Sunday, January 27, 2013

Omar ibn Al-Khattab

Here's a comment recently added to a previous post by an anonymous Muslim reader.
I fully support that the Qur'an is a scientific miracle, but it's also a miracle linguistically. Know the 2nd Khalifa? Omar ibn Al-Khattab? Huge enemy to Islam before he converted. Tortured the muslims. As soon as he picked up a page of the Qur'an, and read, it was instant. An illiterate man, never had anything to do with poetry, somehow had put up the best literature the Arabs had ever seen and until now the same, and forever, it'll be the same. 
Anon is keen to point out that he doesn't base his belief that the Qur'an is God's work purely on the basis of the scientific "miracles" (although we notice he "fully supports" the idea). He states the Qur'an is a linguistic miracle, and to back up his claim he quotes the famous story of the second Khalifa, Omar ibn al-Khattab's conversion to Islam.

The story is well known to all (Sunni) Muslims and is, I would suggest, the Islamic equivalent of Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus. Both men were of dubious character and enjoyed persecuting the righteous believers until their "miraculous" and sudden conversions. Thereafter they were largely responsible for the spread and indeed the character of the two religions we see today.

Saul saw a blinding light, heard a voice ask, "Saul, why are you persecuting me?", promptly changed his name to Paul and started a career as an inveterate letter writer, and single-handedly transformed Christianity into a religion for gentiles as opposed to simply a Jewish sect. More than anyone else St Paul is the man we have to "thank" for some of the less appealing aspects of Christianity. Some even suggest Christianity would be better called Paulism.

Al-Khattab, on the other hand, was on his way to murder Muhammad when he stopped off at his sister's place as he'd heard she'd converted to Islam. He was in the process of slapping her around a bit, so the story goes, when she handed him a page from the Qur'an. So overcome was he by the beauty of the words (Surah Taha) that he converted to Islam on the spot. Upon Muhammad's death he set about the most violent and successful spread of any religion the world has ever seen.

Here's an excerpt (92-97) from Surah Taha (which deals almost exclusively with the story of Moses) to give you a taster. Interestingly this is the same surah which casts Aaron, Moses' brother, in an extremely bad light:

[And now that he had come back, Moses] said: "O Aaron! What has prevented thee, when thou didst see that they had gone astray,from [abandoning them and] following me? Hast thou, then, [deliberately] disobeyed my commandment?" Answered [Aaron]: "O my mother's son! Seize me not by my beard, nor by my head! Behold, I was afraid lest [on thy return] thou say, 'Thou hast caused a split among the children of Israel, and hast paid no heed to my bidding!" Said [Moses]: "What, then, didst thou have in view, O Samaritan?" "Begone, then! And, behold, it shall be thy lot to say throughout [thy] life, `Touch me not! But, verily, [in the life to come] thou shalt be faced with a destiny from which there will be no escape! 
(I only quote this since Muslims are taught that when Muhammad  erroneously referred to Mary (Jesus's mother) as Aaron's brother, Muhammad quickly explained to those who challenged him that it was a custom to call people sister/brother of famous ancestors. So Mary's contemporaries preferred to refer to her as a descendant of someone who allowed the most infamous case of idolatory in history...  as opposed to the man who received the Ten Commandments, did they? Hmm.)

Anyway, back to the story of al-Khattab. Where do Muslims find this wonderful tale? It's told in Muhammad's biography, The Sirat Rasullah by Ibn Ishak. And, as far as I know, all references to al Khattab's conversion owe their origins to Ibn Ishak. "So what's wrong with a single source?" I hear you say. Nothing, provided it's reliable. But even Muslims themselves are at pains to point out how UNRELIABLE Ibn Ishak is because of the disturbing and frankly disgusting things he reported Muhamad doing - such as the beheading of 800 mean and boys (Ishak 464). Indeed, many Muslim sites are devoted to proving how unreliable a witness Ishak was because of this. The Islamic apologist site, Answering Christians is a case in point. They even have a page entitled The Problems with Ibn Ishak which contains the following, very revealing, comment:
There are about 600 Hadiths in Ibn Ishaq's book "Sirat Rasullah" and most of them have what appears to be questionable (at best) isnads (chains of transmissions) . But the later hadith collectors (Bukhari, Muslim, etc) rarely used any material from the Sira (because of the lack of quality and authentic isnads). 
Of course, it is only the Sunni Muslims who revere al-Khattab in any case. Shias consider him to be little better than a traitor. They believe the whole story of al-Khattab's conversion to be a myth...

Shia believe that the Sunni view of Umar Ibn al Khattab is an inaccurate one, created by the later Umayyad dynasty to honour the man that gave power to the first Umayyad ruler and third Sunni CaliphUthman. In this way, it gives legitimacy to Umar's consultation that started their own dynasty, a corrupt one in both Shi'a and Sunni view.
Shia believe that the Umayyad view was propagated with lethal force and heavy duress and as time went on, that view became predominant and eventually taken as truth, cemented by the works of Bukhari. However, Shi'a believe that despite the perceived white washing of Umar, bits of his true qualities can be found in all sources, including Sunni ones. They also believe that invented positive traits attributed to him do not hold a closer scrutiny.
Thus we have Muslims the world over basing their love of the Prophet and the "miraculous" literary qualities of the Qur'an partly on a story told in a history book that in all other circumstances they disown as full of scandalous nonsense.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Muhammad's errors

A regular reader of Rational Islam? recently sent me the following regarding his discussions with some Islamic experts (I have his permission to quote from his mail):
...I've even personally gone to a hafiz and a sheikh to discuss my concerns and I've seen exactly the irrational mindset they defend their arguments (Satan must be whispering to you/You are being tested/You are hanging around with the wrong people/You must learn arabic yourself etc) these are exactly the convenient excuses which trap the mind from reasonable thinking. Even when they try to provide a rational answer to some absurdities translations need to be changed or there are hidden meanings we do not know yet.
Anyway I have been trying to explain this to my Muslim friends, but they won't accept it because of the following major issues:
- "Then why did the Prophet do everything he did?" ("He went through so much to spread a message - surely it was divine")
- "How could he have copied from Jewish/Christian sources. What he preached was different and didn't contain errors that the previous did therefore he must be right"...
There are two separate issues here.
Firstly: Why did Muhammad devote his life to spreading his message if he wasn't divine?
I shall ignore the obvious (to non-believers) answer that Muhammad had plenty to gain from "going through so much to spread his message": wealth, power and sex to name but three. (There are, after all, many verses in the Qur'an that give special privileges to Islam's founder: 8:1 springs immediately to mind - They will ask thee about the spoils of war. Say: "All spoils of war belong to God and the Apostle."...Was Attila the Hun divine because he dedicated his life to achieving his power and wealth? Was Alexander the Great? A single-minded determination to achieve one's ends and a willingness to self-sacrifice is no guarantee of divinity - especially if that supposed self-sacrifice leads to abundant riches, political power and a constant supply of female captives!)
Let us consider instead the fact that the question presupposes that if someone genuinely believes in their calling and is prepared to sacrifice everything to its end, then it is impossible for them to be mistaken. It thus ignores the possibility of sincere error. Why, we must ask ourselves, do Muslims discount the possibility that Muhammad was suffering from some sort of pathological delusion. What in the Prophet's behaviour or message proves he was saner that anyone else who claims to have heard voices from an angel/God?

Secondly and more interestingly we are asked to consider: How could Muhammad have copied from Jewish/Christian sources when what he preached was different and didn't contain the errors that were in the previous scriptures.
Do the differences seen in the Qur'an correct mistakes? Otherwise they are simply differences and prove nothing.
Muhammad did indeed change some details of the well-known biblical stories - such as the Ark coming to rest on Mount Judi instead of Mount Ararat or God saving "Pharaoh"'s body or, more infamously, a replacement being crucified instead of Jesus. But why do these differences make Muhammad's message any more credible than the Bible? There is no proof, after all for any element of any of these stories. We're still expected to swallow the preposterous tales from the Old Testament. As for the New Testament differences, do Muslims really believe that having Jesus speaking from the cradle and making clay birds come to life is more credible than stories about the Jewish agitator in the Canonical Gospels? (And of course in this latter case Muhammad didn't change the stories but simply copied from the non-canonical Gospels which also include, among other bizarre tales, stories of dragons.)
Without knowing what "errors" are being referred to it's of course difficult to counter this with any thoroughness, but straight off the bat it is not difficult to see why a text written by / revealed to one man should contain fewer immediately obvious contradictions/mistakes than one written by many authors at different times and collected over a long period (as were the Old and New Testaments and the purely Jewish texts).
Nonetheless, it is not difficult to find anomalies and inconsistencies in the Qur'an's recycling of the previous scriptures.
Here's an obvious example that no-one has been able to explain to me. The following two verses from the Qur'an describe Mary, mother of Jesus.
And Mary the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants).66:12
At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: "O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!" 19:27-28 
 It becomes immediately clear that there is a problem here. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is certainly not the sister of Aaron. Nor is she the daughter of Imram
But there is someone in the Bible who is. Her name is Miriam.
Here's how Miriam is described in the Bible:
Now the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt. And to Amram she bore Aaron, Moses, and Miriam their sister. (Numbers 26:59 NET Bible)Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a hand-drum in her hand, and all the women went out after her with hand-drums and with dances. (Exodus 15:20 NET Bible)
Why might Muhammad have confused the two? Because in Arabic the names Mary and Miriam are rendered the same.

This mistake was even noticed by the Arabic Christians of Najran.  How do we know this? Because there is a record of them exposing Muhammad's mistake about Mary in the reliable hadith of "Sahih Muslim", (considered to be the 3rd most important set of books in Islam after the Quran, and the Bukhari hadith.  
In Sahih Muslim, the hadith related by Mughirah ibn Shu'bah, #5326, says:

            "When I came to Najran, they (the Christians of Najran) asked me:  You read "Sister of Harun", (i.e. Mary), in the Qur'an, whereas Moses was born well before Jesus. When I came back to Allah's Messenger I asked him about that, and he said:  "The (people of the old age) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostle and pious persons who had gone before them.""  [Sahih Muslim, translated by Abdul Siddiqi].
Three things have always struck me about this "explanation". 
i. Muhammad is able to explain without having to receive a revelation from Allah. Did the Prophet know Allah's thoughts, then?
ii. The people of old age did occasionally give names after the names of pious persons who had gone before but this was son/daughter (not sister/brother) and the pious person would be chosen to make the greatest impact. So why choose Aaron and not Moses and why say sister not daughter?
iii. Why did no-one, not the Muslim who was asked, nor the Arab Christians, know about this custom? Why should God have made a reference which was evidently so esoteric as to be understood by no-one who heard it?
iv. And the clincher... why is Mary referred to not only as Aaron's sister but ALSO as Imram's daughter? 
(Remember) when the wife of 'Imran said: My Lord I have vowed unto Thee that which is in my belly as a consecrated (offering). Accept it from me. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower! 3:35
Using Occam's Razor to slice away the myriad  contortions needed to accept the Muslim explanation, we are left with the simplest answer : the writer of the Qur'an made a mistake. Ergo the Qur'an is of human origin. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Expanding Universe predicted in Qu'ran debunked - Pt 2

In my previous post on this apparently contentious topic, a Muslim reader, "Farrukh", took me to task for daring to offer an opinion on the meaning of an Arabic word. I quote his comment below:

"Vastness of space and the stretched out skies are mentioned at numerous places in the Quran too. However, what is different in 51:47 is the hint of expansion. While you claim that here is no justification for referring to the idea, it is clear to the vast majority of muslims:
وَالسَّمَاء And the heavensبَنَيْنَاهَا We constructed بِأَيْدٍ with strengthوَإِنَّا and We areلَمُوسِعُونَ its Expander
Just as I should not try to teach you English, you should not be lecturing on the meanings of the Arabic word La Moo See Oona. Unfortunately for you, we the muslims know its meaning as well as what it implies and your attempts to dissuade us otherwise is serving no purpose other than to show case your desperation and ignorance (of arabic)."
Let's ignore for the moment the fact that the meaning of the verse became clear to "the vast majority of Muslims" only after it was discovered that the universe was expanding, and that prior to the discovery not a single translator had thought to render the word as "expander". (Are we to suppose that Muslims prior to Edwin Hubble's discovery in 1929 were ignorant of this meaning of lamūsiʿūna? If it is so clear to so many Muslims now, why was it apparently so opaque to all the Qur'an scholars prior to 1929? )

In any case, never one to duck a challenge, I've been doing some research into the word lamūsiʿūna. I have used exclusively Islamic experts. Here's what the Qur'an Dictionary in the Qur'an Arabic Corpus has to say:

The triliteral root wāw sīn ʿayn (و س ع) occurs 32 times in the Quran, in six derived forms:
  • six times as the form I verb wasiʿa (وَسِعَ)
  • six times as the noun saʿat (سَعَة)
  • five times as the noun wus'ʿ (وُسْع)
  • nine times as the active participle wāsiʿ (وَٰسِع)
  • four times as the active participle wāsiʿat (وَٰسِعَة)
  • twice as the form IV active participle mūsiʿ (مُوسِع)
The translations below are brief glosses intended as a guide to meaning. An Arabic word may have arange of meanings depending on context. Click on a word for more linguistic information, or to suggestion a correction.Verb (form I) - to encompass, to extend
(2:255:41) wasiʿaExtends
(6:80:19) wasiʿaEncompasses
(7:89:26) wasiʿaEncompasses
(7:156:19) wasiʿatencompasses
(20:98:9) wasiʿaHe has encompassed
(40:7:15) wasiʿ'taYou encompass
(2:247:23) saʿatanabundance
(4:100:11) wasaʿatanand abundance
(4:130:7) saʿatihiHis abundance
(24:22:6) wal-saʿatiand the amplitude of means
(65:7:3) saʿatin(of) ample means
(65:7:5) saʿatihihis ample means
(2:233:21) wus'ʿahāits capacity
(2:286:6) wus'ʿahāits capacity
(6:152:20) wus'ʿahā(to) its capacity
(7:42:9) wus'ʿahā(to) its capacity
(23:62:5) wus'ʿahā(to) its capacity
Active participle
(2:115:11) wāsiʿun(is) All-Encompassing
(2:247:42) wāsiʿun(is) All-Encompassing
(2:261:23) wāsiʿun(is) All-Encompassing
(2:268:12) wāsiʿun(is) All-Encompassing
(3:73:31) wāsiʿun(is) All-Encompassing
(4:130:10) wāsiʿanAll-Encompassing
(5:54:36) wāsiʿun(is) All-Encompassing
(24:32:16) wāsiʿun(is) All-Encompassing
(53:32:10) wāsiʿu(is) vast
Active participle(1) Noun
(4:97:20) wāsiʿatanspacious (enough)
(29:56:6) wāsiʿatun(is) spacious
(39:10:15) wāsiʿatun(is) spacious
(2) Adjective
(6:147:7) wāsiʿatinVast
Active participle (form IV)
(2:236:16) l-mūsiʿithe wealthy
(51:47:5) lamūsiʿūna(are) surely (its) Expanders
So - even those who are so keen to show that 51:47 refers to the expansion of the universe can find no  example of the root having this meaning other than this one verse. In every single one of the other 32 occasions that this root is used in the Qur'an it means simply VAST or BIG or EXTENDS.

Can any Muslim please explain how and why they believe the word lamūsiʿūna refers to expansion uniquely in 51:47? Where is the "hint of expansion", Farrukh, other than in your head and in the heads of all the other miracle seekers desperate to find proof of scientific miracles.

What really annoys me (as always!) is that this supposed miracle is used by the twits at iERA to persuade the gullible and vulnerable to convert to Islam.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Morsi's anti-semitism: he's just quoting the Qur'an ...

The BBC reportsThe US has strongly criticised Egypt's Mohammed Morsi for anti-Semitic remarks he apparently made before being elected president.
TV footage shows Mr Morsi in 2010 referring to Zionists as "bloodsuckers" and "descendants of apes and pigs".
Where on earth might Morsi have got such hate-filled ideas? Where else but the Qur'an, wherein God (apparently) instructs his Creation in the finer points of discrimination so effectively that down the ages small-minded bigots such as President Morsi, have used the Almighty's words to excuse and justify their spleen.

Those of us who don't for one moment believe that an omniscient Creator wrote an instruction manual which includes such spiteful nonsense, look instead at WHEN these verses were written. Such an examination reveals that ALL these surahs come from the period when Muhammad had ceased trying to be a prophet to the Christians and Jews (who had rejected him) and instead was focusing on winning over the Arabs. 

When Muhammad started out on his prophetic career in Mecca he was in a weak position and hoped for the support of those who already followed a monotheistic tradition: the Jews and Christians. Thus he adopted the same fast days as the Jews and instructed his followers to pray towards Jerusalem.

However, once he was in Medina and his following had grown, it became clear that the Jews in particular did not believe he was a genuine prophet (largely because his plagiarism - as they saw it - of their religious texts was inconsistent and contained many contradictions and mistakes) To compound their heinous crime of rejection, they mocked him and broke treaties and alliances with the Muslims. 

Muhammad thus decided to cut his losses. He focused instead on winning over the pagan Arabs who worshiped the desert gods in the shrine of the Kaaba. He changed the direction of prayer to Mecca, instigated new fast days and started preaching hatred and revenge at the Jews.

Thus it is we see, if we study the chronology of the surahs rather than reading the them in size order (as they are in the Qur'an - for reasons that have never been fully explained to me), that all the anti-Jewish verses come from this later period - from Medina - even though many of them appear near the beginning of the Qur'an.

Shall I tell thee of a worse (case) than theirs for retribution with Allah? Worse (is the case of him) whom Allah hath cursed, him on whom His wrath hath fallen! Worse is he of whose sort Allah hath turned some to apes and swine, and who serveth idols. Such are in worse plight and further astray from the plain road. 5:60 IslamCity search engine helpfully explains: "Topics discussed in this Verse: 
[Jews:became apes and swine] [Kabah] [Taghuut (Evil)]" MEDINA
[..] And humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them (the Jews) and they were visited with wrath from Allah. That was because they disbelieved in Allah's revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully. That was for their disobedience and transgression. 2:61 MEDINA

Seest thou not those unto whom a portion of the Scripture hath been given, how they purchase error, and seek to make you (Muslims) err from the right way? 4:44 MEDINA

O ye unto whom the Scripture hath been given! Believe in what We have revealed concerning that which ye possess, before We destroy countenances so as to confound them, or curse them as We cursed the Sabbath breakers (of old time). The commandment of Allah is always executed. 4:47  (Note the utterly confusing change in object pronoun here. No doubt revered as the stylistic device known as IIltifat by apologists...) 

Because of the wrongdoing of the Jews We forbade them good things which were (before) made lawful unto them, and because of their much hindering from Allah's way, 4:160 MEDINA

Say: "Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah. those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil;- these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even path!" 5:60 MEDINA

And ye know of those of you who broke the Sabbath, bow We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised and hated! 2:65 MEDINA

And He brought those of the People of the Scripture who supported them down from their strongholds, and cast panic into their hearts. Some ye slew, and ye made captive some.

And He caused you to inherit their land and their houses and their wealth, and land ye have not trodden. Allah is Able to do all things.33:26-27 MEDINA

And because of their breaking their covenant, We have cursed them and made hard their hearts. They change words from their context and forget a part of that whereof they were admonished. Thou wilt not cease to discover treachery from all save a few of them. But bear with them and pardon them. Lo! Allah loveth the kindly. 5:13 (Here God tells the Muslims that He has cursed the Jews and hardened their hearts and made them treacherous BUT that the Muslims should pardon them. Hmm....) MEDINA

Listeners for the sake of falsehood! Greedy for illicit gain! [...] 5:42 (Just in case we didn't realise, IslamCity Qur'an search engine kindly explains the topic of this verse: Topics discussed in this Verse: [Jews:work iniquity] [Kabah] MEDINA

The Jews say: Allah's hand is fettered. Their hands are fettered and they are accursed for saying so. Nay, but both His hands are spread out wide in bounty. He bestoweth as He will. That which hath been revealed unto thee from thy Lord is certain to increase the contumacy and disbelief of many of them, and We have cast among them enmity and hatred till the Day of Resurrection. As often as they light a fire for war, Allah extinguisheth it. Their effort is for corruption in the land, and Allah loveth not corrupters. 5:64 MEDINA

I have omitted the many, many reports of Muhammad's anti-semitic behaviour and words as reported in the hadith as I wanted to focus readers' attention on the idea that God himself should have thought it prudent to refer to a minority race/religion using such intemperate language - knowing as he did (being omniscient an' all) that his words would be used over the centuries to foment hatred and division and thus encourage the continuation of the intractable problems we see in the Middle east to this day.

Thus if you are a Muslim, you are faced with a dilemma: either you accept that (to misquote Not The Nine O'clock News) God's just like that. He hates Jews, and thus to follow his guidance you should hate Jews as well. Or you tell yourself that much of the Qur'an was written in response to particular circumstances and that the Jew-bashing in the Qur'an is purely metaphorical or an historical anomaly. 

Or you might, of course, regard these verses of the Qur'an as the obvious product of a rejected and angry man determined to wreak his revenge.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Why God is unlikely

Some musings for which I make no claims to originality but which seem to me to provide insurmountable problems for any theists among you. I'd love to hear any counter-arguments...This was originally sent to my convert friend.

"You always seem to scoff at the idea that life happened by chance and that subsequently so did we.  Here are some ideas to conjure with:
1.       What use would an intelligent designer have with billions of years and trillions of galaxies filled with billions of stars apiece? That tremendous waste is only needed if life had to arise by accident.
2.       Are you saying that God needed all this before finally stumbling upon life? Because if there is NO God then life could ONLY arise in a world which is large and old – exactly like the one we see around us. The facts confirm atheism rather than theism.
3.       The appearance of life is an extremely improbable incident, you say. You’re right. But that doesn't make it impossible. The odds of winning the lottery are minute but we know it happens – every week. Why? – because the laws of probability dictate that the likelihood depends upon how many times the game is played. So if a billion people play and the odds are one in a billion then it’s extremely likely someone will win. The only way life could arise by accident, as I believe it did, is if there were countless more failed tries than successes. And that’s exactly what we see. The universe has been mixing chemicals for over
 twelve billion years in over a billion trillion star systems. That is exactly what we would see if life arose by accident (but NOT what we would expect to see if an intelligent designer had anything to do with it)..
4.       We haven’t proven any particular theory on the origin of life, you say. True. But we have evidence for every element of every theory. For example we know porous rocks that can provide a cell-like home near energy-rich, deep-sea volcanic vents. We know these vents harbour some of the most ancient life on the planet.
5.       The same can be said for evolution. As it happens evolution requires billions of years to get all the way from the first accidental life form to something as complex as us. God doesn't require this – nor does taking such a length of time make any sense, unless God wanted to deliberately fabricate evidence against his existence by planting all the evidence for evolution: fossils, DNA correlations, vast scales of time etc.
6.       The only way we could exist without God is if we existed at the end of billions of years of meandering change over time. And that’s exactly what we see.
7.       So atheism predicts all the evidence we see and theism predicts none of it.
8.       But perhaps God does exist. And worked his magic using totally natural and wasteful processes that copy exactly what we would expect to see if he didn't exist. For him to make all the evidence so overwhelming for his non-existence and then to punish those of us who take the evidence at face value seems to me to be the work of not a good God but an evil one.
Therefore I choose not to believe in God."

( Liberal theologians will claim God just set the whole thing in motion billions of years ago and had nothing more to do with it. How then to account for the chance arrival of humans on an insignificant twig of the evolutionary tree? If a reptile species, for example, had happened to reach the top and develop self-awareness would God have sent lizard prophets?)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Conspiracy theories and scientific miracles in the Qur'an

According to the famous July 2011 Pew Global Attitudes survey, the majority of Muslims in the world do not believe that Muslims/Arabs were responsible for the 9/11 attacks:
  "Nearly a decade after September 11, 2001, skepticism about the events of that day persists among Muslim publics. When asked whether they think groups of Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., most Muslims in the nations surveyed say they do not believe this.
There is no Muslim public in which even 30% accept that Arabs conducted the attacks. Indeed, Muslims in Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey are less likely to accept this today than in 2006."

Put another way, the vast majority of Muslims* -including my convert friend- believe in one or other conspiracy theory which hold that the US government and/or the Israeli security services plotted to murder thousands of US citizens (and the UK government carried out a similar atrocity against its own people on 7/7!)

Such beliefs are based upon various pieces of "evidence", none of which withstands a careful and dispassionate examination of the facts.

It is not my intention here to debunk the theories (but I'd be delighted to explain in the comments section why each and every one which claims to raise "unanswerable" questions is nonsense, should any reader still be  labouring under these misapprehensions) but rather to examine the link between a willingness to believe such errant twaddle and a desire to see scientific and other miracles in the Qur'an.

In his 2009 book, Voodoo Histories - How Conspiracy Theory has shaped Modern History, David Aaronovitch quotes the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet's fourth collection of essays which almost starts with the words, "It is in our nature to dramatize". Aaronovitch explains, "By this Mamet doesn't mean we are bit histrionic sometimes, but rather that we need to construct, or have constructed, dramas and  stories for ourselves [...] which is to say to order the universe into a comprehensible form." Later he refers to the human biologist, Lewis Wolpert's theory that to dramatise events in such a way is nothing less than a biological imperative. Humans evolved with an inherent need to understand their surroundings and where this was impossible, to create stories to do so.

Thus, conspiracy theories are ultimately reassuring in that they suggest causes and explanations which are easily grasped, reinforce our prejudices and may help us to ignore the awful possibility that the world is absurd and our lives are meaningless. Paranoia may often be a defence against indifference, as the American psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz believes. Or, as Susan Sontag has it: I envy paranoids. They actually feel people are paying attention to them.

A willingness to ignore Occam's Razor (the theory that states among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected) and a tendency to cognitive dissonance (whereby people want their expectations to meet reality, creating a sense of equilibrium whilst avoiding situations or information sources that give rise to feelings of uneasiness, or dissonance) can also be seen in those who choose to believe the pseudo science pushed by the charlatans like Yusuf Estes and those (almost exclusively) converts to Islam at iERA. 

Thus to believe that the Qur'an contains miraculous scientific knowledge is to reassure yourself that your God is real and that those who follow other faiths or no faith at all are mistaken. To seek out internet sites and information that reinforces your preconceptions and to ignore the evidence that contradicts your beliefs is exactly like the quasi-religious zeal of the 9/11 Truther fraternity - a zeal which leads them to persist in believing that the US government was capable of murdering thousands of its own citizens. 

Whether it be the claims of preternatural knowledge of microscopic embryology based upon a few vague verses and the "additions" to a text book by the ludicrous and plainly insane al-Zindani, the infamous suggestion that the speed of light or the expanding universe is somehow predicted within its pages despite such information being so vague that no translator prior to the actual discovery of these facts thought to interpret the verses in such a way, or simply that Allah was the first to tell us about the curative qualities of honey (and what of the Egyptians?!) these desperate and wild interpretations serve only to belittle genuine faith.

That so many intelligent and apparently otherwise rational Muslims should have fallen prey to the sharks in both camps is deeply worrying, but also perhaps not unexpected. 

For it is surely the case that many of the apparent required beliefs of Islam can be seen to encourage a tendency to paranoia. Take the idea that the Bible has been tampered with to remove "most" of the references to Muhammad, and the concomitant conviction that there however remain many references to the Prophet that these agents of deception somehow overlooked. In other words, Muslims believe that somehow the collators/writers of the Bible conspired to hide the "truth" (that Muhammad was predicted by the Old Testament prophets and that Jesus himself referred to the Islamic Prophet). That they ignore the obvious response that a Jewish text is in all likelihood going to refer to a Jewish messiah and instead stretch the credulity of their adherents with far-fetched theories reinforces the feeling that a desire for conspiracy is hardwired into humans.  Indeed, one of the greatest conspiracy theories in history (and one which is ultimately hugely insulting to Christians)  is that Jesus was actually never crucified but rather was removed from the cross and replaced with a "ringer" is contained in the Qur'an. Thus Muslims are brought up to believe that they have inside knowledge about the other great monotheistic religions denied to their adherents and are thus ultimately superior to them.

For those of us who are atheists and who see no evidence whatsoever for a benign creator (in fact, if there is a God he surely appears to be a vicious, sadistic and heartless deity who has allowed unimaginable cruelty and injustice to be inflicted on His creation for millenia) the need for a rational examination of evidence is more pressing than ever. 

As I always respond to my Muslim convert friend's assertion that "all the arrows point to there being a God and that God being the God of Islam" 
"On the contrary - all the arrows point to there being no God and to the writers of the Qur'an and the Bible being entirely human and fallible."

*and many other supposedly rational people!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Does Allah know about snow?

Happy New Year everyone!
Just a thought while I'm away and looking out at five feet of snow and the thermometer plunges...did Allah think that cool shady bowers was a universally appealing prospect for those contemplating Paradise? What of those of his Creation who spend their lives trying to keep warm as opposed to sheltering from the heat of the desert? Do they not get a look-in?
Does such a parochial view of heaven not provoke the slightest twinges of doubt in the breasts of the believers now they know that a huge swathe of humanity would view hot chocolate and and a log fire as heavenly. Is that any sillier than rivers of cool wine and foxy virgins?
Anyway, back to work and the boring quotidian of earning a living soon -