Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Is Islam Rational?

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

There is a chasm that is difficult to bridge between Islamic ideology and the West. Very basic to understanding this divide is what happened in history. The West has been influenced by two great inspirations: Greek thought and the Christian faith.

The influence of the Greeks came to the west initially by way of Plato’s Timaeus. Plato asked the question about what it is to be as a human being. Primarily man was a rational creature.  Although man had appetites and emotions, they were to be ruled by reason.  When the appetites ruled in man’s life disorder and chaos followed.   When the emotions ruled the same could be said. Reason was primary and only when reason ruled was there justice in operation.

When one knows what is good then the rational response is to pursue it.  Man was to examine issues in life and make decisions based on reason.  The universe is rational and can be studied and the rise of modern science in the West is the result of this sense of rationality.

The second great influence in the West is the Christian faith.  There are two emphases that we can describe here.  First, there is an emphasis on conscience.

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 2:14-16)

The human conscience can evaluate an issue and make a moral decision concerning what is right or wrong. Plato talked about the “eye of the soul” in which a person weighs a moral dilemma and comes to a rational decision. In contrast,

“the Greek and Christian idea of conscience (synderesis) was unknown to the orthodox Islamic legists as well as to philosophers.” (Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science, p. 111)

The second emphasis in the West can be seen in the words of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount he declared: “Treat others as you want them to treat you. This is what the Law and the Prophets are all about.” (Matt.7:12) All kinds of problems in the world could be solved with the practice of this rule.

The Muslim world is ruled by the influence of Mohammed as expressed in the Qur’an, the hadiths, and Sharia law. Where does reason fit into the system? Can one question the preaching of Mohammed? Can one say that an accepted practice in Islam is wrong?

The fact that reform in Islam has not come about for 14 centuries is evident in the modern era. Reformers are most likely to be killed as committing blasphemy against Mohammed.

Obey Mohammed, do not question him. Rationality is not as important as obedience. Reasons against Islamic practices are not allowed.

The Muslim world has the sharia, a comprehensive law bound to the 7th century and it is unchangeable. There are no challenges to it. There are no rational issues concerning it. What is required is obedience, not questioning. There is no question concerning whether it is moral or immoral. There is no appealing to a higher standard.  Obedience is without question.

One cannot say that sharia offends my conscience.

Consider the following from a Muslim writer,

“The status of woman in Islam constitutes no problem. The attitude of the Qur'an and the early Muslims bear witness to the fact that woman is, at least, as vital to life as man himself, and that she is not inferior to him nor is she one of the lower species. Had it not been for the impact of foreign cultures and alien influences, this question would have never arisen among the Muslims. The status of woman was taken for granted to be equal to that of man. It was a matter of course, a matter of fact, and no one, then, considered it as a problem at all.

In order to understand what Islam has established for woman, there is no need to deplore her plight in the pre-Islamic era or in the modern world of today. Islam has given woman rights and privileges which she has never enjoyed under other religious or constitutional systems. This can be understood when the matter is studied as a whole in a comparative manner, rather than partially. The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two quite different things. This difference is understandable because man and woman are not identical but they are created equals. With this distinction in mind, there is no problem. It is almost impossible to find even two identical men or women.”   The Status of Woman in Islam from "Islam in focus" By Hammuda Abdul-Ati, PH.D. (Source)

The more I read of Muslim writers I conclude that they are deniers.  They deny the facts of Islamic suppression, slavery, women’s low status.  The writer above admits that the issue of women’s rights came about because of foreign cultures.  In other words, if the world would let us alone we can ignore the plight of women’s rights and lack of privileges.  Women had greater freedom in pre-Muslim Arabia than later under Mohammed and the centuries following.  The claim that “the status of woman was taken for granted as equal to that of man” is a statement of denial. The imposition of Sharia in Muslim countries has been brutal for women.

The headlines of the past week or so give a number of examples in which Islamic custom, or sharia law came into play and the results were devastating to the lives of the people involved.

Consider the following stories in the news in recent days.

1)  “A 13-year-old girl who said she had been raped was stoned to death in Somalia after being accused of adultery by Islamic militants, a human rights group said. Dozens of men stoned Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow to death Oct. 27, 2008 in a stadium packed with 1,000 spectators in the southern port city of Kismayo, Amnesty International and Somali media reported, citing witnesses. The Islamic militia in charge of Kismayo had accused her of adultery after she reported that three men had raped her, the rights group said.”

The young girl went to the police wanting justice. The police arrested her and she was charged with adultery. (Cf. this page)

What kind of mind set is a work here?  A thirteen year old girl is charged with adultery because she was raped.  There are similar stories in Pakistan in which women were raped and then charged with adultery. These stories are incomprehensible to the rational mind. Why would a young girl wanting justice be dismissed and then put to death for the evils that men did to her? Why was there not a serious investigation for her?

Mohammed taught that women have half the intelligence of men, so why was this not considered for a thirteen year old girl who was helpless and immature? No doubt the justice system is weighted toward the men who are responsible not only for the rape but the killing of this innocent person.

Jesus encountered a woman caught in adultery. What kind of snooping had to go on to catch a woman and a man in adultery. The accusers wanted to stone her. The reply of Jesus was, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  One by one they departed.  They had a conscience and their sense of guilt would not keep them there.

Did these people who stoned this innocent girl have a conscience?  Does obedience to a barbaric law absolve one of guilt?     

2)   “Amina Said, 18, and her sister Sarah, 17, smile happily in one widely circulating photo, and Amina is wearing what looks like a sweatshirt bearing the name “AMERICAN.” But their fate may have been the herald of a new, disquieting feature of the American landscape: honor killing. Amina and Sarah were shot dead in Irving, Texas, on New Year’s Day. Police are searching for their father, Yaser Abdel Said, on a warrant for capital murder.” (1-08-2008)

The sin of the girls? Adopting American culture. Does this sin merit honor killing?

Honor killing involve a false sense of shame.  This sense of shame has lead to terrible atrocities done to men and women who disappoint the father mostly who claims the right to defend and cleanse his honor.   The evil act may be carried out by brothers, uncles, and friends and it is done in the name of restoring honor.  Many honor killings are based on suspicion and the charges used to kill them are ultimately proven false.  This is particularly true in charges of adultery and medical test indicate that no sexual acts were involved.  Is there no shame in killing a daughter who was truly innocent?

Is this a rational response? Not really. A rational response would be: “I don’t approve of my daughters adopting American culture. However, they are of age and it is their lives, not mine, that they are leading.  I am not responsible for what they do. They should have the freedom to live their own lives, for better or worse.   

3)  “KABUL, Afghanistan - Suspected Taliban militants killed a religious leader in western Afghanistan after he criticized the use of suicide attacks as a weapon of war in the country, an Afghan official said Friday.  Militants kidnapped Shamsudin Agha in Farah province's Anar Dara district on Tuesday, days after he led prayers condemning the practice of using suicide attacks, said provincial police Chief Abdul Ghafar Watandar.”

This is simply one example of the inability of Muslims to take criticism. Muslims delight in criticizing Jews and Christians. One can see this in the Islamic countries seeking to have the UN denounce criticism of Islam.  The Saudi government prohibiting non-Muslims to worship according to their own culture is another example.   Many Muslim countries prohibit Bibles and freedom to share one’s faith with Muslims. The Taliban cannot stand to think reasonably about the issues of war. They have destroyed schools for girls because they cannot allow an educated woman.  Recent attacks on school girls whereby acid was thrown in the girl’s faces is another example of irrationality.

4) Female circumcision:  “She was three years old when her family left impoverished, war-ravaged Somalia and settled in the East End of London, where her early childhood life seemed immeasurably better. Everything changed for Lali when she was 11 years old. One morning, her mother told her, quite casually, that they were to visit another Somali girl, whom she liked. "I thought I was just going to play with my friend, so I was happy," Lali says quietly, avoiding eye contact. Soon after she arrived at the friend's anonymous council house, however, cold reality dawned. In fact, Lali's mother had secretly joined together with several other women to pay for a "cutter" to travel to London from Mogadishu to circumcise their daughters. "They believed it had to be done, otherwise we would never get a husband," Lali shrugs. What happened next was like a scene from medieval times. Her mother, other female relatives and family friends suddenly grabbed Lali and grappled her to the floor. Then, on cue, the strange woman came in, like a torturer with her bag of implements. "They held me down, and when the woman began cutting I screamed, so my friend's sister put her hand tightly over my mouth," she says. "I had known her and these other women all my life, and now they were doing ... this. The cutting often results in life-threatening complications such as septicaemia, hemorrhaging or cysts.” (Source)

Female “cutting” is a barbaric, irrational practice based on custom and the Qur’an’s view about the status of women.  Did God make a woman that was imperfect and had to be cut to improve her condition? Did God make a mistake by giving a woman the possibility of pleasure in marriage?  A woman who is cut is doomed to a sexual life with her husband devoid of any pleasure.

This is another evil act perpetuated in the name of tradition.  Muslims who write that it increases the pleasure for a woman and man have not been listening to women who have experienced the terrible cutting.

Cutting out a part of the woman’s sexual organ is irrational.  How would a man like to have about 2 inches of his penis cut off?   That sounds barbaric!!  That same holds for women!!

5)  Slavery    

Posted: November 10, 2003 5:00 pm Eastern © 2008

“A leading Saudi government cleric and author of the country's religious curriculum believes Islam advocates slavery.  "Slavery is a part of Islam," says Sheik Saleh Al-Fawzan, according to the independent Saudi Information Agency, or SIA.   In a lecture recorded on tape by SIA, the sheik said, "Slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long there is Islam."

His religious books are used to teach 5 million Saudi students, both within the country and abroad, including the United States. Al Fawzan – a member of the Senior Council of Clerics, Saudi Arabia's highest religious body – says Muslims who contend Islam is against slavery "are ignorant, not scholars."  "They are merely writers," he said, according to SIA. "Whoever says such things is an infidel."

Consider the words of Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”  Would you like to be captured and sold into slavery? Would you like for your kids to be captured and sold into slavery in some strange country? Would you like for your wife to be captured, sold into slavery,   raped and coerced into sex?  Of course not, you say. Rational Muslims should object to these practices.       

The irony of all this is that Muslims have rioted over the Danish cartoons and demanded the death of the artists, but Muslims do not riot over the mis-treatment of women.  Muslims men should be marching in the streets against the practice of female circumcision. Muslims should be incensed at the practice of slavery in Islam. Muslim should be marching in the streets against the shame of honor killings. Muslims should be guided by the great words of Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Such a practice would revolutionize Islam away from an inhumane archaic code.