The enigma of Islam: The two faces of Muhammad
June 30, 2006
American Muslims tell us that Islam is a religion of peace. Jihadist leaders abroad describe Islam as a religion of war against infidels. Who is correct? Both are correct.
If both are correct, does this mean that there are two Muhammads and two Qurans? Yes, in the sense that Muhammad was like two different persons at two different times and the Quran is like two contradictory books pasted together.
Now that you are thoroughly confused, let us turn to history and to the book Islam and the Bible: Why two faiths collide (2004), by David Goldmann, veteran missionary to Muslims in Morocco, for the solution to this riddle.
Muhammad (circa 570–632 A.D.) was born in Mecca and was a traveling merchant until age 40. From 610–622 he had a ministry in Mecca as a prophet of Allah. In 622, he fled from his enemies in Mecca and led his followers to Medina. Through tribal political alliances, Muhammad soon became the ruler of Medina. He ruled Medina until his death (622–632).
According to Mr. Goldmann, Muhammad as ruler of Medina had a strikingly different character than when he was the prophet of Mecca. The Quranic verses he penned in Mecca often contradict the verses he wrote in Medina. Let us compare the two Muhammads and the two Qurans. The following numbered examples are paraphrases of points in Goldmann's book. My commentaries on the numbered statements are in parentheses.
Mecca versus Medina
(1) In Mecca, Muhammad preached and exhorted people to submit to Islam. In Medina, he used the threat of the sword to compel people to convert to Islam.
(According to the Medina verses, Allah accepts converts who do not believe in him inwardly, but will kneel to him outwardly under threat of death. Muhammad did not have this view of Allah until he became a war lord and used force to compel people to accept his rule.)
(2) In Mecca, Muhammad led the life of a teacher and prophet and followed disciplines of prayer, fasting, and worship. In Medina, he was the political ruler and the military commander. During his ten years in Medina, he personally led 27 military attacks. Prior to his death, he conquered most of the Arabian peninsula.
(The Allah of Medina allowed his prophet to be a warlord seeking military conquest. In like manner, he encourages Muslim leaders to spread the religion of Islam by the sword
(The Westward rush of conquest was halted exactly a century after Muhammad's death. The Muslim army in Spain attacked Gaul [France] and was defeated by Charles the Hammer at the battle of Tours [732 A.D.]. Muslims subsequently switched to expansion through proselytizing and mercantile colonies. However, when new Muslim nations arose with great armies [e.g., Seljuk Turks, Ottoman Turks, and Moguls], they reverted to the expansion of Islam through conquest. The Ottoman Turks conquered the remains of the Christian Byzantine Empire and took Constantinople in 1453. They attacked Europe from the east in 1529 and 1683, and both times were stopped at the gates of Vienna by European armies. Three times [732, 1529 & 1683], Christian civilization in Europe came close to extinction from invading Muslim armies.)
(3) In Mecca, Muhammad had one wife. During his last ten years of his life at Medina, he married twelve more women.
(The poor family man of Mecca became the wealthy, voluptuous sheik with a harem of "wives" in Medina. Polygamy and harem culture debases women and makes men hedonistic and narcissistic. Societies that sanction polygamy, harems, and concubines have always assigned a low status to women.)
(The Medina Quran's heaven for men is a garden paradise where every male sensual pleasure is catered to by nubile nymphs
(4) In Mecca, Muhammad fought against idol worship. In doing so, he exempted Christians and Jews from his proscriptions and persecutions and respected them as "people of the book." In Medina, he persecuted Christians and Jews as infidels.
(Christians and Jews in Islamic countries never know when they will be protected and respected or persecuted and reviled. The situation is often fluid so that protection can suddenly gives way to persecution. Historically, the best Christians and Jews can hope for under Muslim rule is second class citizenship and heavy taxes from which Muslims are exempt. When jihad and war lord sensibilities were in the air, Christians and Jews often faced forced conversion, banishment, slavery, sexual bondage, or death.)
Was Muhammad corrupted by power?
Was Muhammad corrupted by power in Medina? We do not know for sure, but it appears to be so. His exploitation of women by creating a harem of wives and his violent abuse of power in Medina was the very antithesis of his methods and behavior in Mecca. If the change in the Quranic verses resulted from Mohammed's changed character, then we can rule out Muhammad's claim that the contents of the Quran were dictated by the Angel Gabriel. If Muhammad lied about getting the verses from Gabriel, the changed verses were probably self-serving. Does that imply that Muhammad was a charlatan? Not necessarily. It's possible he was just self-deceived.
The hypnotic power by which Islam holds hundreds of millions of people in an enchanted thralldom is the profile of a cult, not a mere con-game. The spiritual powers of heretical cults emanate from diabolical sources. Muhammad may well have been deluded by the same dark powers as have bewitched his followers.
Unfortunately, Muhammad's changed behavior and teachings in Medina are a little too convenient and self-serving for anyone with a grain of skepticism about human nature to swallow. We are thereby compelled to face the possibility that Muhammad was corrupted in Medina by the lust for power, control, vengeance, fame, wealth, and women
We can find the same venal motivations and self-serving manipulation of religion in many of the Muslim caliphs that followed Muhammad, and in the Muslim dictators of today. The corruption of Muslim officialdom in many lands seems to follow the pattern set by Mohammed when he was a corrupt war lord.
The Muslim quandary
How do Muslims decide whether to lean toward the peaceful or the jihadist verses? American Muslims tend to think for themselves on this issue, and generally lean towards the mild Meccan verses, even if their leaders disagree. Arabs in the Middle East have a tendency to follow the teachings of a mufti or mullah, or to follow what their family, clan, tribe, or community decides. If their clan or their mullah goes jihadist, they will probably follow them and become jihadist, at least in theory. Although Muslims in Arabic countries are less prone to independent thought than American Muslims, many appear to be secretly peaceful for pragmatic reasons, while publicly joining the jihadist chants to keep up appearances.
Some conservative Muslims refuse to go militant until they perceive a threat to the "ummah," or the Muslim community. However, Muslim teachers are not in agreement about what constitutes a "threat" and how the "ummah" is to be defined. Therefore, there is no formula by which one can predict who will go jihadist or who will moderate their views. As a result, Muslim leaders are capable of volatility in their policy and influence.
Volatility in policy
Some Muslim leaders in Europe recently pulled back from jihadist rhetoric to the surprise of Muslim scholars. When Muslims rioted over Danish cartoons that ridiculed Muhammad, many Europeans were disgusted and contemptuous of Islam. The loss of face connected with appearing ridiculous was unbearable to the European Muslims, and that is why some of their leaders backed off from jihadist propaganda. Muslims rioted because of ridicule and moderated their behavior because of the fear of more ridicule. No Westerner could have predicted either event. The contradictory nature of Islam allows for such volatility of policy.
The volatility of policy can be exploited by clever manipulators and deceivers. The slippery con man Yasser Arafat preached peace and moderation one day, jihad to the bitter end the next day, and terror bombings as a war of nerves on the third day. Sometimes, he would speak about peace in English and preach jihad in Arabic from the same podium.
How could a pathological liar like Arafat hang onto power so long? According to Goldmann, a lie is not a sin in Islam in the way it is in Christianity. Christians care deeply about whether a person believes what he is saying is true. Muslims mainly care about whether what one says is true. Whether or not one believes the statement he is making is a secondary question. This is especially true of the Medinian version of Islam in which there is a rift between the human heart and prescribed public actions.
The prevalence of lies in many Muslim communities sometimes makes Muslims easily deceived and prone to treachery. Muslim duplicity multiplies the difficulties of negotiating with them, trusting them, and understanding what they really think. Lies breed corruption, and the corruption of Muslim officialdom is a major barrier to democracy and to reform.
Does Allah change his mind?
Do the verses written in Medina represent a new policy that overrides the verses written in Mecca? If this be the case, does Allah change his mind? Goldmann answers yes to both questions.
Christians believe in a God of steadfast principles and purposes. In contrast, a Muslim has no problem saying that Allah changes his mind. Goldmann has often heard Muslims say, "Allah can change his mind, because he is Allah and can do anything He wants."
Christians believe that God's laws, commands, revelations, and actions are expressions of his character and that God never acts in ways that are inconsistent with his character. Therefore, we can learn about God's character by studying and obeying his law and learning his truth. Furthermore, the universal moral law is written on men's hearts, so that the laws of God ring true in the human conscience.
Muslims generally believe that Allah is unknowable. He does not reveal his character to man, but only reveals his commands. According to the warlord version of Islam from Medina, Allah's commands express his arbitrary will and do not express a universal moral law that lines up with his character or with his nature. It is Allah's will that makes a thing right or wrong. One must learn by rote the things Allah declared by fiat to find out what is right or wrong. Reason and conscience are of no help in understanding arbitrary law that demands perfunctory obedience.
In contrast, Western man traditionally believed that the intrinsic quality of a thing in itself gives clues to its rightness or wrongness. Therefore, good and evil are not arbitrary, but have an objective quality.
Muhammad's conception that Allah makes arbitrary decrees implies that Allah as lawgiver is inconsistent with Allah as creator
Muhammad's theology is illogical and self-contradictory
After all, we should not expect to learn anything about a warlord (like Muhammad in Medina) by his decrees. The decrees are an exercise in raw power with no thought to justice. The warlord means to have his decrees obeyed and his power publicly honored. The very fact that his decrees are arbitrary yet obeyed demonstrates his sheer power more blatantly than if his decrees made sense. Allah, as the god of a warlord, inevitably has the same attitudes.
A warlord does not tolerate those who question his decrees. In like manner, Muslims are warned by their teachers that asking too many questions about why Allah commands something is a sign of impiety. If Allah changes his mind, it is not for man to understand or to question why, but simply to obey.
A parallel tradition in Islamic law is based upon Quranic verses written in Mecca. This alternative Islam views the laws of Allah as objects of divine harmony and splendor that delights the human heart and enlightens the mind. This second tradition is close to the Jewish view of God's law.
American universities often teach the Meccan face of Islamic law and are mute about the Medinian warlord version. Islam is a Janus mask of two faces. To teach about only one of the faces is to deceive the students.
Is Allah a person?
The Christian God is infinite and personal. By human standards, He is hyper-personal, because he is a Trinity of three persons united in one being. He reveals his personality to man through Jesus Christ, who is the second person of the Trinity incarnated as man. The central quality of eternal life for the Christian is knowing his personal God. "And this is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (A prayer of Jesus to the Father, John 17:3)
By contrast, the Allah of Medina is unknowable, and salvation has nothing to do with knowing him. The Muslim paradise is a garden filled with sensual pleasures for men and has nothing much to do with knowing Allah.
But is Allah a person? Goldmann says he is not. Keep in mind that Goldmann is leaning on the Medina version of the Quran, which is logical because of a Quranic teaching that later verses supercede earlier verses.
A warlord might think that Allah is a distant potentate, unknowable to his subjects. However, Muslims who concentrate on the Meccan verses might argue that Allah is a person. Muslim Sufi mystics have a very personal concept of Allah.
A Muslim consensus would probably come down in the middle. Allah is not impersonal in the sense of the impersonal divine oneness of pantheism. But he is not ultrapersonal like the Christian God. The Christian God primarily wants us to love him and have our obedience flowing into action from our love. Allah primarily wants us to obey him and loving him is a secondary question
The four most important sources of Islamic law are: 1) the Quran; 2) the Hadith, or a collection of the words and works of Muhammad; 3) the ijma, or consensus of scholars
Some Muslims rigorously follow cookbook recipes from the law, concentrating scrupulously upon outward forms while they are indifferent to the inward spiritual condition. This is the pharisaic and the Medinian model. Other Muslims follow the Meccan model and are not far from the Jewish concept of God's law, and care about the moral and spiritual content of the law.
The Medinian Allah who is only interested in outward forms of the law is the Allah of Islamo-fascist regimes like the Taliban. This is the Allah described in Goldmann's book. The Meccan Allah who is merciful, and whose law is harmonious and beautiful is generally the Allah of American Muslims. In most places, Islam is a muddle, with a hodgepodge of Meccan and Medinian approaches to law. This is to be expected, because the Quran mingles the Meccan and Medinian portions indiscriminately.
The dismal legalism of Medina
Medinian legalism is followed lock-step by Islamo-fascist regimes like the Taliban. They have used Muslim legalism to produce the most cruel and dismal way of life imaginable. This path of misery is what they wish to impose on others by force. The ideal society of Muslim extremists is everyone else's hell.
The kind of legalism that Goldmann describes inevitably must lead to certain oppressive effects on the human condition:
(1) If one is to follow the mountain of edicts in sharia law, every conceivable word and deed must conform to some cookbook formula. If such a life is achievable
(2) The commands of the Allah of Medina are arbitrary and disconnected from a universal moral law, or a natural law. The Medinian Muslim has no joy in obedience, unlike the Jew who delights in the laws of God because of the law reveals precious truth, delightful beauty, venerable justice, and moral magnificence. The Jew finds in the laws of God the universal moral law written in his heart. In contrast, the joyless obedience of the Medinian Muslim produces a heavy heart and a sense of futility.
(3) Obedience is a matter of routine, perfunctory outward cookbook conformity to rules, forms, and rites. The Medinian Muslim is not required to like these duties, or nourish goodness in his heart as he does them. He is not obliged to understand the spirit of the law or even agree with it. If he disagrees but obeys and keeps his mouth shut, he is acceptable to Allah.
Jesus was never more angry than in his denunciation of the pharisees for following the law in a tidy-minded cookbook fashion, while what was in their hearts contradicted the spirit of the law. The teachers of Medinian law teach precisely the approach that Jesus condemned.
(4) Allah gives no grace to help to man obey. The Muslim must somehow obey or despair and go to hell. In contrast, God responds to Christian faith by giving grace, which imparts the desire and power to do his will.
(5) Allah is merciful, but only to those who are, to some extent, keeping the law. In contrast, Christ's mercy comes upon a man when his faith awakens and he realizes that he has failed to keep God's laws and cannot save himself.
(6) The Allah of Medina is not interested in whether his followers love him or seek to become like him. After all, he is unknowable. He only cares if his followers publicly honor him and obey him. Such punctilious rendering of perfunctory honors exhausts and depresses the human spirit.
(7) The individual is trapped in the web of Kismet (fate) that from which there is no escape. This reduces the individual to a tiny cog in a monstrous machine.
(8) The concept of the fall and depravity of man is missing from Islam. Allah expects man to be good. This creates unreasonable expectations of what an individual can achieve on his own in following sharia law. These expectations put an unbearable pressure upon human beings who are not inherently good. In the heart of every devout Muslim is a powder keg created by this immense personal obligation. It comes as no surprise that Muslim history is pockmarked by sudden upheavals.
(9) The Arab Muslim community is filled with neighborhood spies and intense pressure to outwardly conform to the patterns of Islam. The claustrophobia of these crowded communities that are teeming with spies, lies, and suspicion is almost unimaginable to the Westerner who is preoccupied with personal freedom and privacy.
Can a Muslim nation be a democracy?
Turkey, Indonesia, and Afghanistan are Muslim countries and are also democracies. Therefore, a Muslim nation can indeed be a democracy. However, the governments of Afghanistan and Indonesia are fighting Islamo-fascist insurgencies against the elected government. Islamo-fascism is violently anti-democratic even when Muslim voters elected their leaders.
Iraq is the first Arab tribal country to attempt to become a democracy. What are their chances to succeed?
Hmmm. It is probably not possible for a nation dominated by the Medinian jihadist brand of Islam to become democracy. The Palestinian Arabs are attempting to be a democracy, but are dissolving into civil war between two factions of jihadist Islam. Such countries are doomed to Islamo-fascism, like the former Taliban rule of Afghanistan.
For democracy to succeed in Muslim countries, the Meccan brand of Islam must prevail. Is that likely to happen in Iraq? Only if the Meccan Muslims theologically, politically, and militarily defeat the Medinian Muslims. In any case, jihadist insurgencies by diehard Islamo-fascists against the democratic government of Iraq are likely to persist for a long time.
What is Islamo-fascism?
Interestingly, the Baath party that spawned Saddam Hussein has been practicing fascist ideology since the 1940's. The Vichy-French puppet government under Hitler brought fascist ideology to the Middle East, and their most avid Arab students were Baathists. The Baathists were particularly eager to adopt the Nazi anti-Jewish myths and methods for terrifying political opponents using the secret police. Saddam Hussein rose to power through his Baathist connections and his control of the Iraqi secret police and death squads. He was an avid admirer of Hitler and Stalin and imitated their propaganda techniques, especially the cult of the leader, with gigantic pictures and statues of himself and massive public demonstrations. He also imitated their genocidal practices.
The Medinian warlord version of Islam lays a social foundation for the Islamo-fascist model of control. The demand for outward public submission and homage, unquestioning obedience, and suppression of dissent are elements of fascism.
The phrase Islamo-fascism has gradually assumed a wider meaning than just Baathism. Some commentators refer to all totalitarian Muslim regimes that foment terrorism as Islamo-fascist.
Al Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaida in Iraq who was killed a few weeks ago, was a perfect example of Islamo-fascism. He was the world's most effective field director of terror and a leading propagandist for jihadism. Zarqawi orchestrated murders in many lands and ordered the killing of large numbers of Iraqi Shiites with the goal of fomenting civil war. Zarqawi was extraordinarily bloodthirsty. It was his idea to behead American civilians in front of movie cameras and post the gory scene on the internet. Zarqawi's behavior is reminiscent of a Nazi SS general assigned to assassination, terror, and genocide.
Medinian Islam and totalitariansm
The warlord Islam of Medina trains the minds of the people for life under a totalitarian regime and servile devotion to an all-powerful leader. The tidy-minded cookie cutter legalism of Medinian Islam is highly addictive. One becomes obsessed with minute peccadilloes of law and with outward formats, ceremony, and conformity, while becoming indifferent to what is in the heart. Such practices create the illusion of righteousness even as the neglected heart becomes more wicked.
Tribal societies that practice legalistic conformity exert astoundingly powerful peer pressure on their members. Such societies are highly submissive to power coming down from above and are vulnerable to the propaganda cult of the leader.
An Islamo-fascist state is a form of barbarism. It is incapable of either democracy or of civilization in the higher sense. The golden age of Muslim civilization came during a time when the civilizing Meccan side of Islam prevailed
Large Muslim nations today rarely are entirely Meccan or Medinian. Such nations, like Iraq, are usually a mix of the two kinds of Islam. When the Meccan side wins out, democracy can be established.
Zarqawi's strategy of the terror killing of Muslims based upon their tribe and sect is backfiring. The split between Mecca and Medina is more fundamental to Islam than the split between Sunni and Shia and the division of Arab tribes. Nothing could undercut jihadism more deeply than the killing of Muslims by Islamo-fascists. Indeed, Zarqawi was hated by Muslims throughout the world.
Long-term success of the government of Iraq will be determined by the willingness of a large majority of Iranians to shift away from the totalitarian tendencies of Medinian Islam and towards the civilizing tendencies of Meccan Islam. The large voter turnout in Iraq is a good sign. The prolonged difficulties of the parliamentary government in making compromises is a bad sign. Interestingly, the Iraqi government announced a major compromise about the selection of cabinet ministers the day Zarqawi died. To Muslims, who are steeped in the concept of kismet and are avid for dreams and signs, this dual event may appear as a providential sign of a new era for the Islamic nation.
The age of jihad
Since the days of the "Young Turks" in the Ottoman Empire, and the days when British Colonel T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) led the Arabs in an uprising against the Turks (as a backwater of World War I), jihad has been in the air. The Neofascist Baathist movement and Muslim outrage over the birth of Israel stimulated the continued growth of jihadism.
The present upsurge of jihadism is part of a recurring historical cycle. During one phase, the warlike, barbaric face of Islam prevails. During the next phase the peaceful, civilized face of Islam emerges, until overtaken by the first.
American Muslims like to say there are two jihads. The greater jihad is the inner battle of the devout. The lesser jihad is war. If one concentrates on the Quranic verses from Mecca, this perspective may be true. However, the warlord Islam of Medina pays no mind to inner battles. All human energies must go to outward conformity to the law and to the community, and to violent jihad towards one's infidel neighbors.
How long will the madness continue?
Like it or not, another age of jihad is upon us. The jihadists in our midst will not stop until they conquer the whole world for Islam or are decisively defeated. How long is this wave of jihadism likely to last before it exhausts itself on the shores of history?
Years ago, I predicted that the communist tide will not recede until the young men who defended mother Russia from the Germans during WW II were all dead or out of power. Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982), who ruled from 1964 to 1982, was the last significant Soviet premier who was also a WW II veteran. Soviet fortunes went into decline after his death in 1982. Thus, the policy of containment of Communism established by Harry Truman in 1947 required about 35 years to work. The policy was fully vindicated in 1991, when the Soviet empire collapsed, 44 years after the policy of containment was established. Let us take 40 years as a rough rule of thumb for the aging and expiring of the diehard leaders of a waning militancy.
I predict that the leaders who are emerging from the generation of terrorists who were trained under the aegis of Al Qaida in Afghanistan must be dead or out of power before this wave of jihad recedes. The Taliban regime was abolished in 2001. Add 40 years or so and the present wave of jihadism may well be finished or in a state of exhaustion by around 2040.
This prediction assumes that the United States steadfastly resists Islamo-fascism, terrorism, and jihadism during the interim. America's steadfast policy of containment of Communism established in 1947 by Truman was necessary to slowly exhaust the energies and will of the communists. President Bush's anti-terrorist policies, established in 2001, also require steadfast, long-term opposition until the frenzy of jihadism exhausts itself. Christian America is resilient, self-correcting, and spiritually renewing and can outlast an evil empire or a terror movement.
The great challenge of a generation
"The greatest generation" fought World War II and were steadfast during the cold war and the long twilight of Soviet communism. Because of their courage and character, we are free and prosperous. Now it is our turn to fight the forces of evil, so we can pass the torch of America's blessed heritage to the next generation.
This time, the battle is personal. We are fighting for the survival of civilization, Christianity, and democracy. As Christian armies stopped the jihadist hoards at Tours and Vienna, and saved Christian Europe from extinction, this is America's fight to preserve Christian civilization and democracy in this world. It is also a fight to save the whole world from bitter bondage to cruel Muslim dictators and terrorists. Victory is well within our power, but our patience will be sorely tested. God grant us the courage and patience to steadfastly bear the burden that providence has placed upon us.
RenewAmerica analyst Fred Hutchison also writes a column for RenewAmerica.
© 2006 Fred Hutchison