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Inadequacy of Islam

James L. Barton

To some this will seem unnecessary, yet there are many who question the need of attempting to Christianize Mohammedans, since "they are already believers in one God and accept Jesus Christ as a prophet of God." It is not our purpose to consider the insufficiency of Islam as a religion from the standpoint of belief or creed. It is one thing to profess a creed; it is quite a different thing to embody that creed in the life of the individual and in the mass of believers.

The value and worth of any religion is revealed by its effect upon life. Expressions of belief, be they ever so beautiful and perfect, are meaningless and without value if they fail to make beautiful and more perfect the lives of those whose belief they seem to voice. This is the test Christ puts, upon creed and religion as applied to His own followers, and the standard of performance has never been improved upon. The value of a religion cannot be measured by its influence upon the life of the individual believer only, for every adequate. religion must take into consideration communities of men and women, living in relation to each other. Any religion therefore that does not exalt human relationships and make more Godlike human society in all of its diverse and complicated organizations cannot be adequate for the world.

In applying this test, distinction must be made between defects in the religion that inculcates or permits practices detrimental to human welfare, and the defects in individual adherents who ignorantly fail to apply the teachings of their faith or who misinterpret those teachings. It would be as manifestly unjust to charge the Inquisition to Christianity as to make Islam responsible for all of the acts of the Bahaists.

It is, however, fair and just to demand that of any religion, professing to be adequate to meet the needs of men, shall so reveal in its adherents a power for good in both individuals and in society that the only fair conclusion would be, that, if this religion should become general it would benefit mankind. Any religion that meets this test must pass as a good religion; but if it aspires to become a universal religion, it must show that it is capable of meeting the needs of humanity in all relationships more completely than any other religion can do. Islam claims to be not only a good religion but the best religion for the world, hence the necessity of showing that it is best suited to the conditions and needs of all men and in all of their varied relationships. Christianity is compelled meet the same tests as must any other religion.

We are here inquiring whether or not Islam is a religion calculated to meet the needs of the world, and, for our reply, we record the answers that come to us from the fruits it has produced in its adherents. The twelve centuries of Mohammedanism can be regarded as a sufficiently long time in which to demonstrate not only the strength of Islam but also its tendency in producing exalted character and a safe and worthy social order. After careful study of the life and character of Mohammed himself and the history of the development of the religion to which he gave his name, we are inevitably led to the conclusion that Islam is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of the race. It has been weighed in the balance of the centuries and has been found wanting. We will enumerate some of the reasons for our conclusions as here stated.

The Character of the Founder.

No religion can lay claim to perfection in whose founder so much imperfection exists. The life of Mohammed as written and taught by Mohammedans makes the fact of his defects in character patent to the world. It would be an alleviating feature if these moral lapses were condemned, or even concealed. Instead of this, every thing said or done by the prophet became permissible for his followers and often mandatory. A study of the Koran and traditions but reveal the true character of Mohammed as sensual, cruel, ambitious, inconsistent, and untruthful, putting the Moslem state above religion and making plunder and violence the weapons of faith.

In a religion that puts its founder at the very center of its teaching and practice, the significance of his defective character is greatly enhanced. The tendency to exalt if not to deify Mohammed among some modern Moslem sects, and his universal exaltation as the supreme head of the faith, reveal the fact that, at its very source, Islam is corrupted, and so, from the beginning, its influence has been, in many of its leading features, and must continue to be evil rather than good.

Its Conception of God.

Mohammedans hold an exalted conception of Allah as a deity of unlimited power and knowledge, who sits upon the throne of the world and rules according to his unquestioned and almighty will. In his presence man is but a slave, helpless and hopeless except for infinite mercy. Not only is Allah a kind of absentee god, presiding over a universe for whose creation he had no responsibility, but he is also a strict keeper of accounts, balancing debits and credits with all of his subjects. The god of the Moslems is feared but cannot be loved, since he in turn never loves. In this he partakes of much of the character of the gods of the heathen who use their power not chiefly to help men, but to afflict and punish. Hence the Moslem worships because he fears to do otherwise, or that he may have placed to his credit in the eternal records that which will be due him for the acts of worship regularly performed. Allah, in his majesty, exacts tribute and homage and unquestioned obedience from all his subjects, visiting dire vengeance upon those who fail to submit to his supreme will.

A god of this character compels to formalism in all acts of devotion and worship, since the worshipper approaches his god not from any sense of affection, or personal pleasure, or desire, but because stated acts of homage must be performed and approved expressions of allegiance must be uttered to avert the visitation of divine wrath. The Moslem's god opens no fountains of affection, calls out no manifestations of love and strengthens no tender passions in the heart. The inevitable result is the creation and development of a severity and cruelty of disposition that partakes of something of the nature of Allah worshipped and that looks with contempt upon those who exalt love as evidence of the divine in man and as a characteristic of deity.

Conception of Sin.

Sin to the Mohammedan is not the doing of that which is wrong, but of that which is forbidden. The greatest sin of all is to refuse to accept Islam, and all other sins arise from a failure to accomplish the full ritual of the true Mussulman. The requirements of Islam are so many and so exacting that it is impossible for one to fulfill them all and so there is no hope of achieving the perfect in life. That this may not be too overwhelmingly discouraging, a variety of compensating acts are made possible, whereby sins may be cancelled. These indulgences are varied and are put within the reach and power of every follower of Mohammed so that none need perish. The means of escape from the consequences of sin are through stated prayer, repetition of the names of Allah and the creed, almsgiving, pilgrimages, fast, etc. Repentance for the sin is not required, neither is confession necessary, nor even a desire or purpose not to repeat the offense. The only requirement is to perform that which will accrue to the eternal merit of him who wishes to escape from the penalty of unperformed duties or overt acts against his faith. The only restraint, therefore, upon the acts of the Moslem is that inspired by his inability to escape the penalty by doing works that will keep his eternal credits sufficiently large.

Prayer a Form Only.

Although prayer holds a large and central place in the Mohammedan system, it is almost as mechanical as the prayers of the Buddhists of Tibet, who use the mechanism of the prayer wheel to save personal exertion. The fact that prayer can be acceptably offered only in the Arabic language removes from this function all elements of intelligent participation, unless the worshipper knows that language. Since only a small proportion of Mohammedans are familiar with Arabic, to the great majority the act is as meaningless as the prayer wheel and possibly more so, since the Buddhist knows the prayer that is written upon the paper in the wheel. There is then no possibility of intelligent prayer, except for the few. There is little place in Islam for the voicing of real petitions or of spontaneous adoration, even in an unknown tongue. The Arabic prayers comprise quotations from the Koran and expressions of adoration and devotion often of a lofty and exalted character. By multitudinous repetition these become to most if not all Moslems but high-sounding phrases, either in a known or an unknown language, awaking little or no spirit of devotion in his own breast and establishing no conscious relations with God. The Mohammedan does not pray that he may draw near to his god, or that he may spread before him his sins and secure from him needed blessings. The Moslem prays at stated intervals because his religion commands it and that the credits due those who obey this command may be his. Prayer to the Moslems is quite a different act from the prayer of the Christian. It is a ceremony from which the spirit had departed for the most of the Moslem world, an act whose value to the one who prays consists only in the doing and that has no power to bring the worshipper into spiritual relations with his god.

Attitude towards Woman.

Islam not only does not provide for the spiritual and physical protection of women, but it is discrimination against them. The place they hold in the home, in society and in religion is far below that claimed and held by men. The teaching of the Koran and the traditions as well the practices of that religion, even to the present time, have tended to degrade womanhood. This has resulted in the suppression and even extinction of the finer sensibilities and qualities of Moslem women, while it has deprived the Moslem world of their uplifting and refining influence. There are good grounds for the conclusion that the blunted moral sensibilities and many of the cruel practices of Mohammedans in all their history may be in a measure due to this fact.

No one can read with care that Sura in the Koran entitled "The Cow" and then trace throughout Moslem history the place accorded the wife and mother, without being driven to the inevitable conclusion that a religion that thus treats the motherhood of the race can never be recognized as adequate for the race's need.

Toleration of Slavery.

Because of the almost universal modern sentiment against human servitude, Mohammedans have not been bold to proclaim their belief in and practice of slavery. It is well known, however, that the practice is common in regions where it can be safely practiced. In recent years the leading slave dealers in Africa have been and yet are Mohammedans, and in Moslem countries like Turkey there has been little attempt to conceal the fact of its practice. It is in the harem that modern Moslem slavery is most common, especially in countries least frequented by Europeans, where its existence is difficult to trace. Even today in Turkey, Christian girls are bought and sold as chattels, and he who is able to present the Sultan with a slave girl of rare beauty is sure of royal favor. Slavery is in large measure but a part of the ill-treatment of women and is a consistent outcome of the Moslem conception of a woman's place in society as well as the normal state of a religion that openly practices inhuman treatment of peoples powerless to defend themselves.

This may be partly due to the fact that Moslems are confined mainly to the tropics and live in regions of minimum rainfall, but their lack of intellectual advance cannot all be attributed to that fact. The fundamental tenants of the faith discourage if they do not actually put the ban upon independent thought. God has revealed all wisdom and knowledge to men through the Koran. Whatever is there is clear to all and needs not to be learned from other sources. Whatever is not there is immaterial or contrary to the will of God and need not and ought not to be studied.

Moslem faith is not a matter of understanding but of acceptance, and when once accepted there is not place for reason; obedience is the only fitting attitude and whoever would question becomes at once an unbeliever and a heretic.

The attitude of Moslems everywhere towards education is the inevitable outcome of their religion. It is a serious question as to whether Mohammedanism can survive the impact of modern science, philosophy and history. It is evident that many of the leaders, conscious of this peril, are seeking to stem the rising tide by exalting the old and warning against the new, while others are endeavoring to discover a way by which a Moslem may become a modern scholar and remain true to his faith. Wherever modern education has advanced among Moslems it has been against the inertia and even open opposition of the leaders of that religion. Islam is the religion of ignorance.

Unchangeable Character.

Islam was decidedly a new and radical departure from the religion of Arabia which it supplanted, as it has been since for other peoples like the Tartars and the races of Africa. Most unfortunately for its permanent success and worth, Mohammed crystallized it into an unchanging form where for centuries it has remained immobile. No provision was made for adapting it to peoples of other countries and of succeeding ages and to meet new conditions. Not only was the revelation closed with the death of Mohammed, but there remained no authority to alter religious practices or to make a modern interpretation of utterances and directions given for the people of the desert. Islam became a dead religion not only without the liberty of growth but without the power to grow. This characteristic is so marked that Lord Cromer, after his long experience with Islam in Egypt, where it has advanced as much as in any other country in the world, declares that Islam has no power of growth or change and should it commence to do so it would begin to be something else. The effect is the same upon the individual, upon society and upon the national life of all who embrace Islam; the final character is fixed and progress ceases. One needs but to study the history of the Moslem peoples to be convinced of the validity of this statement. Owing to this fact alone, if to no other, Mohammedanism cannot be a satisfactory religion for any people.

The Koran Final Authority in Civil as well as Religious Matters.

This is but a part of the unchangeable character of Islam and accounts in a large part for it. Not only is the Koran and accompanying tradition the last word in religion, but it is also the last word in civil law and national control. This grew out of the dual office assumed by Mohammed, which was at the same time Prince and Pope. The religious state he established was to have and did have but one code of law, and that was the divinely revealed Koran. So long as the Islamic state embrace only Arabia, as it did at the time of Mohammed's death, the laws were adequate and fairly satisfactory. It was when other countries and people were brought under Moslem rule that new difficulties in the application of this law to civil matters began to appear. The Caliph of Islam, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, recognizing this difficulty, created a new officer, the Sheikh-ul-Islam, whose business it was to interpret the Koran with reference to its application to specific cases. The officer had no ecclesiastical authority to change what was revealed but only to interpret it.

In Mohammedan countries the court of appeal in the settlement of civil cases is to the Koran, from whose decision is shown by the fact that the Turkish Parliament at Constantinople, before taking final action upon measures under consideration, often referred them to the Sheik-ul-Islam that he might report upon whether or not the proposed act accorded with the teachings of the Koran. Whenever it was shown that the measure was contrary to revelation, it was either dropped or modified.

The mere statement of these facts is sufficient to reveal the inadequacy of Islam as a national religion as well as the unsuperable difficulties it faces in attempting to adopt modern forms of government.

Union of Church and State.

It has already been stated that Islam by its very nature is a state religion. Mohammed was the head of the ecclesiastical order and the ruler of the country and people who had accepted Islam. The genius of Mohammedanism is to exert national force through a Moslem state. The church was the state and the state was the church. Strictly interpreted, all the citizens of the state must be Moslem; but Mohammed, seeing the difficulty of accomplishing this, made to cover their case. The church gave the laws to the state and the state protected and perpetuated the church.

As Moslem countries have come under the control of non-Moslem governments it has to make many concessions to Mohammedans lest their fanaticism be aroused into violent resistance. It is difficult for a Mohammedan to think of Islam in terms of religion alone. To him it is a system that should control the state and give him a code of laws to govern all his relationships. As in all other cases where religion has sought to control the state, whatever spiritual forces that religion possessed at the outset have been dissipated in the endeavor to maintain and exercise temporal power. In all countries where Islam has exercised national control, religion has been dominated by the necessities of politics.

Destitute of Spiritual Power.

Mohammedanism never claimed that it is a spiritual religion, that brings God to men or lifts men to God. Emphasis has always been placed upon the system or organization by which men were able to make themselves right with God, and upon the political order that provided a government for all who came under the sway of the Caliph. It has always ingloriously failed to provide a way by which the sins of men were forgiven, much less a way through which the desire to sin was removed. Islam told men what they could do and what they must not do, but it never has attempted to reach to the fountains of human action for their cleansing. It has dealt only with that which was external, ignoring the fact that a bitter fountain cannot send forth sweet water.

The redemptive side of the nature of God does not appear in Islam. To the Mohammedan, God is not seeking to save men from their life of sin and create in them a new and better life, but, he only desires to bring all men under one religion, which is Islam, and over whom he will rule as supreme Lord and Master. God does not seek to save men, but men seek God for the advantage that is to accrue to them.

In spite of this fatal defect, Mohammedans have now and then appeared who seemed to have a deep insight into spiritual realities, but this been not by the aid of religion but in spite of it. The large number of mystical sects that have sprung up within Islam and contrary to its teachings and practices are but evidence of its own spiritual barrenness.

As one studies the inner life of the Mohammedan trained and reared in accordance with, the Orthodox faith, the absence of spiritual ideals and impulses, and usually of desires, is conspicuously manifest. The Moslem lives in a secular and material world whose supreme pleasures are sensual and whose paradise has little trace of exalted ideals and spiritual conceptions. It is of the earth, earthy, and in itself has no power to rise above the conditions of its origin and the records of its centuries of materialistic legalisms.

This absence of spiritual power has produced in Islam a mighty force for the destruction of spiritual impulses and religious ideals in the individual as well as in society. When it fails to save, it has become a dominant force for evil.

The Christian Approach to Islam, by James L. Barton, Pilgrim Press 1918, Chapter XI (pages 167-177).

Essays by James Levi Barton

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