman like me, the Noble Qu'ran appears clear in this message (surah 33 v26), there is no room for ambiguity or interpretation.

Once again I thank you for your time. My quest for the truth and the inspiration behind the motivation of one hundred villagers who kidnapped an innocent female teacher and beat her into a coma with wooden sticks in response to the arrest of an Islamic militant continues. I have found my personal search for knowledge on this topic to be revealing not only factually but emotionally and behaviorally for all involved. With the notable exception of Jalal Abualrub at , I have found the Muslim community to be dichotomised when discussing challenging issues. One section appears vituperative towards questioners , Christians in particular. The other seems to use a veil of intellectual classification to obfuscate or supply straw man rebuttals rather than genuine discussion of a sensitive topic.

This is of course only my humble opinion of a topic which - due to the numerous daily brutal killings in the south of my country - I believe we all have a need to understand. I thank you once again for your insight and your time. Many others have not offered the courtesy you have.

And the reply was forthcoming........

A mistake: the website ref. should have been islamic awareness.[Surely this is a change of mind rather than a mistake?]
Next: u [A scholar using txt spk! Cool!] seem focused on this supposed marriage. For me the issue is rather simple. First there is the issue of grammar, assuming that a marriage did take place.[I know of no other source that disputes this marriage but as I said, he has forgotten more than I know]..if a child marriage, it was the custom of the time, and does not state that it was consummated [ .................did]. In keeping with talmudic law about when a woman could reproduce, marriage was common at 11-13 [ she was aged 6 - 9 and Muhammed was fifty two!]. I still don't buy into it since the Quran has nothing about it and I do know that later Arabs wanted to establish that Muhammad did marry a virgin..and what better way to do so than to provide a child bride.

As far as the Holy Land is concerned, you note that you are a layreader. I focus on that since none of my muslim [I've just noticed he never uses capital letters for a proper noun?] interlocutors has provided those verses to which you refer as a counter to my argument, nor do I see where you assume they are [ This I find extraordinary, see my comments after this mail]. I note you talk about finding the Muslim community hostile. I see however only one analysis: here in the US I see the christian community as very hostile and I see that they also are hostile in places where there are Muslims etc. I truly wonder why Christians don't focus on their own need for purification. [He seems to be implying I am Christian, in fairness he probably has thousands of e-mails and forgot I clearly stated I'm not Christian] I focus on my fellow Muslims. Unfortunately, as I have pointed out, there are professors in Thailand who can deal with the issues you present as I don't seem my time being spent on revisiting issues that are meaningful to you only [Fair point, though I would argue that such issues affect the whole world right now and in hosting a web site with polemics, it invites debate]. If there are issues of Islam that cause you concern, then there are issues of every religion that cause me concern too. I understand them by reading, the critics within and without. I am truly sorry but I don't have the time for individual correspondence of a detailed nature which is why I referred you to scholars in your area.

I find his comment "nor do I see where you assume they are"
in reference to verses on the Jews to be remarkable. See for yourself here and here. The "people of the book" are without a shadow of doubt the Jews (Judaists) and this version of the Qu'ran - The Noble Qu'ran - is the most widely used in the English speaking world. There are numerous examples of Qu'ran hostility to Jews, I just chose two as random examples. If I missing something obvious here about this issue or any other I welcome correction from the Islamic community, but for me it seems glaringly obvious and I am stunned as to how it can be denied.

I sent the following reply:

Dear Professor,

One last thank you for your time. I appreciate you are a busy man and I will engage you no further. Just one point of reference: I don't "assume" the Qu'ranic verses regarding the Jews, they are here and here and clearly refer to violence against "the people of the book".

Thank you and best wishes.



Well whaddaya know!? Today I received this gem:

Dear GregI will depart from my norm to tell you the obvious: I answered you a particular way because, being experienced, one "reads" letters a certain way. Like the buddhist story that says you cannot fill a cup that is already full, I hesitated to do the impossible with you. YOu "know" the qur'an so well that as is obvious,it was a waste of time to contact me. Since it is a language that you don't understand [ The Qu'ran has been translated by numerous Arabic scholars and all recognised versions have very clear statements in the verses I referred to. The "you don't understand the language" rebuttal is standard fare for some sectionsof Muslims. Read the verses for yourself and see if they are open to 'misunderstanding' in translation.] and is still subject to the whims of polemists, I suggest you spend time on something in bart ehrman's books or so.

I could reply, I could point out the fact that he has said so much and yet said nothing at the same time. "One reads" mails in a certain way indeed, although I clearly stated I wasn't a Christian he continues to insist I am (Bart Ehrman is a critic of Christian scripture) and offers no explanation for the verses I offered. I won't though, it would achieve nothing.

I have to give great gratitude to Professor Mohammed for even replying to a pest like me, and it must be noted he is a prominent 'moderate' Muslim.

Still it was a most interesting exchange. It seems that even the most educated circles have something to hide and something to be very defensive about. Comments such as "What about the Crusades?" and "It's just a few using violence" are no longer sufficient.

My exchanges with Jalal at have been far more enlightening. Since the exchanges are ongoing and I'm hoping Jalal can refer me to a Muslim scholar in Thailand, I'll wait for a conclusion and his permission before putting them on here.

Anyone has the right to adopt a religion - just as we have a right to view all or most religions as open to abuse of power and meaning - but we must all accept criticism and frank discussion, especially when others commit their actions that stretch brutality beyond the realms of comprehension in the name of religion.


fall said...

I think you hit something interesting with this post, but with my lack of understanding on Islam and the Qu'ran. I dont really sure what.

There are verses in Bible, Qu'ran, or Buddhist manuscript that supposedly do not make any sense. Any priest can say his religious preach peace, while the book say otherwise. So what should be the criteria to judge if one religion does not abhor violent than another?

Fonzi said...

I thought that was an interesting exchange.

It is interesting how you kissed his ass instead of calling him on his bullshit.

He jerked you around and you allowed him to jerk you around.

I don't know exactly what you accomplished by allowing the professor to reframe your questions and send you packing with a contmeptuous pat on the head.

But I have to admit that it was entertaining, nonetheless.

Red and White said...

My forethought was this:
certain people respond to different types of behaviour and approach. This guy had enough of his words on the net for me to gauge his level of self importance. If I had written to him saying "Hey you're full of crap!" he would have responded either with "I'm a scholar at a top university, who the hell are you?" or most likely, not replied at all.

By adopting a different approach and I received a reply and the opportunity to point out his errors. I don't believe he "sent me packing" because, as you observe yourself, his words and shallowness are here for all to see and everyone to judge for themselves who is right.

It's fair enough for you to ask what I achieved. This is only a part of what I'm up to right now. I hope that by the time I'm done, I'll have a good range of insights into Islam and the southern violence from various sources. Again, it will be here - and many other places too I hope - for people to judge and maybe gain a little insight themselves.

Right now, I think this exchange gives some indication of the defensiveness and unwillingness to accept factual debate of even some - I stress only some - of the top Muslim scholars.

fall said...

Without having any knowledge from the Qu'ran. Say, instead of getting him to defense each and every absurd phases in the book.
Would it not be more productive to ask for phases that condemn violence against non-Islam? Or prominent Iman or phases that promote peace along with other religion?
May be ask him what he think should be criteria in judging whether one religion promote violence or peace?

Fonzi said...

I think you handled it right in the beginning.

It was only later when he started to treat you like a jerk off that you should have thrown his words back at him.

In the end, you are right, he is the one who came off badly.

He should have been polite and just answered your questions.

I didn't think you were asking for much, and at the very least he could have at least given you some decent sources.

Good luck in your journey. Like I said, it was an entertaining blog entry. Keep them coming. I appreciate the effort.

Red and White said...

Thanks Fall and Fonzi.

I'll bear that thought in mind for my future endeavours,

hobby said...

Interesting exchange.

The southern Thailand situation is very difficult and should not be allowed to become part of the global jihad.

I still think it's up to the moderate muslims to weed out the extremists.

It looks like the terrorists are trying to goad the junta into doing something stupid like the massacre that happened on Thaksins watch.

The latest van incident was shocking - It's got so bad that I think the government should seriously consider some form of autonomy (let muslims have all the administrative positions and offer incentives to help all buddhists who want to relocate). I know it sounds bad to separate the religions, but at least that way the buddhists would not be targets, and the moderate muslims would be more responsible for solving the problems.

Anonymous said...

Dear Graig,
I just finished reading what you wrote about the exchange you had with Professor Khalid Mohammed, and it is late at night and I have to work tomorrow and my brain is not functioning that well right now but I feel somehow compelled to say a few words.
I am a Muslim and I have seen so much brutality committed in the name of Islam that nothing shocks me anymore (not even the collective beating of an innocent young woman). I have seen people cutting the heads of tied up innocent victims while chanting Allah Akbar, la ilaha illa allah as if they were in the middle of an act of worship. I am not sure if I can still call them people. The english language has no adjectives that can possibly describe them. But I am sure they are not Muslims even though they have no doubt that they are.
But I can tell this:
Islam as I know it, is the religion whose prophet told his followers: Have mercy on those who are on earth so the He who is in Heaven will have Mercy on you. Did those people in the south of Thailand have mercy on that young woman?
In the Koran, it is said that He who kills a soul (with no right to do so) is like him who killed the entire world. and who gives life to a soul is like him who gives life to the entire world.
In the Koran, the Prophet is ordered to tell the Mekkans: "I do not worship what you worship and You do not worship what i worship. You have your religion and I have mine."
" There is no compulsion in religion for the right path is clear and the wrong path is also clear."
Those two last verses go to what you were attributing to Tabari and Ibn Is-haq about the Muslims forcing others to become muslims. and just remeber that both of them (Tabari and Ibn Is=haq) are simple men and none of their writings qualify as a hadeeth or a koran. What they express is their personal opinion.
As for the matter of the marriage of mohamed from Aisha, it is so irrelevent to the present debate that I feel that it was raised to somehow stigmatize the prophet. but at the same time I recognize that you have the right to ask the question.
Just remember that at the time of the prophet the notion of our modern child molester that is in the back of the head of those who ask this question did not exist. because there was no child molestation. Mohamed, in his life, was a very proper and moral man and that is something that is recognized to him by his followers as well as by his detractors. Back then, a woman is woman when biology says that she is a woman. It means that when a girl start having her period she becomes a woman. and the laws that we follow today about girls being minors until the age of eighteen are arbitrary ones that we put together. I was not there and I have no evidence that Aisha had her period or that the marriage was consumed. But just using common sense, you would know that a man whose morality was an example of the people even before he became a prophet would not,in such a public amd blatant manmer. commit an act that was not appropriate. His first wife was older than he was and the other more than a dozen women he married had no virgins among them. That means that he did not have something for "little girls" and that what he did was appropriate either from biology standpoint or the maraige was not consumed until it was ok to consume it.He did not live an examplary life for fifty two years and all of a sudden decide that he will deviate. And if such were his inclinations, why didn't he marry more nine year girls? what was stopping him? and the fact that he was fifty two (you put that probably in bold) is irrelevent. He could be one hundred and so what?
As for what the professor told you about the Koran, it is true that all the translations out there by Arabs and non-Arabs are just approximations. The language of the Koran can simply not be translated in a proper manner And I can tell also one more thing: even though I am not a practicing Muslim, whenever I listen to a tape of CD of the Koran, it is physically very difficult to turn it off. it is beyond explaining. Actually, I am falling asleep already. But if you need to get in touch with me you can reach me at
P.S. I have been to Thailand and I know how much respect and interest his majesty the King have for the Muslims. Those behind the insurgency in the soutth are simply criminals who had been recruiting and washing the brains of many of the local residents and turning them into criminals.

Good night,