Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog


By Silas

Recently Ed Husain of the New York Times wrote an op-ed criticizing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, (ISIL, aka ISIS), and other orthodox Muslim groups as being too extreme, too radical, and too violent:  Saudis Must Stop Exporting Extremism

He states that Saudi Arabia is trying to deal with this extremism but they are not addressing its root cause:

It wants to stop violence, but will not address the Salafism that helps justify it.

Throughout the article Mr. Husain denounces violent Muslim groups and criticizes the Saudis for funding and sponsoring them.

However, what caught my eye and surprised me, what actually pleased me, was that Mr. Husain did not denounce these “Salafist” groups as non-Islamic or false Muslims.  Instead he acknowledges them as legitimate Muslims.

Most Sunni Muslims around the world, approximately 90 percent of the Muslim population, are not Salafis. Salafism is seen as too rigid, too literalist, too detached from mainstream Islam. While Shiite and other denominations account for 10 percent of the total, Salafi adherents and other fundamentalists represent 3 percent of the world’s Muslims.

This admission of fact is an important step forward for a liberal, biased, and bigoted newspaper like the New York Times.  More often than not liberal newspapers only feature articles that call the conservative and orthodox Muslims false Muslims, ignorant of Islam, enemies of Islam, etc.  Here the truth was acknowledged:  these extremist Muslims are Muslims indeed.  Husain is gracious and admits they are real Muslims, just too literalist.  Thank you.  Better to leave bigotry and ignorance than to marinate in it indefinitely.  Tragically, it’s going to take more Islamic violence and bloodshed to wake up liberals, and some conservatives, elsewhere.

And while actual Salafists may be a small percentage, the percentage of Muslims who support implementation of Islamic law, and violence, is much higher than 3 percent.  Studies have been done that show that some 15 to 25% of the world’s Muslims favor incorporation of shariah and supporting violence.  You don’t need to be an actual Salafist to support their ideals.

Will the real Islam stand up?

But this admission by Mr. Husain leads to a logical question:  Which side is practicing real Islam?   Husain admits that the Salafists are practicing a purer form of Islam:

Unlike a majority of Sunnis, Salafis are evangelicals who wish to convert Muslims and others to their “purer” form of Islam — unpolluted, as they see it, by modernity.

That’s a scary admission.  Do you realize what Husain is stating?  He is saying that the Salafis are practicing a truer, more accurate, form of Islam.  As a Christian, I want to practice as pure a form of Christianity as I can.  I strive to be right with God.  I want to please Him.  I love Him and I am thankful and indebted to Christ.  Muslims are supposed to feel the same way towards Allah and Muhammad.  Certainly Muhammad exhorted his followers to strive to be the best Muslims they can be in obedience to him and in imitating his lifestyle (sunnah).

But Husain condemns the Salafis form of Islam, their purer form of Islam, one that mimics Muhammad’s lifestyle closer than Husain’s.  His criticism does not denounce them as false Muslims, rather they are practicing an Islam that is too literalist, too ridged.

Below are Husain’s key points

1)  On the beheading of James Foley:

We are rightly outraged at the beheading of James Foley by Islamist militants, and by ISIS’ other atrocities, but we overlook the public executions by beheading permitted by Saudi Arabia. By licensing such barbarity, the kingdom normalizes and indirectly encourages such punishments elsewhere. When the country that does so is the birthplace of Islam, that message resonates.

2)  With regard to men managing women and wife beating:

This is not an Islam that the Prophet Muhammad would recognize.

3)  On the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-non-Islamic, bigotry of the Salafis:

The University of Medina recruits students from around the world, trains them in the bigotry of Salafism 

4)  On the application of Shariah

What is religious extremism but this aim to apply Shariah as state law? This is exactly what ISIS (Islamic State) is attempting do with its caliphate. Unless we challenge this un-Islamic, impractical and flawed concept of trying to govern by a rigid interpretation of Shariah, no amount of work by a United Nations agency can unravel Islamist terrorism.

5)  On using innovation to reform and change the Salafi form of Islam, and
6) on the evil of using violence to spread Islam’s rule (Salafi terrorism)

Saudi Arabia created the monster that is Salafi terrorism. It cannot now outsource the slaying of this beast to the United Nations. It must address the theological and ideological roots of extremism at home, starting in Mecca and Medina. Reforming the home of Islam would be a giant step toward winning against extremism in this global battle of ideas.

Ed Husain’s Islam is humanistic and is a very different Islam than what the Salafis and Saudi’s practice.  The question is which one is the real Islam or truer form of Islam? 

I hold that the creator of Islam, Muhammad, taught and practiced real Islam.  Would any Muslim today say that Muhammad’s Islam was deficient, was inferior to theirs?  How does Muhammad’s Islam compare to Ed Husain’s Islam?  Below is a contrast to Husain’s six points above.

1)  On the beheading of James Foley.

Ed Husain denounces Foley’s murder.  But did Muhammad do things similar to ISIS?  Those that know Muhammad would answer in the affirmative.  Here are some examples:

Muhammad had an old Jewish man murdered:
Muhammad and the Murder of Abu Afak

Muhammad had a mother of five children murdered:
Muhammad and the Death of Asma bint Marwan

Muhammad ordered the deaths of three slave girls just mocking him:
Muhammad and the Meccan 10

Muhammad tortured and then murdered a man just to get money:
Muhammad and the Death of Kinana

Muhammad massacred some 700 Jewish males and enslaved their women and children :
Muhammad's atrocity against the Qurayza Jews.
What really happened to the Ban Qurayza?

Muhammad’s examples of brutality, pettiness, greed, and lust for power, demonstrate clearly that ISIL’s Islam is more akin to Muhammad’s Islam, to real Islam.  Note, there are many, many, more examples of Muhammad’s cruelty, and the subsequent Caliphs’ cruelty, against non-Muslims.  They were a brutal, cruel, petty, lusting-for-power lot.  Muhammad and the early Caliphs would be called criminals and barbaric animals today.  Muhammad murdered many people for merely mocking or rejecting his claim as prophet.

2)  With regard to wife beating:

Ed Husain decries Muslim men beating women.  But both Muhammad and more importantly Allah commanded that men beat their disobedient wives.  You find the justification for this in the Quran, 4:34.  

Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme. Dawood

Muhammad and Allah commanded that disobedient wives be beaten.  Wife beating was practiced and accepted in Medina where Muhammad ruled.  There was one well known Muslim, Abu Jahm, who carried the stick he beat his wives with around with him.  Muhammad never told him otherwise.  Here are two in-depth articles on the position of women and Islamic wife beating.

Women in Islam
Women in Islam

Wife Beating in Islam
Wife Beating in Islam

3)  On the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-non-Islamic, bigotry of the Salafis:

Mr. Husain denounces anti-Jewish and anti-Christian bigotry.  Good.  But Muhammad taught the exact opposite.  In the Quran Muhammad commanded that the Muslims attack the Christians and the Jews and force them either to convert, pay the extortion tax (jizya), or fight and die.  Here is the Quran, chapter 9, verses 29, 30.

29:  Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.

30:  And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!

Verse 29 has Muhammad, (and Allah), commanding the Muslims to make war on Christians and Jews unless they convert to Islam or pay extortion while verse 30 has Muhammad saying that Christians who say Jesus is the Son of God are liars and Muhammad asks Allah to destroy them!

Muhammad’s words in the Quran prove that he hated Christians and Jews and non-Muslims, just like ISIL.

ISIL and the Salafis are only implementing what Muhammad/Allah commanded.  If you’ve followed the events in Iraq and Syria you’ll know that the Muslims are demanding that the Christians convert to Islam or pay extortion – jizya.  Here are articles:

Iraq Forces Christians to Pay Jizya
Iraq Forces Christians to Pay Jizya

Syrian Rebels Force Christians to Pay Protection Tax
Syrian Rebels Force Christians to Pay Protection Tax

Note, this bigotry is also documented by the Muslim News Al-Jazeera:

Iraq’s Christians get Islamic State’s warning
Iraq's Christians get Islamic State's warning

Another great example of religious bigotry comes from Muhammad himself.  Some of his very last words were:

“May Allah curse the Jews and the Christians for they built the places of worship at the graves of their Prophets.”  (Sahih Bukhari, volume 1, #427).

Churches would bury honored members or their grounds to remember their examples of service to the church.  They were not worshipping their dead and they were not practicing idolatry.  Yet just moments before he died Muhammad uttered curses against these good people!

4)  On the application of Shariah:

Ed Husain states that the application of shariah is un-Islamic, impractical, and flawed.  I don’t see his logic in saying that applying shariah is un-Islamic.  Isn’t that what Muhammad did?  Isn’t that what the early Islamic community practiced?  Isn’t shariah Allah’s sacred law, commands of God to the Muslim people?  Why then would Ed Husain denounce it?

One of the Quran’s verses in support of shariah is 45:18

Then We have made you follow a course in the affair, therefore follow it, and do not follow the low desires of those who do not know.

At least one school of Islamic jurisprudence states that even mocking or sarcastically denigrating parts of the shariah are a form of apostasy and punishable by death.  (Reliance of the Traveler, p598).  How much more heretical is Husain’s denouncement of shariah?  Should Muslims listen to a fellow Muslim who denigrates Allah’s law?

5)  On using innovation to reform and change the Salafi form of Islam, and 6) on the evil of using violence to spread Islam’s rule (Salafi terrorism):

Ed Husain wants to reform aspects of the Islam practiced by Muhammad and the early Muslim community:

It must address the theological and ideological roots of extremism at home, starting in Mecca and Medina. Reforming the home of Islam

In Islam, this is known as innovation of religious laws and practices:  “bid’ah.”  Ed is outraged and embarrassed by what his fellow Muslims are doing and he wants to re-invent Islam into a kinder, gentler, easier, faith.  But this is exactly what Muhammad warned his followers against:

Narrated Abu Hazim from Sahl bin Sa'd:

The Prophet said, "I am your predecessor (forerunner) at the Lake-Fount, and whoever will pass by there, he will drink from it and whoever will drink from it, he will never be thirsty. There will come to me some people whom I will recognize, and they will recognize me, but a barrier will be placed between me and them." Abu Hazim added: An-Nu'man bin Abi 'Aiyash, on hearing me, said. "Did you hear this from Sahl?" I said, "Yes." He said, " I bear witness that I heard Abu Said Al-Khudri saying the same, adding that the Prophet said: 'I will say: They are of me (i.e. my followers). It will be said, 'You do not know what they innovated (new things) in the religion after you left'. I will say, 'Far removed, far removed (from mercy), those who changed (their religion) after me." Abu Huraira narrated that the Prophet said, "On the Day of Resurrection a group of companions will come to me, but will be driven away from the Lake-Fount, and I will say, 'O Lord (those are) my companions!' It will be said, 'You have no knowledge as to what they innovated after you left; they turned apostate as renegades (reverted from Islam)."  Sahih Bukhari, volume 8, #585

Jabir b. Abdullah said: When Allah's Messenger delivered the sermon, his eyes became red, his voice rose. and his anger increased so that he was like one giving a warning against the enemy and saying:" The enemy has made a morning attack on you and in the evening too." He would also say:" The last Hour and I have been sent like these two." and he would join his forefinger and middle finger; and would further say:" The best of the speech is embodied in the Book of Allah, and the best of the guidance is the guidance given by Muhammad. And the most evil affairs are their innovations; and every innovation is error." …  Sahih Muslim, Book 4, #1885

Abu Tufail reported: We said to 'Ali b. Abi Talib: Inform us about something which Allah's Messenger  told you in secret, whereupon he said: He told me nothing in secret which he bid from people, but I heard him say: Allah cursed him who sacrificed for anyone besides Allah; and cursed him who accommodated an innovator; and Allah cursed him who cursed his parents and Allah cursed him who changed the boundary lines (of the land possessed by him).  Sahih Muslim Book 22 #4877

Likewise the Quran,(and its law), are perfect and completed for the Muslims:

This day are those who disbelieve in despair of (ever harming) your religion; so fear them not, fear Me! This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al-Islam.  5:3 Pickthall

And (know) that this is My path, the right one therefore follow it, and follow not (other) ways, for they will lead you away from His way; this He has enjoined you with that you may guard (against evil).  Shakir 6:153

Surely this innovation that Ed Husain wants to bring to Islam is against Muhammad’s commands and wishes.

Muhammad spread Islam’s domain in a similar fashion that ISIL does today.  When Muhammad and his army were near a small Christian town called Aylah (Aqabah today), Muhammad sent them a letter giving them options:

"To John ibn Rabah and the Chiefs of Aylah. Peace be on you! I praise God for you, beside whom there is no Lord. I will not fight against you until I have written thus unto you. Believe, or else pay tribute. And be obedient unto the Lord and his Prophet, and the messengers of his Prophet. Honor them and clothe them with excellent vestments, not with inferior raiment. Specially clothe Zeid with excellent garments. As long as my messengers are pleased, so likewise am I. Ye know the tribute. If ye desire to have security by sea and by land, obey the Lord and his Apostle, and he will defend you from every claim, whether by Arab or foreigner, saving the claim of the Lord and his Apostle. But if ye oppose and displease them, I will not accept from you a single thing, until I have fought against you and taken captive your little ones and slain the elder. (Source)

I applaud what Ed Husain is doing.  If Mr. Husain can be successful in changing the hearts and minds of Muslims about which Islam to follow:  his instead of Muhammad’s, then Mr. Husain has done non-Muslims a service.  In making Islam more like humanism he is making it less violent and less oppressive, and that is a good thing.  We all need to see liberal Muslims like Mr. Husain engage their fellow Muslims and change how they practice Islam.


When you compare Husain’s Islam to Muhammad’s Islam you find that ISIL and Muhammad have far more in common than Husain and Muhammad.  If anything, Muhammad would denounce Husain for his rejection of Islamic law, for his bid’ah, for his attempt to turn Muslims away from obeying Muhammad’s, and Allah’s commands.  Husain is not practicing real Islam, he is practicing Islam synthesized with humanism and changed into something that is not pure Islam, not the Islam that Muhammad taught and practiced and required his followers to obey.

A good question for fellow NY Times reporters to ask Husain is “Why are you following Muhammad, a brutal, cruel, and horrible example of a man?  From Muhammad’s murders, to Muhammad’s bedding of a nine year old girl who had not yet started puberty, from Muhammad torturing to obtain money, to Muhammad intending to divorce of one of his aged wives, Muhammad was a terrible example of a man, a man that people should not follow.  Why then does Ed Husain adhere to Muhammad?  If Muslims are sincere about being good citizens, good neighbors, good people, then they should not embrace Muhammad.

Ultimately, what Ed Husain is doing is a good thing.  He is trying to reform Islam to make it kinder and gentler.  Men and women like him, Ed Husain, Hamza Yusuf, and Sheila Musaji are doing the world a service.  Muhammad would not be pleased and some Islamic scholars may consider them apostates because they are decrying the shariah, but anything that turns real Muslims from following in Muhammad’s footsteps is needed and welcomed. 

Silas  21 Sept 2014

[First published: 15 October 2014]
[Last updated: 15 October 2014]