An Open Letter to a Muslim Friend

This page is part of the author’s pages on religion.

What follows is an open letter that I almost had to write, because of the number of Muslims who read my other web pages about Islam, and wanted to correspond with me. I couldn’t write the same things, over and over again, to each one of them, so what you see below is a sort of “average”: I direct it to some “Rasheed”, which is the name of none of my correspondents, but the things that this fictitious Rasheed character says are things that my correspondents really said and thought. My letter follows.

My dear Rasheed,

In our recent exchange of letters we touched upon various issues, which, however, I consider not as essential as the ones I’ll mention in the present letter.

You see, there are some fundamental issues regarding your religion, Islam, which make me adopt a very negative attitude toward it — an attitude that I don’t have toward Christianity, Hinduism, or any other religion, even though I am an atheist. If we don’t talk directly about those fundamental issues that bother me, I’m afraid we’ll forever keep beating around the bush, which is something I strongly dislike. I’d much prefer to be straightforward with you.

I’d like to emphasize that my dislike is against the foundational principles of Islam, not against the Muslims themselves. I am not against people, but against ideas, and then of some people who hold those ideas. I am not a racist, because race has nothing to do with my concerns. I do not dislike Arabs, or Turks, or any other people that might be predominantly Muslims. In fact, I have some wonderful Turkish friends, and I’m sure I could have excellent Arab friends, too, if I were given the chance. So don’t misinterpret my attitude as being against races,(*) please. It is against ideas, and this is what I’m going to explain.

Without further ado, I’ll tell you what — in my opinion — is deeply-deeply troubling me with Islam.

A religion, in my mind, is supposed to be a way of showing to the average person how to be moral; how to be good, acting in morally good ways, helping his or her fellow human beings, so that everybody benefits from such goodness.

Parenthesis: note that I, as an atheist, don’t need religion to tell me what is morally good; I know it. I do what is morally good in my life, and I believe I do it even better than the average religious person. However, I have studied, and spent time thinking about these things deeply. But I don’t expect that everybody on this planet has had much time to do the same. They need some help, some guide in the form of a book, a “manual of morality” of sorts to tell them explicitly that they need to do such-and-such. So, contrary to the opinion of most atheists, in my view religion plays a generally positive role in the world. At least I think its advantages outweigh its disadvantages.

So: a religion must be a guide for morality. Does Islam satisfy this requirement?

On the surface, it appears that it does, because most of you Muslims say that you are peaceful people, and you supposedly intend to act in morally good ways.

But when I look just under the surface, I find the most abhorrent, atrocious, disgusting odor — the odor of corpses — and it comes from the deeds of none other than your most highly revered man: Muhammad, the founder of your religion.

Tell me something, please: isn’t a religious leader supposed to be a “role model”? And, as a role model for your behavior, wouldn’t you require from him to be absolutely perfect, absolutely clean in a moral sense? — to have shown with his behavior only how to deal with other people kindly, in morally good ways?

What does Muhammad show us with his behavior?

In your most respected ancient Islamic texts, we learn that Muhammad asked his men to go and kill a woman, Asma bint Marwan, because she insulted him with the poems that she wrote. Indeed, one of his men, Umayr (“a zealous Muslim”), crept into the woman’s home that night. She was sleeping, and had her five children around her, and one of them was suckling on her breast. Umayr removed the baby from the mother’s breast, and plunged his sword into her body, killing her. The next morning, in the mosque, Muhammad — who was aware of the assassination — told Umayr: “You have helped Allah and his Apostle.” Umayr, perhaps a bit disturbed in his consciousness by what he did — killing a defenseless woman in her sleep! — said to Muhammad: “She had five sons. Should I feel guilty?” And what did the leader of your religion reply to him? “No. Killing her was as meaningless as two goats butting heads.”

(You will find this hadith in your Islamic book of Ibn Ishaq:676.)

Incredible! What does that tell you, my dear Rasheed, about the morality of your role model? Before rushing to reply: “No, no! Such hadiths are false!”, please take the time to read further in this letter, where I explain why I find this attitude — hiding your head in the sand like the ostrich — deeply troubling. Please be patient and keep reading.

As I said, we learn about the above incident in Ishaq:676. But there are many more such stories. And they are really horrible. In all of them, Muhammad is the primary actor who disembowels people, burns them alive, decapitates them, and does all the most atrocious things that even an animal would not do to its hapless victim. And all this is documented in your own ancient Islamic texts.

Take, for instance, another incident, narrated in Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, #270-271, Muhammad asks: “Who is ready to kill Ashraf? He has said injurious things about Allah and his Apostle.” (In other words, he insulted me with what he wrote, kill him!) Maslama gets up and asks Muhammad to allow him to say a lie in order to kill Ashraf. Muhammad tells him he allows him. Then we find the continuation of the story in Tabari 7:94, in which we learn that Maslama with his men made a surprise-attack upon Ashraf, killing him and chopping his head off. Maslama relates the joy that he felt killing Ashraf, as follows: “I remembered my dagger and seized it. I thrust it into the lower part of [Ashraf’s] body. I bore down upon it until I reached his genitals. Allah’s enemy fell to the ground.” Finally, in Ishaq:368 we learn that the proud Muslim murderers brought Ashraf’s head to Muhammad while he was praying, and threw the head in front of his feet. Muhammad praised Allah that his enemy had been slain.

Tell me Rasheed, but honestly: Are these the stories that you would like to tell to your children? I don’t think so, but if yes, then you have a long-long way to go before you are civilized, in my opinion. If not — which I hope is the case — then why not? Isn’t it because they are morally disgusting? Would you like your children to become insensitive murderers, like your “prophet”? Would you like them to kill women in their sleep, thinking that doing so is “as meaningless as two goats butting heads”?

By the way, another parenthesis: I hope your children will become well-educated and understand — among many other things — what your role model failed to grasp: the butting of heads of goats is very meaningful: the strongest old male goat establishes dominance among the other goats in this way — it’s as simple as that. Younger goats head-butt as a preparation for fighting later, when they become adults. How smart must one be to understand this simple fact, or to guess it? Yet your religious leader failed — does this tell you something about his general intelligence?

In another story, narrated both in Tabari 8:122, and in Ishaq:515, Muhammad gave orders to one of his men about how to treat a captive man, a Kinanah (Bedouin). Muhammad asked his men to “torture him until you root out and extract what he has.” So they lit up a fire with charcoal on the man’s chest, twirling it with their fire-sticks, slowly roasting him alive. When the man was nearly dead, Muhammad signaled to his men and their poor victim was beheaded.

Tell me please, have you read a more savage, more brutal story? Perhaps you have — I don’t know — but you wouldn’t expect the leader of a religion to be the prime actor in such horror stories, would you? Wouldn’t you expect him to be morally impeccable, so that he can serve as an example for others? Does a man who burned another person alive appear morally “clean” to you?

And if you say that Muhammad did other things that were good, such as taking care of orphans and widows, why does it matter? What difference does it make if a person did a thousand good things, if at the same time he disemboweled men and women in their sleep, decapitated his victims, and burned them alive?

Looking only at the good things that Muhammad did and ignoring his atrocities is as if I am a doctor, and I come to operate on you wearing a white robe. Suddenly you look at my robe and shout: “Oh, look! Your robe is blood-stained! It’s full of splotches of blood!” Then I answer: “But my robe has a thousand other spots that are totally white and clean! Why don’t you see them and focus only on the blood? My robe has so many clean parts that I call it a clean robe!” What do you think, Rasheed, can we call that a “clean robe”?

In another incident, which we read in Ishaq:308, Muhammad gave orders to execute Ocba, a person who was kept for ransom. Since the other prisoners were kept for ransom and not executed, Ocba asked to learn why death was prescribed for him. “Because of your enmity to Allah and his Prophet”, said Muhammad. Then Ocba remembered his little daughter: “And my little girl?” he cried. “Who will take care of her?” And what was Muhammad’s answer? “Hell fire!” — and Ocba was decapitated.

Oh, yea, your wonderful leader took very good care of orphans. First he turned little girls into orphans, and then he “took care of them”. I remind you that one of his “wives”, Aisha, was only 9 years old. This is called “pedophilia” (and the person a “pedophile”). It was perceived as immoral in ancient, not only in modern times. (Read Plato’s “Symposium”, written 1000 years before Muhammad, if you want to know more about the attitudes of ancient peoples toward pedophilia and pederasty.)

In Tabari 7:101 we read: “They asked the Prophet for permission to kill Sallam. He granted it.” In Tabari 7:97, we read: “The morning after the murder of Ashraf, the Prophet declared: ‘Kill any Jew who falls under your power!’” Last, but not least, and in case you think that Muhammad committed only murders of individuals and not mass murders, I should remind you that according to your historical documents, immediately after the Battle of the Trench (or Ditch) in 627 AD against Arab tribes, Muhammad ordered the decapitaton of between 300 and 600 men and boys of the Jewish tribe of Qurayza in Medina, taking their women and daughters as slaves for his men. He did this even though the Jews didn’t fight against him in the Battle of the Trench, only “instigated” the other Arabs to fight, as your own sources tell us. In reality, he did it because he needed booty to pay his men, because he got nothing out of the battle itself (there was no fighting; the other Arabs simply retreated).

What kind of religious leader is this that you have, Rasheed? Really, is that man your role model? Do you truly want to be like him? He decapitated, disemboweled, burned people alive, all because they “insulted” him with what they said or wrote, or because he needed their women as sex slaves. What kind of morality is this that he displayed? Don’t you feel ashamed? Don’t you feel disgusted?

And I come now to your objection that all those hadiths are “false”.

First of all, if they are false, doesn’t that mean that your historical Islamic books include lies? And if some stories are lies, how do we know that many other of the not-so-well-authenticated stories are not lies? All right, let me phrase this argument as clearly as I can:

The disputed hadiths are either true, or false, correct? There is no other possibility. So:

If they are false, then you are sure that your ancient Islamic books include lies. How proud can you feel about your religion when you know that it is based on lies among other, true events? Imagine a building that rests on some foundational pillars. Some of those pillars are good (true), but some other ones are rotten (lies). Is that a well-founded building? Does it stand on a solid foundation?

And if they are true, then those hadiths tell us horrible things about Muhammad’s character.

Either of the two possibilities sounds terribly bad to me. I leave it to you to think about them.

A second problem that I see with this idea is that it treats me as if I am an idiot. I wonder how it can be that the false hadiths are the bad ones, and the true hadiths are the good ones. Such a coincidence? Only a child of the kindergarten can believe such an idea. It seems that you’re underestimating my intelligence when you expect me to believe an explanation that’s good for the kindergarteners.

And a third problem is that if even one of those horrible stories is true, then Muhammad is fully guilty as a murderer. Today, in most Western nations, he would be convicted and put in jail for life; in some nations (or States of the U.S.) he would be executed. Note that some of those “bad hadiths” are included in Sahih Bukhari, one of your most trustworthy ancient sources.

But suppose there are some gullible people in this world who will buy your assertion that all those hadiths that bother you are false. Then there is another problem, this time for you: if you remove all those hadiths that sound morally disgusting — or merely bothersome — then there won’t be much left of your Islamic history. Your religion will become a religion full of holes, with a past hardly known and highly disputed. You see, those objectionable hadiths are spread everywhere in your books. Look at this “gem”:

Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 67, #427: Muhammad said: “By Allah, and Allah willing, if I take an oath and later find something else better than that, then I do what is better and forget about my oath.”

Seriously, that’s what Sahih Bukhari’s book says, word-for-word! What do you understand about the character of a person who said this? Let me help you: I would think he is someone I cannot trust. If I told you, “Rasheed, I give you my word that I will do what you want”, and then I didn’t keep my promise because “I found something better”, what would you think about me? That I am very untrustworthy, right? Then how can you believe it when they tell you about Muhammad that he was supposedly trustworthy and just? Are you so gullible? You see what Muhammad himself said — in the clearest and most indisputable terms: — “I am entirely untrustworthy! Don’t trust me people, because I can break my oath whenever I deem it beneficial to me!” If I had said what Muhammad said, would you trust me? And if you followed what your religious leader said and did, would you expect me to trust you?

Rasheed, perhaps you think that I am too critical of your religion, and that I am not sufficiently critical of other religions, and especially of Christianity, since Christianity is the biggest rival of Islam — just by its number of believers. You might think that I should criticize their Crusades, and their burning of “witches” in the Medieval times.

Yes, I know that Christians did atrocious things, but there is a huge difference: nowhere in the foundations of Christianity (the New Testament) does it say that their religious leader, Jesus Christ, decapitated anyone, or burned someone alive, or disemboweled a woman in her sleep, or cut the hands and feet and blinded the eyes of people, or killed men and boys by the hundreds in order to capture their women and sisters for his and his men’s sexual needs. In fact, if you read the New Testament, you’ll find out that Jesus didn’t harm a single fly. I don’t know how much this is true, but all we have is the Christian books, right? That’s all our sources for the early history of Christianity, just as our sources for the history of Islam is the hadiths (since the Qur’an tells us almost nothing about the history of Islam). So, from the sources that are available to us about Christianity, I see a person, Jesus, whom I cannot blame for anything. And in the end, it is irrelevant what Jesus really did in his life — if he swatted an occasional fly or not. What matters is what his believers read about him. Now tell me, what do the Muslim readers learn about Muhammad, if they ever read at all? (And if they can read at all?)

Surely, the Crusaders acted immorally. Certainly, the Christian Church will forever bear the blame for torturing innocent people in the Dark Ages. But those are not the foundations of Christianity. Do you understand the huge difference? Jesus didn’t do such things. If more than 1000 years later some of his followers misunderstood him, they can only take the blame for themselves. But Jesus is clean. He taught how to “love thy neighbor”, and in one passage in the New Testament he explains explicitly that the “neighbor” is every human being. What did Muhammad teach? To love thy neighbor? Can you show me the source, a single hadith in which this idea appears? — I am very curious to see it. Not even the Qur’an says anything remotely like “love thy neighbor”, where “neighbor” is every human being. It only tells you to take care of other Muslims. Such a narrow-minded God! Can you seriously believe that Allah was so narrow-minded as to fail to tell you to love every person, and not only your fellow Muslims? Is this possible? No Rasheed, of course it’s not. The only plausible explanation for “Allah’s moral failure” is that the Qur’an wasn’t written by Allah (follow the link, I argue why, there). Instead, the Qur’an was merely the product of the mind of a misanthropist: your religious leader, who maimed, stoned, stabbed, burned, and cut people to pieces — as long as they were not Muslims.

The huge difference between Christianity and Islam — says I, Harry Foundalis, an atheist — is in their foundations. Christianity is founded on love; that’s the primary concept in their holy books, and that’s what Jesus taught, using his own life as an example. By comparison, remind me please, what is Islam founded on? Submission to Allah!(*) That’s the primary concept in Islam: instead of loving your fellow human beings, you are asked to drop on all four (assuming a rather indecent posture as I see it, by the way), and become a slave of Allah! “Submission”, which is the meaning of the word “Islam” — there’s your highest ideal, instead of love! Tell me, do you think that’s what an All-Wise Allah wants? Is it ever possible that Allah is so arrogant as to ask people to be his mere slaves, failing to tell them how much more important it is to love each other, instead of dropping on all four and worshipping him? Arrogance, you know, is not a sign of wisdom. You cannot claim: “surely Allah does not love him who is proud, boastful” (Qur’an 4:36), and then command people to drop on the ground and worship you, or-else! There are two glitches there: one with an Allah who contradicts himself, asking people not to be arrogant but appearing extremely arrogant and boastful himself (throughout the Qur’an), and another one with an Allah who doesn’t understand the superiority of love over blind worship. But that glitch vanishes if you admit that the one who doesn’t understand that superiority is not Allah; it is the supposed “prophet”, whose mind is the real creator of your holy book. It is he who failed to see the superiority of love, even though Christianity existed for six centuries before he was born.

Do you see now how many light-years behind you stand from the morality of Christianity?

If you don’t, sorry to say this, but you need further education.

You are of course aware of the fact that other people (non-Muslims) claim that Islam is an intolerant religion. Whether they are right or wrong, you cannot deny the following fact: of all religions in the world, the only religion that has believers who go and explode themselves in suicide attacks is Islam. Do you understand why this is so? If you think a little deeper about what I wrote above, the answer will become painfully obvious to you. It’s because Islam does not include the concept of love in its foundations. If what’s most important in your religion is to drop on all four, put your head on the ground, raise your bottoms skyward, and worship Allah, and not to love every human being, naturally you’ll do what you think will satisfy Allah and his murderous Messenger. If they tell you that Muhammad will receive you with open arms in Paradise after you detonate yourself turning your enemies into smithereens, and if you have no notion in your head that this is a horrible thing to do (because your religion never told you so), then that’s what you will do. It all makes perfect sense. But tell me, is it the other people’s fault when they think that you Muslims are intolerant of others? The truth is, it’s not just that you are intolerant; what happens is that you have no notion of morality in your heads. You don’t understand what is commendable and what is atrocious. You really don’t. Look at what you wrote to me, some weeks ago:

“If you cut one of those ‘wrong doers’ hands or flogged him for committing adultery, the rest will learn by 100% percent. […] It is effective way. You cut one hand, better than having many jails, buildings, and people donating for prisoners to live.”

I must tell you that I, as a Westerner, reading your above thought, feel a sort of nausea in my stomach. Cutting hands for theft, and flogging people for adultery? At first, I thought, in which ancient times does this Rasheed guy live? But gradually it dawned on me that what you wrote above is a thought that comes naturally to you, because you understand neither the concept of goodness, nor the concept of forgiveness. I’m thinking that you probably don’t even understand what “morality” means, because your religion doesn’t teach you that concept. You think that you understand it but in reality you don’t, otherwise you wouldn’t support barbaric punishments like the cutting of hands and the flogging of people.

I wonder how representative your thoughts are among Muslims. I know that, according to a survey that was conducted in Pakistan in August 2009, 83% of Pakistanis are in favor of stoning as a punishment for adultery, and almost half of the Indonesian Muslims are of the same opinion. You (Muslims) really don’t get the concept of morality from your religion, that’s my explanation for this finding. You are never taught the concept of compassion, what it is like to put yourself in the position of the person who is buried into the ground up to her shoulders (yes, to her shoulders, because she’s a woman more often than not), and waits to receive the first stones, which must be neither too little to cause no damage at all, nor too large to finish her off immediately. Her savage execution and barbaric torture must last a long time, according to your “sunnah” (tradition). Your religion never teaches you to feel what it is to be the other. On the contrary, in several of the hadiths, we learn how Muhammad led “adulterous couples” to their execution by stoning. Is it any wonder that the only religion in the world that uses such methods of punishment is Islam?

And, is it any wonder that most of the rest of the people on this planet think that many of you Muslims are true barbarians? Do you blame the other people for thinking so? But your actions and your beliefs about methods of punishment are evidence that those other people are right. What most of them don’t understand is that you are being consistent with Muhammad’s barbaric morality.

Finally, I come to an issue that I mentioned in passing, earlier. I said that you should feel ashamed of being a believer of a religion founded by a criminal. Indeed, I would feel deeply ashamed if I were in your position, and kept believing in Islam in spite of what I learned about its founder. However, I want to emphasize here that I cannot blame you for being a Muslim. It wasn’t your fault. As you mentioned in an earlier message of yours, you were “born into” that culture. Of course, that’s the way it is: every baby who is born into a Muslim culture will become a Muslim, and everyone born into a Christian culture will become a Christian (or at least will have high probability of becoming a Christian — exceptions like myself notwithstanding). So, you weren’t given a choice. It’s not as if you were shown all religions of the world — including the “no religion” — and you were taught their principles, and asked to make an informed and unbiased choice. Nothing like that. You were simply inculcated with the beliefs of your culture. No one can blame you for that.

What I would blame you for, however, is that now, after being aware of the criminal acts of your “prophet” (*) you still keep your head buried in the sand, not daring to face reality, and living in denial.

Your religion is again partly responsible for your attitude. Recall what I wrote earlier: your religion doesn’t let you learn to put yourself in the position of the “other”. The examples I gave earlier were that you learn to accept the stoning of a woman without letting yourself imagine what it would be like to be in her position, awaiting a horrible torture; also, you can accept the punishment of chopping a hand, without putting yourself in the situation in which you have your arm bound and stretched, and somebody is ready to chop it off from your body like a butcher. This inability of yours to “put yourself in the other’s shoes” is the reason why you cannot grasp the simple idea that you are a Muslim simply because you were born into a Muslim culture, not because Islam is true, or because it’s better than other religions. If you could imagine putting yourself in the position of a non-Muslim, you would immediately realize that Islam is objectively far worse than other well-known religions (for its lack of including love and compassion in its foundations, for its being founded by a murderous misanthropist, for its attitude against women, and many more). You would see that Muslims become Muslims because their parents make them such, not because of any inherent truth in their religion. But you can’t do this mental exercise. That’s how your religion has rendered your mind: a child’s mind, unable to get out of its prison’s box. Like children, you stick your fingers in your ears firmly, blocking whatever information you don’t like to hear, not wanting to face the truth about your religion.

Rasheed, don’t resort to the infantile notion that those things that you don’t like are false. If you do, then you really need to grow up intellectually, at which time I hope you’ll realize something that many — in the West, too — do not understand:

Truth is not just what makes us happy.
Truth is what is, independent of our infantile wishes.
Truth can hurt. But still, we have to accept it “as is”.

We cannot change the past and make it as we would like it to be. The truth of the past doesn’t change. The Soviets were notorious for attempting to change the past, but look what happened to them: their regime disappeared.

I doubt that you’ll understand the full extent of some things that I say. This thing about truth, for example, is the key to understanding the difference between the Western and the Islamic civilizations. Did you ever wonder why the Westerners can move in spaceships, but the Arabs move on camels, and if Arabs use a car it’s not because they know how to design and build it, but because some Westerners made it and sold it to them? Why is there that huge technological difference between the two cultures, Rasheed?

The answer is in my previous paragraph about truth, if you are interested to know. Some Westerners — a significant number, and especially the scientists among them — have understood the principle that truth is what is out there, not what makes us happy. If we used the principle that truth is what makes us happy — the “wishful truth” — we’d still be using camels and horses. But by realizing that truth is what is — even when sometimes it makes us sad to learn it — Westerners managed to develop science, and so to build cars, airplanes, spaceships, and of course the computers, which today allow us to communicate and exchange ideas even though we are located at entirely different places. If we relied on “wishful truth”, I’d only be able to shout from my tent to your tent.

Now, please read carefully what I wrote about “possibly hurtful truth”, read your historic documents about Muhammad, mull this over in your mind (and allow enough time for the mulling, because it’s a slow process), and draw your conclusions.

I don’t know if you’ll want to continue writing to me. That’s really up to you. But if you do, please take into account that when it comes to truth I don’t engage into a bargain. Truth for me is not like a Mideastern bazaar, in which you can negotiate and have some truth at a discount price. Either you’ll get the whole of it, at full price — at whatever cost it might have for your religion — or it is of no use to bargain arguing with me. To be specific, as I mentioned earlier: if your religious leader committed even one of those atrocious deeds that are described by the dozens in your ancient Islamic texts, if he — using his men — killed even a single person, then your leader is fully guilty as a criminal, and cannot deserve to be the spiritual leader of more than a billion followers. When you understand this, we can discuss further on these issues.


Yours truly,

Harry Foundalis.


(Clicking on (^) brings back to the text)

 (^) By the way, from a scientific point of view, there are no human races. We can talk about races of horses, of dogs, etc., but not of humans; but explaining why this is so — according to the definition of “race” in biology — is beyond the scope of my letter to you.

 (^) Here are the so-caled “five pillars of Islam”, for Sunni Muslims:

  • Believing that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God (shahada).

  • Praying five times a day (salah).

  • Giving alms out of accumulated wealth (zakaat).

  • Fasting (sawm).

  • Pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).

Of these, only the 3rd pillar (“zakaat”) is somewhat related to morality. All the others are duties to Allah. The Shia Muslim version of those “pillars” is similarly morally irrelevant (only one of them is morally relevant).

 (^) Why do I keep placing the word “prophet” in quotes? Because I’m afraid of the Zinxists! — just kidding. In reality, because he didn’t prophesy anything substantial that turned out to be true.


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