On August 23, 2021, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a new edition of “A Journalist’s Guide to Reporting on Islam and Muslims.”
This guide was designed to give journalists and other media professionals the tools they need to gain a better understanding of Islam and write more informed, accurate, and balanced stories about Muslims… It offers “background information about Islam and Muslims, best practices for reporting on the Islamic faith and a list of accurate and appropriate terminology to employ when covering issues relating to Muslims.”
Unfortunately, for journalists who have an interest in truly understanding Islam, CAIR’s “guide” will only lead them astray. Here are some examples from the Journalist’s Guide that act to misguide instead of to guide.
Jihad does not mean holy war
On p. 6 of the Journalist’s Guide, we find this claim: “Jihad” does not mean “holy war.” Irony abounds with this claim, and here is why.
For many years, CAIR has been distributing a Koran translation, The Message of the Qur’an, that CAIR claims enhance “the understanding of Islam in America.” As of 2016 CAIR had distributed over 130,000 copies of this Koran. Here are some interesting footnotes found in that Koran.
…the earliest (and therefore fundamental) Qur’anic reference to the question of jihad, or holy war… (The Message of the Qur’an, n. 167, p. 51.)
…he was taken prisoner in jihad – that is, a holy war… (The Message of the Qur’an, n. 72, p. 284.)
…a woman is taken captive in a “holy war” (jihad)… (The Message of the Qur’an, n. 58, p. 727.)
So in spite of what CAIR’s Journalist’s Guide claims, for many years CAIR has been equating jihad with “holy war” in the Koran translation it has been distributing.
How many Muslim Americans?
On p. 5 of the Journalist’s Guide, we find this claim:
Although there are no official numbers, various studies estimate that there are six to seven million American Muslims.
The claim that there are 6-7 million Muslims in the United States has been around for many years, and it has been inaccurate since it first appeared in 2001.
The Pew Research Center estimated in a 2018 report that there were 3.45 million Muslims living in the United States in 2017, and the number of Muslims had been growing at a rate of “roughly 100,000 per year.” This growth rate would indicate that as of 2020, the Muslim population in the United States was only at about 3.75 million.
So where did the claim of 6-7 million Muslim-Americans originate? This question was answered in a 2007 Pew Research Center study:
An ambitious 2001 survey led by researchers from Hartford Institute for Religious Research provided a basis for the frequently cited estimate of 6-7 million Muslim adults and children. The study, sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations [my emphasis], attempted to identify every mosque in the U.S. Leaders from a representative sample of mosques were then questioned about a host of issues, including the number of worshippers associated with each one. This study concluded that 2 million Muslims in the U.S. are involved with a mosque, at least tangentially. Based on this number, the authors surmise that “estimates of a total Muslim population of 6-7 million in America seem reasonable.” Some critics speculated that mosque representatives may have inflated or otherwise misreported the number of people associated with the mosque, a tendency researchers have found among religious leaders in other faiths.
According to the Pew Research Center, even by 2020 the number of Muslims in the United States would still be less than 4 million. But CAIR apparently decided to use a questionable 2001 study it sponsored as the basis for its claim of 6-7 million Muslims.
The Spread of Islam
On p. 4 of the Journalist’s Guide, CAIR wrote:
The spread of Islam did not occur overnight, but it moved slowly and steadily through the Arabian Peninsula. Within a hundred years after the Prophet’s* [sic] passing in 633 A.D., Islam reached as far west as Africa and Western Europe, and as far east as Southeast Asia, spawning empires, civilizations and a culture that continues to intrigue many today.
There are two items of interest with this statement by CAIR. In the first place, it is widely accepted that Muhammad died on June 8, 632. One can only wonder why CAIR decided their messenger of Allah died in 633.
In the second place, this statement makes the first hundred years of the spread of Islam sound quite benign. But here is how the 14th Century Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir explained the reality of that time period:
[Muhammad was] succeeded by Abu Bakr, through whom Allah secured Islam well. Abu Bakr prepared his Muslim army to fight the Romans, the worshippers of the crosses, and the Persians, the worshippers of Fires. He subdued Kisra (Khosrau) and Qaisar (Caisar) and their followers against their will and spent their wealth in Allah’s Way.
Omar Ibn Al-Khattab…succeeded Abu Bakr, and subdued the disbelievers and pagans. He seized their kingdoms in the east and the west; safes full of wealth were brought to him, from every district, near or far…[His successor was “Othmane Ibn ‘Affane”]…Islam was spread widely, and the Word of Allah was made supreme, and every time the Muslims defeated a nation, they would move on to conquer another…An ideal believer is normally kind towards his fellow believer, but harsh towards his infidel enemy…
On p. 6 of the Journalist’s Guide, CAIR presented five “myths” about the Koran. Let’s look at some of those “myths” which are actually statements of fact.
Myth 1: The Quran promotes violence and mandates death for apostasy
There is a common misconception that the Quran teaches violence. Critics of Islam will often take verses out of context or quote selectively to fuel this false idea.
In reality, there are many verses in the Koran that promote violence toward non-Muslims. Let’s consider what authoritative Muslim scholars have written about two of them.
In the year 629, a verse was “revealed” that commanded Muslims to fight non-Muslims until they accepted Islam. Whether they were hostile toward the Muslims or not was irrelevant; the mere fact that they were non-Muslims was enough to allow the Muslims to initiate the fighting:
Chapter 2, Verse 193
And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of ) worship is for Allah (Alone)…
The authoritative 13th Century Muslim scholar al-Qurtubi explained this verse:
It is an unqualified command to fight without any precondition of hostilities being initiated by the unbelievers. The evidence for that is in the words of Allah, “and the din [religion] belongs to Allah alone.” The Prophet said, “I was commanded to fight people until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’ The ayat and hadith both indicate that the reason for fighting is disbelief…If they cease, there should be no enmity towards any but wrongdoers. If they stop and become Muslim or submit by paying jizya in the case of the people of the Book. Otherwise, they should be fought and they are wrongdoers….The wrongdoers are either those who initiate fighting or those who remain entrenched in disbelief and fitna.
Any change in the understanding of this verse over the centuries? No. The modern Tafseer as-Saadi explained this verse:
Then Allah tells us the purpose behind fighting for His Cause…the aim is so that (all worship becomes devoted to Allah alone), in order that the religion of Allah may prevail over all other religions…
And then we have what the 14th Century Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir referred to as the “Verse of the Sword”. This Koran verse was “revealed” in 631:
Chapter 9, Verse 5
Then when the Sacred Months have passed, then kill the Mushrikun wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every ambush…
The modern Muslim scholar Yasir Qadhi made a sobering comment about this verse:
This was one of the last verses to be revealed, and perhaps the last verse that dealt with the treatment of the disbelievers.
So how were the disbelievers to be treated? Ibn Kathir pointed out that with this verse, the non-Muslims would “have no choice, but to die or embrace Islam.” Ibn Kathir also noted that the command kills the Mushrikun wherever you find them was a “general statement” and meant Muslims could slay them “anywhere on earth you meet them.
So here are just two of the violent verses in the Koran commanding Muslims to fight non-Muslims until Islam is the only religion.
Death for Apostasy
Islam advocates both freedoms of religion and freedom of conscience…
Actually, the Koran mandates death for Muslims who want to leave Islam and thereby become apostates. This is found in Koran 4:89, which states that apostates from Islam should be killed:
…But if they turn back (from Islam), take (hold of) them and kill them wherever you find them…
In explaining this Koran verse, the 11th Century Muslim scholar al-Wahidi wrote:
Mujahid said apropos this verse: “This was revealed about some people who left Mecca to Medina [claiming to be Muslims]…they then renounced Islam…Allah, exalted is He, then revealed their hypocrisy by means of this verse and commanded that they be executed…”
So in spite of CAIR’s claim, the Koran does mandate death for apostasy.
It is interesting to note that CAIR referred to Koran 2:256 to support its claim that there was “no compulsion in religion.” In my book Islam’s Militant Prophet: Muhammad and Forced Conversions to Islam I showed that Koran 2:256 was a valid doctrine only from August 625 to December 627, at best.
Myth 2: The Quran promotes inequality between men and women
More than 1,400 years ago, Islam…gave women full control over their earnings and wealth…Other rights granted to women by Islam include the right of inheritance…The Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadijah was a prosperous businesswoman. The first martyr in Islam was a woman…
Let’s look at these claims in order:
Women have full control over their earnings and wealth: Not really, because according to Muhammad, the new bride, upon marrying, loses control of her personal finances:
It was narrated from ‘Amr bin Shu’aib, from his father, from his grandfather, that the Messenger of Allah said: “It is not permissible for a woman to give a gift from her wealth, once her husband has marital authority over her.”
Women were granted the right of inheritance: Originally, according to Koran 2:240, when a husband died he was supposed to leave one year’s worth of maintenance for his wives:
And those of you who die and leave behind wives should bequeath for their wives a year’s maintenance and residence without turning them out…
However, this requirement of one year’s worth of maintenance was later abrogated by 4:12 of the Koran; here is that Koran verse:
In that which your wives leave, your share is a half if they have no child…In that which you leave, their (your wives) share is a fourth if you leave no child…
The husband now receives “half,” and the earlier requirement of one year’s worth of maintenance for the wives was replaced by a fixed, lesser share of a “fourth,” to be divided among all the wives.
And Koran 4:11 also applied the idea of women receiving a lesser share to the inheritance of children:
Allah commands you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females…
Khadija was a prosperous businesswoman: Khadija was a prosperous businesswoman and a much sought-after widow in Medina long before she even knew Muhammad and many years before Islam began with Muhammad’s first “revelation .” This statement by CAIR has nothing to do with Islam.
The first martyr in Islam was a woman: This claim is true, but it was only because of the timing. Here is the story about this:
Said Ibn ‘Abbas: “This verse [Koran 16:106] was revealed about ‘Ammar ibn Yasir. The idolaters had taken him away along with his father Yasir, his mother Sumayyah…and tortured them. As for Sumayyah, she was tied up between two camels and stabbed with a spear in her female organ. She was told: ‘You embraced Islam for the men’, and was then killed. Her husband Yasir was also killed. They were the first two persons who were killed in Islam…
We can see that the “idolators” apparently planned on killing both Sumayyah and Yasir; Sumayyah just happened to be the one killed first. So CAIR’s claim is true, but of no relevance to how women are treated under Islam.
And in terms of whether or not the Koran promotes inequality between men and women, we can’t overlook Koran 2:282. In this verse the Koran states that when witnesses are needed concerning property matters, it is preferable to find two men; but if you cannot find two men, then find one man and two women:
…And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (two women) errs, the other can remind her…
So, Allah states that two women are needed so they can help each other remember. And Muhammad noted the significance of this verse when he said this to a group of Muslim women:
“…I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Messenger! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the witness (evidence) of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence.”
This idea was echoed in a 2009 ruling by Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid:
With regard to the witness of two women being equal to the testimony of one man. Allaah has mentioned the wisdom behind specifying the number of two as being that a woman may forget or get confused, so the other woman can remind her…Allaah has commanded the testimony of two women so as to be sure that they remember because the mind and memory of two women takes the place of the mind and memory of one man…This does not mean that a woman does not understand or that she cannot remember things, but she is weaker than man in these aspects – usually. Scientific and specialized studies have shown that men’s minds are more perfect than those of women, and reality and experience bear witness to that…Nevertheless, there are some women who are far superior to men in their reason and insight, but they are few, and the ruling is based on the majority and the usual cases
The Koran, and by default Islam, promote inequality between men and women.
Myth 4: Islam stifles freedom of expression.
CAIR wrote that:
Islam supports an individual’s right to hold and express a wide range of personal religious, political, and social opinions in public life…according to Islam, the right to form and express opinions represents an essential manifestation of God’s gifts to humanity.
However, when it comes to Muhammad, there is no freedom of expression in Islam. Muhammad did not like to be criticized or reviled. He personally ordered the killing of a number of non-Muslims simply because they had criticized or mocked him.
In September 624, Muhammad ordered the killing of Ka’b b. al-Ashraf, a Jewish poet in Medina who had criticized Muhammad. After Ka’b was killed, Muhammad stated that a similar fate would befall anyone else who insulted him:
[After Ka’b was killed] The Jews and the polytheists among them were alarmed. They came to the Prophet when it was morning and said, “Our companion, who was one of our lords, was knocked up at night and murdered treacherously with no crime or incident by him that we know of.” The Messenger of God replied, “If he had remained as others of similar opinion remained he would not have been killed treacherously. But he hurt us and insulted us with poetry, and one does not do this among you, but he shall be put to the sword.” [My emphasis]
Muhammad also killed poets in Mecca because of what they had written about him. This was mentioned in a letter written after the Muslim conquest of Mecca. It was sent to the poet Ka’b bin Zuhair, who used to satirize Muhammad, from Ka’b’s brother:
Allah’s Messenger killed some men in Makkah who used to satirize and harm him, and the poets who survived fled in all directions for their lives. So, if you want to save your skin, hasten to Allah’s Messenger. He never kills those who come to him repenting. If you refuse to do as I say, it is up to you to try to save your skin by any means
After further correspondence between the brothers, Ka’b traveled to Medina, converted to Islam, and was forgiven by Muhammad.
Muhammad even said there was no punishment for the killing of anyone who reviled and/or criticized him:
It was narrated from ‘Ali that a Jewish woman used to revile and disparage the Prophet. A man strangled her until she died, and the Messenger of Allah declared that no recompense was payable for her blood.
These 7th Century teachings of Muhammad were exemplified in 2011. In that year a French weekly satirical newspaper named Charlie Hebdo ran an edition with a cover page showing a cartoon of Muhammad and that the newspaper’s name had been changed to “Charia Hebdo.” The office of the newspaper was firebombed. Nevertheless, in September 2012, the newspaper again published satirical cartoons of Muhammad. Police went on alert in Paris and guarded the newspaper’s office. The French government ordered the closure of French embassies, schools, and cultural centers in 20 Muslim countries on the next Friday, the Muslim day of prayer. The satirical cartoons of Muhammad continued to be published, and on January 7, 2015, two Muslim brothers went into the offices of Charlie Hebdo and shot and killed eleven people, including a police officer. These two gunmen then killed another police officer outside the offices. Two days later, when the two gunmen were cornered in a building by French security forces, one of the brothers had a telephone interview with a reporter from a French television station. The brother told the reporter:
We defend the prophet. If someone offends the prophet then there is no problem, we can kill him.
Words right out of the 7th Century. The brothers were subsequently killed by French security forces.
When it comes to Muhammad, Islam does not allow freedom of expression.
Myth 5: “Allah” in the Quran is not the same God worshiped by Christians and Jews
“Allah” is the Arabic word for God—the same God worshipped in other Abrahamic faiths.
The reality is that Allah in the Koran is not the same God worshipped by Christians and Jews. This is evident by what Allah has to say in the Koran about Christians and Jews:
Allah states that the only religion acceptable to him is Islam (e.g., 3:19 and 3:85); Christians and Jews are disbelievers (e.g. 2:120, 3:99, 3:110, and 5:65), and Jews are among the worst enemies of Muslims (5:82); Allah curses Christians and Jews (9:30) and states that those who believe that Allah had a Son commit the one unforgivable sin in Islam, Shirk (e.g. 4:48 and 4:116); Allah states that those who commit Shirk will go to Hell (e.g. 3:151 and 5:72-73); Allah states that Christians and Jews are among the worst of creatures and “will abide in the fire of Hell” (98:6); Allah specifically forbids Muslims from being friends with Christians and Jews (5:51), and instead commands Muslims to fight Christians and Jews (9:29).
Christianity is considered to be a false religion because Allah states that Jesus was not crucified, but it only appeared so (4:157-158). Allah took Jesus bodily into paradise and made one of Jesus’ disciples look like Jesus; it was that disciple who was crucified. So Muslims who know their religion look at a crucifix or a painting of the Crucifixion and see an imposter hanging on the cross. And of course, if there was no Crucifixion, there was no Resurrection. So Islam teaches that Christianity is a false religion based on fraud.
Allah in the Koran is not the same God worshipped by the Christians and Jews.
There is an unintended irony in CAIR’s claim that jihad does not mean “holy war” because for years CAIR has passed out a Koran translation that in a number of places actually equates jihad with “holy war.”
And in the Journalist’s Guide CAIR has numerous times denied that there are verses in the Koran that promote violence, or mandate death for apostasy, or allow for the unequal treatment of women. However, in this article, we have seen that there are such verses in the Koran.