Why Mohammed?

Question from Ali:
I was asking a friend if God wanted to reveal Islam to all humans why was it in Arabic? He answered me because he chose Mohammed as his prophet. Then I asked why of all the people he chose an illiterate man? They answered me because that is the miracle and how he showed his divine powers of making an illiterate man able to read and write instantly. So i got stuck on that thought and couldn’t answer because it made some sense… if you have a supporting argument for me to continue that conversation please advise me…

Answer by SmartLX:
It would have made more sense for God to reveal himself in multiple places, in all major languages, with a consistent message for mankind. Therefore I don’t think much of the supposed decision to send a message to just one person in any single language, let alone Arabic. That said, if that was how it had to happen, Arabic was as good a language as any – less for its popularity than for the fact that it was spoken by many groups with aggressive warriors who were ideal for spreading Islam by the sword.

Not all Muslims believe that God bestowed literacy upon Mohammed (peace be upon him, as they say). This Muslim site doesn’t say anything about him ever learning to read or write. There’s a third opinion too: a separate site (written by a non-Muslim) gives a quote from the “writings” of Mohammed himself which implies that he was always able to read.

It hardly matters, because as the first link says it’s perfectly reasonable to think that Mohammed dictated his works to his companions, at least a few of whom were surely literate. Oral storytelling and other communication has a strong tradition in the Middle East, and even today Muslims are encouraged to memorise chunks of the Quran for recital (and, of course, simply for the sake of indoctrination). It’s the simplest explanation for a large body of written work coming from an illiterate man, and it even satisfies some Muslims. There’s still the supernatural claim that the angel Gabriel (Jibril) provided much of the material to Mohammed beforehand, but his literacy is irrelevant to that issue.

Take all of the above into account, and the idea of Mohammed’s sudden literacy makes very poor Muslim apologetic when there are so many other – and so much more mundane – things that could have happened instead.

Atheism and Islam

Question from Michael:
I have a few friends of mine who were discussing Islam with me. They had points to defend Islam such as; Predictions about scientific phenomenons that were not discovered till this century or the century before. They also have points like the validity of the Quran as its literature is of high eloquence. Its hard to debate with them as they are biased and dont approach atheism with an open mind. Any help with points to prove that atheism is valid especially when in regard to Islam would be greatly appreciated.

Answer by SmartLX:
My existing piece on prophecies uses exclusively Christian examples, but the core argument applies perfectly well to material from the Quran. Cases of scientific foreknowledge usually go into category 4, Shoehorned.

I’ve been decidedly outdone in this area by YouTube user TheIslammiracle. In his playlist of Quran Miracle Debunked videos, he systematically tears down 50 separate claims of the Quran’s divine foreknowledge of modern science. If your friends aren’t being specific, it may be simplest just to point them to that playlist. If on the other hand they’re being specific enough that what they say isn’t covered in the videos, put more detail in a comment here and we’ll try to help out.

The eloquence of the Quran leads into two different arguments for Islam, the first bolder than the second:

1. As the Quran itself says, “Bring one sura or just one verse like it, if you can!” or in other words, it’s so beautiful that no human literature can match it, so it must be divine. This is entirely subjective, and has been flatly denied (scroll to the section on Eloquence) by many scholars over centuries.

2. The Quran came out of a time, a place and a people so savage and primitive (Muhammed himself was likely illiterate) that only divine assistance could have produced such competent prose. I think I’ll let you come up with possible alternatives to this yourself.

More generally, if you want to be prepared to defend atheism against Islamic apologetics, go and research Christian apologetics. There is tons and tons of overlap, and there’s a lot more Christian stuff written in English. Start with the rest of my series on The Great Big Arguments; every one of them applies to Islam in some way, and just the titles will give you plenty of leads for wider Googling and reading.

If you need help with any particular point, feel free to write in again.

If only there were…oh, wait, there is!

Ladies, genetlemen and Brian, I give you the Skeptics’ Annotated Bible, with the SA Quran and SA Book of Mormon thrown in.

Question from Brian:
Is there some kind of online resource for atheists? I was thinking of something like an online bible with highlighted contradictions or something. I couldn’t find anything though.

Answer by SmartLX:
Ladies, genetlemen and Brian, I give you the Skeptics’ Annotated Bible, with the SA Quran and SA Book of Mormon thrown in. Issues are listed by chapter and verse, as well as category (e.g. Contradictions, Absurdity and Intolerance). It’s the single most comprehensive online Bible study guide that doesn’t immediately try to plug every hole with rationalisations in the name of “Biblical exegesis”.

The SAB has been around long enough that several Biblical inerrantist groups and individuals have started counter-projects to answer every single issue it raises, as a matter of principle. The creator of the SAB isn’t concerned by this; he lists the responses on the site, and includes links with each highlighted issue to any specific responses from those counter-projects which are freely available (some are now commercial products). These responses are just as informative to read as the site itself, because they show just how hard you have to work to reconcile certain passages with the doctrine of inerrancy, or divine co-authorship, or even common sense.

So go check it out. I’m right here if anybody wants to discuss something specific pointed out by the SAB.