Monday, 12 April 2010

An Atheist's Guide to Mohammedanism; Part I

”Atheists are quite direct….”

Part I

By Frank R. Zindler

This article was published in The American Atheist Vol. 40 #1, Winter 2001-2002.

Mohammedans don't like to be called Mohammedans — that smacks too much of terms such as Christians. As everybody knows, Christians worship Christ as a god. Mohammedans don't want people to think they worship Mohammed (Arabic, Muhammad A - 'Praiseworthy'), and so dislike referring to their religion as Mohammedanism. However, Confucians don't worship Confucius (Chinese, K'ung Fu-tsu - 'K'ung [a family name] the Grand Master'), even though their system is called Confucianism and often is considered to be a religion. Even so, Mohammedans don't want Mohammed to be viewed as a parallel of the Christ of the Christians.

Mohammed was merely a prophet, they will argue, who disclaimed the ability to do miracles. Mohammed was just a man - albeit the perfect man, leading a completely sinless life which has become the model for all true believers to emulate. Moreover, it will be asserted, Mohammed did not choose to be a prophet; he was chosen by Allah. He did not himself compose the 'revelations' that were spoken from his mouth; they were delivered to him by an angel who got them from the 'Mother of the Book' which has existed in heaven either forever or for just a little bit less.

Mohammed was a passive agent of Allah, simply serving as his mouthpiece or oracle. It is his message that is important, not his biography. He was one of a series of prophets who reported Allah's wishes to men (…). These prophets included Jesus (Arabic ‘Issa), who, to spite the Christians, is demoted by Mohammedans(…) to prophet status. Most importantly, Mohammed was Allah's last prophet. Thus, Joseph Smith was an impostor, and Mormon missionaries are not welcome in Mohammedan territories. (Of course, no missionaries of any kind are welcome in such places, where it is often a capital offense to convert a Mohammedan to 'infidelity'.)

Despite such protestations by the faithful (all non-Mohammedans are infidels), the reverence accorded to Mohammed at times has bordered on the threshold of worship if not actually transgressing it. Very early, his followers came to attribute a number of miracles to him and passed along fabulous tales of supernatural signs and wonders relating to his birth and career. (One night, it is believed, Mohammed set out on a nocturnal journey orMiraj up to the heavens where he communed with Allah face-to-face.) It is still believed by many that at the Last Judgment, Mohammed will be an intercessor like the Virgin Mary and the Catholic saints, pleading for the exculpation of those who have submitted themselves to his teachings.

Among the mystical Sufis (from the Arabic suf, meaning 'wool' - alluding to the woolen hair shirts worn by early Sufis (…), exaltation and veneration of Mohammed seems to have reached Christian proportions. In Sufism, Mohammed has become the eternal manifestation of the Divine Light in the world, pre-existent like the Christian Logos, representing the primal, divine force which created and sustains the universe, the only intermediary through whom one may approach Allah and have knowledge of him. For all practical purposes, the Sufi Mohammed (…) is a supernatural being, even if not quite a full-fledged god.

Mohammedans prefer to be called Muslims B a term derived from the Arabic ’aslama, meaning 'to resign oneself [to Allah]'. They prefer their religion to be called Islam (from Arabic ’islam, meaning 'submission') rather than Mohammedanism. Most western scholars have gone along with this, rather than risk the wrath of purportedly peaceful members of 'the third great Abrahamic faith'. Nevertheless, Mohammedanismseems to be a perfectly appropriate name for a religion which currently poses so great a threat to secular civilizations throughout the world. Despite this fact, it must be conceded that Islam is easier to spell thanMohammedanism, and Muslim is less tedious to type than Mohammedan. Consequently, these shorter words will be the terms most often employed in the remainder of this guide.

The Five Pillars of Islam

Given the fierce monotheism professed by Muslims and their sometimes violent rejection of all religions other than Islam, one might suppose that intolerance would be the first and most fundamental 'pillar' upon which their religious practice rests. Not surprisingly, however, this greatest of Muslim virtues is not made explicit, but rather is allowed to lurk hidden within the first of the five duties ('pillars') required of all Muslim men.

The first pillar is the recitation (preferably in Arabic) of the creed, or shahada: "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." If Allah is the only god in the neighborhood, Trinitarian Christians and Hindus are endlessly blaspheming true religion. Despite the occasionally tolerant references in the Qur’an to "People of the Book" (Jews and Christians in addition to Muslims), the non-Muslims need to be eliminated. Convert them or kill them, or make them pay a religious ransom to continue the private practice of their religion. (Of necessity, Muslims must reject the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.) Atheists and Agnostics, who deny the reality of Allah, are also wicked blasphemers. They need to be eliminated also. It is preferable to kill them (…)

The second pillar of Islam, salat, is daily ritual prayer. This is mandatory only five times per day (at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nighttime), but extremely religious Muslims such as suicide bombers and aerial terrorists usually pray more frequently. Prayer requires a person to face Mecca and the Ka‘aba, a roughly cubical building containing a magical black stone thought by some to be a meteorite. (Archaeological and other evidence shows, however, that in the early years of Islam, prayers were directed at Jerusalem, not Mecca.) Prayer is preceded by ritual purification and involves a series of bowings, prostrations, and recitations from the Qur’an. On Fridays, prayer is communal and conducted in a mosque (Arabic masjid, 'place for prostration'). Led by an imam (from Arabic amma, 'to walk before'), with worshippers standing in rows behind him, prayers normally are followed by a sermon (…). Women do not generally attend these public prayers, and when they do enter into mosques they are segregated from the men. Although this offends the western sense of sexual equality, it is quite understandable. The minds of men bowing down to the ground might wander from thoughts of the singularity of Allah if their noses were merely inches away from the raised derrieres of women kneeling on prayer rugs in front of them. Even if the women were completely shrouded in burqas, their intermingled presence would be a deterrent to patriarchal piety.

The third pillar of Islam is zakat, the giving of a fixed percentage of one's property to the poor and the homeless. Since there usually are no formal arrangements made for collection of zakat, this generally is the least burdensome of the five pillars.

The fourth pillar is the fasting required during the lunar month of Ramadan, which can occur at any season of the year. During this period, no food or drink may be consumed during daylight hours, although pregnant women and certain others may be exempted from this rule. Feasting is obligatory at the end of Ramadan, but with both pork and alcohol being forbidden, this feast offers far less fun than that enjoyed at, say, Irish or Polish Catholic festivals.

The fifth and final pillar of Islam is the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca every able-bodied Muslim is required to make at least once in his life. Pilgrims must wear special dress, walk seven times around the Ka‘aba (Arabic ka’bun, 'a cube'), and kiss the talismanic black stone enshrined like an idol in the southeast corner of the edifice. Although probably a meteorite - and thus a truly heavenly stone - the black stone is claimed to be one of the precious stones of paradise given by the angel Gabriel to the patriarch Abraham when he built the Ka‘aba - in Arabia, contrary to Jewish and Christian opinion! Even though the stone has been stolen, burned, and broken, it is the veneration focal point for more than a billion Muslims in the world today (…). The Ka‘aba temple is widely believed to be older than Mohammed, having housed the pagan Arabian pantheon. All its idols were destroyed when it was adapted to serve the Islamic cultus.

When in Mecca kissing the Ka‘aba, it is also incumbent upon pilgrims to kill an animal in the Mina valley on the tenth day of the month of pilgrimage, since Allah, like the Yahweh of the Jews, is believed to enjoy having animals killed for his viewing pleasure. (It is amusing to imagine what will happen if (…) the Animal Liberation Front ever get wind of this. How Muslims would deal with the threat of animal-rights terrorism would be something worth watching closely.) After killing a goat or other suitable sacrificial species (for some reason, dogs and pigs are deemed unsuitable), most pilgrims then betake themselves to Medina (Yathrib), a city located 210 miles north of Mecca, in order to pray at what is claimed to be Mohammed's tomb. (If there are in fact human remains in the tomb, it would be interesting to see if the DNA could be matched up to that of persons claiming descent from the prophet.) I have been unable to learn whether pilgrims face the tomb or Mecca when performing their Medina prayers.

The Legend of Mohammed

Although Mohammed is believed to have been born in the year 570 or 571 CE, it is not known what name he was given by his mother. Mohammed ('praiseworthy' or 'highly praised') is obviously an honorific title, not a name. In fact, once in the Qur’an (at 61:6) he is called ’Ahmad, which in Arabic means 'more praiseworthy', and at times his contemporaries are said to have called him al-’Amin, which means 'the trustworthy one'. Despite this problem, Muslims believe that Mohammed - whoever he may have been - was born in Mecca, an Arabian city supposed to have been located at the intersection of major caravan trade routes. Orphaned early in life, when he reached the age of twenty-five (595 CE) he married a wealthy widow named Khadija, fifteen years his senior. According to a traditional account, Mohammed had married his boss - the merchant Khadija having been his employer at the time. Only after her death in 620 did Mohammed begin to practice polygamy, taking perhaps a dozen wives. Only one of his children survived, however, a daughter namedFatima. (She married her father's cousin ‘Ali, making him the ancestor of all the prophet's later descendants.)

Tradition also tells us that in the year 610, while meditating in a cave outside Mecca, a supernatural voice (later identified as the voice of the angel Gabriel, the same heavenly messenger that previously had delivered the results of the pregnancy test to the Virgin Mary) commanded him to "Recite in the name of thy Lord, who created." Thus began the alleged revelations of the Qur’an. This event is revered as the "First Call" of the prophet and has been immortalized as the "Night of Power."

At least at first, Mohammed's 'revelations' were like those of other oracles, soothsayers, and religious con-artists whose utterances took the form of rhymed prose. Mohammed convinced himself that he had been called to be a prophet in the tradition of the Jews and of Jesus. He also convinced a small coterie of relatives and friends that he had tapped into a direct line to Allah. This quickly led to friction with his tribe, the Quraysh, who were custodians of the Ka‘aba, which at the time was a pagan shrine housing all the idols of economic significance to his tribe.

As is necessary for foundation myths of virtually all religions, the first followers of the new faith had to endure persecution, fleeing to Christian Ethiopia around the year 615. While those Muslims-in-the-making were out of town, Mohammed and the disciples who had stayed with him in Mecca were confined under siege - to be starved into submission.

Just in the nick of time, Mohammed received a revelation that helpfully clarified the theopolitical questions at issue for the Meccan guardians of the gods in the Ka‘aba. When Mohammed had reported that Allah was the only god in town, it turned out that he hadn't received the entire (…) transmission. Perhaps Gabriel had mumbled and Mohammed missed part of the message. Wouldn't you know? The three favorite goddesses of Mecca - al-Lat, al-Uzzah, and al-Manat - were also real! This saved Mohammed's neck and all body parts attached thereto, and the exiles were able to return from Ethiopia. Later, when it was safe to do so, this all-important revelation was expunged from the Qur’an and it was explained that the revelation had come from Shaitan (Satan), not Allah. Thus began the legend of the "Satanic Verses," which more than a thousand years later was to prompt the Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa of death against the novelist Salman Rushdie.

To draw attention to the Satanic Verses is to galvanize a still-raw nerve in the body politic of Islam. The Satanic Verses are an acute embarrassment to Mohammedan authorities because they imply that it was Satan, not Allah, who had saved their prophet's life. If Allah was the only god, and if he had previously selected Mohammed to be his last and greatest mouthpiece on this planet, why didn't he save his own appointed prophet? Why would the god of evil want to save his enemy's ambassador? Might not there be more Satanic Verses in the Qur’an - verses that have never been recognized as the handiwork of the prince of devils? Who knows what evils yet may lurk in the Book of Books?

In any event, the Satanic Verses didn't solve Mohammed's problems for the long term, and Mohammed and his gang would have to leave Mecca. On 16 July 622 CE - a date that later would become the starting point of the Moslem calendrical era C - some of his disciples left for the town of Yathrib, several hundred miles to the north. Mohammed and his friend Abu-Bakr followed them, arriving in Yathrib on 24 September 622 and renaming the town Medina (Arabic al-Madinah, 'the city' [of the prophet]). Although the house-moving does not seem to have been all that remarkable to a western observer, it was considered to be a foundational event in the history of Islam. In Muslim literature, the migration from Mecca to Medina is referred to as the Hegira (Arabic hijrah 'migration').

While in Medina, Mohammed continued to dictate 'revelations' to various of his disciples, apparently including some who were able to write. (Mohammed is believed to have been illiterate.) More importantly, however, he became a successful politician, contracting many alliances by means of marriages. The most notable of these marriages was with Aisha, the infant daughter of Abu-Bakr, who became the most influential of all the prophet's wives. Many of the 'traditions' of the prophet are claimed to have been transmitted through her.

Once his power base had grown sufficiently, Mohammed took to banditry, attacking a Meccan caravan led by Abu-Sufyan of the Quraysh tribe as it was returning from Syria in the year 624 CE, during the holy month of Ramadan when fighting was prohibited. Somehow, the Meccans learned of this and rushed to the aid of the caravan, meeting 300 Muslims-in-the-making with a thousand Meccan fighters on a battlefield called Badr, approximately twenty miles southwest of Medina. Naturally, a miracle occurred and the prophet's force was victorious. From this time forward, the name Islam ('submission') was to belie the true nature of the militant polity which to this day is an obstacle in the path to planetary peace.

After consolidating his hold on Medina, Mohammed chased the Jews from their farms and divorced his developing system from both Judaism and Christianity. He ordered the faithful henceforth to pray facingMecca, not Jerusalem as had been the case up to then. In 628 Mohammed obtained a truce with Mecca allowing his followers to make the pilgrimage to the Ka‘aba. Mecca became the religious capital of Islam andMedina remained the political capital. In 630 Mohammed attacked Mecca, conquered it, and smashed the 360 idols in the Ka‘aba. He declared the territory surrounding the shrine to be haram— forbidden - to all non-Muslims. Even today, no Atheist or Christian could visit the taboo area and escape with his life. Indeed, the entire region of Saudi Arabia in which the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located (the Hijaz) is considered by Wahabi Muslims such as Osama bin Laden to be haram and out-of-bounds for American military infidels.

On 8 June 632, Mohammed came down with a truly killer headache and died suddenly. He died in Aisha's apartment and was buried right there. (There is no proof whatsoever that he ever uttered the famous line, "Not tonight, honey, I've got a headache.") Before he died, he had sent forces to attack Syria, beginning a struggle that would not end until a major part of the civilized world was subject to Arabs and their new-fangled religion.

Continuing on Part II



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