Many Muslims seem to feel that their religion, their holy book, and their prophet should all automatically be respected by everyone regardless of their own beliefs or lack thereof. None of the three should not be questioned, criticized, or, especially, insulted. And we have seen Muslims riot murderously on a number of occasions in recent years when stirred up to protest some perceived insult, deliberate or accidental.
Should we as non-Muslims automatically respect the religious feeling of Muslims. Does the religion itself automatically require our respect? Does the holy book automatically require our respect? Does the founder of the religion automatically require our respect?
The same questions could be asked of any religion, but it is the Muslims predominantly who are raising the issue. If we look at another religion, say Scientology, I can say I have no respect at all for Scientology, I have no respect at all for Dianetics, and I have absolutely no respect for that con-man, L Ron Hubbard. I can insult all three mercilessly. While a number of Scientologists might be bothered by my disrespect, they are not going to demand I respect their religion. And I doubt you will find very many Muslims in the world who will stand up and say "You should show Scientology, Dianetics, and L Ron Hubbard some respect."
Let's return to looking specifically at respect for Islam.
We'll start with the book.
We are supposed to respect the Qur'an because:
The Revelation of the teaching and commandments of God through Angels in heaven to Prophets on earth, and written in sacred writings which all have the same transcendent source; these contain the will of God ...
The Sacred Scripture called the Qur'an, which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the 7th century of the Common Era, and which, after 1400 years, remains authentic in its original Arabic text,...
The Holy Quran (also written as Koran) is the Divine Book revealed to Muhammad (peace be on him). The Holy Quran confirms what was revealed to earlier messengers of God and serves as the Criterion of right and wrong. The Quran is the only divine Book extant in its original text and is therefore the only source of Guidance from God for all mankind.
Our respect should supposedly be based on the idea that the work contains the expressed will of God as revealed to Muhammad - and remains unchanged since it was revealed to him.
Obviously those of us who are not Muslims reject the idea that the Qur'an does contain the expressed will of God. If we believed that, we would all be Muslim. So, how can we respect this concept.
Also, the claim the book has remained unchanged since it was revealed to Muhammad is highly questionable. It was not compiled into a single volume until after Muhammad's death and it was put together by a committee - a committee which had to arbitrate which versions of the various texts were accurate, and which were not. It is almost certain that extraneous material found its way into the text. Also, at the time, an arabic script was used that left out most of the vowel markings. These were only added in later versions - and this left a lot of room for error in determining what words were actually intended.
Quite simply, we cannot respect the Qur'an for its source or its accuracy. The only reason to respect it is that Muslims regard it as a Sacred Scripture. To respect this book solely based on that is to say we also have to respect Dianetics.
Let's move on to the prophet.
Prophethood is special and we should respect prophets because:
He is the best in his community morally and intellectually. This is necessary because a prophet's life serves as a model for his followers. His personality should attract people to accept his message rather than drive them away by his imperfect character. After receiving the message he is infallible.
Prophet Muhammad was born in Makkah, a city in the present-day Saudi Arabia in 570 C.E. He is a direct descendant of Prophet Ishmael, the first son of Prophet Abraham. Peace and blessings of God be on all His prophets. Muhammad received divine revelations (The Holy Quran) over a period of 23 years in the seventh century of the Christian Era. Muslims believe that he is the last Messenger sent by God for the guidance of mankind until the Day of Judgment. He is the model for humanity of all walks of life to follow until the Last Hour.
In accordance with this standard, Muhammad should have been the best morally, infallible, and a model for everyone for eternity. And thus we should all respect him.
The story of Aisha, Muhammad's favorite wife, completely undermines this picture. Muhammad was 49, she was 6 when he proposed. He was 52 and she was 9 when he consummated the marriage. It is debatable whether she had even experienced her first period. (She still played with dolls at the time.)
Islamic apologists explain this away with several different arguments:
- It was just Realpolitik - marrying children was necessary to secure tribal alliances. (Still, the man had sex with a 9 year old. He had other wives. He could have waited until she was older.)
- Moral Relativism - it was normal procedure then even though we consider it wrong today so Muhammad did nothing wrong. (Then the man was not the best morally, he was not infallible, and he does not serve as a model. He should have known the customs of the time were wrong and preached against them.)
- Moral Absolutism - Of course it was normal procedure then and there still is nothing wrong with it today. (Then he serves as a model only for the most backward primitive areas where Islam is followed - a religion which countenances sex with children is not a religion for civilized people.)
- Denial - the history books are wrong and Aisha was 13, or maybe 15, or maybe 17. And regardless of age, certainly she had had her first period, so age does not matter. There is nothing to criticize Muhammad for. (Sure, and maybe she was born on February 29th and on her sixth birthday she was really 24. And the other Islamic scholars who raise the other excuses don't know what they are talking about.)
There is no reason for non-Muslims to respect Muhammad. He was not the best morally, he was not infallible, and based on his treatment of the child bride Aisha, he should not serve as a model for anyone.
If we don't automatically respect the book or the prophet, should we at least give respect to the religion?
What we know is this. Mecca was once a polytheistic trading city with many of its own gods and, in common with many other trading cities of the day, also housed the gods of traders from other cities in its temple to make them feel welcome. Mutual respect for all religions was shown. In this atmosphere of mutual respect for all religions, Muhammad started developing Islam in Mecca. Later, when he returned upon capturing Mecca, he destroyed at least 360 idols of other faiths. That demonstrates the absolute lack of respect Islam shows to other religions.
There is no need to automatically show respect to Islam. Or any other religion.