Thursday, March 28, 2013

iERA's accounts - a mysterious delay...

The announcement below has been on iERA's website for at least four months. The last accounts available to view via their website are from June 2011.

iERA is a not for profit company (no. 06941044) and a registered charity (no. 1134566). You can view our last set of accounts with the Companies House here. The direct link to the Companies House website is here.
With regards to our accounts with the Charities Commission, we have sadly been delayed with this. Our accounts are with the auditors currently, and we hope to have this submitted within a month inshaa'Allah. We would like to apologise to all our donors and supporters for the delay.
When might we expect to see the accounts, I wonder? 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Qur'an - the musical!

The Book of Muhammad – a new musical by the makers of South Park – is taking the world of musical theatre by storm.

Having won over Broadway with record sales and critical acclaim, the satirical show  - a larky buddy story about two Muslims chums who go to Uganda in an attempt to engage in dawah to convert the natives - is about to break box office records over here.
The Guardian describes it as “inventive and subversive. A tight, visually popping, roof-raising show”. Amen to that, we say. Consider us converted!

But before we get too carried away, let’s make it quite clear this is a show that does much more than just simply mocking Islam; it celebrates the human need for myths to make sense of the world, even if quite a few Musim myths get a proper kicking: "I belieeeeve," one Muslim character croons in the show, "that God is keeping all the virgins safe until I get to Heaven!"

Nonetheless, Sunni and Shia Muslims are taking a laid back view of the production, as we've come to expect from the followers of the "religion of peace" who have gained an enviable reputation in recent years for their measured and mature reactions to provocation. Rather than burning down the theatre and engaging in mindless mob violence, they have simply and quietly expressed the hope that patrons who see the runaway hit stage musical when it lands in London will also check out the scripture that inspired it.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) which has no involvement in the edgy religious satire, has bought three full-page ads in the Productions program for the show to encourage theatre-goers to read the actual "Book of Muhammad”
"You've seen the read the book," says one ad.
"I've read the book," reads another.
"The book is always better," concludes a third.
Each ad features an image of a smiling Muslim and is anchored by a small image of the sacred text that Muslims believe is the actual words of God and the last revelation to mankind.
"I think most people, when they're going to the musical, they know that they're not going to see an accurate portrayal of what Muslims believe or do," said Yusuf Kelly, national director for the MCBs Public Affairs council.
"The playbill advertisements are really just a way of inviting people that want to know more, showing them where they can get that information”
"I do think that there are going to be some brothers and sisters who will be curious enough to buy tickets but I suspect the majority of Muslims are going to steer clear," said the 34-year-old, who works in communications and marketing and builds websites.
"In general, we don’t go to musicals and tend to avoid entertainment that contains a surfeit of crude, sexual or scatalogical or violent or other vulgar content."
"In addition, this is our faith, or at least the tenets thereof, that are being held up for ridicule, which can be tough to laugh off sometimes, just because there are some things that we hold to be sacred, and when those are mocked it can be difficult," he added.
Still, while "The Book of Muhammad" does have explicit language and satirizes organized religion, "Islam has no interest in being defensive about it," said Kelly
In fact, when the show started running on Broadway, Islam's response was concise and collected.
"The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Qur’an as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to God," reads the official statement on the show.
"It's not the first time that our religion has been mocked or ridiculed publicly, and it's not going to be the last."
"We do have a sense of humour about ourselves but more importantly, I think we aspire to an ethic of Islamic civility in all of our interactions, and I think that includes turning the other cheek. And it is an opportunity to educate, I guess," added Kelly

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hey - leave the Muslims alone!

Just recently an anonymous commentor accused me of being a racist.
Apart from inadvertently omitting to publish his previous comment, I can't think of anything I had done to upset him personally, so I can only assume he thought me such for daring to run a blog that criticises i.the charlatans whose claims to scientific miracles in the Qur'an are persuading the vulnerable to convert, and ii. some of the more disturbing (as I see it) aspects of Islamic belief (such as exhortations to physically chastise - or worse - those who have sex with someone of the same gender or those who commit adultery or those who leave Islam or those who criticise the Islamic state or wives who repeatedly disobey their husbands...)

Another recent commentor asked why I don't spend time examining the contradictions in the Bible and went on to accuse me of pretending to be an atheist while all the while being a secret Christian...

So let me clarify.

I shall say this only once.

1. I think all religions are nonsense.
2. I shall fight for the right to be able to say as much as long as I have breath.
3. I shall fight for your right to believe in whatever nonsense you wish as long as you don't force me to share your delusions.
4. I shall express my support for any community that is persecuted for their beliefs or way of life whether they be Muslim, gay, Jew, lesbian, Christian, trans, Morris dancers, Reading FC supporters...
5. I focus on Islam and not other religions only because a close friend converted and started to believe that i. mankind came from Adam and Eve and the Evolution of species is a lie ii. that 9-11 and 7-7 were inside jobs iii. that there are scientific miracles in the Qur'an, and finally that iv. all his mates whom he had previously been happy to spend time with in the pub were going to go to hell to be roasted for an eternity by his "merciful" god.

That's the reason for this blog. If you think that makes me a racist then I can't do anything for you.
If you want to discuss any of the above in a calm and reasonable way I'd be delighted to have a chat.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Read the Qur'an with an open heart!

We are advised by believers that when we first read the Qur'an it should be with an open heart. What are we to understand by this?
I like to believe that I try to approach any book ready to be moved, cajoled, persuaded, educated ... to have my  prejudices questioned and challenged. But I'm not naive enough to believe that I can divorce myself  totally from my background.
I may thus have approached the Qur'an with an open mind, but it was the mind of Western-Judeo-Christian-Atheist-Liberal-Democrat who is fortunate enough never to have been hungry or persecuted for his beliefs...  But then God presumably knows this, since He made us ... if you believe that sort of thing.
Hence, with the best will in the world, I am not the tabula rasa the Qur'an apparently requires
Nonetheless, we should do our best to read the Qur'an ready and willing to believe, shouldn't we?
Well actually, no. I don't think we should.
For if we are to treat the Qur'an with a genuinely open heart/mind - that's to say with no preconceptions - then we should read it as any other book: with no less, but certainly no more, reverence or willingness to believe its content. Why should we, after all?
"Because it's from God!" believers patiently explain.
But if I approach the Qur'an uncritically, ready to believe it is from God, then my heart is hardly open. In fact, it is closed to all but one possibility. When you ask me to read your book with an open heart, you in essence are asking me to read it starting with the assumption that what I am reading are God's you do.
Rather we should surely read ANY book that makes the stunning claim that it is from God with a healthy cynicism. Don't we owe that to ourselves...and to God should He or She actually exist? Otherwise we are surely vulnerable to the most appalling exploitation...
For we would have to extend the same uncritical courtesy to any text claiming to be divine. Do we read The Introduction to Scientology Ethics starting with the assumption that L Ron Hubbard might have had a point? I hope not. No, we read it starting from the premise that this is in all likelihood rubbish and if, by some miracle, it is genuine, then the divine contents will surely persuade us...despite our initial reluctance. "But no-one seriously believes that stuff," you claim. Try telling that to Tom Cruise and the 50,000 other Scientologists (or the 8 million who have taken a course in it!)
So the Qur'an, just like Scientology Ethics, needs to overcome the natural and healthy skepticism of the objective reader. I know that such a statement might be shocking to a Muslim - but your shock surely betrays how different are the points from which we approach our reading.

And I'm afraid my skepticism is hardly lessened when I read of some of the "signs" that God has apparently sent to persuade me that His book is for real: Camels...? Paths...? Sailing ships...? Mountains to stop the Earth shaking...? Invisible pillars to hold up the sky...? Talking ants...? Is my open heart supposed to gloss over these bizarre references?
Where are the miraculous and awe-inspiring verses needed to persuade beyond doubt an open-hearted and healthily skeptical reader that these are God's words? Believe me, they'd have to be pretty good to make me forget the references to the sun setting in a muddy pool or crucifying those who spread sedition, to list but two of the many, many disturbing images and injunctions in the Qur'an.

Surely anyone approaching the Qur'an with a genuinely open heart - without the cultural/family/political background to colour their perception so fatally that they start with the assumption that what they are reading  are God's words - will see the book for what it is. A book - nothing more, nothing less.

For as Carl Sagan so memorably had it:
It pays to keep an open mind. But not so open your brains fall out.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Qadar - destined to do what Allah decrees?

When my convert friend learnt recently of the death of the son of someone I work with, he responded by suggesting I tell them that Allah decides how long we live: "There is nothing the parents could have done," he opined. "It might be a consolation for them to know that." Hmm.
I didn't tell them. I can't believe the thought that God had decided to take their two year-old from them would have provided much comfort.
And yet this concept of divine destiny (or qadar) is one of the six articles of faith in Islam (along with Belief in the Oneness of Allah, the Revealed Books, the Prophets of Islam, the Day of Resurrection and Angels). Accordingly, God has written down in the Preserved Tablet ("al-Lauḥ al-Maḥfūẓ") all that has happened and will happen. Thus Allah, Muslims believe, has measured out the span of every person's life, their lot of good or ill fortune, and the fruits of their efforts. 
Are we to understand from all this that we don't therefore have free will? Not at all: Muslims are keen to explain that it means simply that because God is timeless (literally outside of time) he already knows what will happen to all of us. It is in this sense only that our fate, or destiny, has been decided for us.
We can thus decide our own future, make decisions and pay the consequences - it's just that Allah already knows what we will do.
But what of the verses in the Qur'an that suggest otherwise? What of the verses that clearly tell us of Allah deciding our fate for us?
And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers? It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah. He hath set uncleanness upon those who have no sense. 10:100
Does not the above verse tell us we can only believe if Allah "decrees" it? And conversely it is He who decides who'll suffer "uncleanliness" (by which we are to understand unbelief)?
Lo! this is an Admonishment, that whosoever will may choose a way unto his Lord. Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise 76:30
Aren't we being told two conflicting things here in the space of one verse? You can "choose" to follow the Lord ....but only if Allah "willeth". What happened to my free will all of a sudden?

Free will? Really?
God delights in telling us he guides those whom he wishes to, and equally sends astray those whom he (presumably) decides are worthless:
Whom Allah doth guide,- he is on the right path: whom He rejects from His guidance,- such are the persons who perish. Many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell ...7:179
 The final line is chilling. Many are the men [...] we have made for hell. 

So here's a question that my convert friend has never answered:
What sort of beneficent deity creates beings to torture for an eternity? Presumably one with a wicked sense of humour, since he constantly refers to Himself as "the Most Merciful"...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Why do you believe?

Here's an invitation to any Muslim reading this. Please tell me as succinctly as possible why you believe the Qur'an to be the uncreated word of God?
Would it, by any chance, be something like this?

A truly scientific approach to the Quran is possible because the Quran offers something that is not offered by other religious scriptures, in particular, and other religions, in general.  It is what scientists demand.  Today there are many people who have ideas and theories about how the universe works.  These people are all over the place, but the scientific community does not even bother to listen to them.  This is because within the last century the scientific community has demanded a test of falsification.  They say, “If you have theory, do not bother us with it unless you bring with that theory a way for us to prove whether you are wrong or not.”Such a test was exactly why the scientific community listened to Einstein towards the beginning of the century.  He came with a new theory and said, “I believe the universe works like this; and here are three ways to prove whether I am wrong!” So the scientific community subjected his theory to the tests, and within six years it passed all three.  Of course, this does not prove that he was great, but it proves that he deserved to be listened to because he said, “This is my idea; and if you want to try to prove me wrong, do this or try that.”This is exactly what the Quran has - falsification tests.  Some are old (in that they have already been proven true), and some still exist today.  Basically it states, “If this book is not what it claims to be, then all you have to do is this or this or this to prove that it is false.” Of course, in 1400 years no one has been able to do “This or this or this,” and thus it is still considered true and authentic.Falsification TestI suggest to you that the next time you get into dispute with someone about Islam and he claims that he has the truth and that you are in darkness, you leave all other arguments at first and make this suggestion.  Ask him, “Is there any falsification test in your religion? Is there anything in your religion that would prove you are wrong if I could prove to you that it exists - anything?”  Well, I can promise right now that people will not have anything - no test, no proof, nothing! This is because they do not carry around the idea that they should not only present what they believe but should also offer others a chance to prove they’re wrong.  However, Islam does that.A perfect example of how Islam provides man with a chance to verify its authenticity and “prove it wrong” occurs in the 4th chapter.  And quiet honestly, I was very surprised when I first discovered this challenge.  It states (Quran 4:82):“Do they not consider the Quran?  Had it been from any other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy.”This is a clear challenge to the non-Muslim.  Basically, it invites him to find a mistake.  As a matter of fact, the seriousness and difficulty of the challenge aside, the actual presentation of such a challenge in the first place is not even in human nature and is inconsistent with man’s personality.  One doesn’t  take an exam in school and after finishing the exam, write a note to the instructor at the end saying, “This exam is perfect.  There are no mistakes in it.  Find one if you can!” One just doesn’t do that.  The teacher would not sleep until he found a mistake! And yet this is the way the Quran approaches people.
Note how the author assumes, by the way, that the only person you are going to get into a discussion with is another religious believer:
 Ask him, “Is there any falsification test in your religion? 
But what really gets me here is the belligerent and combative tone which is a natural by-product presumably of the author's utter conviction that he can't be wrong.
I can promise right now that people will not have anything - no test, no proof, nothing!
This is a clear challenge to the non-Muslim.  Basically, it invites him to find a mistake.  
A tone which is encouraged by the Qur'an itself with its puerile and combative challenges:
“Do they not consider the Quran?  Had it been from any other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy." 4:82
At the risk of sounding contentious myself,  even the most perfunctory reading will reveal in reality the Qur'an is littered with embarrassing errors.
What is one to make, for example, of a "perfect, error free book" that talks of the stars as being in the "lowest" of the "seven heavens" and describes the moon as being "in their midst"?
"Do you not see how Allah has created the seven heavens, one above the other?And made the moon A light in their midst, and made the sun As a (Glorious) Lamp?" 7:15 -16"So He ordained them seven heavens in two periods, and revealed in every heaven its affair; and We adorned the lower heaven with brilliant stars…"  41: 12
How can anyone claim that such a book is without mistakes after reading that? (The way the miracle seekers try embarrassingly to do so is, of course to say that the atmosphere is made up of seven layers - conveniently forgetting that that would mean the Qur'an is telling its readers that the stars, sun and moon are in the atmosphere. Give me strength..."No, no!" others say. "The seven heavens refer to the, as yet, undiscovered seven layers of skies" And yet others go for the magnificent catch-all cop-out, "Only Allah knows the correct explanation of seven skies" Both of which beg the obvious question "Why did Allah suggest we should be able to see this, then?" )

All of which silliness brings us to this inevitable observation: one would have thought that those who have actually read the Qur'an - such as the author of this nonsense - would be less willing to draw their readers' attention to the risky and rebarbative challenge that has so delighted miracle seekers looking to cock a snook at their Christian counter-parts. For when we take up the challenge, the Qur'an falls at the first hurdle.

So back to my question. Given the above - why do you believe?