by Labeeb Ahmad
In his article “Is Islam a Religion,” David Solway makes a multitude of inaccurate accusations in his characterization of Islam. Using his own self-serving Quranic verses and cherry-picked traditions of the Prophet Muhammad that are taken out of context and not juxtaposed with other clear verses for interpretation, Solway caricatures the religion of Islam dishonestly to advance his extremist viewpoint. I will address some of his initial points for the purpose that the reader will recognize that the demonized version of Islam that Solway analyzes throughout his piece is of little use for anything meaningful.
To begin, the same descriptions Solway uses to characterize what a religion is in the “common expectation of the term” can be applied to Islam without a doubt. For example, the “community of believers dedicated to the loving worship of the divine” is precisely portrayed in Chapter 51 Verse 57 (51:57), which describes the purpose of man’s existence: “And I have not created the Jinn and the men but that they may worship Me.”
Solway further brands Islam as an “unrepentant politico-expansionist movement…bent on universal conquest.” Unfortunately, the factors he uses to support this viewpoint are weak and nonsensical. The concept of taqiyya, or “deception,” as a means to advance Islam is completely illogical; how is it possible that the prophet Muhammad could have even won over a single person, let alone the hearts of over a hundred thousand near the time of his death (and now over a billion), through deceit? Furthermore, the moral quality of truthfulness can be attested to more in Muhammad’s character than perhaps any religious or political figure in the history of mankind. Strictly adhering to honesty, Muhammad was known as al-Amin (truthful) and al-Sadiq (trustworthy) before his call to prophethood. During his call, even his sworn enemies could not deny his truthfulness, such as when Abu Sufyan admitted to the emperor Heraclius that Muhammad had never broken his promises. Simply put, no real evidence can be cited that the prophet Muhammad taught his followers to spread Islam by lying.
The second factor Solway lists is “social and cultural infiltration.” While this claim is ambiguous on its own, I challenge Solway to find even one teaching from Islam that advocates for any negative connotation of this vague phrase. Spoiler alert: Not one source of authentic Islamic knowledge (Quran, Sunnah, Hadith) will support such a sentiment.
Lastly, Solway uses the same worn out explanation for how Islam teaches its followers to preach: “bloody violence.” However, I must ask, how could Islam really have spread to the four corners of the earth if the method was through “bloody violence.” If such teachings were really a part and parcel of Islam, would we not see countless Muslims leaving the faith of Islam as soon as they got the opportunity? What about the largest Muslim country in the world Indonesia in which no Muslim army was sent for so-called forced conversions? How could a religion spread through “bloody violence” produce some of the most ardent followers in the history of mankind? Followers who were willing to face some of the most bitter persecution and cruel martyrdoms at the hands of their oppressors. Moreover, in matters or preaching, the Qur’an clearly teaches in 16:126 to call others to Islam with “wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best.”
It is important we take a general look at the manner in which the prophet Muhammad spread his message through his compassionate example, divine teachings, and heavenly signs. On the other hand, not a single example can be cited in the life of the prophet Muhammad which calls for a violent coercion on non-Muslims to accept Islam. The most clear demonstration which beautifully, explicitly, and powerfully dismantles such an absurd notion of “bloody violence” as a legitimate means to spread Islam is the Victory of Mecca. One this day, which occurred due the Meccans violating the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, a people that had mercilessly imposed decades of war, persecution, and misery upon Muhammad and his followers were forgiven unequivocally and unconditionally in the greatest act of forgiveness in the history of mankind. If such a reality existed in which the prophet Muhammad wanted to show his followers to ruthlessly subjugate others in accepting Islam, this would have been the perfect instance. Yet (sorry Solway), this is the opposite of what happened. Interestingly, the two years in between the Treaty of Hudaibiyah and the Victory in Mecca in which no fighting took place between the Meccans and Muslims were filled with huge outpourings of conversions into Islam. The propaganda of the Quraysh tribe that the prophet Muhammad was lustful for war (the same deceit spewed by Islamaphobes and extremists alike today) was proven false in the eyes of the Meccans after the treaty, which was completely lopsided in favor of the Meccans, and thus many opened their hearts to the beauty of Islam.
In just a few paragraphs of Solway’s piece, such glaring falsehoods were exposed with simple illustrations of logic. Unfortunately, when rationality and the use of the true sources of Islamic knowledge are taken out when understanding and commentating on Islam, we encounter the viewpoints of not only misguided Muslims but also the David Solways of the world. Sweeping generalizations are his tool, and thus ignorance is his condition.