Logic in the Torah

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

10. Logic in the Koran and Hadiths


1.   Disclaimer

In this chapter, I am called upon for the sake of comprehensiveness to comment on some of the a fortiori discourse found in Moslem literature. I must stress that I do not intend the following treatment to be exhaustive. I am merely breaking ground for a more extensive treatment by others. Being personally not very interested in the Moslem religion, I am not sufficiently motivated to do a thorough job on the subject. I do hope someone else will take up the challenge and do the necessary research.

Needless to say, although I am a Jew, I have no desire to engage here in religious polemics against Islam. Jews do not normally try to convert non-Jews to their views. My interest here is entirely logical. The proof is that I am not always critical. When I am critical, it is with an impartial, scientific spirit – the same spirit I apply to assessment of a fortiori and other forms of reasoning found in Jewish texts or texts of other traditions.

It should of course be unnecessary for me to make such a disclaimer, but we sadly live again in an age where tempers easily flare in relation to religion (which is understandable) and even sometimes lives are threatened (which is inexcusable). Some decades ago, this was not the case (at least not in the Western world), although a few centuries ago the threat against free speech was indeed high (in Europe as well as in Islamic regions). But nowadays, there are unfortunately some dangerous fanatics around, so speaking one’s mind freely takes a bit of guts. I am determined to do so, and not let myself be intimidated.


2.   Initial findings in the Koran

A bit of systematic research: I have carefully searched through an English translation (from Arabic) of the Koran, looking for instances of a fortiori argument, or indeed any other logical argument I might find, by means of the same key words and phrases used in other contexts – and to my great surprise I found exactly none! The Koran seems to be a long harangue, with no resort to logical argument, let alone a fortiori argument.

The translation of the Koran I relied on is that by John Medows Rodwell, which dates from 1861, with a 2nd ed. in 1876. I acquired a Kindle edition (2011) of this document, which can be searched through using the Kindle reader. The following is a summary of the results of this research by means of key words or phrases in the Koran (to the exclusion of hits in the introductory and explanatory notes by the translator):

I first looked for idiomatic words or phrases that are often indicative of a fortiori argument. I found no instances of the specific key phrases much the (more/less) or much more/less; the vaguer key word much occurs 14 times, but none of these constitutes an a fortiori. The key phrases all the more/less/same were likewise not found; the vaguer phrase all the occurs 8 times, but again none of these involves a fortiori. The key phrases still more/less were likewise not found; the vaguer phrase still occurs 17 times (including 2 instances of still the, though none of still the more/less), but again none of these involves a fortiori. I found one instance of each of the key phrases even more, less, but neither involves a fortiori. There were no hits for the key phrases more so, less so, although each of the key words more, less registered over 100 hits (I did not look through the latter).

Next, I looked for descriptive expressions, which might signal a fortiori argument or some other form of argument. The expression a fortiori occurs zero times. Argue, argued, arguing never occur; argument(s) occurs twice. Prove occurs 31 times (including proved twice and proven twice); proof(s) occurs 48 times[1]. Deduce and its derivatives never occur, except for deduction which occurs once (in “make no deduction”). Infer and its derivatives never occur. It follows never occurs, and not follow occurs 3 times. Logic or its derivatives never crops up. Therefore occurs over 100 times. However, although words or phrases relating to logical processes do (rarely, as these statistics show) occur – none of the cases found turned out to concern logical processes (I examined all the instances here mentioned, though only a sample of those with therefore).

There are no logical arguments (“since this and that, therefore so and so”) – there are only rhetorical claims. For example: “Say: I only follow my Lord’s utterances to me. This is a clear proof on the part of your Lord, and a guidance and a mercy for those who believe.” The mere use of a term (such as “proof”) normally associated with logic is not proof that logic is being used. Thus, it would appear from this research effort that there is no logic use in the Koran. The sweet voice of reason is never actually used. This is quite a shocking finding, which goes some way to explain the dogmatic style of Islam.

Note that this conclusion does not exclude the possibility that closer reading might reveal some use of logic, because it is based on mechanical search of key words and phrases. However, in similar research efforts elsewhere – in the Jewish Bible, or the works of Plato or Aristotle, or the Christian Bible – such mechanical search has always yielded some results, even if admittedly incomplete results. So, it looks as if there is no use of logic in the Koran.


In truth, after writing the above I discovered that there is in the Koran at least one passage that can reasonably be admitted as a fortiori, namely 36:78-79:

“He [man] says, ‘Who will give life to bones while they are disintegrated?’ Say [to him], ‘He [God] will give them life who produced them the first time; and He is, of all creation, knowing.’”

Although here there is no key phrase indicative of a fortiori argument, there is a connection between the sentences in the fact that the first is a question and the second is an answer to it. Moreover, since the reply “He will give them life” would have sufficed, it is obvious that the clauses “who produced them the first time” and “He is, of all creation, knowing” are intended as additional explanations for that reply. The argument here is clearly that if God (S) was powerful (R) enough to create man in the first place (P), He (S) is surely just as able (R) to resurrect him long after he dies (Q). This is a positive predicatal argument[2], since the subsidiary term S (God) is the subject of the minor premise and conclusion. It would be counted as a pari, since the premised act P (initial creation) is not presented as more or less difficult than the concluding act Q (resurrection)[3]. Indeed, the additional comment that God fully knows creation implies that both these acts are equally easy for Him[4]. Lastly, the argument is purely a fortiori, not a crescendo, since the subject (God) is the same in the minor premise and conclusion.

So, there is, after all, at least one a fortiori argument in the Koran. Maybe there are others, but so far this is all I have found – a pretty poor harvest, anyway.


3.   al-Ghazali’s findings

Additionally, there are some syllogisms and other arguments in the Koran. The Moslem commentator Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (11th-12th cent. CE) draws attention to a number of them in his book al-Qistas al-mustaqim (The Correct Balance)[5]. Incidentally, he wrote this book, not as one might expect in defense of rationalism, but in order to show that logic was used in the Koran long before Greek logic made its way into Islamic discourse. Nevertheless, it is evident from his systematic treatment, starting with the first three figures of Aristotelian logic and continuing with the hypothetical and disjunctive arguments of Stoic logic, that he was himself strongly influenced by that logic. Despite this and other logical works, he is regarded, rightly, in view of his overall philosophical and religious orientation, as an anti-rationalist.

A syllogism is suggested in Koran 2:258, where Abraham says to Nimrod: “God brings up the sun from the east, so bring it up from the west.” Ghazali explains that Abraham argued thus because “Nimrod claimed divinity” and he wanted to prove him wrong, so his argument in full would have been: “Whoever can make the sun rise is God; but my God can make the sun rise; [therefore] my God is God – and not you, Nimrod” (1/AAA). Ghazali justifies the major premise by saying that “‘God’ is a designation for the omnipotent, and making the sun rise belongs to the totality of those things [which he can do]; this principle is known by convention and agreement.” He justifies the minor premise by saying that “‘The one who can make the sun rise is not you [Nimrod]’ is known by seeing.”

The first figure argument proposed by Ghazali is formally valid. Its major premise can be justified as he suggests on purely rational grounds: given the definition of God as omnipotent (not to mention omniscient and all-good), it would follow that He can well cause the sun to rise (from the east or west or anywhere). But Ghazali’s justification of the minor premise is clearly fallacious. For granted that Nimrod can evidently not make the sun rise (in the west or anywhere else), it does not follow that Abraham’s God can do so. To assume the minor premise on this basis would be to argue in a circular manner. The argument implied by the Koran rather proceeds as follows. First, we reason: “Whoever cannot make the sun rise is not God; Nimrod cannot make the sun rise (differently than it does, i.e. in the west instead of the east); therefore, he is not God (1/EAE)[6]. This syllogism does not in itself prove that the God Abraham believes in is one and the same as the God defined as omnipotent. For that conclusion we must take for granted the Koran’s implicit disjunctive proposition: Either Abraham’s God or Nimrod is God. On this basis we can then argue: Since Nimrod is not God (as just proved syllogistically), then Abraham’s God must be God.

Thus, the argument implied by the said Koran passage is not as Ghazali describes it. A syllogism is implied, but not the one he proposes. Additionally, there is a disjunctive apodosis he has not discerned. Moreover, the premise that either Abraham’s God or Nimrod is God remains unproved, although obviously presented approvingly by the Koran. It can only be truly proved by eliminating all other possibilities, including the thesis of atheism. In other words, merely observing the sun rise in the east does not suffice to prove that it is God as Abraham conceives or experiences Him, or even the omnipotent Being men generally define as God, Who in fact made the sun rise. We might well assume so on faith, but to scientifically prove it is more difficult. Therefore, the Koran cannot truthfully be said to have produced a proof of the existence of God, or even a proof that Abraham’s God is God, through this argument[7].

Another example of syllogistic reasoning is found in Koran 6:75-78:

“And thus did We show Abraham the realm of the heavens and the earth that he would be among the certain [in faith]. So, when the night covered him [with darkness], he saw a star. He said, ‘This is my lord’. But when it set, he said, ‘I like not those that disappear’. And when he saw the moon rising, he said, ‘This is my lord’. But when it set, he said, ‘Unless my Lord guides me, I will surely be among the people gone astray’. And when he saw the sun rising, he said, ‘This is my lord; this is greater’. But when it set, he said, ‘O my people, indeed I am free from what you associate with Allah. Indeed, I have turned my face toward He who created the heavens and the earth, inclining toward truth, and I am not of those who associate others with Allah’.”

Although Abraham’s thinking here is not made fully explicit, it is reasonable to suppose it was syllogistic. The three syllogisms involved here would have the form 2/EAE: God does not disappear; the stars, moon and sun do disappear; therefore, these cannot be God. So well and good; except that the content of these arguments is not very convincing. We can criticize them by pointing out that disappearance does not necessarily imply cessation of being – something may disappear by merely ceasing to be visible. To be hidden from view is not to be non-existent. For example, since God is formless, He is not perceivable through the senses[8], yet this ‘invisibility’ does not imply His non-existence. Thus, the proposed middle term is inaccurate, and the major premise ought rather to be: Since God is eternal, He cannot be impermanent. In that case the minor premise would need to be: the stars, moon and sun are impermanent. Only then would the putative conclusion that ‘these cannot be God’ be logically justified.

Abraham could well on the basis of observation say that the stars, moon and sun disappear daily; but to state that they are impermanent, he would have to rely on extrapolation – i.e. on the assumption that when these heavenly bodies disappear they actually cease to exist. Such extrapolation would, of course, constitute an inductive act – a generalization from experience. In his day, and maybe even at the time the Koran was written, such a supposition might have seemed credible. But of course, nowadays we know it is nonsense. The stars, moon and sun do not cease to exist when they disappear – we just no longer see them from where we happen to stand, although they remain or become visible elsewhere. They are indeed impermanent, but not for the reason given – i.e. not because they disappear daily. They are impermanent because they undergo changes (visible with telescopes) all the time, and because they will cease to have their present forms (as stars, moon or sun) in a few billion years.

Of course, Abraham could hardly know that. Maybe also the much later author of this story in the Koran could hardly be expected to have this knowledge, which we have thanks to modern astronomy and all the technology it is based on. Still, the author of this story ought to have realized the logical weaknesses in it, if he knew logic. This story seems designed to establish that knowledge of the existence of God can be known through intellectual means, i.e. that it is rationally obvious. But as we have just shown, it is not very successful in demonstrating that possibility. This shows that, even if Abraham, or at least the author of the Koran, could think syllogistically, he was not sufficiently skilled in logic to see that the proposed argument was not watertight and needed improvement. We can still say there is some (although not very much) syllogistic reasoning in the Koran, but it cannot be said that these three occurrences are demonstrative of the Divine source of the document, since God, being omniscient, would not make errors of fact or of reasoning.

Note that Ghazali only mentions 6:76, regarding the moon; but it is clear that the Koran additionally contains two similar arguments, regarding the stars and the sun. Moreover, while he correctly quotes the Koran as there saying “I love not the things which set,” for some reason he seems to assume this refers to the moon, instead of the stars; for he then describes the argument as: “The moon is a thing which sets; but God is not a thing which sets; therefore, the moon is not a God” (2/EAE). Be that as it may, he admits that this argument is not fully laid out in the Koran, since he adds that the latter is “its foundation by way of concinnity and ellipsis.” He claims to draw its two premises, viz. that the moon sets whereas God does not, from the narrative. But in my view, it would be more accurate to say that the narrative implies the minor premise (the moon sets, from “when it set”) and the conclusion (the moon is not God, from Abraham’s stated rejection of “things which set”), while the reader must provide the major premise (God does not set), which is obvious enough.

However, Ghazali does not see the latter as obvious, saying: “that God is not a thing which sets I know neither necessarily nor by sensation.” He then argues that Abraham must have known the latter indirectly through knowledge that “God is not a thing which changes [a changer]. And… setting is changing.” Here, he is introducing a new syllogism: God is not subject to change; and setting is changing; therefore, God does not set (2/AEE). This comment of Ghazali’s is interesting, in that it brings into play the more radical concept of change. As I point out above, the proposed syllogism, even if formally okay, is contentually weak without this narrower middle term. Nevertheless, Ghazali introduces this term only in order to establish that God does not set, and not in the way of a criticism of the proposed argument as I did. This shows he has not fully understood the issues involved.

In fact, it cannot rightly be said that “setting is changing.” Although setting is disappearing and changing is disappearing, it does not follow that setting is changing (this would constitute a 2nd figure syllogism with two positive premises, which is invalid). Things may disappear (or more specifically, set) without changing: stars disappear in daylight because the strong light from the sun eclipses their light, not because they cease to be or go away; the sun disappears at night because it goes over the horizon, due to the rotation on its own axis of the earth and not to revolution of the sun round our planet; the moon’s disappearances are due partly to its own movements and partly to ours. Thus, the minor premise of Ghazali’s second syllogism is false, and the Koran’s argument in the name of Abraham is wobbly. Even so, we can grant Ghazali’s main claim that a syllogism[9] is (or rather, a set of them are) embedded in the said passage of the Koran.

After that, Ghazali lays claim to two more examples of syllogistic reasoning in the Koran, and hints that there are more of them besides these. More precisely, he states that Allah taught Mohammed “to weigh by this balance in many places in the Koran, to follow the example of his father, the Friend [i.e. Abraham];” and he adds: “Be content with my calling attention to two places and seek the rest in the verses of the Koran.”[10]

The first additional example he gives is Koran 5:18 – “But the Jews and the Christians say, ‘We are the children of God and His beloved’. Say, ‘Then why does He punish you for your sins?’ Rather, you are human beings from among those He has created.” Ghazali’s comment on this passage is that the Jews and Christians “claimed to be the sons of God,” so Allah taught Mohammed how to “expose their error by means of the correct balance [i.e. the appropriate argument],” namely: “Sons are not chastised; but you are chastised; therefore, you are not sons” (2/EAE). He adds that the major premise of this syllogism is “known by experience,” its minor premise is “known by seeing,” and “from these two necessarily follows the denial of son-ship.”

Here again, while the argument is formally okay, its content is open to much criticism. When and where do Jews and Christians claim to be “the sons of God” instead of human beings subject to chastisement? If this is an argument against the Jews’ belief they are ‘the chosen people’[11], it is nonsensical since this concept is not believed to exclude punishment for sins (but on the contrary, makes it more likely)[12]. The Koran argument can only be credibly directed at the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus and that he was crucified; yet elsewhere (4:157) it denies Jesus died on a cross, so that would be inconsistent. Clearly, the fact that the Koran includes some syllogistic reasoning should not be taken to imply that its reasoning is materially sound.

Note moreover that while Ghazali makes a show of specifying the empirical sources of the premises of the syllogism (“by experience,” “by seeing”), he takes for granted without questioning it the Koran’s unsubstantiated claim that Jews and Christians say: “We are the children of God and His beloved.” This issue of historicity is not incidental. The Koran’s syllogism is formulated with the express purpose of contradicting the statement attributed to Jews and Christians. If, as a matter of historical fact, they never made such a statement – then the whole argument is spurious rant. A logician is duty-bound to be scientific all the way, not just as convenient to his convictions. Fiction cannot be treated as fact.

The second additional example Ghazali gives is Koran 62:6-7 – “Say, ‘O you who are Jews, if you claim that you are allies of God, excluding the [other] people, then wish for death, if you should be truthful.’ But they will not wish for it.” He explains this as follows: the Jews “claimed friendship [with God],” and as everyone knows “the friend desires to meet his friend;” yet “it was also known that they did not desire death, which is the cause of the meeting:” whence “it follows of necessity that they are not the friends of God.” He then proposes the following more formal presentation: “Every friend desires to meet his friend; but the Jew does not desire to meet God; therefore, he is not the friend of God” (2/EAE). Excuse me for laughing out loud at this anti-Semitic drivel!

For a start, the latter presentation is formally invalid, since the middle term is differently formulated in the major premise (friend) and minor premise (God); a syllogism cannot have four terms. Ghazali’s preceding explanation is closer to formally correct; this is in fact a succession of two arguments (a sorites). The first argument is: Whoever wants to meet God must desire death; but the Jews do not desire death; therefore, they do not want to meet Him. The second argument is: Whoever one is a friend of is someone one wants to meet; but the Jews do not want to meet God (as just concluded); therefore, they are not friends of God (contrary to what they claim). Both these arguments are substitutive syllogisms of form 1/AEE (or negative apodoses, modus tollens). Therefore, Ghazali did not manage to correctly pinpoint the logical structure of the Koran’s argument.

Moreover, the argument’s content is absurd. The Koran suggests that one has to die to meet with God. Yet, it also evidently claims that Mohammed met with God (if only through an angel) without having to die. Therefore, the Koran is using double standards. It is inventing an excuse for pouring on the Jews scorn that they do not deserve. The Koran’s ‘reasoning’ here is ridiculous: why would truthful friends of God need to wish for death? The Jewish perspective is that God wants us to love life; to love life is to show God appreciation for His kindness in giving it to us. We do not yearn for death, for we believe that we can well through virtuous behavior “meet with” God in the midst of this very life. Indeed, that is the purpose of life and the reason for our creation. Therefore, the major premise of the first argument is, in Jewish eyes, wrong – not only factually erroneous, but also morally reprehensible. It is obviously just an expression of the Koran’s hatred for Jews, a wish for their death.

A bit further on[13], Ghazali does in fact propose one more example of syllogistic reasoning, in Koran 6:91. This passage is yet another moronic diatribe against “the Jews.” The relevant part reads: “And they [the Jews] did not appraise God with true appraisal when they said, ‘God did not reveal to a human being anything’. Say, ‘Who revealed the Scripture that Moses brought as light and guidance to the people?’” According to Ghazali, the argument’s premises are: “Moses is a man” and “Moses is one upon whom the Book was sent down;” and its conclusion is: “some man has had sent down upon him the Book” (3/AAI). The first premise is “known by sensation;” and the second is “known by their own admission,” since the Koran says of them: “You [Jews] make it into pages, disclosing [some of] it and concealing much.” The particular conclusion they yield suffices to refute the Jews’ “general claim that Scripture is not sent down upon any man at all.”

Ghazali’s third figure argument is sound, but quite incidental. The Koran’s focus here is on the statement “God did not reveal to a human being anything.” This proposition is of course one more fabrication by the Koran, expressing the anti-Semitic feelings of its author(s). When and where did the Jews say that God did not reveal anything to anyone, as the Koran here claims? They may well have said that God did not reveal anything to Mohammed specifically, but they surely never ever collectively made that general statement (at least in those days, even if some Jews nowadays are skeptics). The rebuttal of the said proposition is not as Ghazali claims a syllogism. It is simply a rhetorical question by the Koran, viz. “Who revealed the Scripture that Moses brought as light and guidance to the people?” The assertoric implication of this rhetorical question is: God revealed the Scripture to Moses, and it is this implication that contradicts the allegation that God has made no revelation to anyone. This is the essence of the argument here, and not Ghazali’s syllogistic proof that revelation to Moses is revelation to some man.

The Koran’s logic here is therefore oppositional rather than syllogistic. This is also in itself interesting, of course. Ghazali’s 3rd figure syllogism is, admittedly, present in the background of the Koran’s argument – but only in the sense that syllogistic logic is always present when we apply or deny a generality. So, we can say that Ghazali is, in this instance, a bit artificially reading a syllogism into the Koran. Note moreover that here again he shows no aptitude for historical criticism. He takes for granted without questioning it the Koran’s unsubstantiated claim that the Jews denied the occurrence of any revelation by God to humans. Nevertheless, albeit the deficiencies in Ghazali’s understanding pointed out in the present analysis, his contribution to the search of logic in the Koran is very valuable.

Ghazali additionally points out three examples of counterfactual hypothetical argument (negative apodoses, modus tollens). They are: Koran 17: 42 – “If there had been with Him [other] gods, as they say, then they [each] would have sought to the Owner of the Throne a way;” Koran 21:22 – “Had there been within the heavens and earth gods besides God, they both [the heaven and earth] would have been ruined;” and Koran 21:99 – “Had these been gods, they would not have come to it [Hell], but all are eternal therein.” He rightly explains the reasoning involved as follows, for instance: “If the world has two gods, heaven and earth would have gone to ruin. But… they have not gone to ruin. So [the] necessary conclusion [is] the denial of the two gods.”[14] Finally, Ghazali also points out an example of disjunctive argument, namely Koran 34:24 – “We or you are either upon guidance or in clear error.” He rightly interprets this as: “We or you are in manifest error. But… We are not in error. So… you are in error.”[15]

I think this exhausts the examples of reasoning in the Koran pointed out by Ghazali in his Qistas[16]. If these examples are all the logic there is to be found in the Koran, it is not very much. But of course, there may be other instances, which may have been pointed out by Ghazali elsewhere or by other commentators, but which I have not come across to date. Note that Ghazali does not mention a fortiori argument in his Qistas, even though I have found one instance of it in the Koran. This shows two things: (a) that his treatment in this work is not exhaustive; and (b) that he was not very aware of a fortiori argument. In conclusion, having found in the Koran a total of about a dozen arguments, including one a fortiori argument and a few arguments of other forms, we cannot say that there is no logic in Islam’s founding document, but we can still say that there is rather little. This is surprising, considering that this document dates from the 7th century CE or later, over a thousand years after Aristotle.


4.   Sticks and carrots

There is rather little logic in the Koran – unless, that is, we count threats of punishment and promises of reward (wa’id and wa’d, in Arabic) as logical arguments. For of such ‘stick and carrot’ arguments, there are many in the Islamic Koran, as indeed in the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian New Testament. For example: Koran 9:5 teaches that idolaters who consent to convert to Islam should be granted freedom, whereas those that do not should be killed. These arguments take the following forms:

  1. If you do this vicious deed (or don’t do that virtuous deed), then such and such negative consequences (punishments) will befall you; therefore, don’t do this (or do do that)—and such and such harm won’t happen to you.
  2. If you do this virtuous deed (or don’t do that vicious deed), then such and such positive consequences (rewards) will befall you; therefore, do do this (or don’t do that)—and such and such benefit will indeed come upon you.

Quite often, the promised reward or threatened punishment referred to in such statements is, respectively, heaven or hell. This is rather convenient, since there is no way to empirically verify such otherworldly claims, at least not till one dies! Sometimes, however, the reward or punishment referred to is an earthly one. But even then, such statements have to be taken on faith, since the reward or punishment follows, not mechanically, but only on condition that God wills it to. Since God may occasionally choose, for His own reasons, not to make the consequences follow, there is no way for people to empirically verify such earthly claims. Sometimes, the reward or punishment is not specified, but left tantalizingly or terrifyingly vague. Thus, when such statements concern Divine retribution, for good or bad, they necessarily rely on faith. Sometimes, of course, as in the example given above (9:5), such statements are intended to be realized by human agency – that is, the specified reward or punishment for the stated action or inaction is to be effected by some specified or even unspecified person(s), such as a court of law, or maybe the monarch, or even some self-appointed executor(s). But even the latter statements, unless they fit in with our natural sense of justice, are proposed as “revelations” to be taken on faith – there being no way to prove them true, let alone to prove their source to be Divine.[17]

From a formal perspective, statements of this sort, which threaten or cajole, are indeed logical arguments insofar as they involve apodosis: either the modus ponens ‘If X, then Y, and X, therefore Y’ or the modus tollens ‘If X, then Y, and not Y, therefore not X’. We are enjoined to behave in certain ways in order to obtain certain desirable things and/or avoid certain undesirable things; and action in conscious accord with purposes is a prerogative of all conscious beings (animals), and most obviously of human beings (rational animals). However, the logical aspect of such discourse is only the surface of it. The purpose of such statements is not to invite rational deliberation and decision, but essentially to preempt or banish all thoughtful reflection and bring about blind compliance. This may be characterized as irrational argument; it is appeal to emotions – namely, fear (hawf) or hope (raga). The message is not really: ‘think about it carefully and do what you think is right’, but more radically: ‘just do and obey’. The talk of good or bad consequences of action or inaction is only intended to exploit the worries and appetites of people, and make them do what they are told to do and not-do what they are told not to do. There are no ifs or buts about it—it is commandment and interdiction.

This is, to be sure, the very nature of law. Even in a democratic state, when representatives of the people freely convene to enact just laws, after they have debated an issue, they make a decision in accord with the procedural norms, and once a ruling is handed down the citizens are required to abide by it. If the process has been truly democratic, individual citizens or groups of citizens are not expected to short-circuit the legislative process and point-blank refuse to abide by the decisions of the majority, even though in a democratic society the dissenters may well try by all legal means to have the laws they regard as unjust reviewed by the legislative body and possibly repealed. All the more so, in a non-democratic state, laws are intended as orders to be executed by the populace, like it or not; although here, of course, the laws, being tyrannous due to the way they have been enacted, are inherently unjust, and citizens indeed ought to rebel against them on principle, whatever their content, until the people’s natural rights as human beings are clearly upheld.

As regards the Koran, it is not hard to see that its purpose in formulating threats and promises is simply to ensure compliance to the decrees of some human legislator(s) claiming to speak, directly or indirectly, on behalf of God. No discussion is allowed regarding ends, though the means may occasionally require some reflection and debate. The Koran, typically, claims that its commands and prohibitions, and indeed its permissions and exemptions, to be Divinely-ordained. But this is just the Koran’s say-so; there is no “proof” for such claims to revelation. It may be argued that such a document instills fear and love of God in people, and makes them do good and eschew evil, and thus improves society. But this is just a circular argument, in that what the speaker (Mohammed or whoever) regards as good or evil is merely his personal assumption and certainly not something he has scientifically proved, or even could conceivably prove. There may be some truth in it; but there may also be a lot of falsehood. The only way to test and judge the matter is with reference to reason. No one may claim something so important arbitrarily, without being subject to rational examination and evaluation. To uncritically accept claims that are so consequential is to invite disaster somewhere down the line for sure.

It is easy to see in this context, regarding the issue of legitimacy of laws, the importance of freedom of conscience (to choose this or that faith, or even non-faith), free thought and free speech, as against “blasphemy” laws. The latter laws, which play a major role in Islam, are clearly intended to block at the outset all attempts to question and challenge Islamic belief in general and the temporal hegemony of its ruling classes in particular[18]. To physically enforce laws having to do with spiritual belief is in direct contradiction to the claim that such laws are ‘ethical’ – for what is ethical is by definition a matter of free choice under the guidance of reason. The Koran’s legal philosophy is to coerce everyone, Moslems and non-Moslems alike, to submit to its will (which it calls the will of Allah or of his messenger Mohammed); this is what the word “Islam” literally means: utter submission, with no right of dissent or review. But mindless conviction and compliance, like an automaton, out of oppressive fear of punishment or abject hope for rewards, is surely the antithesis of human dignity, the very negation of human spirituality. It is the depths of darkness, the death of the light of life.


5.   About the Koran

The paucity of logic in the Koran is seen to be all the more predictable considering the declamatory, peremptory, and mostly rancorous, tone the author adopts (or authors adopt) throughout the document. The ‘voice’ heard in the Koran is very different from that heard in the Jewish Bible. The Allah of the Koran does not sound like the God depicted in the Tanakh, who (besides) is differently named and described. The word ‘Allah’ (etym. al-ilah, the god) was, before the advent of monotheistic Islam, the name of a deity worshiped by idolatrous Arabs. Although the word is etymologically close to the Hebrew words ‘El’ and ‘Elohim’ – it is not necessarily equivalent to them. The Koran verbally claims its god to be great and merciful; but the effective message of this document is one of pettiness and antagonism – perpetual enslavement for Moslems and implacable hostility towards all non-Moslems[19].

Admittedly, the word ‘Allah’ has since the advent of Islam been generally taken – even by non-Moslems – as referring to what everyone means by the English word ‘God’, and we shall here use the two terms as equivalent in various contexts. But I want to first briefly draw attention to the discursive difficulties this terminological equation presents. It is not innocuous, for if we say that ‘Allah’ is equivalent to ‘God’, we seem to accept as true the Moslem claim that their deity is indeed God (as understood in other traditions, notably the Jewish and Christian, and in Western philosophy). If, instead, on the basis of evident differences in the name, character, behavior and sayings of the Islamic deity, we say that ‘Allah’ is never equivalent to ‘God’, we would be in error, for there is much philosophical discourse in Islam, whether right or wrong, which is effectively about God although (naturally, since it is in Arabic) it is said to be about Allah. Thus, we must say that the term ‘Allah’ is, objectively, sometimes but not always equivalent to the term ‘God’. The term ‘Allah’ of course always refers to God for Moslems; but for non-Moslems (yours truly included) it need not do so – it depends on the precise context.

The Koran (or Qur’an), the holy book of the Moslems, is traditionally regarded as having been composed by their alleged prophet, Mohammed (Arabia, ca. 568-632 CE), mostly under dictation from the angel Gabriel[20]. However, it was put together much later. Some twenty years later, during the reign of the Rashidun caliph Uthman (644-656 CE), according to Moslem tradition. More like as of some sixty years later, during the reign of the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705 CE), according to some modern critics, who also raise doubts as to the authorship of the document[21]. Some of the latter suggest the document was largely fabricated[22], for essentially political purposes, as convenient ideology for an already established (not yet Moslem) Arab empire. They point out the lack of solid historical evidence for an earlier date of composition. On the contrary, the little historical evidence found suggests the non-existence of a religion called Islam and its founding document the Koran till the late 7th or early 8th century CE. The personage of Mohammed described in it might, therefore, be partly based on a vaguely remembered past teacher or even be entirely mythical.[23]

The Koran contains many internal and external inconsistencies. That is, contradictions between propositions in it, and possibly some illogical propositions in it; as well as discrepancies between it and documents it refers to (mainly the Jewish and Christian Bibles), and between it and various scientific and historical facts[24]. This is not very surprising, being true to varying extents of all religious texts (including the Jewish and Christian Bibles). Of course, the frequency and nature of these inconsistencies are significant, and need to be closely examined. In any case, internal contradictions and contradictions with scientific and historical facts must surely be considered as unerring signs that the document is not, or at least not wholly, of Divine origin – since it is inconceivable that God makes such errors. Just as the external contradictions in a document can only be due to human ignorance, so, the internal contradictions in it are indicative of human fallibility. Many of the contradictions within the Koran are between earlier and later laws; Moslems presumably view such developments as implying that God changed his mind, but this is an essentially absurd notion. An Omniscient Being would surely forewarn that a temporary or otherwise circumscribed law is so intended when promulgating it.

Islamic jurisprudence has developed complex hermeneutics for dealing with internal contradictions in the Koran (and other recognized sources). When two texts are found to be in conflict, various means may be used to reconcile them: they might upon further scrutiny be found to be more harmonious than they seemed at first sight, or one might be considered an exception to the other, or their scopes might be particularized to exclude each other, or the two might be somehow merged into one; alternatively, as a last resort, one might be considered as abrogating the other[25]. In the latter event, the decision as to which supersedes the other is mainly made with reference to chronology, the later text being considered as intended to replace the earlier[26]. Of course, it is not always easy to establish chronology, but various criteria are agreed on as reasonable. Note that the Koran is not arranged in chronological order[27]. We need not go into more detail here, but only remark that all this goes to show that Moslem commentators admit the existence of internal contradictions within their source documents (and indeed between them). This shows commendable respect for logic on their part; but it also shows the logical imperfection of their proof-texts.

As regards discrepancies with earlier religious documents, although the Koran is manifestly (as anyone can see by making comparisons) largely based on the Jewish Bible (Torah and Nakh), and to a lesser extent on the Talmud and some Midrashim, as well as on the Christian Bible and some related books, it is obvious that whoever wrote the Koran he or they had a very superficial knowledge of these various books. The snippets of these books referred to in the Koran are obviously only known second-hand, by hearsay, or from casual perusal, not from intensive personal study and mastery. Either those who taught the Koran’s author(s) parts of these books were themselves not very knowledgeable, or the Koran’s author(s) had acute problems of attention and memory! This is evident from the ridiculous inaccuracies and bloopers in it, such as the anachronistic confusion between Miriam, the sister of Aaron, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, who existed some thirteen centuries apart[28]; or the unsubstantiated claim that Jews were wont to kill their prophets[29]! There are many details in Judaism and Christianity that the Koran displays ignorance of; and a lot of the information it apparently relays from them is erroneous[30]. How then can this document be regarded as credible?

To protect itself from this accusation of ignorance and confusion, the Koran claims that Jews and Christians falsified their own Scriptures[31], and that Islam is older than Judaism and Christianity, whose prophets it claims were really Moslems![32] This is like hijacking a couple of vehicles, and then accusing their real owners of theft. The main purpose of the Islamic claim to an earlier date is of course to deny that it was largely derived from Judaism and to a lesser extent Christianity; i.e. to occult the plagiarism on which it was founded[33]. The claim that Judaism and Christianity falsified their Scriptures is thus a subsidiary one, designed to explain differences in detail found in the Koran. Since Judaism and Christianity in fact, judging by concrete historical evidence, including third party records, antedate Islam by some 2,000 and 600 years, respectively – this is a claim that whole peoples for two millennia or several centuries had nothing better to do than combat and conceal a religion that they had never even heard of! Can such a wacky retroactive argument (to justify the Koran’s misinformation) be taken seriously by anyone with intelligence and good faith? Surely this accusation of falsification is a cynical attempt at falsification by Moslems![34]

Imagine what would happen if the methodology thus proposed by Islam were to be applied in courts of law. In the abstract, it is conceivable that an innocent man be wrongly accused of some crime after some people maliciously hiding evidence in his favor and planting evidence against him. But no judge in his right mind would consider such abstract possibility as relevant in a trial where zero evidence is brought to bear that substantiates it in the particular case under consideration (and moreover where much evidence is available with opposite effect). Indeed, in a sane society, a judge who based his judgments on such fantasy would surely soon lose his job. If this fanciful argument was allowed by historiology, historicity would disappear from historiography. There would be no reliable history, only fictional accounts. While it is true that history books cannot be fully objective, and entirely based on facts demonstrable through documents and other physical traces, to say this is a far cry from regarding all allegedly historical accounts as equally valid (or equally invalid).

Some interpretation is inevitable and indeed necessary in history, but this must always be done within the framework of unbiased methodological criteria. History is an inductive discipline, subject to empirical evidence, critical verification and other rational considerations; it cannot be allowed to become the product of arbitrary assertions in the service of some ideology. Some accounts are, therefore, more credible than others. The notion that a book could have traversed centuries or millennia in a subterranean manner, leaving no mark on history, no mention anywhere, no archeological vestige, is one found in many religions. In Buddhism, for instance, Mahayana sutras are routinely pre-dated to Buddha’s time. Just as I do not accept such Buddhist claims, or the unsubstantiated claim by some Jews that the Zohar, which appeared in 13th century CE Spain, originated in 2nd century CE Israel, I would not grant any credence whatsoever to the Islamic claim as to the antiquity, let alone perennity, of the Koran. The same criteria of evidence apply to all.

Moreover, the Koran’s central thesis is preposterous. It claims that God, i.e. the God of the Jews, the children of Israel, sent a non-Jewish messenger to them (as well as to the Arabians, and everyone else eventually); and that when “the Jews” – i.e. only the few hundred or thousand Jews living in a certain corner of Arabia at that time, note well – refused to believe this alleged messenger, God became super angry with Jews in general, insulting them and cursing them all forever![35] Such a narrative is logically incredible for anyone truly acquainted with Jewish Scriptures, which teach God’s justice and mercy, his patience and benevolence. Moreover, nowhere in them does God indulge in rude language, as when the Koran refers to Jews as “apes and pigs”[36]. The Koran’s Jew-hatred is certainly not God’s. It is the emotional reaction of some quite ordinary person(s) filled with resentment of some sort[37].

Throughout the Tanakh, God professes eternal love for the people of Israel[38]. It is not conceivable that He would then, ever, change His mind. When the Jewish people fail to sufficiently obey His Torah, He may for a while seem angry with them. But then (at least in ancient times, according to the Tanakh), He sends them a prophet to call them to order. Always a Jewish prophet, one of their own brethren; never a foreigner. The Torah explicitly commands it[39], and the whole Tanakh repeatedly confirms it (i.e. all prophets and leaders of Jews therein were Jewish). All Jewish prophets were well versed in the Torah, and considered particularly wise and virtuous; and they had to be to have credibility in the Jewish people’s eyes. It is unthinkable that God would suddenly choose to send the Jews someone ignorant of Jewish law and lore, and demand that they obey him. Someone who, to boot, engaged in highway robbery, murder, wife-stealing and pedophilia, to mention only some of the remarkable ‘achievements’ attributed to Mohammed by the Koran itself as well as by later reports[40].

God would surely have anticipated that the Jews were not likely to follow foreign religious leadership, all the more someone of doubtful morality. Indeed, they are specifically forbidden to do that, according to the Torah[41]. Only one of their own can lead them spiritually, and it must be someone of proven spiritual elevation. So, it can hardly be claimed that He sent them an Arab messenger, and then got terribly upset when the Jews did not accept him as a prophet! Moreover, God had no reason to be angry with the Jews at that period of history, the early 7th century CE. They were doing rather well spiritually – learning, praying and following the Torah assiduously (this was the period of the Geonim in Babylonia, remember) – so, why would God resent them? So, the whole scenario concerning them that the Koran blithely projects is absurd.

Funnily enough, unfortunately—Mohammed may have been Jewish![42] If Mohammed was indeed Jewish through his mother, it does not follow that he was qualified to preach to the Jews. His evidently sketchy knowledge of Torah and Talmud, and his immoral personal behavior, naturally disqualified him from such a mission. If he was a Jew, it can be said, in view of his many anti-Jewish statements, that he was a ‘self-hating’ Jew, i.e. a Jew who for whatever reason (in this case probably due to feeling rejected by his mother’s tribe) hated the Jews in general (and therefore, by implication, himself too). The irony of all this is that when Moslems express their hatred for Jews in general they may be abusing their own leader as well as his relatives! This is something Moslems ought to think about.


6.   On logic in the Hadiths

As we have seen, not only does the Koran involve almost no use of logic, i.e. of rational argument, but also the Koran involves a great deal of illogic. In view of this, we have to wonder how a bit of logic did come to appear in Islam at a later stage. A full study of this question would require us to first look for all a fortiori arguments and other logical processes in the hadiths[43]. These are the next layer of Islamic material, in principle closest in time and in perceived holiness to the Koran, being allegedly statements of the companions of Mohammed, purporting to recall things he (and to a lesser extent his companions) said and did. In view of the contradictions between some of these accounts, not to mention other absurdities, many hadiths are considered even by Moslems to be unreliable; but Moslems do believe many of them. This is rather optimistic on their part, seeing as these sayings and stories only began to appear on the stage of verifiable history in the late 7th cent. and early 8th cent. CE; that is, many decades after the purported date of Mohammed’s death. Many hadiths are of much later date than that; some perhaps are from as late as the 9th cent. CE.

The following are two commonly given examples of logic in the hadiths[44]:

“Ibn Abbas narrated: A woman said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, my mother died owing a vow to fast; should I fast for her?’ He said, ‘What if your mother owed a debt and you paid it back for her, would that settle it?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ He replied, ‘Then, fast for your mother.’”

“Abdullah ibn Zubair narrated: A man from Khath’an [a tribe] came to the Messenger of Allah and said, ‘My father embraced Islam at an old age, and he cannot ride the camel and at the same time he is obligated to perform Hajj [the pilgrimage to Mecca]. Should I perform Hajj for him?’ The Prophet said, ‘Are you the eldest son?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ The Messenger replied, ‘What if your father owed a debt and you paid it back, would that settle it?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ The Prophet said, ‘Then perform Hajj for him.’”

These are both, of course, simple arguments by analogy, and their resemblance (both refer to paying off debt) is noteworthy. They constitute inductive, rather than deductive, logic – since the conclusion, though reasonable enough, is not necessary; i.e. we could well conceive Mohammed giving the contrary answers to the questions put to him without being guilty of illogic. An inductive argument is one whose conclusion can be assumed true on the basis of the given premises, unless or until some contrary information is found that puts it in doubt. Such simple argument by analogy may be all the logic that Moslems have found in the hadiths, judging by the fact that they are often given as the justification and illustration of Islamic hermeneutic techniques. They are considered as justifying the use of reasoning to develop the law, because they show Mohammed in the act of using such reasoning and therefore apparently inviting imitation by later authorities. Although some commentators did not accept this implication of the examples, arguing that while Mohammed could well do it, it does not follow that his successors were qualified to do it, the mainstream posture has been to accept some development of the law through reasoning.

However, as we shall see further on [in JL], Islamic jurisprudence in fact usually resorts to a more complex form of analogical argument. In the above examples, a religious obligation, whether voluntary or fixed, is simplistically likened to a financial debt; so, the conclusion is based on a mere impression of similarity[45]. In the more complex form of the argument, however, the two things compared are considered to have an alleged or demonstrated common ground; so, the conclusion is based on a more intricate rational process. In simple analogy, the comparison between the two terms involved is unmediated, direct; whereas in complex analogy, it is mediated, indirect. I do not know whether examples have been found in the hadiths themselves of such more elaborate form of argument by analogy. There may be other examples. There may also be examples of other logical processes – this question can only be answered through close study of all the hadith collections by competent logicians.

But judging from the data I have some far come across offhand, logic does not seem to be much more present in the hadiths than in the Koran. The following story tells us something about the level of logic to be expected in them.

Muhammad Ibn Ishaq, author of Sirat Rasul Allah (Biography of the Prophet of Allah), wrote about an alleged rabbi of Medina, called al-Husayn, also known (possibly after his conversion to Islam) as Abdullah bin Salam, who asked Muhammad “about three things which nobody knows unless he be a Prophet.” Follow three silly questions which I will not bother repeating, to which Muhammad readily gives three silly answers, which again are not worth the trouble of retyping. Whereupon, highly impressed for his part, the questioner immediately converts to Islam, testifying that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah[46]. Obviously, the purpose of this story is to ‘prove’ Muhammad’s status as an envoy of God, by having a Jewish rabbi test him and testify to his having successfully passed the test. Why a Jewish rabbi? Because that would connect Muhammad’s mission to earlier Scriptures, and thus enhance his authority.

But what is the ‘logic’ of this attempted proof? First, there is no evidence whatsoever that this story is historically true; without our having any means to verify the fact, we have to keep in mind that it could have been invented by Ibn Ishaq or someone before him. Who is this rabbi? He must have been an important fellow, to have been entrusted with such an important secret. Yet no Rabbi al-Husayn of Medina is known to us Jews, or to historians at large. Second, even supposing that this Jew existed and was a rabbi and did indeed ask Muhammad those questions and did indeed find his answers correct – how can we be sure that he did not simply invent the questions with the intent to admit Muhammad’s answers whatever they were (in order to please him and gain his favor)? In other words, what tests did al-Husayn first pass to prove his own reliability as an examiner? None that we know of. The story told, of course, implies that al-Husayn knew the three questions to ask of a prophetic candidate and the three answers to them, from his own, Jewish tradition; but we know of no such tradition in Judaism[47] (the Moslems would of course reply that we lie when we say that, claiming that we have falsified our tradition in order to hide its anticipation of Muhammad’s mission). Third, there is an internal inconsistency to this story. If (as al-Husayn claims) the answers to the three questions are knowable only to a prophet, how does al-Husayn (who is not claimed to be a prophet) know them? To claim that someone not privy to information is nevertheless privy to it, is a self-contradiction.

From this parody of logic we can conclude without doubt that the story is made up. Whoever made it up, either he did not himself have the intelligence to notice its inherent paradox, or he was confident that his target audience was composed of simpletons who would not spot its absurdity. I do not suppose any Moslem commentator through the ages ever belied this story on logical grounds.

The dating of hadiths is of course very relevant to the issue of the sources and development of Islamic logic. A considerable effort of collection and translation of non-Islamic texts into Arabic began already in the Omayyad period (661-750 CE). This effort increased greatly during the Abbasid period (750-1258 CE). Thus, the influx of foreign philosophy and logic into Islamic culture accelerated over time. Knowing this, we may expect the hadiths appearing in the later period to involve more logic than those in the earlier period. This is just a speculative prediction on my part, which may or may not be empirically confirmed. In any case, even before any translations of texts occurred, there was bound to be some measure of cultural osmosis from the population and institutions of the conquered peoples to their conquerors. The conquerors took over the existing institutions, without at first modifying them greatly. It is only over time that they tailored them to their own philosophy.


7.   The intellectual poverty of Islam

In any event, Islamic law (called the sharia) is often based to a large extent on material found in hadith collections, rather than in the Koran. These collections constitute the ‘oral law’ of Islam, as against the ‘written law’ given in the Koran. It is reasonable to suppose that some logic might be found in the hadiths, though this question can only, to repeat, be answered empirically by actual detailed research in these compilations, some of which are massive. However, it is safe to predict that most of the logic that eventually makes its appearance in Islam, in legal discussions leading to the formulation of laws (constituting the sharia), was learned from Jewish, Christian, and eventually Persian and Greek, and later Indian, logical traditions[48]. This could have occurred by observation during discussions with non-Moslems of their logical practices, as well as through learning from oral and written theoretical teachings. But I suspect that logic came into Islam mainly though diverse converts to it, who brought it with them as cultural baggage. In any case, while Islam was apparently little touched by logical thought in its presumed Arabian cradle, it was very soon in close contact with the rich traditions of the countries the Arabs and their successors conquered with the sword, and from then on could absorb and assimilate much of the knowledge in these other cultures.

It should be kept in mind that the Arabs produced no philosophical reflection, at least not in writing (even though they had an alphabet very early on), till the late 8th or early 9th century CE, when the bulk of writings in Greek, Persian and Syriac, and possibly Hebrew, among others, were translated into Arabic (notably under commission of the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur, who reigned in Baghdad 754-775 CE). Indeed, the Arabs hardly had any literature till the Koran appeared, as they themselves admit when they refer to the earlier era as the “period of ignorance” (Jahiliyyah). In short, to put it bluntly, the Arabs were not exactly an intellectual people, at least not till very late in human history compared to other peoples in their region. It is therefore not very surprising to find almost no logic, and much illogic, in the Koran and in many hadiths. And it is accordingly not very surprising that the Arabs, and likewise later conquerors[49], were greatly impressed by the discourse of the Koran and hadiths: they simply knew no better!

That the Arabs and later conquerors were willing to learn from their subject-peoples is certainly to their credit, and it made possible their eventual entry into the field of philosophy. However, while Islamic philosophy flourished for a while[50], between the 9th and 12th centuries CE, with the likes of al-Kindi (Arab, ca. 801-873), al-Farabi (Turk, ca. 872-950) and ibn-Sina (aka Avicenna, Persian, ca. 980-1037), under external influences, it soon came to an abrupt halt due to strong fundamentalist reaction. This reaction began early on, with the anti-rationalism of al-Ash’ari (Arab, ca. 874-936), and came into full force later on, through al-Ghazali (Persian, 1058/9-1111). Even if ibn-Rushd (aka Averroës, Andalusian, ca. 1126-98) made a last-ditch effort to rebut Ghazali, his writings had little effect on Moslem thought in the East. Free thought and free speech in Islamic philosophy effectively never recovered. There were also, of course, political causes for this reversal, notably the Mongol conquests in the 13th century. Islamic philosophy was thenceforth largely limited to the task of theological defense of faith against rational doubt (and Islam against other faiths, as well as disputes between Sunni and Shia Islam), and this has remained its essential role to this day.

This course of events may be described as follows in more sociological terms. A backward people (the Arabs) were suddenly confronted with bits and pieces of the thoughts of more advanced societies (mainly Jewish and Christian to start with, then many others), spurring them into a period of considerable spiritual and cultural progress. However, when they reached the limits of the developmental potential of their core doctrine (the Koran and hadiths), rather than question it and go beyond it they clung to it and erected it into an unassailable dogma. At that critical juncture, Moslems effectively gave up evolving intellectually and chose permanent stagnation instead. For this reason, their societies stagnated politically and economically thereafter, prospering intermittently only by looting other societies. For a while, in the past couple of centuries, it looked a bit as if Western (i.e. European and American) modernity might stimulate them into reviving their own slumbering spirits[51]. But in the last few decades we have seen a violent reaction to such liberating influences, in the form of ‘Islamism’.

Not having looked into the hadith collections, or studied subsequent developments in Islamic law, I cannot for the time being propose a more precise analysis of how logic filtered into Islam. However, I propose to next briefly look into a modern work on Islamic law and legal reasoning, and see what we can learn from it about use of a fortiori argument, and eventually other forms of argument, in Islam. In this regard, I will refer mainly to a work by Hallaq[52], a contemporary scholar whose books seem at first blush particularly clear and instructive.[53]


Drawn from.A Fortiori Logic (2013), chapter 11:1-3.


[1]           Note that this includes cases where the meaning of ‘to prove’ is to test the faith or loyalty of a person, rather than to show the logic of a proposition.

[2]           Note that the identification of the argument as predicatal in form is mine; I have found no evidence so far that Islamic commentators are at all aware of the differences between predicatal and subjectal arguments. As we shall see further on, they seem to have only noticed the subjectal form.

[3]           The major premise of the argument is clearly: “As much power is required to produce new life as to recover past life.” But it could be “More power is required, etc.”

[4]           This Koran argument from one power of God to another is reminiscent of some in the Jewish Bible: Psalms 78:20, which states that if God is powerful enough to draw water from a rock, then He is powerful enough to feed His people with bread and meat; and Psalms 94:9-10, which states that if God is powerful enough to implant the ear and form the eye, then He is powerful enough to hear and see, and if God is powerful enough to chastise nations, then He is powerful enough to reprove individuals.

[5]           The title is drawn from a statement in the Koran. A free .pdf version of this work is available online at: Chapters 2, 3 and 4 concern respectively 1st, 2nd and 3rd figure syllogism; chapters 5 and 6 concern respectively hypothetical and disjunctive apodoses. More on Ghazali further on.

[6]           The argument is valid even though the middle term (“cannot make the sun rise”) is negative in content, because it is the same in both premises.

[7]           Note well, I am not personally denying the proposition, but merely showing it to be unproved. See § 17-19.

[8]           Although, to be sure, it is said that God makes his presence known to prophets indirectly through sounds or sights, and perhaps also to ordinary people who are open to it through intuition. So, in one sense He can be said not to appear and therefore not disappear, and in another sense He can be said to both appear and disappear. Indeed, God does eventually appear to Abraham in various ways: the Lord “said unto Abraham” (Gen. 12:1, 13:14); “appeared unto Abraham” (12:7); “came unto Abraham in a vision” (15:1); and so on.

[9]           Which he clearly identifies as being in the second figure, since he defines its principle as: “that of which is denied what is affirmed of another is different [distinct] from that other.” This discussion is found in § 36-40.

[10]          § 42-43.

[11]          As is written or implied in the Tanakh countless times; e.g. in Deut. 14:2 – “For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be His own treasure out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.”

[12]          See, for instance: Amos 3:2 – “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will visit upon you all your iniquities.” The covenant between God and the Jews is conceived as a demanding régime of noblesse oblige rather than as one (such as the Moslems claim for themselves) of supremacist privilege and domination immune from judgment. According to it, the Jews are given more responsibilities rather than more pleasure and power.

[13]          § 47-48.

[14]          § 53-54.

[15]          § 60.

[16]          It is worth mentioning that Ghazali takes a passage of the Koran as a justification for the use of reasoning, namely 16:125– “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best.” (See chapter 9.)

[17]          The point being made here is not denial that God exists or denial that God instructs mankind, but only to emphasize our inability as mere human beings to determine God’s existence and will with the utter certainty claimed by sundry “prophets.” Such claims can only be taken on faith, and therefore must always be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism if we are to avoid fanatic excesses. It is doubtful that God, whose intelligence is surely the highest conceivable, wishes people to behave like idiots and believe whatever they are told without asking questions and demanding credible answers. Faith is valuable and necessary, but blind faith is dangerous.

[18]          Even negative comments directed at their alleged prophet, Mohammed, or at the Koran, are considered “blasphemy.” Apostasy, adultery, and many other violations of Islamic law are, it seems, also sometimes characterized as “blasphemy.” Clearly, this word has for Moslems a wider applicability than speaking ill of God. It should be pointed out that such expansion of meaning is not innocuous. To denote criticism of Mohammed or of the Koran as “blasphemy” is in effect to deify the said person or book. To deify a mere person or book is nothing less than idolatry, since the implication is that God is not the One and Only. This is surely the very essence of blasphemy – an insult to God. Thus, to expand the meaning of blasphemy as Moslems do is itself an act of blasphemy.

[19]          One can only feel pity for Moslems as human beings, for the mental, social and political prison Islam condemns them to from day one and for their whole life. Even their rabid Jew-hatred is pitiful, indicative of their great inner confusion and turmoil. There seems to be no way out for them. Very, very few have the wit and courage to break free.

[20]          Koran 2:97 – “Jibrael [Gabriel], for indeed he has brought it [this Quran] down to your heart by Allah’s permission.” Also, 53:5 – “He has been taught [this Quran] by one mighty in power [Jibrael].” And 53:10 “So did [Allah] convey the inspiration to His slave [Muhammad through Jibrael].” These are Muhsin Khan translations; note that the material in square brackets is not present in the original but constitutes interpretation by the translators and presumably by Moslem commentators before them.

[21]          The editor, and perhaps largely the author, of the Koran seems to have been Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, governor of Iraq under Abd al-Malik. He then distributed this Koran throughout the Moslem world.

[22]          If you think such outright fabrication is unthinkable, consider The Urantia Book, which was produced anonymously probably in the second quarter of the 20th cent. (first published in 1955). This strange book (which I read once, out of curiosity) is designed to look like a new revelation. Though this has not happened so far, one can well imagine a group of people adopting it as their scripture and founding a new religion with it; thereafter, some centuries later, when people have forgotten how it initially emerged, they will look upon it as a holy book. More details on this book at:

[23]          In this context I highly recommend Robert Spencer’s very interesting books on Islam: The Truth about Muhammad. (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2006).  The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran. (Washington D.C.: Regnery, 2009).  Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins. (Wilmington, Del.: ISI, 2012). Spencer refers in the latter to many other, similarly skeptical, past and present authors.

[24]          See the very interesting list and discussion of contradictions and confusions in the Koran at: See also in this regard the very interesting work of Haï Bar-Zeev.

[25]          I have described the formal logic of these different responses in a 1998-9 paper entitled “Islamic Hermeneutics,” which was posted in my website in 2001 as an annex to my Judaic Logic, and then published in my Ruminations in 2005. This essay is still online at:

[26]          This harmonization is reminiscent of the 13th hermeneutic principle of Rabbi Ishmael (Israel, 90-135 CE), though they are not identical. At: there is a list of verses abrogated and verses they were abrogated by.

[27]          In my past essay on Islamic hermeneutics, I wrongly stated that the Koran “is supposed chronologically ordered.” Perhaps I meant to say: “is supposedly chronologically ordered”? In any case, it is generally agreed that it is not chronologically ordered, and besides that it is not always possible to determine the temporal order with certainty. For assumed order, see:

[28]          Koran 19:16-34 and 66:12. Another confusion I find hilarious is the Koran’s presentation of Haman as a contemporary of Pharaoh (28:4 and 8), and as being ordered by the latter to “make for me a tower that I may look at the God of Moses” (28:38). The idea of a tower reaching up to God comes from the Tower of Babel episode (Gen. 11:4), which occurs in the Babylon region some 500 years before Moses’ time. The character of Haman comes from the Book of Esther (as of 3:1), which tells of events in Persia over 900 years after the Exodus. Yet another instance I find revealing is the conflation in the Koran (2:67-73) of two unrelated passages of the Torah (Num. 19, on the red heifer, and Deut. 21:1-9, on another heifer altogether). And there are many more such mix-ups.

[29]          Koran 2:61, 91; 3:21, 112, 181, 183; 4:155. None of these passages mention which prophets were supposed to have been killed; indeed, they seem to be saying that all the prophets were killed. Two more passages suggest that only some prophets were killed; namely, 2:87 and 5:70. Perhaps the author of the Koran here again demonstrates his confusion, and has in mind the killing by the prophet Elijah of the ‘prophets’ of Baal in 1 Kings 18:40? Or maybe he is referring to 1 Kings 19:10, where Elijah says: “the children of Israel have… slain Thy prophets with the sword”? But this passage in fact relates to Ahab, the renegade king of the northern kingdom, or more precisely to his non-Jewish (Zidonian) Baal-worshipping consort Jezebel, as it is written: “Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD” and “Jezebel slew the prophets of the LORD” (1 Kings 18:4, 13). Or maybe the Koran author has Jesus in mind, and thinks the Jews killed him, unaware of the role the Romans played in that episode; but then why in 4:157 would it say that Jesus was not killed (by anyone)? Clearly, this repeated accusation, that Jews are either habitually or occasionally prophet-killers, is a deliberate lie aimed at making the Jews look as bad as possible. It is sheer calumny, mere hate speech.

[30]          Note that the Koran does not say: “the story told in the Jewish Bible or the Christian Bible is thus and thus, but I inform you that it was really so and so” – the Koran just tells a story, obviously unaware of its contradicting the older sources, i.e. thinking it is in accord with them!

[31]          Jews and Christians (at least those who disagree with Islam, which means almost all of them) make “statements other than that which had been said to them” (2:59); they “conceal testimonies” (2:140); they “alter the Scripture” and “speak untruth” (3:78); they “distort words” (5:13); they “forget portions” (5:14); and so forth. This thesis of falsification was, according to Bar-Zeev (p. 134), later much stressed by Ibn Hazm (a convert from Christianity in Andalusia, 994-1064), Samuel al-Mograbi (a convert from Judaism, 12th cent.) and Ibn Taymya (d. 1328, who is often referred to by modern Salafists and Wahabists). Bar-Zeev also suggests (p. 135) that the original intent of such passages of the Koran may have been to refer to the false prophets mentioned in 2 Kings 17:9, Ezek. 13, Jer. 14:13-15 and Jer. 23.

[32]          Consider the ‘logic’ of such claims. In 3:65: “O People of the Scripture, why do you argue about Abraham while the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed until after him? Then will you not reason?” This is a claim that, since Abraham preceded the Torah and the Gospel, his religion cannot have been theirs. Fair enough; but then the Koran infers that, since Abraham was neither Jewish nor Christian, he must have been Moslem! This is the intent of 3:67: “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclining toward truth, a Muslim” (Tr. Sahih International). Notice the double standard: the fact that Abraham preceded the Koran, too, is blithely ignored. Another fallacy in this argument is that of equivocation: it could well be said that Abraham was a musliman with a small m, meaning someone submissive towards God; but it does not follow from that that he was a Muslim, meaning a member of the religion of Islam, which did not yet exist. No one denies that the patriarch Abraham preceded the Torah – the Torah itself affirms it, and indeed is the source of our knowledge of his existence. Moreover, the Torah does not go against the teachings of Abraham, as the Koran suggests, but on the contrary lovingly transmitted them and was inspired by them. The Koran seems to be claiming that if someone antedates a religious document, having inspired it (as in the case of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons) or written it (as in the case of Moses), he may not be counted as a member of that religion, since it did not yet exist. But if we accept this idea, not only were the Israelites mentioned in the Jewish Bible not Jews, but Jesus and his Apostles were not Christians and Mohammed and his Companions were not Moslems! Surely, anyone able to reason would see the absurdity of such claims.

[33]          I can only here refer the reader to the important work of Bar-Zeev, Une lecture juive du Coran. This rich and illuminating study by a learned rabbi (the author adopted a pseudonym, no doubt to avoid becoming a victim of Moslem insults and threats) shows in detail the Judaic sources of much of the Koran’s alleged prophecies. Moreover, it proposes a credible detailed theory regarding how the Koran was probably composed and put together from these sources. Ironically, Moslems proudly challenge others to “produce a sura like it,” unaware of the foreign literary sources of their holy book. This may rightly be called plagiarism, in that material is drawn from other sources without acknowledging those sources.

[34]          And they keep up the tradition of lying and pretending to this day, claiming that Arabs are the original inhabitants of the holy land, which all historical records show the Jews inhabited long before any Arab arrived, and claiming that Israelis persecute them, while the exact opposite is the truth. They destroy archeological evidence of the Jewish Temples under the Temple Mount, and assert no such edifice ever existed, blithely claiming Jerusalem as their eternal capital. And the witless and wicked mass media, BBC, CNN, and all their ilk, and even the British Museum and sundry Western universities, shamelessly pass on such nonsense as undeniable fact. Another shocking example of this disregard for facts by Moslems is their lately concocted claim that Moslems discovered America before Christopher Columbus! This new invention is being propagated ostensibly in order to suggest that Moslems have from its beginnings been part of the USA and therefore they have an equal share in what was until very recently thought to be only a “Judeo-Christian civilization.” But its ultimate purpose is obviously to stake a Moslem claim of ownership on that country, and indeed the rest of the continent, in order to eventually turn it into the ‘Amerabia’ province of the world caliphate which it is their stated ambition to create. Distortions of history are never innocent.

[35]          See 2:89, 3:181, 5:13, 5:41, 5:60, 5:64, 98:6. The Koran of course claims the Jews to be accursed so as to reassign the role of ‘chosen people’ to the Moslems. However, such replacement is impossible according to many passages of the Tanakh. See for instance Jer. 31:34-36: “Thus saith the LORD, Who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirreth up the sea, that the waves thereof roar, the LORD of hosts is His name: If these ordinances depart from before Me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever. Thus saith the LORD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD;” indeed, read the whole chapter, a beautiful prophetic promise of eternal love by God for the Jewish people.

[36]          See 5:60; also 2:65 and 7:166. Lest this seem like a misunderstanding of the Koran’s intention, note the characterization in 2010 by the Moslem Brotherhood president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, of Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs.” Needless to say, he was not referring to Darwin’s theory of evolution!

[37]          If the Koran is attributed to Mohammed, then the insults and curses can be explained with reference to his having been slighted by the Jews of Medina. If the Koran is a later product, the anti-Semitism evident in it was probably due to more diffuse Christian and other cultural influences. In any case, we see how rudely and hotly many Arabs and Moslems still today react when their pride is hurt.

[38]          Needless to say, it is not my purpose here to defend the idea of Jews as the ‘chosen people’, but only to show the absurdity of the Islamic (and before that, Christian) attempt at ‘replacement theology’. The point made is that since such attempts refer to Jewish Scriptures they cannot consistently ignore what is in them.

[39]          See Deut. 13, 17:2-20, and 18:9-22. Online at: Note especially: 17:15 – “One from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, who is not thy brother;” and 18:15 – “A prophet will the LORD thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren,” and 18:18 – “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren.”

[40]          As regards murder, the Moslem historian Ibn Ishaq (8th cent. CE) reported that, after the Jewish Banu Qurayzah tribe surrendered to Mohammad, their men “were brought out to him in batches,” and he “struck off their heads,” thus massacring with his own hands at least 600, maybe as many as 900, unarmed innocent people. (Quoted in Spencer’s The Truth about Muhammad, pp. 129-131. See the same book for details Mohammed’s other ‘achievements’.)

[41]          See references in preceding footnote. E.g. “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.” (Dt. 17:17.)

[42]          This speculation is based on a report by the Islamic historian Ibn Hisham (d. ca. 833), following of a report by his predecessor Ibn Ishaq (ca. 704-761/7 CE), whose works are lost. These sources are both generally respected by Moslems. It seems that Mohammed’s mother may not have been Amina (an Arab), as orthodox tradition has it, but was an unnamed Jewish woman, sister of Waraqa Ibn Naufal. The latter, according to these historians, “belonged to the religion of Moses, before embracing that of Jesus.” Mohammed’s Arab father, Abdallah, died before his son was born. Still young, Mohammed went to live with Waraqa, who referred to him as his nephew. Waraqa seems to have been Mohammed’s main teacher in religious matters. When Mohammed was six, his mother took him to Medina, to visit her family in the Jewish clan of the Beni al Najjar. Later, when Mohammed left Mecca for Medina, he first went to live with this clan. All this information is drawn from the book by Bar-Zeev, p. 17. Needless to say, the thought that Mohammed might have been a Jew is not a source of pride for us, but – in view of the havoc and bloodshed he has caused in the past 1400 years and continues to cause today – a source of acute shame. Hopefully he was not Jewish; but if he was, we have much reason to be sorry – as with Karl Marx and other lasting trouble makers.

[43]          The plural of hadith, in Arabic, is ahadith; but here we shall give the word an English plural, hadiths.

[44]          The references given for these examples in the source I used are, respectively, “Moslem” and “Ahmed,” without further specification.

[45]          Such simple analogy seems to be called qiyas al-shibh, judging by a comment by Arnaldez, p. 43 (see reference further down).

[46]          This story is reported and discussed in some detail by Spencer in his The Truth about Muhammad, pp. 92-5. He analyzes it further in his more recent book Did Muhammad Exist? pp. 107-9.

[47]          If we have any tradition concerning prophets it is that they must be extremely ‘disinterested’ – devoid of lust for political power or material possessions or sexual gratification. See for examples, regarding worldly gains, Numbers 16:15 (where Moses declares: “I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.”) and I Samuel 12:3-4 (where Samuel asks: “Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed? From whom have I taken a bribe to look the other way?”). Very different was the behavior of Mohammed, according to Moslem sources.

[48]          Hallaq considers that logic “made an entry to legal theory” after the 11th cent. CE (p. 257). But I would say that though this may well be true of conscious efforts of application of formal logic to Islamic law, logic must have be intuitively used and/or seeped in from the outside two or three centuries before that, as of the start of legal discourse, for the simple reason that no such discourse is possible without “reasoning” of some sort.

[49]          The Turks who later conquered Arab territories adopted Islam because it seemed great in their eyes compared to what they had before. The Mongols were less inclined to become Moslems, remaining largely aloof rulers – Moslem in name only, if at all.

[50]          Of course, this refers to the Moslems collectively. The philosophers were no doubt a small élite, the masses of the people remaining very ignorant. Still, some knowledge must have trickled down.

[51]          The Al-Nahda (Renaissance) movement is a notable example of such attempted awakening.

[52]          Arab, b. 1955, in Nazareth, Israel. More on this author at:

[53]          The rest of this essay can be read in AFL, chapter 11. This is available online at: FORTIORI-LOGIC/Islamic-Logic-11.htm.

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