Review of “Understanding Muhammad: A Psychobiography” by Ali Sina
For those who are familiar with the extremist Islamophobic website called “Faithfreedom International”, the name of its founder Ali Sina (a pseudonym) is synonymous with the bigotry and vile rhetoric often displayed against Muslims and Islam. This was a person who openly advocated for the atomic bomb to be used on Muslim populations and have many times declared that he will “wipe out” Islam within 30 years. Now this relatively unknown figure within academic circles — apart from becoming the self-appointed hero for the cause of Islamophobia, bigotry and the new emerging school of lay-people and pseudo-scholars — has moved beyond the world that he is more accustomed with on the internet. Like his predecessors, such as the infamous Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, Ali Sina is now attempting to make his name within the world of published authors with the publication of his book Understanding Muhammad: A Psychobiography1. Whilst it is true that over the course of years he has gathered a large following of largely misled haters, Ali Sina still has had to resort to self-publishing with a relatively small publishing press where anyone with anything to rant about can publish their own.
The book claims to be a “psychobiography”2 of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, but it is far from being objective and sane in its purported “scholarship”. It claims to refer to the Islamic religious texts (heavily relying on translations and not the original Arabic sources which betrays the author’s lack of command in the language) and then attempts to characterize Muhammad (SAWS) in “modern analytical terms”. Coming from a Shi’ite background in predominantly Shi’ite Iran, it is not clear from the onset as to why Ali Sina favours referencing the Sunni sources such as the hadith collection of Bukhari and Muslim (which is not used by the Shi’a and largely unfamiliar to them) and hardly mentions the Shi’ite sources themselves which talks about the Prophet (SAWS). This leads us to suspect that he may not have the credentials of an Iranian Muslim as he claims to have. Unfortunately, this book does nothing more than to resort to the old underhanded technique of cherry-picking a handful of half-truths, sprinkling them with lies, exaggerations and misrepresentations, and eventually to come up with a twisted mix of politically-motivated propaganda.
While Ali Sina believes that his agenda will liberate Muslims3, common sense would tell you that Ali Sina’s book comes nowhere close to it. In fact, he is much more likely to lend credence to the grumblings of right-wing nut-jobs who want to stoke fear and hatred. The quality of Ali Sina’s “different” pseudo-scholarship is thus displayed by the revival of a long-abandoned polemic against the historical character of the Prophet of Islam – namely, the issue of epilepsy4. Nuanced scholars such as the Swedish academic Tor Andræ5 and prolific writer Karen Armstrong have long dismissed the idea of epilepsy as nonsense. Ceaser Farah in fact suggests that such insinuations “…resulted from the 19th-century infatuation with scientifically superficial theories of medical psychology.”6 It seems that Ali Sina believes that such studies regarding the Prophet (SAWS) in historiography should be abandoned and instead we should return to Orientalists such as Margoliouth, Muir and other Christian missionaries who would have us believe that the Prophet (SAWS) was epileptic.
Ali Sina consistently maligns the Prophet (SAWS) as delusional7 — while at the same time ignoring that the coherence, completeness and success of Islam in its 1400 years of history8 show that it cannot be the product of a madman’s mind, nor of that of an epileptic. Ali Sina then calls him (SAWS) a liar (an all too-familiar accusation9), conveniently ignoring how much he had suffered for twenty years before gaining the upper hand10 and even then, he had lived as a poor man with no luxuries.
Another example is how Ali Sina consistently and disparagingly accuses the Prophet (SAWS) of being nothing more than a narcissist and and had made claims of grandiosity11, akin to several cult leaders he had listed.12 The answer to such accusations is that the Prophet (SAWS) himself warned his followers from exaggerating or elevating his position to that of a cult-like status.13 The inconsistencies of Ali Sina’s accusations against the Prophet (SAWS) are themselves testament to the foolishness of his reasoning.
Ali Sina clearly ignores several facts contained within the Sirah itself; that the Prophet (SAWS) spared the Makkans who had tortured and killed his followers for two decades even after conquering them, that he spared all the hypocrites in Madinah undermining his authority (something the man Sina describes would not tolerate), that he had all too often freed prisoners of war freed for no material gain, that he explicitly forbade harming innocent civilians such as women, children, elderly and monks; that he always honoured his treaties even if they were extremely unfair to him (until the disbelievers broke them), that his stories are filled with instances where he spared men who were out to kill him, that as soon as someone became Muslim, he forgave all their past evils, betrayals and murders. The only people that the Prophet (SAWS) was harsh with were with those who were treacherous and betrayed their pacts to turn on the Muslims in order to destroy them in their weakest moment – which is considered as high treason in times of war. Ali Sina deviously omits the context and interpreted such acts as something that the Prophet (SAWS) habitually does, which is nothing short of deception to his readers.
Perhaps we should not be surprised at his attempts of ad hominem and poisoning of the well; after all, Ali Sina’s methodology is consistent with his use of “weak hadiths”, saying of the Prophet (SAWS) that are not accepted by Muslims or are seen as weak sources for the religion. Further, this short list of verses from the Holy Qur’an shows Islam in different light and contradicts the conclusions made by Ali Sina:
“There is no compulsion in religion, for the right way is clearly from the wrong way. Whoever therefore rejects the forces of evil and believes in God, he has taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way, for God is All Hearing and Knowing.”14
“And so (O Prophet!), exhort them your task is only to exhort; you cannot compel them to believe.” 15
“Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just.” 16
The only people who would “love” this book are either psychologically demented — similar to Ali Sina himself — disaffected Muslims who have been hurt in the past and want to blame someone for their problems, or they are extremist Hindus and right-wing Christians who would like nothing better than to rationalize their extremist racism and xenophobic hatred with spurious scholarship. Muhammad (SAWS) on the other hand did not witness any insurrections or attempts on his life at the hands of his own followers. Not even after his death did anyone attempt to assassinate his memory or desecrate his grave. Instead, the Prophet’s (SAWS) example spawned an empire that ruled over the Middle East for one thousand years and witnessed a revival of culture and learning the likes of which was not seen in the West until the Age of Enlightenment.
In summarizing this tiresome work, “Understanding Muhammad: A Psychobiography” is not a biography at all, much less a “psychobiography”, of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) but a pathetic attempt at character assassination and the rehashing of age-old polemics dating as far as the earliest days of Orientalism17. In fact, the author’s methodology is consistent with what that is found on his website and other atheist websites online. It is simply bad history and even worse psychology by a man who can claim to be neither a historian nor a psychologist. He simply repeats the lying polemics of Serge Trikovic, Robert Spencer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and other atheists who have an axe to grind against Islam. When bigots and extremists approach any text, be it the Turner Diaries, the Bible, the Qur’an, Nietzsche or the Sirah literature, they cannot be divorced from contextual hermeneutics. The reason why Ali Sina views the Prophet Muhammd (SAWS) in such light is simply a case of trying to find a demon through the nitpicking of isolated incidents. Indeed, if one were to play with such rhetoric, one could find justification for the Holocaust, even within the New Testament as Hitler did.
We have hence simply come to the conclusion that a brief psycho-analysis of Ali Sina will determine that he is simply a bigoted, disaffected former Muslim, who is no doubt working out issues with his painful upbringing at the hands of puritanical parents, cruel Islamic clergyman or perhaps a child-molesting Iranian mullah (or whatever the thorn in his side may be), as in his book he has focused all his rage and hate into painting the most ugly portrait of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) that can ever be conceived by the most insane mind.
- Ali Sina, Understanding Muhammad: A Psychobiography of Allah’s Prophet, 2nd ed., 2008 [↩]
- Ali Sina, ibid., “Synopsis” [↩]
- Ali Sina, ibid., “About The Author”, p. viii [↩]
- Ali Sina, ibid., pp. 125 – 130 [↩]
- “[I]f epilepsy is to denote only those severe attacks which involve serious consequences for the physical and mental health, then the statement that Mohammad suffered from epilepsy must be emphatically rejected.” Tor Andræ, “Mohammad: The Man and his Faith“, trans. Theophil Menzel (New York: Harper Torch Book Series, 1960), p.51 [↩]
- Caesar Farah, “Islam: Beliefs and Observances” (Barron’s Educational Series, 2003) [↩]
- Ali Sina, ibid., pp. 125 – 130 [↩]
- “My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels. Of humble origins, Muhammad founded and promulgated one of the world’s great religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive.” Michael H. Hart, “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History“ [↩]
- “Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming Imposter, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to any one. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped around this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only. When Pococke inquires of Grotius, where the proof was of that story of the pigeon, trained to pick peas from Mahomet’s ear, and pass for an angel dictating to him? Grotius answered that there was no proof! It is really time to dismiss all that.” Thomas Carlyle, “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, & The Heroic In History” (University Of California Press, 1993), p. 38 [↩]
- “Only a profound belief in himself and his mission explains Muhammad’s readiness to endure hardship and persecution during the Meccan period when from a secular point of view there was no prospect of success. Without sincerity how could he have won the allegiance and even devotion of men of strong and upright character like Abu-Bakr and ‘Umar? … There is thus a strong case for holding that Muhammad was sincere. If in some respects he was mistaken, his mistakes were not due to deliberate lying or imposture” W. Montgomery Watt, “Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman” (Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 232 [↩]
- Ali Sina, ibid., pp. 202 – 207 [↩]
- Ali Sina, ibid., pp. 190 [↩]
- Narrated ‘Umar (Radi-Allahu ‘anhu): I heard the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘Alaihi Wa Sallam) saying, “Do not exaggerate in praising me as the Christians praised the son of Mary, for I am only a Slave. So, call me the Slave of Allah and His Apostle.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, no. 654) [↩]
- Qur’an, 2:256 [↩]
- Qur’an, 88:21,22; also see Qur’an 24:54 [↩]
- Qur’an, 60:8 [↩]
- “The West, whether Christian or dechristianised, has never really known Islam. Ever since they watched it appear on the world stage, Christians never ceased to insult and slander it in order to find justification for waging war on it. It has been subjected to grotesque distortions the traces of which still endure in the European mind. Even today there are many Westerners for whom Islam can be reduced to three ideas: fanaticism, fatalism and polygamy. Of course, there does exist a more cultivated public whose ideas about Islam are less deformed; there are still precious few who know that the word islam signifies nothing other than ‘submission to God’.” (Roger Du Pasquier, Unveiling Islam, p. 5) [↩]