Responses to Bismikaallahuma

Being stupid or playing stupid?

On using atheist sources

Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi (MENJ) thinks that he finally caught us ... and wrote the article Answering Islam: Preaching What They Do Not Practise?[1] In this polemic, he charges us with hypocrisy for violating our own policy statement, and chiding Muslims for something we do ourselves. Let's have a look at what he is so excited about.

First, it may be helpful to put the questions and statements found in the article Why do you take them as protectors? into their historical context. That article was written in December of 1997, and published on our website at the same time as I submitted it for posting on the newsgroup soc.religion.islam on 17 December 1997 (see the newsgroup version here). During 1997 a number of Muslim websites started to use articles against the Bible and Christianity which they took verbatim from various atheist websites, particularly from the Internet Infidels. Much has happened since then. Many new Muslim websites have arisen, and the ones that were on the frontlines back then have mostly disappeared, so that most of the links on that page have gone dead in the meantime.

Okay now, what exactly is MENJ's problem? He writes:

In one of their pages, Answering Islam had made the following claim with the clear intention of “poisoning the well” where Muslim sites are concerned:

(emphasis are our own)

The rest of the page goes on to either debase or discredit Muslim websites for their dependency on “atheist” material and preaching about the lack of “conscience” on the part of Muslims to abandon atheist material (notwithstanding the fact that most of the links on their page are either broken or no longer exist).

Unfortunately, Answering Islam does not seem to practise what it preaches. Of late they have been relying on atheist material from hostile anti-Islamic websites in order to further their goal of “the presentation of the truth and genuine Christian scholarship”. Is it considered “the presentation of the truth” to rely on material from which they themselves denounce its source — known atheist websites openly hostile to Islam such as Freethought Mecca, Mukto-Mona and Faithfreedom International – to the extent that they are being used freely and widely throughout their articles? ...

It is also clear that despite the (worthless) “pledge” of Answering Islam, they have used atheist literature for many years against Islam. ...

Hence, this begs the following question: If we Muslims are not supposed to use atheist material because they reject the concept of God, then why does it make sense for the Christian missionaries to make use of material from groups who openly reject their religious belief system, i.e. the Jews, in their attacks against Islam? The Jews, though they do believe in God, openly reject the Prophethood of Jesus (P) in toto and their literature are riddled with the most abusive and insultive words against him and Mary (P). Yet, the Answering Islam team have an uploaded version of Geiger’s book on their website many years ago!

... If “Answering (Attacking-) Islam” wishes to use material from the heathen who are even against their faith, that is totally up to them. But why accuse and lambast Muslims for something which they themselves adopt and use freely? Is this the case of a pot calling the kettle black?

In conclusion, it is clear that the issue here is not whether Muslims are sourcing material from the “heathen” or otherwise, but that when their arguments get sharper from relying on genuine scholarship (no matter the source), the missionaries have no answer to them and therefore resort to poisoning the well. Even if Muslims do use atheist material, it simply means that they are simply adopting “Answering (Attacking-) Islam’s” methodology, and that those behind Answering Islam are proven to be hypocrites when they demand that we do not use their methodology. Furthermore, their deception are also exposed when they lie about not using atheist sources because it “contradicts” their belief system, and yet they still use works the likes of Dashti and even anti-Christian sources to attack Islam. So why is it okay for them to use such sources and not okay for Muslims in general to follow their methodology?

Since MENJ states that "If “Answering Islam” wishes to use material from the heathen who are even against their faith, that is totally up to them", I conclude that he does not have any objection that we sometimes refer to sources written by people which may be of a different faith or no faith.

His charge against us is solely that we demand from Muslims not to use atheist materials but ourselves are using material written by atheists or Jews. This is blatant hypocrisy, according to MENJ. Now, he could have had a point, if he had accurately represented what I stated. But, as so often, he took the quote from my article out of context and is merely attacking a straw man. Basically, the question is what did I mean by the word "use" in the above statement? "Use" in what way? Simply reading the next couple of paragraphs after the above quote would have made it fully clear what was meant there. Let me quote it here again:

On "Answering Islam" we will purposely not use atheist articles against Islam, since we know ourselves more connected with Muslims on the basis of our common belief in one God, than with atheists who are mocking both of our faiths. Our goal is not the attack and destruction of faith in God, but that our Muslim co-believers in the Creator God will come to recognize the full truth of what God has revealed about himself and His will for our life. We do not need the help of those who do not believe at all. And certainly we do not need atheists to protect us from Muslim attacks. We are confident that the presentation of the truth and genuine Christian scholarship give arguments strong enough to convince the honest and sincere seeker for truth.

Apart from the above question about obedience to the commands of the Qur'an there is a more foundational problem. It is the same problem when Muslims use the results of liberal theology (prominently Misha'al Al-Kadhi and Akbarally Meherally). Liberal theologians and atheists are acting on anti-supernaturalist presuppositions. If we use their results, we have to accept their presuppositions on which these results are based if we have any intellectual integrity in our reasoning. But if these presuppositions are applied to Islam, they destroy Islam just as well. This is maybe most obvious in the question of miracles. The anti-supernaturalist argues, that because miracles do not happen, therefore the virgin birth story is a myth, and the miracles of Jesus like raising dead people are myth and therefore these reports are not written by eyewitnesses, but are later legends that developed over time and the Bible is "proven" to be wrong. If Muslims accept the result of such modern liberal scholarship that the Bible is not from God, [as they do in many articles that have statements like "even the Christian scholars say ..."] then they have to accept the presuppositions on which these results are based. But with the same argument, if the virgin birth of Christ is wrong in the Bible it is just as false in the Qur'an and therefore the Qur'an cannot be from God.

Nearly all Muslims web sites use the atheist material "as it is" without any own reflection on it, and seemingly without realizing that the set of presuppositions on which these articles are based destroys Islam just as quick as it seems to disprove Christianity. This is one of the most common methods of Muslim intellectual suicide.

The above described lack of intellectual insight and integrity is one reason that I cannot take Muslims seriously who use atheist material without even thinking about the implications. I fail to see the virtue of such Muslim sites or the intelligence of the Muslims who applaud such sites as are listed above.

The meaning is obvious, isn't it?

But let's repeat it again in different words so that even MENJ can understand it, if he is willing to understand it at all.

Arguments consist of (1) facts and (2) assumptions or presuppositions. There is no problem in referring to facts published by others. Anyone may quote as many facts as he wants. I never objected to that. It does not matter who collected or wrote about these facts. The topic of my old article was that Muslims took atheist material wholesale, because they liked the anti-christian conclusions. But if one accepts the conclusion one has to accept the assumptions on which they are based. One cannot have the conclusions without the assumptions and presuppositions that went into the process of arriving at these conclusions.

In that article, I wanted to help Muslims to think more deeply about what they are doing, to show them that this approach will be their own undoing because accepting the conclusions means (often) accepting the assumptions which in turn are in contradiction to the Quran. I wanted to show the Muslims that they need to develop their own arguments, arguments based on their faith and assumptions consistent with their faith, or their methodology will turn out to be self-destructive.

So, in the context of this discussion, my statement was that at Answering Islam we will not use atheist articles wholesale and without reflection as it used to be done on so many Muslim websites at that time. In fact, several years ago, Ibn Warraq approached me with the idea to write a book together. I declined this offer, as attractive as it was, because our goals are different. Our concerns and our topics overlap in some areas, but the reason why we do what we do is radically different.

Apart from the books in our classical library which we (re)publish for their scholarly content and the valuable facts and background information they provide (and some of these were indeed written by non-Christians), we develop our own material and are not in need to have atheists help us out "to bash Islam". We are well able to think, research and write ourselves, and present our critique of Islam based on Christian convictions. That, at times, we use facts or quote formulations that we find in non-Christian sources does not contradict this general principle.

What is left of MENJ's charge against us? Nothing. Was it a mere lack of reading comprehension on MENJ's part that he did not understand my original article and thus completely misrepresented my point by taking one statement out of context? Or did MENJ know quite well what was my point in that article, but found that this one formulation was wonderfully ambiguous when taken all by itself, and could easily be (ab)used for his own agenda?

What a poor guy he is if he needs to misrepresent what we are saying in order to be able to score a point against Answering Islam.

Jochen Katz


[1] MENJ's article is already the second edition of his attack. The first one is even less civilized and is quoted here.

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