July 11, 2011
Howard Gardner

Likely the sharpest critics of Islam today are author Robert Spencer and lecturer Frank Gaffney. Both men would be quick to label Muhammad as an evil man who thus founded an evil religion and all Muslims as either evil themselves or too stupid to recognize that their religion is evil.

Now I should inform the reader from the start that, as an Evangelical Christian, I myself do not regard the works of Muhammad as having been divinely inspired. Also I, like most Americans, am aghast at the 9/11 attacks and other attacks by radical Muslims upon innocent people. However this does not mean that I would go to the extent of Spencer and Gaffney and place a blanket condemnation upon the entire Muslim community.

Both Spencer and Gaffney come armed with various verses from the Quran which they have memorized (specifically Surah's 2:193 & 216, 5:33 & 51, 8:39 & 65 and 9:5 & 29); each calling for violent attacks upon infidels. They thus presume that it is the duty of every faithful Muslim to kill Christians and Jews.

Now from the start both men are met with the obvious contradiction: why would Muhammad in one breath acknowledge Christians and Jews as the most noble of all people (as in 2:62, 5:69 & 82 and 61:14) and then call for all out attacks upon them? Whereas Spencer and Gaffney would not hesitate to label Muhammad as evil, neither would label him as schizophrenic. So what is the answer here?

Well Gaffney has proposed a rather interesting way of explaining the contradiction. Supposedly the positive verses came first during a period in which Muhammad was hopeful that the Christian and Jewish communities would proclaim him as their Messiah. When he was rejected, Gaffney surmises that Muhammad turned on them and called for their annihilation. Gaffney's source for this claim is a text known as the Gospel of Barnabas; a rather lengthy text supposedly written by the companion of the Apostle Paul which has Jesus proclaiming that the true Messiah will be one known as Muhammad.

The problems with such an interpretation are (1) a number of the more violent texts actually precede the positive ones and (2) the text of the Gospel of Barnabas has been demonstrated to have originated no earlier than the 13th century; 800 years or more after the time of Muhammad. Indeed no reliable historian would ever say that Muhammad made any such claim for himself. He was rather emphatic in applying the term `Messiah' exclusively to Jesus.

So what then is the explanation for the apparent contradiction between the positive and violent verses? The text of the Quran itself seems to answer the question: Surah 5 verses 73, 75 and 116 seem to be directing the violent verses exclusively to polytheistic cults; an aspect which would exclude both the Christians and Jews. Even more specifically these verses point to a group which had elected to deify the virgin Mary as a goddess. And further the group had elected to exalt Mary above her husband god and their offspring "Jesus" who amounted to a baby god; thus giving a total of three gods.

Now this is certainly not the God of Judaism Whom Moses classified as "One" and please note that it is not the Christian concept of God either. No matter how much the reader may object to the Christian concept of Trinity, it can never be said that Christians worship three gods nor can it be said that the term "Son of God" which we apply to Jesus would ever be mistaken to imply an offspring god who came about because of sexual intercourse. Rather the term "son" simply implies an inheritor as in Colossians 2:9.

So just what group in fact does the Quran intend when it calls for violent attacks? Certainly not Christians or Jews (though admittedly this is the interpretation which not only Spencer and Gaffney but also radical Jihadists apply to them) but rather to the ancient Collyridians. The latter group did in fact acknowledge the existence of three gods with Mary as the head. And they most certainly regarded Jesus to be an offspring god; the result of sexual intercourse between father god and mother goddess.

But here again appears what might be considered a contradiction. For you see the Quran promotes the acceptance for all peaceful religions even when they promote a concept of god or gods which is contrary to that of Muhammad. So why would he call for attacks upon the Collyridians and likely the idolatrous and polytheistic Quraish as well? Why not just voice acceptance for their right to believe as they choose? The answer is to be found in their ideologies. The Quraish are known to have been practitioners of human sacrifice and apparently Muhammad's rejection of idol worship had resulted in their calling for the extermination of both he and his followers. Likewise the Collyridians appear to have evolved from the Ephesian cult of Diana which also practiced human sacrifice. With this in mind it would seem quite understandable for Muhammad to have called for a violent response to both groups. Who among us would sit passively by while some outsider plotted to kill our children? Now again please note that neither of these groups can be identified as either Christian or Jewish.

I have tried to communicate these facts to both Gaffney and Spencer. Gaffney simply laughed off the argument; calling me "a pie-in-the-sky religious day dreamer." Spencer first Emailed me and directed me to a particular web site which didn't even address the question. Next I phoned him while he was a guest on the "Tom Marr Show" over Baltimore's WCBM. When it became apparent that Spencer had no immediate answer, Marr simply hung up the phone and began to berate me over the airwaves. He later challenged me via Email to debate Spencer in public and I accepted, saying that I would choose to dialogue rather than debate. Marr went silent after that and I have not heard from either he or Spencer.

Perhaps Spencer would be better left to pronounce his claims without responding to him were it not for the fact that he is accepted as an authority not to be questioned and quoted almost verbatim by people such as Sean Hannity and Pat Robertson. The latter two are individuals I highly respect who nonetheless should know better than to quote such sources without verifying their accuracy.

Two years ago Spencer did in fact agree to debate with theologian/author Dinesh D'Souza at the CPAC convention in Washington D.C. D'Souza was raised among the Hindus but he still has a scholarly knowledge of the Quran and is acquainted enough with Muslims that he rejects any such notion that their religion is inherently evil.

Now CPAC is a conservative political action group which I personally am almost always in agreement with (yes, I would vote for Sarah Palin or Michele Bachman over Barak Obama without hesitation). Unfortunately the people at CPAC well remember the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist attacks promoted by radical Muslims and many of them have no hesitation in air brushing all Muslims in such a way as to portray each of them as evil emissaries. This is not unique. My father fought in World War II and was highly decorated for his heroics at Normandy and elsewhere. He well remembered the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. Now Dad was a also a committed Christian and advocated love for all. Nonetheless years later he struggled inwardly when my sister dated a young Japanese man. He later recanted of this but his initial reaction was "She's going out with a Nip!?"

CPAC's bias was quite apparent in the Spencer/D'Souza debate. Even the simplest statements by Spencer were wildly applauded while D'Souza received only token acceptance. (Surprisingly Spencer later complained that it was he who received bias treatment.) At one point D'Souza stated "I feel about as welcome as a mosquito in a nudist colony." Unfortunately the only scholar in the building was the mosquito.

Regarding the Middle East conflict, D'Souza pointed out that Palestinians have not been the only ones committing terrorist attacks. He pointed to the Irgun and the Stern Gang; radical Zionist groups who, prior to 1948, orchestrated the assassination of the British Eastern Minister Lord Moyne, blew up the King David Motel and set off explosions at Deir Yassin; the latter two resulting in the deaths of hundreds of innocents. Spencer then countered that such attacks were irrelevant to the debate as they were not state sponsored. Well . . . duh . . . Israel was not a state prior to 1948 just as Palestine is not a state today.

Next D'Souza remarked that, if one were to apply Spencer's method of interpreting the Quran, it would be possible for him to use verses in the Old Testament to promote terrorism. He was interrupted at this point by a lady in the audience who shouted "Oh no you can't!" D'Souza did not get opportunity to elaborate but presumably he was referring to Numbers 31:7 & 8, Deuteronomy 7 and I Samuel 15:3 in which commands are given to annihilate tribes known as the Midianites, Caananites and Amalakites. Now at first glance this does sound like a very evil religion.. That is until we consider that all three tribes were known to be sacrificing small children on their altars. Archaeologists have uncovered some rather horrible scenes of children tortured and left to burn on hot irons by these gruesome thugs. Small wonder that God wanted them wiped out before they could carry out anymore such travesties.

One other point that went uncovered in the debate was Spencer's claim that Surah 4:34 instructs Muslims to physically beat their wives. Again this IS the interpretation of Jihadists. One television personality in Bahrain has taken to advising men on the proper way to strike their wives; whether with a closed fist or open hand and the proper places to strike them if you intend on leaving some sort of bruise or blood flow. The man is a nutcase. The actual passage in the Quran uses the Arabic word "adribu" which when paraphrased instructs the man that, if his wife is ungodly, he is not to bear children by her. Otherwise the child will grow up in an ungodly environment. But there is no instruction to beat even an ungodly woman. Again Spencer seems not to realize this.

Now I am quite certain that Robert Spencer and Frank Gaffney as well are both good, decent individuals with sincere intentions. I am also equally certain that both lack the credentials to speak authoritatively about Islam and that both do a great deal of harm in the process.

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