IF YOU WANTED to deliberately design a collection of ideas with the purpose of making one that might eventually out-compete every other religion or political system on earth, you would be hard-pressed to do better than Islam.
Let's look at some of the individual ideas within the collection, keeping in mind that many of the ideas enhance each other. In other words, adding one idea to the others can make the whole collection more effective because some ideas work synergistically.
Here are some of the key components of the package of ideas (or bundle of beliefs) known as Islam (you can see this same list as a linked outline here):
1. A standardized version of the idea-collection is written down. This is something basic to several religions and isn't an Islamic invention, but it is an important factor in the success of Islam.
Something only transmitted orally can change over time, but something written will be identical a thousand years from now, and with modern printing presses, can be reproduced in the millions, giving it an enormous advantage in spreading identical copies of the idea-collection.
2. The Quran includes instructions for its own spread. It tells believers they must spread Islam. It is their holy duty to bring Mohammad's warnings and Islamic law to every corner of the world. Read more about that.
3. The idea-collection includes instructions for its own preservation, protection, and duplication. The Quran, the most important of the Islamic holy books, directly tells its followers that they can never change or modify or "modernize" any of the teachings within the idea-collection. It is perfect as it is. It is a capital sin to try to change it. This idea ensures the preservation of the whole collection.
These first three ideas are pretty standard for several successful religions. But now it gets interesting...
4. Islam commands its followers to create a government that supports it. This may be one of the most ingenious ideas in the whole collection. Islam is the only religion that uses it. Other groups of religious people have had political aspirations, but no other major religious group orders its followers — as a religious duty — to create a government that follows its own system of law.
Islam has a system of law, called Sharia, and all Muslims are obligated to continually strive to make their government — wherever they are — follow it. Because of some of the other ideas added to Islam, you will see that this political addition to the idea-collection has significant consequences.
Many people are under the impression that the goal of Islam is to convert everyone to Islam. This is not so. The prime directive of Islam is to bring all people on earth under the rule of Islamic law. Read more about the political nature of the core doctrines of Islam.
5. Permission to spread the religion by war. This is another successful innovation (source). Although some other religions have spread themselves using force, they had very little justification from their own religious doctrines to do so.
Not so with Islam. Expanding by conquest is very much accepted and encouraged by the idea-collection. Islamic teachings present it this way: The non-Muslims need to be saved from the sin of following laws other than Allah's. If they won't voluntarily change their laws to Sharia, then it is a Muslim's duty to insist. The world cannot be at peace until every government on earth follows the laws of Allah.
Mohammad's own experience showed the example — an example, says the Quran 91 times, that every Muslim should follow. At first, Mohammad tried to spread Islam by peaceful means. After thirteen years he'd gained 150 converts.
But then he changed tactics and started using caravan raids, warfare, executions, ransoming captives, and assassination, and within ten years he converted tens of thousands. After he died, his followers used the same tactics and converted millions. And by now it is one and a half billion.
The use of warfare combines synergistically and powerfully with the instruction to create an Islamic state. So Islam spread quickly as their armies got bigger. They conquered and set up Islamic states, most of which have lasted to this day, and the laws within an Islamic state make Islam very difficult to dislodge. The laws also make it very advantageous to convert to Islam.
This is one of the most effective methods ever invented for getting an idea-collection followed by huge numbers of people. It's a method of control and indoctrination similar to those used successfully in communist and totalitarian states. But as you'll discover below, Islam makes unique use of the power of the law to enforce complete conversion to the religion.
Islam started under unique conditions. All other major religions were started within an already-existing state. Islam is an historical exception to this rule.
Any organized government will, of course, put a stop to violent uprisings of a rebellious political group — especially one that wants to wage war and apply its own system of law. Christianity arose within the Roman Empire, for example. If Christianity had been a militant or political uprising, Rome would probably have killed or imprisoned the followers. Probably many military or political religions did start up then, but we've never heard of them. They couldn't get off the ground.
But Islam arose in Arabia when there was no central ruling power. The whole area was comprised of individual tribes. Under those circumstances, conversion by war and the use of force was possible.
6. Lands must be conquered. Lands that Islam has lost must be reconquered (Spain and Israel, for example). The Islamic empire must continually expand. Contraction is bad; expansion is good. So if a land was once Islamic and now it is not, that's contraction, and must be remedied.
According to Islamic teachings, the earth is Allah's. If there are parts of the earth not following Islamic law, it is the duty of the faithful to gain control of that land and establish Sharia. It is a sin to let it be.
7. The idea-collection provides new soldiers by allowing polygamy. According to Sharia law, a Muslim man can marry up to four wives, and he can have sex with as many slave girls as he wishes.
The Quran especially encourages men to marry widows. This is an important idea to add if you are going to be losing a lot of soldiers in war. You need some way of replenishing your army. Otherwise the idea-collection could die out from a lack of offspring. Read more about this principle.
8. It is a punishable offense to criticize Islam. You can see why this one is a good supporting idea for the collection. It helps suppress any ideas that would reduce the authority of Islamic ideas. This idea is in the Quran, and Mohammad set a fierce example of punishing people who criticized him or Islam. Read more about this principle.
9. You can't leave Islam once you're in. This is an interesting one. It is actually illegal in Islamic states to convert out of Islam. This is a critical part of Sharia law. Someone who has rejected Islam who was once a Muslim is an "apostate." This is a crime and a sin, and the punishment for it is death (and eternal damnation in hell thereafter).
Obviously, you can see why this idea has been included in the collection, but this one has actually caused Islam a problem because those who are following Islam to the letter consider more "moderate" Muslims (those who want to ignore or alter the more violent passages of the Quran) to be apostates. Since the punishment for apostates is death, fundamentalist Muslims are fighting modernizing Muslims all over the world, and keeping many rebellious, modernizing Muslims from speaking up for fear of death.
Every time a group of Muslims decides that maybe Islam should be updated for the 21st century and maybe women should have some rights and maybe the government should be more democratic, the devout Muslims call them apostates and discredit them or even try to kill them.
In this and in many other ways, Islam protects its own fidelity (in other words, the original idea-collection cannot be altered).
Another idea in Sharia law says it's against the law for anyone to try to convert a Muslim to another religion.
10. Islam must be your first allegiance. You are a Muslim first, before any allegiance you give to your family, your tribe, or your country.
This does two things: It causes a unity of people across borders which allows the group to grow bigger than any other entity. In other words, the "Nation of Islam" can grow bigger than any country, no matter how large (which gives the group a massive numerical advantage).
11. Dying while fighting for Islam is the ONLY way to guarantee a man's entrance into Paradise. This belief creates fearless, enthusiastic warriors, especially given the Quran's vivid descriptions of the sensuous delights of Paradise.
A Muslim man has a chance of getting to Paradise if he is a good Muslim, but it is not guaranteed. However, if he dies while fighting for Islam, he is guaranteed to get in, and that's the only thing he can do to guarantee it.
12. You must read the Quran in Arabic. This unites believers by language, and language has a very powerful unifying influence. For added incentive to learn Arabic, another basic Islamic principle says you can't go to Paradise unless you pray in Arabic.
So Muslims all over the world share a language. This makes it easier to coordinate far-reaching campaigns of protest, political pressure, and war. Read more about this principle.
13. You must pray five times a day. This is one of the five "pillars" — that is, one of the five central practices — of Islam. Within an Islamic state, this practice is enforced by law. Every Muslim must pray five times a day. The practice helps Islam dominate a Muslim's life, filling his daily rhythm with Islam.
It would be impossible to forget anything you deliberately do so often. Five times a day, every day, a Muslim must bow down and pray to Allah.
Research has shown that the more effort a person expends for a cause, the more he is likely to believe in it and value it. So this is a good way to eventually make believers out of people who became Muslims through coercion.
Islam completely takes over every aspect of Muslims' lives. Not only are they required to pray five times a day, they have to go through a washing ritual beforehand. Islam dictates the laws, and the laws cover many public and private behaviors. In an Islamic state, it is impossible to be a casual Muslim.
14. The prayers involve moving together in time. When Muslims pray, they all face the same direction, they bow down, get on their hands and knees, and put their face on the mat, all in unison, and then rise back up. Again and again.
When people move together in time, whether dancing or marching or praying, it creates a physical and emotional bond between them. That's why all military training involves close-order drill (marching in unison), even though it has been a long time since military groups have actually marched into combat. There is no longer a need for the skill, but military training retained the practice because it is so effective at creating a strong feeling of unity between soldiers (read more about that).
The same is true of any physical movements people make in unison. So the method of prayer in Islam helps Muslims feel unified with each other.
15. A woman is in a thoroughly subordinate position. This idea really helps support other ideas in the collection. If women had too much influence, they'd try to curb the warring. Women in general don't like to send their husbands and sons off to war. But if women have no say in the matter, then the rest of the ideas can express themselves without interference. By subordinating women, the idea-collection prevents their effective vote against war, violence, and conquest.
The rules and laws within Islam that keep women subordinate are numerous. For example, she is not allowed to leave her house unless she is accompanied by a male relative. Under Islamic law, a woman is forbidden to be a head of state or a judge. She can only inherit half of what a man can inherit. In court, her testimony is only worth half of a man's. She is not allowed to choose where she will live or who she will marry. She is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim or divorce her husband. He, however, can divorce her with a wave of his hand. And according to Sharia, he can (and should) beat her if she disobeys him.
All of these ideas keep her subordinate, which helps keep the war machine going unimpeded by domestic rebellion. Read more about Islam's subordination of women.
16. The only way a woman can guarantee her passage into Paradise is if her husband is happy with her when she dies. When I read about this one, I thought, "Mohammad, you are a crafty one."
This idea obviously helps with the subjugation of women. It gives her a strong incentive to subordinate her wishes to her husband's, because while she might have a chance to get into Paradise if she's a good Muslim, the only way she can guarantee she will go to Paradise (and avoid eternal suffering in hell) is to make sure her husband is happy with her when she dies.
17. Allah gives Himself permission to edit his own work. This is an interesting one. It says in the Quran that if a passage written later contradicts an earlier passage, then the later one is the better one (read more about that). The Quran was written in sections (each section is one of Mohammad's revelations, known as a sura or chapter) over a period of 23 years. The circumstances of Mohammad's life and his religion changed quite a bit over those 23 years.
One of the ideas in the Quran is "this is the word of Allah." People had already memorized his earlier revelations, and it would seem a little strange for the all-knowing, infinitely wise Allah to change something He had already said. But with this idea that later revelations abrogated or overwrote earlier revelations when they contradicted, the newer ideas could be accepted. Allah could edit His work.
As I pointed out earlier, in his first 13 years of peacefully preaching, Mohammad only managed to win 150 followers. But as a military leader and violent conqueror, he was able to subjugate all of Arabia to Islamic law in less than 10 years. The peaceful ways were slow. Conversion by conquering and establishing Sharia was faster and more efficient.
The bad news for non-Muslims is that the later, violent, intolerant verses abrogate the earlier peaceful, more tolerant passages. Read more about which passages were abrogated and what the last passages say.
18. The Quran uses the carrot and stick to reinforce behavior. Throughout the book are vivid descriptions of hell, where sinners and non-Muslims have to drink boiling, stinking water, are thrown face down into a raging fire, and have to be there for eternity, suffering endless torments in agony. Read more about this.
There are also vivid descriptions of Paradise. In Paradise, believers wear green silk robes and recline on plush couches. Trees shade them, fruit dangles nearby. Believers have tasty food and refreshing drinks served to them in silver goblets.
But to have a chance of reaching Paradise, they must be devout Muslims. To guarantee it, they must die in jihad (for men) or make sure their husbands are always happy with them (for women).
19. Islam provides a huge and inspiring goal. Leaders of countries, companies, and religions have all discovered that you can get the most motivation and enthusiasm from your followers if you provide them with an expansive vision — an enormous goal. In the Islamic idea-collection, the goal calls for a continuous effort to expand the domain of Islamic law until the entire world is subjugated to it.
Many religions have the goal of converting others to the faith, but Islam has a method available nobody else has: To expand by seizing and converting governments to Sharia, or using the method of gaining one small, incremental concession or accomodation after another until Sharia law is being followed.
Once the whole world is following Islamic law, peace will reign. That's why even terrorists can say with complete sincerity, "Islam is a religion of peace."
The Quran says it's better if non-believers accept Islam and become Muslims without force. But if they refuse, then you must do what you can to at least get them to live by the laws of Allah. Read more about this.
So Muslims have been given quite a mission: To create a one-world government. An Islamic world. World peace. It is an enormous and inspiring and motivating goal, and creates a strong unity of purpose.
20. Non-Muslims must pay a large tax. Once a country is following Sharia law, non-Muslims are given the choice between becoming Muslim or becoming a dhimmi. Dhimmis are allowed to practice their non-Muslim religion if they pay the jizya (a tax). If they convert to Islam, they no longer have to pay the jizya. This obviously creates a practical incentive to convert. Read more.
This is ingenious. The tax takes money away from non-Muslims and their competing religions and gives that money to support Islam. The income from these taxes (usually a 25% income tax) helped fund the Islamic conquests during the first two major jihads. They conquered vast lands, most of them already filled with Christians and Jews, many of whom did not convert at first, and their jizya poured huge sums of money into the Islamic war machine.
Eventually, the numbers of Christians and Jews in those countries dwindled down as they converted or escaped (or in some cases, were massacred), until now, in most Islamic countries, Jews and Christians are very small minorities.
The tax-the-non-Muslims idea helps the Islamic idea-collection make more copies of itself by suppressing competing religions and financially supporting Islam.
Several ideas within Sharia law extend this effect. For example, non-Muslims are not allowed to build any new houses of worship. They're not even allowed to repair already-existing churches or synagogues. This puts the houses of worship of any competing religion in a state of permanent decline.
Also, non-Islamic prayers cannot be spoken within earshot of a Muslim — again, preventing Muslims from being infected by a competing religion. No public displays of any symbols of another faith may be shown either.
All of this prevents the spread of any competing ideas, and makes competing religions die out over time. That's why today there are so many "Muslim countries." Almost every other country in the world is made up of different religions, but because of these principles, Islam tends to displace all other beliefs and cultures wherever it becomes established.
21. A Muslim is forbidden to make friends with a non-Muslim. A Muslim is allowed to pretend to be a friend, but in his heart he must never actually be a friend to a non-Muslim. This is one of the best protections Islam has against Muslims leaving the faith because conversions a new religion are usually made because a friend introduced it. Being forbidden to make friends with non-Muslims helps prevent that from happening. (See Quran quotes about this.)
22. The Quran counsels the use of deceit when dealing with non-Muslims. Mohammad instructed one of his followers to lie if he had to (in order to assassinate one of Mohammad's enemies). This set a precedent, and the principle was clear: If it helps Islam, it's okay to deceive non-Muslims. Read more about this principle here: Lying (Taqiyya and Kitman). And here.
This instruction in the Quran has served Islamic goals very well through history. And it serves those goals today. On the DVD, Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, you can watch real-life examples of Islamic leaders saying one thing in English for the Western press, and saying something entirely different to their own followers in Arabic a few days later.
Deceiving the enemy is always useful in war, and throughout history generals have used it. Islamic teachings consider Islam to be in a permanent state of war with the non-Islamic world until the whole world follows Sharia law (read more about that here). All non-Muslims living in non-Islamic states are "enemies." So deceiving Westerners is totally acceptable because deceiving an enemy in a state of war is totally acceptable. It is encouraged if it can forward the goals of the spread of Islam.
And so we have the strange phenomenon covered by Steven Emerson in Terrorists Among Us, where organizations in America were ostensibly raising money for orphans, but really giving the money to terrorists. They deceived good-hearted Western non-Muslims into giving money to organizations that were actively killing Western non-Muslims.
As it says in the Quran, "War is deceit." This idea gives Islam a tremendous advantage over idea-collections that encourage indiscriminate truthfulness.
23. Islam must always be defended. This idea is a primary linchpin that gives justification for war with almost anybody, as you'll see in the idea below. After the enemy is defeated, of course, Muslims must establish an Islamic state.
24. Islamic writings teach the use of pretext to initiate hostilities. The Quran devotes a lot of time complaining about people who did not support Mohammad when he first started his religion, with Allah often condemning them to torment in hell in the hereafter. The Quran is intensely intolerant of non-Muslims (source).
Mohammad was somewhat pushy and insistent with his religion, and when others felt intruded upon and protested, Mohammad took that to mean they were trying to stop Allah's holy prophet from bringing the revealed word of Allah to the world, so he was justified to fight them and destroy them as Allah's enemies. This is a demonstration of the principle of pretext.
Non-Muslims of the world need urgently to become aware of this principle. Of all the ideas in the Islamic collection, this is the most dangerous to the West because it removes our natural self-preserving defenses. The use of pretext tends to make the West defenseless against Islamic encroachments. And it tends to make the West confused about how to respond to violent Muslim reactions.
The use of pretext means you need only the barest excuse to begin hostilities. It means actually looking for an excuse, and even trying to provoke others into striking the first blow ("starting" the hostilities).
If the only way to get to Paradise is dying while fighting for Islam, you need hostilities. And if it is your holy duty to make all governments use Sharia law, you need to conquer non-Islamic governments. But you don't really want to look like the aggressor. Appearances count. All throughout the Quran, Mohammad tries to justify his aggression as defending Islam.
The Quran repeats 91 times that followers of Islam should use Mohammad as a model and imitate him. So Muslims the world over try to find or create grievances, so they can recruit new warriors, so they can get a holy war started, so they can fight and die in Allah's cause.
And because of the rise of multiculturalism (respect for all other cultures) in the West, the use of pretext is very effective against people who are unfamiliar with Islam. Many Westerners are concerned that al Qaeda is angry at the West for having troops in Saudi Arabia, for example. That's merely a pretext. They want all non-Muslims out of the Middle East. Then they say they will cease hostilities. It is a ridiculous and impossible goal, so they are justified in permanent war against the West to "defend" Islam.
It's surprising that so many Westerners accept this particular pretext because it flies in the face of a fundamental Western principle: Equality. What Osama bin Laden is saying is, "infidels are so undeserving, their very presence somewhere in Arabia defiles the entire country." Wow. What does that say about the non-Muslims?
Why doesn't this kind of racism or prejudice or infidelphobia (or whatever you want to call it) outrage more Westerners? Instead, many think we ought to pull out of the Middle East so we stop offending these poor Muslims.
The principle of pretext means you try to provoke a hostile reaction and then use the hostile reaction as a reason to escalate hostilities. It's the same method schoolyard bullies have used for thousands of years.
25. The explicit use of double standards. Islam has one standard for Muslims, and a different standard for non-Muslims, which always gives the advantage to Muslims and within a Muslim country, it provides incentives to convert.
For example, Islam must be spread by its believers, wherever they are. But when others try to spread their religions, Muslims are supposed to see it as an aggression against Islam — an act of aggression that must be "defended." Islam must always be defended.
As another example, when Islam is defamed in any way, Muslims should violently defend it. Even in a cartoon. But Muslims can and should defame Jews and Christians in Muslim newspapers and television, and they should defame any infidel or enemy, as they defame the U.S. today.
Here's another example: The Islamic supremacists of Saudi Arabia are pouring money into building mosques all over the free world. But according to Sharia law, which is the law in Saudi Arabia, no non-Muslim religious structures are allowed to be built.
Yet Muslims all over the world protest loudly and violently when anyone in Europe or America resists the building of more mosques in their countries.
Islamic supremacists don't see the irony in it. They don't feel strange having such an obvious double standard. They are, after all, Allah's followers and everyone else is deluded. Fairness and equality with such unworthy infidels would seem very out of place. A double standard seems completely appropriate from that perspective.
The double standard principle is a key part of the idea-collection, and it has been a great advantage in the spread of Islam (and the suppression of competing religions).
Sixty-one percent of the Quran is about non-Muslims and how to deal with them. Not one verse in the Quran about non-Muslims is positive (source).
26. It is forbidden to kill a Muslim (except for a just cause). It is not forbidden to kill a non-Muslim. This causes a bond between Muslims, fear in non-Muslims, and motivation to become Muslim. This is also another example of an explicit Islamic double standard.
27. If Muslims drift away from Mohammed's teachings, Allah will end the world. That makes converting others and promoting Islam a matter of survival. It also motivates Muslims to prevent each other from losing faith.
28. The message in a standard Quran is difficult to decipher. Whether it was done intentionally or not, the Quran's message has been scrambled and in a sense, coded. This discourages almost all non-Muslims and a significant percentage of Muslims from understanding it.
In what way is the message scrambled? First, the chapters are published out of order in every standard Quran. Rather than printing them using the chronological order in which they were revealed, the 114 chapters (suras) of the Quran are arranged using a baffling method: They're arranged in order from the longest chapter to the shortest. That's the traditional order.
When you read a standard Quran straight through like a normal book, the message is disjointed and the story jumps around and seems contradictory. One very important consequence of this curious disorder is that it hides the clear progression from Mohammad's semi-tolerance of non-Muslims to his violent hatred toward them.
The disorder also prevents anyone from figuring out which passages are abrogated unless they know the chronological order of the Quran.
The second way the Quran has been put into code is by putting the key somewhere else. Much of the Quran cannot be understood without being familiar with the life of Mohammad (by reading the Sira and the Hadith). These are primarily about Mohammad — what he said and did.
In other words, the Quran — the source book, the single most important holy book in Islam — can't be understood without the key, and the key can only be found somewhere else, which is similar to one of the ways a message can be written in code: Put the key to understanding the message somewhere else besides including it in the message. This is enough to keep most non-Muslims from understanding the Quran, and also keeps most Muslims on a need-to-know basis. So the only ones who really know what's going on are the imams and the scholars. They call the shots. Everyone else is in the dark.
If the Quran wasn't put in code deliberately, it has been a tremendously fortuitous accident which has served the goals of Islam very well throughout history. Fortunately, someone has unscrambled the Quran for us. Read more about that here.
WHAT SHOULD we do with this information about Islam? That's a good question. For some, the solution is to hate Muslims, but that doesn't make any sense. Most Muslims had no choice in their religion, and many of them don't know as much about their own religion as you now do.
I think the best thing any of us can do is to simply help other non-Muslims learn about Islam. Because Islam is so successful, its teachings are becoming more and more influential on the world stage, and some of its built-in aggressiveness should be curbed. But the only way it can be curbed is if enough people know about it. The way we understand Islam will determine what policies we collectively endorse or reject about it.
So first, learn more about it. And then share what you know with others. And let them know what they can do about it too. To learn more, I suggest you first read the Quran. This is the version I recommend.
If you'd like to do something more, start here: What Can You Do About It?