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Islam: A Totalitarian Ideology? By: FrontPage Magazine
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, October 18, 2004

Below, Ibn Warraq, the author of Why I am Not a Muslim, argues that Islam is a totalitarian ideology. A rebuttal follows from Thomas Haidon, a member of the Board of Advisors and President of the New Zealand Chapter of the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism -- The Editors.




Islam. A Totalitarian Ideology

By Ibn Warraq

Islam is a totalitarian ideology that aims to control the religious, social and political life of mankind in all its aspects -- the life of its followers without qualification, and the life of those who follow the so-called tolerated religions to a degree that prevents their activities from getting in the way of Islam in any manner. And I mean Islam. I do not accept some spurious distinction between Islam and “Islamic fundamentalism” or “Islamic terrorism.” The terrorists who planted bombs in Madrid on March 11, 2004, and those responsible for the death of approximately 3000 people on September 11, 2001 in New York, and the Ayatollahs of Iran, were and are all acting canonically. Their actions reflect the teachings of Islam, whether found in the Koran, in the acts and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, or in Islamic Law that is based upon them.

Islamic Law, the Sharia, is the total collection of theoretical laws that apply in an ideal Muslim community that has surrendered to the will of God. According to Muslims, it is based on divine authority that must be accepted without criticism, doubts and questions. As an all-embracing system of duties to God, Sharia controls the entire life of the believer and the Islamic community. An individual living under Islamic Law is not free to think for himself.


Given the totalitarian nature of Islamic law, Islam does not value the individual, who has to be sacrificed for the sake of the Islamic community. Collectivism has a special sanctity under Islam. Under these conditions, minorities are not tolerated in Islam. Freedom of opinion and the freedom to change one’s religion, the act of apostasy, are punishable by death. Under Muslim law, the male apostate must be put to death, as long as he is an adult, and in full possession of his faculties. If a pubescent boy apostatizes, he is imprisoned until he comes of age, when if he persists in rejecting Islam he must be put to death.


Drunkards and the mentally disturbed are not held responsible for their apostasy. If a person has acted under compulsion he is not considered an apostate, his wife is not divorced and his lands are not forfeited. According to Hanafis and Shia, a woman is imprisoned until she repents and adopts Islam once more, but according to the influential Ibn Hanbal, and the Malikis and Shafiites, she is also put to death. In general, execution must be by the sword, though there are examples of apostates tortured to death, or strangled, burnt, drowned, impaled or flayed. The caliph Umar used to tie them to a post and had lances thrust into their hearts, and the Sultan Baybars II (1308-09) made torture legal.


The absence of any mention of apostasy in the penal codes of some contemporary Islamic countries in no way implies that a Muslim is free to leave his religion. In reality, the lacunae in the penal codes are filled by Islamic Law, as in the case of Muhammad Taha, executed for apostasy in the Sudan in 1985, and hundreds of others have been executed for apostasy in Iran in recent years. In 1998 Ruhollah Rowhani, 52, was hanged for converting to the Baha'i faith in Iran.

All Islamic human rights schemes such as the 1981 Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights; the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (circa 1990), etc., severely restrict and qualify the rights of individuals, particularly women, and minorities such as non-Muslims and those such as apostates, unbelievers, and heretics who do not accept Islamic religious orthodoxy.

As for religious minorities, the relations of Muslims and non-Muslims were set in a context of a war: jihad. The totalitarian nature of Islam is nowhere more apparent than in the concept of Jihad, the Holy War, whose ultimate aim is to conquer the entire world and submit it to the one true faith, to the law of Allah. To Islam alone has been granted the truth -- there is no possibility of salvation outside it. It is the sacred duty -- an incumbent religious duty established in the Koran and the Traditions -- of all Muslims to bring it to all humanity. Jihad is a divine institution, enjoined specially for the purpose of advancing Islam. Muslims must strive, fight and kill in the name of God: 

IX .5-6: "Kill those who join other gods with God wherever you may find them."


IX. 29: "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."


IV.76: "Those who believe fight in the cause of God..."


VIII.12: "I will instil terror into the hearts of the Infidels, strike off their heads then, and strike off from them every fingertip."


Mankind is divided into two groups - Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslims are members of the Islamic community, the umma, who possess territories in the Dar ul Islam, the Land of Islam, where the edicts of Islam are fully promulgated. The non-Muslims are the Harbi, people of the Dar ul Harb, the Land of Warfare, any country belonging to the infidels that has not been subdued by Islam but which, nonetheless, is destined to pass into Islamic jurisdiction either by conversion or by war (Harb). 


All acts of war are permitted in the Dar ul Harb. Once the Dar ul Harb has been subjugated, the Harbi become prisoners of war. The imam can do what he likes to them according to the circumstances. Usually they are sold into slavery, exiled or treated as dhimmis, who are tolerated as second class subjects, as long as they pay the kharaj, a kind of land tax, and the jizya, the poll-tax, which had to be paid individually at a humiliating public ceremony to remind the non-Muslim minorities that they were inferior to the believers, the Muslims.


In all litigation between a Muslim and a dhimmi, the validity of the oath or testimony of the dhimmi is not recognized. In other words, since a dhimmi was not allowed to give evidence against a Muslim, his Muslim opponent is always exonerated.  No Muslim could be executed for having committed any crime against a dhimmi. Accusations of blasphemy against dhimmis were quite frequent and the penalty was capital punishment. A non-Muslim man may not marry a Muslim woman. I should emphasize that all these principles are not merely of historical interest but are indeed still applied against non-Muslims in modern Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to name but a few countries.


Muslims are certain that Islam is not only the whole of God’s truth, but it is its final expression. Hence Muslims fear and persecute such post-Islamic religious movements as the Baha’is and the Ahmadis. Here is Amnesty International on the plight of the Ahmadis [ASA :33/15.91]:  "Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims but they are regarded by orthodox Muslims as heretical because they call the founder of their movement al-Masih [the Messiah]: this is taken to imply that Muhammad is not the final seal of the prophets as orthodox Islam holds, i.e., the Prophet who carried the final message from God to humanity … As a result of these divergences, Ahmadis have been subjected to discrimination and persecution in some Islamic countries. In the mid-1970s, the Saudi Arabia-based World Muslim League called on Muslim governments worldwide to take action against Ahmadis. Ahmadis are since then banned in Saudi Arabia."


But what of putative Islamic tolerance? Those apologists who continue to perpetuate the myth of Islamic tolerance should contemplate the following cursory tabulation of jihad depredations: the massacre and extermination (totalling tens of millions, combined) of the Zoroastrians in Iran, and the Buddhists and Hindus in India; of the more than 6000 Jews in Fez, Morocco in 1033, the entire Jewish community of 4000 in Granada in 1066, of the Jews in Marrakesh in 1232, of the Jews of Tetuan, Morocco in 1790, and of the Jews of Baghdad in 1828;  the jihad genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th Century, and the jihad genocide of 2 million South Sudanese Christians and Animists at close of the 20th  Century, and so on, ad nauseam.




Why I am a Muslim

By Thomas Haidon

How should one judge a religion or belief structure? Should we judge or formulate an opinion of religion based on the history and action of its adherents? If Islam is to be judged merely by its history, and the actions of some of its adherents, then Ibn Waraq makes a fair point. Is there any real question that the Islam being propagated in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Palestine and throughout much of the Muslim world is consistent with totalitarianism? I will not quibble or disagree with the historical facts presented by Ibn Waraq. As Bernard Lewis has aptly stated "...Islam was born in the full light of history. Its roots are at surface level, the life of its founder is as well known to us as those of the Reformers of the sixteenth history". 

However, Ibn Waraq seems to have a short memory of several periods of Muslim history where liberalism and humanism flourished. Undoubtedly however, violence and aggression have played a role (and continue to do so) throughout periods of Muslim history. But, for Ibn Waraq, that is the end of the inquiry; there is no room for dialogue or discussion. Only an absolutist, strict constructionist version of Islam can prevail. If one had not availed themselves to Ibn Waraq's voluminous writings on Islam, one could reasonably come to the conclusion that the only solution Ibn Waraq's piece implicitly suggests is the total rejection of all Muslims and our belief structure.

For Ibn Waraq defining the source of the "Islamic problem" is a simple exercise, it is the Qu'ran, Sunnah and the entire Muslim tradition; (he may be two-thirds right)..  But I believe that Ibn Waraq is wrong, not about the actions or beliefs of a significant portion of Muslims, but about Islam itself in its pure form the Qu'ran, and it is for this reason "why I am a Muslim".

I believe that it is primarily the incorrect interpretation and applicability of the sources of Islam that form the essence of the "Islamic problem", not Islam itself.  Unlike Ibn Waraq, I also believe that there are solutions to this problem, unfortunately for Ibn Waraq however, these solutions require working within Islam. In brief, the most significant barrier between Islam and reform is the perceived duality of the Qu'ran and Sunnah. Most of the issues raised by Ibn Waraq in his article are compounded by aspects of the Sunnah (particularly Jihad) or are a result of direct contradiction between the Qu'ran and Sunnah (apostacy).

If Muslims derived their inspiration exclusively from the Qu'ran, and formulated a new authoritative moderate and liberal tafsir, terrorism and extremists would be minimalised. As Daniel Pipes aptly pointed out in a recent article, Muslims have the opportunity to create a new slate and turn what Islam has become into a religion consistent with humanity, liberalism and modernity (as I believe was intended) or continue the status quo of totalitarianism.

While Ibn Waraq's frustrations with the Muslim tradition and contemporary Islam may be understandable, I strongly disagree with Ibn Waraq on his implicitly overbroad generalisation of all Muslims. I take ultimate issue with the statement: "I do not accept some spurious distinction between Islam and "Islamic fundamentalism" or "Islamic terrorism". By implication, no distinction need be made between the terrorists of Al-Queda, Fateh, Hamas and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid Group and great number of Muslims who love their religion and believe in peace and modernity. Such a conclusion is overbroad and destructive. Nonetheless, at a rudimentary level it is a perspective that needs to be understood and appreciated by moderate and peaceful Muslims (who don't exist according to Mr. Warraq's implicit rationale).

Non-Muslims throughout the Western world are bombarded with images of brutal violence committed by Muslims in virtually all forms of media.  By examining, the current actions of Muslims, Islamic history, and an incorrect interpretation of classical Islamic sources (which most Muslims do not understand) it is not difficult to understand a non-Muslim's hostility towards Islam.

Ibn Waraq has presented a select list of ayat (not exhaustive) that seemingly advocate violence against non-Muslims. Unfortunately, what is missing from Ibn Waraq's article (as well as in the minds of Muslim extremists) is an analysis of these ayat in light of the Qu'ran in its entirety (in fairness to Ibn Waraq he has addressed this in his more voluminous work). Ayat and Surah cannot be read in isolation of each other. The ayat presented by Ibn Waraq must be read against the contradictory verses in the Qu'ran that promote peace with non-Muslims and the freedom of thought (there are many, and learned readers will be well familiar with these verses). In Surah Al-Baqarah, God states:

"Then it is only a part of the Book that ye believe in, and do ye reject the rest? But what is the reward for those among you who behave like this but disgrace in this life?- and on the Day of Judgment they shall be consigned to the most grievous penalty. For Allah is not unmindful of what ye do".

This ayat illustrates that some verses cannot be ignored while some are followed. Thus the verses that Ibn Waraq cites, must be reconciled with the verses that affirm peace and freedom (2:62 for example, among others). Another ayat sheds some light on those verses that are less than absolutely clear:

"He it is who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly founded in knowledge say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord" and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding".

This ayat lends credibility to the argument that an absolutist following and interpretation of the Qu'ran not only is unrealistic, but is not God's will. Many of the ayat dealing with violence towards non-Muslims are shrouded in allegorical language, including several which are cited by Ibn Waraq. When, read in conjunction with verses espousing peace and freedom of thought, which are generally straightforward (but nonetheless controversial among extremists), it becomes clear that these verses should prevail, because they form the backbone of Islam are consistent with the classical notion of charity in the broader sense. A new tafsir would assist greatly in defining the scope of those verses (and there are more than several) and explaining them in the proper context, that during the time of their revelation Muslims were fighting in a war to establish a presence, and that these verses when read in light of many others, are not commandments to kill.

The historical treatment of apostates throughout Muslim history perhaps demonstrates the most visible inconsistencies between the Qu'ran, Sunnah and the general Muslim tradition. The Qu'ran, prescribes no worldly punishment for apostasy, and actually in many ayat affirms the right of man to believe what he chooses (at his own peril in terms of the afterlife). I will be happy to mention the specific verses further in another forum or article, however I am constrained due to length requirements, but Ibn Waraq is well aware of them,. Skeikh Ahmed Subhy Mansour, and Dr Hamid (
www.islamicreformation.com) have written significantly and exhaustively on this fact.

The real confusion arises because of the application of the Sunnah. Several ahadith allude to the fact that death is the appropriate punishment for those who leave Islam. Muslims believe that there is a duality in Islam of the Quran and Sunnah. Objectively speaking, there can be no real duality between the two. The Qu'ran (in Islam) is the undisputed word of God, which is recited today almost exactly as it was upon revelation. Ahadith arguably are forms of hearsay (what individuals claim they saw or overheard the prophet said and did). While aspects of the Sunnah may be valid, is it not inconceivable that the Caliphates following the death of the Prophet Mohammed created ahadith to consolidate political power, and use them as tools to control early Muslims? There is literally an entire "science" within Islam devoted to determining the validity of ahadith that is so complex that it confounds many Muslims. This duality has almost lead to the deification of the Prophet Mohammed among Muslims today. The essence of Islam is believing in God, and God alone. While the Qu'ran does command that Muslims should learn from the Mohammed as a prophet of God, as set forth in the Qu'ran, it does not explicitly require following of ahadith or Sunnah.

Whether Mr Waraq likes it or not, there is a growing movement of Muslims (albeit still a significant minority) who genuinely wish to radically reform Muslim thinking, to make it consistent with peace and modernity. The Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism, and the Centre for Islamic Pluralism are two such organizations leading this movement, and are taking steps toward defining the scope and establishing the framework for comprehensive reform.. I ask that Ibn Waraq not marginalize us. I ask that he engage in meaningful dialogue with Muslims who are serious about reform. I look forward to further elaborating on some of my points in future dialogues with him.

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