Why Can’t Islam Apologize?

By now, everyone is familiar with how upset many Muslims were by the 14-minute amateur video, released on YouTube, called “The Innocence of Muslims.” The new president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, advised from the podium at the U.N. General Assembly that, “insults against the prophet of Islam, Mohammed, are not acceptable. We will not allow anyone to do this by word or by deed.”

At a certain level, this seems fair enough, even though the person responsible for the video was not under Morsi’s legal jurisdiction –to allow or not to allow. Regardless, one should not go about insulting other people’s religion. If I were a Muslim, I would be offended, though I might not have taken the bait on such a trivial incitement (in the sense that this was some guy in his garage studio, not a government or a religious body speaking). The Obama administration did everything it could to condemn this film.

On the other hand, shouldn’t this be a two-way street? If President Morsi demands that no one in the West insult Islam, how about saying something regarding the frequent insults to Judaism and Christianity in the Middle East? Why, for instance, didn’t he denounce the burning of the Bible in front of the US Embassy last month?

Of course, there are many such examples, but let us focus for a moment on the Jews. The Egyptian religious station Al-Rahma TV, on May 4, 2012, presented a child preacher, who pronounced that, “Al-Qarni, once said: Jerusalem is being held captive by the brothers of the apes and the pigs.”

Sheikh Muhammad Ahsur, the deputy director of Al-Azhar University (which President Barak Obama praised to the skies in his 2009 Cairo speech), in an Al-Alam TV (Iran) broadcast, September 30, 2011, said that “jihad has become an individual duty incumbent upon each and every one of us, because our enemies have grown arrogant and have persisted in their great tyranny… they support the unjust oppressors, the offspring of pigs and apes.”

At the Friday (1/9/2009) Al Azhar mosque sermon, Egyptian cleric Sheik Eid Abdel Hamid Youssef preached that “God has inflicted the Muslim nation with a people whom God has become angry at [Qur’an 1:7] and whom he cursed [5:78] so he made monkeys and pigs [5:60] out of them. They killed prophets and messengers [2:61 /3:112] and sowed corruption on Earth. [5:33 /5:64] They are the most evil on Earth. [5:62/63]”

If you are familiar with Islam, you will know that those “pigs and apes” are the Jews. However, there is no need to decode Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s statement. Recall that he is the de facto spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was welcomed back in Egypt by a crowd of several million people in Tahrir Square on February, 18, 2011. On Al Jazeera TV, January 2009, he said:

“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jewish] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them — even though they exaggerated this issue — he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”

As outrageous as these examples are, they are not at all exceptional. By going to the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute, anyone can peruse the almost daily splenetic vituperations against Jews and Christians that appear in the Muslim media.

Does anyone anywhere in the Muslim world ever apologize for any of these statements? If not, why not? On September 25, President Obama said, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” But should it belong to those who slander Jews and Christians? President Morsi, said, “We have a responsibility in this international gathering to study how we can protect the world from instability and hatred.”

OK, then, let’s address the asymmetry between Muslim outrage at perceived insults to Islam, and the seeming Muslim indifference to insults to Judaism or other non-Islamic religions. Is this a matter of hypocrisy, or something else?

The lop-sidedness is the result of several things. First of all, Islam is a faith of supersession, which considers all prior revelations inferior and faulty. In the Qur’an, Jews are cursed forever. In Muslim eschatology, Christ returns at the end of time to break the cross. Second of all, and most importantly, Islam does not recognize freedom of conscience, which is why it does not acknowledge freedom of religion. As the pioneering scholar of Islam, Ignaz Goldziher, pointed out many years ago, there was not even a word for conscience in Arabic. (The word damir is used for this purpose today, though it does not literally mean conscience.)

If one does not have a conception of freedom of conscience, which is entirely absent from mainstream Sunni Islam, one cannot very well hold in high regard the choices others have made for other religions – much less allow one of your own to convert. This is not to suggest that Islam is without a moral sense, but merely to say that its moral sense is derived solely from its own revelation, and not at all from reason. The principle of Islamic jurisprudence is: “reason is not a legislator.”

In other words, mainstream Sunni Islam does not regard reason as a legitimate basis upon which to discern morality or to choose religion. Mohammed al-Ghazali (1058-1111 AD), considered by many Muslims to be next only to Mohammed in importance, said that reason can only know self-interest. He also advised that “the mind, which, once it testifies to the truthfulness of the prophet, must cease to act.” If reason cannot independently know right from wrong, how could it be trusted to know true religion from false? Integrity of reason is essential to freedom of conscience. Without it, conscience means nothing – which is why so many Muslims view conversion from Islam as, necessarily, an act of perversion which should be punished.

The inviolability of conscience has as its ultimate source the idea of man as created in the image and likeness of God. That image includes reason’s ability to come to know the truth and of the will’s capacity to choose it freely. In Islam, it is blasphemous to say that man is made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, the notion of inalienable rights is alien to it.

Ultimately, respect for other religions is not based on the content of those religions, as those who hold one religion must of necessity consider the others false or wanting in some way. It is based upon respect for human beings in so far as they possess inalienable rights, especially freedom of conscience. This understanding helps us to appreciate why, within Islam, the denigration of other religions is standard fare, and why it would not naturally occur to many Muslims that this would be a problem. And that, in itself, is a problem with which we must come to grips by something other than our own apologies.

Robert R. Reilly


Robert Reilly has worked in foreign policy, the military, and the arts. His most recent book is The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. This article courtesy of MercatorNet.

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  • I am only one Muslim, but I would like to sincerely apologize on behalf of those misguided Muslims who don’t understand the Quran–think of when the Bible was only in Latin. Especially, for example, Surah 2 verse 63 which clearly states when translated: “Those who believe in the Quran, and those who follow the Jewish Scriptures, and the Christians and the Sabians–Any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, Shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be fear, nor shall they grieve.” And in fact, Muslims are just as obligated to defend Jesus Christ and Moses–Peace be upon them both–whenever they are insulted as much as Mohammad, Peach be upon him. The Quran clearly states that while Jesus Christ, Peace be upon him, is not God, nevertheless he is the Messiah and will return to kill the Antichrist, after which Jesus, Peace be upon him, will rule the world.

    A fellow Muslim has pointed out that “pigs and apes does not refer to all the people of the Jewish faith, but only a certain group of people from the followers of Musa.
    It is not appropriate for one to call people of the
    Jewish tradition “pigs and apes” or “sons of pigs and apes” since,
    besides being extremely rude, it is not correct. All major commentators
    of Quran mention that these pigs and apes did not reproduce but died
    off. Sh. Yusuf al-Qaradwi noted this mentioning that one should not do
    so. Finally, Muslims are ordered by Allah to “Speak that which is best”
    and to “Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom.” Thus, it is not
    befitting for a Muslim to be lowly in his discourse, rude in his manners
    and bigoted towards others. Allah says, “[you must] be just. It is
    closer to piety.”–Suhaibwebb.com

    I assure you that the majority of Muslims are not extremists or terrorists just as the majority of Catholics are not pedophiles.

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    Does the Qur’an call Jews Pigs and Apes? And is it Allowed for Muslims to Do So?

    Suhaib Webb | April 27, 2008 11:09 am

    Asalamu alaykum,

    I was recently asked this question and hope this answer helps?

    The Question: “Does the Qur’an call Jews pigs and apes? And it is allowed for Muslims to do so?”


    Thanks for your question.:

    In the second chapter of the Qur’an there is the
    story of the people of the Sabbath who failed to abide by Allah’s
    commands. Thus, according to the Qur’an they were turned into pigs and
    apes. However, there are a few important points to this story:

    1. It does not refer to all the people of the Jewish faith, but only a certain group of people from the followers of Musa.

    2. It is not appropriate for one to call people of
    the Jewish tradition “pigs and apes” or “sons of pigs and apes” since,
    besides being extremely rude, it is not correct. All major commentators
    of Quran mention that these pigs and apes did not reproduce but died
    off. Sh. Yusuf al-Qaradwi noted this mentioning that one should not do
    so. Finally, Muslims are ordered by Allah to “Speak that which is best”
    and to “Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom.” Thus, it is not
    befitting for a Muslim to be lowly in his discourse, rude in his manners
    and bigoted towards others. Allah says, “[you must] be just. It is
    closer to piety.”

    We ask Allah to raise our stations and grant us noble characters.


  • Guest

    Correction–the quote is “on them shall be no fear…” not “on the shall be fear…” I apologize.

  • Clement_W

    I have wondered what the Muslims mean when they use the term ‘People of the Book’. Which ‘Book’ are they referring to? The Old Testament, the New Testament or the Quran and in what order of precedence?
    The interesting thing is, it seems that the very war seems to be against the other members of the ‘People of the Book’ including even those of the Book of the Prophet – the Shia and other non-Sunni sects of Islam. The quarrel reminds me of our sibling rivalry, as children, to be the favourite of Our Father and Mother,. Fortunately, my siblings and I have grown up and are all alive and well thanks to our One God, Loving AND Compassionate!

  • ALL of your siblings have grown up? All Catholics and Protestants love each other? But,I think all religions have those who are very “grown up” and who love their fellow humans and then there are those who are still struggling. We really should all try to help each other to grow instead of attacking and tearing each other down. But it isn’t easy. It’s a long, slow and painful process for all of us to overcome our egos and submit to God. Most of us, myself included, anyway.

  • Mark

    Salam, Orlando. We must wish/love for a brother/sister what we wish for ourselves. Love one another. Love the neighbor as the self. And love casts out fear. 🙂

  • Ameen. As the Prophet, Peace be upon him, once said, “None but the kind-hearted will go to Paradise. Kind-hearted is not restricted to one’s own but it is for all mankind.”

  • Eduardo

    Orlando, God’s peace be with you. I am a Catholic Christian, and belief that Jesus, true God and true Man, died and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins. And this because of God’s love for us.

    Now, regarding the subject of forgiveness, it seems to me that there are contradictory statements in the area of forgiveness in the Koran and Hadith.

    For example, Sura 15:85, “We created not the heavens and the earth and all that is between them save with truth and lo! the Hour is surely coming. So forgive, with a gracious forgiveness.”

    But then in Sura 9:73 states, “O Prophet! Strive agains the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is Hell, a hapless journey’s end.”
    May the peace of Christ Jesus be with you.

  • Orlando

    Excellent question! The long answer requires knowledge of the events that occurred when that verse was given to Muhammad. Basically, there was a time when the rich and powerful Quraysh tribe that controlled Mecca was determined to wipe out Muhammad and his followers. The short answer is that this verse is situation specific and was meant as encouragement to Muhammad and his followers to defend themselves against the Quaysh. Always read verses in their context just as you should with God’s word as revealed in the Old and New Testaments. Allah, God the Father, Yahweh, whichever name you were brought up with, is the Compassionate and the Merciful, but also the Just.

  • Orlando Alaniz

    Eduardo, I have a question for you. Since you believe that Jesus, Peace be upon him, is true Man and true God and died and then rose for everyone’s sins,does that mean that all Christians automatically go to Heaven?

  • chaco

    Oh, Orlando ! I can feel the Love ! Can you please comment on the “Created in the Image of God” aspect of this discussion ? It seems that all hinges on that premise; Part of living that Image would necessarily have to include understanding and freely choosing that Image for one’s self. Otherwise we would essentially be “Robots”, simply created to serve our Creator. Thus, having no REAL experience of self-induced inertia toward that Image(caused by Love for our Origin). [The enemy of God was not a Robot and therefore, freely chose not to love its Origin. Thus, began its self induced inertia toward self-destruction.]

  • catholicexchange

    I’m glad you are here, Orlando, but personally I find this response to Eduardo unsatisfying.

    First, the principle of “always reading verses in context” is certainly applicable to the Bible, but not to the Quran. That is because the Bible is understood as being divinely inspired–that is, truth expressed by God by way of humans who wrote within a certain context, a context which must be properly analyzed. The Quran, however, is understood as being given directly to Mohammed by an angel of God–it is considered unadulterated recitation. So, when we read Sura 9:73, there is no way to “interpret” it any other way than what the angel meant when he commanded Mohammed to memorize it: “O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is Hell…” And, as a matter of historical fact, Muslims ever since have applied this verse accordingly, since it wasn’t only the Quraysh tribe that contained “disbelievers and hypocrites.”

    Nor is this unambiguous demand cancelled out by suras like Sura 15–they fit together pretty logically given the Muslim belief about the nature of the Quran. Any faithful Muslim could easily and logically proclaim: “Yes, of course, I will forgive graciously–and I will be harsh to all disbelievers and hypocrites.”

  • Stanley Zychowski MD


    I am a Catholic. It is NOT true that all Christians go to Heaven.
    Some will die in the state of mortal sin … if they do NOT ask for God’s forgiveness, Heaven will NOT be an option. Jesus IS Infinite Mercy … one can receive His Mercy with the mere utterance of His name, Jesus, which means, “God saves.” He knows the heart of every sinner.

    Truth is NOT a something. It is a Someone, and His name is Jesus Christ.

    May God be with you always.

  • Salem to the MOD of catholicexchange,

    I still must completely disagree with you that the Quran is not the word of God. All Muslims, myself included, believe it is. In fact, I was a Catholic before converting to Islam. I still appreciate the Bible, and if Islam didn’t exit, I would have remained a Catholic. But after reading the Quran, I completely fell in love with it and the Islamic religion. I should point out that one of the main teachings is that Allah, or God the Father, guides everyone and everything constantly. I do feel that I was guided into Islam but I still strongly respect Catholicism. I know that there have been Muslims that have seen Jesus in dreams and then they convert to Christianity so it works both ways. Again, the Quran says that the Jews and Christians also go to Paradise. I do wish you would not lump all Muslims together. A minority is hate filled toward non Muslims and unfortunately that get all the media attention.

  • Salem Chaco. While the Quran does not state man was made in the image of God, it does state that man is a special creation of God with free will. So special that Satan, or Iblees as he is known in the Quran, became very jealous and rebelled against God as a result. In Islam, Satan is a jinn which is class of spiritual beings with free will. Angels in Islam have no free will and so they can never disobey Allah.
    But getting back to your point, Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, teaches that a person cannot be truly happy without a genuine relation to God through worship and remembering God daily. Surah 13 verses 27and 28″…He guideth to Himself those who turn to him in penitence–Those who believe and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah. For without doubt, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” It is not my intention to try to convert anyone to Islam, I only hope to remove some of the misconceptions and reduce some of the fear.

  • Peace to you Stanley, thank you for your response. Muslims do not believe Jesus Peace be upon him, is God but I respect your freedom to choose what you believe. Muslims believe that repenting sincerely to God is sufficient to be forgiven.
    May God always be with you also.

  • catholicexchange

    Sorry, but I think you missed my point. Obviously, both Muslims and Christians believe their respective sacred writings are from God. The difference I was pointing out is that Catholics believe in divine inspiration, which is a different thing from the way Muslims claim the Quran was given–that is, by direct dictation to Mohammed. Mohammed, Muslims believe, memorized the suras exactly as they were told to him, without edits or filters. While of course Muslims consider the Quran beautiful and instructive, they have never considered it to be a book of multi-layered meanings which require careful contextual analysis before applying it to their lives. It means what it says–that, frankly, is part of the appeal.

    As for your Catholic history, I invite you to take another look. To respect Jesus is a very good thing, but no one can very well respect him if He falsely claimed he was God. If he isn’t God as the historical record shows he and his followers claimed, then it’s best to abandon him completely, don’t you think? Let God the Father guide you to God the Son, and you will find everything that is good about Islam (such as the promise of salvation and the love of God) in the Catholic Church. God bless.

  • Orlando Alaniz

    Peace to the MOD, Allah uses parables in the Quran. Parables, as we all know, are never taken literally. In the Quran, there are many verses that are situaton specific and many which are not. The Hadiths, which are additional explanations of verses in the Quran given by Allah and Muhammad, Peace be upon him. The hadith directly from Allah are known as the Qudsi Hadith. Hadith make very clear whether a verse is for a specific event or is meant generally. For example, there are some verses about divorce in the Quran that were given in direct response to questions put to Muhammad regarding divorce. In many cases, the Quran itself makes itself quite clear when a specific event is being addressed.
    If you would be so kind as to point out anywhere in the Bible where Jesus, peace be upon him, clearly states that he is God or that God is a trinity, that would help immensely. Otherwise, Allah clearly states that “Allah is only One, He begetteth not nor is He begotten, and there is nothing like unto Him”–Surah Al Ihklas. Muslims agree with the Christians that Jesus, Peace be upon him, is the Messiah and he will return to rule the world after destroying the Dhajjal, aka the Antichrist.
    Allah guides whom He wills and He has guided me to Islam. and I am very grateful to Allah. He also brought me up as a Catholic for a period of my life and I am grateful for that too. The fact that you are Catholic is also due to Allah and Allah knows best why He puts us into certain religions. I do not know the answer myself. But my
    religion teaches that Christians and Jews go to Paradise and anyone who believes there is a Supreme Being and tries to do the right thing even though they may never have been exposed to the Quran or the Bible. I trust Allah and my life is in His Hands. In fact, I find that I appreciate the Bible, which I still read and love, much more now that I am a Muslim.
    Many of the stories of the Bible, especially in regard to Moses, are in the Quran. If you only read the Old Testament, you might get the impression that God is not always just, for example, stoning an entire family when the father of that family committed a sin against God. There are also references to incest–Lot and his daughters– and alcoholism–Noah. There are no such references in the Quran and Lot and Noah are mentioned many times. After reading the Quran, I only get the impression that Allah is very just and very compassionate and very fair. Stoning is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran as a punishment for crime. There are many verses in the Quran where it is made clear that no one is ever punished for some one else’s sin. And if you intend to commit a crime but change your mind before committing it, then God counts that in your favor. If you sincerely intend to do something good but are unable to do so, Allah still records it as though you actually accomplished your intention. No, you cannot earn your way into Paradise. Allah has stated that none of us deserve Paradise but Allah is the most Merciful so as long as you sincerely believe there is only One God and do your best and repent when you mess up. you will go to Paradise.
    In the first Hadith Qudsi: On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah Salaho Alai Waalai Wasalam said: When Allah decreed the Creation He pledged Himself by writing in His book which is laid down with Him: My mercy prevails over my wrath.

    Okay I’m finished. Everyone can wake up now. I apologize to everyone who fell asleep reading my long-winded rambling response.

  • Orlando Alaniz

    MOD, could you please delete this. I wrote it as a correction but then I found I could edit directly.

  • catholicexchange

    I appreciate your patience and passion, Orlando.

    I know that it is common to call some of the metaphors that Mohammed uses “parables,” but they are not parables, since they do not tell a story. For instance, in 22:73, in spite of the fact that it is announced that a parable is about to be set forth, what follows is actually a figurative comparison to point out how futile it is to put one’s trust in anyone but Allah–and this is not “situation specific.” All Muslims everywhere, at all times, are expected to apply this. Another example of a figure of speech in the Quran that is incorrectly referred to as a parable is in 13:14, concerning the futility of prayers to anyone but Allah, which is compared to stretching “forth their hands for water” but not getting any. This is not a parable–and, again, it is not “situation specific,” since all Muslims everywhere are expected to subscribe to the belief that Allah alone is to be worshiped.
    That leads me to your request for examples from the Bible of Jesus claiming divinity. These are some examples:
    John 1:1-“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (the “Word”–Logos–is Jesus).
    John 10:30-33 Jesus says “The Father and I are one.” Can you imagine Mohammed or anyone else saying such a thing?
    John 14:8-12 After Philip begs of Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father,” Jesus is mildly incredulous: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father…”
    John 8:58-59-Jesus says “I assure you, before Abraham was, I AM”
    John 20:28-Thomas says of Jesus “My Lord and My God!” Jesus accepts this, and encourages all who would do the same: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
    His followers continued to believe that Jesus is “Lord and God”, as we see, for instance later in St. Paul’s letter to Titus, writing about “the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13)
    To accept Jesus’ divinity is not to deny God the Father or the oneness of God, since the Father and Son (and Holy Spirit) are One. They are three Persons in One God–it has been common among Muslims since their beginnings to incorrectly assume that Christians believe in three gods but, as the above passages indicate, to worship the Father is to worship the Son (and the Holy Spirit). This is not a denial of the Muslim belief in the oneness of God, but a deepening of what the nature of the One God really is–Jesus has revealed that to us, even though it remains an unfathomable mystery. Come home to the Catholic Church and learn more about this mystery, and, like I said before, all the good things you believe about the Father will become even richer!
    God bless–and your response wasn’t “long-winded rambling”! I know everyone here at CE appreciates your perspective.

  • Peace be upon you. I did not come here to try to convert anyone nor to be converted. but God bless you for your good intentions. Although Thomas Kempis believed Christ is part of the Trinity and I don’t agree, I will conclude this last post with some of his words from The Imitation of Christ:
    “What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility,
    you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and
    just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel
    contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the
    whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live
    without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except
    to love God and serve Him alone.”
    God Bless you all.

  • catholicexchange

    Amen to that, Orlando. But Thomas also writes, a few paragraphs later, “the more recollected a man is, and the more simple of heart he becomes, the easier he understands sublime things, for he receives the light of knowledge from above.” God does want us to know him, as perfectly as we can–humility leads us into that knowledge, by the grace of God. You strike me as a very humble guy, and I therefore trust that God will lead you into a deeper knowledge of the Triune God who was, is, and always will be.

  • chaco

    Thanks Orlando, I’m still unclear as to how someone who, cannot freely experience a love for God & in turn freely choose to exercise that Love, can be classified as anything other than a Pre-programmed Robot of sorts.