In the wake of the Rushdie Affair, a report in The New York Times (February 27, 1989) voiced a common fear: "Ayotollah Khomeini has probably succeeded in preventing publication in this country of books critical of Muslims and Islam." This prophecy has proved, fortunately wrong, witness the writings of Anwar Shaikh that have earned him a fatwa from the mullahs in Pakistan, or Dr. Robert Morey's The Islamic Invasion (1992). Now we have the courageous work of Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim, first published in the USA in 1995.
Warraq's book is probably the first of its kind in English: the first critical and skeptical look at the major principles of Islam. The book will be denounced as blasphemous by some Muslims, and indeed some Christians and some Jews as well, since he denounces all "monotheist arrogance". And yet, I believe that this work will not earn its author a fatwa, simply because he has not indulged in gratuitous insults; instead he has concentrated on rigorous intellectual arguments, backed up by copious textual evidence from the Koran, the Hadith, Muslim historians, and Western scholars. Thoughtful Muslims, one hopes, will welcome the challenge to reply to the demanding questions posed by the devastating skepticism of Ibn Warraq.
The main thrust of Ibn Warraq's argument is boldly stated: the problem is not just Islamic fundamentalism but Islam itself. Not only the Western media, from whom we no longer expect high moral principles or moral courage, but even Western intellectuals have been spineless when it comes to honest criticism of Islam and its tenets. The Rushdie affair sorted out the moral cowards from the morally courageous, those in the latter group being in the minority. The apologists of Islam dishonestly tried to play down the terrorism and barbarism of the group they themselves insisted on calling "Islamic fundamentalists" by insisting that these latter had nothing in common with the real Islam - "the real Islam is peaceful," they claimed, "the real Islam respects human rights, the real Islam treats women as equals, etc."
Ibn Warraq brilliantly refutes all these bogus claims. He argues convincingly that the atrocities committed in Algeria or Afghanistan or the Sudan for example, follow logically form the principles enshrined in the Koran, the Hadith, the Sunna and the Sharia. In other words, what the Ayotollah Khomeini applied in Iran was Islam, the real Islam, not some aberration. After all, Khomeini spent a large part of his life studying it. When he imposed the death sentence on Rushdie, Khomeini was but following a precedent set by Muhammad, the founder of Islam, himself, who was not above getting his revenge or settling disputes by political assassinations.
Jihad as Warraq shows, is clearly enjoined by Islamic Law, and there are numerous passages in the Koran which exhort the faithful to kill the non-believers or non-Muslims. Warraq also explodes the myth of Islamic tolerance - Islam conquered by the sword, and in the process destroyed Eastern Christianity and the ancient Persian culture, looting and burning churches and fire temples; devastated India, and plundered literally thousands of Hindu temples.2
The sorry plight of women in the Islamic world is also shown by Warraq to be a consequence, a logical consequence of the misogynous principles scattered throughout the Koran, the Hadith, and the Sharia: a woman is seen as inferior in every way, both morally and intellectually; she can only inherit half the amount that a man does; her testimony in a court of law is worth half that of a man; she cannot marry a non-Muslim; she cannot divorce her husband; certain professions are forbidden her, and so on.
Warraq underlines the totalitarian nature of Islam, showing why it is incompatible with respect for human rights. Not only women are inferior under Islamic Law, but also non-Muslims living in Muslims countries. Nor does one have the right to change one's religion or belief under Islam - an apostate is to be killed.
Warraq also puts us in touch with recent research on the origins of Islam, research which casts strong doubt on the authenticity of the Islamic sources, all of which are very late indeed. Warraq also explains to us in some detail the Pagan. Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian influences on Muhammad, sources which helped him to create Islam. The Koran is also shown to be a very human document - full of grammatical and historical errors, and thousands of variants.
I believe that despite Ibn Warraq's shortcomings (he is repetitive, badly organized, and sometimes a little abrupt), his work will one day be seen as the moral and intellectual breakthrough that led to the Islamic Aufklarung.