A. G. Jahangeer Khan
FACTS FROM FICTION
23rd February 2021
In the summer of 2016, aboard the plane taking him back to Rome after a trip to Poland, His Holiness, Pope Francis said it was wrong to identify Islam with violence, adding that social injustice and idolatry of money were among the prime causes of terrorism. ‘I think it is not right to identify Islam with violence,’ he told reporters. ‘This is not right and this is not true… I think that in nearly all religions there is always a small fundamentalist group,’ he said; and referring to Catholicism, he added: ‘We have them.’
Pope Francis went on to say: ‘I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy – someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptised Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent.’
He bravely pointed out the real cause of violent ideologies wrongly attributed to religion: ‘I know it is dangerous to say this but terrorism grows when there is no other option and when money is made a god – and it, instead of the person, is put at the centre of the world economy. That is the first form of terrorism. That is a basic terrorism against all humanity. Let’s talk about that.’ 
These papal words full of wisdom and true understanding are more than sufficient as a response to Zubair Simonson’s blog ‘Is Islam a Religion of Peace, or of War?‘  of the 5th of January 2021. It is quite surprising that as a Catholic, Simonson would so openly contradict His Holiness, the Pope. Could it be that he is among the ‘small fundamentalist group’ within Catholicism that Pope Francis was referring to? The opinionated tone of his blog and the sheer prejudice it is laden with certainly lend to such a conclusion.
That the National Catholic Register should allow such anti-Islamic rhetoric into its columns, in flagrant contradiction to the Pope’s declarations, is quite peculiar, not to say bewildering. Is this publication openly challenging the Pope? This matter deserves further investigation.
— TheMuslimTimes (@TheMuslimTimes2) July 17, 2017
For the moment, we shall review Simonson’s assertions.
These start with a flashlight, which appears to be one of his pet obsessions, as it resurfaces in several of his opinion pieces (see his blog of the 14thof January 2021, ‘A Former Muslim Discovers the Goodness of Bacon‘  and the more recent ‘From Muslim to Catholic‘  on the Coming Home Network International.
From the very onset, the plausibility of the scenario he paints is problematic. Indeed, who in their right mind would attempt to enter a youth camp in the North Carolina mountains in the middle of the night – and how would a 4th grade pupil (who in the U.S. would typically be aged 9 or 10) be able to stop them if they failed to tell him the correct password? Such questions unfortunately remain unanswered. Nevertheless, we shall assume this episode did take place. One will immediately notice that Simonson makes the schoolboy error of conflating individuals with religious teachings. What a religion propounds is not always reflected in the deeds of people claiming to be its followers. As we have seen, the personal musings of certain Catholics do not always match up with the public declarations of the Pope. The more intelligent readers will naturally be inclined to believe that papal declarations are representative of Catholicism and that any opinions contrary to those of the Pope are to be considered non-Catholic, or even anti-Catholic.
Simonson does not miss the opportunity to let readers know that his unpleasant teachers were ‘Syrian-born’ and ‘Iraqi-born’. Clearly, he wants his readers to associate Syrians and Iraqis with violence. In doing so, he stigmatizes the numerous Syrian-born and Iraqi-born Christian communities who have been suffering enormously, sometimes as much as their Muslim compatriots. For Muslims are in fact the greatest victims of terrorism, as revealed by several credible studies, including the one carried out by researchers from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a research and education centre at the University of Maryland . Both Syrian and Iraqi nationals, whether Christian or Muslim, are the innocent victims of wars imposed upon them by rich nations – including traditionally Christian ones – wanting to control and exploit their natural resources. As Pope Francis aptly put it, the basic terrorism against all humanity is when money is made a god.
But let’s return to his tale. Simonson almost feels sorry for his tutors, wistfully sharing the sad observation that, after all, they ‘were born into a line of indoctrination which could be traced back for over a thousand years. They didn’t know that there are better ways to live.’
Is this really the case, though?
Firstly, there is no concept in Islamic teachings of military or paramilitary training camps for boys, let alone fourth graders. In fact, even when war was imposed by Makkan idolaters upon the beleaguered community of Muslims in Medina, the Holy Prophet (sa) of Islam forbade minors under the age of 15 to take part in battle. 
Secondly, the Prophet (sa) of Islam always told Muslims to teach children with kindness and to be merciful towards them. For example, he said: ‘Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.’ 
While sharing his personal background, Simonson says he gets told every now and then by ‘well-meaning friends’ that Islam is a religion of Peace. We will have to conclude that the Pope, who has declared, as mentioned previously, that Islam is indeed a religion of peace, is being condescendingly described as ‘well-meaning’ here. We are informed that his family was not keen to dismiss non-Muslims as kafirs, which, he points out, is a ‘derogatory term for nonbelievers’. In reality, the word kafir simply means a disbeliever. By way of comparison, one may like to point out what Jesus (as) is said to have told his disciples regarding those who reject belief: ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine, lest haply they trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you.’  Yes – unlike Simonson, Jesus (as) was not one to praise the goodness of bacon. 
So far, Simonson has already expressed an opinion contrary to that of the Pope and of Jesus Christ himself. It will be fair to assume this isn’t going too well for him.
After an unhelpful attempt to generalise anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiments among American Muslims – thereby trivialising if not outright obfuscating the many interfaith efforts and joint activities carried out by Muslims with their Christian and Jewish compatriots in the United States – he quickly resorts to a time-old, worn-out orientalist trope: the so-called dichotomy in Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an.
According to this thoroughly debunked hypothesis, Prophet Muhammad (as) at times espoused peaceful interactions with the Jews and Christians of Arabia and at other times, violence. In their prejudice against Islam, a number of orientalists, whether Christian, Jewish or atheist, have clung to the erroneous view that while the Prophet (sa) was helpless in Makkah, Qur’anic verses revealed to him advocated peace with other faiths; but all this changed when he acceded to power in Medinah. Medinite verses, they contend, called for violence against those refusing to adhere to Islam. It is a view that, like Simonson, some Catholics like to perpetuate.  Modern scholars, such as Suleyman Sertkaya and Zuleyha Keskin, have demonstrated the error of this Orientalist view.  The most thorough deconstruction in the English language of this mythical Makkan-Medinite dichotomy, however, is arguably the Five-Volume Commentary  on the Holy Qur’an by the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Movement, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra). Furthermore, in order to appreciate the character of the Holy Prophet (sa), Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan’s treatise, The Excellent Exemplar – Muhammad , makes for compelling reading; in particular the chapters on his life in Makkah and Madinah.
The whole premise of Simonson’s assertions is that Medinite verses (which he sees as violent) abrogate the more pacific and conciliatory Meccan ones. In this, he unfortunately finds support among hard-line Muslim scholarship of the Middle Ages and more recent times. The theory of abrogation, or Naskh in Arabic, has been dismantled by the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), in his numerous writings. He affirms that not a single jot of the Qur’an has been abrogated ; and that the abrogation mentioned in the Qur’an is extra-Qur’anic and not intra-Quranic: the Qur’an abrogates certain verses of previous scriptures, most notably biblical ones. This theme is explored in detail by Azhar Goraya, in The False Theory of Qur’an Abrogation. 
Simonson, like other writers harbouring deep prejudice against Islam, relies on the poor understanding that was prevalent among the more obdurate Muslim scholars of the past of the whys and wherefores of the defensive battles that were waged during early Islam. Their writings and exegeses of Islamic texts and history have, regrettably, been exploited by the small fundamentalist groups (that Pope Francis had referred to) to justify the geopolitical battles that have been raging during recent decades across the Muslim world, most visibly in the Middle East. Less perceptive onlookers – especially among non-Muslims – have been duped into thinking that Islam itself calls for violence. This, of course, is not true, as has been shown by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (ra), the fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya community, in his thorough analysis, Murder in the Name of Allah.  For a quick read on the pains taken by the Prophet (sa) of Islam to avoid violence and maintain peace in society, this article can be helpful. It will be a revelation for many non-Muslim readers. 
Simonson continues to pursue the Orientalist, anti-Islamic line of reasoning, bringing readers to the ‘Empire of Conquest’ created by early Muslims and the so-called forced conversions of whole nations to Islam. Readers are referred to chapter 2 of Murder in the Name of Allah where the author addresses this misconception.  As a Sikh commentator wrote, ‘In the beginning, the Prophet’s enemies made life difficult for him and his followers. So the Prophet asked his followers to leave their homes and migrate to Medina. He preferred migration to fighting his own people, but when oppression went beyond the pale of tolerance, he took up his sword in self-defence. Those who believe religion can be spread by force are fools who neither know the ways of religion nor the ways of the world. They are proud of this belief because they are a long, long way away from the Truth.’ 
In passing, Simonson regrets the Holy Prophet’s (sa) ‘denial of Christ’s divinity’. Yet, in the end, he goes on to say: ‘a Man who had once been tempted in the wilderness, shown all of the great cities of the world, and told they could be his if only he would bow down to the evil one…He must have known it in his bones that to accept them would spell our utter ruin, the forfeiting of any hope of our salvation.’
This is Simonson’s concept of God – the Creator of the universe, tempted by the Devil with mere cities on a tiny planet that He Himself had created… and Who, thankfully, decides not to accept them! While respecting the right of Catholics, and indeed of any Trinitarian Christian, to believe whatever they please about God, it would be remiss of us not to share our thoughts on the serious logical impossibilities of such a belief, in the form of an excellent book on the subject.
Ironically, Zubair Simonson’s voyage from Islam to Catholicism can be summed up in its title: A Journey from Facts to Fiction.  For indeed, in his repeated attempts to identify Islam with violence, Simonson has persistently rejected facts in favour of fiction – but those papal words will continue to echo:‘This is not right and this is not true.’
 The Guardian, 1 August 2016, Pope Francis says it is ‘not right’ to identify Islam with violence https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/01/pope-francis-says-it-not-right-to-identify-islam-with-violence
 National Catholic Register, 5 January 2021, https://www.ncregister.com/blog/religion-of-peace-or-war
 National Catholic Register, 14 January 2021, https://www.ncregister.com/blog/goodness-of-bacon
 Coming Home Network International, February 2021 issue, https://chnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2102nwslttr_email2.pdf
 Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 423; Book 64, Hadith 141
 Musnad Ahmad, Hadith 7033
 Matthew 7:6
 National Catholic Register, 14 January 2021, https://www.ncregister.com/blog/goodness-of-bacon
 The Tablet, The International Catholic News Weekly, 2 May 2017, https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/7046/pope-francis-historic-trip-to-cairo-was-big-blessing-to-egyptians
 A Prophetic Stance against Violence: An Analysis of the Peaceful Attitude of Prophet Muhammad during the Medinan Period, https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/11/11/587/pdf
 Ruhani Khazain, vol. 3 pg. 170, Izala-e-Auham
 Anyone who says the Quran advocates terrorism obviously hasn’t read its lessons on violence, by Rashid Qasim, The Independent, 10 April 2017 https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/islam-muslim-terrorism-islamist-extremism-quran-teaching-violence-meaning-prophet-muhammed-a7676246.html?amp
 Nawan Hindustan, Delhi, 17 November 1947
 Christianity: A Journey from Facts to Fiction, by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, https://www.alislam.org/library/books/christianity_facts_to_fiction/index.html
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