Book Review

Islam ­ The Arab Imperialism

By Anwar Shaikh

The Principality Publishers
P.O. Box 918,
Cardiff CF5 2NL (UK) $8.95

Reviewer: Ibn al Rawandi

Anwar Shaikh is a remarkable man. Born a muslim in the Indian city of Gujarat (now Pakistan) in 1928, he has lived in Britain since 1956, where he has published several books at his own expense attacking Islam in an uncompromising fashion.This activity has earned him the hatred of the muslim clergy in Pakistan, who demand his extradition so that he may be publicly hanged. Shaikh's loathing for Islam grew from harrowing personal experiences at the time of independence and partition in 1947. (See "Anwar Shaikh: a staunch critic of Islam", New Humanist, Vol. 113, no. 2)

In his latest book Islam: The Arab Imperialism, Shaikh attacks head on the muslim claim that Islam is a universal religion addressed by God to the whole of mankind, constituting the final revelation delivered by the final prophet. Far from this being the case, Shaikh sees Islam as the product of the genius of Muhammad, who masterfully exploited the ancient Middle Eastern notion of prophethood in pursuit of his own and his people's "dominance urge", which sounds very like Nietzsche's Will to Power.

Shaikh begins by pointing out the inherent absurdities in the concept of prophethood. How it in effect puts belief in prophets above belief in God, since the prophet is supposedly God's messenger and mouthpiece, implying that He is incapable of communicating with humans in any other way. The muslim idea that Muhammad is the final prophet, confirming and fulfilling all previous prophets, is seen as Muhammad's masterstroke, putting the kibosh on any change or innovation.

On the basis of the text of the Quran, underwritten by the traditional biography of the Prophet, Shaikh discerns a progress in Muhammad's expression of his prophetic role. In the beginning, when he was politically weak, he claimed to be a mortal and humble servant of Allah, but when he became strong, after his supposed move from Mecca to Medina: "he began changing his tone, until he was able to claim himself to be Allah's Superior". (75) The proof of this is Q.33:56 "Lo! Allah and his angels shower praises on the Prophet (Muhammad). O ye who believe also shower praises on him and salute him with a worthy salutation". Shaikh claims that the word translated "shower praises on him", really means worship and is usually applied to God.

According to Shaikh the arrogance of Muhammad is fully expressed in the arrogance of the religion he invented toward all non­Arabs, especially the Jews. The notorious episode of the Jewish tribe of the Banu Quraiza, in which Muhammad is supposed to have overseen the slaughter of 800 Jewish men, is seen by Shaikh as: "a pathetic model of ethnic cleansing. The Jews suffered this fate when they refused to become Arabs. We cannot find an example of such extreme nationalism so early in history. Yet the muslims believe that Islam does not recognize nationalism. They insist that it is a message of international brotherhood". (103­4) As regards history this is not quite true of course. It was routine in the ancient world that when a city was conquered the men were killed and the women and children sold into slavery. However that may be, Shaikh is undoubtedly right to emphasize the essentially Arab nature of Islam, and how that ethnic identity was imposed on those they conquered.

The crucial question is how long did this process take and who was responsible for originating it and carrying it out. To attribute it all to the genius of Muhammad is to take for granted the picture of the origin of Islam that the muslims invented for themselves. This pays an unnecessary compliment to the integrity of the Quran and the hadith and the veracity of muslim historiography. Pointing out the contradictions and unpleasantness in the Quran and extracting an unattractive portrait of Muhammad from the hadith is an easy game to play and good for annoying muslims, but it is nowhere near radical enough if the rug is really to be pulled from under Islam.

The interpretation of the origin of Islam in which Muhammad is seen as a wily and lascivious politician and military leader, rather than as a religious figure, was popular in the West in the good old pre­political correctness days of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The intention then was to show the inferiority of Islam to Christianity and of Muhammad to Jesus Christ, but with the spread of unbelief and the advent of ecumenism this approach was toned down and is now only popular amongst evangelicals. In more recent times, since about 1975, any approach to the life of Muhammad and the origin of Islam based on the Arabic sources has been seen as problematic, since it is now widely recognized by scholars how unreliable those sources are.

If the earliest biography (sira) of Muhammad, compiled by Ibn Ishaq over one hundred years after the Prophet's death, is taken at face value, it provides a life situation for the revelation of the Quran and the hadith. Taking this life story in combination with the texts of the Quran and the hadith it is possible to construct various scenarios in explanation of the origin of Islam alternative to that favored by muslim traditions. The problem is that if the sources are tendentious and unreliable no reconstruction based upon them is more likely to be true than any other. Abstracting a Muhammad who is an unscrupulous politician, ruthless military leader, and cynical lecher, is no more likely to represent true history than that of a saintly prophet chosen by God as an example for humanity. The lust for positive results in historical investigations is usually the handmaid of some ideological agenda, whether acknowledged or not.

Admitting that we simply do not know what Muhammad was like, if he existed, that the writers and compilers of the Quran will remain for ever unknown, and that none of the so called prophetic traditions represent authentic sayings or doings of the Prophet, is not much fun and provides no grist for anybody's mills, rather, it calls for an intellectual ascesis without appeal, but at the same time it shows the traditional account of the origin of Islam to be a baseless fiction.

In addition to his writings on Islam Anwar Shaikh is also the editor of the humanist journal Liberty, available from the same address as his books. Volume six, issue nineteen is a special edition containing an excellent article on Islam and human rights.

Shaikh rightly points out the absurdity of the muslim notion of "God's rights", since: "rights are required to protect one's entity, interest and future, threatened by aggression and fear of usurpation. Allah, who is projected as the Almighty, the Absolute, the creator, the All­wise and Free of desires, does not need the shield of right to shelter, secure and screen Himself from man, whom he is supposed to have created and whose every movement He is said to control". (3)

Shaikh also considers the rights of muslim men, infidels, and muslim women under Islam. It follows that if God has rights man has no substantive rights at all, since any rights he has are derived rights and only accrue to him from his abject submission to the primary rights of God. Infidels, because they do not acknowledge God's rights, have no rights at all and are only fit for extermination. As for the rights of women under Islam they are practically non­existent. Even the much trumpeted rights to inherit property and to divorce men are nullified by the overriding law of purdah, forbidding their participation in social life. Whereas men can divorce their wives quite independently and at will, a woman is forced to go through a long legal process, almost impossible in a male dominated society used to treating women as second class citizens. In effect, women's rights are limited to her maintenance provided she obeys her husband. The article closes with a devastating point by point analysis of the derogatory muslim attitude to women derived from the Quran and the hadith.

Shaikh's work deserves more attention than it has so far received. It is an act of courage and carries more weight coming from someone born a muslim. It should be especially effective amongst those coming from muslim families and living in the West. Those wishing to read and distribute his books should write to him at the above address.

[Islam: The Arab Imperialism is available from the Freeman Center Book Department]

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