By 2048, the radical Islamists have achieved their dream: the New Caliphate has risen to power, overthrowing the corrupt regimes of the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. The U.S. finds itself on the defensive against this rising power, until Wayne, a teenage dropout with powers he does not yet understand, makes his way to Washington, D.C.

Beyond the NSA and CIA, beyond top-secret, there is the Cabal – the American black-ops intelligence organization set up to battle the unconventional threats faced by the U.S. in this dangerous world. Wayne’s powers could tip the balance in America’s favor. But there are three others with these powers… an Arab Jew from Baghdad whose family is murdered by the New Caliphate; an anti-Caliphate activist in Riyadh who sacrificed everything to fight the unholy empire; and the Caliph’s fanatical executioner, who was rescued from the streets by the Caliph and sees the will of God Himself guiding the Caliphate. Between the four of them, in the name of God and country, they unleash unspeakable horror on the world.

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The Four - A Novel of the New Caliphate. Now available on Kindle.

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News that the Islamic Society of North America’s gaggle of “Islamic scholars” has deemed airport body-scanners as inappropriate for Muslims is rightfully vilified by anti-Islamists and anyone else who cares about security and common sense. As a Muslim, I find the so-called “Fiqh Council” ruling more of the same BS these fools have been spouting for 1,400 years in an effort to shape the world according to their own outdated mores.

A body scan for security purposes has nothing to do with modesty or a lack thereof, which is allegedly what these people are worried about. It’s not as if TSA folks are manning these body-scanner monitors for cheap thrills – they’re looking for bombs and guns, for goodness sakes. I would love to say that the ruling about body scanners being immodest is quite possibly the stupidest ruling such a group has ever come to, but that would be, unfortunately, untrue. Research would show that their stupidity knows few bounds, if any.

Islamic jurisprudence is pathetically out of date with the modern world, and sadly, it is blasphemously out-of-step with what Islam actually should be. It has been since the earliest days of the religion. As a Muslim who believes strongly that the religion, as it was revealed, is progressive, rights-oriented, and open-minded, it’s frustrating to see how badly it’s been hijacked by closed-minded, misogynistic, xenophobic, cultural throwbacks, and that these same people are trying to continue their work to this day.

It’s CONTEXT, people! When the Qur’an was revealed it was a RADICAL shift toward women’s rights, charitable treatment of society’s most vulnerable, merciful treatment of enemies, and fair treatment of one’s fellow mankind. But this progressive message was stamped down during Islam’s earliest days, and it hasn’t emerged from that darkness since then. The lesson of Islam to us today is to be RADICAL in our notions of what rights people should have, about how we should treat the poor and disenfranchized, and how we should treat with those who call themselves our enemies.

I choose THAT type of radical Islam – the kind that tells the so-called “Islamic scholars” to go fuck themselves. The kind that I can figure out on my own by reading the Qur’an in its proper context. The kind that leads me to believe that the U.S. is the best country in which to be a practicing Muslim, because freedom works and repression doesn’t.

There is an almost endless parade of paranoids who believe that ANY Muslim is a radical Muslim, even if the Muslim himself doesn’t yet realize it. If you accuse them of being bigoted, surely they would be appalled at the very idea, but a comment by an equally paranoid idiot really brought the issue home in a blog by Pamela Geller on Geller notes correctly that an over-sensitivity to offending Muslims allowed Nidal Hassan’s rampage and mass murder to take place. But then she goes over the edge, like so many of her ilk do, saying that Islamic radicals have “infiltrated every agency and institution at the highest levels, and they control what is said and how it can be said.”

The specter of an enemy around every corner is exciting stuff, but it’s bullshit. A comment on her blog by someone who is undoubtedly an anti-Semitic Nazi sympathizer made this unwittingly salient point:

What about another group that has done that? Funny how you see no problem with THAT! Perhaps we should turn a rather suspicious eye towards certain tiny minority groups that are vastly over-represented in our government and other institutions like banks and the media, HMMMMMMMM?

I don’t want to leap to any unwarranted conclusions, but I’m guessing that vile comment was referring to Jews. And I think the despicable nature of that comment is mirrored in Ms. Geller’s attitude toward Muslims. She’s no different than that Nazi asshole.

Like her, I despise the ideology of intolerance, violence, misogyny and cultural repression represented by Islamists, and even by many “mainstream” Muslims. Clearly, I’m not mainstream, but an extremist in my rejection of these backward attitudes. But Ms. Geller’s ignorance of what Islam really means, at its core, leads her to ascribe far too much legitimacy to the radicals’ notion of Islam. They’re wrong, and she’s wrong for buying into their storyline.

In my many searches for wrong-headed notions of Islam, I’m just as often disappointed by Muslims as I am by incredibly bigoted fools like Daniel Pipes and his acolytes. One recent example is an article on an Islamic website I found via a Google ad.

As is routine with Muslims explaining the faith to non-Muslims, the article begins with the contention that “becoming a Muslim is a simple and easy process.” It then goes on to describe a process that is not simple or easy. And, even more pernicious, they lay the groundwork for radical ideologies that come from their rigid worldview.

The article’s very first quote from the Qur’an, for example, is presented in a way that leads directly to intolerance, which is the very opposite of Islam’s intent. Here is what the article says:

“…The only religion in the sight of God is Islam…” (Quran 3:19) In another verse of the Holy Quran, God states: “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter, he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (their selves in the Hellfire).” (Quran 3:85)

This, of course, paints a picture of Islam as stunningly intolerant, just like the people who espouse this view of the faith. To believe the way they do, they have to ignore several facts that render their interpretations contrary not just to the spirit of the religion, but also to its letter.

  • The very word “Islam” means “submission,” so when God tells people that no other religion will be accepted, it does not mean one must adhere to the narrow prescription for “proper Islamic” practice demanded by the Wahabbis of Arabia or the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It means that worship of God alone and submission to his laws. And what does THAT mean? On to the next point…
  • The Qur’an specifically states in several places that Christians, Jews, and others have been given the word of God, and as long as they aren’t making stuff up that clearly contradicts God’s law, they’re are on the right track. In fact, God specifically tells Muslims to not bother Jews and Christians (“People of the Book” in the Qur’an), and if Muslims discuss religion with them, to do so “in the best way.”

The next problem with the article is that it conflates the word of God, as noted in the Qur’an, with the words of mankind, called the Hadeeth. In fact, right after the Qur’anic quote about people being lost in the hereafter (and you’ll notice that the translators added their own flourish about hellfire that isn’t in the original), the article makes a telling revelation:

In another saying, Muhammad, the Prophet of God, said: [the article goes on to cite a Hadeeth, or a “saying” of the Prophet Muhammad]

So in other words, the article exposes the view of many faithful: the alleged sayings of the Prophet (which were compiled over hundreds of years and may or may not be accurate) are on par with the word of God as contained in the Qur’an. This is a trend that, in my opinion, has led to the ruination of Islam as a faith of tolerance, respect, charity, and peace. These Hadeeth, or “sayings” of the Prophet, have been used over the centuries to justify damn near anything you can think of. Anyone with an ax to grind could make up a Hadeeth, claim it can be traced back to the Prophet, and voila, their preferred worldview just became legitimized by God and his messenger, even if it directly contradicts the words in the Qur’an.

The sad situation of women in conservative Islamic countries is a prime example of this: honor killings, prohibitions against driving, depriving them of the right to marry or divorce whomever they want… women’s rights were enshrined in Islam over 1,400 years ago, and yet still today there are cultural throwbacks who prevent these rights from being implemented.

For anyone seriously interested in Islam, these websites are no help. Ignore these intermediaries who will “teach” you how to be a “good Muslim.” The whole notion behind Islam is that there are no intermediaries between mankind and their God. Read the Qur’an and decide for yourself how to apply its lessons in your life. Learn the context in which the Qur’an was revealed, to see the social problems it was addressing at the time, and then let those lessons guide you. For example, if it says you should free a slave to repent for a wrongdoing, figure out what that means in today’s terms. If it says women should be beaten, then for God’s sake get a translation that accounts for the fact that such a prescription is wrong. You get the idea?

It’s amazing to me how often people advocate throwing Islam out the window in its entirety because of the way people have practiced it. Martin Luther rightly saw Christianity as deeply flawed when he nailed up his 90 theses and started a revolution. Reformist Muslims today are doing the same thing – taking on a massive edifice, built from solid blocks of centuries-old precedents and Islamic “scholarship.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, however, doesn’t want to bother with trying to reform her erstwhile faith; she wants to jettison it from the world of reasonable possibilities as an unsalvagable piece of ideological detritus. Given her horrific experiences with the most intolerant, murderous faction of Islamists to date, I can’t blame her. Nor do I fault her for letting her opinion be known far and wide. However, I believe her conclusions are logically flawed. The root of her error is the same as the radical Islamists: she decontextualizes the Qur’an as the basis for Islam, and then comes to the same conclusions as the radical Islamists she so rightly despises: that Islam is fundamentally oppressive to women, and for someone to call themselves a Muslim means they are necessarily supporters of such oppression. Here’s what she says:

In her hour and a half talk, Hirsi Ali stood firm on her controversial views. She said she had once been a devout Muslim, but had since come to question not just how Islam has been interpreted and practiced, but the core of the Prophet Mohammad’s teachings. “No culture, no religion, no idea has ever been as brutal to women as Islam,” she told the crowd. “It was a special kind of hatred the Nazis had against the Jews. Islam sanctions a special kind of hatred against women.” She said that Islam is more than a religion, but also a political system, one that is incompatible with U.S. democracy and pluralism. “They are as different as day and night.”

But she is dead wrong.

Back in the Prophet Muhammad’s day, women were generally regarded as chattel, with a few exceptions. They had no rights. Couldn’t testify. Couldn’t divorce. Couldn’t own property. Couldn’t choose their husband. But then the Prophet Muhammad began preaching that they had ALL those rights, and more. At the time, these pronouncements were treated with shock and derision, even by some of the early Muslims. But the teachings held fast, and revolutionized the role of women in society.

After the prophet’s death, women’s rights began to be eroded by those who were never comfortable with that aspect of their new faith. Supported by so-called hadith – sayings of the prophet that have been compiled over the centuries – and fatwas issued by imams enamored with the idea of women remaining at the mercy of men, women’s roles were gradually scaled back until they were closer to being the chattel they once had been. Today, in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where such traditions predate Islam, the religion is used to justify such oppression. But they are certainly not Islamic practices; they are cultural throwbacks, with Islam being used as a pretext. Even translations of the Qur’an have been manipulated to ensure that the most misogynistic interpretations are held forth as accurate.

If Hirsi needs to believe that Islam is irretrievably evil and anti-democratic, so be it. But she is conflating the Imams and others who have hijacked the faith with the religion itself. Just like Osama bin-Laden and the idiots who follow him. It’s unfortunate that such a wide diversity of people agree on something as horrible as the characterization of Islam as a muderous, oppressive religion.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when a passionate dedication to stamping out prejudice and inequality has become an obsession that causes more damage than it mitigates. Such is the case with the French government’s decision to reject the citizenship request of a man who allegedly forces his wife to wear a full face-veil and body covering characteristic of the most conservative of Muslims. It’s not clear whether the man really does coerce his wife into wearing the niqab or if it’s voluntary.

Regardless of the particulars in this man’s case, lots of Muslim women – I don’t know enough to say most Muslim women – would feel uncomfortable showing their faces in public. At the same time, some have no problem with showing their faces, and cover only their hair. Some don’t feel the need to do even that, and still have no problem calling themselves devout Muslims.

Islam requires both men and women to dress modestly. Since modesty is societally-defined, a Muslim being modest in France or the U.S. is different from a Muslim being modest in Saudi Arabia. At the same time, it’s also important to remember that Islam came about in Arabia specifically to upend backward notions and practices. Veiling women was not one of the ways God chose to implement this plan. That’s a vestige of the old order that has held sway, with activist Imams providing it the veneer of religious propriety to accord it legitimacy, thereby helping to keep women “in their place.” And what is “their place?” according to the traditionalists? Well, according to the fool who was denied French citizenship:

My wife will never be able to go out without the full veil; I don’t believe in gender equality; women have inferior status; I will not respect the principles of the secular society.

Isn’t he a treat? If I weren’t so passionately dedicated to the notion of free speech, I would be tempted to deny this idiot citizenship too. But apparently France is so threatened by this type of attitude that it feels its nation will be somehow weakened by this man’s depravity and must be protected from him. Well, fine for France, I suppose. But it’s my belief that foolish ideologies like his should be highlighted as often as possible, so that they can be exposed to the disarming effect of discourse. Let the guy be a French citizen. Let him blather on and on. Let his ideas be attacked by his more moderate, tolerant, and devout Islamic brethren. Let him learn something. Or, failing that, let others learn from the discussion and controversy that follows wrong-headed blusterers like him.

The great clash of civilizations continues its moronic advance in the ideological battlefield of children’s toys. About a year ago, a British woman ran afoul of foolish “Islamic” sensitivities in Sudan when she let her class of children name a stuffed bear “Muhammad,” which scandalized local narrow-minded zealots to the point of imprisoning her, calling for her death, and eventually deporting her for “insulting Islam.” The outcry in the teacher’s home country and the rest of “the West” was predictably, and rightfully, indignant. We shook our heads at how stupid these people in Sudan must be to take such an innocent situation and try to depict it as evil… as an insult to their sensibilities and an assault on their society, culture and faith.

And now, groups of drooling mouth-breathers in the U.S. – well publicized by Fox News – are pulling a page from the Sudanese hardliners’ playbook, accusing a babbling plastic doll of mumbling “Islam is the Light” and Satanic phrases. I can picture sensible people the world over shaking their heads at how stupid these Americans must be to take such an innocent situation and try to depict it as evil… as an insult to their sensibilities and an assault on their society, culture and faith.

It’s an unfortunate sign of Islam’s stunted intellectual development that vast majorities of its adherents regard any questioning of the status quo as blasphemy, apostasy, hatred, or “Islamophobia,” and now are trying to characterize it as a human rights violation. The Forward has run an insightful story on this phenomenon in an article noting that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is pushing the UN to recognize that freedom of speech ends where religious sensitivities begin.

Certainly there are cases in which criticism of Islam crosses the line into disrespectful, even hateful, discourse. But to categorize it as a violation of the rights of Muslims is so absurd as to be laughable.

If my religion is mocked by a cartoonist in Denmark, a novelist in London, or a blogger in Minnesota, how have my rights been affected? More importantly, how could those perceived insults possibly have any bearing on the life of one of the OIC’s citizens? Does a Bangladeshi farmer feel his human rights diminished by Salman Rushdie’s novels? If so, how?

What the OIC’s effort really targets is the preservation of the power of “Islamic scholars” (known as “Ulama” in the Muslim world) to dictate orthopraxy to hundreds of millions of people. If we, as Muslims and well-intentioned adherents to other faiths, are unable to critique Islam (as currently defined and practiced) without being branded rights-violators, then the status quo is maintained indefinitely, and the power of the Ulama continues to grow.

If I am unable to say what I believe about the Hadeeth and the Sunna (the alleged words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad) for fear of being branded a hate monger, that’s one more pressure that reformers have to endure, on top of the charges of “apostasy” leveled by our co-religionists.

From my point of view, the Sunna and the Hadeeth are predominantly lies made up by people after the Prophet’s death in order to reinforce their own worldviews, which often were in direct conflict with the Qur’an. This is bolstered by the claims of some Ulama that not only do the Hadeeth and Sunna help explain the Qur’an, but that they can, at times, supplant it.

This, in my view, is heretical and designed strictly to put power in the hands of misogynists, bigots and power-hungry zealots. So I criticize it.

If the Ulama are correct in their interpretations, then they should have no fear of taking on such controversy. The Qur’an, in fact, admonishes us all to use our logic and to argue well with each other. The Ulama, on the other hand, respond to such criticism by calling for executions and saying that such things must not be said. And now they’re trying to get the UN to agree.

If they succeed, they will prolong their already-protracted death throes. But in the end, they cannot and will not win. They are on the losing end of history, and the rest of the world’s Muslims will leave them behind.

Having spent considerable time in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the MIddle East, it was easy to discern the complete lack of understanding regarding freedom of speech. Obviously, most countries in the region do not enjoy the ability to engage in open discourse about their governments or about particular interpretations of Islam. If they question the legitimacy of either, they face dire legal consequences.

The results are easy to see. Islamic traditionalists and hardliners – embodied by the Ulama – have become so used to having their authority accepted without question that they are intellectually lazy. Their ideas are vapid, incoherent, and frequently at odds not just with the societies in which they live, but also with the explicit dictates of the Qur’an, which they allegedly serve to uphold.

One unfortunate result of this mindset is the appalling lack of intellectual development in the Arab World, especially when it comes to Islam. Witness this story from the Arab Times of Kuwait, quoting Dr. Adel Al-Damkhi, a professor of Islamic studies. In it, he calls for Kuwaiti authorities to take legal action against YouTube until it removes all derogatory statements about Islam and Muslims. His rationale is telling:

“…uttering profanities against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is the worst form of human rights violation in the world. Attacks on the values and tenets of Islam are extremely dangerous and unacceptable.”

Dr. Al-Damkhi’s gift for hyperbole is a sad statement on his morality. Governments in the region torture prisoners, deny citizens the right to speak out against wrongs, punish discussion of whether Islam can be interpreted in more than one way, and yet YouTube is the worst rights violation he can think of? I hate to think what was involved in his earning a PhD.

While living in Saudi Arabia (I lived there for about 20 years), it was interesting to watch the slow change in fashions that has taken place, representing a slow move away from the backward, restrictive “moral” code of the Mutawa’een – the self-appointed morality police who enforce their own interpretation of Islamic law on the masses. While there, I noted that women’s abayas (the long black cloak that is supposed to hide their feminine curves from men’s gazes) were becoming less like tarps and more like clothing, with decorative flourishes. I remember thinking that it was nice to see that people were becoming less austere and more willing to maintain modest dress while expressing individual tastes.

But I should have known that this would not be a society-wide movement. This story notes that abayas with little decorations like a fringe of lace or some glitter or sequins around the cuffs are in fact a form of “illegal” abaya, even if they cover the woman from head to toe. Here’s a quote from the always-enlightening Mutawa’een:

“You look around you and you find abayas that are embroidered, fitted or with wide sleeves. Most abayas now need abayas to cover them,” says a religious pamphlet available at malls in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “When some girls go out they (look) like prostitutes who invite people to carry out lewd acts. How else can you explain how some women adorn themselves with their abayas … ?”

The Mutawa’een and like-minded supporters believe that abayas should completely obscure a woman’s outline, cover her face, and some even believe that no skin – even on the hands – should be exposed. I encountered more than a few women in Saudi Arabia who wore black gloves in addition to their abayas.

“This is our way,” said more than one Saudi I talked to about the tradition. But it’s certainly not the Islamic way, and has nothing to do with the Qur’an. It’s simply another made-up rule by the so-called “Ulama” – the “learned ones” of Islamic scholarship – based on willful misinterpretation.

Women in the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s life were relegated to the role of chattel – bought, traded, abused, and even inherited by a deceased husband’s brothers, if they wanted her. Islam gave women the right to own property that could not be touched by their husbands, gave them the right to refuse marriage to someone they didn’t want to marry and to divorce their husbands, allowed them to give testimony, inherit property, and generally allowed them to participate fully in society. This was no small change in Hejazi society at the time; it was cause for some followers of the prophet to dump the new religion and return to the backward ways of their forefathers. But the rules stood firm, even in the face of tremendous internal and external pressures.

Almost as soon as the Prophet had died, however, these rules were rolled back, despite the clear words of the Qur’an, and Hadeeth – alleged “sayings” of the Prophet – were used to justify these clear contradictions of God’s word. Combined with obvious misinterpretation of Qur’anic passages, the Ulama put their collective foot back on the necks of women, and there it has remained ever since.

Now, however, things are moving away from their narrow, unrealistic, and un-Islamic worldview. I can only hope they continue to lose ground, and that the globalization of the idea of women’s rights will continue to re-awaken Muslims to the remarkably forward-looking feminism in the Qur’an. If one thinks about Islam logically – which we are constantly reminded to do by the Qur’an – then it becomes clear that Islam is meant to be a progressive religion. Women were liberated by Islam centuries ago, so its prescriptions should be examined in that context. Until the Ulama concede that the Qur’an was revealed in and for a specific cultural milieu, their views will always be centuries outmoded.

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