Criticisms of islam

For criticism of political Islam, see Criticism of Islamism. For fear of or prejudice against Islam, rather than criticism, see Islamophobia.

Criticism of Islam has existed since Islam's formative stages. Early written criticism came from Christians, prior to the ninth century, 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]

Objects of criticism include the morality of the life of Muhammad, the last prophet according to Islam, both in his public and personal life.[4][5] Issues relating to the authenticity and morality of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, are also discussed by critics.[6] Other criticisms focus on the question of human rights in modern Islamic nations, and the treatment of women in Islamic law and practice.[7][8] In wake of the recent multiculturalism trend, Islam's influence on the ability of Muslim immigrants in the West to assimilate has been criticized.[9]


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 (c. 676–749 AD), 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 (whom he did not know was Bahira) influenced Muhammad and viewed the Islamic doctrines as nothing more than a hodgepodge culled from the Bible.[10] Writing on Islam's claim of Abrahamic ancestry, John explained that the Arabs were called "Saracens" (Greek Σαρακενοί, Sarakenoi) because they were "empty" (κενός, kenos, in Greek) "of Sarah". They were called "Hagarenes" because they were "the descendants of the slave-girl Hagar".[11] In the opinion of John Tolan, a Professor of Medieval History, John's biography of Muhammad is "based on deliberate distortions of Muslim traditions", but Tolan does not elaborate his statement.[12]

Other notable early critics of Islam included:

Medieval Islamic world

In the early centuries of the Islamic Caliphate, the Islamic law allowed citizens to freely express their views, including criticism of Islam and religious authorities, without fear of persecution.[14][15][16] As such, there have been several notable Muslim critics and skeptics of Islam that arose 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][17]

Another early critic was the Persian physician Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi in the 10th century. He criticized Islam and all revealed religions in general in several treatises.[18] Despite his views, he remained a celebrated physician across the Islamic world.[19] 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."[20][21] 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.[22]

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.[23] In his Epistle to Yemenite Jewry, he refers to Mohammad, as "hameshuga" – "that madman".[24]

Medieval Christianity

  • In Dante's Inferno, Muhammad is portrayed as split in half, with his guts hanging out, representing his status as a schismatic (one who broke from the 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.[25]
  • The Tultusceptrum 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.[26]
  • 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."[27]
  • 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.[28]

Enlightenment Europe

In Of the Standard of Taste, an essay by David Hume, the Quran 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."[29]

Nineteenth century

The Victorian orientalist scholar Sir William Muir criticised Islam for what he perceived to be an inflexible nature, which he held responsible for stifling progress and impeding social advancement in Muslims countries. The following sentences are taken from the Rede Lecture he delivered at Cambridge in 1881:

Some, indeed, dream of an Islam in the future, rationalised and regenerate. All this has been tried already, and has miserably failed. The Koran has so encrusted the religion in a hard unyielding casement of ordinances and social laws, that if the shell be broken the life is gone. A rationalistic Islam would be Islam no longer. The contrast between our own faith and Islam is most remarkable. There are in our Scriptures living germs of truth, which accord with civil and religious liberty, and will expand with advancing civilisation. In Islam it is just the reverse. The Koran has no such teaching as with us has abolished polygamy, slavery, and arbitrary divorce, and has elevated woman to her proper place. As a Reformer, Mahomet did advance his people to a certain point, but as a Prophet he left them fixed immovably at that point for all time to come. The tree is of artificial planting. Instead of containing within itself the germ of growth and adaptation to the various requirements of time and clime and circumstance, expanding with the genial sunshine and rain from heaven, it remains the same forced and stunted thing as when first planted some twelve centuries ago."[30]

Winston Churchill criticized what he alleged to be the effects Islam had on its believers, which he described as fanatical frenzy combined with fatalistic apathy, enslavement of women, and militant proselytizing.[31] In his 1899 book The River War he says:

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 faith: 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.[31]

The church historian Philip Schaff described Islam as spread by violence and fanaticism, and producing a variety of social ills in the regions it conquered.[32]

Mohammedanism conquered the fairest portions of the earth by the sword and cursed them by polygamy, slavery, despotism and desolation. The moving power of Christian missions was love to God and man; the moving power of Islâm was fanaticism and brute force.[32]

Schaff also described Islam as a derivative religion based on an amalgamation of "heathenism, Judaism and Christianity."[33]

lslâm is not a new religion...[i]t is a compound or mosaic of preëxisting elements, a rude attempt to combine heathenism, Judaism and Christianity, which Mohammed found in Arabia, but in a very imperfect form.[33]
J. M. Neale criticized Islam in terms similar to those of Schaff, arguing that it was made up of a mixture of beliefs that provided something for everyone.[34]
...he [Muhammad] also infuses into his religion so much of each of those tenets to which the varying sects of his countrymen were addicted, as to enable each and all to please themselves by the belief that the new doctrine was only a reform of, and improvement on, that to which they had been accustomed. The Christians were conciliated by the acknowledgment of our LORD as the Greatest of Prophets; the Jews, by the respectful mention of Moses and their other Lawgivers; the idolaters, by the veneration which the Impostor professed for the Temple of Mecca, and the black stone which it contained; and the Chaldeans, by the pre-eminence which he gives to the ministrations of the Angel Gabriel, and his whole scheme of the Seven Heavens. To a people devoted to the gratification of their passions and addicted to Oriental luxury, he appealed, not unsuccessfully, by the promise of a Paradise whose sensual delights were unbounded, and the permission of a free exercise of pleasures in this world.[34]

Modern Christianity

The early 20th century missionary James L. Barton argued that Islam's view of the sovereignty of God is so extreme and unbalanced as to produce a fatalism that stifles human initiative:[35]

Man is reduced to a cipher. Human agency and human freedom are nullified. Right is no longer right because it is right, but because Allah wills it to be right. It is for this reason that monotheism has in Islam stifled human effort and progress. It has become a deadening doctrine of fate. Man must believe and pray, but these do not insure salvation or any benefit except Allah wills it. Why should human effort strive by sanitary means to prevent disease, when death or life depends in no way on such measures but upon the will of Allah? One reason why Moslem countries are so stagnant and backward in all that goes to make up a high civilization is owing to the deadening effects of monotheism thus interpreted. ... even in the most extreme forms of the Augustinian and Calvinistic systems there were always present in Christianity other elements which prevented the conception of the divine sovereignty from paralyzing the healthy activities of life as the Mohammedan doctrine has done.[35]

G. K. Chesterton criticized Islam as derivative from Christianity and described it as a heresy or parody of Christianity. In The Everlasting Man he says:

Islam was a product of Christianity; even if it was a by-product; even if it was a bad product. It was a heresy or parody emulating and therefore imitating the Church...Islam, historically speaking, is the greatest of the Eastern heresies. It owed something to the quite isolated and unique individuality of Israel; but it owed more to Byzantium and the theological enthusiasm of Christendom. It owed something even to the Crusades.[36]

During a lecture given at the University of Regensburg in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI quoted an unfavorable remark about Islam made at the end of the 14th century by Manuel II Palaiologos, the Byzantine emperor.[37][38]

Truthfulness of Islam and Islamic scriptures

Reliability of the Quran

According to traditional Islamic scholarship, all of the Quran was written down by Muhammad's companions while he was alive (during AD 610-632), but it was primarily an orally related document. The written compilation of the whole Qur'an in its definite form as we have it now was not completed until many years after the death of Muhammad.[39] John Wansbrough, Patricia Crone and Yehuda D. Nevo argue that all the primary sources which exist are from 150–300 years after the events which they describe, and thus are chronologically far removed from those events.[40][41][42]

Critics reject the idea that the Quran is miraculously perfect and impossible to imitate as asserted in the Quran itself.[43] The Jewish Encyclopedia, for example, writes: "The language of the Koran is held by the Mohammedans to be a peerless model of perfection. Critics, however, argue that peculiarities can be found in the text. For example, critics note that a sentence in which something is said concerning Allah is sometimes followed immediately by another in which Allah is the speaker (examples of this are suras xvi. 81, xxvii. 61, xxxi. 9, and xliii. 10.) Many peculiarities in the positions of words are due to the necessities of rhyme (lxix. 31, lxxiv. 3), while the use of many rare words and new forms may be traced to the same cause (comp. especially xix. 8, 9, 11, 16)."[44] According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "The dependence of Mohammed upon his Jewish teachers or upon what he heard of the Jewish Haggadah and Jewish practices is now generally conceded."[44] John Wansbrough believes that the Quran is a redaction in part of other sacred scriptures, in particular the Judaeo-Christian scriptures.[45][46] Herbert Berg writes that "Despite John Wansbrough's very cautious and careful inclusion of qualifications such as "conjectural," and "tentative and emphatically provisional", his work is condemned by some. Some of negative reaction is undoubtedly due to its radicalness...Wansbrough's work has been embraced wholeheartedly by few and has been employed in a piecemeal fashion by many. Many praise his insights and methods, if not all of his conclusions."[47]

Critics argue that:

  • the Quran contains verses which are difficult to understand or contradictory.[48]
  • Some accounts of the history of Islam say there were two verses of the Quran 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.[49][50]
  • The author of the Apology of al-Kindy Abd al-Masih ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (not to be confused with the famed philosopher al-Kindi) claimed that the narratives in the Quran were "all jumbled together and intermingled" and that this was "an evidence that many different hands have been at work therein, and caused discrepancies, adding or cutting out whatever they liked or disliked".[51]

Reliability of the Hadith

Main article: Criticism of Hadith

Hadith are Muslim traditions relating to the Sunnah (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.[52] 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 Quran, although they differ on how much freedom of interpretation should be allowed to legal scholars.[53] Shi'i scholars disagree with Sunni scholars as to which Hadith should be considered reliable. The Shi'as accept the Sunnah of Ali and the Imams as authoritative in addition to the Sunnah of Muhammad, and as a consequence they maintain their own, different, collections of Hadith.[54]

It has been suggested that there exists around the Hadith three major sources of corruption: political conflicts, sectarian prejudice, and the desire to translate the underlying meaning, rather than the original words verbatim.[55]

Muslim critics of the hadith, Quranists, reject the authority of hadith on theological grounds, pointing to verses in the Quran itself: "Nothing have We omitted from the Book",[56] declaring that all necessary instruction can be found within the Quran, without reference to the Hadith. They claim that following the Hadith has led to people straying from the original purpose of God's revelation to Muhammad, adherence to the Quran alone.[57] Syed Ahmed Khan (1817–1898) is often considered the founder of the modernist movement within Islam, noted for his application of "rational science" to the Quran and Hadith and his conclusion that the Hadith were not legally binding on Muslims.[58] His student, Chiragh ‘Ali, went further, suggesting nearly all the Hadith were fabrications.[58] Ghulam Ahmed Pervez (1903–1985) was a noted critic of the Hadith and believed that the Quran alone was all that was necessary to discern God's will and our obligations. A fatwa, ruling, signed by more than a thousand orthodox clerics, denounced him as a 'kafir', a non-believer.[59] His seminal work, Maqam-e Hadith argued that the Hadith were composed of "the garbled words of previous centuries", but suggests that he is not against the idea of collected sayings of the Prophet, only that he would consider any hadith that goes against the teachings of Quran to have been falsely attributed to the Prophet.[60] The 1986 Malaysian book "Hadith: A Re-evaluation" by Kassim Ahmad was met with controversy and some scholars declared him an apostate from Islam for suggesting that "“the hadith are sectarian, anti-science, anti-reason and anti-women."[58][61]

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, considered the father of the revisionist movement, 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.[62] Other scholars, however, such as Wilferd Madelung, have argued that "wholesale rejection as late fiction is unjustified".[63]

Orthodox Muslims do not deny the existence of false hadith, but believe that through the scholars' work, these false hadith have been largely eliminated.[64]

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.[65] In the 1970s, what has been described as a "wave of sceptical scholars" challenged a great deal of the received wisdom in Islamic studies.[66]:23 They argued that the Islamic historical tradition had been greatly corrupted in transmission. They tried to correct or reconstruct the early history of Islam from other, presumably more reliable, sources such as coins, inscriptions, and non-Islamic sources. The oldest of this group was John Wansbrough (1928–2002). Wansbrough's works were widely noted, but perhaps not widely read.[66]:38 In 1972 a cache of ancient Qur'ans in a mosque in Sana'a, Yemen was discovered – commonly known as the Sana'a manuscripts. The German scholar Gerd R. Puin has been investigating these Quran fragments for years. His research team made 35,000 microfilm photographs of the manuscripts, which he dated to early part of the 8th century. Puin has not published the entirety of his work, but noted unconventional verse orderings, minor textual variations, and rare styles of orthography. He also suggested that some of the parchments were palimpsests which had been reused. Puin believed that this implied an evolving text as opposed to a fixed one.[67]



Main article: Criticism of Muhammad

Muhammed is considered as one of the prophets in Islam a model for followers. Critics such as Sigismund Koelle and former Muslim Ibn Warraq see some of Mohammed's actions as immoral.[4][5]

Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf wrote a poetic eulogy commemorating the slain Quraish notables; later, he had traveled to Mecca and provoked the Quraish to fight Muhammed. He also wrote erotic poetry about Muslim women, which offended the Muslims there.[68] This poetry influenced so many[69] that this too was considered directly against the Constitution of Medina which states, loyalty gives protection against treachery and this document will not (be employed to) protect one who is unjust or commits a crime. Other sources also state that he was plotting to assassinate Muhammad.[70] Muhammad called upon his followers to kill Ka'b. Muhammad ibn Maslama offered his services, collecting four others. By pretending to have turned against Muhammad, Muhammad ibn Maslama and the others enticed Ka'b out of his fortress on a moonlit night,[68] and killed him in spite of his vigorous resistance.[71] The Jews were terrified at his assassination, and as the historian Ibn Ishaq put it "...there was not a Jew who did not fear for his life".[72]

Morality of the Quran

According to some critics, the morality of the Quran appears to be a moral regression when judged by the standards of the moral traditions of Judaism and Christianity it says that it builds upon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, states that "the ethics of Islam are far inferior to those of Judaism and even more inferior to those of the New Testament" and "that in the ethics of Islam there is a great deal to admire and to approve, is beyond dispute; but of originality or superiority, there is none."[73]

  • Critics stated that the Quran[
  • Some critics argue that the Quran is incompatible with other religious scriptures as it attacks and advocates hate against people of other religions.
  • Max I. Dimont interprets that the Houris described in the Quran are specifically dedicated to "male pleasure".[86] Henry Martyn claims that the concept of the Houris was chosen to satisfy Mohammed's followers.[87]


Bernard Lewis writes: "In one of the sad paradoxes of human history, it was the humanitarian reforms brought by Islam that resulted in a vast development of the slave trade inside, and still more outside, the Islamic empire." He notes that the Islamic injunctions against the enslavement of Muslims led to massive importation of slaves from the outside.[88] According to Patrick Manning, Islam by recognizing and codifying the slavery seems to have done more to protect and expand slavery than the reverse.[89]

Unlike Western societies which in their opposition to slavery spawned anti-slavery movements whose numbers and enthusiasm often grew out of church groups, no such grass-roots organizations ever developed in Muslim societies. In Muslim politics the state unquestioningly accepted the teachings of Islam and applied them as law. Islam, by sanctioning slavery – however mild a form it generally took – also extended legitimacy to the traffic in slaves.[90]

It was in the early 20th century (post World War I) that slavery gradually became outlawed and suppressed in Muslim lands, largely due to pressure exerted by Western nations such as Britain and France.[91] Gordon describes the lack of homegrown Islamic abolition movements as owing much to the fact that it was deeply anchored in Islamic law. By legitimizing slavery and - by extension - traffic in slaves, Islam elevated those practices to an unassailable moral plain. As a result, in no part of the Muslim world was an ideological challenge ever mounted against slavery. The political and social system in Muslim society would have taken a dim view of such a challenge.[92] Some Muslim leaders, like Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah did ban slavery, but it had little influence in the Islamic world.[93]

The issue of slavery in the Islamic world in modern times is controversial. Critics argue there is hard evidence of its existence and destructive effects. Others maintain slavery in central Islamic lands has been virtually extinct since mid-twentieth century, and that reports from Sudan and Somalia showing practice of slavery is in border areas as a result of continuing war[94] and not Islamic belief. In recent years, according to some scholars,[95] there has been a "worrying trend" of "reopening" of the issue of slavery by some conservative Salafi Islamic scholars after its "closing" earlier in the 20th century when Muslim countries banned slavery and "most Muslim scholars" found the practice "inconsistent with Qur'anic morality."[96][97]

Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri of Karbala expressed the view in 1993 that the enforcement of servitude can occur but is restricted to war captives and those born of slaves.[98] Dr. Abdul-Latif Mushtahari, the general supervisor and director of homiletics and guidance at the Azhar University, has said on the subject of justifications for Islamic permission of slavery:[99]
"Islam does not prohibit slavery but retains it for two reasons. The first reason is war (whether it is a civil war or a foreign war in which the captive is either killed or enslaved) provided that the war is not between Muslims against each other - it is not acceptable to enslave the violators, or the offenders, if they are Muslims. Only non-Muslim captives may be enslaved or killed. The second reason is the sexual propagation of slaves which would generate more slaves for their owner."


Main article: Apostasy in Islam

According to Islamic law apostasy is identified by a list of actions such as conversion to another religion, denying the existence of God, rejecting the prophets, mocking God or the prophets, idol worship, rejecting the sharia, or permitting behavior that is forbidden by the sharia, such as adultery or the eating of forbidden foods or drinking of alcoholic beverages.[100][101] The majority of Muslim scholars hold to the traditional view that apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment until repentance, at least for adult men of sound mind.[102][103][104]

Laws prohibiting religious conversion run contrary to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "[e]veryone 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."[105]

The English historian C. E. Bosworth suggests the traditional view of apostasy hampered the development of Islamic learning, arguing that while the organizational form of the Christian university allowed them to develop and flourish into the modern university, "the Muslim ones remained constricted by the doctrine of waqf alone, with their physical plant often deteriorating hopelessly and their curricula narrowed by the exclusion of the non-traditional religious sciences like philosophy and natural science," out of fear that these could evolve into potential toe-holds for kufr, those people who reject God."[106]

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.[107]

The four Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence, as well as Shi'a scholars, agree on the difference of punishment between male and female. A sane adult male apostate may be executed. A female apostate may be put to death, according to the majority view, or imprisoned until she repents, according to others.[108]


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."[111]

Some contemporary Islamic jurists from both the Sunni and Shia denominations together with Quran 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.[112] For example, Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri argues that no Quranic 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, an Israeli Islamic Studies scholar, a Muslim may stress tolerant elements of Islam (by for instance adopting the broadest interpretation of Quran 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]

Human rights conventions

Some widely held interpretations of Islam are inconsistent with Human Rights conventions that recognize the right to change religion.[116][117] In particular article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[118] 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 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 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.[116][117][119] Muslim countries such as Sudan and Saudi Arabia, have the death penalty for apostasy from Islam.[120] 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 Islamic Cooperation published a separate Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam compliant with Shari'ah.[121] 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.

Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami,[122] wrote a book called Human Rights in Islam,[123] 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)[124] and criticizes Western notions that there is an inherent contradiction between the two.[125] Western scholars have, for the most part, rejected Maududi's analysis.[126][127][128]


Main article: LGBT topics and Islam

Critics such as lesbian activist Irshad Manji,[129] former Muslims Ehsan Jami and the former Dutch 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.

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.[130] Then this decision taken to the Court of Cassation and the ban lifted.[131]

The ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq has noted that the Quran's condemnation of homosexuality has frequently been ignored in practice, and that Islamic countries were much more tolerant of homosexuality than Christian ones until fairly recently.[132]


Main article: Islam and violence

The 9/11 attack on the US and other recent attacks have resulted in non-Muslims indicting Islam as a violent religion.[133] The Qur'an's teachings on matters of war and peace have become topics of heated discussion in recent years. On the one hand, some critics claim that certain verses of the Qur'an sanction military action against unbelievers as a whole both during the lifetime of Muhammad and after. The Qur'an says, "Fight in the name of your religion with those who fight against you."[83] On the other hand, other scholars argue that such verses of the Qur'an are interpreted out of context,[134][135] and argue that when the verses are read in context it clearly appears that the Qur'an prohibits aggression,[136][137][138] and allows fighting only in self-defense.[139][140]

The orientalist David Margoliouth described the Battle of Khaybar as the "stage at which Islam became a menace to the whole world."[141] According to Margoliouth, earlier attacks on the Meccans and the Jewish tribes of Medina (e.g., the invasion of Banu Qurayza and the invasion of Banu Qurayza) could be at least plausibly be ascribed to wrongs done to Muhammad or the Islamic community.[141] Margoliouth argues that the Jews of Khaybar had done nothing to harm Muhammad or his followers, and ascribes the attack to a desire for plunder.[141] He describes the reason given by Muhammad for the attack as "its inhabitants were not Moslems" (italics in the source).[141] According the Margoliouth, this became an excuse for unfettered conquest.[142]

Jihad, an Islamic term, is a religious duty of Muslims. In Arabic, the word jihād translates as a noun meaning "struggle". Jihad appears 41 times in the Quran and frequently in the idiomatic expression "striving for the sake of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)".[143][144][145] Jihad is an important religious duty for Muslims. A minority among the Sunni scholars sometimes refer to this duty as the sixth pillar of Islam, though it occupies no such official status.[146] In Twelver Shi'a Islam, however, Jihad is one of the 10 Practices of the Religion. The Qur'an calls repeatedly for jihad, or holy war, against unbelievers, including, at times, Jews and Christians.[147] Middle East historian Bernard Lewis argues that "the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists, and traditionalists (specialists in the hadith) understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense."[148] Furthermore, Lewis maintains that for most of the recorded history of Islam, from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad onward, the word jihad was used in a primarily military sense.[149] According to Andrew Bostom, a number of jihads have targeted Christians, Hindus, and Jews.[150]

The Qur'an: (8:12): "...cast terror in their hearts and strike upon their necks."[151] The commanded to terrorize the disbelievers have been cited in motivation of Jihadi terror.[152] One Jihadi cleric has said:
"Another aim and objective of jihad is to drive terror in the hearts of the [infidels]. To terrorize them. Did you know that we were commanded in the Qur'an with terrorism? ...Allah said, and prepare for them to the best of your ability with power, and with horses of war. To drive terror in the hearts of my enemies, Allah's enemies, and your enemies. And other enemies which you don't know, only Allah knows them... So we were commanded to drive terror into the hearts of the [infidels], to prepare for them with the best of our abilities with power. Then the Prophet said, nay, the power is your ability to shoot. The power which you are commanded with here, is your ability to shoot. Another aim and objective of jihad is to kill the [infidels], to lessen the population of the [infidels]... it is not right for a Prophet to have captives until he makes the Earth warm with blood... so, you should always seek to lessen the population of the [infidels]."[153]

David Cook, author of Understanding Jihad, said "In reading Muslim literature — both contemporary and classical — one can see that the evidence for the primacy of spiritual jihad is negligible. Today it is certain that no Muslim, writing in a non- Western language (such as Arabic, Persian, Urdu), would ever make claims that jihad is primarily nonviolent or has been superseded by the spiritual jihad. Such claims are made solely by Western scholars, primarily those who study Sufism and/or work in interfaith dialogue, and by Muslim apologists who are trying to present Islam in the most innocuous manner possible."[154] Cook argued that "Presentations along these lines are ideological in tone and should be discounted for their bias and deliberate ignorance of the subject" and that "[i]t is no longer acceptable for Western scholars or Muslim apologists writing in non-Muslim languages to make flat, unsupported statements concerning the prevalence — either from a historical point of view or within contemporary Islam—of the spiritual jihad."[154] Magdi Allam, an outspoken Egyptian-born Italian journalist, has describes Islam as intrinsically violent and characterized by “hate and intolerance”.[155]

Short-term and limited marriages

Short-term marriage

Main article: Nikah mut‘ah

Nikāḥ al-Mutʿah (

Contractually limited marriage

Main article: Nikah Misyar

Nikah Misyar (Arabic: المسيار‎) is a Nikah (marriage) carried out through the normal contractual procedure, with the provision that the husband and wife give up several rights by their own free will, such as living together, equal division of nights between wives in cases of polygamy, the wife's rights to housing, and maintenance money ("nafaqa"), and the husband's right of homekeeping and access.[165] Essentially the couple continue to live separately from each other, as before their contract, and see each other to fulfil their needs in a legally permissible (halaal) manner when they please.

Misyar has been suggested by some western authors to be a comparable marriage with Nikah mut'ah and that they find it for the sole purpose of "sexual gratification in a licit manner"[166][167] According to Florian Pohl, assistant professor of religion at Oxford College, Misyar marriage is controversial issue in the Muslim world, as many see it as practice that encourages marriages for purely sexual purposes, or that it is used as a cover for a form of prostitutuion.[168]

Professor Yusuf Al-Qaradawi observes that he does not promote this type of marriage, although he has to recognise that it is legal, since it fulfils all the requirements of the usual marriage contract.[169] He states his preference that the clause of renunciation be not included within the marriage contract, but be the subject of a simple verbal agreement between the parties.[170] Islamic scholars like Ibn Uthaimeen or Al-Albani claim, for their part, that misyar marriage may be legal, but not moral. They agree that the wife can at any time, reclaim the rights which she gave up at the time of contract.[171] But, they are opposed to this type of marriage on the grounds that it contradicts the spirit of the Islamic law of marriage and that it has perverse effects on the woman, the family and the community in general.

For Al-Albani, misyar marriage may even be considered as illicit, because it runs counter to the objectives and the spirit of marriage in Islam, as described in the Quran: "And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts)…"[172] Al-Albani also underlines the social problems which result from the “misyar” marriage, particularly in the event that children are born from this union. The children raised by their mother in a home from which the father is always absent, without reason, may suffer difficulties.[173] The situation becomes even worse if the wife is abandoned or repudiated by her husband "misyar", with no means of subsistence, as usually happens.

"Shaykh Ibn Baaz (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked about Misyaar marriage; this kind of marriage is where the man marries a second, third or fourth wife, and the wife is in a situation that compels her to stay with her parents or one of them in her own house, and the husband goes to her at various times depending on the circumstances of both. What is the Islamic ruling on this type of marriage? He replied:"

There is nothing wrong with that if the marriage contract fulfills all the conditions set out by sharee’ah, which is the presence of the wali and the consent of both partners, and the presence of two witnesses of good character to the drawing up of the contract, and both partners being free of any impediments, because of the general meaning of the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “The conditions that are most deserving of being fulfilled are those by means of which intimacy becomes permissible for you” and “The Muslims are bound by their conditions.” If the partners agree that the woman will stay with her family or that her share of the husband’s time will be during the day and not during the night, or on certain days or certain nights, there is nothing wrong with that, so long as the marriage is announced and not hidden.[174]

Shaykh al-Albaani was asked about Misyaar marriage and he disallowed it for two reasons:

1) That the purpose of marriage is repose as Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And among His Signs is this, that He created for you wives from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them, and He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect” [al-Room 30:21]. But this is not achieved in this kind of marriage.

2) It may be decreed that the husband has children with this woman, but because he is far away from her and rarely comes to her, that will be negatively reflected in his children’s upbringing and attitude.[175]

Ibn Uthaymeen recognized the legality of “misyar” marriage under Shariah, but came to oppose it due to what he considered to be its harmful effects.[176]

Influence on the ability of Muslim immigrants in the West to assimilate

The immigration of Muslims to Europe has increased in recent decades, and frictions have developed between these new neighbours. Conservative Muslim social attitudes on modern issues have caused controversy in Europe and elsewhere, and scholars argue about how much these attitudes are a result of Islamic beliefs. Some critics consider Islam to be incompatible with secular Western society;[177] their criticism has been partly influenced by a stance against multiculturalism advocated by recent philosophers, closely linked to the heritage of New Philosophers. Statements by proponents like Pascal Bruckner[178] describe multiculturalism as 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[179] that exceeds what is needed for personal religious freedom[180] and is conducive to the creation of organizations aimed at undermining European secular or Christian values.[181]

Comparison with Communism and Fascist 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."[182] Pell also agrees in another speech that its capacity for far-reaching renovation is severely limited.[183] An Australian Islamist spokesman, Keysar Trad, responded to the criticism: "Communism is a godless system, a system that in fact persecutes faith".[184]

Writers such as Stephen Suleyman Schwartz[185] and Christopher Hitchens,[186] describe Islamist attributes similar to Fascism. Malise Ruthven, a Scottish writer and historian who focuses his work on religion and Islamic affairs, opposes redefining Islamism as `Islamofascism`, but also finds the resemblances between the two ideologies "compelling".[187]

Responses to criticism

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.[188][189] 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.[190]

William Montgomery Watt in his book Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman addresses Muhammad’s alleged moral failings. 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."[191]

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 Quran alludes to each Muslim's duty to fight for a just, decent society.[192]

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."[193]

Cathy Young of Reason Magazine claims that "criticism of the religion is enmeshed with cultural and ethnic hostility" often painting the Muslim world as monolithic. 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."[194]

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 Muhammad 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."[195]

Atheism in islamic countries

Sharia law (which usually covers only Muslims) assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. When a Muslim becomes a non-believer, he or she becomes guilty of apostasy - a hudud crime against God, like adultery and drinking alcohol. Eight states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty for such offences.[196] Only a few Muslim countries, such as Turkey, do not persecute atheists. Nevertheless, freedom of religion is not protected by law in these countries. For example, in Indonesia people have to chose one of six religions; atheism and agnosticism do not count. Similarly, Egypt’s draft constitution makes room for only three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.[196] A recent Pew poll[197] noted that majorities in many Islamic countries wanted sharia. Of those who want the sharia a large fraction also wants the death penalty for apostasy, e.g. in Bangladesh (44%), Malaysia (62%), Palestine (66%), Pakistan (76%), Afghanistan (79%), Jordan (82%), and Egypt (86%).[198] Given the pressure on non-believers, it is thus extremely difficult to determine how many people are actually non-believers or agnostics.

See also


  1. S. A. Rahman in "Punishment of Apostasy in Islam", Institute of Islamic Culture, Lahore, 1972, pp. 10-13
  2. The punishment of apostasy in Islam, View of Dr. Ahmad Shafaat on apostasy.
  3. Religious, Apostasy (Irtdidad) In Islam, by B.A. Robinson, Religious, April 7, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2006.
  4. - Transcripts
  5. Malise Ruthven.


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Further reading

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