By Douglas Anele
It is not difficult to understand why King Fahd of Saudi Arabia insisted that the democratic system is not suitable for his country and other muslim majority countries in the Middle-East. Ibn Warraq states pointedly, and I agree, that Islam will remain incompatible with democratic principles and human rights if muslims continue to insist on the application of sharia and as long as there is no separation between religion and the state.
All said and done, Why I am not a Muslim is a very compelling critique of Islam which ought to be read especially by muslims who genuinely wish to understand why their religion urgently needs reformation to meet the challenges of a technology-driven globalising world. In the book, the author laments the betrayal of democratic values by politicians, educators and, worst of all, intellectuals because of misguided multiculturalism instead of pushing back against rampaging Islamism. Accordingly he recommends that on the world stage, people need to have more confidence in democratic values and be ready to defend those values. He quotes approvingly Judith Miller assertion in Foreign Affairs that “what is needed is…a liberal militancy…a militant liberalism that is unapologetic and unabashed.”
If you are looking for a well-informed, irreverent, and devastating bohemian critic of religion, then Christopher Hitchens comes highly recommended. His magnum opus on the subject provocatively titled God is not Great is described by the Oxford philosopher, Anthony C. Grayling, with the following propositions: “The anti-religion case has never been put so well, so comprehensively or so definitively as in this razor-sharp book. Hitchens accumulates a devastating case…Outstanding.”
Hitchens begins his critique of religion with a personal anecdote as a young schoolboy which sets the template for his atheism. He identifies four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression and, finally, that it is ultimately grounded on wishful thinking.
Believers, particularly those that belong to the missionary religions, seem incapable of leaving alone those who do not share their beliefs, and “people of faith are in their different ways planning our…destruction and the destruction of all the hard-worn human attainments…Religion poisons everything.” Hitchens repeatedly affirms that religion is manmade, and that its claim of divine revelation is fraught with serious logical and empirical difficulties.
On Christianity, he avers that the Bible comprises mostly a haphazard collection of myths and superstitions and, consequently, should not be regarded as a historical document. In addition, it contains a lot of contradictions and incoherencies which put a big question mark on the claim of its inerrancy and divine origin. The same is also true of the Koran, Islam’s fundamental scripture. Hitchens claims that the Koran is borrowed from both Jewish and Christian myths grafted within the background of ancient Arabian culture.
The Islamic holy book contains many passages or suras which prescribe extreme punishments for non-muslims and unbelievers in this world and in the hereafter. The hadith, second in status to the Koran, contains the sayings and actions of prophet Muhammad (PBUH), including those of his companions as well. Both scriptures encourage muslims to embrace martyrdom: for instance, “No one who dies and finds good from Allah (in the hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and be killed again.”
Hitchens affirms that Islam makes very big claims for itself, enjoins its adherents to submit or surrender completely to Allah, and demands respect from non-muslims. Nevertheless, “There is nothing –absolutely nothing – in its teachings that can even begin to justify such arrogance and presumption.” Hitchens condemns the blunt refusal of muslims to examine critically the claim that the Koran is the unimprovable and final divine revelation. Even tentative efforts in Islamic scholarship to catalogue discrepancies between various editions of the Koran have been met with “almost inquisitional rage.”
Therefore Islam has not undergone the sort of reformation that took place in its sister religions, Judaism and Christianity, achieved through unfettered research that dispelled a lot of obscurantism in their scriptures. In fact, muslims in different parts of the world are using violent means to assert the claims of Islam at their own face value, which means “once again, faith is helping to choke free inquiry and the emancipating consequences it might bring.” To cut a long story short, Islam, like other religions, tends to stifle the spirit of free critical inquiry which is fundamental to human progress.
Now, if one beams the critical searchlight on a religion-intoxicated country like Nigeria, the extremely negative impacts of the two dominant religions, Christianity and Islam, on the faithful and the country as a whole leap into bold relief. This is not to say that the traditional religion practiced bythe indigenous population had no detrimental effects on the people. But at least, it has the merit of being home-grown and reflects the deepest dreams, hopes, fears, and aspirations of the people themselves.
Christianity and Islam have done a lot of harm in the intimate areas of personal health, sex, marriage, child-bearing and upbringing as a result of the unscientific antiquated doctrines and practices propagated and endorsed by both religions. Consider, for example, the absurd harmful doctrines about tithes, miracles, sin, and eternal punishment in hellfire preached from pulpits every day. What about life-threatening observances and practices that the clergy recommend to their gullible church members to tackle various existential challenges?
In various mosques imams propagate beliefs that generally tend to promote discord and encourage violence and destructiveness against non-muslims despite the insincere claim that Islam is a religion of peace, not to talk of the misguided quest by Fulani caliphate colonialists to Islamise and dominate everywhere in line with the admonition in Islamic scripture that Islam must dominate the whole world. Some will point to the so-called good that religion has contributed to the society, particularly in the areas of education, charity work and morality. Yet, as Sam Harris correctly observes, “all that is good in religion can be had elsewhere.
If, for example, ethical and spiritual experience can be cultivated and talked about without people claiming things they manifestly do not or cannot know, then religious activities represent, at best, a massive waste of time, energy, and resources. Now, consider all the good things Nigerians will not do today or tomorrow or any other day set aside for religious events because they believe strongly that their most pressing task is to build another church or mosque, enforce some ancient dietary practice, attend some religious gathering, print volumes upon volumes of exegesis on the disordered thinking of ignorant primitive men.
What about the innumerable human lives sacrificed since the emergence of religion in the name of one deity or another, or the quantum of hours wasted in worship? It is mind-numbing to think of all the financial, emotional, and intellectual resources Nigerians (and indeed humanity as a whole) have wasted chasing shadows or psychological placebo in the form of religion, resources that could have been used wisely to the pursuit of The True, The Good and The Beautiful without the blinkers of pious fiction. The persistence of religion, like the continuation of wars, is a ringing indication that homo sapiens is an incompletely evolved primate.
To do justice to the innumerable ways religion has made the lives of human beings and communities a living hell will require volumes. But enough have been said here to justify the claim that fanatical acceptance of doctrines embodied in a holy book, unwillingness to examine these doctrines critically, and savage persecution of those who reject them, are the hallmarks of religions, especially Christianity and Islam, although the latter is in a class all by itself because of the obdurate refusal of muslims to reform their faith to make it more rational and humane. To conclude, let Bertrand Russell have the last word: “What the world needs is not dogma, but an attitude of scientific inquiry, combined with a belief that the torture [and suffering] of millions is not desirable, whether inflicted by [human beings] or by a deity imagined in the likeness of the believer.”