Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Articles, Comments

Part 5: Interpretation, Islam for Freethinkers, Sympathetic Approach to Islam etc.

Let us start with a response from one of our contributors, Mohammad Asghar, who has forwarded his comments and questions in regard to this debate:

I have been following your debate with Prof. Walter Lammi with a keen interest. Though he has made it clear that he was not an expert of Islam, yet he felt it was alright for him to assert that the contents of the Quran are subject to [various] interpretations!
I have been alarmed by his statement. I think he needs to be told that he should read and understand the Quran first, and then debate whether or not its readers should interpret its contents before submitting themselves to the instructions and commands they contain.
I believe it was Prof. Lammi's interaction with the Islamic Scholars of Egypt that has convinced him to draw his conclusion on the interpretational aspect of the Quran. Without writing a long rebuttal to his statement, may I ask him the following questions, so that we are able to understand him clearly:
  1. Why he thinks the Quran has different interpretations?
  2. Do his students interpret his lectures in their own ways and then write their theses on the basis of what they believe are the interpretations of his lectures?
  3. If his students write their theses on the basis of their own interpretations of his lectures, would he accept them?
  4. If the Quran has various interpretations, then would the respected Professor tell us why the Quran has made the following claim about itself:
[These are the verses of the Perspicuous Book. We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran, in order that ye may learn wisdom] (12:1 & 2).
5. Can the learned Professor also tell us what should be the [interpretation] of the following verse: 
 [O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year  of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque, and if ye fear poverty, soon will Allah enrich you, if He wills, out of His bounty, for Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise] (Quran; 9:28).
-Mohammad Asghar
Response of the Editors Follows:
So you're a bold "freethinker" and I'm a miserable little "apologist." Oy vey. Why can't I be the "freethinker" and you the "apologist"? That sounds a lot nicer and I'm the guest here. After all, I'm "thinking freely" about Islam while you're writing "apologetics" for a radical critique. -.I'm not trying to pulverize you, rhetorically speaking. I'm just offering another way of looking at Islam, an Islam for free-thinkers.
An Islam for freethinkers? What is that? Have you received a revelation? Are you talking to a freethinking Allah (different from Islam's Allah)? Are you talking about a religion revealed by a freethinking God different from Allah?
We are not looking for an "Islam for Freethinkers" from you or anybody else. We are happy to live Godless. Our aim is to deal with the true Islam, based on the Koran and Muhammad (Sunnah). This is stated explicitly in our aims and objectives, and I have reiterated the same in this debate previously. But perhaps my English seems unintelligible to you! If you are not interested in the objectives of this site, it was meaningless to start this discourse in the first place. It is just a waste of our time.
I would not argue much about which one of us is the freethinker! Voltaire, Russell, and Einstein were amongst the brightest of freethinkers, and I have never seen any of them trying to sell a Christianity for freethinkers. But they have done in-depth investigations to trash the rubbish contained in the religious books and doctrines with the razor sharp tools of logic and reason.
This other way is indeed based on a different approach to the canonical texts than the one upon which you insist. It seems to me that you are defining Islam down to one interpretation-one interpretation of the Quran, one interpretation of the Hadith, and one interpretation of the religion. Then you destroy this interpretation. For it is an interpretation! This form of argumentation is called the "straw man" fallacy.
We are interested in the Canonical Islam - the pure, true and unadulterated Islam - as dictated by Allah in the Koran and as practiced and directed by the Prophet Muhammad.
The Koran is written in the clear and straight-forward language of which Allah Himself has tried to sell repeatedly in the Koran in His own words. I reiterate that nowhere in the Koran does it say, "The literal interpretation must not be used." Prophet Muhammad, who must have practiced Islam in the most ideal way, only accedes to literal meaning, exactly as we understand Islam.
The concept of loose or metaphorical interpretation is a late innovation, which started trickling into the realm of theological doctrines (hardly in any other) during the late Middle Ages. It has been extensively used mainly in the reading of the Holy books only. The purpose is to distort and twist unacceptable words and dicta of these so-called Books of alleged gods, so as to accommodate the barbarity and cruelty of these books in modern society. Making "killing" into "kissing" and distortions like that have been the aims of these interpretations.
The concept of loose interpretation is a dishonest and hypocritical innovation - mainly to be applied in the realm of religious doctrines. There were thousands of books coming from the age of these religious books, that lost appeal due lack of compatibility of modern human thought and knowledge. They disappeared or lost importance in the sphere of modern human life. There weren't dishonest people to apply their dishonest means of interpretation to make them viable to modern times. Thanks to the dishonest means of interpretation, books from the same age, containing much more rubbish, barbarity, and cruelty, continue to dominate human society even today. Yet, other books on social, ideological, and moral thoughts-namely those of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Works of Buddha and Confucius et al. dating further back in history as compared to interpretive books Koran and Bible-never required any interpretation, but have shaped our modern civilizations much more positively. Only God's books need interpretation.
[So authoritative are you about the "real" religion that you do not hesitate to write the whole Sufi tradition right out of Islam! I don't know many actual Sufis but gosh, the moderate Muslims of my acquaintance all admit Sufism into the tent of Islam. It's a wide tent.]
What is a moderate Muslim? Is there a moderate Koran? Where is that? Who was the prophet of the moderate Islam? Probably some Sufis! But we are only interested in Islam that is based on the Koran and Sunnah. We know there are a lot of hypocritical and dishonest Muslims - calling themselves moderate, Sufi etc. We are not interested in them. They do not cause trouble in the world. Only interest is the true Muslims, those who model themselves by the teachings of pure Islam based on the Koran and Sunnah.
Sufism is a rather obscure part of Islam. Probably most Muslims would not know what Sufism is. Yet you have not given a single example of Sufi interpretation of any verse that says "The Koran allows Muslims to convert to other religions freely". We also want to see proof that a majority of the Muslims clerics and scholars have agreed to such an interpretation. I hope that you will take the pain produce such text from a well-known Sufi's work to convince us.
Getting in seems to have something to do with declaring the shehata (along the lines of "there is no God but God and Mohamed is his prophet") and considering oneself Muslim. It's not known to be a difficult initiation procedure.
You talk about Shehata (Shahada) without grasping the essence of it. This Shehata was the most damning and uncivilized verdict on the entire human civilization and the collective living of humankind. And you call this simple and "not a difficult initiation procedure"? Shehata is complete denial or rejection of any other theological doctrine and way of life other than Islam. No other verdict, be it religious (Judaism/Christianity) or philosophical (Buddhism/Confucianism) doctrine either before or after Islam, has ever denied the truth, relevance and essence of other religions and philosophical doctrines, as clearly as the Islamic Shehata. Shehata demands complete denial, rejection, and destruction of any other alternative theological, philosophical, and ideological sphere, and calls for the establishment of the command of almighty Allah as revealed in the Koran. The prophet Muhammad's life was a struggle to achieve such a goal. His last wish, on his death-bed, was: "There will be no other religion than Islam in Arabia", a command which his successors pursued immediately after his death. One of our authors has described the essence of Islamic Shehata in his latest essay. I will quote a section from his article:
The core theme of Islam is contained in the Islamic Shahada which reads "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet." Explicit in this central creed of Islam is the denial of all other Gods and all other ways of spiritual life. Also implicit in the Shahada is the denial of the history, cultural and traditional heritage prior to the Islamic revelation. Islam in itself is the perfect and complete code of life, culture and tradition thrust directly from the infallible master of the universe. The history, culture and tradition, prior to Islam is unworthy - an era known as the age of Jahiliya (ignorance) in Islam. The civilized history of the world starts with the perfection of the religion of Allah and the history, culture, tradition and heritage within the fold of Islam are the only civilized ones. The extra-Islam tradition, culture and ways of life are the extension from the Jahilaya age and contrary to the wishes of almighty creator, Allah. Shashi R Sharma writes on the advent of Islamic theology in the 7th century Arabia, "In one fell stroke of theology, the accumulated vision of mankind in every other part of the globe - its most cherished cultural and intellectual acquisition - are consigned to a state of utterly forgettable decadence. Nothing was valuable prior to Islam and nothing will be valuable for mankind in the future unless the assignation of value corresponds to some element of Islamic ethics." [Caliphs and Sultan, p38]. He continued, "Rejection of every value contrary to Islamic precepts is the sine quo non of a pure life of (Islamic) faith."
Showing such glowing respect to one of the most unacceptable verdicts on collective human civilization is indicative of a sick mind - and this is disturbing when it comes from a respected Professor.
And then you're a member, with all the rights and privileges thereunto. Indeed, my critique would be that it is too wide a tent, permitting the bin Ladens of this world to slither their way inside and outstay their welcome by a long shot. I speak here of Osama, not the whole bin Laden family, some of whom I know and respect as moderate Muslims. We must be careful not to tar the guilty and the innocent with the same brush. The same goes for the family name of a religion.
There is a problem again. Most Western Islamist apologists of the last 2 centuries, mostly from the political left background, have claimed to have found great sense in Islam's simplicity - that is in the Shehata: "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet." Pure and simple! Your assertion in the above section also points to such a view. Yet, in the next moment you change your own words: Islam too wide a tent. Well, which is it? We hope you are here for an honest and serious discourse.
Bin Laden is the mirror image of Prophet Muhammad. Bin Laden's actions are in agreement with the edicts of the Koran and are closest to the actions and deeds of Prophet Muhammad. He is just trying to match the Prophet in every aspect of his life. And once again, we are interested in true Islam based on Koran and Sunnah, not on the undefined and apparently non-existent species (which holy book, god and prophet they follow?) called moderate Muslims, Sufis etc.
I'm not clear about what makes you so sure of your own interpretive authority. You do not seem to recognize the four schools of Islam that most moderate Muslims respect. Yet even if you did your authority would not be unassailable. Correct me if I am wrong, but I am under the impression that Islam does not have an established ecclesiastical authority like, say, the Catholic Church that Voltaire so indignantly assailed. It seems that authority comes easily to you because the Qur'an is so easy to understand, according to your interpretation by way of selected citations. Almost a millennium and a half of interpretation has yielded continuous disputation, but all that is over because now you understand it perfectly. Is it then your ability to read the text literally combined with simple logical prowess that gives you the interpretive edge? That seems to be your claim. Please don't be angry when I observe that this is not the only way to read and interpret this (or any other) religious text.
In answering this section, let me start with your last "Please don't be angry when I observe that this is not the only way to read and interpret this (or any other) religious text." Which god or prophet said that religious text needs to apply special tools like interpretation? Human beings used religious scriptures for centuries and millennium without bothering about interpretation. All of a sudden, we needed interpretation. Or is it the case that humanism has progressed to a great extent during last few centuries? The burning of millions of women as witches, the killing of numerous apostates both in Islam and Christianity, the burning of the Satis (Hinduism) cannot stand in the face of the modern human conscience. Apologists need to use the deceptive tools of interpretation on the relevant verses to twist "kill" into "kiss," such that those filthy divine books show relevance to modern society. There are many people willing to live by this deception and dishonesty. Others, such as the great freethinkers of the last few centuries, don't.
Having said that, I have based what I have said on a straightforward reading of the Koran. What we understand is explicit in the wording of the Koran, which matches actions and deeds of Prophet Muhammad, who was under constant guidance of Allah. An overwhelming majority of the Muslims agree to the same. Nowhere in the Koran does it say that it requires tongue-twisting interpretations of its verses, but instead the Koran claims many times that its message is clear and easy to understand.
I agreed to an interpretation that you gave to one of the Koranic verses that concerns apostasy. You gave some vague explanation. I accepted your interpretation and when I applied the same on you as father and asked for your views on it, you simply avoided without addressing the issue. You avoided it because you appeared to be a barbaric father in your own interpretation of the verse in question. You should have been honest in accepting your wisdom. Instead you showed dishonesty. And again you are lecturing so much about interpretation. Yes, there are four schools of thoughts accepted in Sunni Islam (and four in Shia Islam). None them says that Koran allows Muslims to renounce Islam freely.
May I suggest that you are missing something of the utmost relevance here, something that the fundamentalists and indeed many other interpreters likewise are missing? That is the fact that we do not come to any interpretation as perfectly dispassionate readers operating with some kind of purely independent logical mechanism. We come from where we come from, from our pre-existing perspectives, our sum of life's experiences. We can call these "prejudices," as long as we understand that such pre-judgments are not a "bad" thing but rather belong to being human. That's where all of us begin our study of anything. If we are open to a discussion, a work of art, or a text, we may be able to change our pre-judgments in light of what we see and hear. That's what we call "learning." Our ability to learn in any given situation is not simply a matter of logical ability or IQ or education-whether too much or too little. It is a matter of our openness to having our pre-judgments corrected, to testing ourselves, to overcoming our indignation at what we read or have read, see or have seen, suffer or have suffered.
I disagree with you. Instead, the fact remains that those who stand the test of purely independent logical mechanism are going to survive as ultimate truth. History is the proof. The religious sphere has always avoided such scrutiny by using the tools of violence, intimidation, punishment, etc. When Copernicus, Bruno and Galileo stood up for independent logical scientific means of investigation vis--vis planetary movement, the religious establishments punished them with the tools of barbarity and cruelty. They burned Bruno alive and Galileo, the father modern science, was terribly humiliated and he withdrew his findings to escape sure death. Yet, others, such as Newton, also had the courage to follow the purely independent logical mechanism, and they stood victorious in the end. Human beings can be such a foolish lot! Centuries have passed, but most people still have not learned from such experiences.
About your lecturing on how to learn and on having our pre-judgments corrected, and jargons like that, I wish Copernicus, Bruno and Galileo and Newton et al. had it "corrected" for them, and we could continue living in the age of darkness even today!
"I'm not clear about what makes you so sure of your own interpretive authority. You do not seem to recognize the four schools of Islam that most moderate Muslims respect."
In regards to the 4 schools, see above regarding the apostasy rulings; also see rulings on jihad. Regarding moderate Muslims, I suggest you look at polls that give some indication of what these moderate Muslims actually believe. In Britain, approximately 40% of Muslims state that they want Islamic law (sharia) imposed there. Overall, 58% of British Muslims wanted the Danish cartoonists to be criminally prosecuted and punished. Such percentages are likely to be much higher in predominantly Muslim countries. It is likely, based on reports that we have read, that most Afghans would like to see Mr. Rahman executed.
Regarding interpretation, we do follow the mainstream interpretations of the Islamists, but we also follow what is most obvious in the Koran. You are arguing for a very loose type of interpretation, as in one's reading of poetry, etc. That's fine if we are talking about books intended to be, and taken primarily as, poetry or mythology. But the Koran is not exactly that type of book; the Koran contains self-referential (i.e., the text refers to itself) statements, calling itself an admonition (76:29), a guide for the righteous in which there can be no doubt (2:2), aggressively stating that those who do not follow it are "wrong-doers" (5:45). Clearly, according to the Koran, those who do not believe in its basic premises are going to hell. The Koran calls for physical punishments for those who do not follow it's rulings, and these punishments range from wife-beating (4:34) to amputations and death (5:38; 5:33; 9:14; 33:57-62; etc.). The Koran is chiefly a book of social, political, economic, and militaristic policy; it is essentially a very badly-written book of law with some bits of poetry thrown in in some places. Certainly, one of the main problems with the Koran is that, although its principles are often clear, it is too imprecise on its own to be a workable text of policy. Those to whom it was revealed, at the time, in context-a revelation often came to Mohammad in direct relevance to the situation or problem at hand--understood it precisely or had it explained to them by the prophet. Subsequently, after the death of the prophet, followers did not have access to the exact circumstances and the prophet's explanations. After the prophet died, the early caliphs relied on their interpretation (which was shaped heavily by their experiences with Mohammad), and those subsequent to them had the Sira and hadith available to them to aid their understanding of the Koran, in addition to existing practices that had been established.
Regarding interpretation, let's deal with an example:
98:6-7. "Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings. (And) lo! those who believe and do good works are the best of created beings."
Also note: Disbelievers who do good works do so in vain, because they are going to hell anyway (5:5, 18:104-106, also 18:30, 33:19, 47:1, 47:32).
And note: The Koran is clear in hundreds of verses throughout it, that disbelievers are going to hell. There are no verses stating that disbelievers will escape this fate. It does not matter whether they do good works.
Now, let's go to interpretation. What does 98:6-7 say? Does it say disbelievers are good? No. Does it say disbelievers are neutral, or neither particularly good or bad? No. Does it say disbelievers are the bad ones? Most emphatically! The worst kind! And this verse is supported by dozens of other verses insulting the disbelievers in the worst possible ways. Why? Note that the Koran is also clear that even those disbelievers who do good works will not be spared from Allah punishments. Those who deny Mohammad's revelations are evil (7:177). It is disbelief, disobedience to Allah (i.e., Mohammad, Koran), that makes them the worst of created beings. Disbelief is a major crime in the same category as murder of a Muslim. Indeed, the Koran states that disbelief is the worst crime (10:17, 11:18-19, 18:15, 18:57, 29:68, 32:22, 39:32, 61:7) and is worse than killing (2:217, 2:191). Is there some hidden meaning to "worst crime" that we are missing? Are there any verses that say that disbelievers are not the worst, not guilty of the worst crime, not going to hell? No. Then where is the difference in interpretation? What in the text licences a reader to ignore this material? (They may ignore it, as many moderates may, in fact, ignore it, but what in the text licences an interpretation that says disbelievers and disbelief are good or neutral?)
The Koran's rulings on disbelievers, with regard to Allah's (Mohammad's, Koran's, Muslim authorities') view of them and their punishment, and reasons for the punishment, are informed on such basic premises. It is necessary to understand these basic premises, the foundational issues, where the Koran is clear, in order to draw inferences and interpretations of more complex and less literal parts of the Koran. Koranic scholars do this. So does any reader attempting to understand the moral perspective and intentions of the Koran.
"Almost a millennium and a half of interpretation has yielded continuous disputation, but all that is over because now you understand it perfectly. Is it then your ability to read the text literally combined with simple logical prowess that gives you the interpretive edge?"
1. You seem to imply that there has been nothing but disputation, and that no interpretation has ever held sway. We are interested in attitudes and policies insofar as these are reflected in actual behaviours and beliefs in the minds of adherents. We are especially concerned about the interpretations of those Muslims in positions of power-clerics, jurists, leaders of Muslim organizations, teachers, political leaders, etc. Those in positions of power are predominantly Islamists, not moderate or socially-progressive Muslims. The four major schools of Sunni Islam all call for the killing of apostates and for Muslims to wage physical jihad against non-Muslims who (a) refuse to become Muslims, or (b) are not protected by temporary truce, or (c) unwilling to accept dhimmitude status under the rules of the Islamic state. This assumes Muslims have the physical force needed to wage physical jihad. If they cannot wage a full physical jihad, they may use other methods of striving in Allah's Cause (e.g., political, social, economic, jihads; public-relations and dawa, taqiyah, etc.; or else assassinations, terrorist attacks, etc, following Mohammad's example).
2. If your interpretation is more consistent with the Koran than is ours, please, by all means, attempt to demonstrate this by citing the text itself to support your case. We base our conclusions on a thorough reading of the Koran and supportive texts, as well as on expert "tafsir" (literally, unveiling; commentary, explanation) such as that of Ibn Kathir, al-Jalalayn, etc., as well as on what the Islamists themselves (e.g., the highly respected Qaradawi) say today. We find that the Koran is predominantly a book of hate, a book designed to promote hatred against the infidel. This hate prepares the young mind for opposition and conflict of various kinds against the infidel. The messages of hate are conveyed by clerics every Friday, throughout the world.
"May I suggest that you are missing something of the utmost relevance here, something that the fundamentalists and indeed many other interpreters likewise are missing. That is the fact that we do not come to any interpretation as perfectly dispassionate readers operating with some kind of purely independent logical mechanism. We come from where we come from, from our pre-existing perspectives, our sum of life's experiences. We can call these "prejudices," as long as we understand that such pre-judgments are not a "bad" thing but rather belong to being human. That's where all of us begin our study of anything. If we are open to a discussion, a work of art, or a text, we may be able to change our pre-judgments in light of what we see and hear. That's what we call "learning.""
What about the above-cited passage (98:6-7)? The most well-supported interpretation is that disbelievers and disbelief are bad, the worst. Does the fact that all readers come to a text with some biases mean, at least in this case of the Koran, that such biases would necessarily be reduced? Or could the biases simply be reinforced by legitimate support? The human mind can become aware of and test its own biases against facts and, as you say, "learning" can occur. Our point is that such learning occurs when one reads the full Koran. You have not yet been able to show that our interpretation is somehow unfair (though you insist that it is), and you have not been able to show that all interpretations are equally well-supported by the text of the Koran itself.
"However, any religion including Islam also has a history, which includes a history of textual interpretation. It has been said that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it, and I would suggest that some knowledge of the history of interpretations might be relevant to your own interpretation."
We don't ignore the history of Islam, nor the history of interpretation. The real Islam has been largely independent of historical changes since the time of Muhammad and has been the cause of troubles for 14 centuries. Real Islam is unchangeable, the eternal words of Allah. History, after Mohammad had completed his revelation, has not changed canonical Islam.
Our civilization will indeed repeat all of the mistakes of the past, in our dealings with Islam, if we do not take the time to learn what the texts say and what has happened in Islamic history. The Koran speaks for itself. It is a book of hatred, imperialism, and intolerance. The history of Islam speaks for itself. It is predominantly a history of imperialism, intolerance, violence, misogyny, slavery and rape etc - the tone of which was set by Prophet Muhammad himself.
"You can't just ignore or deny the authority of every commentary on the Qur'an and Hadith except your own and thereby claim to have "disproved" the religion. If you wish, I can suggest some commentaries with which you can start. Even Seyyed Qutb, for example, published a multi-volume exegesis of the Qur'an. There's hard work to be done. Real scholarship is required."
We've done more scholarship than you realize. It may be worth your while to read what Qutb actually said about the "no compulsion" statement. A good thesis on Qutb can be found here Typically, Islamic scholars must put themselves into contortions to explain 2:256 in light of the fact that verses 9:5 and 9:29 assert that disbelievers must become Muslim or else (a) be killed, or (b) accept subjugation (dhimmitude) or enslavement. Qutb argued that there was no compulsion in religion for dhimmis because dhimmitude simply imposed harsh external conditions; it did not overtly compel dhimmis to truly become Muslims (internally, privately). This is a weak argument, of course, because a dhimmi could instantly alleviate his or her burden by declaring himself or herself a Muslim and taking up Islamic worship. Some conversions may be true, partial, or false, but, insofar as Islamic law has been imposed on dhimmis, all such "conversions" occur under coercive conditions. Simply because scholars have had a lot to say about these issues does not mean that their views are necessarily (a) coherent and (b) morally correct. It should also be kept in mind that respectable scholarship also views verse 2:256 to have been abrogated by 9:5, 9:73, etc. These scholars' views are discussed here.
Mawdudi also argued that there was no compulsion in religion under dhimmitude since the children of dhimmis would be raised as Muslims under the Muslim state from birth and therefore, being already Muslims by definition, would not be compelled to become Muslims. Do you see how twisted this thinking must be? It simply never occurs to Qutb, Mawdudi, or others-or at least they do not acknowledge-that the punishing conditions of dhimmitude could compel one to adopt the Islamic beliefs. In any case, one must read statements such as "no compulsion" with a healthy skepticism. One can not lose sight of the fact that the Koran orders worldly punishment and threatens eternal punishment to non-Muslims, whereas Muslims will be admitted to Paradise. Anyways, we put no more stock in the "no compulsion" statement than the statements about Allah being "merciful and forgiving". The claim that there is no compulsion in religion (Islam) is no more credible than the hyperbole of an advertisement--one must read the fine print, which in this case is the entire remainder of the Koran, starting with verse 2:257.
"The fact is that your interpretation, far from being the "only" one, is extremely restrictive. Why, you are even more restrictive than Qutb, who didn't claim that the statement "no coercion in religion" is abrogated but who instead pointed to its central importance and interpreted it in his own (very peculiar) way. You're more radical than the fundamentalists!"
This claim is absurd; typical "blame the messenger" type of rhetoric. We simply trace the fundamentalists' actions and words back to their origins, i.e., Koran, hadith, Sira, fiqh, Islamic history. They quote the scriptures readily. Why should we ignore what they say about their beliefs and intentions? We find that there is a close match between what they say and what the Koran says. If everyone simply regarded the Koran as a bunch of arcane tales and "poetry" as you call it, we could all forget about it and spend our time on more pressing matters. We are chiefly concerned about human rights, including safety, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, equality, etc., and these are all violated significantly and disturbingly by Islamists who follow the Koran.
"Your cited passages from the Qur'an, after all, do not say that this statement is abrogated. That is your interpretation!"
No, that's what all Sunni and Shia schools assume; they apply the principle of abrogation. As has already been pointed out to you, the principle of abrogation is itself stated in the Koran (2:106, 16:101). Abrogation is rejected by a small percentage of reformers who have little to no influence. Indeed, one scholar was killed in the 1980s for daring to propose that the principle of abrogation be discarded.
"It may be an excellent and deeply insightful interpretation, but please, at least grant me that it is an interpretation! You assume that all the "nice" stuff is abrogated and all the "bloody" stuff remains. Moderate Muslims of my acquaintance seem to think that the earlier passages set forth the basic nature of the religion and later passages are oriented toward practical matters, and some even go so far as to suggest that the "bloody" parts were directed toward specific foes in context of defensive war."
Raiding caravans was "defensive war"? Look, those who were massacred by the early Muslims didn't get a chance to put their version of events into the history books. All we have is the Muslim version, and that clearly shows that what Mohammad called "defensive" included such things as raiding caravans, killing critics (who had "hurt Allah and his Apostle" with mere words), and killing those who apostatized (who had, by rejecting Islam, "waged war" against the prophet). And the military expeditions in Sura 9 were in no way defensive. These were to be imperialistic expeditions to conquer non-Muslim peoples to establish Islamic religion, law, and to extract zakat and jizya.
"Note that you yourself make extra-textual reference here to the history of Islam. You're breaking your own rules!"
Not quite. The Koran requires that Muslims follow Mohammad's example (33:21) and this requires knowing his actions and deeds. To learn about those, a strong case can be made that one must read the hadith and Sira, because the Koran does not contain such information. Therefore the Koran itself requires extra-textual reference. Indeed, the hadiths are needed for interpreting the Koran. However, if one takes the Koran-only approach, this does not remove the problems. Verse 4:89 still calls for killing apostates, Verse 33:60-62 call for the killing of hypocrites, fornicators/adulterers, and those who 'spread false news'; and verse 4:34 still orders husbands to beat their wives to quell disobedience. With or without extra-textual references, the Koran remains a highly immoral text. According to this respected Islamic studies site:
"In Islam, the Arabic word sunnah has come to denote the way Prophet Muhammad (saas), the Messenger of Allah, lived his life. The Sunnah is the second source of Islamic jurisprudence, the first being the Qur'an. Both sources are indispensable; one cannot practice Islam without consulting both of them. The Arabic word hadith (pl. ahadith) is very similar to Sunnah, but not identical. A hadith is a narration about the life of the Prophet (saas) or what he approved - as opposed to his life itself, which is the Sunnah as already mentioned." (Source:
"My claim was that on the face of it the Quranic verses appear to be far less dogmatic (more "poetic") than the Hadith about whose provenance I asked."
What's less dogmatic about it? Sometimes the Koran is more dogmatic, sometimes the hadith are more dogmatic. But both the Koran and hadith say kill apostates. And look at this verse regarding holy warfare: 8:35 "And their worship at the (holy) House is naught but whistling and hand-clapping. Therefore (it is said unto them): Taste of the doom because ye disbelieve." Isn't that a highly dogmatic statement?
"Perhaps we should try for a sympathetic interpretation-for according to my thesis, some degree of sympathy is required for interpretation. Maybe then we will see all those horrid citations in a new light, and maybe we will learn to let go of our righteous anger and find peace."
You spoke earlier about coming to a text with one's prejudices. And here you are asking us to be sympathetic to Islam before investigating it. What a contradiction. You want us to approach Islam with a corrupted mind. There are thousands of sites on the internet doing such things. Such things have been done for 14 centuries. Against them, there are only a few of us subjecting Islam to the razor-sharp tools of logic and reason. We are doing this on the Internet because, otherwise, the Islamic thugs would definitely kills us.
Our verdict is that Islam is barbaric cult. It has caused incalculable harm and suffering to mankind, and it continues to cause such harm and suffering today. Islam has turned its 1.4 billion followers into a unproductive herd. We are only trying to expose the barbarity and nonsense of Islam through razor-sharp logical analysis, so that Muslims would leave this cruel and barbaric cult that has been sold as a religion of peace for 14 centuries - despite of the immense barbarity that has been the part of its entire history. An accurate and logical analysis will only put things right. That is what we're after; an accurate, fair reading. We criticize the Islamists insofar as they believe and follow the Koran, and we criticize the apologists because they try to hide and misrepresent the contents of the Koran to the unsuspecting public.
Why should we be sympathetic to such a book? A good book does not require a reading with a preconceived sympathy. We are just reading the Koran from the impartial point of views. Here are some examples from the Koran (the hadith are more graphic and provide concrete examples of the Koranic principles).
    Slavery. The Koran tacitly approves of the institution of slavery; no verses forbid slavery; although there are occasions when Muslim slaves are to be set free, no verses call for the abolition of the institution; several verses assume its acceptability as an institution (2:221, 4:3, 4:36, 23:6, 24:58, 30:28, 33:50-52, 33:55, 70:30).
    Women and girls. The Koran orders men to beat their wives from whom they merely "fear" disobedience (4:34). The Koran assumes, in its divorce rulings, the acceptability of the marriage to pre-pubescent females (65:4). There are several other verses which treat women badly or as inferior (2:228, 2:223, 4:3, 4:11, 4:14, 4:15, 4:19, 4:20, 4:24, *4:34, 4:176, 24:31, 63:9, 64:14-15, 70:29-30).
    Non-Muslims, hypocrites, and apostates. Disbelief is the worst crime and disbelievers are the worst beings, etc. (see above); hypocrites may be executed (33:60-62), apostates may be executed (4:89-91), and neither disbelievers generally, nor apostates and hypocrites in particular, have any protection (except for dhimmitude, but this is not available for apostates and hypocrites). Muslims must adopt a general policy of opposition to the non-Muslims, except in regards to inviting them to Islam (see, scroll down to What Muslims Should Know About Disbelievers [non-Muslims] and How they Should Regard/ Act Toward Them.).
    Imperialism and Ethnic Cleansing. Muslims must fight and subjugate the Jews, Christians, members of other religions, and disbelievers generally (9:5, 9:29-33, 9:123). Muslims must conquer the whole world by force if necessary (9:33, 48:28, 61:9; also see Mohammad's mission is to all mankind, 7:157-158 and must fight the disbelievers until there is no more disbelief, polytheism, and until there are no more wrong-doers (8:39, 2:193), and note that wrong-doers are those who don't follow the Koran (5:45). The Koran says that anyone who does not want Mohammad to succeed in this mission should go hang themselves (i.e., commit suicide, 22:15)

    The Koran contains numerous scientific and historical inaccuracies and absurdities, and contains contradictions .

    Why should we be sympathetic to the immorality, intolerance, and absurdity of the Koran? One should do humanity a great service by exposing the filthy truth by doing an honest and impartial investigation. We have set out to do just that.
 Let us conclude with this rather irrelevant section:
But human wisdom has "improved by thousands of folds" in the last 1400 years? Really? We are wiser now than, say, Socrates? Our capacity to reason is better than, say, Ibn Rushd's? Is reason then the same thing as modern natural science? Or do you mean that the scientific methodology has somehow improved the natural human capacity for reason, as it has improved technology? How has it done that? What is your evidence? World peace, perhaps? You go way beyond textual disputation with this amazing claim, despite your own injunction, and you also go way beyond my ability to grasp how you can possibly be serious about this. I am willing to enter into this debate over the nature of human wisdom.
I wished you hadn't taken it so quantitatively. I only wished to mean that human wisdom, logic, knowledge, and capacity to reason have improved much more than in the background in which Koran was created. Such things are impossible to measure quantitatively. What might appear to be a million-fold increase to me may just appear a few-fold increase to you. Since, treading into this arena is not our aim; we are not going into that debate. Yet before finishing we can mathematically prove that human capacity to reason has improved by infinite folds as compared to the background in which Koran was allegedly revealed. I am giving the example of same verses on apostasy:
Q4.88: Why should ye be divided into two parties about the Hypocrites? Allah hath upset them for their (evil) deeds. Would ye guide those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way? For those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way, never shalt thou find the Way.
Q4.89: They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks;-
In 1st verse Allah says: He Himself has kicked out some people out of the way. In second verse, he urges his followers to seize and kill them, not to associate with them etc, if they fail to come to the right path.. He is even not denying help to guide them back to right path [last sentence 4:88]. What kind of cruel game-playing is this by Allah - the master of perfect wisdom and reason? Do you agree to lead some of your children to wrong path intentionally and then ask your other children other to kill them if they fail to come back to the right path. Yet, such idiotic rubbish Muhammad could sell as God's revelation to his people. On a scale between 0 and 1:
 The score for logic and reason in this single verse is '0'.
 Today's reason and logic in such a case is 1.
The fold increase in human capacity to reason logically today is infinite (1 / 0 = ∞). Given that in no other aspect human ability to reason logically has reduced since then, but only has increased, the total fold increase (∞ + X1 + X2 + --- + Xn) = ∞.
This is just an indisputable scientific derivation. But I am not going to debate it further unless you can prove me wrong scientifically. Bertrand Russell wrote somewhere (I couldn't locate it now) that human knowledge has increased greater than a 100 folds during the first 50 years of the 20th century. Many religious zealots have called him an idiot, yet he did not only win  the Nobel Prize, but his writings have also changed modern human thought and society like no others'. You may have you own verdict on him.
The last words:
It appears that Prof. Lammi is not quite interested in the pure and unadulterated Islam based on the Koran and Sunnah. His interest appears in interpretation, moderate and Sufi Islam.  The latter topics are not our interest at all. There are many sites, paper and publications probably doing that. Our interest is true Islam which causing all the troubles.
About interpretations, we are willing to accede to interpretations on the basis of the four schools of Sunni (and Shia) Islamic jurisprudence. The first thing we demand here is this: Prof. Lammi must produce texts from at least 2 of those accepted schools of Islamic jurisprudence that say essentially that "Islam allows Muslims to convert freely to another religion and it is not a crime at all," with proper reference from the Koran. Otherwise, we will conclude this discourse as it is only wasting a good bit of our time.