Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lessons from the Boston bombers

Two articles in today's Sunday Times serve to illustrate why I continue to question my friend's conversion to an ideology that seems to me to be the antithesis of what humanity should be striving to achieve, namely leaving the world in tact and a better place for our children .

The first is an article by the Chairman of Quilliam, an organisation which has founded a youth movement in Pakistan to counter extremist ideas. Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist, imprisoned for his extreme views, looks at how the global jihadist movement has changed in the last ten years from the credo of a group to the "mission of an insurgency" seen across the Arab world and beyond. The central tenet of this shift from a local to a global struggle is that the jihadist's "people" stop being his neighbours or fellow nationals, and instead become brothers and sisters of the ummah. Hence the enemy become "non-Muslims", "the only war that of Islam versus the non-believer" and it becomes justifiable to strike America and her allies in any way because of their interference in countries which are on the brink of creating a state where the ummah can live as they wish. Thus we see young Chechens blowing legs off marathon runners in Boston not because they believe that it will free their countrymen from Russian hegemony, but because they were brainwashed in their local Mosque into believing that such actions would ultimately help the global struggle against the kuffar.

The second by Andrew Sullivan, very pertinently, tries too understand how and why the left refuses to see religion as the cause of the Boston bombings. It quotes Tsarnaev's uncle describing his nephew's shift to "extreme devotion": "I was shocked when I heard his words, his phrases, when every other word he starts sticking in words of God", and asks why commentators such as the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald should desperately search for some other motive (societal alienation, mental illness, instability) when "history is crammed with violence committed in the name of God". We have seen how Christianity can "become murderous": from the crusades to the religious conflicts of the 17th century when it was founded by a supposed peace loving prophet. Why is it so unlikely that a religion founded by an "explicitly political conqueror"  should be used by today's terrorists to justify their abominations? The tendency to take religion to its extreme, violent form is "not the exclusive province of any faith". But what we should understand here is that those who commit atrocities in the name of Islam are simply expressing a faith without doubt or humility. "It is past reason". It is, as Muslims love to tell us, total surrender, and it knows no restraint.
So why should we not believe Tsarnaev when he tells us his motives. He is, as Sullivan says, not crazy - just terrifyingly consistent.
He may be the exception. We know that most Muslims are peaceful and caring and love their families and hope for the same things we all do: a better world for their children. But it is also true, it seems to many of us, that Islam has a difficult problem with modernity. It cannot, like Christianity moderate doctrinally because the Qur'an is the uncreated word of God. It cannot be subjected to objective scholarly criticism or be re-interpreted in the light of scientific advance. Nor can it accept the existence of those who choose not to believe in one God or no God at all. And it is universal in its aims.

These, to me, are disturbing characteristics in isolation, but terrifying when put together.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Boston bombers - good people...

Religion doesn't make bad people do good things, but it does make good people do bad things.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Islam and democracy

Regular readers of Rational Islam? will know the background to the genesis of this blog: a close friend converted to Islam in his late twenties and promptly declared that among other things:
i. evolution was a lie
ii. Adam and Eve were the first humans
iii. the ancients lived to hundreds of years old
iv.desert sprites called jinn actually exist
v. the Qur'an contained miraculous scientific miracles which prove its divinity.

Each of the above in its own way is worrying to hear from an intelligent, educated man who, prior to his conversion, was as intellectually curious an individual you could hope to meet.
But perhaps the most disturbing of all his new dogmas was his new view of democracy.
He was now, he explained, against a state body that arrogates for itself the right to decide what is permissible and what is not permissible, "because that is the right of God alone". He further maintained that knowledgeable Muslims of all allegiances should know that an Islamic state should be run on Islamic principles, not democratic ones.

I find this the most disturbing because, let's face it, if my mate or 2 billion other individuals want to believe in fairy tales then that's sad and a waste of intellectual capacity on a truly planetary scale, but ultimately it's not going to affect the rest of us in the short term. But if an intelligent and level-headed individual can suddenly reject the basic principles upon which all free societies are based because his religion tells him to, is it irrational to fear that this disparaging view of democracy is held by the majority of Muslims?
Is it irrational to fear that the Islamic desire for a society governed by their God is a threat to those of us who don't share their beliefs and who cherish the right to determine our own future?
Or put another way, as Hizb ut-Tahrir have it in their manifesto:  is an ideology which maintains
 the rule of people, for the people, by the people -the basis of the democratic system is to be rejected because it is laid down by man and it is not from the God.
one with which we ought to feel entirely comfortable?

I'm just asking...

Because those Muslims who live in democracies and who espouse such anti-democratic beliefs are presumably looking forward to the day when they can (using the democratic process) bring about an Islamic state.

And of course, we shouldn't forget that once an Islamic state has been established, no-one will be allowed to work to bring back democracy - for Allah is a jealous god and has told us that those who work to undermine the caliphate must be crucified (or have alternate hands and feet amputated) (5:33)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Slavery - an unfair criticism of the Qur'an?

A recent comment on a previous post summarises many of the objections to my posts (apart from the one about not speaking Arabic...) I receive from Muslims and illustrates the ignorance of their own religion under which some poor Muslims are still labouring.
"Everyone here is babbling about something in which they have no clue. Stop taking stories and verses out of context. How exactly did you judge Islam being male oriented? When Islam came at the time of Persians and Romans none of those empires gave rights to women let alone respect of any sort to them. Slavery was in its peak. Therefore....Islam at that time announced that:1-slavery is forbidden2-women have the right to choose who to marry3-women have the right to inherit4-women were given 3 times the respect to a father by a hadeeth of prophet (pbuh)5-women participated in battlefields as a part of the army6-and in heaven a woman is a lot more beatiful than the 70 virgin hoor alaien, rewarding a women with more beauty as to what she served in life.7-the story about (hell is made mostly of women) meant to teach women not to gossip. Also, not betray, resign their husbands.
Islam gave all of that 1400 years ago when most of the world lived under horrible laws.
The elections and democracy? We had that 1400 years ago, although some ppl out of greed changed it but that is not the point.
The point is, when you take the Quran, you take it all without leaving a part of it." 
There is much to take issue with here but let us for the moment focus on #1.
"Slavery is forbidden"
The commentor blithely claims that Islam "announced that slavery is forbidden" at a time when slavery was at its peak in the Roman Empire. Really? Even my convert friend admits that the Qur'an accepts slavery as a normal, if regrettable  part of society . He tries to defend this by stressing the references to how one should consider giving slaves their freedom in some circumstances and how one should treat one's slaves fairly:
The conditions on the slave master are quite stringent in Islam. The slave must be housed decently and given the same quality of food and clothing that the master has. I have the feeling that many supposedly free employees of modern times live in less dignity than slaves have had under Muslim rule. 
We should also remember, however, that despite my friend's valiant attempts to dress up the Qur'an's disturbing references to slavery as some sort of liberal social contract, the Qur'an in fact reveals what it really thinks of the position of slaves in the infamous ayat 33:50 wherein Allah tells Muhammad with whom sex is lawful: O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesseth of those whom Allah hath given thee as spoils of war (slaves). This seems to me to be a strange way of telling us that slavery is forbidden. Ah- but here I am taking words out of context again! So let's read the whole ayat:
O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesseth of those whom Allah hath given thee as spoils of war, and the daughters of thine uncle on the father's side and the daughters of thine aunts on the father's side, and the daughters of thine uncles on the mother's side emigrated with thee, and a believing woman if she give herself unto the Prophet and the Prophet desire to ask her in marriage, a privilege for thee only, not for the (rest of) believers. We are aware of that which We enjoined upon them concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess that thou mayst be free from blame, for Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
Now I understand! It's not just Muhammad who can have sex with his slave girls without risking the ire of The  Almighty. In fact it's any Muslim...Because Allah is forgiving and merciful. (I wonder if the slave girls forced to submit to the desires of their masters thought Allah quite so merciful....)
Perhaps I'm interpreting these lines incorrectly (because I don't speak Arabic, of course). So let us go to the scholars for their expert opinion. Ibn Timiyya, inter alia, makes it clear for us: (Vol. 32, p. 89),
"The root of the beginning of slavery is prisoners of war; the bounties have become lawful to the nation of Muhammad."
And if that were not unambiguous enough, in Vol. 31, p. 380, he says this:
"Slavery is justified because of the war itself; however, it is not permissible to enslave a free Muslim. It is lawful to kill the infidel or to enslave him, and it also makes it lawful to take his offspring into captivity."
But surely we should look to the "best human ever" for our guide as to how to deal with slaves. If slavery was common at the time of the Prophet then he could have set an example for the billions of humans to come after him by NOT OWNING SLAVES HIMSELF. But wait, it seems that Muhammad, according to expert Muslim sources, was in fact a great slave owner. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a respected scholar, in his book

"Zad al-Ma'ad" (Part I, p. 160), says,
"Muhammad had many male and female slaves. He used to buy and sell them, but he purchased (more slaves) than he sold, especially after God empowered him by His message, as well as after his immigration from Mecca.
But perhaps Muslims over the centuries since Muhammad have interpreted the evidence like my commentor and modern apologists and have done their best to rid the world of the the scourge of human bondage. That, after all, is what we would expect of the followers of a religion which apparently so unambiguously forbids it.

What then are we to make of of the fact that historians estimate that between 10 and 18 million Africans were enslaved by Muslim Arab slave traders and taken across the Red SeaIndian Ocean, and Sahara desert between 650 and 1900? Would these traders have so blatantly disobeyed their God if they believed that what they were doing was forbidden? Let us not forget, after all, that the "Christian" slave traders made reference to their holy book to justify their trade:

"Genesis 9:25-27: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japeth live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave'. "

Christians traditionally believed that Canaan had settled in Africa and that thus all the dark-skinned people in the continent of Africa were there to be exploited. (How wonderful are the Abrahamic religions!) Even in the New Testament, where Jesus has many opportunities to tell his followers that slavery is a sin, nothing is heard.

Thus in all three books of the monotheistic religions - those religions deemed so much more advanced, sophisticated and civilised than their "pagan" alternatives - slavery is casually mentioned without criticism. More - the references therein have encouraged the followers of the Abrahamic religions to continue to enslave a large proportion of humanity for no other reason than the colour of their skin or because they worship the wrong god.

One final point. Many Islamic apologists assume that slavery under the Romans was far less humane than that practised under the new enlightened system of Islam.  In fact, as we are discovering with the latest research from places such as Herculaneum, slaves in the Roman Empire were generally well treated, could buy their freedom and even become full citizens of the Empire. So even the last desperate resort of the apologist - the social improvement of Islamic style slavery - holds no water whatsoever.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Jesus in the Qur'an - a pagan myth?

As we know, the Qur'an is pretty "big on Jesus" (as the yoof would have it). He's mentioned 25 times, I believe. Among other things, the Qur'an relates the doctrine of
i. the virgin birth 
ii. miracles such as healing the blind and bringing people back from the dead
iii. the ascension to Heaven but not the crucifixion
iv. Jesus talking in the cradle
v. Jesus making clay birds that come to life

Now, it's interesting to note that Muslims talk of the importation of paganism by Christians who have "gone astray". Talk to any educated Muslim, like my convert friend, and they will list the many aspects of Christianity that are merely pagan inventions/additions to the "true" story of the prophet Jesus. 

I, and quite a few modern theologians, would suggest that the Christ myth is paganism tacked onto monotheism. (Pagan I take to mean a naive, unsophisticated belief in stories of the miraculous - which is closer to the original Latin meaning of country-dweller) Thus the Qur'an's re-telling of the the story of Jesus is a rehash of what is essentially a simplistic story that has appeared in many cultures over the centuries. 

To put it as plainly as posible, the Qur'an contains many references to what I would consider to be the pagan (or simplisticly naive) beliefs of Christianity, and therefore like any religion that asks its followers to believe in the literal truth of these (to me) obviously copied stories must be of fallible, human origin.

Let's take each of the above points and see if there is evidence that might lead a dispassionate, objective, intelligent person to at least suspect that there is something fishy going on...

1. the virgin birth
Not a new one this, as I'm sure you know. Just about any man-god who wanted to be taken seriously has claimed a virgin birth for himself: Mars fathering Romulus with the vestal virgin; Augustus (miraculous conception after Apollo and his mum Atia got together); Alexander the Great, Buddha...Virgin birth seems pretty pagan to me, and yet there it is in the Qur'an! 

2. healing, curing blindness, raising the dead
Again, there is an embarrassing super-abundance of such stories. Let's take just a couple of examples. One we know is a con because we have a first-hand testimony by a witness called Lucian of Samosata. In around AD 100-50 a chap called Alexander invented a religion in which a new God called Glycon came to Earth (miraculously) as a fulfilment of divine prophesy (aren't they always?), healed the sick and raised the dead. Or how about Apollonius of Tyana who had a miraculous birth (again...) cast out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, gathered disciples... It was going on ALL THE TIME. So such stories seem pretty pagan to me, and yet there it is in the Qur'an!

3.The ascension to Heaven
Ascension myths are present in lots of ancient religions. I won't bore you all with the gnostic heresy that was prevalent in the area that Mohammad was teaching in at the time. Suffice to say there are some very interesting parallels
4 and 5. Jesus talking in cradle and the clay birds
The Gospel of Pseudo Matthew and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas were, it seems to me, the sources for the stories in the Qur'an relating to the infancy of Jesus. They contain much more detail* of the same stories and were written, scholars believe, to flesh out the details of Jesus' early life for naive Christians. No Christian theologian would believe they have any worth other than as historic curiosities, and yet the stories appear in the Qur'an. 
In addition the  Injilu 't Tufuliyyah or the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ contains an Arabic translation of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas which contains a story of the infant Jesus talking: Jesus spoke when he was in the cradle, and called out to his mother Mary:— "Verily I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Word, whom thou hast given birth to according to the good tidings given thee by the Angel Gabriel, and my Father hath sent me for the Salvation of the World."
(The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a pseudepigraphical gospel about the childhood of Jesus that dates to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It was part of a popular genre of biblical work, written to satisfy a hunger among early Christians for more miraculous and anecdotal stories of the childhood of Jesus than the Gospel of Luke provided.) 
Here is what the wikipedia entry has to say about the Infancy Gospel of Thomas:
The text describes the life of the child Jesus, with fanciful, and sometimes malevolent, supernatural events, comparable to the trickster nature of the god-child in many a Greek mythOne of the episodes involves Jesus making clay birds, which he then proceeds to bring to life...
And yet Muslims accuse Christians of importing pagan myths!

So how do Muslims explain the similarities of the Qur'anic stories of Jesus with these texts?

*excerpt from The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast. And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle. Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop. Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God