Monday, August 26, 2013

An open letter to Hamza Tzortzis and iERA

Dear Hamza,
I read with interest your recent paper ..A new which you admit to an apparent change of heart regarding the veracity of scientific miracles in the Qur'an, explaining how the "claims of miraculousness via verses eluding to natural phenomena does not stand in light of intellectual scrutiny".
I am glad that someone in a position of some influence within the Islamic dawah community has made such a bold and, on the face of it, unequivocal statement. Nonetheless, your admission raises some important issues which your paper fails to address.
Firstly, although you make reference to the "significant number of apostates from Islam who cite the counter movement’s work as a causal factor in deciding to leave the religion", you signally fail to mention the concomitant large number of (usually) westerners whose vulnerability has been exploited  by dawahists to convert them in the first place using the scientific miracle narrative. 
If my Muslim friend is typical, and I have no reason to doubt it, there will be many thousands of individuals whose main reason for becoming Muslim was the apparent proof of the divine nature of the Qur'an to be found in the so-called preternatural knowledge of scientific facts contained within it.
The iERA, whose research team you head, has used this claim as the main thrust in its proselytising since its inception. The Man in the Red Underpants, published and distributed by the iERA in August 2011, is a case in point. In it we read the following:
Actually what is remarkable about the Quran is not only that it does not contain any contradictions , but in fact it seems to be making statements about history, theology, philosophy, law and the natural world that defies a normal human explanation..
The pamphlet goes on to talk about, inter alia, the Big Bang Theory, embryonic development and plate tectonics and concludes,
It is easy to understand how the Creator would know about the common origin of the universe, the details of embryonic development and that mountains have roots but it is not easy to explain how Muhammad managed to include the information in the Qur'an unless we accept his claim to be a Messenger. It would seem that accepting this would be the most sensible thing for a rational, sincere person to do.
This publication is still available and there is  a FaceBook page  run by iERA entitled The Man in the Red Underpants which hosts debates about science in the Qur'an.
If you are genuine in regretting your involvement in helping to publicise such misleading ideas, then can we expect you to do everything in your power to prevent further damage being done by the iERA's involvement in this shameful episode? Can we look forward, for example, to your removing any references to scientific miracles in iERA's literature?
Further, and more pertinently given the above, can we also expect an apology for the huge damage done by this campaign. For as your confederate at iERA, Mr Green, says on page 25 of his pamphlet: "Certainly none of us wants to be conned or taken for a ride by a fraudster".
An apology is surely the very least those who have converted on the strength of your misinformation deserve.

Secondly, the scientific miracle claims are, of course, but one part of a sustained attempt to convince the unwary and naive of the miraculous nature of the Qur'an. Equally reprehensible in the eyes of many is the dawahist obsession with proving the existence of historic miracles. It is noteworthy that your paper fails to address this, other than to suggest that when talking about the Qur'an Muslims should speak about "the fact that there are historical statements that are mentioned in the Qur’ān which were not known at the time"
This is despite your quoting Maurice Bucaille as a source for the science claims.
Bucaille, of course, is responsible for one of the most infamous and despicable claims for miraculous historic knowledge in the Qur'an: that of the preservation of Pharaoh's body. Your suggestion that Muslims should talk about "historical statements"  indicates that you possibly intend for iERA to pursue this line of argument in future dawah initiatives. If so, your statement regarding the science miracles in the Qur'an begins to ring a little hollow. For there is absolutely no evidence for this particular miracle whatsoever. Nor is there any proper evidence for the other claims for miraculous historical knowledge.

In your paper you say that you believe that the apostasy of those westerners who have become disenchanted with the miracle claims  is "not entirely an intellectual decision but rather a spiritual and psychological problem." It may well be that their leaving your religion has caused them deep spiritual or psychological problems, but you fail to address the most worrying aspect of this whole affair. For you seem to be assuming that because the trauma caused by your meddling is spiritual and psychological, the answer to their problem lies in a similar approach to Islam/dawah. No, the answer lies in not making fraudulent claims to convert people. What a pity you and your fellow meddlers at iERA didn't think of that in the first place. 
But perhaps we can surmise the reason why such an approach wasn't adopted. Might it be that you knew, as the author of the Man in the Red Underpants suggests, that the thought of following "a religion which demands that those who steal should have their hands cut off" and that allows men "to beat their wives on certain occasions", "to have up to four wives and unlimited concubines" and tells us to "fight and kill the unbelievers wherever you find them" might be anathema to liberal westerners. 
The author bravely challenges his readers to ask if, just because such things lie uneasily with modern ethics, it means they can't be from God: "Perhaps the Creator doesn't like modernity or any other man-made ideology."
But he obviously knows what the likely response would be - just like you and all other Muslim evangelists do - and that is why you and they have had recourse to Rational Islam: Look!  Don't rely on anything as old fashioned as faith - Let us show you how to use your education and reasoning to come to Allah! We can PROVE God wrote the Qur'an.

Except of course, as we and you now know, you can't. Because faith requires

So how about removing ALL miracle claims from the iERA's dawah material? How about discussing Islam honestly with putative converts and addressing the issues which bother them? Forget miracles, Hamza. I know it's difficult to break the habit. Resist the lure of the literary miracle. The Qur'an may be good... in parts, but it really isn't that amazing. Give up on embryology. Leave the historic statements where they are. We don't want a new approach (Which to judge from your paper is just a euphemism for saying you can't prove the science miracles but you'll still discuss the "amazing" knowledge within the Qur'an)
We simply want you to stop desperately trying to turn the Qur'an into something it isn't. It's not a supernatural almanac. It's not a miraculous science book. It's simply a religious text. You believe it's from God. I don't. Let's leave it at that. And if you have to resort to magic, you're actually doing an ancient religion a disservice.

Oh, and one final thing: will those who used these dishonest and fraudulent claims to convert the naive and unwary still gain the benefit of their converts' (and their converts' children's) good works in paradise according to your bizarre rules? For it is surely the thought of all the dubious rewards that awaits your fellow dawahists in Paradise and your publicising of them on the iERA website that is in part responsible for their over-zealous and damaging evangelising. 


  1. A very interesting article, I hadn't thought about the impact of their previous actions. It raised the following thoughts...

    1. Hamza 'Quranifies' Greek embryology here

  2. Replies
    1. Congratulations Captain and Martin and Rationalzer for at least forcing Hamza (and others) to rethink a little - even if he hasn't had the Damascene conversion we were perhaps hoping for when we read the first half of his paper...

    2. I think Hamza has gone as far as any believing Muslim can go. Obviously he still he has to believe that there is some legitimacy in reinterpreting texts according to modern understanding; if not he will have to accept that the Quran is in error which he cannot as a believing Muslim. So personally, this is exactly what I would have expected from him.

    3. I give Hamza credit for walking back his most egregious nonsense, but I sure as heck wasn't hoping for a conversion. I feel he is much more valuable on the other side of the fence.

  3. Great Letter Spinoza, have you sent it to Hamza directly or posted it on the iERA website?

  4. I am a religious Muslim and a Qur'anic scholar and academic, and I have always thought of the claim of "miraculous scientific disclosures in the Qur'an" as misguided wishful thinking. This approach to the Qur'an is highly nontraditional. That is not what makes it wrong, of course. Rather, its Achilles heal is its sheer arbitrariness and its contraventions of the fields of philology and linguistics.