Did Mohammad spare women and children in battle?

Muslims are very proud of the fact that, although Mohammad was a military leader and took part in many battles, he was always concerned never to harm women or children. There is, however, a worrying hadith for Muslims which suggests that Mohammad was not always so careful.
Bukhaari:V4B52N256 "The Prophet passed by and was asked whether it was permissible to attack infidels at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, ‘Their women and children are from them.'"
Having been quoted the above hadith, "Kevin" asked me to check the authenticity and then find out what Muslim scholars had to say about it. He then suggested that possibly the women and children might have been enlisted to fight and were therefore legitimate targets. This was my reply:
I have checked the authenticity. [1]
I have also checked to see what the scholars[2] make of this hadith. “The only exception to this (the rule that women and children cannot be targeted) is where such people participate directly in the fighting or are so intermixed with the fighters that it is impossible to separate them from those who are fighting. The trouble with this, of course, is that they’re only "intermixed" because the Muslims are attacking at night! And I would give more credence to your suggestion that the women and children might have been enlisted to fight against the Muslims and therefore could have been legitimate targets were it not for the questioner asking if were permissible to “expose them to danger” as a consequence/by-product of attacking at night. The simplest, clearest, most obvious explanation of this hadith, surely, is that Mohammad, as a ruthless warlord, was unconcerned with minimising casualties. 
[1] http://www.answering-christianity.com/karim/no_killing_of_civilians.htm

So the evidence from this apparently utterly reliable hadith (I'm going on what Muslims have to say about the hadith here) is that Mohammad did not always spare innocents in warfare.

"Treason" in Islam

Addendum 2: You say that one might equate Apostasy or irtidad in Islam with treason. In my letter I said I disagreed. Further reading has allowed me to see what you meant.
So, in Islam, the concept of treason is not limited to political and military affairs, it also has a spiritual and cultural dimension to it. In other words one can commit treason by one’s thoughts and beliefs alone. Let me explain, in case you feel I have gone too far here. The religion and the state/constitution are one and the same. (You said in your letter you attribute the problems in Arab countries not to Islam but to a lack of Islam, by which I take it you mean that the countries are not under the pure sharia law of the Qur’an.) So, just as upholding and protecting the constitution of a country is a sign of patriotism, and undermining it is a form of treason - in the same way, open rejection of the fundamental beliefs of Islam by a Muslim is an act of treason.  It is the conflation of state and religion and, by extension, the public and private that concerns me. If, as I suspect, you believe the best and most perfect state to be one in which all legislation is decided by the moral precepts established by Islamic jurisprudence, then anyone who publicly disagrees is not exercising their right to free speech, but rather committing treason, and therefore subject to the punishment decided upon after consulting the Qur’an or ahadith. Is this a fair summary of your beliefs?

Punishment for Apostates in Islam

Having re-read your letter, I think I need to clarify my section on apostasy.
I'd like to add these references to justify my claims (that the Mohammad intended the punishment to be death). ( I have done my best to quote only from the Sahih" ahadith (As I understand it, these are ones that are strong in their chain and extremely likely to be the exact words of the Prophet. ):
Addendum 1: Narrated 'Ikrima: Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to 'Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn 'Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostle forbade it, saying, 'Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).' I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Apostle, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'" 
Hadith: Sahih Bukhari 57
Narrated Abu Burda: Abu Musa said, "I came to the Prophet along with two men (from the tribe) of Ash'ariyin, one on my right and the other on my left, while Allah's Apostle was brushing his teeth (with a Siwak), and both men asked him for some employment. The Prophet said, 'O Abu Musa (O 'Abdullah bin Qais!).' I said, 'By Him Who sent you with the Truth, these two men did not tell me what was in their hearts and I did not feel (realize) that they were seeking employment.' As if I were looking now at his Siwak being drawn to a corner under his lips, and he said, 'We never (or, we do not) appoint for our affairs anyone who seeks to be employed. But O Abu Musa! (or 'Abdullah bin Qais!) Go to Yemen.'" The Prophet then sent Mu'adh bin Jabal after him and when Mu'adh reached him, he spread out a cushion for him and requested him to get down (and sit on the cushion). Behold: There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu'adh asked, "Who is this (man)?" Abu Muisa said, "He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism." Then Abu Muisa requested Mu'adh to sit down but Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, "Then we discussed the night prayers and one of us said, 'I pray and sleep, and I hope that Allah will reward me for my sleep as well as for my prayers.'"  ibid 58

Narrated 'Ali: Whenever I tell you a narration from Allah's Apostle, by Allah, I would rather fall down from the sky than ascribe a false statement to him, but if I tell you something between me and you (not a Hadith) then it was indeed a trick (i.e., I may say things just to cheat my enemy). No doubt I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith) and will go out from (leave) their religion as an arrow goes out of the game. So, where-ever you find them, kill them, for who-ever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection." ibid 64
All from: http://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=84&translator=1 (an interesting Islamic website which allows one to search the ahadith using key words)

How churches are outlawed in the Arabian peninsula

In his previous mail to me, "Kevin" explained that general position in Islam is that, in the Arabian peninsula, only Islamic places of worship are allowed.
And yet Muslims demand and receive the right to build Mosques in the West. I’m not suggesting this is wrong...I’m all for plurality (!) but it does strike me as a little lacking in balance and fairness...
He also explained that Jews and Christians are "allowed" to follow their religion in private but must pay a tax to the Muslim army for "protection"
You are referring here to the Zakat, I believe. But what if the Jews and Christians refuse to pay the Zakat? Is this not, put quite simply, a protection racket? In what way is this different from the Mafia or any other criminal organisation? "The Prophet said: 'I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and they establish prostration prayer, and pay Zakat. If they do it, their blood and property are protected.'" Muslim:C9B1N33
I cannot agree that this is a just way for a society to work. Imagine, for a moment, if the boot were on the other foot, so to speak, and a Christian theocracy in Britain were to outlaw Mosques and demand protection money from all Muslims. Would not the Islamic community quite rightly rise up in outrage? And would not the international community support them, citing Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights?  

War in Islam

I regret to say my friend has refused permission for his mails to be published in this blog. I hope that this will not make it too difficult to follow the arguments that follow. 
I am enclosing a short rebuttal to the first half your last long mail before I forget. My main concerns this time around are mainly political, as you will see. But there are other issues, especially with the ahadith, which I would like you to clarify for me. You kindly directed me to a site ( a "traditional, scholarly site" - I think you referred to it as) in response to a request and I came across this very clear definition of the reliability of Bukhaari (spelling seems to differ):  “Among the ahaadeeth which are attributed to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), there are some which are saheeh (sound), concerning which there is no doubt that they are the words of the Prophet ... Books of saheeh have been compiled which include saheeh ahaadeeth such as Saheeh al-Bukhaari and Saheeh Muslim” Fatwa number 11443 http://www.islam-qa.com/en/ref/11443 .
Is this something which you accept?

Now to my answer...

When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives – Qur’an - Surah 47 verse 4.

Kevin explains that this verse was revealed after several years during which fighting the pagans was prohibited. God is now giving the Muslims permission to fight the unbelievers. He finally asks if I would agree that rules on how to fight war, including on how to kill the enemy, should be included in any code of laws that purports to be complete. Obviously I agree that we need rules to govern warfare. To that end we have the Geneva Conventions and Protocols which, I would suggest, give more useful and detailed instructions on the subject than “beheading”, “slaughtering” and “tying up captives”. To claim that this gruesome exhortation is part of a set of sensible guidelines for the humanitarian waging of war, strikes me as bizarre... to say the least.
In any case, Islam is far from clear in its prohibitions. Does Islam really make it clear that women and children are to be spared in war, as you have previously claimed? This hadith, from  Bukhaari, suggests otherwise:
Bukhaari:V4B52N256 "The Prophet passed by and was asked whether it was permissible to attack infidels at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, ‘Their women and children are from them.'"
(Again, I ask you: If the Prophet is supposed to be a perfect example to us (as Allah claims), and if his sayings and actions are supposed to guide us, how are we supposed to reconcile such clearly conflicting advice?)
 I do, however, agree that there are plenty of surahs dealing with the topic of war.  Can you explain how the following should be used as guidelines?...

Your Lord inspired the angels with the message: 'I am with you. Give firmness to the Believers. I will terrorize the unbelievers. Therefore smite them on their necks and every joint and incapacitate them. Strike off their heads and cut off each of their fingers and toes”. 8:12     “Allah wished to confirm the truth by His words: 'Wipe the infidels out to the last” 8:17    “The punishment for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive after corruption, making mischief in the land  is murder, execution, crucifixion, the cutting off of hands and feet on opposite sides, or they should be imprisoned.” 5:33 
Perhaps we should suggest the lopping off of fingers and toes be added to the Geneva Protocol...not as a proscription... but as a prescription. (Or have I misunderstood the gist of the Almighty’s advice?)
And as for your argument that Islamic rules help us to avoid atrocities or “ drawn out” deaths/punishments, can you explain Mohammad’s vile torturing to death of the apostates and criminals in this hadith (again from the reliable Bukhari)?
Narrated Anas: Some people . . . came to the Prophet and embraced Islam . . . [T]hey turned renegades (reverted from Islam) and killed the shepherd of the camels and took the camels away . . . The Prophet ordered that their hands and legs should be cut off and their eyes should be branded with heated pieces of iron, and that their cut hands and legs should not be cauterized, till they died. (Bukhari, Punishments, no. 6802)
I appreciate that you will no doubt accuse me of systematically picking out verses that show Islam in the worst possible light and of not taking into account the context. You will perhaps say that I have approached Islam from a too critical standpoint and that I should be more open-minded. I would counter that if one is to contemplate adopting a belief system, then one owes it to oneself and to one’s family to find out as much as possible in an objective a manner as possible. I would also counter that there are so many examples of Mohammad’s cruel behaviour in the ahadith that it is difficult, to say the least, to see him as a perfect human. Indeed, as I am sure you are aware (and if you aren’t, you need to be) Hisham, the first editor of Mohammad’s first and most respected biographer, Ishaq, admitted that he edited his work to avoid showing the Prophet in a bad light:
“I have omitted things which are disgraceful to discuss, matters which would distress certain people...”
Given the distressing accounts of Mohammad’s assassinations, slaughtering, ethnic cleansing, pillage etc. etc. that  Ishaq was apparently happy to include, one wonders what horrors were omitted.
I have read a great deal now. I occasionally come across a verse, or detail from the Prophet’s life, that makes me think that here is a belief system that has something positive to give to humanity. But more often than not, I am left confused and concerned that you should have devoted your life to such a religion. Moreover, when I visit Islamic sites in an attempt to gain an insight into why people follow the faith - to genuinely try to understand - I am left flabbergasted at the desperation of the writers to convince people of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an and ahadith.

Oceanic structure in the Qur'an and "Western scholars touting "science" of the Qur'an

You also said you'd be interested to hear my interpretation of "waves upon waves" and once again seem to be claiming some sort of superhuman knowledge of oceonography and internal waves on behalf of the author of the Qur'an. Leaving aside my immediate reaction that "waves upon waves" is so vague as to be balmost meaningless, I thought I'd look to see what the net made of this...20+ pages of Islamic sites vaunting the "miracle" which apparently goes back to one poor western scientist hoodwinked into making one statement. Please read the Wall Street Journal article below. I have shortened it somewhat but, if you're interested, I can let you have the whole thing. I have highlighted the salient section - but I think the rest is pretty damning...

Western Scholars Play Key Role In Touting 'Science' of the Quran
Leigh Simpson, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, is a church-going Presbyterian. But thanks to a few conferences he attended back in the 1980s, he is known in parts of the Muslim world as a champion of the doctrine that the Quran, Islam's holy book, is historically and scientifically correct in every detail.
Dr. Simpson now says he made some comments that sound "silly and embarrassing" taken out of context, but no matter: Mideast television shows, Muslim books and Web sites still quote him as saying the Quran must have been "derived from God," because it foresaw modern discoveries in embryology and genetics.

Publicity Machine
Dr. Simpson is just one of several non-Muslim scientists who have found themselves caught up in the publicity machine of a fast-growing branch of Islamic fundamentalism.
Dubbed "Bucailleism," after the French surgeon Maurice Bucaille, who articulated it in an influential 1976 book, the doctrine is in some ways the Muslim counterpart to Christian creationism. But while creationism rejects much of modern science, Bucailleism embraces it.

In 1984, after being denied a permanent position at King Abdulaziz, Mr. Zindani turned to the Muslim World League, a nonprofit organization primarily funded by the Saudi government. The World League provided financial support to establish the Commission on Scientific Signs. Mr. Ahmed, who moved to Chicago in 1983, was put on its payroll at $3,000 a month, and traveled from coast to coast cultivating U.S. and Canadian scientists.
The commission drew the scientists to its conferences with first- class plane tickets for them and their wives, rooms at the best hotels, $1,000 honoraria, and banquets with Muslim leaders -- such as a palace dinner in Islamabad with Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul- Haq shortly before he was killed in a plane crash. Mr. Ahmed also gave at least one scientist a crystal clock.
Mr. Ahmed, who left the commission in 1996 and now operates an Islamic elementary school in Pennsylvania, says he reassured the scientists that the commission was "completely neutral" and welcomed information contradicting the Quran. The scientists soon learned differently. Each one was given a verse from the Quran to examine in light of his expertise. Then Mr. Zindani would interview him on videotape, pushing him to concede divine inspiration.
Marine scientist William Hay, then at the University of Colorado, was assigned a passage likening the minds of unbelievers to "the darkness in a deep sea ... covered by waves, above which are waves." As the videotape rolled, Mr. Zindani pressed Prof. Hay to admit that Muhammad couldn't have known about internal waves caused by varying densities in ocean depths. When Prof. Hay suggested Muhammad could have learned about the phenomenon from sailors, Mr. Zindani insisted that the prophet never visited a seaport. Prof. Hay, a Methodist, says he then raised other hypotheses that Mr. Zindani also dismissed. Finally, Prof. Hay conceded that the inspiration for the reference to internal waves "must be the divine being," a statement now trumpeted on Islamic Web sites.
"I fell into that trap and then warned other people to watch out for it," says Prof. Hay, now at a German marine institute.

While disdained by most mainstream scholars, Bucailleism has had an important role in attracting converts to Islam and in keeping young, Western-leaning adherents faithful. Widely taught in Islamic secondary schools, the doctrine fosters pride in Muslim heritage, and reconciles conflicts that students may feel between their religious beliefs and secular careers in engineering or computers.

"waves upon waves" - miraculous?

A response to the claim that the "waves upon waves" verse (24:40) is in some way miraculous
One final rebuttal to this mail (in case you take my silence on 24:40 as in some way accepting of its divine inspiration!)
SHAKIR: Or like utter darkness in the deep sea: there covers it a wave above which is another wave, above which is a cloud, (layers of) utter darkness one above another; when he holds out his hand, he is almost unable to see it; and to whomsoever Allah does not give light, he has no light.

Again, I am doubtless less poetically/spiritually minded than you, but I fail to see the wonder of these lines. To suggest that, because this verse makes clear the author knew that light couldn't penetrate the ocean depths, it is suggestive of his divinity, is pushing it, isn't it? - any one in a boat in a deep, clear sea can see that one for themselves..As well as the well documented sponge-divers of the area whose tales of decreasing light as they descended would have been around. And there was plenty of poetry of the time which made reference to the dark depths of the oceans, which I shall be happy to quote, should you need further convincing. Finally, can you clarify what you mean by "oceanic structure"?

Ark on Mount Judi - some difficult questions

Having tried to establish with "Kevin" the fact that the so called Ark on Mount Judi was just a natural phenomenon, I then raised the following issue:
"If this site isn't the Ark, then doesn't it raise the very real problems concerning the reasons why Mohammad claimed this site as the resting point for the Ark in the first place? Might it possibly be that he saw/heard stories about the boat shaped structure and thought to include it?
I think this whole episode raises some fascinating questions."
And my next mail pursued this idea:
"With regard to the Mnt Judi controversy, these are my thoughts:
The reason I think this is so important is as follows:
1.       If it turns out that Mnt Judi is the resting place of the Ark, then it strikes me you have a good case and I will perhaps need to re-think my lifestyle..(stop drinking and start washing out my nose every morning ['If anyone of you rouses from sleep and performs the ablution, he should wash his nose by putting water in it and then blowing it out thrice, because Satan has stayed in the upper part of his nose all the night.' Bukhari 4 -516], to name but two...)
2.       If it can be proved conclusively that this strange rock formation is not man-made, but rather the product of natural and totally understandable geological processes, then we have a coincidence of such mind-bending proportions that only the most stubborn of zealots would persevere in their belief. Let me explain...

The coincidence and why it matters
Let us assume, for argument’s sake, the structure on Mnt Judi is not the Ark (since the only reputable scientists to have studied the site, all agree that it is a natural formation. Please ask if you’d like to see papers from geological departments of reputable universities concerning this).
We are then faced with an intriguing question. How likely is it that such an unusual rock formation - in the very distinct and unusual shape of a boat - should happen to be on the very same mountain that it is claimed in the Qur’an that the Ark came to rest?
Either one perseveres with the supernatural/divine hypothesis and claims, faute de mieux, that God shaped the rocks in such a way (perhaps as another of those tests?), or one must look for another, more rational explanation. And the only explanation that I can think of is that the writer of the Qur’an knew of the “remains of the Ark” on Mnt Judi and decided to make reference to them in his revelation. It is perhaps relevant to quote a part of the conclusion from the Collins (Department of Geological Science, California State University) article: "Finally, [it has been] suggested that, although the structure is not Noah's Ark, it may very well be the site which the ancients regarded as the ship of the Deluge and may have played a role in the Flood story. As a geologist, I find this to be a interesting speculation." Journal of Geosciences Education, v. 44, 1996, p. 439-444
Once again, this raises the inevitable question: Is this not yet more evidence that the Qur’an is man-made?

The "Ark" discovered on Mount Judi - another miracle...

"Kevin" wrote to me some time ago suggesting that I might like to look into the apparent discovery of the remains of Noah's Ark on Mount Judi - just as was reported in the Qur'an -by someone called Ron Wyatt . He attached some photos and "radar scans" and presumably hoped that this at last would convince me of the divine nature of the Qur'an.
The pictures looked convincing (see above) but I always like to do my own checking and research. It didn't take long to discover that Wyatt had also "discovered" the Ark of the Covenant, the true Cross, and just about every other long-lost Judeo-Christian artefact. It was time for another mail...
"The aerial images are genuine in the sense that they are images of someting that really exists. I don't think they can lay claim to that epithet in any other sense of the word - please see below..(there is a plethora of articles all dismissing this site and the work of Wyatt. Please ask me if you still need convincing that the Ark search is a wild goose chase....at least for the moment!).
How many Muslims are labouring under the misapprehension that this "proves" the divinity of the Qur'an? How many Immams know (because they bothered to check...) but are happy to let their flock remain in ignorance? And the same could be said for so many of the apparent proofs of the Qur'an. Can you understand why I get so frustrated?

Has Noah's Ark Been Found? Part I
By Dr. David Merling

For two or three years I have been regularly confronted with the double question, "Has Noah's ark been found, and if so, why aren't Adventist archaeologists in the forefront of proclaiming this discovery?" This article is the first of a two part series to answer these questions. In Part I, I will review the biblical and archaeological evidence that has been proposed to prove Noah's ark has been found. In Part II I will discuss the scientific claims about "Noah's ark", in the light of how to evaluate the truthfulness of claims that will arise in the future.
The reader should know that I write this article sympathetically. Nothing would please me more than the finding of Noah's ark. I am a Bible student, an archaeologist, and a curator of an archaeological museum, The discovery of any ancient artifact is exciting for me, but the discovery of Noah's ark would be a singular event: undoubtedly, the most significant archaeological find in history. Also, like the majority of the readers of the Adventist Review I believe in the biblical story of the flood. How could I not be excited if such a relic was found?!
The Durupinar Site in the Tendurek Mountains
In the last century, the primary place where most searchers for Noah's ark have looked is the traditional Mount Ararat (Agri Dagh), the highest of the eastern Turkish mountains. The reason that this mountain has been the focus of investigation is a misunderstanding of Genesis 8:4,1 and some late traditions regarding Agri Dagh.2 While Agri Dagh is still being searched by some, most queries that have recently come to me are about a boat-shaped form often called Durupinar, which lies approximately 17 miles south of Agri Dagh.
This site was discovered by Llhan Durupinar, a captain in the Turkish army.3 While reviewing aerial photographs taken for NATO's Geodetic Survey of Turkey, Capt. Durupinar was startled to see a ship-like form on one of the photographs. The subsequent announcement of this strangely shaped form caused a furor in the U.S. and European media, which led to on-site investigations. Noorbergen recounts the distressing developments preceding his, George Vandeman's and Don Loveridge's own expedition in 1960, which included Captain Durupinar, and resulted in a military escort and permission to investigate the site. This was the first scientific investigation of the Durupinar site. After two days of digging (and even usiing dynamite) inside the "boat-shaped" formation the disappointed expedition members found only "dirt, rocks and more dirt." The official news release issued by George Vandeman, the team leader, concluded that "there vere no visible archaeological remains" and that this formation "was a freak of nature and not man-made."4
While most of the scholarly community has considered the nature of the Durupinar site as settled, i.e., a natural formation, at least one Seventh-day Adventist scholar has maintained some interest in this formation.5 William H. Shea,6 after reading Noorbergen's account about the expedition to the "boat-shaped" formation, published an article in 1976 suggesting that rather than being the ark, perhaps, this site was the "mold or cast of the Ark." Shea acknowledge that the Durupinar site had no archaeological evidence, but considered the formation's length, approximating the biblical ark's dimensions, curious at the least.7
Recently, Ron Wyatt has, through his book8 and video, created an interest among lay members in this boat-shaped site.9 Wyatt claims that the Turkish government credits him with finding the Durupinar site, and thus, the discoverer of Noah's ark (p. 1, 4, 11, 22-23, 39).10 This is an unusual claim since this site was discovered in 1959, as noted above, and even acknowledged, if somewhat lightly, by Wyatt himself (p. iv) . Since there has been much recent interest in the Durupinar site, and most of the questions that have come to me have been about the claims of Wyatt that the Durupinar site is Noah's ark, I will evaluate his claims.
Is the Durupinar Site the Site of Noah's Ark?
The one undisputed fact that the Durupinar site has in its favor is it length, which is roughly the expected length of the ark.11 Wyatt's suggestion that the reason the Durupinar site (the ark) is 138 feet wide instead of the expected 86 feet, is that the ark has been splayed (pp. 14-15), is unconvincing. The truth is that the Durupinar site is about 50 per cent too wide to be the ark. While this point should not be over stressed, I feel that Wyatt's claims for the Durupinar site based on its length is out of proportion. A fair evaluation of the Durupinar site is that its length is approximately the length of the ark, while its width is twice as wide.
Wyatt says that the shape size of the boat-shaped formation "defies any other explanation" and it is "the only formation of its kind on planet earth"(p. 13). These are very difficult claims to prove, since he offers no alternative suggestions himself. Fortunately, Wyatt has not been the only one to analyze the Durupinar site. John D. Morris, who has graduate degrees in geological engineerinq, includinq a Ph.D., and who is himself an avid searcher for Noah's ark, has made two geological surveys of this site.12 His conclusion is that the Durupinar site is unique in its geological formation but that it is a geologically explainable phenomenon. Writes Morris, "Just as water flows around a rock in a stream bed, the site has acquired a streamlined shape, due to the dynamics of the slowly flowing material."13 Agri Dagh is itself a volcano, while the entire region is volcanic. In other words, according to Morris, the "boat-shapedness" of the Durupinar site comes from the lava flowing around an obstruction.
The Anchor14 Stones
Wyatt sees the many anchor stones he saw in 1977 of "tremendous significance" in proving the Durupinar site is the true Noah's ark (pp. 5, 21-22, 24). He claims to have seen 13 such anchor stones, eight of which have inscriptions that make a direct connection between the anchors and Noah (p. 21). Wyatt claims that the crosses chiseled on their surface are from the Byzantine and Crusader periods, but he rules out the possibility that the anchors, themselves, were crafted during those times because some of the anchors have no crosses or inscriptions (pp. 5, 21). Although the stones that Wyatt has found are as much as 14 miles from the Durupinar site, Wyatt has decided that the anchors were cut away from the ark as it approached the mountains leaving them all lying in a straight line.
When exactly these stones were set, in place, and by whom, may be debated, but the biblical account does not match Wyatt's reconstruction for the placement oaf the anchors in their present location. He would see an ark guided by Noah, dropping the anchors as the ark approach the large mountains of the area, while the Bible portrays Noah's roll as passive. The Bible's chronological outline reports that the ark was "snagged" by one of the mountains before the mountain tops were visible and that the ark rested on the 17th day of the seventh month, while the mountains became visible on the first day of the tenth month. It is recorded that it was another 40 days before Noah even opened the window (Genesis 8:4-6).
Adding the number of days between when the ark rested (17th day of the seventh month) to the time when the mountains became visible (on the first day of the tenth month) lets us know that the tops of the mountains did not become visible for over 70 days after the ark was resting on ground. This means that the place where Noah's ark settled must be one of the higher mountains in its region, since for the ark to be resting in a low area with the mountains around still covered by water would be impossible. Agri Dagh is 10,000 feet higher and easily visible from the Durupinar site, it would, therefore, be impossible for the ark to be at the Durupinar site while Agri Dagh was still covered with water.15 The three verses of Genesis 8:4-6 are strong evidence that the Durupinar site cannot be related to Noah's ark.
It is most likely that these "anchor" stones originally had nothing to do with Christianity or the Flood. According to Abraham Terian16 the stones that Wyatt has found are not unique to the Durupinar area but are scattered throughout ancient Armenia.17 They are known to have been crafted by pagans and used in their worship long before Christianity came to Armenia. What Wyatt has identified as "rope holes" were originally niches for lamps. When the local Armenians became Christians, says Terian, many of these pagan stele were Christianized with inscriptions and symbols.18 This is why many of them are found in Christian cemeteries. They were holy stones, first for the pagans, then the Christians.
There is a fairly easy way to determine whether these stones were originally anchors or pagan stele, or at least to determine where they originated. Chemical and isotopic analyses and mineralogical tests could determine the origin Of the stone from which these stele are carved, or they could say whether or not they are unique to the area they are found today. If these stones were crafted by Noah instead of people indigenous to this region, we would expect that the stone anchors would be composed of rock similar to where Noah started from, not where he stopped.
Without these tests it is impossible to be certain where these stones have originated. However, the evidence we do have causes me to conclude that these stones ware not crafted by Noah's workmen, but were probably made near where they are found. According to Shea, all of the anchors are made of basalt, a stone common to volcanic regions. Since the entire region of the Tendurek mountains19 is volcanic, basalt is common to this area.20 Since the anchors are made of a rock commonly found in the Agri Dagh region, the most likely conclusion is that these stones originated in this region and, thus, were originally pagan stele not anchors.
Summary and Conclusion
For the past several years it has been claimed by Ron Wyatt that he has discovered Noah's ark. The site he claims to have "discovered," however, was originally discovered in 1959 by a Turkish captain. While the Durupinar site is about the right length for Noah's ark, it is, in addition, too wide to be Noah's ark. Wyatt has claimed that the "boat-shapedness" of this formation can only be explained by its being Noah's ark, but both Shea and Morris have offered other plausible explanations. Likewise, Wyatt has argued that the standing stones he has found are anchors, while Terian is aware of similar stones outside the Durupinar site area that were pagan cultic stones later converted by Christians for Christian purposes.
Gen 8:4 says that the ark rested in the "mountains of Ararat. Ararat was a mountainous country. See also 2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38 and Jeremiah 51:27. That Ararat was a country instead of a mountain should not surprise Seventh-day Adventists since this same information was printed in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary over 30 years ago. Horn, Siegfried H., Commentary Reference Series, Vol. S, Review and Herald: 1960, "Ararat."

For a reliable summary of the early and numerous locations of Noah's ark see, Bailey, Lloyd R. Noah: The Person and the Story in History and Tradition, Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1989, pp. 61-115. For example, JabelJudi(Cudi Dagh),located near Mosul, was accepted by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the ark's landing place during the early Islamic period, p. 67.

Information about the discovery of the Durupinar site is taken from Noorbergen, Rene, The Ark File. Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1974, pp. 116ff.

Noorbergen, p. 128 and an aerial and two ground-level pictures of this site and a short article detailing the finding of this site and its subsequent investigation were reported in Life, September 5, 1960.

For an example of the general dismissal of the Durupinar site consider the cursory treatment given by Lloyd R. Bailey, Noah: The Personand theStory inHistory andTradition, University of South Carolina Press, 1989, p. 92, "The object in the aerial photos of 1959 has already been confirmed as a natural formation."

Formerly a professor at the SDA Theological Seminary and currently an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.

"The Ark-shaped Formation in the Tendurek Mountains of Eastern Turkey," Creation Research Science Quarterly 3:1976, pp. 91. William Shea is one of the most creative and best published of Adventist scholars. He is well respected by both Adventist and non-Adventist scholars. To this day he believes that the question of the location of Noah's ark is unsettled. Due to the large number of queries the Institute of Archaeology has assembled a collection of letters and papers that speak to the question, "Is the Durupinar site Noah's Ark?" Those articles and letters quoted in this article, and noted with an *in these footnotes can be obtained in full by writing the Institute of Archaeology, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI 49104 and ask for the "Durupinar file." William Shea, "To Whom It May Concern,"* a letter, December 28, 1992, Merling, David, "Has Noah's Ark Been Found,"* a more fully documented copy of the two articles in this series.

Wyatt, Ron, Discovered: Noah's Ark, Nashville: World Bible Society, 1989. All page numbers in the text, not referenced to another source refer to this book.

David Fasold's book The Ark of Noah (New York: Wynwood Press, 1989) also claims the Durupinar site is Noah's ark. Fasold's book has circulated primarily among non-Adventist evangelicals, while Wyatt's influence has been with the Adventist audience. Fasold and Wyatt appear to be partners in an attempt to proclaim the Durupinar site as Noah's ark, but since Wyatt's claims have circulated primarily among SDAs I will evaluate his claims. I purchased my copy of Discovered: Noah's Ark at the local Adventist Book Center.

See also the Southern Accent October 1992, caption under Wyatt's picture, "The Turkish government recognizes Ron Wyatt as the man who discovered Noah's Ark."

The statement by Wyatt, arguing for the Egyptian cubit, that Moses "would have been referring to the only cubit he knew" (p. 14), is simplistic and ill informed. We do not know what Moses knew, but we do know that the Near Eastern cultures were much more complex, and knew much more about each other than he supposes. There were trade relations throughout all of the ancient Near East. Are we to suppose that these nations traded with each other without knowing the common measurements of their trading partners? Moses may well have used the Egyptian cubit but arguments can be suggested for the other cubits as well.

"That Boat-Shaped Rock," Creation Ex Nihilo, Vol. 12, No. 4, p. 16.

Ibid., p. 18, "The rock types are rather exotic, but there is nothing present which must be attributed to human construction."

For convenience I am using the common term for these stones, but later in this discussion suggestions are made that dispute that these stones are anchors or replicas of anchors.

The 16,945 foot Agri Dagh is only 17 miles north of the Durupinar site (elevation c. 6,300 feet).
Dr. Terian, an Armenian by birth, teaches at the SDA Theological Seminary and is recognized as a world-class scholar in Armenian studies. Among his many honors, Dr. Terian has been invited several times to lecture and research in Russian Armenia.

Standing stones are not unusual in the Near East. For example, one of numerous examples would be the ten standing stones found during the excavations of R.A.S. Macalister at Tell Gezer. The Excavation of Gezer. Vol. II, London: John Murray, 1912, pp. 385-396.

Ararat Report, No. 17, May-June i988, but reconfirmed by the author in a conversation with Abraham Terian, January 18, 1992.

This is a better geographical term for the area around the Durupinar site.
Snellng, ibid., p. 33.

miracles in the Qur'an 1 - oceanography

My Muslim convert friend (whom we shall henceforth refer to as "Kevin") suggested I look at verses on oceanography, such as 25:53 on the separation of sweet and salty water, and 24:40 on the oceanic structure. These verses are not meant as an academic lesson apparently, but they do allude to history and science in a way that can be subjected to verification. I thus attempted to do just that...

"In answer to your suggestion that verse 25:53 alludes to a scientific phenomenon previously unkown/unknowable, it seems the idea was widespread since Aristotle:"The drinkable, sweet water, then, is light and is all of it drawn up: the salt water is heavy and remains behind, but not in its natural place.
For this is a question which has been sufficiently discussed (I mean about the natural place that water, like the other elements, must in reason have), and the answer is this. The place which we see the sea filling is not its natural place but that of water. It seems to belong to the sea because the weight of the salt water makes it remain there, while the sweet, drinkable water which is light is carried up." http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/meteorology.2.ii.html

SHAKIR: Or like utter darkness in the deep sea: there covers it a wave above which is another wave, above which is a cloud, (layers of) utter darkness one above another; when he holds out his hand, he is almost unable to see it; and to whomsoever Allah does not give light, he has no light. (No particular reason for this translation. Please tell me what you consider to be the best one. I remember your being unimpressed with the one I had at x's and suggesting another, but I can't remember exactly which one you said...)
Again, I am doubtless less poetically/spiritually minded than you, but I fail to see the wonder of these lines. To suggest that, because this verse makes clear the author knew that light couldn't penetrate the ocean depths, it is suggestive of his divinity, is pushing it, isn't it? - any one in a boat in a deep, clear sea can see that one for themselves..As well as the well documented sponge-divers of the area whose tales of decreasing light as they descended would have been around. And there was plenty of poetry of the time which made reference to the dark depths of the oceans, which I shall be happy to quote, should you need further convincing. (And in any case, if he "has no light" why is he "almost unable to see it"? Surely the scientifically-minded Allah knows that that is impossible
To be continued...

Apostasy in Islam and "Compulsion in religion"

...being the last part of my first letter.
You said in your letter: the Qur’an confirms that “there is no compulsion in religion”.30 You will not find a verse that states otherwise in the Qur’an.
Although I don’t think this is the major argument here, and I’ll explain why later, I disagree that the Qur’an is as clear cut on this point as you make out.

In fact , I think this is another example of abrogation, for later God tells Mohammed in surah 9.5 –“Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”.
This sounds pretty much like compulsion to me, but perhaps you can clarify.
But to the main point. You say:
Apostasy was seen as being akin to treason, in respect of which the death penalty has been available in a number of countries, including England until 1998.38 However, since “there is no compulsion in religion”, non-Muslims who still find the Islamic position in this subject troubling need not adopt Islam. 
I’m not entirely sure I see your point here. Apart from subtly suggesting that the injunction to execute apostates was a political rather than a religious issue (for which there is little justification and I’ll happily argue that one on another occasion) I note that you don’t use the argument I’ve seen elsewhere that the Qur’an doesn’t specifically mention this punishment (It doesn’t. But as you seem to accept, the hadith and other sources are pretty clear.)
So your defence of the killing of apostates seems to be “if you don’t like it, you don’t have to follow Islam”: non-Muslims who still find the Islamic position in this subject troubling need not adopt Islam.
I find that disturbing on two scores. Firstly, you seem happy to accept the premise that to join your faith one needs to be comfortable with the idea that a change of mind would be, quite literally, fatal. Secondly, you seem blissfully unconcerned with those poor souls born into the faith who later change their mind. This is NOTHING like treason. This is a personal decision on how to live one’s life.  Freedom to follow a religion or not is a basic human right. If your religion denies that to its followers, it seems to me to be the worst sort of totalitarian regime and it falls there and then.  I cannot understand how you can defend this, if that is indeed what you are doing. Perhaps you will clarify...

Homosexuality in Islam (2) : Letter pt 6

...being the 6th part of a letter to a Muslim convert friend.
But why should we turn to the ahadith in the first place? Why do Muslims feel the need to go beyond the Qur’an for guidance on this issue? It is because surely, like so many other areas, the Qur’an leaves its readers unsure.
It condemns homosexuality in the stories about Lot, which were told during the Meccan period, but in the Medinan period, Sura 4:15-16, the only reference that seems to come close to dealing with this sin, is so ambiguous that it seems that Muslim scholars cannot reach a consensus on its meaning.
Again, surely this contradicts Muhammad’s frequent claim that the Quran provides complete guidance for life. In this major area of human sexuality, the Qur’an leaves us floundering. So we must turn to the ahadith, where things are less ambiguous.
I understand that it is believed that when Muhammad uttered a curse against someone, it was so significant and powerful that it carried eternal damnation—or at least it put its recipient outside of the Muslim community, which hangs hell over his head (see Sura 9:30). If we study the ahadith we see Muhammad doing a lot of cursing...
For example, Muhammad cursed effeminate men and masculine women (WHY??) in this hadith edited by Bukhari and narrated by Ibn Abbas, Muhammad’s cousin and highly reliable transmitter of ahadith:
Narrated Ibn Abbas: The Prophet cursed effeminate men and those women who assume the similitude (manners) of men. He also said said: "Turn them out of your houses." He turned such and such a person out, and Umar [a principal companion of Muhammad] also turned out such and such person. (Bukhari vol. 8, no. 6834; see vol. 7 nos. 5885 and 5886)
Thus, effeminate men and masculine women were cursed and driven out of the early Muslim community. Is this not just an example of a very HUMAN response to the strange ... a xenophobic knee-jerk reaction of the sort that should be DISCOURAGED by a divinely inspired teacher? If my pupils were to indulge in such nasty bullying they would be reprimanded in the severest way, and yet your religion seems to encourage it!
The Sunan Abu Dawud, named after its editor, is apparently another reliable collection of ahadith (but perhaps you’ll correct me on this...). Ibn Abbas reports the following about early Islam and Muhammad’s punishment of homosexuals: . . . "If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done" (vol. 3, p. 145, no. 4447).
The next one from the same collection says that an unmarried man who commits sodomy should be stoned to death: "Ibn Abbas said: if a man who is not married is seized committing sodomy, he will be stoned to death" (vol. 3, p. 1245, no. 4448).
Thus, these two passages in Sunan Abu Dawud go further than merely rejecting and banishing homosexuals or sexual sinners, as in Bukhari’s collection. Rather, Ibn Abbas says that Muhammad and the early Muslim community commanded their execution.
The hadith editor Timidhi repeats Ibn Abbas’ narration: "Ikrima reported on the authority of Ibn Abbas that God’s messenger [Muhammad] said: ‘If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.’" (Recorded in Mishkat al-Masabih, trans. James Robson, vol. 2, p. 763, Prescribed Punishments).
In the same hadith collection, the Mishkhat al-Masabih, a compendium that brings together other hadith collections, are found the punishments of being burned to death and having heavy objects thrown on the guilty homosexuals:
Ibn Abbas and Abu Huraira reported God’s messenger as saying, "Accursed is he who does what Lot’s people did." In a version . . . on the authority of Ibn Abbas it says that Ali [Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law] had two people burned and that Abu Bakr [Muhammad’s chief companion] had a wall thrown down on them. (vol. 1, p. 765, Prescribed Punishments; cf. Maududi vol. 2, p. 52, note 68). This is a punishment that was carried out as recently as 1998 in Afghanistan. Please see the attached Reuters news report: http://www.rawa.org/handcut.htm. This website also lists links to US war crimes and Nato misdeeds, so please don’t dismiss it as Zionist propaganda.
I’m not suggesting for one minute that homophobia is restricted to the Islamic community. I am suggesting that when the holy scripture of a religion makes plain that a group of individuals are to be vilified, lists abhorrent punishments for them, and the scholars and leaders of that religion do little, if anything, to distance themselves from these views and exhortations to violence, then stories such as this will become increasingly common.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8289477/Three-men-in-court-charged-with-stirring-up-hatred-of-homosexuals.html
What is written in Islamic texts is used to justify and excuse hounding, terrifying, maiming and killing homosexuals. It seems to me that the lives of thousands of gay men and women around the world are being destroyed in the most hateful way because of what is taught in Islam.

Homosexuality in Islam: Letter Pt 5

Homosexuality - being the 5th part of a letter to my Muslim convert friend. You can tell this topic really riles me...
The way that this is dealt with in Islam, perhaps more than any other issue, makes me angry and frustrated and convinces me that your God is indeed vengeful and cruel. Please forgive me therefore if this seems a rather heated riposte!
The Qur’an rather vaguely, but the ahadith very specifically, make clear that homosexuals who enjoy a sex life are to be punished (variously, according to which hadith one reads - but all such punishments are severe and most are fatal).
Note: I am aware that the ahadith vary in reliability. I have tried to restrict myself therefore to Sahih" ahadith (as I understand it, ones that are strong in their chain and extremely likely to be the exact words of the Prophet)

You suggest that it is very unlikely that the prescribed punishment would ever be carried out since the act of sodomy needs to be witnessed by four people. In that case the ruling is hardly the deterrent you suggest it is. What is the point of having a law that any sane person can see is laughable. If that really were the extent of the rules/laws governing gay sex in Islam, then homosexuals would have nothing to fear. They could, to be blunt, bang away in private to their hearts’ content. Are we to assume, then, that gays in Islamic countries feel free to enjoy their sex lives because it is so unlikely that four independent witnesses will be present for the act of penetration? Is this a ruling that is regarded by Muslims as an anachronistic left-over from more barbaric times so that gays are now left in peace as long as they don’t sodomise each other in public? A brief trawl through some Islamic sites suggests otherwise. I quote from http://islamqa.com/en/ref/38622,
(but I could have taken my pick from tens of similar sites all delighting in their hatred of gays and quoting Allah as their divine justification... )
“Praise be to Allaah. Firstly: The crime of homosexuality is one of the greatest of crimes, the worst of sins and the most abhorrent of deeds, and Allaah punished those who did it in a way that He did not punish other nations. It is indicative of violation of the fitrah, total misguidance, weak intellect and lack of religious commitment, and it is a sign of doom and deprivation of the mercy of Allaah. We ask Allaah to keep us safe and sound”
 In any case, I think you are confusing your “four witnesses” with a reference to adultery, but there appear to be so many differing and bizarre punishments for sexual behaviour other than that considered “normal” in the ahadith, it is understandable.

More tomorrow...

Heaven in the Qur'an - Letter pt 4

Heaven – a short aside...being an excerpt from a letter to a Muslim convert friend
This is a concept which I have always found immensely difficult. We discussed the punishment awaiting sinners and I’d like to return to it later. However, what intrigues me for the moment is the paradise described in the Qur’an to which I alluded briefly and which seems to be, inter alia, worryingly misogynistic.  For example, Surah 56 verses 12- 39 reveals what awaits the faithful:
"They shall recline on jewelled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish. And theirs shall be the dark-eyed houris, chaste as hidden pearls: a guerdon for their deeds... We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand..."

What does your wife make of the fact that you are promised a selection of comely virgins? Does this not seem to you a rather parochial, prosaic and literal vision of the hereafter, not to mention just a little sexist? And what’s with the obsession with virgins?? Is this not more evidence that the Qur’an is the product of a man, not of an omniscient deity ?(who you think might have given more thought to the female side of his creation when designing an eternal paradise for them ...Although given some of the other references to women, perhaps it’s not so surprising after all. But more of that later.)

Embryology in the Qur'an - Letter Pt 3

In a later part of the first letter to X, I tackle the thorny question of the apparent miraculous knowledge of embryology in the Qur'an.
For those new to this debate, Muslims claim that the Qur'an contains references to embryology that it would have been impossible for a 7th century illiterate desert nomad to have known. Maurice Bucaille (see the image on the right) was the first to suggest this in his book. Here is my first attempt to counter these suggestions. (This develops into quite a saga as you will see in later posts...)
EmbryologyYou said in your letter in introducing this subject that you were saving the best ‘til last. From that, I take it you were pleased with the evidence you had found to support the notion that the revelations regarding conception and the early stages of life in the womb in the Qur’an were miraculous or divinely inspired. If this is the case, I am intrigued that you felt the need to add clarification to the surah you first quote in defence of your argument:
The Qur’anic description of human embryology highlights a number of stages in foetal development. These include conception itself in Surah 86:5-7 which states: “Let man, then, observe out of what he has been created. He has been created out of a seminal fluid issuing from between the loins (of man) and the pelvic arch (of woman).”I found the surah you quote in five different translations. None of them had the additions in brackets. Can you explain the justification for adding your clarification?

YUSUFALI: He is created from a drop emitted-
PICKTHAL: He is created from a gushing fluid
SHAKIR: He is created of water pouring forth,
KHAN:He is created from a fluid poured forth,
HAMIDULLAH: Il a été créé d'une giclée d'eau
YUSUFALI: Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs.
PICKTHAL: That issued from between the loins and ribs.
SHAKIR: Coming from between the back and the ribs.
 KHAN: Which issues forth from between the loins and the breastbones.
 HAMIDULLAH: Sortie d'entre lombes et côtes
Without the additions, it seems clear that the verses mean the semen (or gushing liquid, or water, or drop or...) originates from somewhere between the back and the ribs. You seem, by implication, to be suggesting that God needs a bit of help to explain what he means.
 I think that it is more likely therefore (and remember I am going on balance of probabilities), that these surah refer to the site of semen production as wrongly taught by Hippocrates, inter alia, who believed semen originated from the brain down the spinal cord, before passing through the kidneys and finally out of the body. (Hippocratic Writings, Penguin Classics, 1983, p. 317) Is this not an example of an incorrect ancient Greek idea re-emerging in the Qur'an? You also say we must ask why, if the ideas about embryology were copied from other sources, as I and numerous others suggest, the Qur’an should have chosen only the accurate ones. I think the above (without the helpful human additions in brackets!) suggests that it did not.
You also make great play of the word alaqa which you say translates as a “leech-like structure”. Qamus al-Muheet, one of the most important Arabic dictionaries ever compiled, by Muhammed Ibn-Yaqub al-Firuzabadi (AD 1329-1415) says that alaqa has the same meaning as a clot of blood. Doesn’t it seem more likely that a language should have a word for a clot of blood rather than a “leech-like structure”? Again, I’m just going on balance of probabilities here.
You refute in your letter the argument that a lot of the material in the Qur’an on embryology seems to have been taken from Galen. I could refer you to early Muslim doctors, including Ibn-Qayyim, who first spotted the similarity. But it’s perhaps more appropriate to quote Basim Musallam, Director of the Centre of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge :
"The stages of development which the Qur'an and Hadith established for believers agreed perfectly with Galen's scientific account ... There is no doubt that medieval thought appreciated this agreement between the Qur'an and Galen, for Arabic science employed the same Qur'anic terms to describe the Galenic stages" (I'll get the reference, I promise!)
In summary, there is nothing in the surahs referring to embryology that strike me as miraculous. If it was God’s intention in these verses to make manifest His superhuman knowledge of the early stages of life, it seems once more that the very vague (“dust , clay, chewed flesh, blood clot, gushing fluid, ribs” etc. etc.) references leave too much open to human, and thus fallible, interpretation.
I am reminded of your claims for the apparent miraculous references to cosmology and astronomy in the Qur’an. We can perhaps save that one until another time, but just in passing, has it never struck you that God could have made reference to the speed of light, the distance from the earth to the sun, the diameter of the earth, quasars, black holes, red giants, dark matter... a whole host of recently discovered phenomena if He had wished to provide signs of divinity for “those who care to look”?  Instead, we have strange references to mountains being like tent pegs and the sun setting in a muddy pond. Why should we believe when such opportunities are spurned?

Judeo-Christian scriptures in Islam; A clear Message?: Letter pt. 2

This is the 2nd part of a letter to my Muslim convert friend. I have not included his well-argued letter as I haven't his permission as yet.
The scripturesI particularly enjoyed your well researched and thought-provoking section on the Judeo-Christian scriptures. As I understand it, Islam teaches that the God of these scriptures is the same as the God of Islam. In fact, is it not true that Muslims believe that Muhammad’s arrival was prophesied in the Old Testament by God’s prophets, in the same way that Christians believe the coming of Christ was the fulfilment of the prophesies in the same scriptures? Am I also right in thinking that you believe in the literal truth of the Torah/ Pentateuch?
(with the rider that certain changes have taken place because the Chosen People didn’t look after it carefully enough and/or changed it because they were untrustworthy Jews. I’m just quoting the Qur’an here, you know...the People of the Book are the Jews, aren’t they? [Surah 3:78 and 5:14-15]) This being the case, I am unsure why you seem keen to highlight the blood-thirsty and vengeful nature of the God of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 13:6-10, Numbers 31: 17-18). Surely this is the very same God that Muslims worship! In your haste to show how merciful Allah is by comparison, you seem to forget that it’s the Allah of Islam ordering the death of every male child and suggesting the virgins are kept back for later enjoyment. Or perhaps you think this is a case where the Jews have made some of those wicked changes? But doesn’t it seem strange that they should have changed the scripture to make their God sound more cruel and vengeful than he really is? Aren’t you simply doing what modern-day liberal Christians do, and cherry-picking the Pentateuch for those bits that fit in with your beliefs whilst ignoring those awkward sections that sound just a bit sexist/weird/too bloody and violent for modern tastes? Why believe in 800 year-old patriarchs, men being swallowed up by whales, an old man saving the entire world’s fauna by loading it onto a boat, talking snakes etc. because it’s in a millennia-old scripture, but not in a vengeful and blood-thirsty God in the same book? Or, and this is stretching it a bit, perhaps you believe the Jews changed these bits to justify their behavior? But if you allow that, then mustn’t you also allow the possibility that Mohammad made up some of the surah to justify/excuse his own exclusion from some of the more onerous restrictions about marrying relatives: surah 33:50 for example?You see, if one approaches all of these old scriptures with an open mind, then these are the doubts that assail one. Is it wrong to wonder and question? Is it wrong to reach one’s own conclusions based on the available evidence?
Clarity of message
The third point is also a recurring frustration (you’ll see there are quite a few of these...apologies) which you actually allude to during your brief comparison of the history of the Bible and the Qur’an (by the way, please don’t think that I am in any way more of a supporter of the Christianity of the Old Testament than the Islam of the Qur’an.) What you seem to be saying in this section of your letter, in addition to the above, is that the Qur’an is a more reliable testament than the Judeo-Christian texts. I’m sure you’re right. Interpretation of such ancient documents is sure to be full of difficulty. Nonetheless, is the message of the Qur’an any more accessible?
My question therefore is this: why should God have made his final message to the people of the world so unclear that any interpretation at all is needed? If they have any difficulty in understanding...Is it beyond an omnipotent deity to create a message that we can all understand without interpretation? For surely, if the history of Christianity has taught us anything (as you rightly point out), it’s that trouble comes from allowing “experts” to interpret (read: put their own spin on) the word of God for the common people. Are we really to look to what Mohammed’s friends did because God neglected to make it clear enough for us?
Without wishing to sound facetious, it does seem that God has gone out of his way to make an intelligible reading of his last, and presumably most important, message to his creation a bit tricky: not just a language, but an alphabet, that the majority of the world’s population can’t understand, a complicated grammar and a vocabulary strewn with awkward double meanings. Oh, and just to make it more complicated still, the verses are written not in the order that God dictated them but rather in the order of length.
Whilst we’re on the topic of the clarity of the revelation, can you explain to me the concept of abrogation? Once again, I cannot understand why God makes it so difficult for us to take away a clear, unambiguous message from the Qur’an – not to mention how/why an infallible God should need to correct (several times) his final message to mankind and then, in a very human way, tell us to forget the previous verse!“None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?” Surah 2: 106“When We substitute one revelation for another, and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages), they say, “Thou art but a forger”: but most of them understand not.” Surah 16:101
He’s quite right: I understand not.

Logic in Islam: A letter to my Muslim friend - Pt 1.

I have been in correspondence with a Muslim friend for six months now. He converted some time ago - ever since he was convinced that the Qur'an contains scientific and historic knowledge that it was impossible for Mohammad to have known 14 centuries ago. In particular, he believes that Maurice Bucaille's book, "The Bible, The Qur'an and Science" is an accurate examination of those "miracles". Here is the first part of the first letter I sent him after a get-together at an old school friend's at which we discussed the possibility of an email exchange. I have not asked his permission to use his letters so as yet you'll just get my side of the argument. I hope in the future to convince him to allow me to publish his erudite responses...
Part 1
I enjoyed our discussion on the merits of Islam over the holiday. It was a true delight to feel that I could question and debate with you over something so dear to your heart. I’m very grateful and hope that I didn’t cause any offence. You may wonder why, if I have no faith, I am so interested in these matters. Perhaps the question should be put the other way: why are not more people fascinated by the idea that a huge proportion of the world’s population live their lives so strictly according to a set of rules established 1,400 years ago?Of course, I cannot deny that, for me, your conversion helped to focus my interest. That someone so evidently intelligent and reasonable should suddenly (or so it seemed to me) adopt a way of life so alien to my own seemed shocking but also hugely intriguing.
That you should also defend your decision by explaining that the Qur’an is the “literal word of God” and that there are scientific notions contained in the scripture which prove that the Qur’an was divinely inspired seemed a fascinating and, if true, life-changing claim. Not surprisingly, I therefore set out to research your beliefs.I hope I did so with an open mind. I read the Qur’an at least twice. I have read some (not all!) of the hadith. I have read a biography of Mohammad by Karen Armstrong (widely welcomed by the Muslim community as an intelligent and fair examination of the Prophet’s life) and I of course read Maurice Bucaille’s book that you kindly lent to me shortly after your conversion. You have no doubt wondered (at least, I would have done in your position) why, having read the Qur’an, I have not been convinced of its divine origin. The reason is simple - to quote Isaac Newton, "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” To put it more simply, I have weighed up the balance of probabilities. You said that in reading the Qur’an you found “all the arrows pointed to it being divinely inspired”. I said I found almost everything in the Qur’an suggestive of it having been written by a man. I shall try to explain why. But first I must answer your letter which I enjoyed immensely. I hope you will now allow me to take issue with some of the points you have raised.
To me, your arguments contain an inherent and insurmountable contradiction: I believe that God is infallible; I believe He wrote the Qur’an; ergo, I believe the Qur’an is infallible and hence nothing that science says can change that...but IF the Qur’an is “demonstrably wrong” then my religion falls. I don’t know what “wicket you’re batting on”, but it doesn’t seem to leave me much chance of bowling you out, does it? Here, then, is the nub of the problem: the reductive character of your circular argument. My God is omniscient, therefore He is right. He is right therefore my God is omniscient. You have to admit that, were one to establish a religion, this is one hell of a starting point for quashing doubters. ..”Er, excuse me, but doesn’t empirical scientific evidence suggest that that line in the Qur’an might be wrong? Could we perhaps do some research in that field?” “Sorry mate, impossible. God’s infallible so the science is wrong. End of.” And yet you maintain that Islam encourages intellectual curiosity. What sort of intellectual freedom is it that if, when it seems it might produce evidence that the Qur’an was not divinely inspired, is denied?