The Blasphemy of ISIS: A 7-Point Pro-Guide to Islam(ism)

Graeme Wood’s controversial article on ISIS in this month’s Atlantic elicited a flurry of responses, from hearty “amens” to clever and erudite rebuttals (along with some more colorful takes on the matter). Since much of the subsequent discussion hinged on interpretations and misinterpretations of a number of terms related to Islam, RD senior correspondent Haroon Moghul assembled the following primer.

Please note that it isn’t intended as a comprehensive guide either to Islam or even to the individual terms, but should be read in the context of recent debates. — eds.

1. Jesus

The Messiah, the Word and Spirit of God, born to the Virgin Mary, Islam’s penultimate Prophet, who did not die on the cross but only appeared to; in the Muslim belief, he will return before the end of time to defeat the anti-Christ and rally the faithful. Jesus is not however perceived as divine: God is wholly One, indivisible and unique. Jesus is a sacred but fully human person.

2. Islam

In Arabic, Islam means ‘submission,’ and implicitly, ‘submission to God’s will.’ Arabic words usually descend from three-parent homes, in which each parent is a letter, and children inevitably have related meanings as well as similar sounds. The letters S-L-M, for example, produce not just ‘Islam’, and ‘Muslim’, but salam, as in ‘peace’—related to the Hebrew shalom. Which is to say, the religion is easy enough. But when it comes to ‘Islamic,’ things get a lot more confusing.

3. Islamic

So far as I can tell, Islam is unique among religions (at least as far as the English language is concerned) in this respect: We can use ‘Muslim’ (as in an adherent of the religion) or ‘Islamic’ (as in adhering to the religion), though both also seem to mean ‘belonging to or conforming to Islam.’ When it comes to Christianity, however, we have only ‘Christian,’ and the same goes for Hinduism and Buddhism. (Perhaps Judaism is similar—one can be a ‘Jew,’ or describe someone, or something, as ‘Jewish.’)

Considering this multivalence, it’s not surprising there’s uncertainty.

As it’s conventionally used, ‘Islamic’ should describe ideas, principles, or systems—”that’s an Islamic behavior,” for example. However, we use ‘Muslim’ for persons, as in ‘she’s a Muslim.’ Contrarily, saying ‘she’s Islamic’ would be awkward at best, and incorrect in general (it would however mark you as likelier to vote for one party).


Unhelpfully, though, there appears to be yet another shade of gray. ‘Muslim’ is used to describe affiliation with Islam, while ‘Islamic’ appears to describe a higher order of conformity and congruity with the religion. If I say ‘Muslim scholarship,’ I just might mean Muslims who are scholarly. But ‘Islamic scholarship’ suggests the study of the religion, although not necessarily by Muslims.

The confusion continues: If I say ‘Albania is a Muslim country,’ that’s very different from saying ‘Albania is an Islamic country.’ It is, at least, until you begin to pay attention, at which point these words, like all words, begin to come apart in our hands. The first might just mean Muslim-majority, which is plainly true, whereas the second might mean that Albania somehow conforms to an alleged Islamic political ideal.

To make matters worse, calling things ‘Islamic’ is a peculiarity of the modern age. In fact, the Qur’an never once uses the word ‘Islamic’—and, so far as I know, it does not appear in any of the Prophet’s recorded statements (hadith) either. (I refer to the modern Arabic term, Islami/yyah, which translates to ‘Islamic’.)

What I mean is, ‘Islamic’ was born of the modern age, with its ideologies and ‘isms’—Islamism, jihadism, so on and so forth—and its need to describe totalizing movements and holistic mechanisms. That doesn’t mean use of the term is un-Islamic (sic), but it is worth pointing out that it would be unrecognizable to premodern Muslims—including the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, who allegedly the extremists are so faithful about following. (Not.)

In classical Islam, actions were classified through rulings, which afforded far more fluidity, nuance, and internal dissonance than the modern ideological proclivity permits or even imagines; by these rulings, behaviors could be: necessary, recommended, permissible, disliked, and forbidden. The idea of an ‘Islamic Republic’ or ‘Islamic State’ wouldn’t be unknown just because ‘republics’ are largely modern concepts, but because ‘Islamic’ is, too.

Hence the awkwardness inherent in the question, “is the Islamic State ‘Islamic'”? Not to mention the movement itself, calling itself ‘the Islamic State,’ as if it’s inherently Islamic, and—still more critical to my point here—the only such State. Such arrogance and brazenness are typical of those who claim the mantle ‘Islamic,’ in addition to being uncharacteristic of the Muslim religion, law, and tradition, which is comfortingly apt—their terminology, and methodology, are mutilations of Islam.

They might sound like Islam and refer to Islam, but their use of Islam is not dissimilar from the use of scientific fact by the creationist: She intends to undermine the scientific enterprise with scientific language, suggesting how wholly the discursive space has been dominated by a certain kind of language, but also how easy it is to fool the outsider into thinking he is encountering a serious, rigorous, and historically and textually faithful conversation. Far from it.

As a postscript, Iran and Pakistan are both Islamic Republics. The latter is a parliamentary democracy, whereas the former is, well, a constitutional… theocracy, for lack of a better term.  So what then is an Islamic Republic?

4. Islamic law

Not Shariah. Confusion of the two is rampant and unfortunate.

Islamic law is an interpretation of Shariah; while various interpretations may be authoritative, and may find widespread acceptance, they are necessarily contingent and finally inconclusive. To argue that one’s interpretation of Shariah is final and solely binding would be considered anathema (hence, ISIS is profoundly contrary to the spirit of classical Islam, although its approach is not unknown in Muslim history—such approaches are especially common in recent decades.)

‘Islamic law’ is meant to be a learned interpretation of Shariah; in the Sunni tradition, Islamic laws—necessarily plural—are developed, refined and promoted through sophisticated argument and popular adaptation. In other words, it’s a two-way street: One must have force of text, and logic, behind one’s position, but one must also have followers, or one is reduced to a footnote in the historical textbook.

There were attempts to create institutional mechanisms to enforce conformity to a single interpretation of Shariah, but these failed. Thankfully.

And that failure may be the source of Islam’s resilience, while the reintroduction of such attempts at conformity—as, for example, represented by ISIS—indicate how modern Islam has forgotten itself, and might just lose its great strength, meaning its days will be clearly numbered.

Now, Shi’a Muslims give greater weight to key members of the family of the Prophet Muhammad in their interpretations of Islamic law, but—and here’s the rub—Shi’a and Sunni Muslims agree on most ritual behaviors as drawn out from Shariah. Islam, between the two major sects is astonishingly similar, with the greatest difference coming in relationship to power and authority.

Present conflicts elide the greatness of the overlap, yet another tragedy of contemporary politics.

5. Muhammad

The final Prophet of Islam, who preached the same faith as Moses and Jesus, among thousands of other Prophets. He is the reason there is no conclusive interpretation of Shari’ah, no one and enduring Islamic law, but always and necessarily many interpretations of Shariah, meaning plural Islamic laws. (See Shariah for why the necessary produces the contigent.)

As long as Muhammad was alive, one could just ask him, ‘Can I do X?’ or ‘What shall we do about Y?’ Now that he is gone, however, while we have the Qur’an, Muhammad’s life example, and our reason with which to interpret these, we can have no final arbiter. There is no Pope recognized by a majority or even plurality of Muslims, and certainly not among Sunni or most Shi’a.

To argue that one’s interpretation of Shari’ah, or as we should call it one’s Islamic law, is conclusive, is to argue that one knows conclusively what Shari’ah means—which is to say, one is pretending to be Muhammad. Since he is the last Prophet, and subsequent Prophets are vociferously condemned in the Qur’an, Muslims are extremely hesitant to opine on Shari’ah, for fear of even inadvertently elevating themselves to Prophetic status.

Thus, ISIS is not just not Islamic, it represents the most profoundly un-Islamic position one might take short of rejecting God—that is, rejecting Muhammad’s finality by claiming his authority (and worse, to do things he would have never done.) This doesn’t mean ISIS isn’t composed of Muslims, and doesn’t believe itself to be in conformity with Islam, but believing something doesn’t make you that. Here is a fine distinction that should be elaborated on.

I do not believe that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, or that extremists are not motivated by arguments they believe are religious, or found in religion, but I believe the dramatic violence of ISIS and gross manipulation of the tradition means that they are inverting Islam—in the name of Islam. While, yes, Islam is what Muslims do, it is not only nor finally that. I believe Islam has an existence beyond Muslims, which begins with the idea that we follow God and the Prophet, not fellow Muslims.

6. Muslim

Adherent of Islam. In Arabic, ‘one who submits to God’s will’; the active participle. Although it is a small point, the reader is advised that Muslims generally find it hard to understand why the ‘s’ in their religion’s name, and this term we are talking about right here, is pronounced as a ‘z’.

Pro-tip #1: The ‘s’ is not a ‘z’ performing taqiyya.

Pro-tip #2: If you can say ‘slam dunk,’ you can say ‘Islam.’ If you can say slim-fast, you can say ‘Muslim.’

7. Shari’ah

Not Islamic law. Literally, Shari’ah means ‘path to the water,’ as in the means to our earthly and final salvation. (Water, desert—get it?)

Shari’ah is revelation, the total communication of God to humanity through Muhammad, including the Qur’an and Muhammad’s life example. Sophisticated sciences of linguistics, logic, syntax, grammar, reasoning, and corresponding (and deeply cosmopolitan) institutions of learning and transmission, emerged in the first centuries of Islam, whose purpose was to produce, debate, analyze, and spread interpretations of Shari’ah.

Those interpretations which won the most favor, largely organically—and only rarely with state assistance—became ‘schools of thought,’ through which most Muslims practice Shariah. It is critical to note a distinction that is often lost in the larger conversation about Muslims and ‘Shariah law’ (sic); all Muslims believe they must follow Shariah. Religious Muslims believe they are. What they believe is Shariah however differs widely; all will claim to follow Shariah, though what they are really following are differing interpretations of Shariah.

Whether or not Shariah should be enforced by the state isn’t simply a settled question or a matter of opinion; that the practice of Shariah should be consensual and voluntary emerges from a learned and coherent interpretation of Shariah. The idea of forcing even permissible practices—recall, Islamic law as it evolved does not recognize ‘Islamic’ as a moral judgment on an action—is an unfortunate distortion of the Muslim tradition, and a moral tragedy.

Most extremist groups will take positions that are minority opinions, and use the full power of the modern state to enforce conformity to them. This is an innovation. (Ask a Salafi what happens to innovators.) Muslims believe Shariah is normative and perfect, whereas all interpretations of Shariah (a.k.a. Islamic law) are necessarily contingent and subjective—human reason cannot reduce Shariah to a single meaning, or pin it to a specific time and place.

This is because Shariah is divine, meant to be universal, and can only be authoritatively interpreted by the Prophet Muhammad. Confusion about the relationship of source to law, and referent to argument, has caused tremendous harm to modern Islam, and created fear and apprehension among persons who are not Muslim. And I understand why. Many Muslims are concerned as well, including religious Muslims.

Because there is widespread misunderstanding between that which is fixed in Islam—principles relating to what we believe (the Qur’an is God’s word) and what we cannot do (kill, steal, etc.)—and that which merely provides direction.  Where, for example, do we spend our money? Giving charity is necessary in some instances and recommended in others, but to whom? In what ways? What is the best way to fight poverty? Is it by cutting checks, or investing in education, or making better nutrition available?

But why do people think Muslims are supposed to kill, when it’s clearly forbidden? They’ll point to the verse, ‘kill them where you find them,’ and say, there it is, plain as day, limpid, translucent, undeniable. Except, it’s wrong.

Sunni and Shi’a Islamic scholarship teaches that even if you find a command in the Qur’an—say, the Qur’anic verse, ‘kill them wherever you find them,’ which seems rather evident and altogether appalling—that command is not activated (did not receive any kind of ruling, as to permissibility or impermissibility) unless you can produce an argument 1) demonstrating the ruling, 2) where the ruling comes from, and 3) that there is no evidence to the contrary.

This requires of course that people choose to believe you—some very good arguments never see the light of day, because people don’t take to them—but it also demands a detailed examination of Shari’ah as a whole, to find countervailing or supporting evidence. Islam was meant to be read as a whole, and not in bits and pieces, as ISIS and al-Qaeda do. (Their Islam is not just outrageous, it is also embarrassing.)

To conclude that because an ISIS propagandist can quote text after text means absolutely nothing about his ‘Islamicity.’ In ignoring contrary evidence, he is being dishonest. In imposing his (grievously wrong) opinion, he is arrogating to himself the place only the Prophet can occupy. This is beyond questions of Islamicity, and veers into far more dangerous territory, not just morally and metaphysically.

After all, creationists can produce one scientific tidbit after another, but short of the correct approach, they are not doing science, but the opposite.

The Prophet Muhammad interacted with thousands of non-Muslims in his life, but only permitted violence in specific instances, such as on the battlefield, and under strict orders. This is why the Qur’anic verse ‘kill them wherever you find them’ is not inconsistent with the counsel of the first (and genuine) Caliph, Abu Bakr (r. 632-634), whose admonition to his army was: That they were not to kill the innocent, the elderly, women and children, people who were not on the battlefield, members of religious orders, attack houses of worship, or target crops or plants.

Inconsistent? Not at all.

Abu Bakr was a scholar of Shari’ah, and understood that the Qur’anic verse did not exist in isolation, as a standalone command, but as one piece of text in a much larger system of ethics and counsel, which to be fair did not forbid violence, but curtailed whom it could be used against, when, and for what reasons. Single verses of the Qur’an are no more proofs than a sentence of the Constitution is an argument before the Supreme Court—they are elements of a proof, but only if that argument is persuasive, if the underlying logic is persuasive, and there is no other evidence to the contrary.

And guess what: If that’s how Abu Bakr interpreted the Qur’anic verse, to mean very limiting rules of engagement, his opinion as the Prophet’s best friend, first successor, father-in-law, and companion on the exodus from Mecca to Medina, leaves the Sunni Muslim who wishes to argue to the contrary an uphill task, to be polite about the matter.

Islam, historically, has been far more plural and cosmopolitan than the extremists portray it as, and this generosity of spirit emerges from and reinforces interpretations of Shariah which have been tolerant. This is because there are clear moral outlines, and beyond that, pride of place to the Prophet, whose absence perhaps counterintuitively creates an indeterminate space—on matters that are not decided, there will be no decision.

Islam recognizes no final political system, for example, because the Prophet specified no clear political system. That means Islam and democracy can be fully consistent. But you won’t hear this kind of nuance out there, in the mainstream conversation we have about Islam, which remains disappointing. (Including many Muslim conversations.) Which is a loss for Muslims, too.

People rightly point in horror at ISIS’ attempted extermination of Yazidis, or Taliban violence against Buddhist antiquities, but wrongly see this as evidence of an historic and essential Muslim animosity towards the other. For nearly 14 centuries, huge communities of non-Muslims, and monuments of diverse faith, existed under Muslim rule; that is not to say these societies were secular democracies or egalitarian states, but they were historically far more pluralistic and tolerant than their modern Muslim counterparts.

For those who condemn the Taliban or ISIS as a throwback to the 7th century, mind you, this is normatively offensive to Muslims—it’s saying they are more representative of Muhammad than we are—and historically backwards. If Islam were so intolerant, how would there even be Yazidis left for ISIS to persecute?   But we have to point out that history and theology again and again. The contemporary Muslim might not wish it so, but the task remains for us.

We must fight back against this seizure of our religion by those who do it the most harm. They know nothing about it, while claiming to be the sole representatives of it.


  •' Jim Reed says:

    You might want to consider distancing a little from the Jesus stuff. On the Christian side, we are now starting to see Jesus is actually a myth. The story was invented in the last part of the first century, and on into the next few centuries. This was a little before your religion was born, so before just accepting the whole thing you might want to do a little research. We made that mistake, and now we are paying for it

  • Islam declared war on the world 1436 years ago ,they have not stopped .

    This is what that declaration looks like

    “When Allah gave permission to his Apostle to fight, the second Aqabah contained conditions involving war which were not in the first act of submission. Now we bound ourselves to war against all mankind for Allah and His Apostle. He promised us a reward in Paradise for faithful service. We pledged ourselves to war in complete obedience to Muhammad no matter how evil the circumstances.”

    “Those present at the oath of Aqabah had sworn an allegiance to Muhammad. It was a pledge of war against all men. Allah had ordered fighting.

    Muslims and their sycophants can go on and deny the sources and dissemble all they want but these are the knowable facts .

    If you are a muslim you are part of this agreement .You are bound by the quran

    The Quran verses inspired at the time are still in effect .




    Not fighting and pretending it didn’t isnt happening is not a winning strategy .

    If the Blood Crips or MS-13 declared war on the world we would treat them a lot differently than the street gang Islam is treated .

    Islam became self sustaining through terrorizing murder and kidnapping 1436 years ago .

    The same tactics muslims use today.

    All muslims are members of the gang.

    Please make sure your political leaders are aware this condition of war does actually exsist .Denying reality is not a strategy .

  •' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    Jesus might seem to be a “myth”or invention to unbelievers in general and so-called atheists in particular,but few genuine historians or Biblical scholars actually believe that,so…your point is what,Mr.Reed? What does it matter to YOU?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    They are going by apologetics. My point is the written record of the gospel story of Jesus comes later than the earlier written record of Christianity from Paul in the middle of the century that has none of that gospel story. Apologetics has been constructed to help people be happy with believing anyway. It should matter to the world because of the damage caused by Christian beliefs.. Think about what a disaster it would be if the entire world believed the Christian myths. This is a process of growing beyond Christianity, and we of this age can be a part of it.

  •' lee says:

    The Stories of the Jesus is in the Quran and Torah even before the first discriptions.mentioned elsewhere.

  • Excellent article on the finer points of Islam. Sadly, when you enter the world of politics today, nothing is what is seems or even once was known to be so. Groups like ISIS hide their political agendas behind professed faith, using bits and pieces of the Qur’an to justify atrocities that are not acceptable within Islam in general, either now or in the past. Groups like the Religious Right are similar in their use of Christianity to further goals of world destruction, greed, and lust for power. Even Jews in Israel use their faith to justify atrocities against the Palestinians, when it is really only about power and control on both sides. Our Founding Fathers saw the dangers of theocracy, or even the blending of church and state or one state religion. Today we are seeing these dangers played out on the world stage with hidden agendas carefully masked by the media. Unless we start calling out these faux religious groups and leaders, making the people of the world aware of their motives, we will only see this world driven to the Armageddon and Apocalyptic end so many of these fanatics embrace thinking that they will be spared because of their twisted beliefs. It is not just understanding the differences or differing interpretations that is necessary; it is making the world see these fanatics for what they are and as long as “it bleeds, it leads” is the media mantra, peace and long life are not possible in a world where religious ignorance is encouraged as part of the fuel to a fire.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Paul wrote in the middle of the first century, and I don’t think there is any older written record of Christianity. There was no Jesus stories like the gospel stories then. This lets us place a time on when the gospel stories were made up, the last part of the first century.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “……your point is what,Mr.Reed? What does it matter to YOU?” – LCR

    What does it matter to you if someone on the internet contradicts your version of reality? Why the all-caps vehemence? And, if you had actually continued reading past the second sentence you would have discovered the answer to your question.

  •' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    An opinion is not an answer to anything,Craptacular.It’s just opinion.

  •' Craptacular says:

    But it tells you why it matters to him, which was your question.

    Edit: “An opinion is not an answer to anything…” – LCR

    Really? An opinion is not an answer to anything? Well, that’s your opinion, which, by your own definition, is not an answer to anything.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “We must fight back against this seizure of our religion by those who do
    it the most harm. They know nothing about it, while claiming to be the
    sole representatives of it.” – Haroon Moghul

    Curiously enough, that is exactly what isis said about your particular brand of islam, too.

    Seriously though, using the “no true scotsman” fallacy for religious internecine squabbles about faith/beliefs gets no play from me, regardless of your reasoning. I do think you should consider using less bellicose phrasing, though. It sounds juvenile.

    So while I do appreciate the information provided, it really just sounds like a debate between santa and the toothfairy about which one truly exists.

  •' Judith Maxfield says:

    Very interesting on Islam. It’s points remind me of how I see my form of Christianity, namely you also have to take the whole of the N.T. together non literally. Its designed to make you slow down and reflect, i.e. no such thing as easy black and white simple answers. I’ve heard you don’t really get the Quran unless you can hear the poetic beauty in the Arabic language. It important to me that there is no God but God and that Jesus was a Jew in Roman occupied Palestine / Israel with understandings of God and divinity not the same as later European traditions. We too can mix things up totally off the original.

  •' GregAbdul says:

    The issue is not complicated. There are bad apples in most bunches. ISIS, I would say, are Muslims…as in Muslim criminals on their way to extinction or jail. They are no more representative of Muslims than Bernie Maddoff is of Jews.

  •' Rmj says:

    There is more to modern Biblical scholarship than is dreamt of in your conjecture.

    Yes, the dates of the gospels are well established, and have been for over a century. This isn’t news, in other words. In fact, the rise of fundamentalism and literalism in Xianity is a direct response to the Biblical scholarship of over 100 years ago (about 150, by now). So the idea that all must believe because the Gospels were true historical accounts a la Herodotus, and now we can’t, so we’ve all been revealed as naked emperors, is actually just reading Christian faith and ecclesiastical history through the cracked lens of the fundamentalists and the literalists.

    Who, at 100 years, a not even a patch on a 2000 year old history.

    As for being “made up,” you might, again, want to consult the work of Biblical scholars. Few of them are fundamentalists, some are even atheists, and very few of them think every word in the Gospels is an invention. True, as Dom Crossan points out, if Jesus spoke Aramaic we don’t even have any of his original words, as they are all recorded in koine Greek. That doesn’t mean we don’t know what Jesus said, only that we don’t “literally” know what Jesus said.

    Which brings us to the post-modern point: the privilege given to the written word above the spoken word. Jacques Derrida was particularly pointed on this topic, and quite lucid about it. There is, in short, no reason to think what is written is superior to what is said (what Jesus of Nazareth said, and yes, he was a real person; again, Biblical scholarship is light years ahead of what’s floating around on the internet), and no reason to believe that what was said was, in essence if not in word for word iteration, was spoken in early 1st century Judea.

    Oral cultures aren’t really ‘backwards” and “ignorant,” as post-Enlightenment cultures presume. In fact, literacy itself wasn’t widespread in the West until long after the Renaissance. As a marker of “superiority” it’s a weak one if only because Western culture got along without it for several thousand years. Now that we can read, we tend to think of those who can’t as “limited.” But in an oral culture, it would be those of us who depend on writing to keep our memories for us, who would be limited. A young man of my acquaintance admitted to me last night he uses a calculator so much he can’t do multiplication or division in his head anymore.

    Socrates would consider him a simpleton, and yet he’s about to graduate from college with an engineering degree. His weakness? He uses a calculator. Who is superior, and why?

  •' Rmj says:

    Actually, Paul wrote in the early middle 1st century; Mark is dated to 70 C.E., Matthew and Luke about a decade later, and John in the early 1st century.

    On the other hand, people are still writing biographies about Napoleon. Does that make him a myth? And Jesus lived in an oral culture where most people couldn’t read or write (Paul could read, but he didn’t write his letters, he dictated them). It’s not really a surprise nothing contemporaneous about a Mediterranean peasant was written down in the 1st century in a backwater like Galilee. What’s surprising is that anything about him was remembered at all, to be written down as early as 35 years after his crucifixion (for the crime of treason against Rome; which would make even writing about him something of a dangerous act), and that others wrote about him also, even later, and for a long time thereafter. There is more substance to the man than to the myth.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    There is still the issue of the writings of Paul. If that oral tradition actually existed in the first half of the first century, it would have influenced the tradition that Paul wrote. Because of the written tradition of Paul, we have to conclude the oral tradition was not really there. It was the product of the apologetics working on figuring out the religion in following centuries. The church spent a lot of centuries suppressing and even killing off dissent, so this is going to be hard. At the end of the day we have to conclude, there was no oral tradition in the first half of the first century that matched the later gospel traditions and was outside the written tradition of Paul.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Paul was heavily into Christianity and wrote a lot of stuff. His Jesus was discovered in old testament scriptures, and and of course his vision. Paul wrote about his ideas, and his works. If his Christianity was about the preacher from Nazareth, he would have been talking about that man’s sermons and works, because that is what Christianity of that day would have been about. Paul’s Jesus was this old testament heavenly being. The Jesus of Nazareth story was a later creation of Christianity, so you don’t find it in Paul’s day.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    This is the best thing of its kind I’ve seen on the Web. Thank you very much for the time, effort, and scholarship you put in to this.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Do you really think that this is how religious traditions are developed? You sound like a 14 year old.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think they made a mistake in accepting Jesus without checking the story.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    In 600 AD?

    Yep, just like a 14 year old.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    While I agree with you in the abstract, I *do* think — in this climate — that it is really important that knowledgeable, modern, *sane* Muslims talk about their faith and push back, hard, against the claims of the Head-Hackers. In this case, I would argue that the “no true Scotsman” is not a fallacy, as much as an attempt to take something back that is being used to cause a lot of harm.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    You can’t justify false beliefs by what year it is. Even today, people often believe what has been believed for the last few thousand years, even if there has never been any actual reason to believe. At least that is how I see it. You shouldn’t believe something just because everyone else does.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    The beliefs you are talking about were formed in the 600’s AD. As for people today, people cannot just “decide” to change religions, with as long and entrenched histories as Islam. Change doesn’t occur that way. We are still experiencing changes in Christianity, due to the Reformation of the 1500s and in Judaism, due to the Haskalah.

    Civilization/culture-wide change is slow and organic. It is not the result of some dude saying “You may want to consider distancing yourself from that Jesus stuff.” Your failure to understand, even at the most basic levels, how these things arise, how they work, and how they change, is the reason why I described it as being just like a 14 year old’s view of the world.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Change has to start with one person, and build for as long as it takes. If the belief is based on an error, and one person sees that, that is a little progress, and a start. Changing a religion means changing the people in that religion.

  •' LegalizeLezMarriage says:

    Change has to start with one person, and build for as long as it takes.
    If the belief is based on an error, and one person sees that, that is a
    little progress, and a start. Changing a religion means changing the
    people in that religion.

    you’re not doing a very good job of it. You and I might agree more than disagree regarding the Jesus mythos, but all you do is rail like a homeless preacher in the streets about how “Jesus was a mistake” and “we need to stop talking about Jesus” and “Take down Christianity.” You do this in every article that might even remotely relate to Christianity or Jesus. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s not doing anything. It just makes people look at you like you’re a cranky teenager.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    People would like to have it said once, and not have to hear it again. Then things can go back to the way they were. The problem is as long as the questions are not answered, they must be asked again.

    Besides, I don’t have all the years left that a teenager would.

  •' PastorAlex McGilvery says:

    Great article. Thanks for clarifying several points on which I continued to be fuzzy. It is true that we need to get a lot more comfortable with ambiguity and the idea that Islam is no more homogenous than Christianity.

  •' Serai 1 says:

    “We”. You atheists are so arrogant.

  •' Serai 1 says:

    Reed is one of those atheist trolls who can’t stand seeing anyone believing anything he doesn’t like. He’s a fundamentalist atheist, pretty much the most annoying kind. Exactly like the people he decries, except he’s just sitting on the other side of the fence.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think I count as part of the Christian world even if I am a non-believer because I was born into Christianity and my family are believers. I think being skeptical about things can give me a clearer understanding. What you see as arrogant I see as practical. The arrogance is Christians thinking they understand Christianity better than I do.

  •' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    Well said,Serai1.I don’t wish to single anyone out,but frankly I find atheism utterly boring and most atheists are…well,tiresome.I cannot for the life of me understand what makes them think their arrogance and condescension lends any type of credence to their arguments.Certainly their smug attitudes and thinly-veiled contempt gets them nowhere with me; coming from the Christian persuasion,if you will,I’m a born-again,blood-bought, Spirit-filled child / servant of Almighty God,and been one for close to 40 years; no atheist,no matter how many alphabets her/she has trailing his/her name could EVER put forth a convincing enough argument to make me abandon my faith in the Risen Lord;you couldn’t live long enough.It would be like trying to persuade me I’m not human.So,again,thanks again Serai1,and God bless you.Keep your atheist friends,neighbors,and loved ones in prayer,as it stands,that’s all you can do.—PEACE IN CHRIST.

  •' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    If you consider yourself a non-believer,Mr.Reed,I’d be interested in knowing exactly what you mean by”christianity”.Are you referring to the construct known as”Cultural Christianity”,the religious system that had its origins in the quasi-political,pseudo – theological marriage of Church and State under Constantine the Great? Hmm…And as far as that goes,any genuine born-again Christian would both know AND understand the Christian faith FAR better than someone who claims they were”born into Christianity”; what does that even mean? That’s like saying that because you were born in a garage you should consider yourself a car.As one who made such a claim you should know better.NO ONE is”christian”because they say so;authentic Christians are Born of God; Jesus was VERY clear about that.But,since you’ve made it abundantly clear that you’ve repudiated and rejected your supposed “christian” upbringing,your claims of understanding Christianity better than authentic,Spirit-filled Christians,do is,with all due respect,a rank absurdity,sir.You may have a head full of what you think is knowledge ABOUT what you THINK is christianity,but if you have not been born-again into The Risen Christ,I can assure you,think it arrogant if you choose,you know NOTHING about authentic Christianity.The Christian Faith is a revealed faith,and it has no place in the small,cramped,mean little space of any mere human being’s supposed intellectual acumen . Almighty God can fit in such a tiny place.When Peter and John were hauled before the arrogant, educated, pseudo-spiritual ” elite in Acts chapter 4, they were counted as”ignorant and uneducated”men, and yet the religious”big-shots were forced to take notice that,as supposedly unlearned as Peter and John were,one fact made ALL the difference: Peter and John had been with Jesus.For true Christians,that is STILL all that matters,as far as Our Father is concerned.No matter how many alphabets an unbeliever has trailing his / her name,all the supposedly erudite and cleverly phrased arguments they can spin can NEVER trump THAT.—PEACE IN CHRIST,Mr.Reed,and God bless you.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I have been through the born again experience, and I like to think I have advanced beyond that. If you take a step back and look at it, there is a problem with that mode of Christianity. The more deeply a Christian believes in the born again experience, and the more spirit filled they become, the more crazy they are about most everything.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I know the condescension and arguments are not going to convince you. The most they might ever do is expose you. There might be outsiders looking in, and the best we could ever do is give them a little view of both sides of the issues.

  • Devon,
    …and this whole thing has contributed the useful word Chritianist to our vocabularies.


  • RMJ,

    Small point: there is a good deal of the Aramaic record still around.

    In the Random House introduction to their version of the Steinsaltz edition of the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has an aside which is both hilarious and very serious. At one point he says something like (from memory, this was thirty years ago, and I use the Koren edition these days) “Ya kinda need to know Aramaic to understand this stuff, so take a week to learn it. Here’s how you do that…” and he spends the next twenty or thirty pages teaching you Aramaic.



  •' SilasCepa says:

    ISIS follows the Sunni traditions that stem from the Asharite theology. Sunni, is the current predominant version of Islam practiced today. I believe it is 80%-90% of all Muslim people are Sunni or another branch that follows the Asharite traditions.
    To put it very basically, the Asharites believe in scripture alone. Everything Allah wished for us to know was revealed to Mohammad. There is no room for reason. Even Allah is not bound by reason and cannot be reasonably understood by man. This total disconnect an no ability to understand Allah in any way leaves the whole concept of morality in the air. Allah’s will is all that matters and today lying could be bad, but tomorrow it could be good. This total lack of any solid foundation for ethical and moral life is why there are dial-a fatwah lines. People have no idea how to use their own reason to determine how to act in certain situations. They are not supposed to. Doing so, using ones own reason, is seen as placing one self above Allah.
    I know there are varying degrees of this theology and not all are as extreme in adherence as others but the general idea is the same. This is where ISIS is. They believe in restoring the Caliphate as they have a new Caliph. They believe that Mohammad had the ideal community as told to him by Allah and ISIS wishes to reestablish that ideal community in the way of Mohammad. This view being put forth by ISIS is not at all new and has been around since the 8th century. It is most definitely Islam even if it fails to conform with modern society.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    And they believe Jesus will be returning any day now to punish the wicked and gather the believers. That part conforms pretty well with modern beliefs.

  •' Isabel Bard says:


  •' syed says:

    It seems you didn’t actually read the article, or perhaps not very well. Also, if you wish to use terms like Asharite, you can retain credibility if you actually understand them.
    FWIW, you statements are almost completely incorrect.

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