writer Ibn Warraq has penned a number of books on
Islam, of which one of the better know is Why
I Am Not a Muslim. Published in 1995 it has
been described as 'an impassioned polemic against
almost 1,400 years of Muslim dogma and its effect
on the Islamic world.' A penname, 'Ibn Warraq' has
a history of being employed by dissenting voices
within the Islamic world. The author of Why I
Am Not a Muslim uses it due to concerns for
his personal safety.
Born in 1946 in India to Muslim parents, the family
moved to Pakistan after his national birthplace
was partitioned. Later in life his studies took
him to the University of Edinburgh. During the 1970s
he spent five years teaching in London. Perhaps
more than most of his fellow signatories of the
Manifesto Against Totalitarianism
Ibn Warraq has immersed himself in an intense critical
reading of the Koran and associated texts and is
now at the forefront of a head-on intellectual assault
on Islam, a religion he abandoned in order to become
a secular humanist.
absurd as it may be, some Muslims cannot even allow
themselves to think that leaving Islam is an option,
or even possible. They rather think that those who
leave Islam are paid Jewish agents than accept the
fact that people have freedom to think and some
may even think that Islam is not for them.
one time firm believer he later realised that his
understanding of Islam was based on reading those
who promulgated the religion. With his switch from
reading religion to studying science came what he
considered a more enlightened grounding for understanding
the world. He views the Koran as little more than
a tissue of lies.
does not hold to the thesis advanced by many analysts
that there is a major demarcation line that separates
Islam off from the belief system of its more fundamentalist
adherents. He approvingly cites the French thinker
Maxime Rodinson who argued that violence is "existentially"
Islam; being deeply rooted in Islam violence becomes
essential to it. Warraq sums it up: 'without Islam
the long-term strategy and individual acts of violence
by Usama bin Laden and his followers make little
sense.' While ceding that there are moderate Muslims
he is adamant that Islam itself is far from moderate:
'At most there is a difference of degree but not
is his firm belief that Islam as a system is a totalitarian
belief grid and that this is nowhere more apparent:
in the concept of Jihad, the Holy War, whose ultimate
aim is to conquer the entire world and submit it
to the one true faith, to the law of Allah. To Islam
alone has been granted the truth: there is no possibility
of salvation outside it. Muslims must fight and
kill in the name of Allah. We read (IX. 5-6):"Kill
those who join other gods with God wherever you
may find them".'
is he of a mind to acquiesce in the fashionable
view of Islamic fundamentalism that it is just like
any other type of fundamentalism. He points out
that while other fundamentalisms have been responsible
for violent acts they have been 'confined to particular
countries and regions.' Not so Islamic fundamentalism
which has 'global aspirations: the submission of
the entire world to the all-embracing Shari'a, Islamic
Law, a fascist system of dictates designed to control
every single act of all individuals.' Moreover,
he draws attention to the 'racist' character of
the religion. 'Only Islam treats non-believers as
inferior beings who are expendable in the drive
to world hegemony.'
response to such misgivings Warraq questions the
celestial dimension of Mohammed's character, whom
he alleged 'was not above political assassinations'
and who was responsible for the massacre of Jews.
could a messenger of God maim and crucify people
on the account that they resist accepting him? Could
such person be really a messenger of God? Wasn't
there a better man with more moral an ethical fortitude
to bear this mighty responsibility?
invective while widely scattered against a range
of targets has at times focussed on those who seek
martyrdom in pursuit of their anti-secular crusade.
'These God-intoxicated fanatics blindly throw away
their lives in return for the Paradise of Seventy
Two Virgins offered Muslim martyrs killed in the
Holy War against all infidels.'
with this critical spirit Warraq seeks to heighten
awareness of the unreciprocated intolerance of Islam.
became obvious to me that Muslims are accepted
by all the people of the world yet our prophet
wants us to hate them, to disassociate ourselves
from them, to force them into our way of life
or kill them, subdue them and make them pay Jizya.
How silly! How pathetic! How inhumane!
serious and well-regarded thinker, he highlights
the lack of intellectual depth and critical reflection
amongst Muslims when it comes to surveying their
own religion. Pointing to the tradition within the
West of higher biblical criticism which goes back
to the 16th and 17th century with Spinoza, he claims:
Muslims have shown themselves capable of scrutinising
their sacred text rationally.
a horror of putting the Koran to critical scrutiny
as a human document. The layman is not permitted
to question the Koran. This is why there's no progress
in Islamic society
Indeed any criticism of
their religious tenets is taken as an insult to
their faith, for which so many Muslims seem ready
Ibn Warraq this absence of critical reason is reinforced
by a patronising attitude on the part of many Western
intellectuals and political leaders. 'There's a
kind of condescension which says you mustn't hurt
the sensibilities of these poor Muslims, as though
they are children who must be shielded from the
adult world of criticism.' Warraq refuses to excuse
those who go along with such condescension:
bear some responsibility for creating an atmosphere
little short of intellectual terrorism where any
criticism of Islam is denounced as fascism, racism,
or "orientalism".' This results in Muslims
responding to any critical inquiry by shouting
'Oh, you're insulting our prophet, you're insulting
calls for a vigorous inquisitiveness that will 'unapologetically
examine the life of the Prophet.' He finds France
a more intellectually free country than England. The
French press were up for a fuller exploration of ideas
whereas in England intellectuals are so 'Islamically
and politically correct' that they feared using 'the
word Islam in front of terrorism.' They take their
cue from politicians:
quite ironical, both Bush and Tony Blair are the
two leaders who have introduced religion into
political life, and now they're the ones to refuse
to use the word 'Islam' when talking about terrorism.
fears the Islamization of Europe and the perilous
consequences that await democratic and secular values
were this to happen:
are exhorted in sermons in mosques, and in books
by such Muslim intellectuals as Dr Siddiqui of
the Muslim Institute in London, that if the laws
of the land conflict with any of the tenets of
Islam, then they must break the laws of the infidels,
and only follow the Law of God, the Shari'a, Islamic
many thinkers whose origins lie in the Muslim world
Warraq has come to question the value of multiculturalism,
he argues that it is based on a false premise that
holds that where there is a difference between cultures
all remain equally worthy of respect. For Warraq
this is a falsehood, which must not go unchallenged:
will not get anywhere until we emphasise the things
that we value, like separation of church and state,
liberalism, democracy, the value of rationality,
discussing our problems and so on. And yet our leaders
have been incredibly remiss. They pour even more
money into keeping people apart. It seems insane
to me. Instead of teaching the new arrivals and
new immigrants the language of the host community,
mostly English in Britain of course, and in America
and Australia, they're spending thousands of dollars
and pounds on encouraging language teaching in Punjabi,
in Urdu, in Hindi, it seems completely daft; how
on earth can these people integrate and become a
part of the community if they do not speak the language
of that community?
profound defender of the publication of the Danish
cartoons he places them in the context of refusing
to give into the pressures of a medieval society.
no democracy without freedom: freedom of debate,
of disagreement or insulting and offending, even.
This is a freedom the Islamic world does not have
and without it, the Islam will always be dogmatic,
fanatic and medieval.
Warraq believed it was important to show solidarity
with the Danish cartoonists in an open and public
way otherwise run the risk of facing the imposition
of totalitarian ideology. Although some tried to
unilaterally impose their own interpretation of
the cartoons on wider society in a bid to show that
the caricatures were stereotyping all Muslims as
terrorists, Warraq had earlier made clear his position
when he dismissed any such meaning: 'not all Muslims
or all Arabs are terrorists.'
well as being applauded by the US neoconservatives
he has defended the record of British imperialism
in India against its Islamic counterpart arguing
that whereas the latter 'destroyed thousands of
Indian temples' the former adopted a preservationist
stance allowing the modern world a window on the
richness of Indian society. The 'English even allowed
the Indians to rediscover their past.' Flowing from
this benign perspective on British imperialism is
a view that 'the West' is vastly superior in terms
of culture to 'the rest.' This is manifested in
the field of human rights where the West in Warraq's
view is the indisputably the leader.
West does not need the lessons of virtue of the
societies that keep women submitted, where their
clitorises are severed and where they are stoned
to death if suspected of adultery, where acid is
thrown to the faces of or where Human Rights are
denied to those who are considered lower classes.
Warraq's contribution to anti-totalitarian discourse
has been immense. His identification of Islam as
a totalitarian belief system with imperialist impulses
and designs is certainly at odds with those anti-totalitarians
who feel there is a substantive differentiation
between Islam in general and Islamic fundamentalism.
Right or not, his thinking provides enough material
to those grappling with his ideas and concepts to
more clearly understand one of the major belief
systems of our time.
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