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Criticism of Islam

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Apostasy in Islam
Islamic terrorism
Homosexuality and Islam
The Satanic Verses controversy
Islam and domestic violence
Islam and antisemitism
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Namus · Honor killings
Death by stoning

Notable modern critics

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Ayaan Hirsi Ali · Irshad Manji
Daniel Pipes · Philippe de Villiers
Alexandre del Valle · Ibn Warraq
Geert Wilders · Oriana Fallaci
Robert Spencer · Theo van Gogh
Afshin Ellian · Salman Rushdie
Ahmad Kasravi · Taha Hussein
Turan Dursun · Wafa Sultan
Lord Pearson

Extremist related events since 2001

Criticism of Islam has existed since Islam's formative stages. Early written criticism came from Christians, prior to 1000 AD, many of whom viewed Islam as a radical Christian heresy.[1] Later there appeared criticism from the Muslim world itself, and also from Jewish writers and from ecclesiastical Christians.[2][3][4] In the modern era, criticism has come from Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, most notably atheists, as well as people both inside and outside Islam, on a wide variety of topics.

Objects of criticism include Islam's intolerance of criticism, attitudes towards perceived heresy and accused heretics, and the treatment accorded to apostates in Islamic law. Another area focuses on the morality of the life of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, both in his public and personal life.[4][5] Issues relating to the authenticity and morality of the Qu'ran, the Islamic holy book, are also discussed by critics.[6][7] Other criticisms focus on the question of human rights in modern Islamic nations, and the treatment of women in Islamic law and practice.[8][9] Recently[when?], Islam's influence on the ability of Muslim immigrants in the West to assimilate has been criticized.[10]

History of criticism of Islam

Early Islam

The earliest surviving written criticisms of Islam are to be found in the writings of Christians, who came under the early dominion of the Islamic Caliphate. One such Christian was John of Damascus (born c. 676), who was familiar with Islam and Arabic. The second chapter of his book, The Fount of Wisdom, titled 'Concerning Heresies', presents a series of discussions between Christians and Muslims. John claimed an Arian monk influenced Muhammad and viewed the Islamic doctrines as nothing more than a hotchpotch culled from the Bible.[11] Writing on Islam's claim of Abrahamic ancestry, John explained that the Arabs were called "Saracens" because they were "empty of Sarah". They were called "Hagarenes" because they were "the descendants of the slave-girl Hagar".[12] According to John V. Tolan, a Professor of Medieval History, John's biography of Muhammad is "based on deliberate distortions of Muslim traditions".[13]

Medieval Islamic world

Over the years there have been several famous Muslim critics and skeptics of Islam from within the Islamic world itself. In tenth and eleventh-century Syria there lived a blind poet called Al-Ma'arri. He became well known for a poetry that was affected by a "pervasive pessimism." He labeled religions in general as "noxious weeds," and said that Islam does not have a monopoly on truth. He had particular contempt for the ulema, writing that:

They recite their sacred books, although the fact informs me that these are fiction from first to last. O Reason, thou (alone) speakest the truth. Then perish the fools who forged the religious traditions or interpreted them![2][14]

In 1280, the Jewish philosopher, Ibn Kammuna, criticized Islam in his book Examination of the Three Faiths. He reasoned that the Sharia was incompatible with the principles of justice, and that this undercut the notion of Muhammad being the perfect man: "there is no proof that Muhammad attained perfection and the ability to perfect others as claimed."[15][16] The philosopher thus claimed that people converted to Islam from ulterior motives:

That is why, to this day we never see anyone converting to Islam unless in terror, or in quest of power, or to avoid heavy taxation, or to escape humiliation, or if taken prisoner, or because of infatuation with a Muslim woman, or for some similar reason. Nor do we see a respected, wealthy, and pious non-Muslim well versed in both his faith and that of Islam, going over to the Islamic faith without some of the aforementioned or similar motives.[3]


According to Bernard Lewis, just as it is natural for a Muslim to assume that the converts to his religion are attracted by its truth, it is equally natural for the convert's former coreligionists to look for baser motives and Ibn Kammuna's list seems to cover most of such nonreligious motives.[17]

Maimonides, one of the foremost 12th century rabbinical arbiters and philosophers, sees the relation of Islam to Judaism as primarily theoretical. Maimonides has no quarrel with the strict monotheism of Islam, but finds fault with the practical politics of Muslim regimes. He also considered Islamic ethics and politics to be inferior to their Jewish counterparts. Maimonides criticised what he perceived as the lack of virtue in the way Muslims rule their societies and relate to one another.[18] In his Epistle to Yemenite Jewry, he refers to Mohammad, as "hameshuga" - that madman.[19]

Medieval Christendom

  • In Dante's Inferno, Muhammad is portrayed as split in half, representing his status as a heresiarch (one who split from the Christian church).
  • Some medieval ecclesiastical writers portrayed Muhammad as possessed by Satan, a "precursor of the Antichrist" or the Antichrist himself.[4]
  • Denis the Carthusian wrote two treatises to refute Islam at the request of Nicholas of Cusa, Contra perfidiam Mahometi, et contra multa dicta Sarracenorum libri quattuor and Dialogus disputationis inter Christianum et Sarracenum de lege Christi et contra perfidiam Mahometi.[20]
  • The Tultusceptru de libro domni Metobii, an Andalusian manuscript with unknown dating, shows how Muhammad (called Ozim, from Hashim) was tricked by Satan into adulterating an originally pure divine revelation. The story argues God was concerned about the spiritual fate of the Arabs and wanted to correct their derivation from the faith. He then sends an angel to the monk Osius who orders him to preach to the Arabs. Osius however is in ill-health and orders a young monk, Ozim, to carry out the angel's orders instead. Ozim sets out to follow his orders, but gets stopped by an evil angel on the way. The ignorant Ozim believes him to be the same angel that spoke to Osius before. The evil angel modifies and corrupts the original message given to Ozim by Osius, and renames Ozim Muhammad. From this followed the erroneous teachings of Islam, according to the tultusceptrum.[21]
  • According to many Christians, the coming of Muhammad was foretold in the Holy Bible. According to the monk Bede this is in Genesis 16:12, which describes Ishmael as "a wild man" whose "hand will be against every man". Bede says about Muhammad: "Now how great is his hand against all and all hands against him; as they impose his authority upon the whole length of Africa and hold both the greater part of Asia and some of Europe, hating and opposing all."[22]
  • In 1391 a dialogue was believed to have occurred between Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and a Persian scholar in which the Emperor stated:
Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached. God is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death.

The first sentence of this quotation, when repeated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, led to a series of riots, firebombing of churches and a Fatwa against the life of the Pope (see Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy).

Enlightenment Criticism

In Of the Standard of Taste, an essay by David Hume, the Qur’an is described as an "absurd performance" of a "pretended prophet" who lacked "a just sentiment of morals." Attending to the narration, Hume says, "we shall soon find, that [Muhammad] bestows praise on such instances of treachery, inhumanity, cruelty, revenge, bigotry, as are utterly incompatible with civilized society. No steady rule of right seems there to be attended to; and every action is blamed or praised, so far as it is beneficial or hurtful to the true believers."[23]

Late 19th and Early 20th Century Critics of Islam

During the late 19th and early 20th century, the new methods of Higher criticism were applied to the Qu'ran, claiming that it had a non-divine origin. Ignaz Goldziher and Henri Corbin wrote about the influence of Zoroastrianism, and others wrote on the influence of Judaism, Christianity and Sabianism.[24]

Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister through most of World War 2, was a strong critic of the effects Islam had on its believers. He stated in his 1899 book The River War:[25]

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

Contemporary critics of Islam

Notable contemporary critics include:

  • Robert Spencer an American writer on Islam. He is the author of six books, including two bestsellers, on topics related to Islam and terrorism. He is the founder and director of the Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch websites that focus on Islamist terrorism-related events and various Jihad-activity worldwide.[26]
  • Serge Trifkovic a Serbian-American historian, journalist, and political analyst. Author of the Sword of the Prophet: The politically incorrect guide to Islam: History, Theology, Impact on the World (2002) The book chronicles events related to the rise of Islam and the patterns of violence adopted by its founder, Muhammad.
  • Daniel Pipes an American historian and analyst who specializes in the Middle East.
  • Bat Ye'or an Egyptian-born British historian [27] and scholar [28] specialising in the history of non-Muslims in the Middle East, and in particular the history of Christian and Jewish dhimmis living under Islamic governments.[29]
  • V. S. Naipaul, a Nobel prize winning, Trinidadian-born British novelist of Hindu heritage, who has sowed controversy with his criticism of Islam. He claims it has had a "calamitous effect on converted peoples", destroying their ancestral culture and history.[30]
  • Brigitte Gabriel, founder of American Congress For Truth and author of Because They Hate.
  • Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist and novelist who has written three short books after the events of September the 11th advancing the argument that the "Western world is in danger of being engulfed by radical Islam". Two of them, The Rage and The Pride and The Force of Reason have been translated into English by Fallaci.[31]
  • Right-wing European and American politicians and commentators such as Tom Tancredo, Nick Griffin, Philippe de Villiers, Pia Kjærsgaard, Susanne Winter, Anne Coulter, Geert Wilders, Michael Savage, and Laura Schlessinger
  • Bloggers including Hugh Fitzgerald, Lawrence Auster, Fjordman

Several scholars do not self-identify as critics of Islam but criticize some of its aspects:

  • Benny Morris, is an Israeli historian. He views the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a facet of a global clash of civilizations between Islamic fundamentalism and the Western World, saying that "There is a deep problem in Islam. It's a world whose values are different. A world in which human life doesn't have the same value as it does in the West, in which freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien.[32]
  • Bernard Lewis holds that unbelievers, slaves, and women are considered fundamentally inferior to other groups of people under Islamic law. He does write that even the equality of free adult male Muslims represented a very considerable advance on the practice of both the Greco-Roman and the ancient Iranian world.[33][34]
  • Patricia Crone, is a scholar, author and historian of early Islamic history working at the Institute for Advanced Study. She co-authored the controversial Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World, a book that researched the early history of Islam, coming to conclusions at variance with the traditional view.
  • Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who wants to ban the Qu'ran in the Netherlands, because he believes it conflicts with the Dutch laws and calls for violence in general.
  • Warner Todd Huston, a prominent American columnist who has drawn criticism for arguing that Islam should be banned in the United States[35] and for writing on the website of Illinois Senate Candidate Alan Keyes that "the only true solution is that millions of Muslims must be killed and the sooner the better it will be for the whole world. Not because Jews are somehow perfect or that Muslims just plain "need killing," but because Islam is so patently evil and needs to be defeated!"[36]


  • Michel Onfray, a French philosopher and ardent supporter of atheism. Onfray attacks Islam along with other monotheistic religions, speaks of "Muslim fascism" that had risen with the Islamic Revolution in Iran and considers Islamic teachings to be "structurally archaic". He also considers Western consumerist culture to be flawed as well.[37]
  • Richard Dawkins an outspoken antireligionist, atheist, secular humanist, and sceptic, and he is a supporter of the Brights movement.[38]
  • Sam Harris, author of the bestseller The End of Faith, who is skeptical that moderate Islam is even possible, arguing that Muslim extremism is a consequence simply of taking the Qur'an literally.[39] This book has a chapter entitled "The problem with Islam", where he puts forward arguments specific to Islam, saying "There are good beliefs and there are bad ones and it should now be obvious to everyone that Muslims have more than their fair share of the latter".[40]
  • Christopher Hitchens a writer and critic of religions including Islam. Has raised concern of what he describes as "fascism with an Islamic face"
  • Richard Carrier a philosopher and ancient historian, frequently criticises Islam in his writings on the Secular Web.[41]
  • Pat Condell, a stand-up comedian and writer who criticises religions, including Islam in his online video posts.
  • Ali Sina, founder of Faith Freedom International

Evangelical Christians

  • Pat Robertson expressed the view that "Islam wants to take over the world and is not a religion of peace", and that radical Muslims are "satanic", and that Osama bin Laden was a "true follower of Muhammad".[42][43]
  • Jerry Falwell, another American conservative Baptist minister, characterized the prophet Muhammad as being a 'terrorist'.[44]
  • Franklin Graham who described Islam as an 'evil and wicked religion' and suggested that those who believed Islam to be "wonderful" should "go and live under the Taliban somewhere".[45]
  • R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who described the Islamic theology as false and destructive and believes that Muslims are motivated by demonic power.[46]
  • Other evangelical critics of Islam include Rod Parsley, Bill Keller and Jerry Vines

Former Muslims

There are also outspoken former Muslims who believe that Islam is the primary cause of what they see as the mistreatment of minority groups in Muslim countries and communities. Almost all of them now live in the West, many under assumed names because of a genuine danger to themselves. Many have had death threats made against them by Islamic groups and individuals.

  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has focused on the plight of Muslim women, saying that "they aspire to live by their faith as best they can, but their faith robs them of their rights."[47]
  • Taslima Nasrin, also Nasreen, and popularly just Taslima, is a Bengali/Bangladeshi ex-physician turned feminist author. She is a severe critic of Islam and of religion in general, who describes herself as a secular humanist.
  • Magdi Allam, an outspoken Egyptian-born Italian journalist who describes Islam as intrinsically violent and characterised by “hate and intolerance”.[48] He converted to Catholicism and was baptised by Pope Benedict XVI during an Easter Vigil service on March 23, 2008.
  • Nonie Darwish, who founded the pro-Israel web site Arabs for Israel and stated that "Islam is more than a religion, it is a totalitarian state"[49] She is also the author of Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.
  • Nyamko Sabuni, who is the Minister of Integration and Gender Equality in Sweden and advocates banning the veil and establishing compulsory gynecological examinations for schoolgirls to guard against female genital mutilation, stating, "I will never accept that women and girls are oppressed in the name of religion" and declaring it is not her intent to reform Islam but only to denounce "unacceptable" practices. She has received death threats, requiring 24-hour police protection, for her views.[50]
  • Zachariah Anani, a former Sunni Muslim Lebanese militia fighter. Anani said that Islamic doctrine teaches nothing less than the "ambushing, seizing and slaying" of non-believers, especially Jews and Christians.[51]
  • Khalid Duran, a specialist in the history, sociology and politics of the Islamic world, who coined the term "Islamofascism" to describe the push by some Islamist clerics to "impose religious orthodoxy on the state and the citizenry".[52]
  • Ehsan Jami, a Dutch politician who criticized Islamic prophet Muhammad, describing him as a "criminal".[53]
  • Maryam Namazie, a Communist activist and the leader of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.[54]
  • Anwar Shaikh who has written several books exposing and criticising Islam.
  • Walid Shoebat a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation who took part in terrorist attacks against Israeli targets.[55] He stated that "Secular dogma like Nazism is less dangerous than Islamofascism that we see today ... because Islamofascism has a religious twist to it; it says 'God the Almighty ordered you to do this. It is trying to grow itself in fifty-five Muslim states. So potentially, you could have a success rate of several Nazi Germanys, if these people get their way."[56]".
  • Ibn Warraq a secularist author, intellectual, scholar and founder of the Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society and a senior research fellow at the Center for Inquiry[57][58][59] specializing in Koranic criticism.[60][61]
  • Wafa Sultan, who has pointed out that the prophet of Islam said: "I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and his Messenger." Sultan has called on Islamic teachers to review their writings and teachings and remove every call to fight people who do not believe as Muslims.[62] Dr. Sultan is now in hiding, fearing for her life and the safety of her family after appearing on the al-Jazeera TV show.[63]


  • Irshad Manji, a Canadian journalist and author of The Trouble with Islam Today.[64]
  • Ahmed H. al-Rahim, founder of American Islamic Congress, who says that the Mosques in America are teaching values of hate and not peace.[65]
  • Maajid Nawaz, former member of the Islamic political group Hizb ut-Tahrir and now a critic of Islamic reformist groups and their effect on modern day Britain.
  • Ed Husain, former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, created a counter-extremism organisation called the Quilliam Foundation and is also the author of 'The Islamist'.

Responses to criticism of Islam

  • John Esposito has written many introductory texts on Islam and the Islamic world. For example, he has addressed issues like the rise of militant Islam, the veiling of women, and democracy.[66][67] Esposito emphatically argues against what he calls the "pan-Islamic myth". He thinks that "too often coverage of Islam and the Muslim world assumes the existence of a monolithic Islam in which all Muslims are the same." To him, such a view is naive and unjustifiably obscures important divisions and differences in the Muslim world.[68]
  • William Montgomery Watt who in his book Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman addresses Muhammad's alleged moral failings. He claims that “Of all the world's great men none has been so much maligned as Muhammad.” Watt argues on a basis of moral relativism that Muhammad should be judged by the standards of his own time and country rather than "by those of the most enlightened opinion in the West today."[69]
  • Karen Armstrong, tracing what she believes to be the West's long history of hostility toward Islam, finds in Muhammad's teachings a theology of peace and tolerance. Armstrong holds that the "holy war" urged by the Qur'an alludes to each Muslim's duty to fight for a just, decent society.[70]
  • Edward Said, in his essay Islam Through Western Eyes, stated that the general basis of Orientalist thought forms a study structure in which Islam is placed in an inferior position as an object of study. He claims the existence of a very considerable bias in Orientalist writings as a consequence of the scholars' cultural make-up. He claims Islam has been looked at with a particular hostility and fear due to many obvious religious, psychological and political reasons, all deriving from a sense "that so far as the West is concerned, Islam represents not only a formidable competitor but also a late-coming challenge to Christianity."[71]
  • Cathy Young of Reason Magazine claimed that the growing trend of anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim sentiment stemmed from an atmosphere where such criticism is popular. While stating that the terms "Islamophobia" and "anti-Muslim bigotry" are often used in response to legitimate criticism of fundamentalist Islam and problems within Muslim culture, she claimed "the real thing does exist, and it frequently takes the cover of anti-jihadism."[72]
  • Deepa Kumar, the author of Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization, and the UPS Strike, in her article titled 'Fighting Islamophobia: A Response to Critics' says "The history of Islam is no more violent than the history of any of the other major religions of the world. Perhaps my critics haven't heard of the Crusades -- the religious wars fought by European Christians from the 11th to the 13th centuries." referring to the brutality of the crusades and then contrasting them to forbidding of acts of vengeance and violence by the Sultan of Egypt Saladin, after he successfully retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders. Speaking on the Danish cartoon controversy she says "The Danish cartoon of the prophet Mohammed with a bomb on his head is nothing if not the visual depiction of the racist diatribe that Islam is inherently violent. To those who can't understand why this argument is racist, let me be clear: when you take the actions of a few people and generalize it to an entire group -- all Muslims, all Arabs -- that's racism. When a whole group of people are discriminated against and demonized because of their religion or regional origin, that's racism." and "...Arabs and Muslims are being scapegoated and demonized to justify a war that is ruining the lives of millions."[73]

Criticism of the truthfulness of Islam and Islamic Scriptures

Reliability of the Qur'an

-- historical authenticity of the Qur'an

Muslims believe the Qur'an to be the perfect word of God, and as such it cannot contain any errors or contradictions, and must be perfectly compatible with science. It is so perfect that readers must conclude it is of divine, rather than human, origin.

Critics argue that:

  • the Qur'an has scientific errors.[74][75]
  • the Qur'an contains verses which are difficult to understand or contradictory.[76]
  • the Qur'an contains incorrect cosmological explanations.[41]
  • there is nothing miraculously new in the Qur'an[41]
  • the Qur'an is not original, but rather shows the influence of Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Sabianism, and Samaritanism in its origins. American missionary Samuel Zwemer claimed the Qur'an "is not an invention, but a concoction; there is nothing novel about it except the genius of Muhammad in mixing old ingredients into a new panacea for human ills and forcing it down by means of the sword."[77]
  • Some accounts of the history of Islam say there were two verses of the Qur'an that were allegedly added by Muhammad when he was tricked by Satan (in an incident known as the "Story of the Cranes", later referred to as the "Satanic Verses"). These verses were then retracted at angel Gabriel's behest.[69][78]

Reliability of hadith

Hadith are Muslim traditions relating to the Sunna (words and deeds) of Muhammad. They are drawn from the writings of scholars writing between 844 and 874 CE, more than 200 years after the death of Mohammed in 632 CE.[79] In general, for Muslims the hadith are second only to the Qur'an in importance,[80] although some scholars put more emphasis on the perpetual adherence of Muslim nation to the traditions to give them credibility, and not solely on hadith.[81] Most of our knowledge about the life of Muhammad comes from the hadith, many of which were biographies of Mohammed. Many Islamic practices (such as the Five Pillars of Islam) are drawn from the hadith.

However, there is criticism of the historical reliability of hadith. John Esposito notes that "Modern Western scholarship has seriously questioned the historicity and authenticity of the hadith", maintaining that "the bulk of traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad were actually written much later." He mentions Joseph Schacht as one scholar who argues this, claiming that Schacht "found no evidence of legal traditions before 722," from which Schacht concluded that "the Sunna of the Prophet is not the words and deeds of the Prophet, but apocryphal material" dating from later.[82]

Other Western scholars, like Wilferd Madelung, are more confident in the reliability of Islamic traditions, rejecting the stance of some historians who show an "extreme distrust" for "Muslim literary sources for the early age of Islam". Madelung wrote in the preface of his book The Succession to Muhammad:

Work with the narrative sources, both those that have been available to historians for a long time and others which have been published recently, made it plain that their wholesale rejection as late fiction is unjustified and that with a judicious use of them a much more reliable and accurate portrait of the period can be drawn than has so far been realized.[83]

Within Islam, different schools and sects have different opinions on the proper selection and use of hadith. The four schools of Sunni Islam all consider hadith second only to the Qur'an, although they differ on how much freedom of interpretation should be allowed to legal scholars.[84] Shi'i scholars disagree with Sunni scholars as to which hadith should be considered reliable. The Shi'as accept the Sunna of Ali and the Imams as authoritative in addition to the Sunna of Muhammad, and as a consequence they maintain their own, different, collections of hadith.[85]

On the extreme end, there have been Muslims who deny the authority of the hadith completely or almost completely (manifestations of which have sometimes been termed the Quran-only movement). Early in Islamic history there was a school of thought that adhered to this view, but it receded in importance after coming under criticism by al-Shafi'i. Daniel Brown describes a modern anti-hadith movement that reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, but is now in decline.[86] The Submitters movement today holds to a Quran-only view,[87] although they are considered heretical by more traditionalist Muslims.[88]

Lack of secondary evidence

The traditional view of Islam has also been criticised for the lack of supporting evidence consistent with that view, such as the lack of archaeological evidence, and discrepancies with non-Muslim literary sources.[89] (see Hagarism)

Criticism of the morality of Islam

Criticism of the morality of Muhammad

Muslims consider Muhammad to be the final prophet, the messenger of the final revelation that he called the Qur’an. Muslims believe that Muhammad is righteous, holy, no more than a messenger, a warner and seal of Prophets. However, critics such as Koelle and Ibn Warraq, as well as some other non-Muslims, see some of his actions as immoral.[4][5] Islamic scholars, such as William Montgomery Watt disagree, especially when a comparison is made between Muhammad and Biblical prophets. Watt, for example, argues that Muhammad should be judged by the standards of his own time and country rather than "by those of the most enlightened opinion in the West today."

Criticism of the morality of the Qur'an

Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the literal word of God as recited to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. Criticism of the Qur'an generally consists of questioning traditional claims about the Qur'an's composition and content.

It is a central tenet of Islam that the Qur'an is perfect, so criticism of the Qur'an is considered criticism of Islam.

This is a list of critical arguments:

  • Critics argue that the Quranic verse 4:34 allows Muslim men to discipline their wives by striking them.[90][91] (There is however confusion amongst translations of Quran with the original Arabic term "wadribuhunna" being translated as "to go away from them",[92] "beat",[93] "strike lightly" and "separate".[94]
  • Critics claim that violence is implicit in the Qur'anic text, and that Islam itself, not just Islamism, promotes terrorism.[95][96]
  • The Quran is criticized for advocating the death penalty.[97]
  • Some critics argue that the Qur'an is incompatible with other religious scriptures, attacks and advocates hate against people of other religions.[6][6][98][99][100]

A part of Meditation II from Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar's justification for his terrorist attack at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Meditation II, has appeared on numerous websites critical to Islam.

Decision of a Fatwa committee on the case of a convert to Christianity: "Since he left Islam, he will be invited to express his regret. If he does not regret, he will be killed pertaining to rights and obligations of the Islamic law."

Human Rights: Apostasy

Apostasy in Islamic law

Bernard Lewis summarizes:

The penalty for apostasy, in Islamic law, is death. Islam is conceived as a polity, not just as a religious community. It follows therefore that apostasy is treason. It is a withdrawal, a denial of allegiance as well as of religious belief and loyalty. Any sustained and principled opposition to the existing regime or order almost inevitably involves such a withdrawal.[34]

The four Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence, as well as Shi'a scholars, agree that a sane adult male apostate must be executed. A female apostate may be put to death, according to the majority view, or imprisoned until she repents, according to others.[101]

The Qur'an threatens apostate with punishment in the next world only, the historian W. Heffening states, the traditions however contain the element of death penalty. Muslim scholar Shafi'i interprets verse [Qur'an 2:217] as adducing the main evidence for the death penalty in Qur'an.[102] The historian Wael Hallaq states the later addition of death penalty "reflects a later reality and does not stand in accord with the deeds of the Prophet." He further states that "nothing in the law governing apostate and apostasy derives from the letter of the holy text."[103]

William Montgomery Watt, in response to a question about Western views of the Islamic Law as being cruel, states that "In Islamic teaching, such penalties may have been suitable for the age in which Muhammad lived. However, as societies have since progressed and become more peaceful and ordered, they are not suitable any longer."[104]

Some contemporary Islamic jurists from both the Sunni and Shi'a denominations together with Qur'an only Muslims have argued or issued fatwas that state that either the changing of religion is not punishable or is only punishable under restricted circumstances.[105][106][107][108][109][110][111][112] For example, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri argues that no Qur'anic verse prescribes an earthly penalty for apostasy and adds that it is not improbable that the punishment was prescribed by Muhammad at early Islam due to political conspiracies against Islam and Muslims and not only because of changing the belief or expressing it. Montazeri defines different types of apostasy. He does not hold that a reversion of belief because of investigation and research is punishable by death but prescribes capital punishment for a desertion of Islam out of malice and enmity towards the Muslim.[113]

According to Yohanan Friedmann, a contemporary Muslim with liberal convictions may stress tolerant elements of Islam (by for instance adopting the broadest interpretation of Qur'an 2:256 ("No compulsion is there in religion...") or the humanist approach attributed to Ibrahim al-Nakha'i), without necessarily denying the existence of other ideas in the Medieval Islamic tradition but rather discussing them in their historical context (by for example arguing that "civilizations comparable with the Islamic one, such as the Sassanids and the Byzantines, also punished apostasy with death. Similarly neither Judaism nor Christianity treated apostasy and apostates with any particular kindness").[114] Friedmann continues:

The real predicament facing modern Muslims with liberal convictions is not the existence of stern laws against apostasy in medieval Muslim books of law, but rather the fact that accusations of apostasy and demands to punish it are heard time and again from radical elements in the contemporary Islamic world.[114]

Contemporary treatment of accused apostates

Today, out of 57 mostly Islamic countries in OIC, five make apostasy from Islam a crime punishable by death: Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and Yemen. According the US State Department, there have been no reports any executions carried out by the government of Saudi Arabia for several years.[115] On the other hand, in Pakistan, vigilante attacks against alleged apostates are common.[116]

Abdul Rahman

The recent case of Afghan Abdul Rahman has achieved particular notoriety. In early 2006, Rahman was arrested and held by Afghan authorities on charges that he converted from Islam to Christianity, a capital offense in Afghanistan. Many Muslim clerics in the country pushed for a death sentence, but after international pressure (including a public statement by U.S. Secretary of State at the time Condoleezza Rice) he was released and secretly given asylum in Italy.[117][118]

Nasr Abu Zayd

In 1993, an Egyptian professor named Nasr Abu Zayd was divorced from his wife by an Egyptian court run by Islamic radicals on the grounds that his controversial writings about the Qur'an demonstrated his apostasy. He subsequently fled to Europe with his wife.[119] Another Egyptian professor, Farag Fuda, was killed in 1992 by masked men after criticizing Muslim fundamentalists and announcing plans to form a new movement for Egyptians of all religions.[120]

Apostasy and Human Rights Conventions

Some widely held interpretations of Islam are inconsistent with Human Rights conventions that recognize the right to change religion.[121][122]

In particular article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [123] states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

To implement this, Article 18 (2) of the ICCPR states:

No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion of his choice.

The right for Muslims to change their religion is not afforded by the Iranian Shari'ah law, which specifically forbids it [121][122][124]

Muslim countries such as Sudan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, have the death penalty for apostasy from Islam.[125]

These countries have criticized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for its perceived failure to take into account the cultural and religious context of non-Western countries.

In 1990, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference published a separate Cairo Declaration of Human Rights compliant with Shari'ah.[126] Although granting many of the rights in the UN declaration, it does not grant Muslims the right to convert to other religions, and restricts freedom of speech to those expressions of it that are not in contravention of the Islamic law.

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami,[127] wrote a book called Human Rights in Islam,[128] in which he argues that respect for human rights has always been enshrined in Sharia law (indeed that the roots of these rights are to be found in Islamic doctrine)[129] and criticizes Western notions that there is an inherent contradiction between the two.[130] Western scholars have, for the most part, rejected Maududi's analysis.[131][132][133]


Many have asserted that "women are not treated as equal members" of Muslim societies [8] and have criticized Islam for condoning this treatment.[9] The term "Muslim apartheid" has been used to highlight religious isolation in France as well as gender segregation practices.[134][135]

The Catholic Church has warned Christian women about marrying Muslim men because of the "inferior" status of women in Muslim countries and the nonexistence of maternal rights to children.[136]

Response to Criticism of Women in Islam

Many critics of Islam argue that Islam oppresses women but the Qur'an promotes gender equality between males and females.[137] In Islam woman are recognized as a full and equal partner of man in the procreation of humankind.[138] Women are also equally urged to pursue knowledge, the prophet Muhammad declared that the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim male and female, and made no distinction between men and women regarding this.[138] Women are also granted equal rights to contract, to enterprise, to earn and possess independently. If she commits any offence, her penalty is no less or more than of man's in a similar case.[138]

It should be noted that many Islamic Scholars say that Islam itself does not oppress women, but a false application of it, such that can be even seen in Taliban Societies.[139]


Critics such as Muslim lesbian activist Irshad Manji,[140] former Muslim Ehsan Jami and the Dutch Muslim-born politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali have criticized Islam's attitudes towards homosexuals. Most international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, condemn Islamic laws that make homosexual relations between consenting adults a crime. Since 1994 the United Nations Human Rights Committee has also ruled that such laws violated the right to privacy guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However most Muslim nations insist that such laws are necessary to preserve Islamic morality and virtue.[141] In May 2008, the sexual rights lobby group Lambda Istanbul (based in Istanbul, Turkey) was banned by court order for violating a constitutional provision on the protection of the family and an article banning bodies with objectives that violate law and morality.[142]

Violence towards critics of Islam

Marchers hold signs expressing extremist sentiments outside Danish Embassy in London in 2006

Despite claims that the sources of Islam demand it to be a "religion of peace" with violence being regulated by laws of Jihad, it has been criticised for its followers exhibiting intolerance and violence towards critics (often viewed as being pejorative of Islam and its Prophet[143]):

  • Ibn Warraq has collected and published stories of the reported mistreatment of Muslim apostates at the hands of Islamic authorities.[144]
  • Christoph Luxenberg feels compelled to work under a pseudonym to protect himself because of fears that a new book on the origins of the Qur'an may make him a target for violence.[145]
  • Hashem Aghajari, an Iranian university professor, was initially sentenced to death because of a speech that criticized some of the present Islamic practices in Iran being in contradiction with the original practices and ideology of Islam, and particularly for stating that Muslims were not "monkeys" and "should not blindly follow" the clerics. The sentence was later commuted to three years in jail, and he was released in 2004 after serving two years of that sentence.[146][147][148]
  • In recent times fatwas calling for execution have been issued against author Salman Rushdie and activist Taslima Nasreen for pejorative comments on Islam.[149]
  • On November 2, 2004, Dutch Filmmaker Theo van Gogh was assassinated by Dutch born Mohammed Bouyeri for producing the 10 minute film Submission critical of the abusive treatment of women by Muslims. A letter threatening the author of the screenplay, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was pinned to his body by a knife. Hirsi Ali entered into hiding immediately following the assassination.[150]
  • On September 30, 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published editorial cartoons, many of which caricatured the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The publication was intended to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship;[151] objectives which manifested themselves in the public outcry from Muslim communities within Denmark and the subsequent apology by the paper. However, the controversy deepened when further examples of the cartoons were reprinted in newspapers in more than fifty other countries. This led to protests across the Muslim world, some of which escalated into violence, including setting fire to the Norwegian and Danish Embassies in Syria, and the storming of European buildings and desecration of the Danish and German flags in Gaza City.[152] Globally, at least 139 people were killed and 823 injured.[153]
  • On September 19, 2006 French writer and philosophy teacher Robert Redeker wrote an editorial for Le Figaro, a French conservative newspaper, in which he attacked Islam and Muhammad, writing: "Pitiless war leader, pillager, butcher of Jews and polygamous, this is how Mohammed is revealed by the Qur'an"; he received death threats and went into hiding.[154]
  • On 4 August 2007, Ehsan Jami was attacked in his hometown Voorburg, in The Netherlands, by three men. The attack is widely believed to be linked to his activities for the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims. The national anti-terrorism coordinator's office, the public prosecution department and the police decided during a meeting on 6 August that "additional measures" were necessary for the protection of Jami who has subsequently received extra security.[155]

Islam's influence on the ability of Muslim immigrants in the West to assimilate

The immigration of Muslims to European countries has increased greatly in recent decades, and frictions have developed between these new neighbours. Conservative Muslim social attitudes on modern issues have caused much controversy in Europe and elsewhere, and scholars argue about how much these attitudes are a result of Islamic beliefs.[156] The 24-year-rule was introduced in Denmark, whereby a person must be over 24 years old to marry a foreign born individual. This law came into place to prevent arranged marriages, not uncommon among Muslim immigrants to Denmark.

Some critics consider that Islam is incompatible with secular Western society;[10] their criticism has been partly influenced by a stance against multiculturalism advocated by recent philosophers, closely linked to the heritage of New Philosophers. Fiery polemic on the subject by proponents like Pascal Bruckner,[157] and Paul Cliteur has kindled international debate.[158] They hold multiculturalism to be an invention of an "enlightened" elite who deny the benefits of democratic rights to non-Westerners by chaining them to their roots. They claim this allows Islam free rein to propagate abuses such as the mistreatment of women and homosexuals, and in some countries slavery. They also claim that multiculturalism allows a degree of religious freedom[159] that exceeds what is needed for personal religious freedom[160] and is conducive to the creation of organizations aimed at undermining European secular or Christian values. This tendency to focus criticism of Islam on politics and the non-European identity of its traditions triggered a new debate on Islamophobia.[156]

Comparison with Communism and other ideologies

In 2004, speaking to the Acton Institute on the problems of "secular democracy", Cardinal George Pell drew a parallel between Islam and Communism: "Islam may provide in the 21st century, the attraction that communism provided in the 20th, both for those that are alienated and embittered on the one hand and for those who seek order or justice on the other."[161] Pell also agrees in another speech that its capacity for far-reaching renovation is severely limited.,[162] An Australian Islamic spokesman, Keysar Trad, responded to the criticism : "Communism is a godless system, a system that in fact persecutes faith".[163]

See also

  • Islamophobia
  • War against Islam
  • Liberal movements within Islam
  • Persecution of Muslims
  • Faith Freedom International
  • Religious persecution
Criticism of other beliefs

External links

Sites critical of Islam

Christian academic sources

Jewish academic sources

Muslim responses to criticism


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  • Cohen, Mark R. (1995). Under Crescent and Cross. Princeton University Press; Reissue edition. ISBN 978-0691010823. 
  • Lockman, Zachary (2004). Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521629379. 
  • Rippin, Andrew (2001). Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (2nd ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-0415217811. 
  • Westerlund, David (2003). "Ahmed Deedat's Theology of Religion: Apologetics through Polemics". Journal of Religion in Africa 33 (3). >

Further reading