Criticism of Islam, Quran, and the Prophet is a chapter from the book American Muslim Agenda available at Amazon and Kindle
We need to welcome every criticism of the Quran, Islam, and the Prophet and deal with it with grace. Let freedom of speech be the cornerstone of Islam.
People ask me over and over, “How do you put up with the likes of Hannity and others who denigrate Islam? How can you sit with Brigitte Gabriel and have a conversation?” I repeat the same story every time, which every Muslim can reel off in a hurry.
An old lady threw trash on the Prophet every time he passed by her home. One day, when the trash was not thrown on him, he was concerned about what happened to the lady. So he went in and found out that she was ill. He asked her if he could help her with anything. The kind gesture moved her. Wouldn’t you? When she learned that he was Muhammad upon whom she threw the trash, she was overcome with his kindness and became a fan.
Islam is not going disappear; no one can mess with the Quran, and the Prophet is not going anywhere. By opening ourselves up to criticism, we will learn a lot more about our faith than we will ever know. We need to move away from intolerance to acceptance of a different point of view without having to agree with it. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lived through it, and Muslims can learn from his examples.
Criticism can fade away or rain in on us, depending on how we respond to it. Lack of conviction in one’s faith breeds intolerance toward criticism, whereas firmness in religion can lead us to learn from criticism, explore the infinite wisdom, and realize the strength of our faith (imaan)—a good feeling to have—instead of living in doubt and shooing criticism away.
You may ask, “Why are you presenting a different point of view, and why should I believe you?”
I will ask you, “Why wouldn’t you review the work of Tariq Ramadan, Hamza Yusuf, Ziauddin Sardar, Wahiduddin Khan, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, Asghar Ali Engineer, Chandra Muzaffar, and a host of other critical Muslim thinkers? Why should you believe every word of Maududi, Banna, and others? Isn’t Islam for all times and all people?
If the Prophet were to have said to travel by a camel to Mecca for Hajj, what he said was a means of transportation to get there, not the camel. We have to look at the essence or the meaning of the verse rather than what they sound.
Way back in 1967, my sister had asked me if I knew more than Dr. Allama Iqbal. That question had never left my mind, and I had to scramble for the answer. The answer was a definite no, but I did not want to discard individual responsibility of not learning and knowing it on my own. I was always stuck with one of the most potent sentences from Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) last sermon: “I am leaving behind this Quran, and it is your responsibility to understand and follow it. You will not go astray.” The responsibility to know was placed directly on us. Prophet Muhammad never said, “Look, I am assigning the responsibility to teach this book to Shaikh Abdullah or to the Al-Azhar University.”
Just as a sidenote, some Muslims believed he asked to follow Quran, and some thought that he said, “Quran and sunna (his practice).” And yet some more believed that he asked to follow “Quran, sunna, and his family.”
Like all mothers, my mother taught me responsibility; she said, “If you do wrong, you alone will get punished and not your brother who might have instigated you. It is not what he said, but it is how you respond to him that matters to me.” She would invariably add, “On the Day of Judgment, you stand alone. There will be no one for you as each one of us will be busy in reflecting on our deeds.”
The Quran repeatedly reinforces the paramount principle of faith: “O You who believe, on you rests [the responsibility] of your souls” (Quran 5:105) and “that no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden” (Quran 53:38). The picture was clear to me.
The best thing that has ever happened to me was walking away from Islam and the Quran when I was a teen. I made the same mistake that every maligner of Islam made—reading the wrong translations of the Quran and blaming the religion for it.
After thirty years of searching for the truth, I found a fact. Islam is an inclusive faith. It is about coexistence; it is a faith that appreciates all God’s creation and urges one to respect the otherness of others (Quran 109:6) without having to agree. Quran explicitly says (Quran 49:13) that all of us are his creation, created to be different, and that we have to learn about one another to mitigate the conflicts and nurture goodwill. Today I am proud to be a believer, not a blind one but a critical believer in Islam.
Critical thinking has given me an inordinate amount of confidence to the point of challenging Pastor Jeffress in Dallas, that if he finds three faults in the Quran, I will convert to his faith. If he cannot see it, all I ask of him is to become a blessed peacemaker and work with me in mitigating conflicts and building a cohesive America, where all of us can aspire to live without the fear of the other.
He backed off as we returned the lousy challenge with the request to reason and finding the truth. We held a workshop on the Quran with ten non-Muslim clergy on the panel and four Muslims, including Imam Zia Sheikh, Dr. Basheer Ahmed, Imam Shakoor, and Brother Hamid Shaikh, and I moderated the event. A full accounting of the fact, including media interviews and the program, is recorded in details at www.QuraanConference.com.
When you have an issue with your spouse and child, you don’t scream and shut them down; the problem will not go away unless you face it and solve the issue. When people accept the solutions willingly, we will have peace. Isn’t that Islam is all about?
Indeed, we must gracefully respond to every criticism of the Quran, Islam, and the Prophet, and I have the patience to welcome it.
Aren’t we supposed to learn and know one another to mitigate conflicts and create the kingdom of heaven right here on Earth while waiting to go to the next heaven? Didn’t God say, “The best among you is the one who learns about the other” (49:13), so the myths, phobias, and fears can be dismantled?
I urge fellow Muslims to be open to all the criticism with confidence. Don’t shut it, and let freedom of speech be the cornerstone of Islam. Islam stands on its own; it does not need our defense, and it is silly to protect God or the Prophet. They are not weaklings or our property to protect. They belong to the whole universe, don’t they?
Muhammad Yunus, a Muslim thinker and a writer at New Age Islam responds, “Doesn’t the Quran repetitively say, ‘repel evil with good’ (Quran 13:22, 23:96, 41:34)? Shouldn’t you take the opportunity to demonstrate the good in your faith and remove the cloud of hatred that is forming by the twin growing menaces of the day—Islamophobia and radicalization?” Inscribe on the facade of your mosques in bold and golden letters the verses of the Quran that demonstrate the divine scheme on religious pluralism—Quran 2:62, 2:136, 4:124, 5:69, 22:17, 64:9, and 65:11, for example.
Tell the believing world by visual display on billboards at all Islamic centers that the divine light is lit in all places of pure worship (Quran 24:35) and God’s name is proclaimed regularly in monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques (Quran 22:40). Inform the atheist and all categories of nonbelievers that they all are recipients of a portion of divine spirit (Quran 15:29, 32:7–9, 38:72) and that God will judge them as well, along with the believing humanity (Quran 22:17). Tell the whole world that however they demonize our Prophet, we must ignore them as this is an article of faith for us (Quran 6:112, 25:31).
Dr. Tariq Cheema of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists adds another point of view, “The Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world must rise to the challenge and offer guidance to the faith-loving masses on how to encounter the exploitation of freedom of speech, which is often quite provocative and insulting. On the other hand, everyone must strive for legislation that guards the sanctity of all religions and his or her prophets, scriptures, and symbols alike.”
Islam is a universal, inclusive faith; it is from Rabbul Aalameen [creator of the universe; its prophet is Rahmatul Aalameen (mercy to humanity)] and we should be mukhlooqul aalameen (universal, all-embracing beings). Islam is about goodness and not forcing others and not domineering but co-existing, just as the Prophet did and proclaimed in the Madinah treaty. Islam is about appreciating everything God has created in this universe (Quran 55:16).
If they curse the Prophet, the Prophet is not going to be sworn. Have strength in your faith, and return badness with good. We know all the examples of his work. When you hear someone curse the prophet, say, “I am sorry you feel that way, but if you wish to seek the truth, find it on your own. I will be happy to connect you with someone who can guide you. You had better believe that nothing will come off me or the Prophet. Your words do not have the power to reduce Islam or the Prophet. I will pray for the peace of mind to you.”
Don’t feel compelled to convince anyone. Let go. What did Allah say to the Prophet when he was frustrated that people were not getting his message? You do your dharma (duty) and let them have the freedom to accept. Elsewhere, God says there is no compulsion in matters of faith (Quran 2:256).
Have confidence. Read what is right in Islam and ignore the bad things others say, write, or put in film about Islam or its Prophet. From the very first day of his mission, the Prophet was criticized, the Quran reviled, and the criticism and revulsion only gained momentum through the Medieval Ages as Islam continued to win the hearts of other people. It has come to the surface again with greater ferocity, but we, the Muslims, as peacemakers must act peacefully.
Islam is not going anywhere. The Prophet is not going anywhere. And by opening up, you will immensely enjoy your imaan (faith) with genuine admiration for its wisdom. I thank Allah for helping me see the light and beauty of Islam, and you can too.
I will share the details of my responses to Geert Wilder, Robert Spencer, Noni Darwish, and a host of others who earn their living by gratuitous criticism of Islam. They are ready to use responses against any criticism.
Who Speaks for American Muslims?
The overwhelming majority of Muslims are moderate. However, there are not enough speakers out there to articulate what Muslims actually believe and practice and highlight their significant contributions to America.
Those who had a morally corrupt agenda filled the gap and spoke negatively about Islam. Unfortunately, their version becomes the currency, and so many Americans fall for it in the absence of the right information.
Everyone wants to see a cohesive America where no one has to live in apprehension, tension, or fear one another. The Center for Pluralism, also known as the America Together Foundation has embarked on a mission to train speakers to deliver the message of Islam as practiced by American Muslims, which is distinct from Islam practiced elsewhere in the world.
There is no doubt that a few Islamophobes are out to get Muslims; they are well paid to do so, and it is their livelihood. But in the same vein, Muslims would not be well served to believe that all of them are of the same ilk. These Islamophobes are simply afraid of what the “Islamists” are doing in the name of Islam and worried sick about its ramifications for America. Rationally, they know it is not in America, but still, the phobia persists.
We must listen to our fellow citizens and moral duty to allay their fears.
Pulitzer Prize winner Judith Miller speaks out on Fox News. “So many Muslims fear speaking out for the reactions they get from their own community. Until we win that battle inside, the jihadists will take center stage. We are going to go on creating the impression that the Islamists jihadists are the majority, and they are not.”
Brigitte Gabriel of Act for America adds, “Where are the funders of people like Mike? Is there not a megamillionaire in the Islamic world who can say, ‘You know what, I believe in your moderate message and can give Mike five million dollars to build the grassroot organization’?” Here is a video: https://www.facebook.com/MikeGhouse/videos/1438210749532124/.
The right-leaning Muslims curse Gabriel, Spencer, and Geller out, while the left discounts them, leaving the moderates deal with the issue. What I hear them say is this: Where are the mainstream Muslims to speak out about what they practice? The mainstream Muslims have reached the point of zero tolerance toward extremism and have the desire to assertively seek to push the literalists to see the essence of Islam.
The most sustainable way to counter “Islamophobia” and violent extremism is through education. Our programs are designed to bring Americans together; the more we see one another in social, cultural, civic, religious, political, and other settings, the less divisiveness there will be, resulting in fewer misunderstandings and misperceptions among us.
No one speaks for Islam, and yet anyone can speak for Islam. Quran does not set boundaries, nor does the Prophet make it exclusive. It’s a public religion, and there is no private control over it.
Free speech is an inalienable right of every individual, and it’s uploaded in our DNA.
Many great speakers are not Muslims but are more knowledgeable than most Muslims. Some of them are Dr. Karen Armstrong, Prof. John Esposito, Late Houston Smith, Acharya Pramod Krishnam, Lakshmi Shankaracharya, Swami Agnivesh, Lesley Hazleton, Rabbi Gerry Serotta, and many others.
There are those who deliberately misinform the public, and they are the likes of Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Brigitte Gabriel, Steve Emerson, and Jamie Glazov. They have financial gains in maligning others and posing Islam as their enemy. They know there is a correct version, but they choose to stick with the discarded version that serves their purpose.
A good example is Muslims have rediscovered that jihad means “inner struggle and fighting against the whims and base instincts of ill will, anger, revenge, jealousy among other temptations.” Of course, it was Muslim scholars around the times of the Crusades who gave the meaning of “armed struggle” to the word jihad in response to the campaigns and messed up the decorative purpose of it. The “Islamophobes” insist on that messed-up sense. I’m not buying it, nor any Muslim in America would buy that. However, there are still a few Muslims left out there who believe in it.
Then there are disgruntled former Muslims—such as Walid Shoebat, Noni Darwish, Ibn Sina, Ayan Hirsi Ali, and Taslima Nasrin—who have a personal ax to grind and take it out on Islam. Some organizations shamelessly pay them well for bashing Islam. I am blessed to have discussed and debated with most of them. One such story is in the section “Pushing Back on Tarek Fatah.”
Islam has several divisions. The bulk of the followers are Sunni, that is, nearly 85 percent of the entire Muslim population. About 12 percent are Shia and its subdenominations, and the Ahmadiyya Muslims make up approximately about 1 percent, and the rest fall into different categories, including Sufis and Alawis.
The mainstream within Sunni is flooded with speakers, while Shia mainstream speakers are available on request. There is a shortage of speaker among Ahmadiyya, Ismaili, Shia, and other groups, and usually, they have to get permission from higher-ups to speak. They want to make sure someone well informed speaks for them.
Among Muslim speakers, we have a range of speakers, but there are very few who can speak in a language for people of other faith traditions to understand.
Criminals such as Abu Bakr Baghdadi and Bin Laden also speak for Islam, and they have teeny-weeny followers who fell for their bullshit.
Then you have imams from the Wahhabi tradition who understand Islam but unfortunately believe in enforcing their understanding on others, completely defying the fundamental Islamic creed: there is no compulsion in matters of faith; one is free to understand and follow what suits them.
There are a few who dabble in interfaith-speak but stick to their logic “Because God says so” or “It is in the Quran” and does not work for atheists, agnostics, and many others in different faiths.
Who Should Speak for Islam?
If it is not common sense, then it is not Islam. If one cannot explain the wisdom and merely quote the holy book, they have not grasped the idea of Islam.
Who Would Be the Right Speaker on Islam?
Anyone who has understood the essence of Islam and communicates those values would be a right speaker—the values that contribute to the well-being of the entire society and not a specific group such as accountability, truthfulness, justice, forgiveness, caring for fellow beings, humility, pluralism, civil dialogue, harmony, and pluralism. Quran and Islam are guidance to live in peace with oneself and with others around the one.
- God says in chapter 55 that he has created everything in balance, interdependence, and harmony. The sun, stars, and the planet functions as planned.
- God has given the responsibility to humans—the intelligent species who are capable of managing their environment, ecological balance, social balance, and mental balance for their own good.
- “God is just, merciful, and kind” is repeated more times than any other word.
- God wills that we continue on the planet by taking care of ourselves and what surrounds us. If we wreck anything, ultimately, we are messing with ourselves.
- God is not a villain of others as a few clergies have made him out to be.
- God does not make deals with others behind our backs. Who wants a god like that?
- An extensive survey was conducted by the Pew Foundation across the world where over 80 percent of Muslims in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia said they condemned any attacks on civilians and said it was never justified. They speak for Islam.
- God rewards those who care for his creation—all his nature. No one is more privileged than the other, and no religious way of life is superior to the other. They are all different paths to create societies where humans can live without fear (verses in the section “Islamic Value No. 10: Pluralism”).
That is the whole message of the Quran. The right speaker communicates that. Islam is not about the ruling, controlling, and dominating others; it is about living in harmony with what surrounds you—life and environment.
Prophet Muhammad’s Words about the Quran
In his last sermon, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “I am leaving this book to you.” He addressed the thousands of congregants who had gathered around him. “It is your responsibility to read, understand, and follow it.”
Please remember the message was very clear. The Prophet did not assign the interpretation of the book to “anyone”—not a single person. He did not say, “If you have problems, here is Shaikh Know-it-all to answer your questions.”
He knew that each person has their own experience and reference to see the openness of God’s words to guide the individual to live in peace with themselves and with what surrounds them.
The Prophet was about creating responsible societies and accountability for one’s words and actions. No one but you is responsible for your efforts.
Once, his daughter Fatima was excited and asked, “Dad, do I go to paradise because I am the daughter of the Prophet?” He said, “No, it is not automatic. You have to earn it. There is no nepotism in this religion, my child.”
So every Muslim should technically speak about Islam, but that does not happen with any religion. Most people just want to follow the rituals and don’t even want to know. If I get something from Amazon, my son reads the whole manual to put the stuff together; I just go at it.
The Quran Has Been Deliberately Mistranslated
The Quran is a book of guidance to live in peace with oneself and with what surrounds one—life and environment. It is designed to create cohesive societies where no human has to live in apprehension or fear of others. Most people get that right, and a few don’t. That is the case with everything in life. The Quran is never the problem; it is our understanding that is the problem.
Way back in AD 1143, the first translation of the Quran, the European leaders commissioned a hostile Quran translation to foster warfare against Muslim invaders. Later, Muslim leaders produced another translation to inflame Muslims against Christians and Jews.
Pristine Islam and Mangled-Up Islam Exist Together: A Chapter on Two Islams
It is time for Muslims to take the steps necessary to allay the fears of fellow Americans and undo the tensions, remove the suspicions, and restore trust among Americans. This is what a Muslim ought to be—a conflict mitigator and a goodwill nurturer.
Do American Muslims Want Sharia?
We owe it to fellow Americans to clarify the myths about sharia and propose fixing this problem through a conference that is being planned with Islamic scholars and those who are opposed to sharia to make the event credible. Let’s “clear the air” of misunderstandings for all Americans. We need to put this fear behind and move on with our lives (see chapter “Sharia Laws and Fixing Them”).
Does Quran Promote Violence?
This is not only for concerned Americans but also for Muslims. In effect, the Quran tells you to mind your own business and let others mind theirs.
If you are a “doubting Muslim” about Quran, we will hold a workshop for your group. Many Muslims seem to be faith deficient. Shamefully, a few Muslim scholars have deliberately misinterpreted sixty verses to make Allah unfriendly toward Jews and Christians.
This is the year of the great American integration. Muslims have to be contributors to the goodness of America despite getting the short end of the stick.
Our approach ought to be conflict mitigation and goodwill nurturance and not confrontation. Discussions and dialogue, however frustrating they might be, open up new vistas of cooperation. That is what pluralism is about—respecting the otherness of others. There is a whole chapter in the Quran on that.
My safety hinges on the safety of people around me, so it is in my best interests to work for the safety and goodness of fellow Americans.
Many Muslim “leaders” are conformist chickens and run like hell if anyone makes even the slightest of noise. They are afraid and cannot cope with dissent and disagreement. They just don’t dare to take the stand for doing the right thing. Leadership has the vision to foresee the problems and cobble reluctant people and oppose views together through agonizing discussions and move toward maintaining the dynamic equilibrium of the societies.
It takes guts, and we hope to train enough Muslim leaders to take those steps.
Thanks to our imams, they are a blessing and play a key role in reshaping Muslim relationships with fellow Americans. In the past, we have asked the imams, and they have come through it. We asked them to pray for the release of Yazidi women, persecuted Christians, or harassed Shia or call on them to urge Muslims to honor our veterans on Veterans Day. They have done it all. Fellow Americans need to know this, and we are going to do a lot more now.
Among the imams, Muslim scholars, and us, we will test one another in stretching beyond our sketchy religious boundaries created during the Middle Ages but will unequivocally stick together and remain within the pluralistic traditions of Islam.