CJ Werleman is no stranger to critically analysing and providing meaningful, yet delightfully sarcastic, commentary on the works of the Old and New Testament. His books, God Hates You, Hate Him Back, which was a book-by-book analysis of the best selling and least read book in the world, the Bible. The book was an instant classic and mandatory reading for all atheists and agnostics.
In his second book, Jesus Lied, He Was Only Human, CJ ripped apart the New Testament, and proved one and for all, that the Jesus of the Bible is little more than a heavily embellished, highly fictionalised character with multiple personality disorder… did I mention he was also a liar?
Nonetheless, CJ is back with another blockbuster, but this time targeting the world’s most reactionary religion, Islam.
Koran Curious is, in typical CJ style, a critical and contextual analysis of the Muslim Holy Book, the Koran. For those of you who’ve ever tried to read the Koran, which I’ve previously described as “literary chloroform,” CJ keeps the horribly laborious Holy Book palatable with liberal amounts of wit and sarcasm.
Better still; the book actually starts off with a rather evocative – possibly even romantic – tale of Mohammad’s rise to supremacy. In doing so, and without giving too much away, CJ places the origins of Islam in the perfect context to analyse the text of the horrible Koran. Placing the book in its original context allows the reader to understand the remainder of the book, which is a Sura by Sura analysis.
By the end of the book (again, trying not to give too much away) you will see just how far removed Islam is from its roots. It no longer resembles, even slightly, the religion that an illiterate camel harder started all those years ago.
On the day that the book was released, today, I sat down with CJ to talk about the book, here is what he had to say.
Jake: In the foreword, you make the statement that Islamic extremists are wilfully ignorant of the historical context behind the scriptures of the Koran, as are most Muslims. Explain this?
CJ: Well, from my own anecdotal experience, having lived in the World’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, for the past decade, it is evident an overwhelming majority of Muslims I speak to have only a superficial understanding of Muhammad’s biography. While most are knowledgeable of various scriptures contained within the Koran, very few can explain what each respective verse means in the context of the issues, conflicts, pressures that Muhammad faced. This is further illustrated when you hear terrorist organizations cite passages from the Koran as justification for either anti-Semitism, mistreatment of women, or waging Holy war. In that sense, extremists are either wilfully ignorant of the Koran’s historical context or they’ve intentionally miscommunicated it for their own purposes. While the latter reason seams plausible, it appears to be the former when you read a bunch of, let’s say, Bin Ladens’ or Zawahiri’s communications.
Jake: Can you give one or two illustrations?
CJ: Well, there are many, but one such example can be found in the second chapter (sura) that, when read in isolation, appears to be Muhammad endorsing warfare during the holy month of Ramadan. The particular verse is 2:217:
“They ask you about war in the holy month. Tell them: “To fight in that month is a great sin. But a greater sin in the eyes of God is to hinder people away from the way of God, And not believe in Him.”
Despite this passage’s somewhat ambiguity, it was recited by Muhammad shortly after his exile to Medina. The Meccans were determined to kill Muhammad and his Muslim believers, and the only means of survival the Muslims had at their disposal was to lay siege on their enemy’s relatively unprotected caravans. This verse refers to the very first time Muhammad ordered such an attack, but in doing so, he gave two specific orders. First, wait until the Holy month had passed. Second, do not kill anyone, as this will result in vendettas. Well, his men failed to obey both his instructions and Muhammad was greatly aggrieved. In turn, he prayed to Allah for guidance, and this verse is, as claimed by Muhammad, God’s reply. The key part of the reply being, “To fight in that month is a great sin!”
A further example that opponents of Islam (and I count myself as one because I am philosophically opposed to all religions equally) will cite passages to demonstrate the Koran promotes anti-Semitism, as demonstrated in Sam Harris’ End of Faith, whereby he quotes Koran 2:65, “And certainly you know of those who exceeded the limits of the Sabbath, so we said to them, “Be you apes, despised.” And then later adding his commentary, “On almost every page, the Koran instructs observant Muslims to despise non-believers.”
Now, if you read the Koran in the same manner as you read the Bible, then absolutely Harris offers a fair judgment, and one I’ve been guilty of executing. However, when you study Muhammad’s life, you begin to understand why he said the things he said. In this particular instance, for example, Muhammad was referring specifically to ONE particular Jewish tribe in Medina, who he had exiled. After fleeing for his life to Medina, Muhammad looked forward to working with the Jews and Christian community there as he regarded them as equal “Peoples of the Book”, but the Jewish tribe of that city made a backdoor pact with the Meccans, who continued to attack the Muslims, agreeing they would join forces with the Quraysh should they lay siege on Medina. As per the rules of military engagement in Arabia at that time, Muhammad had every right to order the execution of the Jewish tribe, but instead sent them packing and on their way. Thus the words cited in the Koran demonstrate his disappointment with that one particular tribe and not the entire Jewish people.
Jake: I believe your fans will be surprised by what I think is a very even-handed approach, and maybe what is a little uncharacteristic of CJ Werleman, in explaining the Koran. How will you respond to those who may accuse you of being somewhat of an Islamic apologist?
CJ: Well, they’d be mistaken. I’m as much a fan of Islam as I am of Scientology or evangelical Christianity, or any movie that Nicholas Cage is in. In an upside-down kind of way, this book’s objective is similar to that of, ‘God Hates You. Hate Him Back’. In that book I set out to show that the God of the Bible, as illustrated in the Good Book, is not the cuddly sentient being of love and forgiveness that Christians believe. But is, in fact, a genocidal, xenophobic, homophobe who is ok with the rape of women and the subjugation of slaves. The objective of ‘Koran Curious’ is similarly contrarian. In other words, I demonstrate that the Koran isn’t the big scary handbook for war that many Islamists and those in the West believe it to be. As such, I didn’t want my typically anti-theistic bullying approach to detract from the content of this book, so that it would reach a wider audience. In particular, I believe this to be a book that is not only red meat for atheists, but is equally fascinating for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.
Jake: Without giving too much of the book away, tell us a little about the man Muhammad.
CJ: I believe my readers will walk away from this book thinking, “Wow! He was a remarkable fella.” And he was. The story of Muhammad is a fascinating one, and it makes for a great screenplay. He was born into a family of modest wealth. As a child, he was passed from one parental guardian to another. Starting his adulthood as a camel driver, he eventually worked his way to becoming a prominent and respected figure within the city of Mecca. During these years, he became increasingly troubled by various societal ills, such as gambling, unfair business practices, mistreatment of women and the poor, materialism, and so forth. In his forties, he claimed to have been chosen by God to lead the pagan Arabs towards following the laws of the biblical God. Shortly after he became a pariah within his own town and eventually he fled for his life. In the years that followed he had to raise an army to defend himself and the early Muslims from an enemy, Mecca, who were determined to kill him. Eventually, leading the Muslims in more than sixty military campaigns, his battle strategies were, undoubtedly, ahead of his time. Ultimately, Muhammad would unite the entire Arabian Peninsular, ending hundreds of years tribal fighting that had become the characteristic of Arabia in the seventh century. Moreover, I believe readers will be surprised to learn that Muhammad was a revolutionary for women, affording them rights of divorce and inheritance, hundreds of years before other societies.
Jake: OK. So what can you tell us about the Koran?
CJ: Once you have a complete portrait of Muhammad, the Koran starts to make sense, whereas reading the Muslim Holy Book in isolation has little or no meaning if you don’t understand the historical context. In this sense, and I’m clearly biased, I believe ‘Koran Curious’ is the first book that holds up Muhammad’s biography against the chapters and verses of the Koran.
Jake: What are some examples of misconceptions the West has about the Koran?
CJ: Literally, there are so many. Equally, Muslims have misconceptions about their own faith, as do Christians of theirs. Specific examples include the veiling of women, 72 virgins in heaven, apostasy, the meaning of Jihad and martyrdom, anti-Semitism, among others.
Jake: What do you see to be the main issues that Islam faces in reconciling itself with Western democratic values?
CJ: To start with, the Koran was recited in the seventh century during a period of tribal barbarism. It would never have occurred to Muhammad, even in his wildest dreams, that Islam would have more than 1.5 billion followers in the twenty-first century. At the time Muhammad recited most of the Koran, the Muslims were facing the likelihood they’d be exterminated by Mecca. So the words of the Koran have a certain desperation and urgency to them. As such, the religion has never undertaken a Christian church like reformation. Nor has it any central authority, like the Church and the Pope. Generally, those that speak for Islam today are those with the greatest number of followers. Put another way, if Islam was Twitter, Lady Gaga would be its spiritual leader. Moreover, those Islamic clerics with the greatest number of followers are, generally, the ones with the most radical views, because the most radical grab the most attention. (Think Glenn Beck and FOX News!)
Jake: Speaking of FOX and the radical right wing of American politics, you make mention in the foreword that Conservative ideologues and certain special interest groups perpetuate the fear of Islam. Please explain this?
CJ: I cover this in some depth at the start of the book. In short, the right wing loves to drive the fear of an external enemy, as it moves their base. In other words, data shows the fear of an external enemy drives white Christian voters to the polls, and when white Christian voters are mobilized, they, invariably, vote Republican. That’s a very simplistic snapshot for now, but as I mentioned, I do tie topical issues like ground-zero mosques and the like to those with interests in keeping America afraid.
Go masticate in public!
Jake is the author of ‘Letters to Christian Leaders; Hollow be thy claims’, the book which takes the specific claims that the most prominent Christian Leaders make and directly refutes them using the latest research and evidence, reason, logic, and a dash of snarky humour. Get it here for your sexy kindle. Or if you prefer the authenticity of a book (and are too cheap for a kindle) get the hardcopy here.