by G.B. Singh (January 2013)
Author: Rebecca Bynum
Publisher: New English Review Press
Date of Publication: February 1, 2011
Price: $ 17.95
I have known Rebecca Bynum for at least last four years. I hold deep respect for her scholarship as well as for her tenacity and commitment on the political/religious causes she aspires. As I write this she is the managing editor of New English Review, a monthly online magazine published from Nashville, TN.
Allah Is Dead: Why Islam is Not A Religion is one fascinating and provocative book, worthy of serious inspection as well as furthering the dialogue on religion in general and Islam in particular. The book’s unusual title is enough to acknowledge that this author is bold enough to stick her neck out and let the chips fall wherever they might. My surprise was not this title in itself, but its contents which freely debated her own critical views against Islam and on top of that she extended her critical philosophical/opinions against the backdrop of the Bible. This sort of writing is rare especially in today’s politically-correct charged atmosphere in our country.
Frankly the book’s title flashed my mind to the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote “God is Dead” and to a more recent book (2007) authored by Robert M. Price, titled “Jesus is Dead.” Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise at least to me encountering a title Allah is Dead. In fact I looked forward reading such critical scholarship that hit the market.
Instead of a garden variety book review, I thought perhaps I can add my own critical commentary on the issues at hand. Spread in eleven chapters with a total of 152 pages, Bynum delved into the world of Islam from so many angles and at times she spares not even the bible. Though she believes in God, it’s not clear whether this deity is strictly a biblical one, or is she open to the idea of God(s) from views of other faiths, obviously minus that of Islamic perspectives?
Chapter 11 is titled, “Why Islam is not a religion,” where the author lays out her thesis as to why Islam fails a set of her-sponsored-criteria to be considered for a bona-fide religion. These seven reasons as to why Islam falls short in fundamental respects are her core argument. These seven criteria are worthy of reprint and paraphrased here: (1) Religion must exalt value; (2) Religion must advance morality; (3) Religion must nurture the individual and help him pursue the higher values; (4) Religion must preserve wisdom; (5) Religion must foster peace and social harmony; (6) Religion must strengthen the family by promoting mutual love and respect between a man and woman…; and (7) Religion must hold to the transcendent purpose of reconciling man to a greater reality. Bynum must be commended for distilling such a fine and praiseworthy set of criteria to evaluate Islam. In this sense, these set of criteria reminded me of the great American freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll (1833--1899) who tabulated the following corresponding criteria:
1. It should contain the perfection of philosophy.
2. It should perfectly accord with every fact in nature.
3. There should be no mistake in astronomy, geology, or as to any subject or science.
4. Its morality should be the highest, the purest.
5. Its laws and regulations for the control of conduct should be just, wise, perfect, and perfectly adapted to the accomplishment of the ends desired.
6. It should contain nothing calculated to make men cruel, revengeful, vindictive, or infamous.
7. It should be filled with intelligence, justice, purity, honesty, mercy, and the spirit of liberty.
8. It should be opposed to strife and war, to slavery and lust, to ignorance, credulity and superstition.
9. It should develop the brain and civilize the heart.
10. It should satisfy the heart and brain of the best and wisest.
11. It should be true.
In contrast to Bynum, Ingersoll evaluated the bible-based religions. While I honor Bynum for undertaking such a critical task of taking on Islam, my recommendation is that her criteria can and should be applied equally to evaluate all religions. Methodically she builds an impressive argument as to why Islam should be dumped as religion. Building a case such as this doesn’t automatically mean that everyone else will follow suit. That simply wouldn’t happen. The trouble lies with the nature of many of our religions, and their classifications. Once any religion is mythological in its origin as well as in its contents, rest assures that the set of criteria employed by both Bynum and Ingersoll will spell doom for that religion, especially if it’s myth-logically infested. Islam, being mythological, is not immune from such painful conclusions. Now having said that, what do we do with Islam? How should it be done away with or reformed if that is what Bynum had contemplated? Should it be reclassified into a nonreligious category? The trouble here is that our governmental agencies wouldn’t consent to this reclassification scheme. Nor would the academic institutions accede. Hardly a surprise, the general public including rank-and-file Muslims would never accept Islam in the category different from religion. Given this set of realities, circumstances and expected outcome, I am still of the opinion that skeptical inquiry into Islam must continue for the benefit of both the Muslims and non-Muslims. In that vein I must congratulate Bynum for spearheading such crucial educational crusades through her writings, speeches, and conferences. She is an activist of the rare variety.
G. B. Singh is the author of Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity (Prometheus 2004) and Gandhi Under Cross Examination (Sovereign Star 2009).
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