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Why I Am Not a Muslim (1995)
 by Ibn Warraq
Reviewed 2002-02-23: When did we all become experts on Islam? After 9/11/01, of course. But Ibn Warraq, an apostate from the religion of Muhammad (his spelling), has a deeper and broader Second Look Reviewunderstanding of the world's second largest religion and its culture. And, although Why I Am Not a Muslim was written well before that date, Warraq is not seduced by the mealy-mouthed protestations, especially from the instant experts among our pundits and politicians, that Islam is a sublime religion, a religion of peace and tolerance, a religion of social progress and of intellectual enlightenment.

Bunk, says Warraq. The same claims have been made about Christianity, but like Christianity it will become true of Islam only when the faithful lose their fundamentalist fervor and embrace the present-day, humanistic world. It may not be true that "Islamic Fundamentalist" is a redundancy, but it is manifestly true that it was religious belief, of the variety that came into the world via the sword of Muhammad, that guided the men who guided the planes toward the snuffing of over 3000 innocent lives.

It's all there in the sacred texts: the Koran, the hadith (sayings of Muhammad) and the sharia (Islamic law), says Warraq. And he quotes chapter and verse, or rather sura and ayah, to prove it. The more you believe in the literal word of the Koran -- and it is one's duty as a Muslim to believe it literally (as if belief can be a choice!) -- the greater your duty to convert the unbeliever. Or kill him if he resists (jihad). It's all there in the sacred texts.

In seventeen detailed (and sometimes poorly proofread) chapters, Warraq covers the dark side of Islam: origins, the character of Muhammad, the Koran, the Rushdie affair, Islamic imperialism, Islam's incompatibility with the rule of law, democracy, individual rights, equal rights for women, capitalism, technological and scientific progress (Islam teaches creationism, a pseudo-science), great art, music, and literature -- in other words, Islam stands against just about everything the West stands for. And there is no problem with slaughtering heretics, either.

This book is strong stuff, well attested. But rather than sounding negative about Islam, Warraq's tone is positive about humanity. Indeed, Warraq takes pains to point out that it is the religion he is criticizing, not the people who practice it. It is religion, he says, that colors judgment and causes more problems than it solves. And monotheistic religions, historically, are the bloodiest and most intolerant. Only when religion is deprived of the power of the state can it fulfill its putative sublime purpose. To demonstrate this, Why I Am Not a Muslim comes with extensive quotations, references, a reading list, a glossary and an index. It is well worth reading, even at the risk of your immortal soul.

Note: It may surprise you to learn that Why I Am Not a Muslim is being promoted by the Christian Right for their own purposes, even though it paraphrases the title and the polemics of Bertrand Russell's 1957 Why I Am Not a Christian, which both Warraq and I recommend. Indeed, Warraq doesn't speak well of Christianity, either!
Why I Am Not a Muslim (1995) by Ibn Warraq. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1995. ISBN: 0879759844

Agree? Disagree? Tell me!

Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.