Today, it doesn’t take too much for a Muslim or a former Muslim to get killed by other Muslims, even in the West. For divorcing her highly abusive husband, a Muslim woman can get decapitated even in the middle of Buffalo, NY. Or a girl can get shot for posting on Facebook. If such small quiet personal acts are sufficient to trigger the religious fury of faithful Muslims and make them murderers, public criticism of Islam surely must deserve much worse. Especially when it comes from a self-professed apostate from Islam.
That’s who Ibn Warraq is: an apostate from the Muslim faith, writer, publicist, outspoken critic of Islam. He has deserved death at the hands of other Muslims numerous times. And he knows it. But he persists in telling the truth about Islam, knowing well that this puts his life in danger. He is a true hero.
The literary name is chosen very well. It means “son of a papermaker” and it has been traditionally adopted by dissidents and apostates within Islam who used it to protect their identity when criticizing the Muslim religion. And Ibn Warraq really is doing a very good job in exposing the true nature of Islam as a tyrannical ideology, an enemy of civilization and progress, and a religion of oppression of women, children, poor, and non-Muslims. Ibn Warraq has written several books, the best known among which are Why I Am not a Muslim (1995), The Origins of the Koran (1998), and Defending the West (2007). He has number of essays, and has been speaker to many conferences and public debates about Islam. His straightforwardness and courage when dealing with Islam is unusual for a European intellectual; he doesn’t pull punches, and he doesn’t care about political correctness when he exposes the evils of Islam as religion and ideology. A glimpse of his preferred methods of argumentation can be found in “Why the West Is Best,” a response to the Muslim intellectual and apologist Tariq Ramadan:
A culture that gave the world the novel; the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert; and the paintings of Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Rembrandt does not need lessons from societies whose idea of heaven, peopled with female virgins, resembles a cosmic brothel. Nor does the West need lectures on the superior virtue of societies in which women are kept in subjection under sharia, endure genital mutilation, are stoned to death for alleged adultery, and are married off against their will at the age of nine. . . . The West has no use for sanctimonious homilies from societies that cannot provide clean drinking water or sewage systems, that make no provisions for the handicapped, and that leave 40 to 50 percent of their citizens illiterate.
His other writings are no less firm and uncompromising when dealing with Islam. And Islam is not his only target; he also criticizes leftist intellectuals who blindly worship the non-Western cultures and condemn the West. In an interview with Frontpage Magazine he calls the Left “those that are unable to think for themselves.” He also criticizes the Bush-era neo-Conservatives in the US for their political correctness and their refusal to see the religion of Islam as the problem in terrorism.
Ibn Warraq is a courageous man, a modern hero who tells the truth even when it places him in grave danger. He is a crusader for the rights of those oppressed under the evil religion of Islam, and he deserves respect.
The only problem is that his crusade is doomed to fail.
In his campaign against Islam, Ibn Warraq has chosen a frame of reference that is weak and impotent to mount any challenge, or deal with challenges hurled against it. In his essay, “Islam and Secularization” (2007) he outlines his solution to the problem of Islam: Secularization. Ibn Warraq likes the developments in the West, and he wants to see the Muslim world freed from its wicked religion and have the same developments. But he ascribes the progress of the Western civilization to the rise of secular humanism and rationalism. The West, he says, inherited it from the Greeks, and as soon as the West was freed from Christianity, progress happened. So he proposes a corresponding solution for the Muslim world: Secularization.
Of course, the very argument that secular humanism has contributed to the rise of the West rests on shaky grounds. Secular humanism hadn’t taken any deep ideological roots in the Western societies well until the early 1900s, and by then the West had already been the dominant civilization on the planet for over 200 years. The most dominant nations in the West were those that adopted secular humanism last. The Christian religion continued to have a strong hold on both the popular mind and the political ideology of Great Britain and the United States until World War I. Even after WWI, secular humanism still had a hard time imposing itself on the European populations: Christian values continued to be accepted as normative, and humanist values as radical. It took political revolutions in the first half of the 20th century – as those in Italy, Germany, and Russia – and a second World War to establish secular humanism as the undisputed political and cultural ideology in the West. To ascribe the 400-years ascent of the Western civilization to world dominance to an ideology that has won the day only in the last two generations is quite improbable, to say the least.
The argument for rationalism doesn’t hold water either. Rationalism is methodology, not ideology; it gives answers only when there are previously adopted goals. And goals are determined by the religion of the people and their leaders. In its own way, Islam is rational. Its goals may differ from those of the West, but given those goals, Muslims are quite rational – and suicide bombers are the most rational of all. When turned into an ideology, rationalism never produced moral codes, social goals, or idea of progress; it always borrowed them from other ideologies. And European rationalism worked only because it borrowed heavily from Christianity. Without Christianity, European rationalism wouldn’t fare better than Chinese, Muslim, or Indian rationalism in creating a free and prosperous society.
But what’s more important is this: Secular humanism will never be an alternative to Islam because theologically, Islam and secular humanism are the two sides of the same coin.
When dealing with Islam and comparing it to secular humanism, Ibn Warraq makes the mistake of comparing the visible features of the two. He looks at the Islam’s professed reliance on certain theological truths, and finds it rigid and contrary to the spirit of “liberating doubt” of atheism and agnosticism, a phrase he borrowed from his ideological teacher Bertrand Russell. Ibn Warraq finds the idea of relying on theological truths for shaping a society contrary to the ideas of liberty and progress – surely, man’s reason must be free from certainties if man is to be free to live his life and build his society as he wants. Ibn Warraq has nothing against religion itself. He just believes it must be relegated to the personal realm, while the society must be based on “rationalism” if it is to be a free and prosperous society.
But is it so? Is really Islam a religion of “certain theological truths”?
In one of his essays titled “Why I Am Not a Muslim” (the same as the title of his book, but the essay covers different topics) Ibn Warraq correctly describes the influence of many other religions on Islam, including Judaism and Christianity. He misses one point, though: the nature of God in Islam. Superficially, Islam borrows heavily from Judaism and Christianity; fundamentally, its God is completely different. Yes, God is the Creator, and He sustains the world, and He sends the prophets, but . . . God cannot speak directly to men, nor can He be involve in the material world in any direct, comprehensible way. The Christians and the Jews believe in the Creator-creature distinction, but they also believe that God can cross the line and take on human form, and appear to men in a visible form. Not so in Islam. God is so high and removed from His creation, a Muslim must believe that there is no visible, comprehensible, direct way He can speak to men or associate with men in any possible way. That’s why the thought of God having a Son is so intolerable to a Muslim; it “denigrates” God to the level of His creation, and the Muslim God cannot do it without violating His own nature.
To use the analogy of the median line on the road, in Christianity that line is solid on the side of creation, and dotted on God’s side. We can never cross the line and become divine but God can cross it any time He wants and become man and speak and reveal Himself to men. In Islam, the line is solid on both sides, and neither we nor God can cross it. The concept of God in flesh is foreign to Islam, and therefore the concept of direct revelation doesn’t exist in Islam.
Not even the Koran is a direct revelation. Islam scholars may sometimes call it the “Word of God,” but by their own admission it isn’t; it is only given through an angel, not through God’s direct revelation. God cannot speak to men in intelligible words; He must use an angel. And of course, angels are as different from men as God is different from angels. So who knows how much the words of an angel can be comprehended by men?
And here we come to the crux of the matter: If God is so separated and detached from His creation that He can’t even deliver direct revelation to it in His own words, for all practical purposes He is as good as a non-existent God. There can be no “certain theological truths” from a God Whose words we can’t hear or comprehend. In the final account, Islam is not a religion of “certain theological truths,” it is a religion of uncertain man-made rules, doomed to always change according to the latest whims of religious leaders or political rulers. Since there is no direct revelation from God, it is direct rule from powerful men that must replace it.
In this, Islam is not different from secular humanism. Since there is no God Who speaks directly to men in secular humanism, eventually it is the powerful men, or the intellectuals, or some other elite that must deliver the truths to men in order to build and sustain a working society. The fact that individual men can doubt those truths doesn’t make it better: they still have to submit since there is no higher recourse for them to appeal to.
So both Islam and secular humanism are forms of humanism. And predictably, both Islam and secular humanism must lead to tyranny, oppression, backwardness, and dead end. The only difference is that Islam at least gives some hope for the life hereafter; secular humanism doesn’t. Ibn Warraq’s crusade is misguided. You can’t beat an ideology with the same ideology, with the hope taken away from it.
No wonder in the modern world secular humanism and Islam are allies on the political and ideological arena. Their common foe is . . . Christianity.
And here is where Ibn Warraq must start: It was Christianity as a religion that created the West. It was Christianity that gave us the ideas of liberty, progress, emancipation, the scientific method, the technologies, etc. The West was built not in a religious vacuum but on the fertile ground of the Redemption in Jesus Christ. That Redemption gave men the reason for progress, and it gave them the ideology of liberty. “The West” is only a metaphor; the real name for the civilization Ibn Warraq likes and defends is Christendom.
He admits as much in an interview with the Australian radio station The Religion Report:
Stephen Crittenden: This raises another question, and that is: Is one of the problems here in the West that we refuse to acknowledge, we’ve forgotten in fact, how much our secular democratic institutions, how much the freedom that we’ve won, actually came out of Christianity?
Ibn Warraq: Yes, actually, I mean you’re absolutely right there. In a sense, Christianity always accepted the separation of the two spheres. You know the famous saying in the Gospel according to St Matthew, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.” That is supposed to be an indication of the separation of the church and state.
Unfortunately for Ibn Warraq, he has a wrong interpretation for that verse. It is not surprising that a non-Christian would have a wrong interpretation; what is surprising is the fact that Ibn Warraq himself doesn’t notice that his interpretation leaves him with only two options for a society: God or Caesar. So, if it is not God as the basis for the society, it must be Statism, if we follow this view. Ibn Warraq doesn’t see it but he inadvertently exposes the main problem of secular humanism: If God is removed from society, then the only alternative is Caesar. And that’s what Islam is: A religion that effectively removes God from society in order for wicked men to lord it over other men. And that’s what secular humanism is, too.
But I have good news for Ibn Waraq. There is a much better verse that establishes Christianity as the religion of liberty and progress:
But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching” (Romans 10:6-8).
Not the “liberating doubt” of Russell, but the personal access of every individual believer to the Creator, to the Lord of all revelation, is what created the West and its achievements in liberty, science, technology, and all others. Islam creates tyranny and backwardness by removing God far away from the individual. And so does secular humanism. Only when the individual has access to God’s truths directly from God and His Word, tyrants can not pretend exclusively to speak for truth; and freedom fighters have theology of resistance that is valid and reliable. Only when God and His knowledge are close to the heart of the individual, scientific and social progress is possible. Therefore, Christianity is the only religion that can create anything like the West. Secular humanism can’t; it is simply another form of Islam.
Therefore, Ibn Warraq’a crusade is hopeless. Substituting secularism for Islam won’t make the things better: it will only create more tyranny and more backwardness.
But Ibn Warraq has an alternative: Jesus Christ, and His Redemption. Now, this would be a crusade worth fighting.