Islam, since its very inception, has suffered from a serious inferiority complex.
Muhammad as an aspiring prophet in his home city of Mecca labored for some twelve years to convince his fellow citizens that they should renounce polytheism and bow before the sovereign rule of Allah. By the time his tribe’s patience had run out and he was finally driven from Mecca in 622 AD, the wannabe prophet had attracted a relatively small number of converts from the people of his city, and the number of his detractors was growing increasingly vociferous.
Muhammad had hoped to win support for his religious claims and stature from the other main monotheists of the region, the Jewish and Christian tribes known as “people of the Book [i.e., the Bible].” He even included in his preaching repertoire stories he had picked up listening to oral traditions concerning biblical characters. However, as the Jews and Christians learned more of his grandiose claims and eccentric teachings, they concluded he was not a prophet sent by the God of their revelations.
Rejected by the polytheistic people of Mecca and by the monotheistic tribes in western Arabia, Muhammad turned his growing wrath toward them. His preaching became more antagonistic and defensive, with Allah pledging hellfire against the prophet’s opponents and propping up Muhammad’s ego at the same time. Within his community of believers, his will was unassailable, and even Allah seemed eager to do his bidding, providing him wives and booty and self-serving revelations.
Muhammad turned out to be rather thin-skinned, which is not unusual for those with an inferiority complex. When opponents mocked him with crude jokes or irreverent songs, he was offended. However, the prophet was surrounded by devotees who were willing to “kill and be killed” in his service (see Quran 9.111), and Muhammad was not above despatching them to assassinate those who had wounded his ego.
So too, today, those who mock the prophet, or his Qur’an, or who blaspheme against Allah commit a capital offense according to Islamic law, and are executed where Shari’a is fully implemented. What other religion demands a death penalty for those who make fun or draw irreverent pictures of its founder? Those who find criticism (even well-founded criticism) intolerable and seek to eradicate it once and for all are typically hounded by a sense of inferiority. It’s no surprise that in recent years the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) has barraged the United Nations with demands that the world regulatory body outlaw any speech that might conceivably be construed as “Islamophobic.” An inferiority complex dreads freedom of speech.
When the Islamic community cannot get others to shut down its detractors, its response is typically not one of engagement with criticism but rather the turning of a deaf ear and the rising chant of “Allahu akbar” — “Our god is greater than your god.” This is simply a religious intensification of the schoolyard spats that end up with, “Oh yeah? Well, my dad can beat up your dad,” followed by fingers stuck in ears so as to no longer hear one’s opponents.
Islam reveals its inferiority complex as well whenever Muslims publicly apostatize from the faith. No religion likes to lose adherents, but only Islam resorts to death threats to keep members from leaving. It cannot bear to admit that former Muslims find Islam untrue and unappealing, nor does it wish to coexist with such disbelievers. Instead, Shari’a mandates execution of those who leave the faith, hoping by the imposition of fear to quell the spread of doubt among its masses.
At the other end of the spectrum, if and when a famous kafir (infidel) decides to become a Muslim, such news is trumpeted far and wide by Islamic propagandists as proof of the claims of Islam. The amount of energy devoted to such efforts in the Muslim world dwarfs similar developments in other religions. One wonders whether such fanfare is directed more to shoring up the sagging morale of the Muslim community than to welcoming a new convert into its midst.
Likewise, the use of force to coerce unbelievers to adopt Islam, or failing that, to compel them to live as dhimmis (third-class members of Islamic society) betrays the nagging fear that Islam on its own cannot stand in the marketplace of free ideas. The rules enacted for dhimmis legalize their status as those inferior to Muslims, so that the Muslim world can continue to mask its vexatious inadequacies by pointing to the enforced lowliness of its enemies.
But nowhere is the inferiority complex of Islam more evident than in its unending competition with the Christian gospel. Muhammad could not stomach the stature granted to Jesus within the New Testament and in the lives of Christian disciples so he had to diminish the role of Jesus in his Qur’anic teachings. Jesus could not be divine; he could not be the Son of God; he could not be the Savior of the world; he could not have risen from the dead and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. In effect, he could not be greater than Muhammad himself, or even his equal. He was only a prophet, a great one perhaps, but Muhammad was the last and greatest of them all.
And the message of the Qur’an could not be inferior to that of the gospel. In order to prevent that, Muhammad asserted that the true message of Jesus was none other than that which Allah had granted him — to warn humanity of the coming judgment of Allah should human beings refuse to bow before the Almighty as obedient slaves. However, in the years since Muhammad’s death, Muslims have actually had opportunity to compare the New Testament to the Qur’an, in the process of which they have discovered that the message of a God of love certainly eclipses that of a God of vengeance. So Muslim apologists today seek to reframe the teaching of the Qur’an to mimic that of the gospel as much as possible.
The New Testament declares that God loves sinners and sent His Son into the world to save those who would otherwise perish in their sins. Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry among those deemed unworthy in the eyes of the religious elites. The New Testament declares that God loves sinners and sent His Son into the world to save those who would otherwise perish in their sins. Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry among those deemed unworthy in the eyes of the religious elites. The apostle Paul summed up God’s heart with these words: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). His love is personal and unending, an intimacy with the human soul deeper than can be found in any other relationship. This truth demonstrates why the gospel has commanded such a prodigious response from the human race from its first proclamation until now.
Muslim apologists know this, and also know that the Qur’an carries no such message. The God of Islam is not a God who loves sinners personally and intimately. Allah has not sacrificed himself in any way to purge the sins of his rebellious creation. He remains aloof from his creation, warning the disobedient of the impending tortures of hell, and promising the obedient the sensual pleasures of paradise. But a message of fear is not as compelling as a message of love, so apologists comb the Qur’an for any signs of Allah’s love. The results are not encouraging.
Forty-two times the Qur’an speaks of Allah with regard to love. Unfortunately, over half of those instances (twenty-three to be exact) refer to that which Allah does not love. For example, he does not love those who do wrong, who make corruption in the land, who reject Islam, who are not generous, who are arrogant, wasteful, treacherous, criminal, and so on. The other nineteen occurrences describe those whom Allah does love: those who do good, who are righteous, who love his prophet, who fight (jihad) in his cause, who are pure and clean (keeping the ritual laws), and so on. Allah’s love is a response to those who “make the grade,” and it is experienced not in terms of personal intimacy but through the abundance of rewards in this life and the next.
Nevertheless, spurred on by a sense of theological inadequacy, Muslim apologists look for revelatory passages to fill what is lacking, and some put forward a Qur’anic text which seems to show promise in terms of divine intimacy and affection. Found in Sura 50:16, triumphal commentators wax eloquent about how Allah’s words unveil that he is nearer us than we might ever imagine:
And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein...
Here is proof, they say, that Allah indeed loves us personally and intimately. The Qur’an matches the New Testament in its “good news.”
But upon closer inspection, that is not at all what this passage means. The entire context of this chapter deals with those who have thumbed their noses at Allah in spite of all the signs he has given them in creation of his power and goodness. He warns them that they cannot hide their thoughts and actions from him. Indeed, he is closer to the slaves he created than their own jugular veins (those blood vessels which when slit quickly drain life from the body). Far from asserting that Allah’s closeness means his personal love for humans, this verse declares that Allah is watching closely the lives of his slaves, and nothing escapes his notice. Judgment will be meted out accordingly. The next two verses (50:17-18) clarify even further what this closeness of Allah entails — it is not his personal presence but the two recording angels he has sent to be seated, one on the right shoulder to record every good act and the other on the left to record every bad deed:
When the two receivers receive, seated on the right and on the left. Man does not utter any word except that with him is an observer prepared [to record].
There is no love, grace or mercy in this Qur’anic chapter. Instead, we find the chilling warning that no evil thought or deed will slip past Allah’s notice. He will punish fully those who disobey him, and reward with paradise those who obey him sufficiently. But, of course, no one obeys Allah perfectly — even Muhammad was commanded four times in the Qur’an to repent of his own sins, and the Hadith traditions show the prophet entreating his followers to pray for him that at the Day of Judgment he would be found worthy.
So the idea that Allah is nearer to us than our jugular vein (which jihadis are ever eager to sever in striking the necks of unbelievers as a sign of Allah’s ultimate judgment) hardly conveys the notion that Islam’s god has a heart filled with love toward sinners. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite: Allah watches with an eagle eye for any slip-up among his slaves, and his sword is poised at any moment to despatch those who displease him to an eternity of roasting in hell.
One might wonder why anyone would remain within such a religion of internal coercion and external tyranny. The answer for most, I believe, is that they don’t know any better. They have grown up in societies that effectively blocked them from exposure to any worldview other than Islam, and at the same time their religion has told them that they are the best of all peoples that Allah ever placed on earth (Quran 3:110) and that non-Muslims are the vilest of all creatures in the sight of their god (98:6). Disgust over the presumed filthiness of the kuffar (infidels) causes them to shun anything unislamic, and fear of the death penalty for apostasy keeps them timidly corralled within the thought-prison of Shari’a orthodoxy.
But the last half-century shows that times are changing. The effects of globalization, social media and the Internet have broken through the barricades of Islamic indoctrination. Muslims are freer than ever before to explore other worldviews, to interact with infidels and discover that they are not at all the vilest of creatures (any more than Muslims are), and that certainly the Muslim community is not, according to so many standards of measurement, the best of all peoples. Today by the thousands Muslims are leaving Islam for all sorts of other options — turning to atheism, becoming Christians, plunging into secular hedonism. Whatever captures their interest provides sufficient incentive for them to jettison Islam and the inferiority complex under which they labored for so long, and to revel in the freedom they now have discovered in laying aside the straight-jacket of a religion where Allah is closer than their jugular vein.
May their tribe increase!