The knock on the door was so soft as to be barely audible.
Carl Dinuto – a fortyish, greying, lean-faced professor of philosophy – looked up, wondering if he had heard right.
“Come in!” he called out anyway.
The door opened slowly and a slim young woman entered hesitantly.
“Sorry to interrupt, Doctor, but can you give me a couple of minutes?”
“Perhaps. What about?”
“Um, er, well, I was auditing your lecture on contemporary ethics this morning and was really puzzled by your comments on Islam. You see, I know some Moslem people, one of my best friends at school was Muslim, and she and her family are not at all like the way you said.”
Dinuto glanced at his watch, then pointed to a chair.
“Okay. Since you’re here, you can have a few minutes.”
“Er, thank you.”
Dinuto waited while the girl sat down, watching her as she did so. She was very pretty, with shoulder-length blond hair in a ponytail and bright, greeny-brown eyes, eager and shining with a sort of innocent intelligence.
“First,” said Dinuto; “what’s your name?”
“Holly. It’s Isabel Holland actually. But everybody’s called me Holly since grade school.”
“Why not Izzie or Bella?”
“It’s one of those family things. My Grandma was British, you see, a War bride, and Dad grew up using some of her British expressions. Well, one Fall, I was wearing a dark green tracksuit and was very red-faced from running around outside in the cold. Dad said I looked like a sprig of holly. Then my older brother, who kinda fancies himself as a wit, said, ‘Not the sprog of Holland?’ We all laughed, but Holly stuck.”
“Yeah, it’s British slang for a child, from progeny, I guess.”
Dinuto laughed briefly.
“Nice story,” he said. “And what are you studying, sprog of Holland?”
Holly laughed in her turn.
“When did you start?”
“Your faculty advisor?”
“I know him well. So, what’s your problem, Miss Holland?”
“You said Islam is a fascist political movement bent on world domination. Well, I felt that was untrue, and insulting.”
“I did not say that. I was quoting someone else who had. And I did not say ‘fascist’. I used the word ‘fascistic’ which has a different meaning. The first thing you have to learn at university, young lady, is that if you quote someone, whether in written or verbal form, you must do so accurately.”
“Say, I’m sorry…” Holly began but Dinuto raised a hand for silence.
“To be more precise, Miss Holland, what in fact happened was that a student asked me a question about the views of the Dutch politician Gert Wilders, who has recently been found not guilty of inciting religious hatred in the Netherlands. The student quoted what Wilders had said then asked what I thought of it. I said I knew little about Islam but Wilders’ description seemed accurate enough to me. What is insulting about that?”
“Well, sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but isn’t endorsing Wilders’views same as saying ’em yourself? And you did quote him, you know, kinda approvingly. You see, my friends would say that Islam is a religion, devoted to spreading and obeying the revealed word of God. Isn’t it kinda slanderous to make out like it’s a political movement?”
“In a court of law, Holly … may I call you Holly?”
“Sure, of course,” the girl nodded and smiled.
“In a court of law, Holly, I believe that the standard defence for people accused of slander or libel is to show that their allegations are true. Would you like me to tell you why I think Wilders spoke the truth?”
“Er, um, yes, er, please,” replied Holly, but somewhat doubtfully.
“Alright,” Professor Dinuto breathed in deeply. “Well, Wilders likened Islam to Nazism. I’m sure he didn’t make that judgement lightly, any more than I did when I agreed with him.”
“So why did you agree then?” Holly asked.
“A lot of reasons. But, first, let me make it absolutely clear that, in saying Islam is like Nazism, I am not saying that all Muslims are Nazis. That would be a nonsensically false statement. There are millions upon millions of peace-loving Muslims around the world who do nobody any harm, nor wish to, and whose only goal is to mind their own business and live enjoyable lives. Nor, obviously, am I saying that Islam is identical to Nazism. It is not. It is indeed a religion, but through institutions like sharia law and clerical rulings, or fatwas, it also dictates the personal, family and economic lives of its adherents. Hence it is also political. Many, like Wilders, would assert that it is more political than religious. I believe he has called it a political movement with an overlay of religion. Alright so far?”
“Yes, thank you, it’s becoming clearer.”
“Good. Now, leaving aside the distinction between Sunni and Shia, and other Muslim sects, what I am saying, in likening it to Nazism, is that monolithic Islam, the Islam of the Ulama, of the ruling Muslim clergy, is essentially totalitarian in nature, just like Nazism, and Bolshevism too for that matter.
“This statement is not the least controversial. It is a matter of historical and contemporary fact. For example, the behaviour of the ruling clergymen in Iran during their Islamic revolution in the 1980s was near identical to Hitler’s after his acquisition of power in Germany in the 1930s. Their actions were purely political, their goal being total control over the lives of the people of Iran.”
Holly listened intently, her face showing that much of what was being said was completely new to her.
“You see, Holly, Islam has always been based on force, not on reason. Conquest, and the threat of, or actual violence, were and are the preferred methods for spreading and enforcing Islam just as they were for Nazism. Hitler’s attempt at world domination was no different from Islamic Jihad, which aimed, and still aims, at the conquest of the whole world. The wide geographic spread of Islam was achieved solely by military force. Thereafter, conquered people were given a simple choice, become Moslem, pay ransom, or be killed. It is actually happening today, as we speak, in northern Iraq.”
Dinuto reached behind him for a paperback book, Teach Yourself Islam, which he placed in front of Holly.
“Even this simple introduction to Islam, written by an apparently devout Muslim, acknowledges that historical fact. You’ll see it on page 25: ‘Islam, tribute or the sword,’ was the formula. Though the author rather disingenuously tries to pretend that it was not coercive.”
“But doesn’t the Koran say ‘let there be no compulsion in religion?’ My friend told me that.”
“Yes, in Surah 2. But of all Koranic injunctions that is the one which has been most ignored throughout the history of Islam. No dissent is permitted, as was the case under Hitler. All aspects of life were, and are, dictated from the top. Both creeds used, or use, torture, imprisonment and execution to eliminate dissent. Police brutality was and is common to both regimes. No sane person would want to spend time in an Egyptian, Syrian, Saudi Arabian or Iranian prison, any more than they would have wanted to be in the hands of the Gestapo.
“On another front, both Nazism and Islam were, or are, fanatically anti-Semitic. For instance, the influential Grand Mufti of Jerusalem actively supported Nazi Germany during the Second World War and welcomed Hitler’s actions against the Jews. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the creation of the state of Israel, ever since it came into existence in 1948 its Muslim neighbours have actively sought its destruction, as much from anti-Semitism as any other reason.
“Going on, both Nazism and Islam engaged, or engage, in mass murder. You know about the Jewish Holocaust, and you must also know about the Twin Towers mass murder in New York, the train bombings in Spain, and probably also the London Tube and bus atrocities. But you may not know that long before, Muhammad had begun the process himself, in 627AD, beheading hundreds of Jewish prisoners. When Constantinople fell to the Muslim armies in 1453, the streets literally ran with blood. It was commonplace during the spread of Islam for entire male populations to be put to the sword, while women and children were sold into slavery or concubinage. During World War One, the Muslim Ottoman Turks committed genocide against the Christian Armenians, massacring over a million people. When the Ayatollah Khomeini was imposing Islamic rule on Iran in the 1980s at least ten thousand people were murdered by his minions. In Africa recently, what do you suppose has caused the non-Islamic parts of the Sudan to seek to break away, causing such tragedies as that of Darfur? Muslim murder and oppression.”
Holly was twisting her hair nervously with one hand, seemingly very shocked.
“Mind you,” Dinuto went on; “Islam has never been alone in this sort of brutality: communist regimes the world over have been just as murderous, particularly in the Soviet Union and China. The Tiannanmen Square massacre in Beijing took place only twenty- five years ago.”
Dinuto was silent for a few seconds, staring into Holly’s eyes.
“Turning to another area, look at public obedience,” Dinuto continued. “Absolute obedience is demanded throughout the Muslim world, just as it was under Hitler. There is no difference between flapping your arm and saying ‘Heil Hitler’ all day long and bowing your head in prayer five times a day.
“Public prayer, public fasting, public pilgrimages, all is public in Islam, including public floggings and public executions. Old women are flogged for being found alone with young male relatives; hungry young women are flogged for breaking the Ramadan fast. The utterly cruel and barbaric punishment of stoning to death for adultery is regarded as perfectly acceptable and just in several Muslim countries.
“I could go on, but I think those examples are sufficient to demonstrate that Islam is, and always has been, fundamentally totalitarian in nature. The word ‘Islam’ means submission. Islam dictates every aspect of life and demands absolute obedience. Likening it to Hitler’s Germany is thus neither exaggeration nor incitement. It is purely factual; an accurate, rational judgement. And I most emphatically do not say these things in order to insult Islam, or Muslims in general, or your friends personally. They are merely facts, painful ones perhaps, but ones which all Muslims must face.”
Holly frowned, her mouth opening and closing.
“I don’t know where to begin….” she stammered eventually.
“Wait,” Dinuto raised his hand again. “I’m not interested in debate, Holly. Go away and read your history books. You asked a question, I answered it.”
“But my friends say Islam is the word of God, of Allah….”
“Is it? How do they know that?”
“Well, they say the Angel Gabriel dictated God’s will to the Prophet Mohammad, and the revelations were recorded in the Koran.”
“I know that is what they were taught to believe as children, Holly, but I’m afraid it cuts no ice with me. I am a philosopher of science, and religion is of no interest to science. I am also an atheist, 100% confident that there is no such being as God. Hence, to me and all others like me, the Koran cannot be the word of God. There is no God. To the scientist as to the philosopher, Holly, God is neither possible nor necessary.”
Holly looked shocked, her mouth falling open.
“G…g…golly,” she stammered; “my family isn’t religious, but I’ve always sort of assumed there must be a God.”
“You and millions of others. But, I’m simply telling you the truth, Holly. If you go on my website, you’ll find a little dialogue I wrote on the existence of God. It explains everything simply and clearly. In essence, it says that there is no valid evidence, and no valid argument, for the existence of God so nobody is justified in believing in Him.”
“But surely one doesn’t believe in God on evidence, one believes on faith.”
“Precisely. But faith is merely the absence of thought. ‘I have faith’ means, literally, ‘I do not think’ which automatically excludes the speaker from any rational discourse. Go and read my dialogue, Holly, then make an appointment to see me – if you still want to.”
Conveniently, Dinuto’s phone rang just then so he was able to wave the slightly bemused girl out of the room as he picked up the receiver.
A week or so later, Holly was sitting quietly in front of Dinuto, her demeanour subtly different from their first meeting. It was as though in the intervening days she had grown up by several years.
“I apologize for not making an appointment last time,” Holly began.
“That’s alright, Holly, forget it,” answered Professor Dinuto; “water under the bridge.”
“Thank you. Um, I read your dialogue, several times. It was rather, er, disturbing. I’m not sure I agreed with all of it.”
“Don’t worry, it’ll take time to sink in. Just keep thinking about the ideas. You’ll get there in the end. In the meantime, I’ve done some more reading and thinking of my own. Would you like to hear some more about Islam?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Good. Well, the first thing I did was to read the Koran, or Qu’ran if you prefer.”
“Oh. I’ve never gotten around to that, I’m afraid. What did you think of it?”
“Not a lot. As a philosopher, I found the book totally uninteresting and unenlightening; as a general reader, I found it tedious and unpleasant.”
Holly’s eyes opened.
“Holy cow! I thought it was supposed to be powerful and moving.”
Dinuto shook his head ruefully.
“No doubt that’s what your Moslem friends think. But I can tell you, Holly, it took all my patience and determination to get through the book. It’s just so boring; with its water-torture repetitiveness, total lack of organization or proper reasoning, and its endless, simplistic promises of a very materialistic, worldly paradise for those who obey, and bloodthirsty threats of Hell for those who don’t. I also found the book to be devoid of enlightenment. I didn’t find a single sentence containing a new insight, not one passage to make me nod and say, ‘ah yes, how true.’
“Most of all, though, I disliked the book’s tone. It is dictatorial throughout. Submit! Obey! Or else! And the incessant threats of eternal torment in Hell – lovingly described – certainly did not support claims that the rambling declamations are revelations from an all-knowing, compassionate God. The book seemed to me to be much more like a litany of hate from an enraged and spiteful man.”
Holly twisted her lips.
“Lordy, I can’t think how my friends’d react to that.”
“I can. Even moderate Muslims would probably be offended, while radicals would have conniptions. But it was my honest reaction, Holly. If you take the trouble to read the book yourself you might even come to agree with me. I mean, look at this….”
Dinuto reached behind him and pulled a paperback translation of the Koran off a shelf. He opened the book, leafed through to near the end and read out:
“‘May the hands of Abu-Lahab perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with firewood, shall have a rope of fibre round her neck!’ A footnote says Abu Lahab was Mohammed’s uncle and one of his main opponents.”
Dinuto laughed briefly.
“Now, do you seriously want me or anyone else to believe that those are the words of a compassionate, merciful God? That is spite, Holly, spite, pure and simple, if ever I heard it. The words are human, those of a very angry man, there’s nothing God-like about them.”
Holly stared at Dinuto silently for a few moments.
“Well, I can’t really say anything about that,” she said eventually; “but I’m pretty sure my friends would say that God’s words and meaning are often mysterious and that you need a Koranic scholar to interpret them.”
“No doubt they would, but Islamic scholars have had fourteen centuries to put a gloss on passages like that. To an impartial observer like myself such words contribute to an unwavering conviction that the Koran was written and rewritten by a man, or, more likely, men.”
“Listen, Holly, let me explain something to you before we go any further. You began last time by talking about insults. A few moments ago I said your friends would probably take offense at my reaction to the Koran. Well, there’s a sort of modern dictat – usually under the banner of what has come to be known as ‘political correctness’ – that, as citizens of what is increasingly seen as a multi-cultural society, we are obliged to respect beliefs which newcomers to the USA have brought with them. I dispute this, strongly.”
Dinuto paused for a moment to gather his thoughts.
“You see, Holly, all men and women have an absolute right to freedom, so are free to believe whatever they want. Though perhaps here I should reiterate what I said earlier. Under Islam, you have no such right. You are not free to choose your beliefs.
“But here, in America, if you choose to believe that a random heap of scrap iron, or an empty hole in the ground, are works of art, I would never deny your right to do so. I would merely know that you are ignorant of what art is. In other words, I would respect your right to believe, but not the content of what you believe. It’s a very important distinction.
“To give another example, you can believe in the Sasquatch if you want and I would respect your right to do so. On the other hand, I have an equal right to point out that no-one has ever captured a Bigfoot, or convincingly filmed one, or produced the body of a dead one, nor offered anything other than mountain folk tales to show that Sasquatches might truly exist. You are free to carry on believing in them if you wish, but I am perfectly at liberty to say that your belief is unjustifiable. Depending on my mood, I might even say your belief is ridiculous and, rationally, I would be completely justified in so doing. As I said a moment ago, we should respect a person’s right to choose their beliefs, but we are under no obligation to respect the beliefs themselves.”
Dinuto paused again.
“Which brings us back to the thorny subject of religion. I’ve heard it said that, at the dinner table, it used to be considered bad manners to talk about politics, religion or sex. Happily, the same is not true in philosophy, which is my profession. However, one nonetheless has to be aware that devotion to the religion they were taught in childhood often makes believers resentful of persons who doubt the truth of religious revelations. No matter how hard one appeals to the right of scholars to question or criticize, offense is taken.
“So, here, we have to be aware of a second important distinction: the difference between being offensive and taking offense. If, for example, you make an uncalled-for nasty remark about another person’s appearance, you are being offensive and should be brought to book for it. On the other hand, if, in a spirit of scholarly enquiry, you criticize a religious belief – say by questioning the Roman Catholic dogma that communion wafers are miraculously transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ – and a Catholic overhearing you flies into a rage, then it is he or she who is in the wrong, not you.”
Holly listened carefully but did not react.
“Historically, of course,” Dinuto continued; “matters have often gone much further than the mere taking of offense. Across the centuries, religious leaders and their secular allies have resorted to censorship, terror, and worse, in order to prevent or inhibit philosophers from publishing critical thinking which might undermine religious orthodoxy.
“The famous Scottish philosopher, David Hume, for instance, brave thinker though he was, did not dare publish a critique of ‘natural religion’ during his lifetime – that is, the ‘design’ argument for the existence of God – for fear of the consequences. No doubt he was remembering the fate of other intellectuals, such as the great scientist Galileo who, in Rome, in 1632, was threatened with death by the Inquisition for writing that the earth revolved around the sun, contrary to Roman Catholic teaching at the time. Or the scholar Michael Servetus, who was actually burned alive as a heretic by the Calvinist government of Geneva for questioning the existence of a Holy Trinity.
“In the Muslim world too, during its fourteen-hundred-year history, many who refused to accept the literal truth of the Koran have been imprisoned, tortured and executed for heresy, even well into the 20th century. The last case I know of took place in the Sudan in the 1970s. In recent times, the British author Salman Rushdie had a fatwa of death pronounced on him for appearing to mock the prophet Muhammad in his novel The Satanic Verses.”
Holly nodded, her green eyes fixed on Dinuto.
“Let me stress again that I am a philosopher, and the business of philosophy is the impartial pursuit of knowledge. Muslims, however, tend to assume that any examination or criticism of their beliefs is motivated by antagonism. It emphatically is not. When we philosophers examine religious beliefs, our sole interest is in truth, and our sole intention after we find it is to inform.
“Finally, while your friends might find what I have to say hurtful, feelings of hurt could never justify any physical reaction towards me. The use of violence towards those who disagree with you, or the threat of it, is shameful and utterly immoral. It is hard to find words strong enough with which to condemn the actions of the Iranian ayatollahs towards Rushdie, and similar events which have take place elsewhere. They were totally disgraceful and uncivilized.
“I fully understand that the questioning of cherished beliefs can cause shock and horror, but those who are shocked must take care of their feelings in their own hearts. Nothing can justify violence or the threat of it against those who question the truth of one’s beliefs.”
Dinuto stopped talking to stare into Holly’s eyes.
“Okay so far?”
“Sure, absolutely, it’s real interesting.”
Dinuto drew another deep breath.
“Good. Now, after reading the Koran, I went on to a book I’d seen referred to several times but had never read, Ibn Warraq’s Why I am not a Muslim, which title was chosen I believe, to echo Bertrand Russell’s famous essay, ‘Why I am not a Christian’.
“We haven’t got time for a full review, so I’ll just tell you about a few points which struck me as especially interesting about Warraq’s book. But I do strongly recommend that you read the book. It’s a bit repetitive, and rather oddly organized as far as sections and headings are concerned, but I’d say it was an invaluable resource. If it were up to me I’d make it required reading at every high school in the US.”
Dinuto thought for a moment.
“Okay, let’s begin. It is Muslim dogma, a belief not to be criticized or doubted, that the Koran is the work of an all-knowing, all-powerful God, the exact transcript of an eternal book kept in Paradise. It is also Muslim dogma that the entire Koran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel on instructions from God between the years 610 and 632AD (or CE, Common Era, if you prefer) nothing being added or changed later. Another dogma is that the Koran was written entirely in pure, classical Arabic. Finally, it is Muslim dogma that the Koran is literally true: every word of it, from beginning to end is, Muslims maintain, God’s final revelation and the absolute truth, the infallible word of God.”
Dinuto stopped to stare at Holly.
“This is where it gets really intriguing, Holly. Because, you see, none of these beliefs are true.”
Holly nodded, but said nothing.
“Let’s start with one of the more straightforward problems,” Dinuto went on; “the claim that the Koran is written in pure, classical Arabic. This is simply false. Scholars have identified close to four hundred words which are foreign or of foreign origin. The word ‘Qu’ran’ itself is Syriac and was apparently derived from a Christian source. Of course, the presence of foreign words is hardly surprising since the Koran was largely borrowed from other religious sources, mostly Jewish, but also Persian, Samaritan and Christian. Naturally, the borrowings brought foreign words with them. Personally, I don’t think it matters that much. All languages borrow from one another. But it does matter if you are trying to maintain that the Koran was delivered to Muhammad entirely in pure, classical Arabic. It wasn’t.
“Besides, a critical reader has to ask, why Arabic? Few people spoke Arabic at that time, the Arabs were not very numerous in 610AD. If God wanted to make his final revelation known to mankind, why not make it in widely-understood languages like Latin or Greek? And why give the message to a single obscure man in a small town surrounded by a vast desert wasteland, with weeks of travel required to reach more populous places – so the message could be spread? As Warraq comments, if you really wanted to spread a message, you’d announce it in a packed soccer stadium at a World Cup Final with a billion other people watching on television.
“Leaving that aside, another, more serious, linguistic problem with the Koran stems from the way Arabic was written. Arabic script in the seventh century was a bit like shorthand, consisting of abbreviations, not complete script. Also, it only had letters or signs for consonants, there were no signs for short vowels, those were added later. There were however extra signs to indicate certain consonants, a ‘b’ for example, was distinguished from a ‘t’ by a mark like a comma.
“Vis-à-vis the Koran, the difficulty is that, in the early versions, all the extra signs were omitted and, with no signs for vowels, an immense number of different readings or interpretations were possible.
“Imagine nowadays getting a message on your cell with no vowels, just groups of consonants: b-t, b-n-d, etc. Well, is the first word bat, or bet, or bit, or but? Is the second word band, or bend, or bind, or bond? Obviously, one could guess the correct term from the context, but widely differing interpretations of the message would nonetheless be possible, and that’s without considering whether the first consonant is a ‘b’ or a ‘t’ and so on.
“And that’s what happened with the Koran. Although attempts were made early on to create a definitive text, by the ninth century, a hundred and fifty years after Muhammad’s death, there were some fourteen different versions kicking around the Arab world. To this day, there is not one, single, definitive text. Some early variant texts are actually preserved in Cairo, but Western scholars are not allowed to examine them. So, one has to ask, which, if any, is the true Koran, the one delivered to Muhammad? Nobody knows.”
Dinuto paused to smile quizzically at Holly.
“Another big problem with the Koran is that it is often impossible to tell whether God, or Gabriel if you prefer, is talking to Muhammad, or whether Muhammad is talking to the people. The English version is replete with footnotes which attempt to sort this out. In the original versions, however, there were no footnotes, so the scribes who copied out the various Korans added the word ‘say’ to indicate when necessary that it was God who was telling Muhammad what words to utter. The addition of ‘say’ occurs some three hundred and sixty times and, to any objective observer, the additions make clear that the Koran was edited after Muhammad’s death. Otherwise, the book simply did not make sense.
“The bottom line here, of course, is that given its many different versions and extensive editing, the Muslim dogma that the Koran was delivered entire and intact to Muhammad by 632AD, with nothing added later, is simply not true.”
Holly was following closely, a look of total absorption on her face.
“There’s a host of other things about the Koran which make scholars question the Islamic dogma; such as inaccuracies in transcription – for instance, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is confused with Miriam, sister of Moses – plus incorrect quotations from other sources, and actual grammatical errors in the Arabic.
“There are also many passages which are understood to be from the early days of Muhammad’s mission which are contradicted by passages held to be later. The later ones are supposed to supersede the earlier ones. But, the outside observer objects, surely an all-knowing God would get it right first time?
“The evidence suggests rather, that many hands were at work in creating the Koran. Further, when you study the dynastic conflicts and schisms which ensued after the death of Muhammad, it seems plain that much of the book was written later to support rival claims to legitimacy. All this is made clear in Ibn Warraq’s Why I am not a Muslim.
“The notion that the Koran is a revelation, entirely the work of an all-knowing God, is even more seriously undermined by the Koran’s cosmology. Its author, or authors one should say, thought the sky was solid, held up by invisible pillars, as in Surah 31. On the Day of Judgement, the Koran says earlier, in Surah 21, the sky will be rolled up like a piece of parchment. I’m not blaming the authors, telescopes weren’t invented for another thousand years, but such primitive thinking cannot possibly be the work of an all-knowing God, who would be aware that the sky is an optical illusion created by sunlight and the earth’s atmosphere. Besides that, in Surah 88, the earth is referred to as flat. Well, surely, of all beings, God would know He made it round!”
Smiling, Dinuto raised his eyebrows and opened his hands as if to say, ‘I rest my case.’
“I see what you mean by problems,” said Holly quietly; “those are really serious.”
“Yes. And I’ve barely scratched the surface. Let me give you a couple more illustrations of what’s wrong with the Koran. Throughout the book, for example, our life on earth is dismissed as a ‘sport and delusion’ or a ‘gaudy show’ yet everything in this world and in our lives is said to have been created and ordained by Allah, God. What does that say to you? That God’s creation is a gaudy delusion? And who is the speaker, be it Muhammad or Gabriel, to dismiss or ridicule God’s creation?
“More seriously still, one of the main doctrines of the Koran is incredibly unjust. A person’s final destination, Paradise or Hell, is said to have been decided in advance by God. ‘We have predestined for Hell…’ God is reported to have said, and ‘He confounds whom He will and gives guidance to whom He pleases.’ Elsewhere, God deliberately misleads: ‘We make their foul deeds seem fair to them,’ the Koran says in Surah 27; ‘so that they stray from the right path.’ The whole book is full of similar instances of deception and injustice. What sort of god would do that? Certainly not a compassionate, merciful one. No wonder Muslims are such fatalists. Everything, good or bad, is held to be caused by God. Insh Allah, they say; ‘it’s the will of God.’ How, therefore, can a sharia court blame a woman for adultery? If everything that happens is God’s will….”
The pair fell silent for a minute of two, thinking over what had been said.
“It’s a bit off topic, but could I ask about Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses?” asked Holly shortly. “I’d really like to understand why Muslims got so steamed up about it.”
“Well, it is hard for non-Muslims to understand,” said Dinuto slowly; “but, to begin with, the fatwa was issued by a religious fanatic, a mass murderer, the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was busy imposing a religious dictatorship on the people of Iran. I think his motives in condemning Rushdie were political, making a loud noise to impress people. I’m sure most ordinary Muslims would not have reacted so violently, nor even reacted at all. And of course, in reality, all the fatwa actually achieved was to give the book immense publicity – which it hardly deserved, it’s not a good novel.”
“Yes, we had a copy kicking around at home. One of his work colleagues gave it to Dad as a joke. I tried to read it once, but it seemed silly to me,” said Holly. “Though I do remember Dad being pretty caustic about the lack of response to the fatwa from the British government, though I was too young to understand what he said. Khomeini should have been hauled before the International Court in the Hague and charged with incitement to murder, Dad said. But it was all years before our time of course.”
“Indeed,” answered Dinuto. “Anyhow, the second reason Islamists got so steamed up, I believe, is because Rushdie is from a Muslim background so was regarded as a heretic. Orthodox Muslims have always regarded heresy as a far worse crime than murder.
“Thirdly, Rushdie was seen to be mocking Muhammad, an act which is very shocking to most Muslims. It’s much the same as mocking Jesus would be to devout Christians. Did you ever see that Monty Python movie Life of Brian? It seemed to be a spoof of the life of Jesus and caused outrage in Christian circles. Religious people do not like their gods and prophets being scoffed at.
“As to the story of the Satanic Verses themselves, it is related by impeccable Muslim sources that in order to curry favour with the pagan Meccans, whom he was trying to convert, Muhammad initially allowed three pagan goddesses to be worshipped alongside Allah. Since he was ridiculing the idea of Jesus being the son of God, and loudly proclaiming that Allah was the only god – in opposition to the pagans’ belief in many – allowing worship of other goddesses was a rather glaring contradiction. Muhammad soon realized his mistake and promptly, most conveniently, received a new revelation rescinding worship of the three goddesses and saying that Satan had put the words into his mouth.
“The problem for Muslims ever since has been the query that, if Satan could dupe Muhammad so easily, what guarantee do we have that Satan didn’t do the same elsewhere? Are there other Satanic Verses in the Koran?
“Orthodox Muslims have always been hypersensitive on such issues. They should be. Regardless whether or not there is such a being as Satan, the possibility of further Satanic interference in the Koran is yet another crack in the shaky foundations of their religion. Rushdie reminded them of their frailties, so they reacted as if he’d spat in their faces.”
Holly sat silently, thinking over what she’d heard. Dinuto waited patiently.
“Sorry to jump around so,” Holly said after a minute; “this is totally irrelevant, I know, but I read that in France they’ve banned the wearing of burkahs in public. Do you think we should do the same, Doctor Dinuto?”
“No, not at all,” answered Dinuto. “That would be an infringement of personal freedom and there have been so many unconstitutional infringements of freedom in our country in the last few decades that more of them is the last thing we want. People can wear whatever they want. It’s nobody’s business but their own.
“What I do think should be done, however, is to make it plain to everyone in the US that owners of private businesses are, and emphatically ought to be, free to refuse admission to fully-veiled people. Burkahs and niqabs have already been used in the commission of crimes. How can you trust people when you can’t see their faces? And how can you tell whether someone isn’t carrying a concealed weapon when all you can see of them is their eyes? Clearly, in such circumstances, it is neither racist nor discriminatory to look out for your own safety and peace of mind, and that of your customers.
“More than that though, in the long term, and at least as significant, I think a policy of refusing admission to fully-veiled people might help to free Muslim women from male dominance and oppression, of which niqabs and burkahs are the most obvious symbols.”
“But don’t a lot of Muslim women see wearing the veil as an act of self-assertion?” asked Holly.
“True. But that’s only because they have been brainwashed and browbeaten all their lives into accepting the subservient role of women in Islam. A far greater act of self-assertion would be refusing to wear any form of head covering, ever – except perhaps a hat in wintertime – or to adopt Western dress entirely.”
Dinuto put his hands down on the desk in front of him.
“Let’s wind this up, Holly. You’ve obviously got a lot to think about. I don’t want to load you up any more. But do read Warraq’s book, there’s a lot in it we haven’t touched on, particularly about the character and actions of Muhammad, whom, according to Islam’s own historians, hardly deserved the adulation which has been heaped upon him ever since.”
Dinuto stood. Holly followed suit.
“Come back and see me when you’ve read Why I am not a Muslim, Holly. I’d be interested in your reactions.”
“Thank you. I will, and I’ll read the Koran too.”
“Good girl. Nothing ever beats first hand experience.”