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The Stifling Effect of Muhammed's Life and Teachings on Muslim Society

”You must understand that Islam is a fundamentally violent religion, as opposed to Christianity.” These words were spoken to me in Islamabad in 1994 by an apostate professor whose name I cannot reveal here, because apostasy, under traditional Islam, means death. He added: “You can test my claim by studying the prophets Muhammed and Jesus.”

Back then, my knowledge about Islam was limited. The professor’s two sentences, moreover, formed a sharp contrast with the things another Pakistani in Islamabad had said to me about Islam. This was a friend who, I would later realize, had given me a picture of Islam based on the things Muhammed had said and done in the years immediately after he had claimed to have been vouchsafed revelations by the angel Gabriel — a time, that is, when the founder of Islam was powerless, mild-mannered, merciful, and humble. In time, I came to understand that my friend had helped herself to the more delectable morsels from the Islamic candy dish and tossed out the not-so-tasty ones. In Islam, however (and no Islamic scholar will dispute this), it is Muhammed’s unpalatable later statements and actions — that is, the ones attributed to Muhammed, the man of great worldly power — that have the last word.

More than 10 years later I encountered these lines by the Danish philosopher Kai Sørlander: “Look at Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, and Socrates. Which one of these, other than Muhammed, can you imagine calling for the stoning of a woman to death for adultery?” Harsh words, but based on reality. Everyone remembers, after all, what Jesus said when he was confronted with the woman taken in adultery: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Less well known is the story about the woman who became pregnant out of wedlock and asked Muhammed for advice. He said that she should have the baby and nurse it, after which the baby would be taken from her and she would be stoned to death.

Briefly put, while Jesus abolished the barbaric Mosaic laws, Muhammed — who,, according to Muslims, is the best human being who has ever lived, the so-called foremost example — fortified barbarism.

A profound biography of Muhammed has just been published in Norway. Written by Halvor Tjønn, a historian as well as a journalist for the daily newspaper Aftenposten, it is a much-needed book about one of the most influential figures in the history of the world. That influential figure, moreover, is one who still inspires fear — a fear, namely, of violent reprisals against anyone who might dare to consult his or her own rational faculties.

We saw this when Norwegian and Danish flags and embassies were set on fire in 2006. Almost on autopilot, the Norwegian government genuflected to Muhammed and threw free speech out the window. The same fear appears to manifest itself among the politically correct in Norway. Two weeks before the publication of Tjønn’s book, Aage Borchgrevink, writing in Tjønn’s own newspaper, slaughtered it (Aftenposten, 9 March). The notion that Muhammed serves as an example to today’s Muslims, insisted Borchgrevink, is outdated — which is to say that there is no bomb in Muhammed’s turban after all. One could not help feeling that the orders for this hit job had come down from the newspaper’s executive offices.

My trip to Pakistan this month provided me with a different view of reality than Borchgrevink served up in Aftenposten. ”Pakistan is not the Pakistan you last visited in 2004,” warned friends of mine before my visit. On my arrival in Islamabad, which until a few years ago was considered a “free Western enclave,” my friends advised me: “Don’t say a word in public about Muhammed or Islam.” A fear of terrorism lay over the capital like a thick carpet. The sight of Norway’s embassy, a building which I had once freely entered and exited, came as a genuine shock. We had to negotiate two roadblocks, complete with armed guards, identity checks, and bomb searches, before our car was able to turn a corner and continue on toward an unrecognizable building: the embassy, completely padded — wrapped up as if in a thick winter coat.

What I was observing were Muhammed’s footprints in the wake of the 2006 crisis.

The same footprints can be observed on leading international websites on which scriptural scholars approve of marriage to prepubescent girls — on the grounds that Muhammed himself wed a nine-year-old named Aisha. The same websites also prescribe Koranic rules of divorce for children who have not yet begun to menstruate. The punishment meted out to the gadfly Theo van Gogh — whose throat was cut in Amsterdam by the Dutch Moroccan Muhammed B — was the same as that inflicted upon poets of Muhammed’s time who dared to criticize him in their verses. At his trial, Muhammed B said that he had acted in imitation of his religion’s founder.

Muhammed’s influence, conveyed through his words and actions, is a tragedy for humanity. We can see it today in the burning Middle East, where perhaps the only thing worth saying about the likely outcome of the current political chaos is that it is the Islamists — the slavish adherents of that merciless code known as sharia law — who are the best organized. In a country such as Egypt, there is broad support for introducing sharia at all levels. A study by the Pew Research Center shows that 82 percent of Egyptians support stoning as a punishment for adultery and that 84 percent want the death penalty for apostasy. This is entirely consistent with the views of Muhammed, the jurist and politician.

The lack of social and economic development in the Arab world is so alarming that the UN has produced five reports so far in this century (the Arab Human Development Reports), written by Arabs in hopes of reaching Arab hearts and minds. Among the points made in the reports is that modernity and development are not achieved by mixing politics and law with religion, as Muhammed did. But it is precisely this mixture that characterizes the Arab and Muslim world then and now. This was powerfully underscored in 1990 by the umbrella organization called the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which, in a declaration that was issued in Cairo and that remains in effect today, declared that sharia law trumps the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let it be recalled that sharia law (as I outline in detail in my new book But the Greatest of These is Freedom: The Consequences of Immigration in Europe) legalizes murder, prescribes amputation as a punishment, forbids marriage between Muslims and infidels, and subordinates women to men.

The pitiable conditions under which women live in the Islamic world must also be seen in light of Muhammed’s life. The life of his first wife, Khadija, whom he married before his rendezvous with the angel Gabriel, clearly illustrates one fact that is reflected in the UN report — namely, that with the introduction of Islam, women were parked on the sidelines of society. For who was Khadija when she met Muhammed? She lived alone and was one of the richest businesswomen in Mecca.  It was actually Khadija who proposed to Muhammed. Can anyone imagine such a woman in Mecca today?

It was Muhammed who compelled women to obey men, legalized polygamy, and dictated that a woman’s testimony was worth half a man’s and that a woman’s inheritance should be half of a man’s.  This everlasting divine justice has legal and social consequences for Muslims in today’s West.

The so-called hadith (the words and deeds of Muhammed) further established women’s subordinate status. Some tidbits:

  • Two prayers that never reach heaven are those of a runaway slave and those of a reluctant woman who frustrates her husband at night.
  • Hellfire appeared to me in a dream and I noticed that it was above all peopled with women who … had not shown any gratitude toward their husbands for all they had received from them. Even when all your life you have showered a woman with your largess she will still find something petty to reproach you with one day, saying, “You have never done anything for me.”
  • If anything presages a bad omen it is: a house, a woman, a horse.
  • Never will a people know success if they confide their affairs to a woman.
  • Better for a man to be splashed by a pig than for him to brush against the elbow of a woman not permitted him.
  • The one who touches the hand of a woman who is not his will have an ember placed on his palm on the day of judgment.
  • Three things interrupt a man’s prayer [by passing in front of him] …: a woman, a donkey and a black dog.

We need a constructive and fact-based debate about Muhammed’s life and his meaning for society today — a debate conducted in the spirit of humanism. This is especially important at a time when, in Oslo and other European cities, the most popular name for newborn baby boys is Muhammed.

Hege Storhaug’s Norwegian bestseller, But the Greatest of These is Freedom: The Consequences of Immigration in Europe, has just been published in English.