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I'm hesitant to even write this brief critique on Islam. It's quite literally dangerous, because of course I'm going to give it extremely low marks for compliance, and because at least some adherents to most of the variants of Islam have proven willing to commit horrible crimes against anyone that questions their beliefs. They are a world religion that still hews quite close to the Bronze Age barbarity laid out in the Old Testament (which of course it shares with Christianity and Judaism). As such, it portrays an intensely dualist vision of God, a God utterly separate from Its Creation, a God that is literally readying the barbecue grill and the firecrackers and much worse for all of the action figures that It decides to torch.

Things that Islam has going against it are:

A few quotes directly from the Quran should suffice to establish these principles:

And of them were (some) who believed therein and of them were (some) who turned away from it. Hell is sufficient for (their) burning. Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. Lo! Allah is ever Mighty, Wise.
If you disbelieve in the Quran (which is self-certified to be Allah's revelations, and Muhammed couldn't possibly have lied about that or even been mistaken, could he?) then Allah will not content himself with simply burning you alive once - he'll heal you over and over again so you can experience the agony over and over.

As for the Disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not. Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom.
If you disbelieve, it isn't your fault. Allah (who is all powerful) has sealed your hearing, covered your eyes, and closed your heart so you won't believe. Compassionate, merciful, and yet we have to assume from this statement that It wants to inflict upon you an ``awful doom''. This doom positively dominates the Quran.

Why should one believe the Quran? Because Lo! It itself says that it is true!

Lo! those who hide aught of the Scripture which Allah hath revealed and purchase a small gain therewith, they eat into their bellies nothing else than fire. Allah will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He make them grow. Theirs will be a painful doom. Those are they who purchase error at the price of guidance, and torment at the price of pardon. How constant are they in their strife to reach the Fire! That is because Allah hath revealed the Scripture with the truth. Lo! those who find (a cause of) disagreement in the Scripture are in open schism.
So the Quran says that you will burn in hell if you fail to believe that it is telling the truth because it says that it is telling the truth and if you don't believe it you will burn in hell... which clearly makes it true, doesn't it, because it is simply impossible that it is lying or mistaken.

But is the Quran ever mistaken? If it is, then there is good reason to consider it fallible, and not divinely inspired. If a single Surah of Muhammed is directly contradicted by modern science or common sense or modern ethics, it is in the same boat as Genesis quite aside from its inheritance as an Abrahamic religion. Let's see:

Allah it is Who raised up the heavens without visible supports, then mounted the Throne, and compelled the sun and the moon to be of service, each runneth unto an appointed term; He ordereth the course; He detaileth the revelations, that haply ye may be certain of the meeting with your Lord. And He it is Who spread out the earth and placed therein firm hills and flowing streams, and of all fruits He placed therein two spouses (male and female). He covereth the night with the day. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who take thought.
This completely confirms the Genesis model - a flat earth covered by a bowl of solid sky across which ran a sun and moon compelled to ``be of service'', and of course Adam and Eve - all contradicted by modern cosmology, geology, and the radiometrically dated fossil record.
A token unto them is night. We strip it of the day, and lo! they are in darkness. And the sun runneth on unto a resting-place for him. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Wise. And for the moon We have appointed mansions till she return like an old shrivelled palm-leaf. It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in an orbit.
There is no resting place for the sun, there are no mansions for the moon. The Sun does not float in an orbit about the earth which is what these verses clearly imply. It certainly doesn't say anything about the earth spinning on its axis which is the real source of night and day.

The Quran invokes many of the Old Testament and New Testament figures by name and attempts to co-opt them into the new faith. Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus - all of these are now prophets of Allah (and by name-dropping, Muhammed becomes next in line in the succession of prophethood). For example:

I convey unto you the messages of my Lord and give good counsel unto you, and know from Allah that which ye know not. Marvel ye that there should come unto you a Reminder from your Lord by means of a man among you, that he may warn you, and that ye may keep from evil, and that haply ye may find mercy. But they denied him, so We saved him and those with him in the ship, and We drowned those who denied Our tokens. Lo! they were blind folk.
This makes it quite clear that Muhammed considers the Old Testament to be true. He invokes (as did Jesus) the story of Noah as proof that he will do horrible things to anyone that fails to listen to his messengers. Muhammed is (by association) just such a messenger. Therefore listen to absolutely everythng that Muhammed says as if it comes straight from God.

Once again it seems as though a truly ``compassionate and merciful'' dualistic God would find a more compassionate, more merciful, and vastly simpler solution than drowning everything (including all of the innocent animals) but a single man and his family.

Isn't it odd that an infinite, omniscient, all powerful being would deliberately lead people astray, would deliberately predestine many for eternal torment? Wouldn't such a being be able to manifest Itself to each person individually instead of forcing us to believe the frankly unbelieveable words of somebody who claims to be talking for It. This being is so powerful that It supposedly created a Cosmos that is at least 27 billion light years across, filled with at least a trillion galaxies of maybe a trillion stars each, and did it all in one day but when it comes time to actually communicate with a mere six billion or so human beings that It supposedly loves even more than the inanimate but enormous stars It created just to light up the sky for them, the best It can ever manage is to speak through a mouthpiece? I don't think so.

No, I think that anybody who ever, ever, claims to speak for God doesn't. They are lying or mistaken. In fact, I think it is the sign of a weak argument, often one that is de facto absurd when someone has to invoke authority at all to convince people to accept it as true. If the authority is invoked together with threats - believe what I tell you or you'll be cast into a fiery furnace by my best buddy God whose words these really are - it is a sure sign that the thing you are being asked to believe is so unbelievable that it would take threats for you to even think twice about it if you were using your common sense. Remember, Buddha - in extreme contrast to Muhammed - said to believe what he said not because he said it, not because it was a revelation of God, but because if you tried his suggestions they would work20.

Surprisingly, the Quran has almost no actual content once you remove the authority-driven extortion and threats from it. Once you remove all the verses that threaten unbelievers with a painful doom, that threaten believers that backslide with a painful doom, that threaten those that would assign ``partners'' to Allah (guess you had to be there) to a painful doom, those that dare to disbelief Muhammed (Allah's messenger) to a painful doom, once one removes the horribly explicit descriptions of torment, the lines suggesting that disbelievers who fight against Muslims will be punished in this world by having their hands cut off and being crucified upside down, once one removes the commandments to retailiate against anyone who dares to question the faith, the permission to purchase many wives and to take for your personal sexual use female slaves captured in war, how much is left? Not much at all.

The Quran is painful to read because it is boring! By the end of the very first Surah you get it. Allah will burn unbelievers. No need to say it hundreds of times as if that somehow makes it more true. No reason to say it when there are other, better things to say. Yet Muhammed failed to speak out against slavery, for equality of women, for science instead of magic, for reason instead of superstition.

The Quran is (like the Bible before it and the Book of Mormon after) very hard on women. Women are worth only half as much as a man in the Quran, on a good day. The Quran also permits marrying your own female first cousins (demonstrating a lack of knowledge of genetics, unsurprising):

O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesseth of those whom Allah hath given thee as spoils of war, and the daughters of thine uncle on the father's side and the daughters of thine aunts on the father's side, and the daughters of thine uncle on the mother's side and the daughters of thine aunts on the mother's side who emigrated with thee, and a believing woman if she give herself unto the Prophet and the Prophet desire to ask her in marriage - a privilege for thee only, not for the (rest of) believers - We are Aware of that which We enjoined upon them concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess - that thou mayst be free from blame, for Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.
Note well the bit in there about how Muhammed (the Prophet) gets special privileges - it's good to be the mouthpiece of God, because you get special mating privileges.

Is it any wonder that I'm concerned about writing this? The Quran does actually forbid believers from responding to an attack any way more violent than the attack itself (which means that believers are absolutely permitted to fight against this attack by using reason and engaging in free debate of a document that I find entirely unbelievable from beginning to end), but - like so many theistic documents, there are other places that openly invite the spreading of the faith by more violent means and promise instant paradise to those who die in such a struggle. Is it at all surprising that apostasy is rare in Islam? The core theism promises hundreds of times that they'll be tortured forever if they turn away from the faith no matter how little sense it makes. Many Muslim governments and societies consider apostasy an actual crime, even a capital crime.

This is not a religion that appeals to reason. It holds a knife at your throat and a gun at your head in this life, and promises you even worse punishments in the next should you dare to use reason to assess its claims. It wreaks unashamed violence against the persons of any who dare to speak out against it, who dare to openly mock it, who choose to leave it.

With all of this bad stuff, the Quran does have some very good stuff. It requires that believers act for the good of society (at least for their society, given that it positively endorses the enslavement of nonbelievers), care for widows and orphans, at least try to love your wives (in spite of the fact that they are your possessions, bought and paid for) and treat them equally (while acknowledging that this isn't really possible when you have more than one, but that's OK guys, Allah understands and its the effort that counts). However, the most interesting aspect of Islam is Sufism.

The Sufi are Islamic mystics, and there is at least some reason to believe that the cult predated actual Islam. Sufi's believe that all religions are the same, that God is God by any name or description, that God is ubiquitous and Universal. In fact, there is little difference between Sufism and Vedantic Hinduism. The goal of Sufis is to attain a kind of reunion with God. It is non-dogmatic, non-theistic (it holds that the Truth it seeks cannot be put into words), and non-violent. Sufism is a variant of Islam that is not completely incompatible with the theorem proven above - it once again appears to be a case of direct insight that unfortunately couldn't be proven using reason at the time. Given the assertion that God exists, a Sufi could peacefully coexist with an atheist or a deist.

So things are bleak for Islam, but not entirely hopeless. The problem is that I at least, see no way to salvage any significant part of the Quran to serve as a radically hermeneutically reinterpreted basis for a kinder gentler more rational Islam. If one tried with it what Jefferson attempted with the Gospels, to strip out the obviously self-serving mythology and extortion, the extreme claims, the punishments, the actual moral precepts of the Quran could be reduced to at most a page or two, and would leave out things like the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom to pursue happiness in any way that doesn't interfere with the rights or freedoms of others.

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Robert G. Brown 2014-02-06