The Quran and the Atheist: A Response to a Skeptic

The Quran and the Atheist: A Response to a Skeptic

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“To such as Allah rejects from His guidance, there can be no guide: He will leave them in their trespasses, wandering in distraction.”

–         The Holy Quran, Surah Al-Araaf, 7:186

            Polemics against Islam are not a new development.  They have been around since the beginning of the mission of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  Furthermore, as the centuries have rolled by, the polemics have evolved.  For example, one of the most common polemics against Muhammad (peace be upon him) has been his marriage to Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), and yet, this polemic has only become common in modern times.  Before the turn of the 20th century, it was rare to see non-Muslims attacking the character of Muhammad (peace be upon him) for such a reason.[1]  In addition, the type of polemic against Islam varies depending on its origin.  Generally, atheist polemics are different from Christian ones, though they may overlap in some cases.  For example, an atheist may find offense with the Islamic belief in hell, whereas a Christian would naturally not see anything offensive about such a belief.  With this in mind, we will examine the polemics of one modern-day skeptic against the Holy Quran.  In his book “The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy”, the late skeptic C. Dennis McKinsey (d. 2009)[2] briefly discussed his reasons for rejecting the Holy Quran, offering a few examples of what he saw as evidence of the Quran’s “flawed” nature.[3]  Through this discussion, it is hoped that the reader will see the flaws in McKinsey’s methodology and weaknesses in his approach to the Quran.

The Arguments

            Beyond the standard polemical arguments, McKinsey also makes rather silly and childish arguments against the Quran, such as that it is “boring” and is “a good antidote for insomnia”.[4]  Since these arguments expose McKinsey’s own ignorance of the Quran’s literary style (which scholars have expressed admiration for), we can ignore them for now and will discuss them briefly later on.  After all, whether a book is “boring” or not is in the eye of the beholder, and laymen who don’t truly appreciate or understand the Quran’s status as a literary masterpiece will obviously not find much to be excited about.[5] 

            To start, McKinsey makes what is unquestionably the most common polemic against the Quran: that it “propagates a message of intolerance, brutality, and barbarity toward non-Muslims”.[6]  First, he refers to Surah 5:51, which states:

“O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”[7]

McKinsey claims that this verse displays “contempt for Jews and Christians” and “an appalling ignorance of historical events”.[8]  But what he doesn’t realize is that this verse is referring to specific circumstances.  According to “The Study Quran”:

“[t]he verse’s prohibition against alliances of protection with those outside the Muslim community likely had to with the fluid and somewhat precarious social and political situation of the fledgling Islamic community during the time of the Prophet.”[9]

It also notes that:

“…it is important to note that Islamic Law, developed after the Islamic state had become fully established, allowed agreements of mutual protection with non-Muslim states and political entities.”[10]

Finally, it notes that (emphasis in the original):

“[t]he verse should not be interpreted as forbidding friendly relations with Jews and Christians on a purely personal level, since such a reading would contradict v. 4, which allowed for the most intimate of personal relationships–marriage–to exist between Muslim men and Jewish and Christian women, and 60:7-8, which states that Muslims may behave justly and kindly to any who do not fight them on account of religion or otherwise oppress them.”[11]

Indeed, the Quran states very clearly in Surah Al-Mumtahana, 60:7-8:

“Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just.  Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong.”

For someone who claimed to have studied the Quran “cover to cover”,[12] McKinsey seemed to conveniently forget about these verses, or perhaps deliberately failed to mention them. 

            Next, McKinsey appealed to Surah Al-Maeda, 5:33, which states:

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;”

According to McKinsey:

“[i]ntolerance of this magnitude exceeds that of the New Testament, because the latter never goes so far as to advocate the execution of all those who oppose the key figures of Christianity.”[13]

But McKinsey seemed to completely miss the point!  One would not normally associate the act of “waging war” with simply “opposing” another party.  That would be like saying that Adolf Hitler was not “waging war” against Europe but rather he was simply “opposing” Europe!  McKinsey did not realize the extent of the “opposition” that Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers were facing.  Moreover, the verse says that execution was only one of the options.  The other option was to exile those who opposed the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).[14]  So, unless McKinsey was a pacifist, there is no reason why he would have found anything offensive in the above verse.

            Next, McKinsey referred to surah 9:36, 33:61 and 9:5, and claimed that:

“[b]elievers in the Quran are urged to be no more open-minded than Old Testament Hebrews.”[15]

But as we have already seen, the command to fight was only against those who waged war on the Muslims.  McKinsey was rather disingenuous in his partial quotes of the Quran.  For example, the part of Surah Tawba, 9:36, which McKinsey complained is offensive because it commands the Muslims to “fight the pagans”, is actually very clear as to which pagans it is referring to (emphasis ours):

“…fight the Pagans all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.”[16]

Was McKinsey somehow unable to comprehend the meaning of this very clear statement?  Or was he deliberately misquoting the Quran to deceive his readers?  Since he was obviously a very intelligent person, we are forced to conclude that he was deliberately lying. 

            Next, McKinsey used the “fear” card by claiming that if “strict believers in the Quran” attained “positions of national importance” in the United States, non-Muslims would be facing “a clear and present danger”.[17]  It seems McKinsey was propagating discriminatory policies and irrational fear of Muslims even before the tragic events of 9/11.  In that regard, he was a pioneer in the Islamophobic industry.  How ironic that, when it came to potentially restricting the rights of Muslims in America, McKinsey was in the same camp as Christian extremists! 

            Next, McKinsey referred to Surah Anb-Nahl, 16:118 and Surah As-Shu’araa, 26:55-58 (the latter only with ellipses) and claimed that they exhibit intolerance against Jews which:

“…resembles the Christian treatment of Jews during…the age of the Spanish Inquisition.”[18]

Given McKinsey’s habitually inept quoting of the Quran, we can be sure that he completely misconstrued the meanings of the above verses as well.  First, McKinsey quoted Surah 16:118 only partially, and misinterpreted the part he did quote as somehow promoting “intolerance” against Jews.  But when the verse is read in context, it becomes clear that it is simply referring to the laws of the Taurat (Torah) which prohibited certain things for Jews that were not prohibited for Muslims:

“To the Jews We prohibited such things as We have mentioned to thee before: We did them no wrong, but they were used to doing wrong to themselves.”

This is a reference to Surah Al-Anaam, 6:146,[19] which mentions specific types of food that the Jews were forbidden to eat:

“For those who followed the Jewish Law, We forbade every (animal) with undivided hoof, and We forbade them that fat of the ox and the sheep, except what adheres to their backs or their entrails, or is mixed up with a bone: this in recompense for their willful disobedience: for We are true (in Our ordinances).”

Thus, this verse explains that such things were prohibited to the Jews due to their acts of disobedience to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He), but that they are not prohibited to Muslims, as the Quran abrogated the laws of previous scriptures, such as the Taurat.  The verse says nothing about being “intolerant” to Jews.

            As for 26:55-58, which McKinsey again somehow interpreted as promoting “intolerance”, the verses were actually referring to the Egyptian Pharaoh’s attempts to recapture the escaping Israelites and how Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) thwarted his attempts and defeated the Egyptians.  In other words, the verses are referring to Allah’s favors to the Jews!  Indeed, verse 29 states:

“Thus it was, but We made the Children of Israel inheritors of such things.”

Hence, according to the Quran, it was not the Jews who were expelled from “gardens, springs, treasures and every kind of honorable position”.  Rather, it was the Egyptians who were expelled for their tyranny and rejection of Allah’s word![20]

            Next, McKinsey noted that “[c]orporal punishment is promoted in the Quran” and quotes Surah Al-Maeda, 5:38 and Surah Al-Anfal, 8:12 to demonstrate this.[21]  While the former obviously does uphold corporal punishment (i.e. cutting off the hand of a thief), it is difficult to understand how McKinsey associated “corporal punishment” with Surah Al-Anfaal, 8:12, which states:

“Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.””

As can be seen, this verse has nothing to do with the punishment of criminals, but is rather referring to the Battle of Badr, when a small Muslim army defeated a larger pagan army in the first clash between the followers of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and their persecutors, and was aided in that victory by God’s angels.[22]  Obviously, McKinsey didn’t believe in angels, but that is irrelevant.  The important point to note is that McKinsey failed yet again to properly quote the Quran![23]          

            Next, McKinsey claimed that “tolerance, humaneness, and restraint are not the Quran’s strong points”, and refers to Surah An-Nisa, 4:89 (and 4:91) to support his claim.[24]  But as we have seen already, McKinsey’s honest portrayal of what the Quran teaches was not his strong point!  Based on his (mis)quote of Surah 4:89, he then claimed that:

“[i]f Muslims ever gained control of [America] and obeyed the Quran, one can only shudder at what would occur.”[25]

Clearly, McKinsey was good at misquoting the Quran to spread fear and hatred of Muslims in America, because when we read Surah An-Nisa, 4:89, we see that it is not referring to “unbelievers”, as McKinsey claimed, but rather to the hypocrites, who pretended to have faith but were in fact in league with the pagan persecutors who had driven the Muslims out of Mecca:

“Why should ye be divided into two parties about the Hypocrites? Allah hath upset them for their (evil) deeds. Would ye guide those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way? For those whom Allah hath thrown out of the Way, never shalt thou find the Way.  They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks;-”[26]

McKinsey also failed to quote the next verse as well, which makes it clear that there was no hardline stance even against the hypocrites and that peace was always preferred:

“Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (of peace), or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (Guarantees of) peace, then Allah Hath opened no way for you (to war against them).”[27]

            Next, McKinsey quoted Surah AnNisa, 4:101 and claimed that:

“…Muslims must have some degree of paranoia if they really believe sura [sic] 4:101…”

This statement is certainly ironic given McKinsey’s warning of doom that unbelievers would be in serious trouble if the big, bad Muslims ever took over America!  Talk about paranoia!

            In any case, he actually quoted parts of 4:101 and 4:102, which indeed refer to the danger posed to Muslims by unbelievers.  But what McKinsey failed to understand was that this was in reference to Muslims who were fighting for their lives during the struggle against the Meccan pagans.  Thus, the historical context shows that McKinsey was full of hot air and failed to understand the real significance of these verses to faithful Muslims.  It was meant to convey to all Muslims that, in times of danger, when one was fearful of one’s life, or when one was traveling, the obligatory prayers could be shortened.[28]  This was a practical measure aimed at avoiding placing any unnecessary difficulties on the believers.

            Next, McKinsey referred to Surah An-Noor, 24:2-4 and claimed that:

“…Quranic legal procedures are unjust and brutal.”[29]

Curiously, however, he only directly quoted verse 2, which refers to flogging for men and women who are guilty of fornication, and ended the quote with ellipses.  For some reason, McKinsey did not directly quote verse 4, which states:

“And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations), flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors;”

Why didn’t McKinsey quote this verse?  Could it be that even though he regarded flogging as an “unjust and brutal” practice, he did not want his readers to know that the Quran commands flogging people who accuse chaste women of adultery without providing any evidence?  Instead, he only wanted them to know that flogging was prescribed for fornicators.  Given McKinsey’s history of only giving half-truths, it seems likely that this was yet another deliberate attempt at deceiving his readers. 

            As for his opposition to the criminal punishments commanded by the Quran, McKinsey offers no logical reason for why these “procedures” are “unjust and brutal”.  It was only his personal opinion which carries no logical weight.  Just because something appears to be “unjust and brutal” due to one’s personal opinion, it does not mean that it is.  Many people in western countries are opposed to the death penalty, whereas many others are for it.  Amazingly, even giving life sentences for crimes such as murder is now being opposed by some people in western countries![30]  Who has the authority to declare such practices as “unjust”?  Clearly, McKinsey was appealing to subjective criteria in his opposition to Quranic “legal procedures”.     

            Next, McKinsey launched a tirade against “the Quranic attitude toward divorce”, referring to it as “strange”.[31]  He paraphrased Surah Al-Baqara, 2:229, stating that “…two divorces are permissible”, and Surah At-Talaaq, 65:1, stating that it:

“…lays down the absurd rule that when a prophet divorces a woman the latter is not to be expelled from her house unless she is guilty of some lewdness.”[32]

First, let us examine Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:229.  The verse states:

“A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold Together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness. It is not lawful for you, (Men), to take back any of your gifts (from your wives), except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah. If ye (judges) do indeed fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah, there is no blame on either of them if she give something for her freedom. These are the limits ordained by Allah; so do not transgress them if any do transgress the limits ordained by Allah, such persons wrong (Themselves as well as others).”

What the verse states is that a married couple can get divorced and then reestablish their marriage afterwards if they choose to reconcile with each other.  This can be done no more than two times.  What was so “strange” about this to McKinsey?  The Quran allows for a couple to reconcile, and in fact even encourages this.  However, it puts a limit on how many times this can be done.  If a couple divorces, then reconciles, and then divorces again, the Quran gives the man and woman two choices: either reconcile permanently or separate permanently.  As “The Study Quran” states:

“A couple can reconcile after a declarative divorce…only twice.  After the third divorce declaration, the divorce is final.”[33]

            In addition, readers will notice that McKinsey completely ignored the part of the verse which commands Muslim men to let the divorced women keep their marriage gifts.  Did McKinsey also find this part to be “strange”?

            Second, let us examine Surah At-Talaaq, 65:1, which states:

“O Prophet! When ye do divorce women, divorce them at their prescribed periods, and count (accurately), their prescribed periods: And fear Allah your Lord: and turn them not out of their houses, nor shall they (themselves) leave, except in case they are guilty of some open lewdness, those are limits set by Allah: and any who transgresses the limits of Allah, does verily wrong his (own) soul: thou knowest not if perchance Allah will bring about thereafter some new situation.”

According to McKinsey, this verse states that if the Prophet divorced his wife, she could not leave his house.  But McKinsey completely misunderstood the verse.  First of all, this verse actually applies to all Muslims, even though it was originally addressed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).[34]   Second, the verse lays down the rules for how a man may divorce his wife.  For example, the reference to “prescribed periods” refers to the menstruation period, and the verse states that a man may not divorce his wife while she is menstruating.[35]  Third, the prohibition of expelling a woman even after the divorce is meant to give the couple a chance to reconcile.  However, while they may still live together during this period, they may not have sexual relations until they have reconciled.[36]  Moreover, a man cannot expel his wife merely on the suspicion of marital infidelity.  Rather, he must bring evidence in the form of four eyewitnesses.[37]

            Next, McKinsey attacked the Quran for permitting polygamy, referring to Surah An-Nisa, 4:3, which states:

“If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.”

McKinsey referred to this as a “disgusting practice”, but again that was merely his own opinion.  What is important to note yet again is McKinsey’s deceit in only partially quoting the above verse while ignoring the part which clearly states that Muslim men may only have one wife if they fear that they cannot treat each wife equally, in the event they do want to marry more than one.  Thus, Islam permits polygamy but only if it is done equitably and fairly.  McKinsey’s claim that it is “disgusting” is certainly ironic given the prevalence of loose sexual mores in western society.  Did McKinsey believe that having multiple sexual partners outside of marriage was also “disgusting”?      

            Next, McKinsey accused the Quran of “sexism and male chauvinism”,[38] referring first to Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:228, which states:

“And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.”

In McKinsey’s view, the verse makes “doubletalk”, by claiming that men and women have equal rights while simultaneously maintaining that men have an “advantage” over them.  But this is a simplistic reading and classical Islamic scholars did not interpret the verse this way.  For example, according to the view of Ibn Abbas, the verse: 

“…is a reference to men’s encouraging good relations and their generosity toward women in wealth and virtuous behavior, which means that the one possessing the upper hand must be biased against himself.”[39]

Another view is that men have certain “economic advantages” and “obligations” as well as “their ability to fight in the way of God” or advantages in “strength and intelligence”.[40]  Indeed, one cannot reasonably argue that men and women are equal in every way.  For example, men are generally physically stronger than women.  This would not be a “sexist” statement because it is based on general fact.        

            Next, McKinsey referred to Surah An-Nisa 4:11 and 4:176, two verses which outline inheritance laws in Islam, and then claimed that they are meant to keep “women in subjugation”.[41]  Obviously, McKinsey was being a bit melodramatic and resorting to exaggerations rather than rational arguments.  It is difficult to see how the inheritance laws in Islam somehow keep “women in subjugation”, when they clearly outline that women have inheritance rights, a revolutionary idea in 7th-century Arabia and even across the globe.  In pre-Islamic Arabia, women and children were not entitled to inheritance.[42]  Even in Europe, women were denied property inheritance up until the end of the 16th-century![43]  Indeed, both Jewish and Islamic laws provided inheritance rights to women far earlier than the supposed “enlightened” Europeans even considered the idea, as Professor Mary Radford of Georgia State University College observes:

“[t]he laws of Judaism and Islam both established inheritance rights for women long before these rights were established in most Western countries.”[44]

As for the unequal distribution of inheritance among males and females, the reason for this was explained by the 13th-century scholar Ibn Kathir, who stated:

“There is a distinction because men need money to spend on their dependents, commercial transactions, work and fulfilling their obligations. Consequently, men get twice the portion of the inheritance that females get.”[45]

Thus, contrary to McKinsey’s melodramatic and exaggerated rant, the Islamic inheritance laws were not meant to keep “women in subjugation”.

            Another example of McKinsey’s exaggeration and proclivity for making false statements is the following claim:

“[c]learly the Quran puts no stock whatever in equality between the sexes.  No wonder women in Muslim-dominated countries are forced to go around in black sheets like mobile prisoners with everything covered but their eyeballs.”[46]

Unfortunately for McKinsey, the only thing that is “clear” is that his claims are bogus and based on a desire to shock his readers rather than give them the full facts.  His reference to the niqab or “face-veil” is inaccurate given that the majority of Muslim countries do NOT require women to wear it!  It is actually most common in places like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, whereas other forms of dress, such as the chador, are common in other countries like Iran.[47]  So in actual fact, most Muslim women do not have to wear the face-veil since most countries do not require it by law.  Thus, those that do wear it do so by choice.    

            Next, McKinsey continued his tirade on Islam and women’s rights by appealing to Surah An-Nisa, 4:34, which states:

“As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).”

As was the habit for McKinsey, he made the following false claim with regard to this verse:

“Talk about male supremacy!  Men are in charge because Allah wills it and you can beat women when you merely fear rebellion.  It doesn’t have to actually occur.”[48]

Once again, McKinsey appealed to shock value rather than scholarly discourse to make a false accusation against Islamic law.  First, the verse does not state that men may beat their wives if they have a mere suspicion of rebellion.  Classical Islamic scholars have explained that the verse is referring to women who have “demonstrated these things through their actions”.[49]  For example, Ibn Kathir stated in his commentary that the verse refers to:

“…the woman from whom you see ill conduct with her husband, such as when she acts as if she is above her husband, disobeys him, ignores him, dislikes him, and so forth. When these signs appear in a woman, her husband should advise her and remind her of Allah’s torment if she disobeys him.”[50] 

Thus, as “The Study Quran” states:

“…it refers to demonstrated hostility, not merely the suspicion thereof.”[51]

Furthermore, McKinsey failed to account for the context of the revelation of the verse.  It was in fact revealed on the occasion of a woman (or her family) who complained to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that her husband had hit her.  Before the verse was revealed, the Prophet ordered retaliation as a means to punish the husband, which indicates his own dislike for domestic violence.  However, when the verse was revealed, the order for retaliation was rescinded.  On this occasion, the Prophet is reported to have said:

“I wanted one thing and God wanted another.”[52]

Considering that domestic violence was a common occurrence in pre-Islamic Arabia, the very fact that the woman initially complained to the Prophet shows that Muslim women were given more rights than their non-Muslim counterparts.  Why would she have complained in the first place if Muhammad (peace be upon him) had not already taught that beating one’s wife was disliked?  Indeed, it is very well known that he repeatedly urged men to avoid hitting their wives, and that he also never struck any of his wives.

            Finally, it has been the unanimous opinion of Islamic scholars that the phrase “beat them” means to use “a moderate and noninjurious form of physical force-‘without violence’”.[53]  The opinion of the famous commentator and companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Ibn Abbas, was that the “beating” should be done with a “siwak”, which was a small twig that was normally used for cleaning one’s teeth.  It is hard to imagine how a siwak would have caused any pain or serious injury!  Moreover, classical scholars tended to discourage “beating” in favor of other means.  As Professor Jonathan A.C. Brown observes:

“[i]t became received opinion among Sunni ulama from Iberia to Iran that, though striking one’s wife was permitted, other means of discipline and dispute were greatly preferred, more effective and better for the piety of both spouses.”[54]

            Next, McKinsey claimed that “…like the Bible, the Quran supports slavery”.  To make his case, he quoted Surah An-Nur, 24:32-33 and Surah An-Nisa, 4:92.  However, the irony of his appeal is that 24:33 and 4:92 actually command Muslims to free slaves!  Indeed, the freeing of a slave was a meritorious deed and was prescribed as penance for a variety of sins, including the accidental killing of a Muslim (Surah An-Nisa 4:92).  Furthermore, all modern Islamic scholars have stated that since slavery has been universally abolished, then there is no reason to revive it, since there is nothing in the Quran that requires Muslims to enslave people as a means of fulfilling their religious duties.[55]      

            Next, McKinsey quoted Surah Al-Maeda, 5:18, which states:

“(Both) the Jews and the Christians say: “We are sons of Allah, and his beloved.” Say: “Why then doth He punish you for your sins?”

He then made the silly claim that this critique of Jews and Christians by Muslims is “hardly worthy of serious consideration” given that “agony, ignorance, superstition, deprivation, regression, disease, and misery flourish in Muslim-dominated areas of the world”.[56]  Yet, if he had actually bothered to quote the entire verse, he would have relegated his ludicrous assumption to the dustbin.  Let us quote the entire verse and see the context:

“(Both) the Jews and the Christians say: “We are sons of Allah, and his beloved.” Say: “Why then doth He punish you for your sins? Nay, ye are but men,- of the men he hath created: He forgiveth whom He pleaseth, and He punisheth whom He pleaseth: and to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between: and unto Him is the final goal (of all)”.”

Thus, as can be seen, the Quran is critiquing the claim of some Jews and Christians that they are favored by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) over others.  It also states that Allah forgives and punishes whomever He pleases.  Moreover, this verse is among many that criticize the idea that God has sons and daughters, even when it was meant as a metaphor.[57] 

            Finally, the Quran and Ahadith state that being a Muslim does not mean that one will never suffer in the life of this world.  In fact, a believer can expect to suffer trials.  There are many Quranic verses that refer to the suffering of Muslims for their faith.[58]  Hence, if anyone is not “worthy of serious consideration”, it is McKinsey and his silly polemics against the Holy Quran!      

            Next, McKinsey accused Muslims of being “as superstitious as Christians”[59] and appealed to Surah Maryam, 19:29-30, which mentions the miracle of the infant Jesus (peace be upon him) talking in his cradle in defense of his mother.  Of course, being an atheist, McKinsey would not believe in miracles.  Yet that is hardly a problem for Muslims.  Just because McKinsey regarded the belief in God, heaven, hell or miracles as “superstition” does not actually make it so.  If one believes in God, then why would one also not believe in miracles?   Miracles would certainly be easy for an All-Powerful and Omnipotent being! 

            Next, McKinsey accused the Quran of being unscientific.[60]  First, he appealed to Surah Al-Hijr, 15:16, which states:

“It is We Who have set out the zodiacal signs in the heavens, and made them fair-seeming to (all) beholders.”

To McKinsey, the reference to the “zodiacal signs” was unscientific.  But his claim is once again a reflection of his own ignorance of the Quran rather than some shortcoming in the Quran itself.  The Arabic word translated by Yusuf Ali as “zodiacal signs” is burūj, which has also been translated as “constellations” or “stars”.[61]  The same word appears in two other places in the Quran: Surah Al-Furqaan, 25:61 and Surah Al-Buruj, 85:1.  In the former, the “constellations” are simply described as the creation of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He), just like the sun and the moon:

“Blessed is He Who made constellations in the skies, and placed therein a Lamp and a Moon giving light.”[62]

Also, the “burūj” are simply part of Allah’s creation, and have no significance other than being used for navigation, as people in ancient times used to use the stars during travel (emphasis ours):

“It is He Who maketh the stars (as beacons) for you, that ye may guide yourselves, with their help, through the dark spaces of land and sea: We detail Our signs for people who know.”[63]

            Finally, the belief in horoscopes and astrology are completely forbidden in Islam.  The stars have no power over the lives of people, as only Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) has that power.  Thus, believing in horoscopes and astrology would constitute the sin of “shirk”, the greatest sin in Islamic theology.[64]  The following ahadith demonstrate the prohibition of relying on the stars:

“It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) said: Don’t you know what your Lord said? He observed: I have never endowed My bondsmen with a favor, but a section amongst them disbelieved it and said: Stars, it was due to the stars.”[65]

“Narrated Zaid bin Khalid Al-Juhani: The Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) led us in the Fajr prayer at Hudaibiya after a rainy night. On completion of the prayer, he faced the people and said, “Do you know what your Lord has said (revealed)?” The people replied, “Allah and His Apostle know better.” He said, “Allah has said, ‘In this morning some of my slaves remained as true believers and some became non-believers; whoever said that the rain was due to the Blessings and the Mercy of Allah had belief in Me and he disbelieves in the stars, and whoever said that it rained because of a particular star had no belief in Me but believes in that star.'””[66]

Thus, the Quran does not say that the 12 signs of the Zodiac have any significance over people’s lives.  It merely refers to them as among the “signs” of Allah in nature. 

            McKinsey’s second claim of a “scientific inaccuracy” is one of the most prominent examples of his laughable ineptitude.  He referred to Surah Al-Ankaboot, 29:41, which states:

“The parable of those who take protectors other than Allah is that of the spider, who builds (to itself) a house; but truly the flimsiest of houses is the spider’s house;- if they but knew.”

In McKinsey’s view, this verse is false because:

“…pound for pound the silk composition of a spider’s home makes it anything but the flimsiest of houses.”[67]

Yet, this argument can be quickly refuted by demonstrating how easy it is to destroy a spider’s web, which is made of silk.  Anyone who has found a spider web in their house knows that it is very easy to destroy the web.  Hence, the spider’s home is very flimsy after all!

            Next, McKinsey referred Surah Maryam, 19:97 and others, which say that the Quran is easy to understand and remember.  McKinsey found this hard to believe and credulously asked:

“[h]ow can one statement be so utterly false?”[68]

Yet, the better question would be how could McKinsey be so utterly inept?  He didn’t seem to realize that he was reading an English translation of the Quran.  The Quran’s original language is Arabic, not English!  Thus, if the translation is hard to understand, that would be the fault of the translator, would it not?[69]

            As a matter of fact, those with knowledge of the Quran’s historical background know well that it is indeed “easy to understand and remember”.[70]  Furthermore, one of the greatest miracles of the Quran is that millions of Muslim men, women and children have memorized it in its entirety throughout the history of Islam.

            Finally, the naïve opinion of an obvious novice like McKinsey is easily outweighed by the more knowledgeable views of scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim.  For example, A.J. Arberry, whose English translation is one of the most widely used in western countries, stated the following about the Holy Quran (emphasis ours):

“…I have been at pains to study the intricate and richly varied rhythms which—apart from the message itself— constitute the Koran’s undeniable claim to rank amongst the greatest literary masterpieces of mankind.”[71]

Thus, real scholars of Islam didn’t seem to share in the ignorant views of McKinsey.  He was clearly out of his league! 

            Next, McKinsey claimed that:

“…Islam, like Christianity, degrades its supreme being, God, by alleging that he plays favorites.”[72]

To support this claim, he quoted Surah An-Nahl, 16:71, which states:

“Allah has bestowed His gifts of sustenance more freely on some of you than on others: those more favoured are not going to throw back their gifts to those whom their right hands possess, so as to be equal in that respect. Will they then deny the favours of Allah?”

He then claimed that the meaning of this verse is that “gifts are not earned but given according to preference”.[73]  Yet, this is another example of his rush to judgement rather than serious scholarship.  Elsewhere, the Quran explains that these “gifts” are meant as a “test”, and do not express any notion of “favoritism”.  Surah Al-Anaam, 6:157, states:

“It is He Who hath made you (His) agents, inheritors of the earth: He hath raised you in ranks, some above others: that He may try you in the gifts He hath given you: for thy Lord is quick in punishment: yet He is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”

Furthermore, in his last sermon, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated that (emphasis ours):

“[a]ll mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”[74]

Therefore, in contrast to McKinsey’s asinine claim, a person earns God’s favor through piety and good deeds.[75] 

            Before closing his diatribe against the Quran, McKinsey appealed to Surah Al-Furqaan, 25:30, which states:

“Then the Messenger will say: “O my Lord! Truly my people took this Qur’an for just foolish nonsense.””       

He then again credulously asked:

“[n]ow why on earth would somebody do that?”[76]

But the better question would be how on earth was McKinsey so utterly incompetent?  First of all, the verse is referring to a complaint of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on the Day of Judgment.  On that day, the detractors and mockers of the Quran, both amongst the Prophet’s own people and those who would come in the future (such as McKinsey), will realize much too late the error of their ways.  Second of all, McKinsey didn’t seem to realize exactly what type of people the verse is referring to.  These detractors of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who found the Quran to be “foolish nonsense” were backward and superstitious pagans who believed in or practiced such things as:

  1. Idol worship.[77]
  2. The so-called “daughters” of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).[78]
  3. Female infanticide.[79]
  4. The power of the stars (astrology).[80]
  5. Eclipses of the sun and moon happened because of someone’s death.[81]
  6. Exploitation of orphans and the poor.[82]
  7. Exploitation and mistreatment of women.[83]
  8. Cruelty to animals.[84]
  9. Tribal wars and vendettas.[85]

Certainly, this list is not complete and we could refer to some other beliefs and practices of the pre-Islamic Arabs.  But it should suffice as a refutation of McKinsey’s ignorant and naïve appeal to the opinions of the pagan Arabs with regard to the Quran.  They regarded the Quran as “foolish nonsense” precisely because it criticized their savage way of life.  Appealing to their misguided and foolish opinions didn’t help McKinsey’s case!


            In this article, we have analyzed the arguments of C. Dennis McKinsey against the Holy Quran in his book “The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy”.  As we have seen, McKinsey frequently took verses out of context or completely misunderstood the meaning in his rush to criticize the Quran.  While his detailed analysis of the Bible is praise-worthy (though not without mistakes), his analysis of the Quran reflected his lack of knowledge and scholarship.  In fact, the approach of McKinsey and those like him can perhaps best be described in the words of Professor Carl W. Ernst:

“[h]ostile readers of the Qur’an use a literary approach that is the equivalent of a blunt instrument.  They make no attempt to understand the text as a whole; instead, they take individual verses out of context, give them the most extreme interpretation possible, and implicitly claim that over 1 billion Muslims around the world robotically adhere to these extremist views without exception.”[86]

So, while McKinsey wanted to prove that the Quran was a “fraud”, he actually only proved it with regard to himself!

And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!

[1] Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (London: OneWorld Publications, 2014), p. 144.

Brown notes:

“…I have found no instance of anyone criticizing the Prophet’s marriage due to Aisha’s age or accusing him of pedophilia until the early twentieth century.”


[3] C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 476.

While the vast majority of the book is dedicated to a thorough analysis of the Bible, McKinsey only briefly looked at the Quran and the Book of Mormon.  His analysis of the Bible is admirable and his book presents a voluminous amount of evidence against the “inerrancy” of the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, but his analysis of the Quran and the Book of Mormon lacked the same energy, and was more bluster than a scholarly examination.  For the purposes of this article, we will only examine McKinsey’s brief arguments against the Quran and will ignore his discussion of the Book of Mormon.   

[4] Ibid.

Elsewhere, McKinsey refers to the Quran as a “fraud” (p. 477), and claims in his conclusion that Islam and the Quran “…deserve no more respect than Christianity and the Bible” (p. 480). 

[5] Additionally, it would be silly to say that a book could not be authentic scripture and of a divine origin simply because one finds it “boring”.  Also, as we will discuss later, McKinsey did not seem to understand that he was reading a translation and not the Quran in its original language!     

[6] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 477.

[7] McKinsey used Yusuf Ali’s translation, which is also the translation the articles on this blog use as well.

[8] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 477.

[9] The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary, ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (New York: HarperOne, 2015), p. 303.

Obviously, McKinsey did not have access to “The Study Quran”, as it was published six years after his death in 2009, and twenty years after “The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy” was published.  However, the commentary in “The Study Quran” encapsulates the views of both classical and modern commentators on the interpretation of the Quran, so McKinsey had no excuse for his rather simplified analysis of the verse.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 476.

[13] Ibid., p. 478.

[14] For example, this is precisely what happened with the Jewish tribes of Bani Nadir and Bani Qaynuqah.  For more on the Prophet Muhammad’s conflict with these Jewish tribes, see Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992), pp. 183-194.

[15] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 478.

[16] McKinsey very deceitfully quoted 9:36 as simply “fight the pagans” and ignored the rest of the verse! 

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.  The irony is, of course, that the Spanish Inquisition also affected Muslims.

[19] The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 689.

[20] Ibid., p. 912.

On the topic of the Exodus, see our three-part series:

[21] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 478.

[22] See the commentary on 8:9-12 in The Study Quran, op. cit., pp. 485-486. 

[23] As for McKinsey’s obvious opposition to “corporal punishment”, we can dismiss it as merely his personal opinion which does not require any response.  Corporal punishment has its supporters and opponents, even in modern times.  People like McKinsey may have been opposed to it, but that is hardly the problem of Muslims.

[24] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 478.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Surah An-Nisa, 4:88-89.

[27] Surah An-Nisa, 4:90.

[28] The Study Quran, op. cit., pp. 239-240.

[29] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 478.


[31] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 478.

[32] Ibid.

[33] The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 228.

[34] Ibid., p. 1384.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 479.

[39] The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 99.

[40] Ibid.

[41] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 479.

[42] The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 193.


[44] Ibid.


[46] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 479.


[48] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 479.

[49] The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 207.


[51] The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 207.

[52] Ibid., pp. 207-208.

[53] Ibid., p. 208.

[54] Brown, op. cit., p. 276.

[55] See the following lecture by Dr. Yasir Qadhi:

[56] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 479.

[57] The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 285.

[58] See 2:214, 8:26, 21:35, and 29:2-3.

In addition, a well-known hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) states:

“Never a believer is stricken with discomfort, hardship or illness, grief or even with mental worry that his sins are not expiated for him” (Sahih Muslim, 32:6242).

[59] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 479.

[60] Ibid, p. 480.

We have previously discussed the topic of science in the Quran here:

[61] The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 644.

[62] Notice that Yusuf Ali translated the same word here as “constellations”. 

[63] Surah Al-Anaam, 6:97.


[65] Sahih Muslim, 1:133.

[66] Sahih Bukhari, 1:12:807.

[67] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 480.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Translations are the work of fallible people.  Thus, they are not perfect and will inevitably reflect the imperfections of the translator. 

As the scholar Michael Sells explains:

“[i]n any translation, there is a loss and an effort to compensate for that loss.  Some features in the original cannot be duplicated in the new language without artificiality.  Thus, for example, there is no possibility of duplicating the end-rhymes in many Qur’anic passages in an English idiom in which rhyming is far more difficult and would require forced and awkward syntax” (Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations (Oregon: White Cloud Press, 1999), pp. 26-27).

[70] Surah Al-Qamar, 55:17.


[72] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 480.

[73] Ibid.


[75] It must still be borne in mind that ultimately, it is not our actions that determine our salvation, but Allah’s mercy and grace.  For more, see the following:

[76] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 480.

[77] Surah Ibrahim, 14:30.

[78] Surah An-Nahl, 16:57.

[79] Surah An-Nahl, 16:58-59; Surah At-Takwir, 81:8.

[80] See the discussion above about the “zodiacal signs”.

[81] The Prophet refuted this silly superstition, as shown in the following hadith:

“Narrated Abu Mas`ud: The Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of the death of someone from the people but they are two signs amongst the signs of Allah. When you see them, stand up and pray”” (Sahih Bukhari, 2:18:151).

[82] Surah Al-Fajr, 89:17-18.

[83] Women were generally unable to acquire inheritance in pre-Islamic Arabia (

[84] One common practice in pre-Islamic Arabia was cutting the flesh off an animal while it was still alive (Armstrong, op. cit., p. 231).  This practice was condemned by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):

“Narrated Ibn `Umar: The Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) cursed the one who did Muthla to an animal (i e., cut its limbs or some other part of its body while it is still alive)” (Sahih Bukhari, 7:67:424).

[85] According to Dr. Mohd Shukri Hanapi:

“[w]ar between differing clans could exist even on trivial grounds.  The al-Basus war between the Bakr clan and Rabiah exhibited a trait of the Arab Jahilliyyah society that took pleasure in fighting one another” (

[86] Carl W. Ernst, How to Read the Qur’an: A New Guide, with Select Translations (USA: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), p. 2.


4 thoughts on “The Quran and the Atheist: A Response to a Skeptic

  1. quote :

    Justin Parrott
    4 September at 22:39 ·
    One of the most vulgar criticisms against Islam is the mischaracterization of the Prophet’s (s) marriage to Aisha. It is true according to most reliable sources that her marriage contract was ratified when she was 9-years old, but let’s put this into a little anthropological context.
    The average life expectancy in pre-industrial societies was 25 years. About half of all children died in infancy or youth, from disease, malnutrition, conflict, wild animals, etc. Today, life expectancy is closer to 75 years, three times as long, and most children survive birth, at least in developed nations. A post-pubescent 9-year old female in 7th century pre-industrial society was considered an adult woman and would be expected to marry when such marriages were literally a matter of survival. For this reason, the polemic that Aisha’s marriage was improper on the grounds of her age only appeared within the last 100 years or so, despite all of the other horrible slanders against Islam circulating in medieval Europe. Even there are apocryphal Christian sources that say Mary (s) was married to 90-year old Joseph when she was only 12-years old. Those who make salacious accusations against the Prophet (s) are profoundly ignorant of Islamic, and human, history.
    That said, in the same breath I rebuke those Muslims who fail to consider this dramatic paradigm shift in life expectancy and socialization, who allow contemporary marriages to 9-year old girls in a social context in which they are clearly unready for it. They are not following the way of the Prophet (s) by blindly applying historical data without context. Rather, the Quran requires maturity (physical and social) as the pre-condition for marriage, which makes it an appropriate rule for any time and place. The scholars of Islamic law likewise hold that legal judgments may change with a change of circumstances, and therefore the majority of Muslim countries today correctly enforce a minimum-age of marriage in the mid to late teens. Allah knows best.


    LikeShow More Reactions · Yesterday at 01:21
    Ashish Zeeshan Juneja Khan
    Ashish Zeeshan Juneja Khan Exactly. The weakest point about attacking the Prophet (sallAllahu alayhi wasalaam) for his marriage to our mother Aisha (radiyAllahu anha) is the contemporary nature of it; the pagans of Makkah would try and attack the Prophet in every way but never attacked him for his marriage to her. Likewise pre-modern Christians condemned the Prophet (sallAllahu alayhi wasalaam) for his polgyny but not for his marriage to Aisha since it was a perfectly normal pre-modern practice. So its an entire modern construct based on present mores.
    If you are going to discount someone from being a Prophet simply because they breach present mores than would include denying the Prophecy of most Old Testament prophets e.g. Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) would be in jail in our modern age for attempted murder of his son; does this now mean he wasn’t a true Prophet ?


    Asadullah Ali
    Asadullah Ali False. Most people did not live till 60-70. This was only the case for the upper class (who were the ones typically put on record).

    For example, recent analyses on the remains of working class Romans during Late Antiquity found the average age of death to be 30. And prior to death, most of these people suffered from chronic arthritis, poor diet, fractures, and even bone cancer. The high infant morality was an added problem. This is why the women had to have 5-7 children by their 20’s just to keep the population stable.…/groundbreaking-study-reveals…

    If someone survived past 30, then they would more likely reach 60-70 and even 100. However, there are far more 60-70 year olds today than there were 2000 years ago.


    Justin Parrott
    Justin Parrott Dante Matta My point is that people living in an ancient society with high mortality rates do not have the luxury of marrying later. Their society had to compensate high mortality with high fertility, or they would die out. In a society where these early marriages were the norm, there was no reason a young woman would wait to get married if a suitable partner was available.

    Justin Parrott I mentioned near the end of my post that Islamic law scholars have stated that legal judgments change with a change of circumstance and this is why most Muslim countries have an age-limit in the mid to late teens. It is not correct to claim that everything the Prophet (s) did according to Arab custom is applicable in a different time and place. Some things he did were based on timeless divine revelation (prayer, charity) and others based upon the social norms of his society. These were marriage norms of a specific society and for specific reasons. The general principle is that the pre-condition for Islamic marriage is physical and social maturity, which allows different Muslim societies to apply the general principle to their own particular circumstances. If the Prophet (s) were living in a different society, he would have done some things differently. Allah knows best.


  2. i searched the word “hijab” and this post came up.

    here is an advice from bassam zawadi.

    ***The undermining of the hijab and other “external” Islamic practices***

    It’s becoming more and more frequent that we see many laymen and unfortunately, even many students of knowledge, saying things like…

    “Just because you wear hijab, that doesn’t mean that you are better than the person who doesn’t”


    “Don’t think that just because that brother gets a new tattoo every month, that you’re better than him”


    And so what happens as a result? What happens as a result – regardless of whether it’s the intention of the person making these remarks or not – is that we undermine these external actions of obedience and forbidden acts.

    The question is NOT….. is the hijab wearing Sarah better than the non-hijab wearing Khadijah? Rather, the question IS…. Will the hijab wearing Sarah be a better Muslim than the non-hijab wearing Sarah, if all factors remain constant?

    That’s the question! And the answer is YES, because it’s one extra good deed and one less sin for Sarah. So when the discussion is formulated in that light, the importance of the hijab and other external manifestations of worship become more prominent and get the status of importance they truly earn in Islam. Stop comparing Muslims with each other, rather compare Muslims with their old or new selves – prior to and post – improving in their Ibadah. If someone asks you… “Do you think you’re better than me just because you don’t drink alcohol?”. Say… “No, I’m not saying that. Rather, what I am saying is that YOU not drinking alcohol could be better than YOU drinking alcohol, with all other factors remaining constant”.

    Many seem to be doing more of the former and less of the latter, and as a result there seems to be an imbalance greatly shifting in favor to only the “interior state” of the Muslim, in compromise of the manifestation of that state in external religious actions.

    Balance is key.

    Liked by 2 people

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