Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog



What is “real Islam” or “true Islam”?

Questions like this are often asked following a notable Muslim terrorism event.  Indeed, this is one of the most crucial questions of our time.  Dedicated Muslims are among the most cruel and destructive forces in the world today. (The people of Syria, Iraq, and the millions of Muslim, Christian, and Yazidi, refugees agree with me.  So do the people throughout the rest of the world who are subject to consistent terrorist attacks.)  Muslims will spend months or years planning, preparing, and then executing a large-scale terrorist action.  They will achieve their goals and kill dozens, hundreds, or even thousands, of men, women, and children.  Often, fellow Muslims are their primary targets.  Remaining in a state of ignorance or confusion about Islam inhibits concrete steps from being taken to address the root of the problem and creates destructive opportunities for those Muslims dedicated to using violence.  Confused, the rest of the world continues to wonder, “Is the terrorists’ Islam real Islam?

This brief article focuses on identifying real Islam.  The question, “What is real Islam?” must be answered before the next question, “Is the terrorist’s Islam real Islam?” can be answered.  We need to identify real Islam.   Unfortunately, many people, including Christians, argue that “real Islam” cannot be identified.


Identifying Real Islam

Identifying “real Islam” is not a difficult endeavor.  This is simple theology, not rocket science. 

“What is real Islam?”  The answer:  Real Islam is Muhammad’s Islam.

“Real Islam is Muhammad’s Islam” is true for the following reasons:

1)     Muhammad was the most perfect Muslim who ever lived.  Would anyone argue that there were other Muslims who were better Muslims than Muhammad?

2)     Only Muhammad spoke the Quran.  Allah had chosen him as his vessel to bring his message to the world.  He was indeed Allah’s special messenger and special prophet.  He was Allah’s voice to mankind.

3)     The Quran commands Muslims to not only obey Muhammad, but to also imitate his life, in both belief and practice, (Sura 33:21).

4)     99% of the “sahih hadith” (authentic traditions), which are foundational to Islamic jurisprudence and theology, are linked to Muhammad.  (This is the chain of tradition transmission, “isnaad”).

5)     Muhammad forbade that subsequent Muslims change his practice of Islam (bid’ah).  He condemned those “innovators” to hell for attempting to alter and distort the Islam that he taught and practiced.1, 2

These facts preclude anyone from deviating from Muhammad’s Islam and making up his own personal Islam “depending on how he interprets it.”  The personal interpretation option is not available.  It should be understood by any teacher and any student of Islam that “real Islam is Muhammad’s Islam.”



How do we define “Muhammad’s Islam?”

Muhammad’s Islam is mandated in the Quran, portrayed in the sira and hadith, and codified by the Islamic books of law and theology.  The men who compiled the sira and hadith devoted the majority of their adult lives to the study of Muhammad and Islam.  Many lived during Islam’s geo-political power heyday and they did not need to play to a Western audience’s proclivities, preferences, and appetites.  Instead, they wrote confidently and strongly; they told it like it was.  No apology was needed.

Although there are multiple Qurans in existence, and there are thousands of “sahih” hadith that contradict each other, and there are multiple contradictory stories in the sira, and the four major Sunni schools of Islamic law do not agree on every principle, it is still possible to confidently draw and define “real Islam” which allows for minor variations.  Those minor variations are not the issue.  Muhammad actually allowed for minor variations within his faith, (take prayer or Quranic recitation for example), so real Islam allows for minor variations as well.  Throughout Muhammad’s life Islamic variations occurred but they were minor and did not contradict his teachings and commands.

The Quran, hadith, and sira, give us a composite, and detailed, description of Muhammad’s teachings and actions, and they provide the context behind his words and deeds.  We are not operating in a vacuum.  With these we can define real Islam.  We are not wrestling with a Zen “kōan,” we do not have to approach this topic like a Sherlock Holmes’s mystery, we are not starting from scratch.  We have substantial material in our hands; we only need to study and understand it.  The study of these texts gives us Muhammad’s Islam.

Muhammad’s Islam

A man is known by, and defined by his actions.  If these correspond to his words or teaching, then we can paint a harmonious picture of a man who not only talked the talk, but also walked the walk.  Muhammad talked and he walked his talk.  His actions were in agreement with his teachings.  He did what he said he was going to do and he performed what he expected others to perform.

The first 13 years of his “prophetic” career occurred in Mecca, where he was very weak and persecuted.  Had he been violent his opponents would have had just cause to kill him.  Consequently Allah told him not to use force, (Quran 10:99).  After 13 years in Mecca he fled for his life to Medina.  However, just before he fled to join his armed followers in Medina, Allah commanded him to use violence to spread Islam’s rule.

In Medina, he quickly used violence and the trail of blood behind him grew ever wider. Muhammad grew in power and he liked it.  As time when on, the scale of attacks against non-Muslims grew in magnitude.

As the pre-eminent Muslim, Muhammad did many things, some good, some evil.  He prayed often, in poverty he shared his food, in hard times he shared his money.  He worked side by side with his followers.  I believe he loved his followers and I know that they loved him.  They would not only willingly die for him, they would gladly kill for him.  In doing so, they earned Muhammad’s praise.

Real Islam, Muhammad’s Islam, requires legitimate good works.  That is commendable.  However, it also requires oppressive, aggressive, violence.  That is Satanic, dark, and evil.  Of course there is good, but we are focusing on the bad, negative, violent facts of real Islam.

There is no shortage of articles on the web about Muhammad’s acts of oppression and violence.  He was a slave trader, he allowed his men to rape captured slaves, he robbed and plundered others, he had his opponents tortured, assassinated, and massacred.  Here are some suggested websites and articles where you can read about Muhammad’s evil and violence in Islam:







Better yet, read the hadith and sira for yourself!  All of Muhammad’s vile actions detailed by the sites and articles above are drawn from the hadith and sira.  Torturing for money?  Check.  Rape of female slaves? Check.  Extortion, robbery, murder, massacre?  Check.  Sex with children?  Check.  All of that comes from the Quran, sira and hadith, but the sira and hadith provide the contextual details.

Jesus taught that the thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy; Muhammad killed, stole, and destroyed.  Satan demanded worship; Muhammad demanded that all people worship his Allah and recognize his prophethood upon penalty of death.3  Until his dying day, Muhammad did not let up on spreading his power by force and destroying those who rejected his claim of prophethood.  That was real Islam in action back then, and it is real Islam in action today.

Bear this historical fact in mind: the pattern of Islam that followed Muhammad’s death is repeated over and over again within the Islamic world today.  The early Muslims had their first internal violent power struggle the day after Muhammad died.  Once the new king was identified, (Abu Bakr), he then used his power to attack and kill people who wanted to leave Islam, (The Wars of Apostasy). Today, throughout the Muslim world, similar internal power struggles continue.  Violence is often used.  Once settled, the Muslims then turn their attention against the non-Muslims.  Islam is a religion of power, power of one Muslim man over other Muslims, the power of Muslim husbands over their wives, and the power of Muslims over non-Muslims.

Muhammad taught that his followers were to believe in him as prophet and obey him as Allah’s voice to mankind.  Therefore, “Real Islam” is believing what Muhammad believed, obeying Muhammad as Allah’s voice to mankind, and doing the things Muhammad did and commanded.  All of this is documented in the Quran, hadith, and sira.



Many people today, Muslim or non-Muslim, will argue that “real Islam” cannot be defined.  I once heard one notable Christian lecturer, (who had never read the sira!), comment that Islam is how you interpret it.  He was speaking in reference to contradictory Quranic passages on peace and violence.  His argument was that real Islam is in the eyes of the interpreter.

A Muslim writer states this argument clearly:

“Strictly speaking, it is no more correct to say that Islam is peaceful than to proclaim that it is violent. The texts and traditions on which any faith’s practice is based are open to multiple interpretations, and, as these interpretations pile up over the course of history, it becomes almost impossible to assert the existence [of] a unique orthodoxy.4

There are variations on this argument’s theme, but that is their root.  The Muslim writer is exaggerating of course, and his argument is circular.  He allows for Pee Wee Herman’s “interpretation” to be as valid as his own.  Fortunately, doctors and mechanics aren’t as simple minded.

That argument contains two essential flaws.  The first is that anyone can interpret anything to suit their particular tastes and preferences multiple ways at any given point in time.

I address this aspect, in part, in my article Real Islam, Violence, and Sheila Musaji.  This argument claims that there are many different, even contradicting, interpretations of Islam.  Various Muslims live their lives in accordance to their personal interpretations.  Accordingly, today there are homosexual Muslims, Muslims who drink alcohol, and Muslims who practice syncretism.

This argument turns the well documented, well established, and historically strong faith of Islam into cheap clay, or Play-Doh.  Anyone, at any time, can mold it into the form that tickles his fancy.  Fundamentalist today, but tomorrow he pounds the clay flat and creates a completely different Islam, say one that accepts Krishna as a deity.  This argument would allow for a homosexual Mormon, who believes in many gods, who believes Jesus is the son of God, who believes in prophets post-Muhammad, who eats pork and drinks wine, claim to be a Muslim because he also believes Muhammad was a prophet.  He just interprets Islam’s sacred writings differently.  Those who make the “personal interpretation” argument, like Mrs. Musaji, would have to accept him as a legitimate Muslim.

The second flaw is that the “personal interpretation” allows for “innovation,” (bid’ah), in Islam.  The argument’s standard phrase is something like this: “Modern scholars say that Islamic theology allows for Islam to be re-interpreted.”  “Innovation,” something Muhammad never intended, but rather opposed and cursed, then occurs.  (See this article for a brief discussion of “innovation” in Islam.)  Here are some references that show that Muhammad clearly rejected innovation:

And (know) that this is My path, the right one therefore follow it, and follow not (other) ways, for they will lead you away from His way; this He has enjoined you with that you may guard (against evil).5

Narrated Abu Hazim from Sahl bin Sa'd:

… There will come to me some people whom I will recognize, and they will recognize me, but a barrier will be placed between me and them." Abu Hazim added: An-Nu'man bin Abi 'Aiyash, on hearing me, said. "Did you hear this from Sahl?" I said, "Yes." He said, " I bear witness that I heard Abu Said Al-Khudri saying the same, adding that the Prophet said: 'I will say: They are of me (i.e. my followers). It will be said, 'You do not know what they innovated (new things) in the religion after you left'. I will say, 'Far removed, far removed (from mercy), those who changed (their religion) after me.”6

One key aspect, or variation, of this argument focuses on Islam’s use of violence, and it needs to be addressed.  The argument goes something like this:  “Islamic violence was only needed to defend and establish their community.  Today it is no longer needed.”  The problem with this argument is that Muhammad intended for his community to conquer the world, by force if necessary:

Then the Apostle of Allah returned from Tabuk without an encounter…. The Muslims began to sell their arms, saying that Jihad had come to an end.  This (report) reached the Apostle of Allah, who stopped them from it and said:  A party of my people will continue fighting for truth till the emergence of Antichrist.7

Muhammad wanted, and intended, for his followers to continue in violent jihad until the last day.  That jihad was just like the jihad he carried out, and the jihad his followers performed after he died: kill unbelievers unless they accept Islam.  Their mantra was “Accept Islam and you will be safe.”

Muhammad foresaw that his followers would deviate from Allah’s commands, and he foresaw that they would want to stop fighting and leave his vision, his goal, his directive, unfulfilled.  That is why he condemned innovators, and that is why he commanded his followers to continue violent jihad.  He wanted his Islam, real Islam, to be practiced forever in the life of his community.


Real Islam is Muhammad’s Islam.  We define Muhammad’s Islam by what he taught and what he did.  These actions and teachings are documented in the Islamic source materials, the Quran, hadith, and sira.  They’ve been compiled by the historic schools of Islamic theology and jurisprudence.  Variations exist, but they are minor.

From those Islamic source materials we know that:

Real Islam commands jihad.
Real Islam practices slavery.
Real Islam kills those who oppose it.
Real Islam kills or oppresses those who reject Muhammad and Islam’s Allah.
Real Islam classifies women as inferior humans.

There is no mystery here.  There are no strong counter-arguments.  Real Islam is Muhammad’s Islam, and as such, it contains good and bad precepts.  We’re focusing on the bad because real Islam is ultimately a poison in humanity’s blood.

We so urgently need to correctly identify and understand real Islam, and recognize that the terrorists’ Islam is genuine Islam.  Otherwise we will never be able to formulate a working strategy or response towards the problem of Islamic terrorism.  As long as we treat it / them as merely an aberration and not genuine Islam, we will never confront the root of the problem, and millions of dollars (and lives of soldiers and civilians) invested in proposed solutions to this problem will be wasted.  If the doctor misidentifies  the cause of the sickness, his remedy will at best be palliative, and the sickness will return.  Indeed today many of our politicians and pundits perform like witch doctors in their efforts to address terrorism.  Genuine Islam is at war with anything non-Islamic, with the non-Muslims.  No one can ever win a war when they can’t identify their enemy.

Therefore, in conclusion, I say general Muslims as such are not our enemies.  They are the first victims of this violent ideology.  We do not call for attack on and oppression of Muslims, but for a correct identification of the problem and then for effort in devising an appropriate approach to solve the problem.  Not anti-Muslim bigotry, not hatred of Muslims, (see my related Islamophobia article), but solid opposition to the bad teachings of real Islam.

(NOTE: By the way, the answer to the 2nd question, “Is the Islam of the terrorist’s real Islam?” is yes.  See my three part series, “Is ISIS Islamic?” that evaluates ISIS’s Islam with Muhammad’s Islam.




1 Muslim, Abu’l-Husain, “Sahih Muslim”, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1971, translated by A. Siddiqi, number 3601

2 Bukhari, Muhammad, “Sahih Bukhari”, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, India, 1987, translated by M. Khan, volume 8, number 747

3 ibid, volume 1, #387

4 Ali Ahmed Minai, A Time for Renewal

5 Shakir 6:153

6 Sahih Bukhari, volume 8, #585

7 Ibn Sa'd, "Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir," translated by S. Haq, Pakistan Historical Society, Vol. 2, page 206

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