In 2004, Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh worked with the Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali (one of the original New Atheists meant to be part of the horsemen of the non-apocalypse), and together they produced the film Submission, which criticized the treatment of women in Islam. The title of the film is a literal translation of the word Islam (although in a religious context it means "voluntary submission to God") and on 2 November 2004, that submission was brutally enforced when Van Gogh was assassinated by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim for the views expressed in the film. The murderer "initially fired several bullets at Van Gogh as he bicycled to work. Wounded, Van Gogh ran to the other side of the road and fell to the ground. According to eyewitnesses, Van Gogh's last words were: 'Mercy, mercy! We can talk about it, can't we?' The murderer then walked up to Van Gogh, who was still lying down, and calmly shot him several more times at close range. He cut Van Gogh’s throat, and tried to decapitate him with a large knife, after which he stabbed the knife deep into Van Gogh's chest. He then attached a note to the body with a smaller knife" that contained more death threats and polemics against Jews and the West. Terrorist acts such as these make me reticent to discuss the philosophy of Muhammad—the founder of Islam—but much like my analysis of Jesus of Nazareth, it must be done because of the huge influence he has had over the moral beliefs of billions of people over many centuries. Unfortunately, direct quotes such as these:
Even as the fingers of the two hands are equal, so are human beings equal to one another. No one has any right, nor any preference to claim over another. You are brothers.
All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly.
have been widely ignored by extremist elements of the religion who have continued to distort and misunderstand much of Mahammad's more benign teachings. But what after all where the actual words of Muhammad? And how do we understand them in the light of modern knowledge? How does he stack up in an analysis of the survival of the fittest philosophers?
Muhammad (570-632 CE) was the founder of the religion of Islam. Discontented with life in Mecca, he retreated to a cave in the surrounding mountains for meditation and reflection. According to Islamic beliefs it was here, at age 40, in the month of Ramadan, where he received his first revelation from God. The revelations, which Muhammad reported receiving until his death, form the verses of the Quran, regarded by Muslims as the “Word of God” and around which the religion is based. Muslims consider him the restorer of an uncorrupted original monotheistic faith of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets.
Needs to Adapt
The Quran presents five pillars as a framework for worship and a sign of commitment to the faith. They are (1) the shahada (creed professing monotheism and accepting Muhammad as God’s messenger), (2) daily prayers, (3) fasting during Ramadan, (4) almsgiving, and (5) the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. Almsgiving is of course useful for a cooperative species trying to maintain diversity and coherence. In a universe without a god though, forcing the acceptance of one man’s unproven beliefs is harmful to society. Plus, once divine revelation is accepted, who is to say any one revelation is better than another. This creates the opportunity for perpetual uncompromising conflict. Prayers are a drag on efficiency and encourage faith where effort would be better. Intentionally weakening the body through fasting helps one to learn to deal with bodily pain, but spending one month a year in this weakened state is taking it too far. Requiring your followers to visit your birthplace is extremely vain and clearly intended just to boost your religion and the livelihood of your local followers (though they will gladly encourage the practice, giving a self-reinforcing circularity to the rule).
In Shia Islam, there are ten practices that Shia Muslims must perform, called the Ancillaries of the Faith. (1) Salat (ritual prayer five times a day); (2) fasting during Ramadan; (3) almsgiving; (4) an annual taxation of one-fifth of all gain paid to Imams or poor descendants of Muhammad’s Ahl al-Bayt family; (5) pilgrimage to Mecca; (6) Jihad - a religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad; (7) do the necessary good in life; (8) forbid what is evil; (9) expressing love towards Muhammad's family, Ahl al-Bayt; (10) disassociation with those who oppose God and those who caused harm to Muhammad or his family. Allowing for the usefulness of almsgiving, doing good, and forbidding evil, the rest of the ancillaries are solely focused on the perpetuation of the religion but are in fact very damaging to the human species. Spending hours every day in prayer is monumentally wasteful. Fasting one month a year is too much time spent in a weakened state. Giving hard-earned money to the charlatans who created and run this organization is perpetuating fraud. Declaring war on unbelievers creates an unbridgeable rift in humanity that is a direct threat to the survival of the species.
In line with the prohibition against creating images of sentient living beings, which is particularly strictly observed with respect to God and the Prophet, Islamic religious art is focused on the word. Images are an important way to record and transmit knowledge. No form of learning must ever be banned. Ignorant species go extinct.
The Sharia (literally "the path leading to the watering place") is Islamic law formed by traditional Islamic scholarship, which most Muslim groups adhere to. In Islam, Sharia is the expression of the divine will, and constitutes a system of duties that are incumbent upon a Muslim by virtue of his religious belief. No laws or governments should ever be based on divine will or people who purport to know a divine will. No such thing has ever been proven to exist and acceptance of even one divine will by any small group opens humanity up to competing divine wills and unbridgeable gaps.
Let's move on quietly. Sometimes the best way to convince others is to simply survive and thrive by following your own philosophy.