Evangelical Atheist, Sam Harris, along with countless others, has argued that Islam is a dangerous belief system, and that Prophet Muhammad is fundamentally a negative and destructive role model compared to Christianity and the Christian image of Jesus, because the doctrine of Islam includes laws pertaining to combat and because Prophet Muhammad was a “warlord”.

Christianity, he argues, and the Christian image of Christ, promotes peacefulness and pacifism and de-emphasize terrestrial rule and political power. Islam, and the image of Prophet Muhammad, he says, promotes aggression and warfare, and the establishment of political authority.

Right from the start, of course, it is clear that the image of Prophet Muhammad he is referring to is the image of him as held by the Christians or by the West; it is not the image of him as held by Muslims. Furthermore, it is an image held by Christians and Westerners who either know very little about him, or else who are ideologically selective about what they choose to acknowledge.

The argument therefore immediately falls apart. His supposition is that Muslims are shaped by the fact that their role model, their archetype of the ideal man, was a violent warlord; and that Muslims are thus prone to violence the moment they become devout because they will seek to emulate this aggressive, bloody conqueror. But this image of Prophet Muhammad is not the image devout Muslims have of him; it is a Christian, Western misrepresentation. We do not see him the way you see him. So if you want to talk about how Muslims are shaped by their image of Prophet Muhammad, which is the only relevant image of him that could plausibly shape them; it is going to result in a very different conclusion.

So let’s talk about this notion of Prophet Muhammad being a “warlord”. Everyone from Harris to Richard Dawkins, to Christopher Hitchens, to Jordan Peterson, to Bill Maher, and many others, have used this term to describe him. You will not find him described by such a term in Muslim sources, nor is that a view of him held by Muslims around the world.

One cannot help but notice a conspicuous tinge of racism in the use of this term.

After having read Machiavelli as a teenager, I recently revisited his writing and was struck by the cultural similarity between 16th Century Italy and 7th Century Arabia. I was then struck by the fact that Italy’s warlords were referred to by a far more honorific title, as in the name of Machiavelli’s most famous book; in Italy, a warlord was a “prince”. The same, of course, held true throughout Europe. They were not “warlords” they were “lords” and “dukes” and all manner of other such royal titles, up to and including “kings”. Their counterparts, with identical degrees of power and authority deriving from identical methods of control, were referred to as “warlords” if they happened to live in Asia, Africa, or Arabia. So the term is clearly based on a subjective and ideological bias. If Prophet Muhammad had been a European, he would have been royalty.

Did the Christian Jesus command an army? Obviously not. Did he ever engage in combat? Again, no. Did he establish and govern a state? No, of course he didn’t. Have men before and after him engaged in these things, including Christian men? Of course they have. Were they, and are they, emulating Christ when they do so? No. Has having the Christian image of Jesus as their ideal role model prevented them from engaging in these things? Has the instruction in the Gospels “let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone” prevented the Christian West from developing a penal system? Again, very clearly, this has not been the case.

The President of the United States is called the Commander-in-Chief; meaning he is the country’s supreme military commander. He declares war, he orders killings for the sake of national security. If the Christian Jesus is indeed the ideal role model, I wonder how any of this can be reconciled. For, either his followers are continuously failing to adhere to that role model, or else, it is a role model with little or no functional utility in the real world. Unless you can show me a pacifist Christian country of which I am until now unaware.

Or is it that we are to believe that the role model they do not follow is better and more useful than the role model we do follow? Are we to believe that the Christian West has been profoundly and beneficially shaped by the Sermon on the Mount, while so demonstrably and so consistently contradicting it throughout all its history up until the present moment? Or can we not admit that the platitudes of the Sermon on the Mount , in the real world, are a recipe for extinction; and that the Christian image of Jesus embodies perhaps the most impractical approach to interacting with the world that the world has ever seen. In Jordan Peterson’s theory of the Dominance Hierarchy, the image of Jesus would have been annihilated long ago for manifesting a suicidal level of “agreeableness”. So again, I wonder, how is this a useful or even noticeably influential role model on Western society? There are things that men must do, and that states must do, and which Christians engage in every day, that either directly contradict the teachings of the New Testament, or about which the Christian image of Jesus offers no realistic or practicable guidance.

Did Prophet Muhammad command an army? Did he engage in combat? Did he establish and govern a state? Yes, of course he did; and as a result of that, we know how these things are to be regulated. Critics blame Prophet Muhammad for engaging in what human beings inevitably engage in; including conflict and warfare. As if this detracts from, rather than increases his value as a role model. He made war, yes; he also made peace. He carried out military campaign, and he contracted treaties. He punished enemies, and forgave enemies. He opted for combat, and he opted for diplomacy. And we, the Muslims, learn from and try to emulate the guidance of his example in all such scenarios that invariably will be encountered over the course of our lives. We hold a far more well-rounded and informed view of the Prophet, and when critics hysterically decry his armed actions, we understand the contexts, and we also consider his penchant for amnesty. He provides us with a more whole human being, and a more realistic role model than the model they claim to be superior while not adhering to a single aspect of it.

So if Sam Harris wants to refer to Islam and Prophet Muhammad as dangerous influences because they address the human reality of the inevitability of conflict, and if he wants to claim that Christianity and the Christian image of Jesus are more positive because they do not; then if every instance of Christian and Western violence are to be treated as analogous to their own role model, perhaps he should reconsider the dangerousness of having a role model whose teachings are so unrealistic and impossible to manifest that people are forced to set them aside and plunge into conflict without moral or ethical guidance.

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