A Response to Bill Warner’s “Is a Nice Muslim a Good Muslim”
Warner’s article is a list of hackneyed aspersions cast on Islam and its prophet. He blithely states that when a Muslim does ‘not follow Islamic doctrine, they are no longer Muslim, but are a kafir (non-Muslim)’. It is interesting to note the degree of ease and confidence with which such pronouncements are made about Islam by a non-Muslim Westerner, especially when contrasted with the twenty-four senior religious scholars from all around the world representing all the branches and schools of Islam that it took to answer two of the questions posed to them by King Abdullah II of Jordan in the 2004 Amman Message: who is a Muslim and is it permissible to declare someone an apostate (takfir). It is even more remarkable to learn that in the ensuing conference of the Amman Message, two-hundred of the world’s leading Islamic scholars forbade takfir between Muslims. In fact, not only does it seem that Warner is not clear on what or who a kafir is, it is evident that he has no knowledge of Arabic and so is building his argument on a word and a concept he does not understand. The word kafir derives from the Arabic triliteral root KFR; the word kufr or one of its derivatives appears in the Qur’an 482 times. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam defines Kufr as ‘disbelief’ and ‘ingratitude, the willful refusal to appreciate the benefits that God has bestowed’. In the Qur’an a kafir is not an atheist in the Western sense of the word, someone who does not believe in God, but rather someone who is able to see what is owing to God but will not honour him due to perverse ungratefulness.
In his article Warner goes on to state that according to Islam ‘kafirs are pure other’ and asks ‘since the Koran and the Sunna do not have the Golden Rule, how are Muslims to treat us?’. Warner then answers his own question by saying that ‘every Muslim believes that all nonbelievers are kafirs. The Koran says that kafirs may be hated, plotted against, deceived, murdered, raped, enslaved, mocked and tortured.’ One has to wonder how Warner would reconcile his understanding with the many verses from the Qur’an and examples from the hadith (words of the Prophet Muhammad) and sunnah (practices of the Prophet Muhammad) that absolutely disprove his claims:
… whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve. [Qur’an, 18:29]
Say: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; Nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion. [Qur’an, 109:1-6]
There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error ... [Qur’an, 2:256]
The verses above propose co-existence; there is extraordinary pluralism and tolerance in the Qur’an which recognizes the existence of other religions and the freedom of human beings to choose between them. In the early years of Islam, Muslims were driven out of Mecca because of religious intolerence. Rather than insisting that they have a monopoly on being ‘nice’ and on the truth, most Muslims would say that they concentrate on worshipping God and submitting to his will, which incidentally is what the word ‘Islam’ means: submission. In the history of Islam there was never any thought of forcing people to convert. Muslims believe that each of the revealed traditions has its own practices and insights:
And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it ... For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works ... [Qur’an, 5:48]
Islam depicts one tradition passing the revelation on to the next; the divine message handed from one prophet to the one following him; the Qur’an is simply a confirmation of the previous scriptures.
Say (O Muhammad): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was vouchsafed unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. [Qur’an, 3:84]
It is very safe to assume that Warner includes Christians and Jews under his understanding of what Islam considers ‘other’ and therefore ‘kafir’. Clearly, Warner is ignorant of or ignoring the fact that Islam insists that Muslims always remember their spiritual kinship with Jews and Christians who are refered to as the ‘People of the Book’:
And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender. [Qur’an, 29:46]
The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘He who wrongs or destroys a jew or a Christian will have me to answer on the Day of Judgement’.
As for Warner’s claim that the Golden Rule does not exist in Islam, the Qur’an and hadith are replete with references to the Golden Rule:
Woe unto the defrauders: Those who when they take the measure from mankind demand it full, But if they measure unto them or weight for them, they cause them loss. [Qur’an, 83:1-3]
The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘None of you believe until you desire for your brother what you desire for yourself’, and in his Farewell Sermon he said: ‘Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you’, the Prophet also said: ‘That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind’.
In his article Warner seems desperate to convince his reader that the preoccupation of all Muslims is to annihilate and eliminate kafirs by violence, that this is not only some obssession shared by all Muslims under the sun but that it is scripturally mandated and is in occordance with the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad who according to Warner ‘was fixated on kafirs and annihilated every kafir by violence, exile or conversion’. In what seems to be the only point that Warner got right he says that every Muslim wishes to ‘imitate Muhammad’ and follow his perfect example. Muslims indeed strive to understand the meaning and significance of the Prophet Muhammad’s life and enrich their own lives with that understaning. To Muslims the Prophet Muhammad is the personification of perfect surrender and submission to God; he is the ideal to which they aspire. By following the way their prophet worshipped, spoke, loved and behaved Muslims hope to open their hearts to God as he did and to acquire his ability to have total submission to God. In following the sunnah of being kind to orphans, the poor, animals, when striving to be generous and kind and trustworthy, they are working towards submission to God and being receptive to the divine.
All the accusations against Islam in Warner’s article boil down to the idea that Islam is inherently violent and intolerent. Warner conveniently seizes upon one of the islamophobes favorite subjects: jihad; one of the most misundestood Islamic concepts here in the West. The word ‘jihad’ derives from the Arabic triliteral root JHD meaning ‘to strive’, ‘to exert’ and is understood to mean striving to put the will of God into practice. Muslims strive to see that this is done on all fronts: intellectual, social, economic, and spiritual. As the Prophet Muhammad was on his way back from the battle of Badr he said: ‘we are returning from the Lesser Jihad (the battle) and going to the Greater Jihad’, meaning the effort needed to better society and ones own heart. Jihad is the only lawful and just warfare in Islam, and under Islamic law (shari’ah) it is carefully controlled and subject to stringent rules and regulations not least of which is that non-combatans cannot be attacked. The Prophet Muhammad ordered his community: ‘Fight in the way of God against those who disbelieve in God! Do not act brutally! Do not exceed the proper bounds! Do not mutilate! Do not kill children and hermits! Attack in the Name of God, but do not revert to treachery; do not kill a child; neither kill a woman; do not wish to confront the enemy.’
Not just anyone can call for jihad, it must be called for by a state authority. The Prophet Muhammad has often been presented in the West as a warlord. The reality is quite different, when the Prophet fought he fought to defend his life and the life of the Muslims who were persecuted for no reason other than their faith. War is abhorent in Islam and it was never waged in order to force people to convert. The only just war in Islam is a war fought in self-defense; and the preemptive strike is generally condemned.
Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and Allah is indeed Able to give them victory; Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah - For had it not been for Allah’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down. Verily Allah helpeth one who helpeth Him. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty. [Qur’an, 22:39-40]
Even during armed conflict the Qur’an emphasizes mercy and forgiveness; when an enemy asks for peace, Muslims must desist from fighting: ‘And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers’ [Qur’an, 2:193]. If an enemy offers a truce, Muslims must accept it, even if they suspect deceit:
And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah. Lo! He, even He, is the Hearer, the Knower. And if they would deceive thee, then lo! Allah is Sufficient for thee ... [Qur’an, 8:61-62]
Warner’s agenda is clearly to misrepresent Islam, its prophet, and all Muslims in order to substantiate his own claim that intolerance and violence are inherent to Islam. Rather than presenting us with an unbiased assessment of Islam and addressing the challenges we might face in trying to understand it so that we may all live in peace, he attempts to advance his own polemic and spread his Islamophobia it seems in hopes of recruiting more people to the almost hysterical culture of anti-Islamic sentiment in a post 9/11 world. By going down this unfortunate road he not only works against Islam and its followers, but against all of humanity.