The government of Pakistan has banned my book “The Truth About Muhammad,” confiscating all copies and translations. Why? Because it contains “objectionable material” about Muhammad. Said Shahid Ahmed, counselor of community affairs at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington: “The book is very, very damaging—let me tell you.”
He’s right. Here’s a small sampling:
1. My book details the choice that Muhammad directed his followers to offer to non-Muslims: conversion to Islam, subjugation without equality of rights with Muslims under the rule of Islamic law, or war. This can be found in, among many other places, “Sahih Muslim,” a collection of hadith—traditions of Muhammad and the early Muslims—that Muslims consider reliable. In it, Muhammad says:
When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action….Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them….If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [a special tax levied on non-Muslims]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them. (“Sahih Muslim” 4294)
Is “Sahih Muslim” banned in Pakistan? Of course not.
2. In the book, I discuss how Muhammad’s earlier biographer, Ibn Ishaq, explains the contexts of various verses of the Koran by saying that Muhammad received revelations about warfare in three stages: first, tolerance; then, defensive warfare; and finally, offensive warfare in order to convert the unbelievers to Islam or make them pay the jizya. Koranic commentaries by Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy, As-Suyuti and others also emphasize that the ninth chapter of the Koran, in which this call to offensive warfare appears, abrogates every peace treaty in the Koran.
Are the works of Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy, As-Suyuti, or modern commentators who echo them banned in Pakistan? Nope.
3. Also in “The Truth About Muhammad” I discuss Muhammad’s marriage to little Aisha, which is addressed in the hadith collection “Sahih Bukhari” (generally considered by Muslims to be the most reliable such collection). According to several traditions recorded by Bukhari, “the Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with ‘Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death)” (Bukhari 7.62.88).
It is obvious that many Muslims take very seriously and act upon the material on which I depended to write the book. Imitating the Prophet of Islam, many Muslims even in modern times have taken child brides. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that over half of the girls in Afghanistan and Bangladesh are married before they reach the age of eighteen. In early 2002, researchers in refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan found half the girls married by age thirteen. In an Afghan refugee camp, more than two out of three second-grade girls were either married or engaged, and virtually all the girls who were beyond second grade were already married.
Is “Sahih Bukhari” banned in Pakistan? Of course not.
Since I based my book entirely on Islamic sources, the objection that Pakistani authorities have to it cannot reasonably be based on what I report about Muhammad, but only on the fact that I hold him to a moral standard different from the one he delineated for himself, and do not consider him to be an “excellent example of conduct.” But in a society that is not pathologically insecure, this ought to be not an occasion for banning and confiscation, but for free and open debate.
After all, the reform of Islam that is so needed today—in order to mitigate the elements of it that are giving rise to violence and extremism—cannot possibly begin without acknowledgment of the fact that there are aspects of Islam that need reform. But the banning of “The Truth About Muhammad” in Pakistan is another indication that such reform, despite the hopes placed upon it by so many in the West, is not on the horizon.