Turning away from Mecca1

Antony Flew

Why I am not a Muslim, Ibn Warraq, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, 1995 $25.95. (UK Agent, 10 Crescent View, Loughton, IG10 4PZ).

This book was written by a man who was raised in a totally Muslim environment in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. But he has since moved to one of the NATO states which have since World War II been accepting mass immigrations from such countries. Why I am not a Muslim is apparently the first book of its kind to have appeared in the English language.

Ibn Warraq arranges his abundant materials on no obvious principles. He begins with a chapter entitled 'The Rushdie Affair', which deals mainly with the maltreatment of dissidents within the Islamic world and the failure of so many Western Islamicists to adopt a properly critical approach to their subject. This is followed by four chapters on 'The Origins of Islam', 'The Problems of Sources', 'Muhammad and His Message' and 'The Koran'. Then, when we might have expected to go on to the development of the Hadith and the Sharia, we have instead two chapters on 'The Totalitarian Nature of Islam' and 'Is Islam Compatible with Democracy and Human Rights?' After that we have seven chapters on such various Islamic topics as 'Sufism or Islamic Mysticism' and 'Taboos: Wine, Pigs and Homosexuality' before reaching a 'Final Assessment of Muhammad' and a final chapter on 'Islam in the West'.

The pseudonymous author makes no pretensions to being himself a professional Islamicist. But all his materials about the doctrines and history of Islam are drawn from the works of Western scholars and so - as I am assured by one of them - we can take the book to be factually reliable. It does, therefore, constitute an invaluable compilation. Unlike professional Islamicists who are alive and working today, this author is not afflicted with inhibitions from offending either Muslim friends or Muslim regimes.

Although he does make the crucial point that all true Muslims are as such fundamentalists, and that this term should not be applied only to the Ayatollah Khomeini and his like (p. 11) he does not either make it adequately or insist upon it consistently. The term 'fundamentalist', which was coined in 1920, derives from the title of a series of tracts - The Fundamentals - published in the United States from 1910 to 1915. It has since been implicitly defined as meaning a person who believes that, since The Bible is the Word of God, every proposition in it must be true; a belief which, notoriously, is taken to commit fundamentalist Christians to defending the historicity of the accounts of the creation of the Universe given in the first two chapters of Genesis.

On this understanding a fully believing Christian does not have to be fundamentalist. Instead it is both necessary and sufficient to accept the Apostles' and/or The Nicene Creed. In Islam, however, the situation is altogether different. For, whereas only a very small proportion of all the propositions contained in the Old and New Testaments are presented as statements made directly by God in any of the three persons of the Trinity, The Koran consists entirely and exclusively of what are alleged to be revelations from Allah (God). Therefore, with regard to The Koran, all Muslims must be as such fundamentalists; and anyone denying anything. asserted in The Koran ceases, ipso facto, to be properly accounted a Muslim. Those whom the media call fundamentalists would therefore better be described as revivalists.

This conceptual truth not only places a tight limitation upon the possibilities of developmental change within Islam, as opposed to the tacit or open abandonment of one or more of its original particular claims, but also opens up the theoretical possibility of falsifying the Islamic system as a whole by presenting some known fact which is inconsistent with a Koranic assertion. Unfortunately Ibn Warraq fails to emphasize this point and to bring out its implications consistently. Thus, even on the page immediately following that on which he argues that all true Muslims must be fundamentalists, he goes on to argue that, because "the vast majority of victims of 'Holy Terror' are inhabitants of Islamic states, therefore, Islam is a threat to thousands of Muslims" (p. 12: emphasis original).2

Why I am not a Muslim gives readers abundant excellent reasons for not becoming or remaining Muslims and also makes a compelling case for the conclusion that Islam is flatly incompatible with the establishment and maintenance of the equal individual rights and liberties of a liberal, democratic, secular state. It thus provides further support for Mervyn Hiskett's more particular contentions about the threat to British traditions and values arising from our rapidly growing Muslim minority.

To his suggestions as to how an administration with vision, backbone and truly conservative principles might counter this threat - by, for instance, insisting that the criminal law must be applied equally to all, including Muslims and non-whites inciting to murder - we can now add another. For this threat might be slightly reduced if some individual were to write a much shorter, persuasive book deploying all the good reasons for not becoming or remaining a Muslim.

Attempts to get the present book into public libraries would also be worthwhile. They would force the opposition to choose between allowing it to become more widely accessible and providing evidence of the reality of the Islamic threat to freedom of expression.



1 This review was published in The Salisbury Review, Spring 1996. The quarterly is published from London.

2 The reviewer has not presented Ibn Warraq correctly. The sentences he quotes from p. 12 relate not to fundamentalism but to a book, The Islamic Threat Myth or Reality? by the American Islamicist John Esposito. The book, Ibn Warraq says, is "based on the same dishonesty as soft-core pornography… What Esposito and all Western apologists of Islam are incapable of understanding is that Islam is a threat to thousands of Muslims. As Amir Taheri puts it, 'the vast majority of victims of 'Holy Terror' are Muslims'." Here the word 'Muslims' has a double meaning, namely, that all believing Muslims being fundamentalists, they threaten with death the Muslims who try to dissent. The implication is that if believing Muslims were not fundamentalists, many born Muslims may choose to dissent.


Back to Contents Page    Back to VOI Books    Back to Home