I typically begin my reviews with some information about the author and his qualifications and interests in writing his book. In the case of Peter Townsend, I could find nothing. It could be because it is a pseudonym, which given the subject matter of this work, may be a wise thing. It is hard to issue a fatwa against someone if you don’t know who he or she is. Since I do not read or write Arabic, I am in no position to evaluate his research, but everything he says in Questioning Islam is consistent with everything else I have read from known sources, so I have no reason to doubt his conclusions.
After defending the book itself, Townsend anticipates objections that can arise from his arguments and offers a brief sketch of Islam’s history and teachings. What then follows is a detailed critique of the origin, teachings, and practices of Islam, using highly respected Islamic sources for each, as well as noting the lack of archaeological evidence for the city of Mecca before the formation of Islam.
Townsend notes the interesting absence within the Qur’an itself of the Five Pillars of Islam (these are found in the ahadith,) but a plethora of what seem to be very convenient “revelations” that seem to serve Mohammed well in his circumstances. He also offers rebuttals to claims of originality, citing many earlier sources that contain texts very close to several suras, as well as the gap of at least 200 years between the death of Mohammed and the earliest trusted hadith. Finally, Townsend critiques many Islamic teachings in light of modern sensibilities.
Townsend never states what his religious views are in this book. His stated purpose is to encourage Muslims to examine their beliefs and the reasons they have for holding them. However, while demolishing Islamic teaching, he offers no alternative. This comes in stark contrast to works by authors such as Nabeel Qurreshi, who encourages building relationships with Muslims and earning their trust before offering such comments. As a Christian, I would recommend this book as an informational resource for Christians reaching out to Muslims, but not as a model for that outreach. Townsend’s tone is a little triumphalist when he presents damning evidence against the claims of Islamic texts. Moreover, Townsend’s critique of some teaching is based on how they compare to modern sensibilities. However, this tells us nothing about whether or not they are true. There are Christian teachings, which I think are true that could also be said to be “out of touch…” It is hard to imagine expecting a Muslim to read Questioning Islam and coming away with a willingness to engage in a dialogue. As an apologist, if I offer a critique of a person’s beliefs that seem to be false, it is for the purpose of offering them a true alternative that will actually be good for them to embrace. Moreover, it only makes sense that if you are going to try to persuade someone to abandon beliefs they hold dear, you need to be very sensitive in your approach. Townsend seems to take a little too much satisfaction in finding the problems in Islam. Moreover, to emulate this tone leaves little possibility that the Muslim will be open to whatever alternative I have to offer.