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.
7 thoughts on “Questioning Islam by Peter Townsend: a Review”
What I find difficult to comprehend is how rational thinking human beings can possibly contemplate believing the utterances of a man telling stories that defies logic, stories that tell people how to live their lives based on ideas and concepts that go against natural behaviours.
What would make people follow a man that himself gave awful examples of how not to behave against other human beings, and make generations of people think he was a special human being?
I am referring to the so-called prophet Mohammad and his followers. I am sure there are very intelligent people in the Islamic world, yet the whole basis of this cult seems so irrational to understand, as indeed is the Christian religion. What make people have the need to believe in these men inventions transformed into some divine concepts by which mankind guide their whole behaviours in life? Is it the need for inmortality, or the need for some security, what?
Many Muslims have no idea what their “prophet” did. They are taught by their Imams the ethical and spiritual stuff. Those that access the primary source documents online end up either continuing with cognitive dissonance, abandoning Islam, or radicalizing.
Christianity is in an entirely different category. What makes you think it is irrational?
I am a Muslim. I am not a scholar but I have yet to come across what our dear Prophet, may God shower His eternal blessings on him, “did” that is so secretive and colluded by “imams” that you know to be so contemptible that it would shatter the lives of us common Muslims if we come to know them
However, I do know this. He was opposed by many during his lifetime. The Christians and Jews of the Arabian peninsula (those who did not accept the message) attacked the Muslim ideology on many aspects. But you would not find even one attack on his character by these hard-line deviated people of the book. On the contrary, they respected him for his character
My name is Dan. Thanks for your comment. Could you elaborate on how the Christians and Jews of the Arabian Peninsula of Mohammed’s time respected him?
Jews and Christians showed their respect for Mo by giving him their wives and daughters as sexual slaves before he beheaded them.
I don’t believe that there is any ‘profit’ (pun intended) in trying to convince Muslims of the ‘error of their ways’ by extolling the virtues of an alternative theology. Far more practically effective to point out the nonsense of ALL religion.
I find this awkward shift to religions to be either a naive attempt to explain the dispute, or a nefarius attempt to turn a land-grab into a religious issue so that others can get involved.
In my opinion, the dispute is real and what we are witnessing is a tit for tat. What the west is doing to the Arabs/Muslims deserves a strong response and what the west or Israel specifically labels it is a convenient way to shift the blame and prepare the minds for an assault.
As far as the matter of religions is concerned, any attempt to criticise them should be seen as an attempt to demean the human mind. It’s natural and nice for human kind to explain life as a short bus stop and believe in the eternal afterlife.
Now, whether it’s true/valid or not cannot be absolutely proven in our lifetime or it wouldn’t be called faith to begin with.