Hamza Tzortzis is an interesting chap. I’ve seen him debate live a couple of times. A few things strike me about Hamza. Firstly, he’s an excellent public speaker, very engaging, and incredibly articulate. Secondly, he doesn’t really say anything of substance. He tends to repeat the same arguments that Theists have always presented, with brand new sparkly language that he seems to think gives credit to the points he makes, or he completely rewrites scripture to mean something that it clearly doesn’t mean.
I recently watched this talk by Hamza, from earlier this year:
– First thing I noted was that for a speech that is intended to show the “rationality” of Islam, it takes Hamza less than five minutes to mention – as if a fact of reality – Angels, and Satan. Not rational explanations for what we’d traditionally call ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and that we now know are based on chemical imbalances in the mind, but instead chooses to stick with Angels and Satan. This is something Hamza wishes us to consider ‘rational’.
Hamza then moves on to present his own reworded version of the old cosmological argument, with the phrase “the universe began“, and that it was “…created by something uncreated“. He calls this a “logical explanation“. It’s important on that point to note that his “logical explanation” is completely divorced from logic at every point. I deal with the cosmological argument and its inherent illogic in another article, here.
The issue that I wanted to discuss in this article, relates to a quote from Hamza beginning at 6:37 of the video above:
“When God always mentions his creative power, when Allah always mentions his mastery of the universe, when Allah always mentions the fact that he is the one who sustains the universe and created the universe and he talks about creation itself, it’s always as a premise, it’s always as a launching pad to launch your intellect into the realisation that not only does Allah exist, but he is one, and he deserves to be worshipped.”
– So ‘masterful’ is Allah’s commanding of the universe, that he doesn’t actually tell us anything we didn’t already know at that exact moment in history. Nevertheless, with the quote itself, I have one main issue – besides the circular reasoning, which Hamza goes on to say “isn’t circular reasoning“, but it most certainly is circular reasoning.
I am almost certain that the Qur’an was compiled at a time of the framing of a new empire, for the sake of the power and stability of that new empire. Most notably, a massive PR offensive was launched during the reign of Abd al-Malik, that continued through his son’s reign, and it is this period in which Islam begins to become what we know today. In my previous article on the birth of the myths of the Prophet, I noted:
“The besieging of Mecca, in 692, with over 10,000 Syrian troops, shows just how serious Abd al-Malik believed the situation had become for the future of his dynasty. Eventually the rebellions, as well as the Byzantines were defeated, and so the next step is to unify the Empire. To further the plan of unification, he needed to solidify his own claims to the Caliphate. It is around this time, that coins start to be inscribed with the name of Muhammad, linked directly to the Caliph. It is also no surprise that the Sana’a manuscripts (the earliest Qur’anic manuscripts we have) are calligraphically dated to the era of Abd al-Malik.”
– It is very difficult to overstate the sheer importance and enormity of the task that Abd al-Malik faced in consolidating his empire and his power in 685ad. I would argue that the Qur’an, and its constant repetition of the power of God was created for the sake of ensuring obedience to the Caliphate and its new ruler. I say this, because almost every time God’s power is mentioned as what Hamza calls a “premise” in the Qur’an, it is followed by a threat for those who disbelieve.
Qur’an Chapter 2:
“I, Allah, am the best Knower. This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who keep their duty, Who believe in the Unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them, And who believe in that which has been revealed to thee and that which was revealed before thee, and of the Hereafter they are sure. These are on a right course from their Lord and these it is that are successful. Those who disbelieve — it being alike to them whether thou warn them or warn them not — they will not believe. Allah has sealed their hearts and their hearing; and there is a covering on their eyes, and for them is a grievous chastisement. And there are some people who say: We believe in Allah and the Last Day; and they are not believers. They seek to deceive Allah and those who believe, and they deceive only themselves and they perceive not. In their hearts is a disease, so Allah increased their disease, and for them is a painful chastisement because they lie.”
– If you wish to ensure the obedience of a scientifically illiterate population to your new Theocratic empire, there is no better way than to offer a divine carrot and stick approach, by using ones fear of death and the afterlife as a tool. When the state is wedded to the new faith, and the new faith is essentially crafted by the new state, it becomes necessary to say that a threat to ensure obedience to the new faith, is a threat to ensure obedience to the new state.
One verse of one chapter of course might not be enough to really drive home the message that this new empire is directly linked to heaven itself. And so just to make certain that potential non-believers understand the message, well, maybe another chapter will do the trick:
“Alif, Lam, Mim. Allah, the Ever-Living, the Self- Subsisting, Who sustains the entire order of the Universe – there is no god but He. He has revealed this Book to you, setting forth the Truth and confirming the earlier Books, and He revealed the Torah and the Gospel before that for the guidance of mankind; and He has also revealed the Criterion (to distinguish the Truth from falsehood). A severe chastisement lies in store for those who deny the Signs of Allah.”
– Remember, these are written at the beginning of the chapter. This ensures the reader knows that if he or she does not accept what comes next, severe punishment awaits. There is no intellect involved here. No thinking. No rationality. It isn’t asking you to think or to consider. It is demanding obedience at gunpoint.
And so it goes…
“[10:1] Alif. Lam. Ra’. These are the verses of the Book overflowing with wisdom. [10:2] Does it seem strange to people that We should have revealed to a man from among themselves, directing him to warn the people (who are engrossed in heedlessness), and to give good news to the believers that they shall enjoy true honour and an exalted status with their Lord? (This seemed so strange that) the deniers of the Truth said: “This man is indeed a plain sorcerer!” [10:3] Surely your Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then established Himself on the Throne (of His Dominion), governing all affairs of the Universe. None may intercede with Him except after obtaining His leave. Such is Allah, your Lord; do therefore serve Him. Will you not take heed? [10:4] To Him is your return. This is Allah’s promise that will certainly come true. Surely it is He Who brings about the creation of all and He will repeat it so that He may justly reward those who believe and do righteous deeds, and those who disbelieve may have a draught of boiling water and suffer a painful chastisement for their denying the Truth.”
And it goes…
“[13:1] Alif. Lam. Mim. Ra’. These are the verses of the Divine Book. Whatever has been revealed to you from your Lord is the truth, and yet most (of your) people do not believe. [13:2] It is Allah Who has raised the heavens without any supports that you could see, and then He established Himself on the Throne (of Dominion). And He it is Who has made the sun and the moon subservient (to a law), each running its course till an appointed term. He governs the entire order of the universe and clearly explains the signs that you may be firmly convinced about meeting your Lord. [13:3] He it is Who has stretched out the earth and has placed in it firm mountains and has caused the rivers to flow. He has made every fruit in pairs, two and two, and He it is Who causes the night to cover the day. Surely there are signs in these for those who reflect. [13:4] And on the earth there are many tracts of land neighbouring each other. There are on it vineyards, and sown fields, and date palms: some growing in clusters from one root, some standing alone. They are irrigated by the same water, and yet We make some excel others in taste. Surely there are signs in these for a people who use their reason. [13:5] And were you to wonder, then wondrous indeed is the saying of those who say: “What! After we have been reduced to dust, shall we be created afresh?” They are the ones who disbelieved in their Lord; they are the ones who shall have shackles around their necks. They shall be the inmates of the Fire, wherein they will abide for ever.”
And it goes…
“[14:1] Alif. Lam. Ra’. This is a Book which We have revealed to you that you may bring forth mankind from every kind of darkness into light, and direct them, with the leave of their Lord, to the Way of the Mighty, the Innately Praiseworthy, [14:2] (to the Way of) Allah to Whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Woe be to those who reject the Truth for a severe chastisement, [14:3] to those who have chosen the life of the world in preference to the Hereafter, who hinder people from the Way of Allah, and seek to make it crooked.”
And it goes…
“[15:1] Alif. Lam. Ra’. These are the verses of the Book, and a Clear Qur’an. [15:2] Soon will the time come when the unbelievers will wish they were Muslims. [15:3] Leave them to eat and enjoy life and let false hopes amuse them. They will soon come to know. [15:4] Whenever We destroyed a town, a definite term had previously been decreed for it. [15:5] No people can outstrip the term for its destruction nor can it delay it.”
– This is just a few of the first fifteen chapters of the Qur’an. It goes on and on and on, and the point of all of them is not that God wishes you to know how great he is, nor is it to “launch your intellect” as Hamza would have you think. The greatness of God is followed always by describing torturous punishment to those who doubt. Indeed, a considerable chunk of the Qur’an deals with threats of eternal punishment for the victimless crime of non-belief. The point is power and control, and nothing else. It is violent threats toward those who don’t conform to its dogma, and it is reflected entirely in the needs of the new fledgling empire and the necessity to control a population that wasn’t unified, and threatened rebellion at every point.
It is the case that by the late 7th century, the Prophet Muhammad’s name was suddenly being used to strengthen a fragmented, and fragile political Umayyad state and to solidify the claims of one particular Caliph; coins appear with Muhammad’s name on it; Hadith are being collected in order to provide a legal framework for the new empire; Muhammad suddenly becomes a legendary and much needed figurehead for the reign of Abd al-Malik (followed by his son, who carries on the imperial PR venture), upon his accession to a largely fragmented and warring empire; and the Qur’an is suddenly compiled including threats against those who disbelieve. This is quite obviously politics, this was never ‘revelation’.
I would argue that this is a far more logical, and rational explanation of the opening verses of the chapters of the Qur’an than “God wants to launch your intellect” which appears to be entirely contradicted by the use of threats.
Hamza goes on to inform us that in the Qur’an, God is telling us to reflect upon what we know, reflect upon the words of the text, and we’ll come to the conclusion that God exists. What Hamza doesn’t say, is that if you don’t come to that conclusion – like the majority of the World – then you will suffer intense and horrific punishment. It seems particularly pernicious to me that a God would bestow upon mankind the beautiful ability to doubt and to critique, but then to punish us the moment we come to a conclusion that isn’t based solely on glorifying Him. Hamza’s point is not rational, it is based on nothing of substance, and wholly contradictory. It is easily explained away with history, and at its core, tries to convince you that blindly accepting dogma is itself thoughtful and rational. It is for those reasons that Hamza possesses a unique inability to understand the word “rational”.