Islamic Enlightenment

by Ibn Warraq (Aug. 2007)

What we need, of course, is not a Reformation in Islam but an Enlightenment. For me Reformation implies dishonest, piece-meal tinkering with this or that aspect of Islam which really leaves the whole unsavory edifice essentially intact. But we are not going to be able to do away with or extirpate the religion of one billion people, nor is it necessary. We need to bring about the secularization of the habits, attitudes and thoughts of Muslim people whether in the Islamic world or the West. We need to separate the mosque from the state but we need to achieve this formidable feat in the minds of Muslims, and not just politically. This secularization was accomplished slowly in Western civilization but the entire process was, perhaps, put into motion during the Greek Ionian Enlightenment during the fifth century Before Christ, but finally gathered crucial momentum during the early Enlightenment, that is the late 17th century, though we usually associate the Age of Reason, or L’ Age des Lumières, Aufklarung, De Verlichting, with the Eighteenth Century. It would be entirely appropriate to mention and pay a tribute to the Dutch contribution to the European Enlightenment, a contribution often neglected but which has now been magnificently vindicated by Jonathan Israel in his truly great historical work Radical Enlightenment.[1]  The latter work reassesses not only the equally neglected importance of Spinoza, the Dutch Jewish philosopher and Biblical Critic, to whom I shall return later, but also Van den Enden [1602-74], the Dutch radical thinker, and the Dutch Spinozists like Adriaen Koerbagh [1632-69], and his brother Johannes Koerbagh [d.1672], and Pieter Balling [d.1669], Petrus van Balen [1643-90], Balthasar Bekker [1634-98], Adriaen Beverland [1650-1716], Anthonie van Dale [1638- 1708].  Arnold Geulincx [1624-69], Willem Goeree [1635-1711], Frederik van Leenhof [1647-1713], and Lodewijk Meyer [1629-81], to name some of the most important thinkers. Then there is of course the role played by the free presses and bookshops of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other Dutch cities, which, furthermore, gave shelter to such pre-Enlightenment figures as Pierre Bayle, known as the Philosopher of Rotterdam. There was even a group of French-speaking revolutionary thinkers, inspired by Spinoza, particularly his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, based here, known as the Hague Coterie.  As I said earlier, I shall return in a minute, to the significance of Spinoza’s work for us today.  Perhaps we can call the present group of speakers gathered here for the next three days as the New Hague Coterie.

How can we bring about an Enlightenment among Muslims? I shall now set forth a series of concrete, uncompromising proposals if we wish to bring about the hoped for Enlightenment. Wittgenstein once said that we cannot hope to solve any problems of philosophy unless we solve all of them. I think what he meant was that all these problems are interconnected, and we cannot solve them in isolation, one after and another; we must address them globally, comprehensively. 




We need to meet these problems head on. I hope no one is still laboring under the illusion that Islamic Terrorism, which is the logical outcome of Islamic Fundamentalism, is caused by any of the following: poverty, Israel-Arab Conflict, Past Colonialism or the putative present American Imperialism.



As commentators like Daniel Pipes have already pointed out over and over again- and what follows is heavily indebted to his writings – poverty is not the root cause of Islamic fundamentalism.[2] The research of sociologists like the Egyptian, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, and the economist Galal A.Amin, the observations of journalists like the Palestinian Kahild M. Amayreh, and the Algerian political leader Sad Saadi all lead to the same conclusion that modern Islamists are made up of young men from the middle or lower middle class, highly motivated, upwardly mobile, and well-educated, often with science or engineering degrees.

Those who back militant Islamic organizations are also the well off. They are more often the urban rich rather than the poor from the countryside.  Neither wealth nor a flourishing economy is a guarantee against the rise of militant Islam. Kuwaitis enjoy high incomes but Islamists usually win the largest bloc of seats in parliament. Many modern militant Islamic movements increased their influence in the 1970s, just as oil-exporting states enjoyed very strong growth rates.      

In general, Westerners attribute too many of the Arab world’s problems, observes David Wurmser of the American Enterprise Institute, “to specific material issues” such as land and wealth. This usually means a tendency “to belittle belief and strict adherence to principle as genuine and dismiss it as a cynical exploitation of the masses by politicians. As such, Western observers see material issues and leaders, not the spiritual state of the Arab world, as the heart of the problem.”  Islamists themselves rarely talk about poverty. As Ayatollah Khomeini put it, “We did not create a revolution to lower the price of melon.”  Islamists need the money to buy weapons not bigger houses. Wealth is a means, not an end.     



Nor is the existence of Israel the cause of Islamic terrorism. As Benjamin Netanyahu put it “Thus, the soldiers of militant Islam do not hate the West because of Israel, they hate Israel because of the West –.”[3]  Or as Wagdi Ghuniem, a militant Islamic cleric from Egypt, said, “Palestine–you [Muslims] can take it.’ Would it then be ok? What would we tell them? No! The problem is belief, it is not a problem of land.”[4]

Christopher Hitchens in the Sept. 2001 issue of The Nation wrote: “Does anyone suppose that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have forestalled the slaughter in Manhattan? It would take a moral cretin to suggest anything of the sort; the cadres of the new jihad make it very apparent that their quarrel is with Judaism and secularism on principle, not with (or not just with) Zionism.”



Nor is it American foreign policy. U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab and the Muslim world has been one of accommodation rather than antagonism. During the Cold War, the US always supported Muslims against communists. Recent United States military action in the Middle East has been on behalf of Muslims, rather than against them. The US protected Saudi Arabia and Kuwait from Iraq, Afghanistan from the Soviets, Bosnia and Kosovo from Yugoslavia, and Somalia from warlord Muhammad Farah Aidid.

And what has U.S. foreign policy to got to do with the deaths of 150,000 Algerians at the hands of Islamist fanatics? Yes 150,000 Algerians have been murdered by the Islamists since 1992; that is, 15,000 people per year for the last ten years; that is five WTC atrocities per year, or one every two and half months for ten years!!  As I wrote ten years ago, the principal victims of Islamic fundamentalism are Muslim men, women, children – esp. women, writers, intellectuals, and journalists.



The root cause of Islamic fundamentalism is Islam. What on earth has American foreign policy got to do with the stoning to death of a woman for adultery in Nigeria? It has every thing to do with Islam, and Islamic Law. The theory and practice of Jihad – Bin Laden’s foreign policy – was not concocted in the Pentagon, it is directly derived from the Koran and Hadith, Islamic Tradition. But Western Liberals find it hard to admit or accept or believe this. The trouble with Western Liberals is that they are nice; they are pathologically nice, terminally nice. They think everyone thinks like them, they think all people including the Islamic fundamentalists desire the same things, have the same goals in life. For liberals, the terrorists are but frustrated angels forever thwarted by the Great Anarch, the Great Satan, the USA.

Western Liberals are used to searching for external explanations for behaviour that they cannot comprehend; but I can assure them that Hitler’s behaviour cannot be put down to the Treaty of Versailles or the economic situation in the twenties or thirties. Evil is its own excuse. No, the Islamic fundamentalists wish to replace Western style liberal democracies with an Islamic theocracy, a fascist system of thought that aims to control every single act of every single individual, to quote Joseph Conrad: “Visionaries work everlasting evil on earth. Their Utopias inspire in the mass of mediocre minds a disgust of reality and a contempt for the secular logic of human development.”[5]

It is extraordinary the number of people who have written about 11 September without once mentioning Islam. We must take seriously what the Islamists say to understand their motivations, to understand September 11, 2001. The four greatest influences on the modern rise of Militant Islam have been the Egyptians Hasan al Banna, the founder of Muslim Brethren, and Sayyid Qutb, the Indo-Pakistani, Maududi, and the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini. They all repeat the same message, derived from classical writers like Ibn Taymiyyah, and ultimately from the Koran and Hadith, namely, it is the divinely ordained duty of all Muslims to fight non-Muslims in the literal, military sense until man-made law has been replaced by God’s Law, the Sharia, and Islam has conquered the entire world.

Here is Maududi in his own words:

       “In reality Islam is a revolutionary ideology and programme which seeks to alter the social order of the whole world and rebuild it in conformity with its own tenets and ideals. ‘Muslim’ is the title of that International Revolutionary Party organized by Islam to carry into effect its revolutionary programme. And ‘Jihad’ refers to that revolutionary struggle and utmost exertion which the Islamic Party brings into play to achieve this objective.”[6]
  Maududi again:
       “Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a State on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which Nation assumes the role of the standard bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State.”

One survivor of the Holocaust was asked what lesson he had learned from his experience of the 1940s in Germany replied, “ If someone tells you that he intends to kill you, believe him.”[8] Unfortunately, liberals, even after September 11 have yet to learn this lesson.   



We are engaged in a battle of ideas. How can we change mentalities? Ways of thought?







Iran is fundamental in any struggle to bring about an Enlightenment not only in the Islamic World but among the Muslims in the West as well. Khomeini’s Revolution encouraged Islamic Fundamentalism in the 1980s, and served as an inspiration to thousands of Islamic militants throughout the world. The Iranian government was behind major acts of terrorism, such as the blowing up of the Marine Barracks in 1983 in Beirut by the terrorist group Hizbollah created by Khomeini, acts which included the murder of individuals in Europe such as Shapur Bakhtiar, the former Prime Minister, and Reza Maslamoune, writer and intellectual, in Paris. Iran is among the most active sponsors of modern Islamic terrorism, and is responsible for the rising militancy of Islamic groups living within Europe and the United States, for they see Iran as the supreme model, the successful application of Islamic principles to modern society. The fall of the Islamic Republic must be the primary foreign policy goal of all Western States, and when it comes will be the equivalent of the fall of the Soviet Union.

Every word from the American President supporting the students protesting against the theocracy of the Ayatollahs is a boost to their morale. As Iranian journalist Farouz Farzami pointed out in the Wall Street Journal [January 12, 2006], pressure from the United States has already created a dent in the Iranians’ hard-line position on uranium enrichment. Some in the Iranian Parliament are already suggesting that all enrichment of uranium be suspended until further notice in order to rebuild confidence with the European Union. Farzami also wrote,

             She urges the United States to impose smartcountry will not change without help from the West.

And yet, the West does not seem to have a coherent Iran policy. What of sanctions? Will China and Russia agree to such a step at the U.N.?  In the meantime, the European Union could impose a ban of Iran from all international athletic competition. While the international trade union organizations could support their brothers and sisters in Iran, many of whom have not been paid for months. Here are some of the things that the West can do: Support pro-democratic activities of Iranian groups working in the West; fund radio and television broadcasts into Iran.



In August, 2002, the Rand Corporation published a report that described Saudi Arabia as “the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent.” The report went on explain that “Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies. The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader.” And yet little seems to have changed in the West’s behaviour towards a regime that has financed terrorism, funneled millions into madrassas that preach more anti-Western hatred, has corrupted institutions of higher education like Harvard and Georgetown University, has bought the favours of Western politicians and seeks to destroy Western civilisation at every turn. We know the reason: oil. But until we address the question of Saudi Arabia and its influence on life in the West we shall have no progress, no rest.







       Within each of their own consulates abroad Western nations can perhaps set up separate Human Rights Centres, where documentation about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and other Covenants, and literature discussing the principles of Human Rights should be made available in European languages but perhaps also in the local languages without references to Islam (or Christianity, for that matter).

We need to continue Alliance Francaise-style institutions but they need to be supplemented. Let us continue teaching European languages in these centres to as many people as possible. Without access to French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and Dutch the intellectual horizons of Muslims will remain limited; with these European languages they will have access to, I hope, other points of view.  A well-stocked library would of course be essential, with works, without attacking Islam as such, that unashamedly, unapologetically defend western values: freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom to believe or not believe, and the principles behind the separation of church and state.



       Western nations need to insist on the re-structuring of the UN Commission on Human Rights at Geneva, which failed miserably not only to halt the genocide in Central Africa but cannot even pass a resolution condemning the continuing killing and enslavement of largely Christian civilians in Southern Sudan. As David Littman has shown over the last five years the whole organisation has become highly politicised with Muslim nations using the label “Islamophobe” to silence any criticisms of Islamic countries with a long record of the abuse of human rights. The Western nations have time and again given in to pressure from Islamic groups. The West must criticise the violations of human rights wherever they occur – defend the Christians of Egypt, the Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, the rights of apostates, of non-Muslims – I do not hear the voices of justifiable outrage at the barbarities. By invoking Article 18 of UDHR, we can legitimately protest the treatment of homosexuals, apostates, and non-Muslim minorities.



       How did secularization take place in the Christian West?  Some of the factors involved in the secularization of the West were: advances in knowledge in general and the sciences in particular meant that the criteria of rationality could be applied to religious dogma with devastating effect; Biblical Criticism- I shall return to that later – which led to the abandonment of a literal reading of the Bible; religious tolerance and religious pluralism that eventually led to tolerance and pluralism tout court. As scholar Chadwick put it, “once concede equality to a distinctive group, you could not confine it to that group. You could not confine it to Protestants; nor, later, to Christians; nor, at last, to believers in God. A free market in some opinions became a free market in all opinions…Christian conscience was the force which began to make Europe ‘secular’; that is, to allow many religions or no religion in a state, and repudiate any kind of pressure upon the man who rejected the accepted and inherited axioms of society…My conscience is my own.”[10]                      

Thus simply by protecting non-Muslims in Islamic societies we are encouraging religious pluralism, which in turn can lead to pluralism in general. By insisting on article 18 of the UDHR which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief…” we are loosening the grip of fanatics, we are encouraging in the words of Chadwick a free market in all opinions, in other words, democracy.

Why are Western nations not addressing the human rights violations of millions of Southern Sudanese Christians by the Muslim North? Already several hundred thousand people have died, many thousands have been sold as slaves by Muslim slave traders, YES, in the 21 st Century, slavery flourishes. And yet, the West continues to dither as the killings and enslavements continue.

While the West continues to apologise about its colonial past, Turkey refuses to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. The West, at least, can commemorate it, by allocating one day in the calendar as a special day of Remembrance for the Armenians.



       Central to any enlightenment in Islam must be a change in attitude to women. Women represent the group that suffers the most in Islamic societies even where Islamic Law is not applied literally. I discuss their plight below.



       A. FATWAS

       All Western states must take seriously fatwas issued against any of their nationals by tinpot mullahs from their pulpits and mosques. Ambassadors must protest to the governments concerned and demand an explanation. A few years ago, Khalid Duran wrote a conciliatory, ecumenical book about Islam and yet he had a fatwa slapped on him by some mullah in Jordan. The immediate reaction was for Duran to go into hiding and get 24-hour FBI protection. I believe this reaction was inadequate. Instead of giving in to the mullahs, Duran and the State Department should have taken the mullah concerned to court; the US Ambassador to Jordan should have protested, and asked for the mullah to be punished.



       Demand the same standard of behaviour from Muslim leaders that we expect from any civilized nation.  The West must criticise Muslim leaders that spout anti-Semitic or anti-Western rhetoric or hate speech. Why was Mahathir of Malayasia not brought to task for his anti-Semitic remarks? It is not enough to speak of diplomatic tact, real-politic; we must take these remarks seriously. No Western politician would survive in office one day were he or she to utter the remarks uttered by Mahathir and others. All Holocaust denial must also be instantly replied to. As to Ahmedinajad, I am glad to see that there were official reprimands to his outrageous comments about Israel. But were they worth anything? Why is the West always so helpless in the face of such Islamo-fascists?



       Demand the re-writing of Saudi, Egyptian, Syrian Textbooks preaching hatred of the West, of Jews, of Non-Muslims. Surely Ambassadors can legitimately raise concerns about the continuing demonisation of the West in school textbooks especially in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. These issues should also be brought up at the United Nations; it is scandalous that they have not been brought to the attention of the Secretary General, the High Commissioner of Human Rights, and other authorities. (It is another reason why confidence in the United Nations has fallen in the West) If Muslim children are taught:

       “All religions other than Islam are false. Do not befriend Christians and Jews, emulation of the infidels leads to loving them, glorifying them and raising their status in the eyes of the Muslim, and that is forbidden. You will hardly find any sedition without Jews having a part in it, they are responsible for World War I, the French and Russian Revolutions. The West is the source of the past and present misfortunes of the Muslim world, the spread of Western practices such as democracy must be resisted.” 

Then, do we really need to continue asking, “Why do they hate us?” They hate us because they have been taught to do so. Are we still going to sit around and debate and maintain that it is poverty which leads young people to acts of terrorism when we have ample evidence that their malleable minds have been poisoned for years?  The hour is too late for such shoddy thinking. Middle Eastern autocracies have an obvious self-interest in perpetuating such hatred of the West, they are able to maintain their power by blaming all their ills, failures, corruption, and incompetence on Western–Zionist conspiracies.  Also beware of Asian dictators who pontificate about “Asian values”, you know that is but a subterfuge to hold onto power.



       Museums can host exhibitions of Pre-Islamic Civilisations of Iran, Iraq and North Africa, both in the West, and where possible in the Islamic World. Why?  Many sociologists and various ethnic groups within the Islamic world have realised that many young people brought up with Islam, albeit in a mild informal way, cling onto “Islam ” as their sole cultural identity, providing much sense of belonging, security and anchor among insecurity and drifting. But if taught that a part of their cultural heritage includes the splendid civilisations of Pre-Islamic Iran – witness Persepolis, Darius, Xerxes; or Egypt and with its magnificent monuments, and Iraq, the cradle of civilisations, of Babylonians – would we not be educating a generation of children with a wider and more tolerant world view? It is evident that many Iranians especially those living in the West have no sense of cultural inferiority even though they have abandoned Islam, because they have a just sense of their Pre-Islamic heritage. Here is what I wrote ten years ago in my first book, Why I am Not a Muslim:

       “It was not until the 19th century that a Muslim country took, once again, an interest in her pre-Islamic past. In 1868, Sheikh Rifa al- Tahtawi, the Egyptian man of letters, poet and historian, published a history of Egypt, giving full attention to her pharaonic past.  Up to then, of course, histories of Egypt had begun with the Arab conquests. He sought to define Egyptian identity in national and patriotic terms – not in terms of Islam, or Panarabism.  Perhaps for the first time in Islamic history, someone tried to see his country as having a ‘living, continuing identity through several changes of language, religion, and civilization.’[11]

“The reason Sheikh Rifa’s achievement is so important is that for the first time since the early days of the Shu’ubiyya, someone dared to challenge the official Muslim dogma that pre-Islamic times were times of barbarism and ignorance; and unworthy of consideration. He dared sing the praise of pagan Egypt, he dared give voice to the thought that there were, after all, alternatives to Islamic civilization, that civilization did and can take different forms. If this process of historical education were to continue – after all, Iraq and Iran can also boast of a magnificent pre-Islamic past – in other Muslim countries, it would lead to a much-needed broadening of the intellectual life, a deeper tolerance for other ways of life, a simple expansion of historical knowledge that has remained so limited and narrow. Greater knowledge of the pre-Islamic past can only lead to the lessening of fanaticism. If pharaonic and later Christian Egypt were seen to be an equal source of pride, then would not the Copts be accepted as fellow Egyptians, instead of being the persecuted minority in their own ancestral land that they actually are?  Would we not get a truer Algerian identity, asks Slimane Zeghidour, if we acknowledged our common and varied past – Berber, Roman, Arab, French?[12]  The idea of change and continuity will also have to become a part of the Muslim’s consciousness, if Muslim societies are to move forward – this will only occur with the recognition of the pre-Islamic past, and a just appraisal of the period of European colonialism.

The deliberate ignoring of the pre-Islamic past has had a subtler corrupting influence on the peoples of the Muslim world, as Naipaul put it, ” the faith abolished the past. And when the past was abolished like this, more than an idea of history suffered. Human behavior, and ideals of good behavior, could suffer.”  Everything is seen through the distorting perspective of the “only true faith,” human behavior is judged according to whether it has contributed to the establishment of this one “truth” – truth, courage, and heroism, by definition, can only belong to “our side”; the period before the coming of the faith was to be judged in one way,” what lay outside it was to be judged in another. The faith altered values, ideas of good behavior, human judgments. The fact that this “true faith” was established with much greed and cruelty is overlooked or excused – cruelty in the service of the faith is even commendable, and divinely sanctioned.  This perverted division of the world into the faithful and infidel has had a disastrous effect on the perception of even nominally secular-minded Arab intellectuals.”[13]



By hosting exhibitions in Islamic countries – perhaps through Western Cultural Centres – one could proudly present the achievements of Western Arts, and Science. Classical Music concerts can also play a subtle role in showing that Western Civilisation indeed does possess spiritual values in the music of Beethoven, Mozart or Verdi.

           I shall return to the Defense of Western values a little later.





       Trade Unions must support their fellow workers



       Women’s Groups. As Phyllis Chesler recently reminded us, “Most of America’s left-dominated intelligentsia deny, support, or underestimate Islamism and the real meaning of Islamic jihad.”  Western feminists must be bolder in defending Muslim women suffering from gender apartheid, honour killings, genital mutilation and forced marriages.



       A.WHAT THE STATE CAN DO        


       Stop all Immigration from Muslim countries. One may legitimately ask how simply halting immigration can help bring about an enlightenment in Islam. The greater the number of Muslims, not born in the West, will only make the possibility of changing mentalities, teaching tolerance, and assimilation into Western society where freedom of religion guarantees their freedom to worship in whatever way they see fit, but which also becomes a matter of personal conviction, private conscience, all the more difficult. The greater the number, greater the chance of Muslims gravitating into enclaves where they risk being influenced by radical Islamists. Western states will simply find it impossible to allocate resources to educating Muslims into the values of religious tolerance the greater their demographic presence.

There was a flurry of reproaches when in the province of  Baden-Wurtenberg, in Germany, Heribert Rech of the ruling Christian Democratic Union party advocated a 30-topic loyalty test for applicants, especially Muslim applicants, to become naturalized citizens. Every applicant for naturalization had to concur with the free democratic structure of the German constitution, and accept the following principles, among others:

1.      Only the State, in accordance with the prevailing laws passed in Parliament, has the power to administer and enforce the law. 

2.      The equality of rights of man and woman.

3.      Acceptance of the Principles of Democracy.

4.      Freedom of Expression-freedom to criticise religion, even though it may offend some.

Since 21% of Muslims living in Germany believe the German constitution incompatible with the Koran, and combined with the fact that many Muslims feel they owe their allegiance to the Umma , the Greater Islamic Community, rather than the Western state they find themselves in, these kind of questions seem, in principle, to me to be legitimate. These questions become a necessity when Muslims apply for sensitive jobs in the military, secret services and state government where national security issues are paramount, and where it seems perfectly in order to ask where the loyalties of the applicants lie – with the State or Islam. These are uncomfortable questions to pose in a liberal democracy but I do not think we can pretend that real problems of loyalty do not exist.  


       Fund Expatriate Secular Groups (e.g. Iranian groups such as No to Political Islam) that are fighting against fundamentalism in their own countries. They are all desperately underfunded.  The West can make use of defectors from Islam (apostates) in the way the West used defectors from communism.

As I wrote in Leaving Islam,[14] there are very useful analogies to be drawn between Communism and Islam, as Maxime Rodinson[15] and Bertrand Russell, have pointed out, between the mindset of the communists of the 1930s and the Islamists of the 1990s and 21st century.  As Russell said, “Among religions, Bolshevism [Communism] is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism rather than with Christianity and Buddhism.  Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation.  Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world.”[16]  Hence the interest in the present situation and its haunting parallels with the communism of the western intellectuals in the 1930s.  As Koestler said, “You hate our Cassandra cries and resent us as allies, but when all is said, we ex-Communists are the only people on your side who know what it’s all about.”[17] As Crossman wrote in his introduction, “Silone [an ex-Communist] was joking when he said to Togliatti that the final battle would be between the Communists and ex-Communists.  But no one who has not wrestled with Communism as a philosophy and Communists as political opponents can really understand the values of Western Democracy. The Devil once lived in Heaven, and those who have not met him are unlikely to recognize an angel when they see one.”[18]

Communism has been defeated, at least for the moment, Islamism has not, and unless a reformed, tolerant, liberal kind of Islam emerges soon, perhaps the final battle will be between Islam and Western Democracy. And these ex-Muslims, to echo Koestler’s words, on the side of Western Democracy, are the only ones who know what it’s all about, and we would do well to listen to their Cassandra cries.”


            3. THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN

       Central to any reform or enlightenment of Islam particularly in the West must be the safeguarding of the rights of women. Often women born into Muslim families in the West suffer all sorts of indignities, domestic violence, genital mutilation, arranged marriages, unequal treatment, honour crimes, and yet have no means of defending their human rights since often the police and other civil and secular authorities refuse to act for fear of offending Muslims and their religious and cultural traditions. Multicultural attitudes, and political correctness in Western societies lead to tragic conclusions for many young Muslim women. All women regardless of ethnic or religious origin have the right to the protection of the state, even if it means offending religious traditions. Not all religious traditions are worthy of respect, and many are counter to several of the articles of the UDHR of 1948. Practices like polygamy must be strictly banned; the laws of the state must override any religious traditions that deny basic human rights to women.

There are good arguments for banning of religious scarves in state schools, since, in France, for example, there is a strict separation of state and church and there has been a rigorous ban on wearing outward signs of religious affiliation. Such a ban was introduced to avoid the fracturing of not only schools but also society as a whole into religious factions, and the risks of a descent into communalism are real and are to be fought.  Second, Muslim girls are often coerced into wearing such scarves by Muslim men, and wearing them is not the free choice of normal ten-year-old girls. French Muslim women actually approved of the French Government’s decision to uphold the ban.

The State authorities must also resist pressure from Muslim men and Muslim religious authorities to segregate Muslim girls from certain school activities deemed unIslamic. Public swimming pools must never be segregated to appease Muslim demands.




       No to funding faith based schools. No secular state should finance faith-based schools; such an act would be fundamentally divisive. It is the State’s responsibility to teach certain values, a common core of principles that will produce responsible citizens with a minimum set of allegiances not only to that State but also to all his or her fellow human beings. Faith-based schools will only create allegiances to one particular faith, will create a feeling of exclusiveness undesirable in a society where we have to learn to respect and live with all kinds of different faiths. Muslim schools in the West may well perpetuate the inequality of treatment of women found in Islamic countries and Islamic doctrine. They may also avoid the teaching of science deemed unIslamic, or may even teach prejudices such as anti-Semitism, and anti-westernism. Particularly in Muslim schools, there is a very real danger that pupils will be taught that the secular constitutions and secular laws are unworthy of respect, and that all Muslims should and do recognize only the authority of and allegiance to God’s rulings as revealed in their Holy Text, the Koran. There is ample evidence that this is exactly what is being taught in Muslim schools in the West.

Not only will faith-based schools further isolate children into cultural ghettoes , they will cut them off from the wider culture of the host country , from the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of the West , which is the equal of any civilisation that has ever existed.



French teachers, in recent years, have been intimidated by Muslim pupils into not teaching the Holocaust.  The common core curriculum must be maintained in the face of such blunt terror activities. Such a curriculum must include history, and under World War II, it is perfectly legitimately and important to teach the Holocaust



An introduction to Science must also introduce pupils to principles of scientific methodology. Biology, of course, does not make any sense without the theoretical underpinning of Darwin‘s Theory of Evolution. As a trained and fairly experienced Primary School Teacher, I know that children can grasp the essentials of the theory easily, and are fascinated by it. To encourage a child’s natural curiosity – man, as Aristotle put it, desires to know – is the surest way to create future, thoughtful and secular citizens.



All pupils need to be taught something about Human Rights, the workings of Civil Societies, and the reasons for the Separation of Religion and State. The Separation of Religion and State is essential in any multi-faith state, and is the only way to guarantee that the state will not break down because of religious factionalism, sectarianism. The organisation of society must be based on appeals to reason and not to some immutable set of rules established in the Bronze Age. All laws must be secular, and are designed to ensure peace, and protect the freedoms of all the citizens of the state regardless of religion, gender and class. All disputes must be lifted out of the religious sphere. As Pope Benedict recently pointed out in his encyclical , Deus Caritas Est,

“A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church”, where politics is “the sphere of the autonomous use of reason. For the Pope, the role of the Church is to “bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good,” not to “impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith.”



I think the most effective way to engender tolerance would be to teach, as neutrally as possible, Comparative Religion with equal time devoted to each of the major world religions. One could perhaps celebrate the major religious festivals and ceremonies within the classroom, each child being taught the basic tenets of each religion with due respect.  Here it is essential also to teach about atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism, and their objections to the “historical” religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. An exposure to a healthy dose of skepticism is, as the French philosopher Raymond Aron once said, the best antidote to fanaticism.  In Great Britain, in early 2004, a spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority stated that atheism would be taught during religious education classes since” there are many children in England who have no religious affiliation and their beliefs and ideas, whatever they are, should be taken very seriously.”  While at least fourteen per cent of the world population is thought to be non-religious, unbelief in Europe varies between thirty per cent in France to as high as 59% in the Czech Republic.[19]



Such studies on world religions could perhaps be prefaced by courses in critical thinking, and the principles of historical methodology, which would, in part, explain the agnostic’s skepticism to the claims of the three Abrahamic religions.



Do we have to go on apologising for the sins our fathers? Do we still have to apologise for, for example, the British Empire, when in fact, the British presence in India led to the Indian Renaissance, resulted in famine relief, railways, roads and irrigation schemes, eradication of cholera, the civil service, the establishment of a universal educational system where none existed before, the institution of elected  parliamentary democracy; the rule of law, and the nature of that law was the best of what the British left behind? What of the British architecture of Bombay and Calcutta? The British even gave back to the Indians their own past: it was European scholarship, archaeology and research that uncovered the Greatness that was India the monuments that were a witness to that past glory. British Imperialism preserved where earlier Islamic Imperialism destroyed thousands of Hindu temples.

On the world stage, should we really apologise for  Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe? Mozart, Beethoven and Bach? Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Breughel, Ter Borch? Galileo, Huygens, Copernicus, Newton and Darwin?  Penicillin and computers? The Olympic Games and Football? Human Rights and Parliamentary Democracy? The West is the source of the liberating ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights, cultural freedom. It is the West that has raised the status of women, fought against slavery, defended freedom of enquiry, expression and conscience. No, the West needs no lectures on the superior virtue of societies who keep their women in subjection, cut off their clitorises, stone them to death for alleged adultery, throw acid on their faces, or deny the human rights of those considered to belong to lower castes. [20]

                 How can we expect immigrants to integrate into Western society when they are at the same time being taught that the West is decadent, a den of iniquity, the source of all evil, racist, imperialist and to be despised? Why should they, in the words of the African-American writer James Baldwin, want to integrate into a sinking ship? Why do they all want to immigrate to the West, and not Saudi Arabia? They should be taught about the centuries of struggle that resulted in the freedoms that they and everyone else for that matter, cherish, enjoy, and avail themselves of; of the individuals and groups who fought for these freedoms and who are despised and forgotten today; the freedoms that the much of the rest of world envies, admires and tries to emulate. “When the Chinese students cried and died for democracy in Tiananmen Square [in 1989], they brought with them not representations of Confucius or Buddha but a model of the Statue of Liberty.”[21]        






Reforming Islam only implies adjustments and modifications to what would remain essentially a theological construct, and if applied would result in a still theologically conceived and ordered society.[22] What we need is an Enlightenment in the Islamic world, of the Islamic mind-set or worldview.  For the Enlightenment marks the most dramatic step towards secularization and rationalization in Europe‘s history, and has had no less a significance for the entire world. Both the Renaissance and the Reformation were incomplete. “By contrast,” writes Jonathan Israel, “the Enlightenment –European and global – not only attacked and severed the roots of traditional European culture in the sacred, magic, kingship, and hierarchy, secularizing all institutions and ideas, but (intellectually and to a degree in practice) effectively demolished all legitimation of monarchy, aristocracy, woman’s subordination to man, ecclesiastical authority, and slavery, replacing these with the principles of universality, equality, and democracy.”[23]

“Spinoza and Spinozism were in fact the intellectual backbone of the European Radical Enlightenment everywhere, not only in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Scandinavia but also Britain and Ireland.”[24]  And the work that did more than any other to bring about this profound revolution in human history was Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico- Politicus published clandestinely but nonetheless courageously by the Dutch publisher Jan Rieuwertsz [c.1616-87] in Amsterdam in 1670.  For Spinoza the Bible is purely a human and secular text, theology is not an independent source of truth.

“…Spinoza offers an elaborate theory of what religion is, and how and why religion construes the world as it does, creating a new science of contextual Bible criticism. Analyzing usage and intended meanings, and extrapolating from context, using reason as an analytical tool but not expecting to find philosophical truth embedded in Scriptural concepts.”[25] In his attack on the very possibility of miracles, and the credulity of the multitude, Spinoza’s Tractatus made a profound impression everywhere –in England, Italy, Germany and France. Spinoza, in effect, denounces clerical authority for exploiting the credulity, ignorance and superstition of the masses. Spinoza`s ideas were easy to grasp in one sense even by the unlettered , ideas such “as the identification of God with the universe , the rejection of organized religion , the abolition of Heaven and Hell , together with reward and punishment in the hereafter , a morality of individual  happiness in the here and now , and the doctrine that there is no reality beyond the unalterable laws of Nature , and consequently , no Revelation , miracles or prophecy “.[26] Ecce Spinoza’s Biblical Criticism. 

Koranic Criticism , on the other hand , has lagged far behind.But surely Muslims AND non- Muslims have the right to critically examine the sources , the history and dogma of Islam . The right to criticise is a right of which Muslims avail themselves in their frequent denunciations of Western culture , in terms which would have been  deemed racist, neo-colonialist or imperialist had they been directed against Islam by an European. Without criticism of Islam, Islam will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, mediaeval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. It will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth.

Western intellectuals and Islamologists have totally failed in their duties as intellectuals. They have betrayed their calling by abandoning their critical faculties when it comes to Islam.

Some Islamologists have themselves noticed the appalling trend  in their colleagues. Karl Binswanger has remarked on the “dogmatic Islamophilia” of most Arabists. Jacques Ellul complained in 1983 that “in France it is no longer acceptable to criticise Islam or the Arab countries.” Already in 1968, Maxime Rodinson had written, “An historian like Norman Daniel has gone so far as to number among the conceptions permeated with medievalism or imperialism, any criticisms of the Prophet’s moral attitudes and to accuse of like tendencies any exposition of Islam and its characteristics by means of the normal mechanisms of human history. Understanding has given way to apologetics pure and simple.”

Patricia Crone and Ibn Rawandi have remarked that western scholarship lost its critical attitude to the sources of the origins of Islam around the time of the First World War. Many Western scholars of the 1940s were committed Christians, such Montgomery Watt who saw a great danger in the rise of Communism in the Islamic world, and thus welcomed any resurgence of Islam. They were insufficiently critical of the Islamic, Arabic sources. John Wansbrough has noted that the Koran “as a document susceptible of analysis by the instruments and techniques of Biblical criticism it is virtually unknown.” By 1990, we still have the scandalous situation described by Andrew Rippin, “… I have often encountered individuals who come to the study of Islam with a background in the historical study of the Hebrew Bible or early Christianity, and who express surprise at the lack of critical thought that appears in introductory textbooks on Islam. The notion that ‘Islam was born in the clear light of history’ still seems to be assumed by a great many writers of such texts. While the need to reconcile varying historical traditions is generally recognised, usually this seems to pose no greater problem to the authors than having to determine ‘what makes sense’ in a given situation. To students acquainted with approaches such as source criticism, oral formulaic composition, literary analysis and structuralism, all quite commonly employed in the study of Judaism and Christianity, such naive historical study seems to suggest that Islam is being approached with less than academic candour.”

There is, among many well-meaning Western intellectuals, academics, and Islamologists, the belief that somehow Islam will reform itself without anyone anywhere ruffling any feathers, disturbing Muslim sensibilities, or saying anything at all about the Koran. This is wishful thinking. If one desires to bring about an Enlightenment in the Islamic world or among Muslims living in the West, at some stage, someone somewhere will have to apply to the Koran the same techniques of textual analysis as were applied to the Bible by Spinoza and others, especially in Germany during the 19th Century.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic countries (for example , Brunei) have established Chairs of Islamic Studies in prestigious Western Universities, which are encouraged to present a favourable image of Islam. Scientific research, leading to objective truth, no longer seems to be the goal. Critical examination of the sources or the Koran is discouraged. Scholars, such as Daniel Easterman[27], have even lost their posts for not teaching about Islam in the way approved by Saudi Arabia.

In December, 2005 , Georgetown and Harvard Universities accepted $20 million each from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal for programmes in Islamic Studies. Such money can only corrupt the original intent of all higher institutions of education, that is the search for truth. Now, we shall only have “Islamic truth” that is acceptable to the Royal Saudi family, a family that has financed terrorism, anti-Westernism and anti-Semitism for over thirty years. Previous donations from various Saudi sources have included gifts of $20 million, $5 million, and $2 million dollars to the University of Arkansas, the University of California, Berkeley



The European Union urgently needs to establish an independent Institute of Koranic Research, devoted to unhampered, scientific enquiry, armed with all the necessary tools and techniques of modern research, whether philological, philosophical or hermeneutical. Such an Institute could be financed with just a fraction of the total Pentagon budget in persecuting the war in Iraq, or more generally the War on Terror. The Institute of Koranic Research would be expected to publish an academic journal, to house an Orientalist Library, and to make available to the greater public the results of its research. Already, a group of scholars represented in the collection Die dunklen Anfänge edited by Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd-R.Puin has expressed an interest in the establishment of such an institute. Koranic Research is falling behind Biblical Research: in the 21st century, there is still no critical edition of the Koran that takes into account all the thousands of variants found in manuscripts or classical Koranic commentaries or books of Hadith (collections of Traditions). There is no critical catalogue of all the extant Koranic manuscripts in the Western libraries, Museums and Private collections. Many important early Koranic manuscripts remain unpublished. There is no reliable history of Koranic orthography.



This naturally leads to the most fascinating book ever written on the language of the Koran, and if proved to be correct in its main thesis, probably the most important book ever written on the Holy Book of the Muslims. Christoph Luxenberg’s Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran [Verlag : Das Arabische Buch; Berlin, 2000] available only in German came out just over five years ago, but has already had an enthusiastic reception, particularly among those scholars with a knowledge of several Semitic languages, at Princeton, Yale, Berlin, Potsdam, Erlangen, Aix-en-Provence, and the Oriental Institute in Beirut.

Luxenberg tries to show that  many of the obscurities of the Koran disappear if we read certain words as being Syriac and not Arabic. Syriac is an Aramaic dialect and the language of Eastern Christianity, and a Semitic language closely related Hebrew and Arabic. Luxenberg’s research has underlined the importance of research into Eastern Christianity. There are hundreds of Syriac and Karshuni [Arabic language but using Syriac script] manuscripts which have not even been catalogued scattered round the world. There is an urgent need to examine the sectarian milieu of the Near East out of which Islam emerged, and this means research into Syriac history and literature.


Any researcher, writer or publisher in the field of Islamic Studies immediately comes up against the language barrier. Over the last ten years I have been involved in bringing scholarly but difficult to locate articles to the attention of a larger public. (This effort has been much appreciated by specialists as well.) Many of these articles are in German, and have never been translated. But publishers are reluctant to pay for their translation given the extraordinary high costs of translations. I have nonetheless put together many anthologies of such articles in English that examine the sources of Islam and the Koran in a critical manner. But they need to be made available in all the major European languages and of course they should be translated into Arabic, Persian (farsi), and Urdu, at least. My last collection, What the Koran Really Says, was a heavy tome of 782 pages. You cannot imagine the cost of translating such a book into Dutch or French. But I assure you that, in the long run, it is only this kind of research – made available to as wide an audience as possible – that will bring about an Enlightenment in Islam, in the Islamic world.

A major task of the Institute of Koranic Studies would be translations of works like Luxenberg’s Die Syro-Aramäische Lesart des Koran, which remains untranslated, five years after its publication, despite its importance in the history of Koranic research. Many of the works of the Dutch Orientalist, Snouck Hurgronje remain untranslated, such as his account of his pilgrimage to Mecca disguised as a Muslim. Even the classic study of the Koran, Noldeke’s Geschichte des Qorans has never been translated. But such a translation would be major task that only a properly funded and properly staffed Institute could carry out.



In Conclusion: First, we who live in the free West and enjoy freedom of expression and scientific inquiry should encourage a rational look at Islam, should encourage Koranic criticism. Only Koranic criticism can help Muslims to look at their Holy Scripture in a more rational and objective way, and prevent young Muslims from being fanaticized by the Koran’s less tolerant verses

Second, the only solution is to bring the questions of human rights out of the religious sphere and into the sphere of the civil state, in other words to separate religion from the state and promote a secular state where Islam is relegated to the personal. Here, Islam would continue to provide consolation, comfort, and meaning, as it has to millions of individuals for centuries, yet it would not decree the mundane affairs of state.

[1] Jonathan I.Israel. Radical Enlightenment, Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

[2] The whole section on Poverty and Militant Islam leans heavily on the article by Daniel Pipes, God and Mammon: Does Poverty Cause Militant Islam,

[3] B.Netanyahu, “Today, We Are all Americans ” in The New York Post, 21 September, 2001.

[4] Steven Emerson, January 25, 2000 United States House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims.

[5] J.Conrad, Under Western Eyes, Harmondworth: Penguin Books, 1957, p. 85

[6] Sayeed Abdul A’la Maududi, Jihad in Islam. 7th Edition December 2001, Lahore Pakistan, p. 8

[7] Sayeed Abdul A’la Maududi, Jihad in Islam  p. 9

[8] Quoted by Eliot A.Cohen, World War IV, Let’s Call This Conflict What It  Is, Nov. 20, 2001, Opinion Journal ( www.opinionjournal.com)

[9]  UPI ,Washington, Feb.3.

[10] O.Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 21-23

[11] B. Lewis, Islam and The West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 172.

[12]  Telerama [Paris] 1 July 1992

[13] New York Review of Books, January 31, 1991

[14] Ibn Warraq, Leaving Islam, Apostates Speak Out, Amherst: Prometheus Books, p. 136

[15] Maxime Rodinson: Islam et communisme, une ressemblance frappante, in Le Figaro [Paris, daily newspaper], 28 Sep. 2001

[16] B.Russell, Theory and Practice of Bolshevism, London, 1921 pp .5, 29, 114

[17] A.Koestler, et al, Intro. by R. Crossman, The God That Failed, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1950, p. 7

[18] A.Koestler, et al, Intro. by R. Crossman, The God That Failed, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1950, p. 16

[19] Statistic provided by the Czech Statistical Office, and available online at Wikipedia.com, article, “Atheism.”

[20] A.M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Disuniting of America, Reflections on a Multicultural Society, New York: Norton, 1992, p. 128

[21] A.M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Disuniting of America, Reflections on a Multicultural Society, New York: Norton, 1992, p. 129

[22] Formulation borrowed from: Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment, Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. p. vi

[23] Ibid., p. vi

[24] Ibid., p. vi

[25] Ibid., p. 202

[26] Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment, Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. p. 296

[27] D. Easterman, New Jerusalems, London, 1992, pp. 92-93.


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