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.