God: The ‘fine tuning’ problem.

March 3, 2015

fine tuning, atheism

“One does not have to appeal to God to set the initial conditions for the creation of the universe, but if one does He would have to act through the laws of physics”.
– Stephen Hawking.

At first glance, one may be forgiven for presuming that the physical constants that make up our universe, are clear evidence for a very precise designer. Paley argued as much with his watch. In these more enlightened times, the physicist and author Victor Stenger, writing in ‘The Fallacy of Fine Tuning‘ wonderfully dismantles the presumptions that inform the ‘classical proof’ using the physics itself. Supporting Stenger’s critique – and far more in keeping with the theme of this article – is the “The God Argument” by A.C Grayling. In it, Grayling provides a simple, rational dismantling of the fine turning argument, that coupled with Stenger’s critique, must surely put an end to the use of the argument as evidence for the existence of a creator.

To highlight the problem with the fine tuning argument for the existence of God, Grayling states that if his great-great-great grandparents had not lived the exact life that they had, had they lived ever so slightly differently, circumstances would perhaps not have permitted his own life. The intense number of coincidences that are required to line up in order to result in the life of A.C Grayling, are amazingly unlikely…. in retrospect. And yet, one would not suggest that the history of Grayling’s family was specifically finely tuned to arrive at his life. The fine tuning argument for the existence of a creator is retrospective in exactly the same way.

The point Grayling raises, is that it is both arrogant and irrational to believe the history of your family was specifically designed in order to produce you, looking back retrospectively, and simply because you exist. Similarly – and perhaps more so – it is arrogant and irrational to retrospectively argue that 14 billion years ago, the universe was ‘created’, took 9 billion years in order for the Earth to develop, an Earth that is uninhabitable in large parts and contains the ability for natural disasters to destroy life, alongside 99% of species since that time dying out, and humanity struggling to survive the harshest of conditions, just so religious philosophers can presume it was all designed with them in mind; a species that – in the context of the time scale of the universe – exists for such a short pin point of time. Indeed, life – human life – on planet Earth is such a small momentary blip in the history of vast open of space-time, that the universe seems anything but created with life at the forefront.

But I think even before we feel obliged to move on to the logical problems with the intricacies of the fine tuning argument, before we need mention Grayling’s family history, before we note that the vast majority of the universe – throughout time – is uninhabitable, we must note that the very premise of the argument in the first instance is in fact, self defeating in a couple of ways. Let’s assume for the moment that the ‘creator’ posited in the fine tuning argument is given the traditional attributes of the God of the Judeo-Christian traditions – omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence – it would necessarily follow that such a creator could ensure life existed for any possible tuning of the universe. If that creator could not create life to exist in any possible tuning of universe, it would at the very least suggest that the creator’s actions are dictated by the conditions of life – conditions that ‘He’ has no control over. Thus, the creator did not create life, life (as we know it, because we’re here) can exist with or without the ‘creator’, requiring only the conditions to be right. The ‘creator’ is thus defeated by the very fact that the natural laws that ‘He’ must adhere to in order for life to flourish are – by definition – greater than ‘He’ because they precede ‘He’.

But even that is one big step further than we need to take to discard the ‘fine tuning’ argument as self defeating. Indeed, if a creator did in fact create the conditions for the existence of intelligent beings, the creator must have done so – and thus, existed ‘Himself’ – in conditions that permit existence, other than the conditions that He has now created. The conditions for existence, thus exist prior to the creator. And so before we even discuss whether or not a creator should be able to create life to suit any and all possible universes, we must note that the conditions for existence must precede the creator.

If human life were transplanted from Earth, to 99% of the rest of the universe, it would instantly perish. Indeed, just outside of the boundaries of our own atmosphere, we encounter radiation that would kill us in an instant. If human life were transplanted to a past state of the Earth throughout most of its history, it would not survive. And so, it is no great exaggeration to say that the ‘fine tuning’ argument for the existence of a ‘creator’ is the weakest of all the classical ‘proofs’. It is self defeating, it depends largely on our bizarre assumption that the universe – largely uninhabitable and violently opposed to life – is created with us – a split second in cosmic time – in mind, and falls apart before we even have to analyse the actual cosmological constants that permit you to be sat reading this right now.


‘Islam without extremes’ – by Mustafa Akyol. A Critique.

October 12, 2014

islamwithoutextremes

Perhaps you may think it an exaggeration, but I am quite convinced that the World will be shaped over the next several decades predominantly by how it responds to the threat from Islamist extremists. More than simply a war between those groups like Hizb or ISIS and the rest of the World, more than a war for the freedom of human beings from the oppressive structures imposed by supremacists, this is a civil war within Islam for its future. Whether Islam comes out of that war as a religion for the individual; an inner, spiritual system of guidance, or whether it is to be defined as a political structure that extends beyond the individual and chains others to dictates, can only be decided by Muslims. Attempts within the Islamic community to provide counter-narratives to extreme illiberal Islamist dogmas are vital. We do see this through the important work of think tanks like ‘Quilliam‘, or groups like ‘British Muslims for Secular Democracy‘. Writers can also have a lasting affect on how the war for Islam is shaped. I recently finished reading ‘Islam without extremes’ by Mustafa Akyol. I thought I’d share my thoughts on the book here.

I have several criticisms and I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. It is worth noting from the beginning that ‘Islam without extremes: A Muslim case for liberty‘ is an excellent attempt to dispel the myth that prevails in both Islamist quarters, and the Western far right, that groups like Hizb are in fact synonymous with Islam. They are not. Islam is a wide spectrum of belief that encompasses violent extremism, and secular liberalism. Akyol’s book presents a far more liberal, and secular strand of Islamic history that tends to get drowned out by Wahhabi interpretations in recent years. The book’s discussion of the back and forth fight for Islam over the centuries between traditionists and rationalists is compelling and fascinating reading. That being said, the book seems to present Islam less as a faith that promotes liberty, and more as a faith that is illiberal, and anti-secular, but a little bit less so than extremists suggest. And so as a ‘case for liberty’, it isn’t successful, and I’ll to give my reasons for that conclusion:

For example, after a brief discussion of pre-Islamic Arab society, in which women were not permitted the right to own property nor inheritance, Akyol says:

“… the Qur’an also decreed that females should receive a share of inheritance. It was only half of what their male siblings would get, but in a society in which men were considered to be responsible for the care of the whole household, this was a generous amount.”

– This seems to me to be a way to have it both ways. The very basis of Islamic belief, is that the Qur’an is the final message from God. It is the book of rules for all time. There will be no other message. It comes from a being that transcends time. He is able to give a new message, in more enlightened times if he wished, that ensures equal inheritance regardless of gender. But that isn’t the fundamental idea of Islam; that the Qur’an is the final message. ‘Rights’ are defined for eternity. And yet, more often than not, Muslims invoke the ‘context of the time’ excuse for illiberal Quranic rules. Akyol does that here. Whether the share of inheritance is nothing, or whether it is half that which men are to gain, it is illiberal. An improvement is irrelevant if it is to end at that improvement, and not be permitted further improvement toward equal treatment. In this case, the Quranic rule on inheritance is an institutional patriarchal structure, and worse than that, it is to be instituted for all time. Any further improvement would be an admission that the Islamic God was constrained by the time period, or that He was simply wrong. The ‘context’ excuse seems to me to be an attempt to placate in the mind of the believer, the suspicion that the Qur’an may not be all that liberal after all. A recognition that the individual believer has morally outgrown his/her God.

On page 67, Akyol says:

“The dhimma system was just one of the many implications of a basic idea that the Qur’an introduced: Humans have rights ordained by God, and no other human can violate those rights. This idea would allow Muslims to create a civilisation based on the rule of law”.

– I find these sentences to be self defeating. My rights have already been violated by other human beings, the moment those human beings decide for themselves that my life is to be chained to their faith and that the ‘rule of law’ is to be based on that one faith. Law is subsequently based less on evidence, if it contradicts the dogmatic beliefs of the privileged religion (more often than not, the privileged religion tends to be very patriarchal and very heterosexual, and so – surprisingly – heterosexual men seem to benefit the most from upholding that system). Institutional privilege for one faith is not a good example of the ‘case for liberty’. Quite the opposite. It insists that anchoring moral standards to one place and one time, is an excellent base for law, and that all must abide by it, whether Muslim or not, whilst those who aren’t Muslim must pay a tax to uphold this system.

In an attempt to promote Muhammad as a friend of Jews and Christians, Akyol tells us – on page 60-61 – that the Prophet spared the frescoes of Jesus and Mary when he stormed the Ka’ba, and that the Qur’an granted the right of Christians and Jews to live and practice their faith… under the rule of Islam. You will perhaps note several problems with trying to argue the case for liberty within a faith whose leader destroys the Gods of other faiths, saving only those that are depicted in the Qur’an, and then has the nerve to “grant the right” for others to live according to their own conscience… under the rule of Islam. This is not liberty. A man fighting for any concept of liberty would not have destroyed the Gods of others, nor have believed himself divinely ordained to decide upon the rights and the lives of others. I may dislike the Christian & Islamic God, I don’t then destroy Churches and Mosques. We rightly prosecute those who do.

Muhammad – by Akyol’s own admission – has now destroyed the Gods of other Pagan systems of belief. If I were to claim to have received a revelation from God, and proceeded to destroy shrines to other faiths proclaiming “truth has come! Falsehood has vanished!” – which, along with many other Quranic verses and traditions of the Prophet significantly negates the ‘no compulsion’ line – whilst telling Muslims that my new God has granted them certain rights, I would expect to be told that I do not get the privilege of handing out rights according to my own personal beliefs alone whilst destroying the right of others to believe according to their own conscience. The lives of others, are not mine to control or define. The same is true here. Muhammad was not promoting liberal values, he was assuming for himself a significant position of privilege to control the lives of others. Akyol then seems to accept that Muhammad instituted a sort of semi-theocracy with new liberties thrown in. He quotes Karen Armstrong who said:

“Muhammad could not produce a full-blown individualism to satisfy our present Western liberal ideas, but he had made a start.”

– The word ‘start’ should be replaced with the word ‘end’, because again, the Qur’an is the final message. She is right that Muhammad could not produce a full blown liberal, secular, democratic society protecting the civil liberties of all, at that moment and place in time. We as atheists must accept that he was just a man – impressive at times, flawed and disastrous at others – but believers who attempt to promote Islam as a faith that enshrines liberty – as Akyol attempted to do – have the uneasy burden of accepting that their God transcends time, and so the rules He sets out, and the man whom he chooses to empower with that message, must be the perfect form of liberty, and must not be rules that others over the centuries will try to mimic, causing misery across the globe. This is the problem of foresight – a subject I wrote on here – shared by the God of all the Abrahamic traditions. Indeed, those rules – if they are to extend beyond the individual in any way – must protect and empower men and women, muslims and atheists, homosexuals and heterosexuals, of all ethnicities, without prominence or privilege to any sect of any faith, otherwise it is simply a book of oppression and no amount of redefinition can fix that. And whilst Mustafa Akyol’s book certainly provides a narrative that takes the more extreme elements of recent years away from the faith, it fails to produce a narrative that its title – ‘A Muslim case for liberty‘ – suggests, and fails to tear Islam away from political ideology by entertaining the notion that it is perfectly reasonable for Muslims to define the rights of non-Muslims.

The conclusion I came to after reading Akyol’s book – and getting past the predictable religious tendency to blame everyone else except religious dogma for its deficiencies – was that Islam is by its nature illiberal, it is just a little less illiberal than the extremists believe, and was a little more liberating than previous Theocracies centuries ago. A leap forward once upon a time perhaps, but thoroughly archaic today.


Re: The $100,000 atheist challenge.

September 5, 2014

Dear Joshua Feuerstein,

Your recent YouTube video challenging atheists to disprove god for $100,000 has, as you know, received a lot of attention and criticism. I thought I’d offer my thoughts on why I am an atheist, and why it is unlikely that your God exists, because, well, I could really use that $100,000. I have four quick points I wanted to make:

Firstly, it’s important to note what the atheist proposition actually is. Contrary to your statement that we’re trying to claim there is no god that exists outside of our individual knowledge, we invite you to provide evidence that there is, at that point we can have a meaningful discussion. You cannot just assert the existence of a god, and decide it’s meaningful, without it actually based on anything other than you just asserting it. I could assert that I have an invisible, silent monkey on my shoulder, and the fact that the claim cannot be tested and proved or negated doesn’t render it more likely to be true, it renders it the opposite. Very few – if any at all – of us would ever claim with certainty that god doesn’t exist. We simply claim that there is no reason to believe god does exist, and that believers throughout history have never provided a substantial reason for us to believe god exists. The fact that we provide evidence that gravity exists, rather than forcing people by the sword to accept gravity without criticism, implies that evidence can stand on its own whilst precarious falsehoods require coercion to survive.
We do not claim certainty on anything. We do not even claim certainty on the Earth being a sphere. We assert that we are 99.9999% sure that the Earth is a sphere, but we leave 0.0001% open to doubt, because doubt is what drives scientific progress. We do not shut out all arguments that the Earth is not a sphere, instead we weigh the evidence. If the evidence for one position holds greater than the evidence for the other, we accept it. We want to disprove assertions, in order to come to stronger assertions about the nature of nature. So again, my proposition is that you have not provided any reason for me to believe a god exists; this is entirely different from insisting with certainty that god doesn’t exist. Further, by weighing the arguments for gods existence (usually the cosmological argument – which I try to refute here), and the teleological (from design/fine tuning) argument (which has been masterfully refuted by Victor Stenger – though I’d argue that an infinite and unrestricted god could create life for any possible universe, and so the ‘fine tuning’ is rendered unnecessary), and the moral dimension (which you predictably brought up with regards Hitler, and which I wrote on here) I come to the conclusion that I am 99.999% sure that god doesn’t exist. And since you asked for “proof or evidence“, I thought I’d provide what I’d consider evidence that god doesn’t exist.

Secondly, since all the arguments for the existence of god seem to be philosophical in nature, the refutations must be philosophical (when you provide material evidence, we can then scrutinise and attempt to refute it in the way we do with everything else). And from a philosophical point of reference – whilst based on what we know of the observable universe – the idea of a god seems to me to be entirely self defeating. Prof. Hawking notes:

“Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang.”

– With that in mind, let’s examine the implications. If time began at the big bang, by implication everything that exists – since existence requires time (unless you have evidence to the contrary?) – has therefore always existed. There was never a moment when ‘nothing’ could exist. There was never a ‘before’ the big bang, given that ‘before’ denotes a measurement of time, and is entirely reliant on time existing. Also reliant on time, is cause. Since the cosmological argument argues that everything that begins to exist has a creator, we must be consistent and accept that everything that begins to exist, was created in time and space. If god therefore created time and space, He would have required time and space in order to create time and space. We are left with three options; 1) Accepting the absurdity of that. 2) Asserting that god exists in another realm of space and time, that he used to create this realm of space and time. Or 3) Causation does not require space and time at all. If we take option 1, well, you’re close to owing me $100,000. If we take option 2, then you need to provide evidence for a time outside of time, it’s characteristics, and whether or not that realm of time preceded god, which then becomes an endless chain of realms of time, before you give up and accept that what we know of time appears to render god obsolete. Or we could take option 3, which is to say, we require abandoning everything we know of space and time, and starting from scratch, which would only eventually lead us back to where we are now.

Thirdly, there is nothing in nature that requires divine intervention in order to exist. Life itself, did not require the hand of a creator. The entire basis of modern medicine, of modern biology, zoology, genetics, botany, is based on evolution by natural selection (note, this is different from the social Darwinist example you raise when you ask “how is Hitler not the fittest?”). If you seek to suggest that the beautiful tapestry of nature came about not by natural selection, but by divine magic, I await your thesis disproving the basis for all modern biology, zoology, medicine, genetics and botany and replacing with a theistic model. Good luck with that. Whilst it’s true that the biochemical study of the origins of life are yet to fully understand how life sprang into existence, there is no reason to place god in the gap. Indeed, the god-in-the-gap answer has a terrible track record of being wrong on every occasion, and so there’s little reason to suspect it is true on this occasion. By contrast, the scientific method has a pretty great track record.

Fourthly, a quick mention of your suggestion that the knowledge that murder is wrong – and moral principles – came from a divine source. You are right that our ability to deduce right from wrong is an in-built concept (though devout religious folk over the centuries appear to be the exception, as they murdered their way across the globe). But a lack of divine moral structure, does not imply that all moral conclusions must therefore be equal, dismissed as equal opinions. Our understanding of right and wrong is the result of a complex set of ideas. Murder contradicts our evolved ability to empathise with others, whilst posing a direct threat to our survival as a species if accepted universally. We rationalise, and we empathise, and we come to conclusions based on what we understand at that point in time. Sometimes we get it wrong, but we progress. Empathy is an evolved trait from the earliest days of mammal life. From taking care of young, to group living in order to survive, empathy was required for species survival. This isn’t a guess. neurologists invest vast time, and effort into understanding the evolution of empathy. We empathise; that is to say, we imagine ourselves in the position of the other. As we expanded, grew together, asked questions, created art, philosophised, our social needs evolved with them, and morality became very complex. Is that a basis itself for objective moral standards? Perhaps, though not in the form crafted by the religious, of an outside standard that transcends humanity. It is as much a part of our nature, as breathing. It is not separate from humanity. If indeed morality were a set of distinct rules, separate from humanity, existing prior to humanity, set out by a God, it would make sense – if God is to be considered ‘good’ – for those rules to be succinct and lacking ambiguity when handed to humanity. For those rules to be ambiguous, requiring 200,000 years of human suffering and violence to attempt to work out – which God would have known, given that he can see all of time and space – implies a vastly immoral game by the divine rule giver.

Lastly, I think a far better explanation for the origins of the concept of god stem from our evolved sense of curiosity and language to convey that curiosity through art, stories, music etc. At the primitive age of our species, a time in which rainbows were inexplicable and an earthquake was a sure sign that a small tribe had angered god, we had no explanations based in observable science. But we do have wonderful imaginations, a desire to understand, and we appeal to forces beyond our understanding, because we’re influenced by mystery. At a time when tribes across the World wished to explain the origins of their community, we see wonderful stories of Romulus of Rome, we see P’an Ku’s egg in China, we see the Lakota tell the tale of Ite, and we see the people in around Judea tell the story of Adam & Eve. We are a beautifully imaginative species, but when we apply the scientific method based on observed and repeated evidence, instead of coming closer to proving god, we shrink the space in which he resides, whilst at the same time sending Voyager 1 to the very limits of the solar system and beyond, and creating the internet for you to issue challenges. The scientific method works, and it hasn’t led to god. That is why I am atheist.

Sincerely,

Futile Democracy.


God’s tapestry & the problem of foresight.

September 2, 2014

There was a moment during a debate between Dr William Lane Craig & Christopher Hitchens, in which Hitchens points out that to believe in the Christian narrative, one would have to believe that for 200,000 years of human existence, through the awful conditions that our fragile species barely survived within, through the disease and violence, through it all, heaven didn’t particularly care. 198,000 years later, heaven decided it was now time to intervene, by having a 1st century Palestinian Jew tortured to death somewhere in the Middle East. Laurence Krauss used a similar argument in his debate with Dr Craig also.

Craig countered and insisted that it wasn’t the timing that was important, but population, in that only 2% of the overall population of mankind existed prior to Christ and that Christ appeared to have arrived at a time prior to a population boom. Dr Craig referred to this as God choosing “an opportune moment” to send Jesus, right before massive population growth. Leaving aside God’s lack of concern for the poor 2%, and the fact that an all-powerful God could have created a population boom whenever He pleased rendering the “opportune moment” suggestion meaningless, I think it important to note the consequences of that “opportune moment” chosen to intervene, and its implications for the premise of the Christian God.

For, not only would you need to believe that for 198,000 years heaven peered on with indifference, but you’d also have to believe that either God did not foresee the future consequences of choosing that moment and that specific region to send Christ to ‘save’ mankind and the suffering that it would entail, or He did foresee it, and was absolutely fine with it; the problem of foresight.

All religious narratives suffer a form of contradiction every so often, whether that be contradiction within texts themselves, or the text contradicting the premise of the God on offer. In this case – the problem of foresight – it is the latter that we’re focusing on, because the premise of an all-knowing God implies eternal foresight, whilst the historical consequences of what Christian’s believe to be God’s actions, imply a God unaware of how this plan was going to turn out, or simply an uncaring God (contradicting the concept of an all-loving God).

For Christianity, time – God’s creation – is laid out in front of Him like a tapestry that He wove. Before the events of Genesis 1, He already knew, because He created as a timeless absolute, the consequences of the actions of all mankind at all times, from the hugely consequential decision to convert the Roman Empire to the faith, right through to an individual’s private sex life in the 21st Century. He sees it all and crucially, He can intervene whenever He chooses. And yet it seems unfathomable that such a power would be so oblivious – or simply uncaring – to the consequences of the manner in which His followers would convey the Christian message over the centuries. Indeed, He necessarily knew the consequences, and again sat back with indifference for the next 2000 years.

Whilst not wishing to document every instance of Christian-led persecution over the past 2000 years, it is perhaps worth noting a few, in order to highlight the contradiction and the problem of foresight.

It must be the case, that an all-knowing God knew that the brutality by which Christian Emperors of Rome – like Constantius and his persecution of Pagans – would aid the growth and power of Christian dogma into a disastrous dark age and the suppression of all things ‘heretical’ – including extensive book burning – for at least the next thousand years. He could have encouraged free inquiry in medicine, democratic accountability in political affairs, astronomy, human liberty, and all over forms of inquiry that simultaneously shrink the gaps by which God traditionally resides, whilst elevating the suffering of mankind. With few exceptions, the opposite occurred. Along with the centuries-long justification of tyrannical Christian power under the guise of “divine right”, and knowing as He would have if He were all-knowing, among other edicts of suppression, that the Emperor Jovian would order the burning of the library at Antioch, through to the child abuse scandal of the modern day Catholic Church.

It must be the case, that an all-knowing God knew that a great deal of Europe’s human beings – like Thomas Moore – and their families would suffer the indignity of religious-inspired state murder; the unimaginable physical and psychological pain that comes with confinement and executed for such nuanced differences as whether or not the King or the Pope had supreme control of the Church. His own devout followers, who offered nothing but devotion and love, He knew would be subject to the most cruel punishments for simple disagreements. An all-knowing God would necessarily have seen this in great detail, long before the “In the beginning…” of Genesis 1.

It must be the case, that an all-knowing God before events described in Genesis 1, knew the tragedy that would beset Native tribes in the Americas when the sincerely believed Christian message was forcefully imposed. Indeed, He knew far greater the reason for that pain and tragedy than the Friar’s involved, yet started the ball rolling down that inevitable path by sending Christ, and very mixed messages in the Holy Book that followed. Ken Burns documentary ‘The West’ notes one 18th Century Friar during the missionary period firmly believing his life’s work must be to save Natives from damnation, confused as to its clear failure, saying:

“They live well free, but as soon as we reduce them to a Christian and community life… they fatten, sicken and die.”

– The Friar could not understand how a Godly message of what he considered to be saving grace, was having such an adverse affect on the Native population. God however, does not get the luxury of such an excuse.

It must be the case that an all-knowing God knew that Jerusalem would be a Holy centre for three major faiths, and consequently, the centre of such a violent dispute. He set humanity up for that inevitable conflict. The Gods of Islam and Judaism don’t escape this criticism either.

And most notably, it must be the case that an all-knowing God knew that 1700+ years later, a movement to prevent further Christian state brutality, and to free human ingenuity and autonomy required the disestablishing of Christian authority over the public realm.

The birth of Jesus was a moment that would change the course of history for humanity… though not for God, who knew how it all would pan out anyway. It is on that second point that it is not viable to suggest He provided that divine message, and that from that moment on, it was up to humanity to live according to it. It is not viable, because with the tapestry of time laid out in front of Him, He could see the minute-by-minute detail of exactly how His message would be used, and He chose to go with that course anyway; in fact, He created that course and intrinsically stitched humanity to it. Indeed, to suggest God is all-knowing, is to suggest humanity has no choice but to follow the path God is already aware that he/she will follow. The only possible way to deflect from that path, is to be more powerful than God, which again, contradicts the premise of the all-powerful Christian God.

And so we’re left with three possibilities; 1) God knew exactly how the course of human history would be affected by the onset of Christianity, and not simply allowed, but forced through His unbreakable tapestry, centuries of violent oppression – including the suppression of scientific endeavor – to take place for the sake of a grand scheme that He refuses to reveal. This is appealing because it allows for the all-knowing God, yet leaves a lot to be desired for the notion of an all-loving God, seeming as it does to imply that God is playing a cruel game with human beings who have no choice. 2) God is restricted by time, cannot see the long stretching consequences of His actions, which implies He is not all-knowing, nor all-powerful and if we look back over the course of history of the religion, reads like a series of bad decisions by the divine. Or 3) There is no God, and the flawed species of humanity is responsible for its own shortcomings. Because the problem of foresight as summarised in points 1 and 2 necessarily contradict the Christian premise of an all-loving, all-knowing God, I am further led to conclude that point 3 is the more likely.


The fallacy of religious ‘objective morality’.

August 29, 2014

All atheists have come up against it at some point in their lives. Along with ‘so you think everything came from nothing?’, it is the main weapon in the ever shrinking theist arsenal. I’m talking of course, about the obsession with ‘objective’ morality and the absurdity that follows; ‘How can you condemn Hitler? By what standard?’ At first glance, it sounds like a philosophical conundrum that we may find troubling to deal with. But scratch the surface, and it really isn’t that difficult to respond to, without even having to begin to quote vastly immoral passages from those books.

There are several key problems, but the one I wanted to focus on is the misguided belief that religion provides a desirable objective moral standard. It is simply untrue that a moral
Statement magically transforms from ‘subjective’ to ‘objective’ by preceding it with a simple “my God says….”. I thought I’d highlight where I see the problems:

Firstly, to insist on an ‘objective’ moral base sent straight from heaven to humanity – the very base upon which a ‘subjective’ moral conclusion becomes ‘objective’ – one must conclusively prove the existence of your particular God. This means not simply convincing yourself of the existence of God, but convincing the rest of us also. Otherwise, the word ‘objective’ seems very familiar to the word ‘subjective’ and any moral judgement can be declared ‘objective’ if it is preceded with the phrase “My God said…“. We often hear from the religious the rather manipulative dichotomy presented as ‘Man’s law, or God’s law‘. Without first proving the existence of your God, what that dichotomy actually breaks down to, is 21st century Man’s law, or 1st/7th century Man’s law. If you cannot conclusively prove the existence of your God (this requires first proving the existence of a creator, followed by proof that the creator is all ‘good’ rather than all ‘evil’, followed by the leap from creator to your specific God) – through more than simple philosophical guesswork – the case for ‘objective morality’ or ‘God’s law’ falls before it’s even begun.

Secondly, both the Bible and Qur’an are subject to a myriad of interpretations and continual revisions depending on the context of the time and place, and the individual believer. Sit a liberal, secular Christian in a room with the Westboro Baptist Church, and the differences between them will be an ocean the size of the Pacific. Indeed, we see members of ISIS differing intensely in interpreting Islam’s ‘objective moral base’ from that of their immediate family members. If members of the same faith, in the same household, cannot agree on the meaning of countless ambiguous passages, nor can scholars over the course of time agree, constantly revising its meanings to fit a more modern narrative, it doesn’t get the luxury of being referred to as an ‘objective base’ for morality. If a divine being sent down obscure passages that believers in the same house hold cannot agree on, I’m afraid that reflects terribly on God’s ability to convey his message.

Thirdly, our nature is often – not always – in direct conflict with the idea of objective moral standards. Religion did not inform us that senseless murder is wrong (often, religion permits murder). We know this intuitively, and we punish murder, because murder contradicts our evolved ability to empathise with others, whilst posing a direct threat to our survival as a species if accepted universally. We empathise; that is to say, we imagine ourselves in the position of the other. Is that a basis itself for objective moral standards? Perhaps, though not in the form crafted by the religious, of an outside standard that transcends humanity. It is as much a part of our nature, as breathing. It is not separate from humanity. If indeed morality were a set of distinct rules, separate from humanity, existing prior to humanity, set out by a God, it would make sense – if God is to be considered ‘good’ – for those rules to be succinct and lacking ambiguity when handed to humanity. For those rules to be ambiguous, requiring 200,000 years of human suffering and violence to attempt to work out, implies a vastly immoral game by the divine rule giver.

It is then essential to note that humanity is not perfect. We are a wonderful yet very flawed species, and that reflects on our collective ideals over time, as we learn and grow. Morality is informed by complex interactions, including but my no means limited to our collective knowledge, our history, our mistakes, our experiences, and our evolved human intelligence – this essentially includes empathy and the ability to rationalise – at any given time. We are a complex species with deep flaws. Morality does not escape that. It evolved from our basic need to cooperate in order to survive the harshest of conditions, and grew as we grew. It is a natural condition in which without it, humanity would not have survived. Indeed, morality is essential for the survival of our species, yet not confined to our species. We see through the research of primatologists like Frans de Waal that our ape cousins show basic forms of moral reasoning; cooperation, conflict resolution etc. Morality is natural, and ever evolving. As with most natural occurrences – sexuality, gender, spirituality – religions tend to try to grab hold of nature, as if they own it, and shape it to fit the dictates of the faith, which in turn has the most awful consequences for those ‘outside’ of its narrow spectrum of what is to be considered God’s plan. In the case of morality, chaining moral progress by attempting to anchor moral ideals to tribal squabbles of 1st Century Palestine or 7th Century Arabia, and the obscurity of the passages that emerged as a result of those squabbles, is a distortion of nature, an attempt to reshape our nature, and by extension will without exception always end in oppression, because it cannot abide the nature of updated knowledge that contradicts 1st or 7th century far less informed dictates. From lands that were very patriarchal and very heterosexual dominated, it should come as no surprise that heterosexual males are the ones who coincidentally, God seems to offer the most privileges and power.

Further, there is a bizarre suggestion from the faithful, that no divine objective set of moral standards implies all moral conclusions are to be considered equal. For me, this isn’t true. One moral conclusion may be based on the available evidence and data, applied on a framework of our natural inclinations encompassing empathy among others, whilst the opposing moral conclusion may lack all evidence basing itself on mere belief, dismissing all contrary consideration. The two are not to be considered of equal weight. This is why I object to the reductive terms “objective” and “subjective” when speaking of morality. I don’t accept either.

So, we have noted that what the religious refer to as ‘objective’ requires as a bare minimum the conclusive proof of the existence of their particular God to begin its journey to actual objectivity; that what they tend to call ‘objective’ right now is simply their own subjective interpretation of ambiguous passages; and that anchoring morality to the moral ideals of a specific time and place is both unnatural, and by definition oppressive. So when theists insist that you as an atheist do not have an objective moral base distinct from humanity itself, by which to make moral judgements, the simple answer is; neither do you.


Mo Ansar ‘offends’ me.

January 18, 2014

Quilliam Founder Maajid Nawaz took an unfathomably brave step yesterday when, as a Muslim, he posted a cartoon on Twitter of the Prophet Muhammad (The fact that this can be described as a brave step, is deeply troubling in itself). Predictably, the cartoon sparked a storm of feigned outrage (self-pity, as the rest of us call it) across social media. Immediately threats were sent, and anger registered. The sort of anger that Christians registered at the opening of “The Life of Brian” for much the same reasons; they don’t like what they consider to be “blasphemy” and that we should all play by their rules (whilst they themselves wish the freedom to criticise and mock ‘the West’, democracy, homosexuality, and anything else they relentlessly disapprove of).

It is important to note that it is not my place to tell you what is and isn’t offensive to you. If you find a cartoon of Muhammad offensive, then I have no place to tell you that you shouldn’t. You are entitled to be offended by anything that, well, offends you. It would be wrong of me to claim otherwise. You’re also entitled to complain. No one wishes to take that right away from you (except, perhaps, Islamists and a few Nationalists… both of whom have a lot more in common than they realise) However, this is just as true for you, as it is for me. For example, I am offended by almost every chapter of the Qur’an opening with a vivid description of how as a non-believer, I deserve eternal torture, for simply not believing. For example, chapter 3 gives us this lovely little tale:

“As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”

– It offends me that billions of people believe this violent horror story, and consider me therefore inferior, deserving only punishment for the terrible crime of saying “I’m not sure I believe this“. This offends me. But I don’t call up the BBC every time they drag Mo Ansar on as a ‘moderate’ face of Islam in Britain, to complain that he’s showing support for a book that openly offends billions of people with threats of severe punishment. I have the right to complain and hope for him to be disciplined for that. But I don’t. Because I’m a grown up.

Equally, I am offended by ‘moderate’ Muslims like Mehdi Hasan insisting that we non-Muslims are unthinking, and that we live like animals:

“The kuffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God.”

“We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”

– This offends me. Hasan doesn’t know me. He’s never spoken to me. And here he is summarising an entire group of people (not our beliefs or ideas… but we as people, as human beings) as living like animals. But I do not then write to the New Statesman to complain in the hope that Mehdi Hasan will be sacked, or disciplined. I don’t do this, because I’m a grown up.

Mo Ansar – a grown up – had such a tantrum over the posting of a cartoon by Maajid Nawaz yesterday (as did Mohammed Shafiq), that he tweeted the Lib Dem complaint form (Nawaz is a Lib Dem candidate) for others to fill out and complain… about a cartoon. This is a very passive aggressive way to silence people, and I find it offensive. A very sort of Daily Mail reader response to something they dislike. A lot of Islamists took to twitter to outright threaten Nawaz. Ansar’s method was similar though far more passive aggressive; threaten to report people to their superiors, in the hope they’ll be disciplined and shut up in future, by threatening their career simply because Mo doesn’t like blasphemy:

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It is therefore easy to play Mo at his own game, and to turn this around and aim his own hideous anti-secular logic back at him. For example, I am offended by Mo’s underhanded suggestion that we non-believers are uncharitable. Why post this? For what purpose was he serving? This seems nothing more than a “get one up on the Atheists” game he’s playing. It’s offensive. But I didn’t report him… because again, I’m a grown up.

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– Mo Ansar, who I consider to be a religious supremacist, doesn’t take kindly to those challenging religious supremacy. With that in mind, I am offended by Mo Ansar showing his support for the protests in Bangladesh that called for the hanging of Atheist bloggers:

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– ‘Protesting blasphemy’. No, they were calling for blasphemy laws, and the punishment of those who “offend” Islam. The bloggers; Asif Mohiuddin, Subrata Adhikary Shuvo, and Russell Parvez, had their lives threatened, with chants of “Hang the atheists”. I cannot imagine Mo would be so quick to defend EDL supporters if the chants were “Hang the Muslims!” and those same protesters demanding all those who happen to be Muslim, be punished by new anti-Muslim laws. It is often the case with religious supremacists – as with all supremacists – that they tend to be very hypocritical. Indeed, supremacy is hypocrisy.

Atheists bloggers in Bangladesh had already been murdered for blaspheming. This is the reality of religious fascism and what Mo chooses to ignore – or in this case, gloss over – in his war on secularism. Hefazat-e-Islami is the group that took a large role in the Bangladesh protests. Their demands included:

  • “…abolishment of all laws which are in conflict with the values of the Quran and Sunnah.”
  • “…death penalty as the highest form of punishment to prevent defamation of Allah, Muhammad (S.A.W).”
  • “…Immediate end to the negative propaganda by all atheist bloggers.”

  • – For Mo Ansar, the media referring to – what he calls “Orthodox Muslims” – as “Islamists” is nothing more than media propaganda. It’s a predictable response from Mo. In the same way that the EDL claim the media always pick on them, when they’re smashing up shops. The protest in Bangladesh was not a peaceful protest, nor did it have any peaceful motives. It was a violent fascist movement demanding the establishment of an Islamic state full of oppression for those who don’t fit its narrow spectrum of what is decent and correct. Mo Ansar defending these people and completely ignoring their totalitarian demands, offends me. But I haven’t clicked the “report” button on twitter. Because I’m a grown-up.

    I am offended that Mo Ansar see’s fit to not only defend ritualistic genital mutilation, but summarises anyone who might take issue with the chopping up of a child’s genitalia, as a “militant secularist”:

    mo8

    I am offended that one cannot post a cartoon on a social media channel without receiving death threats from self-pitying, religious supremacist thugs, desirous of a World run according to their dictates, in a secular country. This offends me.

    It offends me to know that both Mo Ansar and Mohammed Shafiq are intelligent enough to understand that their feigned-public outrage would both fuel and lend credibility to a threatening and violent backlash, and yet they did it anyway. This is utterly grotesque of two grown men.

    I am offended that Mo Ansar openly supported gender segregation in secular institutions:

    ansar (1)
    – Contrary to what Ansar seems to be suggesting, UCL did not tell Muslim women that they MUST sit next to men. There was no “dictating” to Muslims at all. It was Muslims attempting to dictate to everyone else, and then complaining when people weren’t going to stand for that nonsense. UCL simply have a free seating policy. Sit where ever you wish. They do not base seating, or any other policy, on religious demands. There is no infringement of any right going on here. if UCL were forcibly telling Muslim women that they must sit next to a man, that they have no choice, then yes, rights would be abused. That wasn’t the case. Ansar is manipulating the situation, to appeal to the victim mentality espoused by the faithful when they don’t get to force their principles upon the rest of us, and that offends me.

    I am offended that my gay friends are called ‘unnatural’ and ‘haraam’ by Muslims who know nothing of nature, and seem to believe that if bigotry is cloaked in the word ‘faith’, it is acceptable and must be respected. Mohammed Shafiq – a Lib Dem – was another yesterday who had a tantrum over the cartoon and announced his intention to complain to the Lib Dems. The same Shafiq who would withhold the right for two people in love to marry, based entirely on his own personal belief:

    shafiq2
    – “Protect religions”… as if religions have been the victims of persecution by the gay community over the centuries. I think Shafiq is a little confused here. Shafiq is not a liberal by any stretch of the imagination. Shafiq and Ansar have far more in common with the right wing, than they’d ever care to admit.

    In fact, I am offended that Shafiq calls himself liberal. It is insulting to the traditions, the ideals and the great philosophical minds that have defined liberalism, that a homophobic religious supremacist has the nerve to place himself in the liberal camp. This offends me.

    Nothing happens when you’re offended. You’re just offended. That’s it. It makes you say “I’m offended”. You might argue your case, and you have a right to do that, and that is in most cases, a sensible reaction (you may also wish to just ignore it and walk away, also a sensible option). It provokes debate and it encourages others to understand and perhaps challenge their own thought processes or ideas. Encouraging discussion is good. That is how grown-ups deal with being offended. Mo on the other hand, has decided that if you say something he doesn’t like, about his own beliefs, he will try to have you punished for it. So stay quiet. Or else.

    Secondly, much of what we deem to be a feeling of “offense” tends not to last very long. Whilst yesterday Mo was outraged and offended by a cartoon being posted, it seemed to have passed by this morning:

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    – To put this into perspective, Mo posted a link to the Lib Dem complaint page, in order to have Maajid Nawaz disciplined for blasphemy; an ‘offence’ so terrible, that it hurt Mo’s feelings for about an hour. Islamic superiority complex hidden behind the very typical victim mentality, nothing more.

    To reiterate; Mo Ansar suggested others complain to the Liberal Democrats, about blasphemy. He wants a political party in the UK – with the name ‘Liberal’ in their title – to punish what he considers to be blasphemy. In the 21st Century. It isn’t the right to challenge or the right to complain that I have an issue with. Both of those are essential in a secular democracy. It is the vacuous mentality that drives people like Mo Ansar to complain like a child, in the hope of silencing others, disempowering others, for the sake of the perpetuation of the supremacy of their belief that both irritates me as someone who values secularism, and, as it turns out, offends me.

    It offends me that Mo Ansar then retweeted this ridiculous comment by George Galloway:

    mo7
    – Predictable child-like Galloway response “we’re not going to love you again ever ever ever ner ner!” It is perhaps prudent at this point to remember that in 2009, Galloway delivered this address in Gaza:

    “I, now, here, on behalf of myself, my sister Yvonne Ridley, and the two Respect councillors – Muhammad Ishtiaq and Naim Khan – are giving three cars and 25,000 pounds in cash to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Here is the money. This is not charity. This is politics.”

    – £25,000 in cash to Ismail Haniyah. The same Ismail Haniyah who referred to Osama Bin Laden as a ‘Muslim warrior’ whose soul ‘rests in peace’. Haniyah is also imperialistic, believing the entire region Islamic by divine right. He believes that peace with Israel can only come about, if they agree to give up Jerusalem, for no other reason, than being under the delusion that his particular fairy-sky man divinely ordained it for Muslims. Another key member of Hamas, Dr. Mahmoud Zahar described gay people as being:

    “…a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”

    I am offended that Mo Ansar would show his solidarity with anyone who openly supported and funded such a hideously fascist and oppressive regime.

    Ansar then complained that secular progressives are focusing too much on trying to ‘reform’ Islam. Here, Mo is very wrong again. Secularists – like myself – believe all beliefs and ideas should be treated equally. This is healthy. To deviate from this, is to advocate supremacy. This is unhealthy. Mo’s very anti-secular attempts to silence Nawaz by encouraging reporting him, proves the point Nawaz was originally making; that reform is necessary. And secondly, if you do not wish to see your faith reach a point where it is considered universally unacceptable to demand punishment for blasphemy (aggressively or passive aggressively… and including all ideas, such as holding negative opinions about ‘the west’), nor to reach a point that your faith is not considered supreme and inherently deserving of a special dispensation from the rules that allow us to criticise and mock all other concepts and ideas – be they religious or political – and indeed, you help to perpetuate that state of affairs with feigned outrage over cartoons, then you’re going to have to deal with the rest of us challenging that regressive and sinister position, by posting cartoons perhaps. We disagree with just how important you think your religious beliefs are for the rest of us. You will have to cope with that. Because you’re a grown-up.

    I am quite certain that it isn’t those of us who happily critique, satirise, or mock Islam that fuel anti-muslim hate and anger. We treat Islam no differently than we treat all authoritarian ideas. We advocate a line of equality by which no concept is permitted to rise above. We believe it is so incredibly vital and necessary that all ideas – especially authoritarian ideas – be open to all forms of criticism and that the critic be free from threat. This is how you combat extremism that arises when ideas – like Islam – become so far removed from the treatment all other ideas are open to. It is therefore those like Ansar, who wish to form a protective layer around Islam as a concept, free from mocking, free from blasphemy, free from critique or attempts at reform, free from satire, whose actions and words work only to make a taboo out of Islam, which in turn creates an atmosphere of suspicion and disunity across the country. To shut off criticism perverts the idea, it makes it appear superior to its adherents who react sensitively whenever that superiority is challenged, and it creates an air of suspicion, with those overly defensive and suspicious few – with groups like the EDL – tending to react with putrid anti-muslim rhetoric and violence. It is therefore essential for the health of humanity, that all authoritarian ideas be as open as possible to mocking, criticism, and satire – this includes my own ideas. This is the goal we must progress. To react passive aggressively when just one idea is challenged, – and yet remain silent when satire or mockery or criticism of other ideas (say, ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical or ‘The Life of Brian’) are challenged – and to attempt to silence the challenges to that one idea, is vastly sinister, and dangerous, and offensive. It is this that perpetuates the idea that Islam is somehow different, and that is so incredibly dangerous for so many reasons. This is what Ansar is perpetuating. For that alone, Mo Ansar ‘offends’ me. But I’m not going to encourage complaining about him to the BBC in the hope that they might discipline him… because I’m a grown-up.


    Dr Naik and the muddled Islamic story of creation.

    January 13, 2014

    Wikimedia Commons. Author: Ashfaq403

    Wikimedia Commons.
    Author: Ashfaq403

    It is often the case that believers of Islam go to great lengths to thoroughly manipulate the words of their text to fit a modern narrative. Words are suddenly interpreted entirely differently to however they were interpreted for centuries previously, the moment a new scientific discovery is made, in order to make the Qur’an fit that new understanding. The historical context is abandoned. It is the religious equivalent of painting a 21st outfit onto Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, and then claiming it was like that all along. Dr Zakir Naik is an expert in this most curious and disingenuous form of manipulating the words of the Qur’an to mean something that they clearly don’t. In this article, I will look at Dr Naik’s claim that the Qur’an’s description of the creation of the universe perfectly corresponds to modern scientific understanding.

    The softly spoken, suited Dr Naik is loved by many Muslim apologists. For the rest of us, he’s a bit of a mad Televangelist who thinks 9/11 was orchestrated by President Bush, believes apostates who ‘speak out’ against Islam should be put to death, and that evolution was originally a conspiracy against the Church, and is now “only a hypothesis”. Ridiculous. He is essentially the Jerry Falwell of Islam. Nevertheless, he is taken seriously by a large number of Muslims, and so I thought I’d focus on him today.

    For reference, I am using the English translation of the Qur’an by M.A.S Abdel Haleem. Haleem was born in Egypt, he learnt the Qur’an off by heart at a young age, and he is now Professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. His translation, according to ‘Muslim News’ is:

    “One of the best to have appeared in recent times.”

    Similarly, suhaibweb.com calls the translation:

    “…one of the most genuine and refreshing translations in contemporary times.”

    – I trust this translation. It sits on my shelf, and I use it for most articles I write on Islam.

    Onto the topic. Here is Dr Naik trying so very hard to suggest that the Qur’an mentions the theory of the big bang.

    Let’s examine the verses of the Qur’an mentioned here by Dr Zaik:
    Chapter 21 Verse 30:

    “Are disbelievers not aware that the heavens and the earth used to be joined together and that We ripped them apart…

    – No. Disbelievers are not aware of this, because this isn’t reality. The verse is quite clear. The heavens and the Earth – not the raw material that eventually forms planets, but the Earth itself – were joined. This creation idea is not unique to Islam. It is worth noting that the idea of the pulling apart of the Earth and the sky at the moment of creation, is known itself as the ‘World parent’ myth of creation. It is a common myth. The sky is usually depicted as the male, and the Earth as the female in these myths, with both existing tightly packed together before splitting apart in primordial state of being. The Egyptian deity Shu split the Earth from the skies, for example. The Qur’an mixes elements of the World parent myth, with elements of an ex nihilo variety of myth creation, with Allah bringing the Earth and sky into existence with speech, by forcing them apart. This also, is common. It is important therefore to note that the Qur’an follows earlier creation myth building perfectly, and offers nothing new or impressive. This does not in any way relate to modern cosmology, because it is entirely related to earlier myth creation, which itself was a way to try to explain our origins at a time in our magnificent history, when our species had absolutely no idea what was going on.

    The Qur’anic verse above implies that space and the Earth were ripped apart at the same moment. We of course know that the big bang happened around 13.7 billion years ago. The Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago. The atoms that eventually became the Earth spent 9 billion years as other forms of matter. For most of the history of the universe, the matter that formed the Earth, was not, and will not be the Earth. The explosion of a star around 5 billion years ago, its remnants colliding with a gas cloud, that eventually formed our solar system. The heat from the supernova helped to form clusters of matter that eventually created enough gravitational pull to form the sun, which naturally became inconceivably dense and violently hot that it pulled surrounding objects into its orbit. Those surrounding objects eventually lumped together to form the Earth and other planets and moons. The matter that makes the Earth, will eventually create another form of matter, when the planet and the sun and solar system die out. The Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. It was not once joined to the ‘heavens’ in the way the Qur’an implies.

    A plethora of Islamic apologists – including Adnan Oktar – seem to suggest that the Qur’an actually means “matter” and not “the Earth” with verses like that of the one above. But that’s not what the words actually say. This represents one of those moments where Muslims insist every word of the Qur’an is exactly as it was revealed to Muhammad… until they decide it needs changing.

    It is also worth pointing out that the materials required to create the Earth were created long after the big bang. For example, stable hydrogen atoms required the cooling of the universe over hundreds of thousands of years before it began to form. This of course, isn’t present in the Qur’an. Just “We ripped them apart”.

    Also not present in the Qur’an; the infinitesimal singularity, there is no mention of matter, of atoms, of how planets form, of how gravity warps spacetime, no mention of the cooling period of the early universe and the creation of stable hydrogen atoms, no densely packed inconceivably hot energy in the early state of the universe, no quantum physics, no mention of the importance of the core of a star, no mention of how galaxies form, or of energy. There is no mention of these key aspects of the beginning of the universe because those who wrote the Qur’an were unaware of it all, relying instead on earlier myths. Had this been a ‘revelation’ from the divine, and given that the Qur’an goes out of its way to care enough to mention creation, I would have expected far more information, and a leap forward for scientific endeavour, rather than regurgitating legends of old. Instead we’re treated to cryptic nothingness that wouldn’t have been considered ‘advanced’ scientific knowledge, had it been ‘revealed’ 500 years earlier.

    Further, the verse suggests that the Earth is now separate from the sky, and that separation occurred at the moment they were “ripped apart”. Whilst this is in keeping with World parent myth creation, in reality it doesn’t resemble truth at all. There is no separate “sky” and “Earth”, they are both part of the same system, with the Earth forming around 9 billion years after the initial expansion at the big bang. There was simply an expansion. There was no ‘before’ the big bang in which the Earth and the sky were in a different state of being, unless you accept the primitive creation myths in which a primordial state of being existed whereby the Earth and sky were joined. None of this is mentioned in the Qur’an, just a simplistic “We ripped them apart”. Let’s stop pretending this is credible, or scientific, or representing some sort of advanced knowledge. It isn’t. It is a simple, and primitive creation myth.

    Chapter 41, Verse 11 (a chapter that tenderly takes a brief time out – a couple of sentences – from describing the painful eternal torture awaiting us non-believers, to discuss ‘creation’, before launching into more violent descriptions of our imminent punishment):

    “Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke – He said to it and the Earth, ‘come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said, ‘we come willingly…”

    – Again it is worth noting that the use of God’s voice to bring into being everything, is not new. Everything springs from a creator after a thought, or words, or breath. Secondly, the mention of ‘smoke’ is not a new idea, having been propagated by the Greeks centuries earlier, as a potential state prior to the creation of the Earth. Aristotle, for example says To rest the entire idea of the Qur’an mentioning the state of the early universe on ‘which was smoke’ shows just how incredibly weak the claim is. There was no smoke at the conception of the universe. In fact, the early state of the universe cannot be said to resemble smoke – defined as ‘a visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air, typically one emitted from a burning substance’ – in any form. Carbon itself would not exist for a few million years. Stable hydrogen atoms also took a very long time to form. The early universe was a very dense, incredibly hot, lightless mass of energy. Not smoke. Nothing like smoke. Again, it takes very creative language manipulation to try to claim the word ‘smoke’ can be used to describe the early universe. It just can’t.

    Much like the previous quoted verse, this verse suggests that the Earth and sky came into being at the same time, at the moment in which they were “ripped apart”, and again, this is wrong. Indeed, not only does Chapter 41, Verse 11 of the Qur’an absolutely contradict our understanding of the cosmos and the formation of the universe and Earth, but also, lazily, contradicts itself over the previous two verses. The preceding verses of Chapter 41, from verse 9-10 state:

    “[9]Say ‘how can you disregard the One who created the Earth in two days? How can you set up other gods as His equals? He is the Lord of all Worlds! [10]He places solid mountains on it, blessed it, measured out its varied provisions for all who seek them – all in four days.[11]Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke – He said to it and the Earth, ‘come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said, ‘we come willingly…”

    – So, from verse 9 and 10 we get creation of the Earth. The inclusion of the word ‘then’ at the beginning of verse 11, implies that God turned His attention to the sky, after already forming the Earth. By verse 11 the Earth has been created with mountains and ‘provisions’. There is no sky at this point, despite the fact that the earlier chapter 21 implies they were created at the exact same moment in which they were “ripped apart”. Provisions and mountains exist, but the sky is just smoke. But then, oddly, God turns to both and demands they come into existence together. Which they do, confirming the earlier chapter, but contradicting the previous verse.

    An earlier myth from Memphis in Egypt tells us that the God Ptah simply thought the World into existence, and gave everything its essence, through his words. As noted earlier, the use of divine speech – important to this Quranic verse – to bring everything into existence is not new. As well as appearing in countless creation myths, it appears in the Torah too: “And God said; ‘let there be light!'”

    So, if we take Chapter 21, Verse 30, along with Chapter 41, Verse 11, as Dr Naik does, we come to the conclusion that the Earth – complete with mountains and ‘provisions’ – was created first, the sky was then created. They were joined. They were then ripped apart. It is very similar to Genesis, with a few tweaks here and there. It corresponds wonderfully to earlier primitive creation myths that speak of the sky and Earth pulled apart at the moment of creation. But it doesn’t correspond in any conceivable way to reality, without a thorough rewording, and creative reinterpretation of what the text actually says. Dr Naik is attempting – unsuccessfully – to rescue a dying and failed ‘science’ from its inevitable demise, by recreating what it actually says. It is a very defensive form of apologetics. I am yet to find any scientific peer reviewed thesis in relation to the origins of the universe and planet formation that references the Qur’anic story. It isn’t difficult to see why.


    The Gnostics & The Qur’an

    December 28, 2013

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    As an Atheist with an interest in all things religious, I often get asked “Why focus on religion so much if you don’t believe it?” It always seemed a rather odd question to me. It is unlikely that one can understand the World we live in, and the social history that produced us, without a fundamental understanding of the overwhelming power that organised faith has had upon the World across the brief history of mankind. Religion has sparked wondrous works of creative genius, and terrible moments of oppressive atrocity. It is woven into the fabric of human history. It is this that fascinates me.

    Subsequently, as a non-believer, I am drawn to the mysteries surrounding Holy texts and from where they sprung. As Atheists, we dismiss the idea that Holy texts are divine in any sense, and so we must seek to provide more plausible explanations for their existence. For me it is impossible to deny that the Qur’an is a fascinating historical document.

    I am quite certain that the Qur’an was written down for the sake of empire. It is an imperial book, and it has control at its core. As noted in a previous article, the earliest Quranic manuscript we have dates back to the reign of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, a ruler who embarked on a massive imperial PR campaign – continued by his son – with the purpose of solidifying his fledgling empire, by linking it back to the founder of the faith. Muhammad’s name starts to appear on coins in 686 – a year after al-Malik’s accession, he oversaw the building of the Dome of the Rock, and it was during his reign, that the state and the new faith become one and the same. The Arabic empire, becomes an Islamic empire.

    But let’s for a moment entertain the idea that the Qur’an came entirely from the mouth of Muhammad over the space of twenty years. It is important to note that we non-believers are quite certain that the Qur’an offers nothing new in terms of explanation or advancement in the sciences, nor anything that couldn’t have been produced without the need for a God. Even in the 7th Century. It then follows that the stories in the Qur’an must have came from elsewhere. Once we have evidence for this, the divinity of the Qur’an becomes entirely unnecessary.

    A couple of stories in particular feature in the Qur’an, that also feature elsewhere, and prior to the Qur’an. The subject of Jesus’ youth was an important issue for early Christianity, and spawned plenty of different tales, mainly due to its omittance from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One later Gnostic story in particular features in Qur’an 3:49:

    “And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of clay the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah’s permission, and I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah’s permission; and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses. Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers.”

    – Similarly, Qur’an 5:10 says:

    “When Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary, remember My favour to thee and to thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit; thou spokest to people in the cradle and in old age, and when I taught thee the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel, and when thou didst determine out of clay a thing like the form of a bird by My permission, then thou didst breathe into it and it became a bird by My permission …. but those of them who disbelieved said: This is nothing but clear enchantment.”

    – The Infancy Gospel of Thomas – a Gnostic text written between between 140ad and 170ad – first referenced by Irenaeus and later by Origen, tells a very similar story:

    “Then he (Jesus) took from the bank of the stream some soft clay and formed out of it twelve sparrows; and there were other boys playing with him.
    But a certain Jew seeing the things which he was doing, namely, his forming clay into the figures of sparrows on the Sabbath day, went presently away and told his father Joseph,
    Behold, your boy is playing by the river side, and has taken clay and formed it into twelve sparrows, and profanes the Sabbath.
    Then Joseph came to the place where he was, and when he saw him, called to him, and said, Why do you that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day?
    Then Jesus clapping together the palms of his hands, called to the sparrows, and said to them: Go, fly away; and while you live remember me.
    So the sparrows fled away, making a noise.
    The Jews seeing this, were astonished and went away and told their chief persons what a strange miracle they had seen wrought by Jesus.”

    – The link is clear. Jesus creates birds out of clay, and miraculously brings them to life, as a sign to non-believers. Of course, it is prudent to note that similarity does not necessarily mean a plagiarised copy. He might have known nothing of these stories, and God revealed them. It was just coincidence that the same stories happened to be invented centuries earlier by Christians in Greece/Syria. We would need evidence that Muhammad had access to these stories, to entirely eliminate the divine explanation. So then, do we have evidence that Muhammad had access to these stories? Well, yes. By way of traditional biographies of the Prophet:

    “[Those who talked to Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, were Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih and Al-Ayham al-Sa`id.] They were Christians according to the faith of the king with differences between them; they say: He is Allah, and say: He is Son of Allah, and say: He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] and these are the claims of Christianity. [They use as evidence for their claim that He is Allah the argument that] he used to raise the dead, cure the sick, create from clay bird-like structure then breathe into it to make it a [living] bird.

    – This is from Ibn Ishaq, who notes that the ‘Family of Imran’ – the third Chapter of the Qur’an – was revealed just after the delegation of Najrān Christians spoke to Muhammad. This delegation included Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, who had been lavished with gifts and money from the Christian Kings. You will note, that the first quote from the Qur’an I used in this article, is from Chapter 3 of the Qur’an. So it would appear that according to Muslim tradition, Muhammad just happened to have a revelation confirming new stories on the early life of Jesus he’d just heard from Christians telling him about the early life of Jesus. If this doesn’t strike you as a little suspicious, not much will.

    Further, the same Sura 3 – revealed after Muhammad meets Christians who have their own Gnostic traditions – mentions a legend of Mary, also prominent in Gnostic texts.
    Quran 3:37:

    “Her Lord graciously accepted her and made her grow in goodness, and entrusted her to the charge of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah went to see her in her sanctuary, he found her supplied with provisions. He said, “Mary how is it you have found these provisions?” and she said, “They are from God: God provides limitlessly for whoever He wills.” ”

    – The Protevangelium of James says:

    “(1) And her parents went down, marveling at and praising and glorifying the Lord God because the child had not turned back to look at them. (2)While Mary was in the temple of the Lord, she was fed like a dove and received food from the hand of an angel. (3) When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, “Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. (4)What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?” (5) And they said to the high priest, “You have stood at the altar of the Lord. Go in and pray about her. And if the Lord God reveals anything to you, we will do it.” (6) And the priest went in taking the vestment with twelve bells into the holy of holies and prayed about her. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before him, saying, “Zachariah, Zachariah, depart from here and gather the widowers of the people and let each one carry a staff. (8) And the one whom the Lord God points out with a sign, she will be his wife.”

    – With variation in editorial detail, the story is the same. Mary lives in a sanctuary, Zachariah is prominent in her life in the sanctuary, and she is given “provisions” from a divine source.

    Another story, this time from The Arabic Infancy Gospel says:

    “He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world.”

    – This story of Jesus speaking, as a baby, from the cradle is echoed in the Qur’an:

    “But she pointed to the babe. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they dispute.”

    – Two things to note here. Firstly, the link between Jesus as a baby in the cradle speaking philosophically about his role, with his mother close. The Arabic Infancy Gospel requires Jesus to echo Christian thought, whilst the Quranic version echoes Islamic thought. Secondly, The Quranic verse seems to note that this is a story not accepted by mainstream Christianity: “…which they dispute“. This suggests that the story most certainly pre-dates the Qur’an, was well known as a dispute within the Church, and given that we Atheists insist that the Qur’an was not divine; it is more evidence that Muhammad had heard or read the Infancy Gospels in some form, and was thoroughly inspired by them.

    So, we know that at least three stories from the Qur’an are reflected in early Gnostic Christian texts, written far removed from the life of Jesus, and that have no credible base in historical reality. We know that Muhammad had dealings with Christians (Khadijah’s cousin ‘Waraqa’ was a devout Christian). We know that Muhammad conversed with gnostic-leaning Christians who believed that Jesus created birds from clay and brought them to life and that Muhammad had a revelation concerning Jesus and clay birds around that exact time, the same is true for the story of Mary. From this, it seems to me far more plausible that Muhammad – if we are to indulge the idea that the Qur’an indeed came from his mouth – framed the Qur’an from a plethora of Gnostic texts and sects that already existed, rather than from revelation. Whilst again, it is true that similarities do not necessarily mean plagiarism, they do offer plagiarism as an alternative explanation, and a plausible one. Natural explanations will always be more plausible than supernatural explanations. There is certainly enough within the context of the Gnostic texts and the Qur’an for any reasonable mind to seriously doubt the story of revelation.

    It is this intriguing history; these few short years in the Arabian desert regions and the subsequent power and influence over generations of human beings from Mecca to Edinburgh, Medina to Beijing, that as an Atheist, keeps me enduringly fascinated by the subject of religion.


    Operation Christmas Child: The Cult of Franklin Graham.

    November 18, 2013

    operation christmas child, atheists north carolina school, samaritan's purse, franklin graham, atheism,

    It is around that time of year again when the cries of “Keep CHRIST in Christmas!” spring up, the same time of year we hear that there is some sort of conspiracy of Atheists and Muslims trying to ban Christmas. The persecuted Christians (who oddly, are in all major positions of power in the US) spring to life in an attempt to conceive of an anti-Christmas Atheist agenda that doesn’t actually exist. Sarah Palin has already used the phrase “The War on Christmas” this year and it isn’t even December yet.

    This week saw a new apparent example of heartless Atheists attempting to undermine the spirit of Christmas whilst simultaneously impoverishing children further. The story is brought to us across the evangelical blogs and news sites. For example, WLTX reports that due to the big bad Atheist bullies, East Point Academy in Cayce South Carolina had cancelled its toy drive after being threatened by the American Humanist Association, simply because it was a Christian concoction. That’s the story posted. They even include a back up quote from the Principle Renee Mathews here:

    “There’s no religious literature tied with it. There’s no speakers who come. There’s no religious affiliation at all.”

    – The problem is, this isn’t true. It isn’t a case a benevolent charity giving gifts to the needy, for benevolent reasons, with no religious affiliation at all, as Mathews claims. Quite the opposite, and rather sinisterly so.

    Operation Christmas Child, ran by Reverend Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical program designed to bribe the most vulnerable people into converting to Franklin’s particular brand of Christianity. They openly state their goal is:

    “…the advancement of the Christian faith through educational projects and the relief of poverty”.

    – Relief of poverty for the sake of itself is not good enough for this organisation, it must be linked intrinsically to the spread of the cult of Franklin Graham.

    The cult preys on US school children by inviting them to give to what is believed to be an honest charity dedicated to helping the poorest children in the World, but before delivering those gifts, they slip in Reverend Franklin Graham’s propaganda material. Your children are not sending toys to vulnerable children, the toys are just a marketing technique for a cult that wishes to spread to message.

    As chairman of Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham is given around $400,000 a year. Graham is as Tea Party-esque as the Christian Right gets, having once claimed:

    “The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active in our country. It’s infiltrated every level of our government. Right now we have many of these people that are advising the US military and State Department on how to respond in the Middle East, and it’s like asking a fox, like a farmer asking a fox, “How do I protect my henhouse from foxes?” We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries. And many of these people we’ve brought in, I’m afraid, are under the Muslim Brotherhood.”

    – He also claimed that the Japanese tsunami may have signalled the beginning of Armageddon. He publicly maintains that President Obama is not a Christian – which he deems to be unacceptable – has said that the President was born Muslim, is influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, and he recorded a public message insisting that same-sex marriage should be banned, with no same-sex union recognised by the state at all. Graham, therefore, has a very political agenda. A very public agenda. Whilst pushing this public agenda, he also have a right winged Christian agenda, that Samaritan’s Purse manipulates school children into being an unwitting part of. Why not agree to send those toys without any mention of religion, or Jesus, or God, as defined by a right-winged American evangelical?

    When they seek out donors, Operation Christmas Child usually downplays its evangelism, so as to attract funding. So much so that South Wales Fire Service here in the UK halted their involvement with Operation Christmas Child after discovering the true nature of the ‘charity’. Director of Corporate Services for South Wales Fire Service, upon discovering the real motives of Operation Christmas Child wrote:

    “Our involvement in Operation Christmas Child has been on the basis that the project was no more than a charitable event. We do not lend support to any political or religious organisation in their own right, neither do we wish to be associated with anybody whose activities would bring the brigade into dispute.”

    – It seems Samaritan’s Purse completely manipulated the fire service, and abused their generosity.

    In 2001, in response to two earthquakes in El Salvador, Samaritan’s Purse received $200,000 of federal aid money to provide relief in the country. They then proceeded to hold prayer meetings, before showing people how to rebuild their homes. Franklin Graham wrote:

    “When we go into these villages and help people get back into their homes, we hope we’ll be able to plant new churches all over this country”

    – The use of US aid money, to spread a cult defined by the Graham family, is not a cause that the US government should be funded, nor should it be allowed in US schools.

    In 2003, Samaritan’s Purse released a report, which seems to boast of their manipulative efforts to bribe children. This is the case of a 13 year old boy who’s enticed into the stranger’s ‘house’ with gifts:

    “Every day, Ramakrishna’s work route took him in front of a Christian church. As he picked up trash from the gutter, a woman invited him into the church. He always refused. Then one day the woman asked him inside to receive a gift. He was still wary of Christians and their strange beliefs, but the offer of a gift was too tempting. He accepted.”

    The report then goes on to give us the real reason they use shoebox drives. To get around anti-conversion laws:

    “India can be a difficult mission field. Many states have anti-conversion laws that make it hard for Christians to work. But Operation Christmas Child breaks down barriers and provides a way to reach the children. More than 325,000 shoe box gifts were distributed in 2003, and 265,000 children were enrolled in follow-up Bible study programs.”

    – The imperialist cult of Franklin Graham.

    Operation Christmas Child sends its propaganda to places that are mainly Muslim; they sent 30,000 Arabic Bibles out to Iraq after the first gulf war. They also aim their propaganda at poorer Hindu communities. This, after Franklin Graham once said of Hinduism:

    “… hundreds of millions of people locked in the darkness of Hinduism… bound by Satan’s power”.

    “… no elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me. None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation”

    – This isn’t about giving gifts to vulnerable children, this is about spreading a Biblical cult through any immoral means necessary; including the spread of bribery and bigotry. Visiting struggling countries, and offering food and aid, along with a Bible, is not something I am at all comfortable with, and it is not something that should be allowed to infect secular schools.

    As a private organisation – regardless of how dubious and politically motivated their aims are – we cannot stop them. But it is entirely irresponsible and wrong to be manipulating state school children, in a secular society, to give up their belongings to a cause they believe is innocent whilst at the same time using that innocence to help spread the message of a fundamentalist cult, and the power of a very unlikeable evangelist.

    For the cult of Franklin Graham, poverty and war are very profitable. Viewing poverty and destitution as a way to spread a religious agenda by preying on the most vulnerable, is so horribly wrong, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

    It is not giving that is objectionable to non-believers. It is the use of propaganda in order to convert the most vulnerable, alongside the giving. I would encourage anyone who is worried that their good will and generosity may be the victim of a group like Samaritan’s Purse, to give to far more reputable sources. Oxfam Unwrapped for example, or Link To Hope’s shoebox appeal. Neither of these will include any form of political or religious propaganda, nor the spread of the message of a cult. Your gifts will be safe.

    This hideous group should not be allowed anywhere near children.

    It’d be nice for the news media to tell the full story.


    Atheism, Aisha, and Answering a Critic

    October 25, 2013

    Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: ~crystalina~ (Flickr).

    Source: Wikimedia Commons.
    Author: ~crystalina~ (Flickr).

    I’ve commented a couple of times on Islamic blogger, and occidentalist Hakeem Muhammad’s obsession with presenting every critical comment of Islam, as a product of racism. I wrote here taking point by point Hakeem’s claim that Atheism itself, is a product of white supremacy. Indeed secularism – all belief treated equally under the law – he considers a white supremacist plot. What I’ve come to understand by Hakeem’s obsession with ensuring that every criticism has a racial element to it, is that he considers the criticism and the critic as a threat to an unearned, unjustifiable religious privilege that simple ‘belief’ has allowed believers to enjoy for so long. It is the only reason that his most recent attack on me (though I do like the picture he used, I scrub up well when I try), contained the word “white” 15 times. And every one of those times, to reiterate just how terrible critics of Islam are, if they happen to be white. “Racist white men”, “misogynistic white men”, “Patriarchal white men”, “white saviour complex”. It is quite insulting to be reduced to what colour my skin is, rather than the content of my argument.

    Let’s begin at the start:

    “Here is futiledemocracy’s basic argument: Ayesha, who lived over 1,400 years ago, was a victim of sexual assault, and I, as a white male, need to save her. ”

    – No it isn’t. This has never been my ‘basic argument’. The article in question can be seen here. My argument was quite clear, allow me to reiterate what I said, and what Hakeem completely misrepresented:

    “Therefore the Prophet – when it comes to his marriage to a young girl – cannot be judged entirely by today’s standards. He is anchored to the cultural context of the period in which he lived. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that had I lived back then, and in that region, I would have felt the same way as I do today. Of course I wouldn’t, because I am constrained by the context of the time. But Hakeem fails in his basic premise, when we flip the argument back around to face him. The Prophet Muhammad, to Hakeem, was in touch with the eternal. He was in touch with a being that transcends time. He is not restricted by the cultural context of 7th Century Arabia, and in fact for Muslims, the Prophet is there to change the context of the time period. He certainly isn’t restricted by it.”

    – My argument was structured upon the concept of ‘objective’ morality as offered by the religious, and how that static concept hinders progress. In other words, how anchoring your sense of moral justice to a 7th Century text might cause some problems in the future. I never claim the Prophet is a paedophile in the modern sense, and don’t consider it right to do so. I also don’t believe he was a Prophet, nor heard the word of God, and therefore Muhammad is just another human being constrained by the social context of the time in which he lived. However, it is the enshrining of that one particular time period into a system that is claimed to be timeless and unchanging and taught as truth to young and impressionable minds, that I find repulsive and dangerous. I do not claim Muhammad, or Aisha’s father could at that time rationalise that promising a young girl in marriage at such a young age to an old man, locks her into a life without her considered consent and is in fact abuse. Of course they didn’t understand the effects of child abuse, 1400 years ago.

    Similarly, those who wrote and later edited the Old Testament books were writing from the context of their time, and so the buying of selling of slaves as advocated in Leviticus 25:44-46 is completely redundant today, and called out for the horrifying “objective” moral cancer that it is. And whilst Christians continue to chirp the same “we have a book of objective morality” nonsense, they eerily discard those passages that no are no longer acceptable to modern life. And so, Muslims and Christians have in fact out grown and progressed beyond the “morality” of their own Gods.

    I thought I would comment on Aisha’s age, because it has become a relatively new form of apologetics, mainly by Western Muslims, who feel a sense of shame that their Prophet might have consummated his marriage to a child. It is they who abuse the memory of the history of their religion by trying to twist it to fit a modern narrative. They tend to present that modern narrative, disregarding the historical consensus for the story of Muhammad and Aisha, to seem more presentable to a global audience that has come to understand child abuse for what it is; a cancer. So I will focus here on Hakeem’s highlighted point:

    “Ayesha was an adult when the marriage was consummated”

    – This is by no means an established Islamic truth (it certainly isn’t an established reality-based truth). In fact, according to muslim.org, the first person to suggest that Aisha may not have been 9 years old when the marriage was consummated, was Maulana Muhammad Ali, in the 1920s. For 1200+ years, this wasn’t even questioned. And from my reading, the new 20th Century interpretations are almost all based on very weak guessing games and conjecture, rather than the actual testimony of Aisha…. the testimony of whom Hakeem places great importance upon… until it doesn’t go his way. No evidence is progressed for why the testimony of Aisha is wrong. It’s just ignored, despite the fact that the well respected and authentic source sahih al-Bukhari is quite clear on the matter:

    “Narrated Aisha:
    The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became All right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.
    Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234:

    – And in fact, again, in sahih al-Bukhari:

    “Narrated Hisham’s father:
    Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married ‘Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old.”
    Volume 5, Book 58, Number 236.

    – If these verses are considered to be entirely wrong by the apologists, why is everything else supposedly collected by Muhammad al-Bukhari not considered just as questionable? Indeed, Hakeem himself, in his article references al-Bukhari and tells us that only a “white misogynist” (why race has anything to do with misogyny, is beyond me) would disregard the testimony of Aisha, and then goes on to use her testimony in al-Bukhari to support his point. He then completely ignores her testimony when she gives her actual age (he must be a white supremacist). Not only that, but Muhammad al-Bukhari’s findings are confirmed by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, whose Hadith are considered second in authenticity only to al-Bukhari:

    Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: “Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house when I was nine years old.”
    Sahih Muslim 8:3310

    – Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari in his wonderful Quranic commentary ‘Tafsir al-Tabari’ also appears fine with the age of Aisha at the point the marriage was consummated:

    “I was brought in while Muhammad was sitting on a bed in our house. My mother made me sit on his lap. The other men and women got up and left. The Prophet consummated his marriage with me in my house when I was nine years old. Neither a camel nor a sheep was slaughtered on behalf of me.”
    Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, p. 131

    – The fact that Aisha was a young child is repeated through many more verses, including Abu Dawud 41:4915:

    “Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: “The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) married me when I was seven or six. When we came to Medina, some women came. according to Bishr’s version: Umm Ruman came to me when I was swinging. They took me, made me prepared and decorated me. I was then brought to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him), and he took up cohabitation with me when I was nine. She halted me at the door, and I burst into laughter.””

    – And again, in Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1877:

    “It was narrated that: Abdullah said: “The Prophet married Aishah when she was seven years old, and consummated the marriage with her when she was nine, and he passed away when she was eighteen.”

    – Prize winning author Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri in his modern day biography of the Prophet ‘Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum’ writes:

    “She was six years old when he married her. However, he did not consummate the marriage with her till Shawwal seven months after Al-Hijra, and that was in Madinah. She was nine then. She was the only virgin he married, and the most beloved creature to him. As a woman she was the most learnèd woman in jurisprudence.”

    – It takes some incredibly creative number games (or the usual… the interpretation must be wrong!) to attempt to dismiss the obvious, in order to appeal to a modern narrative. Hakeem is one of those seemingly embarrassed by the age of Aisha when his Prophet married and consummated the marriage to his young bride. Hakeem’s article is a mess of inconcise arguments from “She wasn’t a child!” to “It was fine to marry children back then!” to “omg why aren’t you focusing on how great Aisha was?” Look:

    “Ayesha was outspoken, powerful, and witty; certainly not the type of woman who people would see as a victim. This utter demolishing of such a fallacious trope demonstrated by Ayesha’s life leads to imperial feminists slandering, degrading, and misrepresenting her story.”

    – So that’s “white supremacists”, “white misogynists”, “patriarchal white men”, and “imperial feminists”. Meaningless ad hom attacks. Hakeem the psychologist has now apparently decided he knows “the type of woman who people would see as a victim”, presumably the opposite of outspoken, powerful and witty.

    It is absolutely right, when talking about a man considered the ideal human being, whose life must be replicated as best as possible, to thoroughly critique and understand that life. This cannot be escaped by glossing over it, focusing on something entirely different – like Aisha’s ability in war or her later political prowess – or attacking anyone who does bring up the uncomfortable narrative of the marriage and consummation, as “imperialists” or “white supremacists”. It isn’t good enough.

    As it turns out, I do quite like Aisha. She seems to have been incredibly rebellious, supremely well educated and echoes suspicions we non-believers share with regard the questionable times the Prophet has ‘revelations’ coinciding with his own personal desire for women:

    Narrated Aisha: I used to look down upon those ladies who had given themselves to Allah’s Apostle and I used to say, “Can a lady give herself (to a man)?” But when Allah revealed: “You (O Muhammad) can postpone (the turn of) whom you will of them (your wives), and you may receive any of them whom you will; and there is no blame on you if you invite one whose turn you have set aside (temporarily).” I said (to the Prophet), “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.”
    Sahih Bukhari 6:60:311

    – Sarcasm at its finest! And I completely agree with her. She was certainly impressive, outspoken, witty and suspicious, and rightfully so, given that Sura 66 of the Qur’an exists for no other reason than to threaten the Prophet’s wives with hellfire usually reserved for us terrible Atheists. Never one to miss an opportunity to speak degradingly and violently against those of us who don’t believe, the same Sura 66 insists that the Prophet should “deal sternly” with us because “Hell will be their home”. It then goes on to note specific women currently in hell, in order to ensure Aisha and Hafsa toe the line and allow their husband to continue his conquest of slave girls.

    Whilst Aisha’s strength in suspicion and outspokenness, and her dedication to women’s education must be taken into account for discussions around Aisha as a person according to Islamic accounts and women in Islam today; her achievements and historical importance do not apply to a debate around the ‘objective moral anchor’ that Islam claims through the life of its Prophet especially when it concerns the vulnerable. It is a separate discussion, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when child marriage in Islamic states continue to this day.

    But we must also note that in late antiquity, child marriage was not confined to Islam. Child marriage was common across the World, in Europe too, and lasted until very recently. It is unfair for non-Muslims to focus on the Prophet Muhammad whilst ignoring the vast majority of the rest of the very Patriarchal planet for the past few thousand years. It was a planet (and still is) ruled by men, for men. It is no surprise that Holy Texts reflect that. But it isn’t the context of the time that is the debate here, it is the enshrining of the context of one time period, for all subsequent time periods, through the life and deeds of one man confined by that time period, and presenting it as universal “truth”. That simply cannot be justified.

    Indeed, if you absolutely believe that a text that anchors ‘right and wrong’ to a single geographical location at a single point in time, is the unchangeable word of truth, requires the belief that everything in that text is infallible, that the God who spoke those words exists across the context of all time periods did not consider it important to let the Prophet know that marrying and having sex with children might be wrong. This is uncompromisable to believers, and that is when dogma becomes dangerous. Given that a perfect God must know in the 7th Century, that which we in the 21st Century now understand about the horrific psychological effects of child abuse, why would He insist on intervening with Sura 66 to sort out the Prophet’s love life…. but not intervene to let his followers know the damage caused by child abuse? From an Atheist point of view, Muhammad cannot be condemned through 21st Century specs. The concept of anchored morality to one specific point in time…. absolutely can be condemned.


    Yahwallahism & the Prophet Barbara.

    September 19, 2013

    If a woman – let’s call her Barbara – were to insist that God had chosen to speak to Her, and that through the Prophet Barbara we have the final Prophet of the one true God. But curiously, this new set of demands and doctrine from God – let’s call Her Yahwallah – gathered up all of the prejudices encouraged by the Abrahamic faiths, and turned them back on themselves?

    And so, inspired by declarations like this…

    Untitled-2

    …I thought I’d give it a shot.

    If we were to take the prejudices thrown at women, at homosexuality, at children, by powerful faiths and their followers who seek to enshrine those prejudices into law, and we were to aim those inherent faith-based prejudices back at those faiths, and we demanded society be organised by this new faith, how would Christians and Muslims react? How would the arguments against its adoption, or political power over their lives be formed? How would they prove the new scripture to be wrong? As of now, I will present a summary of the TRUE scripture of the one true God.

    Let’s call the new scripture, the Book of Yahwallah. It was given to the Prophet Barbara, by an Angel of Yahwallah, and you can’t prove it wasn’t. Here is what the one true word of God says.

    This new Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that “Muslims and Christians are unnatural, and an abomination, they must be punished”. Whenever evidence is presented to the contrary, you must point out that Yahwallahist scripture insists that these “people” are horrid sinners, an abomination, and destined for Hell. I don’t make the rules. This came from God. This should be instilled into the minds of Children. If then these children are bullied for secretly being Christian, or Muslim….. tough.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – has been interpreted to insist that Christians and Muslims should be banned from marriage. We therefore demand a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as between non-christians and non-muslims only, this is the true and only definition of marriage before God. Any deviation from this, is an abomination, and influenced by Satan.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – should be used to defend Congressional votes against the right of Christians or Muslims to adopt a child, based not on their suitability as parents, but on whether or not they are Muslim or Christians, thus banning Muslims and Christians from being allowed to adopt. Children should be brought up in good, wholesome non-Christian, non-Muslim families. To bring them up in Christian or Muslim households, threatens their development.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells the story of Modos & Harromag; a City full of hedonistic Muslims and Christians. The merciful God destroyed that evil city. Let this be a lesson, that allowing sin – like Islam and Christianity – to flourish, will bring the fury of God. The war in Syria right now, is actually Yahwallah’s punishment for allowing Islam & Christianity to flourish.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that children not be forced to marry old men, but that those old men who advocate child marriage, now themselves be forced to marry sex-starved prison inmates. They have no choice in this.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that those who didn’t follow the words of the new one true Prophet Barbara, nor accept her as their personal saviour, and the rules she sets out, regardless of her historicity and the moral reasoning behind those rules, that those people will burn forever in eternal fire…this should be taught to children. Fear of Yahwallah will guide them.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – doesn’t go into detail when it comes to nuclear fission, or the physics of a black hole and event horizon, or evolution, or dinosaurs, or the speed of light…. because to be honest, it’s too busy condemning everyone who isn’t Yahwallahist…. but it does say “and we are all made up of small things”… clearly describing in perfect detail all known atomic theory. HOW COULD SHE HAVE KNOWN THIS WITHOUT GOD!!!! Truly miraculous. This MUST be taught in school science lessons.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – starts with the story of creation. The World was knitted by Yahwallah, in 5 days (far more impressive than 6), before She rested on the 6th, and that as a result, everyone should wear a knitted hat, and that this story of Intelligent Design should be taught in science class alongside pesky science and evidence. Teach the controversy!

    Without the Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – you are morally inferior.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – makes clear that after a woman gives birth, the father is unclean. Also, Women, make sure your husbands (of which you can marry as many as you please) stay silent in Yahwallahist temples. For it is shameful for a man to speak in a temple.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells the story of the condemning to death of the Prophet Barbara, by Christians and Muslims. For this, Christians and Muslims must always be treated as suspicious, probably part of a global domination conspiracy, and must be thrown out of any land they rest, because they murdered the one true Prophet.

    The punishment for apostasy from Yahwallahism is flogging. Though apostasy from Yahwallahism and then speaking out against Yahwallahism can only reasonably be solved by the death penalty.

    Innocent children gunned down in schools must be the victim of the Government straying from the path of Yahwallah. We must use this opportunity not to call for tighter gun laws, but to call for more Yahwallah teaching in schools.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – makes clear that if a man disobeys his wife (she is the head of him), then she has permission to beat him. Good men are obedient. This is God’s truth.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells how when a man reaches the age of 1, he must have one testicle removed. He has no choice in this. Ignore those who call it forced genital mutilation. It isn’t. Because it pleases God.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that the one true Prophet Barbara was born in Jerusalem – the home of Yahwallahist, and it is where Prophet Barbara will return when Yahwallahism bring about Judgement day. It was here that the Prophet Barbara heard Yahwallah speak through an Angel. Yahwallah said “Barbara, Jerusalem is yours, for your faithful alone”. This of course means the land was divinely given to Yahwallahists, and so all Muslims and Jews must leave immediately, or face perpetual war until they accept that it is ours. Remember, we don’t make these rules, they came directly from God. Oh, the Prophet Barbara once flew during the night to London too, so we claim London as ours.

    We support a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy on Christians in the Military, though we don’t think they should be allowed to fight alongside true American Yahwallahists, because they’re an abomination. For this reason, and because kids are vulnerable, we believe Christians shouldn’t be allowed in the Boy Scouts of America. Words of the scripture, not me.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells how the Prophet Barbara gave unbelievers (let’s call them “rifak”; they are Muslims and Christians) the chance to convert to Yahwallahism. But they insisted on worshipping false idols, and so the Prophet Barbara obviously had to go to war with them and slay them. So, never trust, nor imitate the rifak. They are immodest, liars who wish to pull you away from the one true God. They do the work of Satan. They will be punished in hell.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that the Yahwallahist Scripture is really well written, and you can’t produce anything like it, and so it must be a miracle, because the Yahwallahist Scripture and people who are Yahwallahists say so. To further back up this self evident TRUTH, the Yahwallahist Scripture constantly says: “Yahwallah sent this down from heaven, and Barbara is the Prophet of the Lord”, so it must be true. How can the rifak deny it?

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that the witness of a man is half that of a woman. That a man must cover his entire body and face to protect his modesty, that if he doesn’t he must bear some responsibility if he’s sexually assaulted, and that a man not be allowed out of the house without a female chaperone. This is an example of the wonderful rights we have given to men everywhere! Far more so than the oppressive West.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that the phrase “One Nation under Yahwallah” be inserted into the US Pledge of Allegience, rather than the current focus on the wrong non-existent God. We also call for mandatory school Yahwallahist prayer.

    The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells the story of the death of Prophet Barbara. She died to save you all from hell fire. All you have to do is discard belief in Allah or Jesus, and believe in the true God Yahwallah and his one true Prophet, Barbara. If you don’t, you’re destined for hell. This message of hope must be spread and forced upon populations where ever possible.

    If Muslims or Christians ‘offend’ the Prophet Barbara, or this new scripture of anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, anti-men doctrine, they must be punished. No one has a right to say anything negative about this scripture that insists Christians and Muslims are an unnatural abomination. You don’t have to believe it, but freedom of expression does not cover disrespecting a religion that thoroughly disrespects you. Deal with it.

    To challenge any of the above, or to thoroughly despise any of the above, and to call out the oppression inherent to any of the above, or to suggest that this one scripture permits both prejudice and the acceptability and perpetuation of prejudicial language…. at best you will told you are just being Yahwallahophobic, at worst you will be threatened, or punished for blasphemy.

    When you understand the oppressive structure set out above toward Christians, Muslims, and men, and the quite obvious absurd risks that come from teaching it to children as fact; when you understand that it is not acceptable to hide unjustifiable prejudice and privilege behind the mask of faith, as I would be doing if I were to claim all Christians are an abomination destined for hell based on my new Yahwallah scripture…. when you understand this, you will understand why non-believers find Christianity and Islam so dangerous and oppressive.


    Syria: Secular democracy must be the goal.

    September 2, 2013

    “Without Western heavy political lifting, led primarily by the US, the most likely scenario is for the death toll in Syria to continue to rise, the humanitarian crisis to further deepen, and for Syria to become the new Yemen, offering refuge and acting as a launching hub for terrorist groups.”
    – Jamil Sawda, Syria Specialist.

    In the event of Congressional approval for a limited strike on Syria; in the event of the weakening of the power of the Assad regime; and in the event of the eventual overthrow of that abhorrent regime…. what comes next? My reservations about any strike on Syria stem from the apparent lack of coherent plan to ensure a peaceful transition to secular, democratic governance in Syria once the conflict has ended.

    It is without doubt that a chemical attack in which 400+ children died, along with 80,000+ deaths in the conflict so far and over 1,000,000 exiled into horrendous conditions, cannot be ignored. It has been ignored for too long. And as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah intervene in order to press for a strengthened Assad regime, or a more oppressive Theocratic entity post-Assad, so must the forces for a democratic and secular solution ensure their allies in Syria are well equipped and supported.

    As it stands, the secular and democratic left rebels in Syria are outnumbered. Their voice is too weak in the country, and its natural allies in the West – the left – are again spending their time endlessly ensuring we all know how much they dislike the US; the Stop the War Coalition predictably makes no mention of the struggle of the secular and democratic left in Syria; shows no support for the secular and democratic left in Syria, but bizarrely in an article on Syrian intervention, manages to attack Tony Blair. The democratic, secular voices in Syria – the voices we must support – suffer heavily as a result of internal conflict, and external ignorance.

    Ahrar ash-Sham are the most powerful rebel force in the region, boasting around 20,000 members over 50 units around Aleppo and Hama. Ahrar ash-Sham call for an Islamic state. They are allied with Jabhat al-Nusra Front. Al-Nusra Front is an al-Qaeda associate Jihadist group who also wish to see the Assad regime replaced by an Islamic caliphate, under harsh Sharia conditions. Al-Nusra insist that upon their victory, entertainment that al-Nusra consider “immoral”, would be banned. They are the Taliban of the Syrian conflict.
    In January 2012, al-Nusra claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Al-Midan, in which 26 people died – most of whom, were innocent civilians.
    In October 2012, al-Nusra claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square that left 48 people dead and 122+ badly wounded.
    In June 2012, they attacked al-Ikhbariya TV, killing seven people including three journalists in a violent crackdown of anyone daring to criticise them.
    In mid-2012, al-Nusra released a statement stating that they had kidnapped and executed TV news presented, Mohammed al-Saeed, simply because he supported the Assad regime. In a statement, Al-Nusra said:

    “The heroes of western Ghouta imprisoned the shabih (pro-regime militia) presenter on July 19. He was then killed after he had been interrogated.”

    – This is a group that consider the kidnap and murder of a TV presenter, to be heroic. The targeting of journalists speaks volumes of the message al-Nusra wish to send out. Under their rule, Syrians would not benefit from the fundamental right of free expression. The fact that the most powerful rebel groups in the conflict are allied with a group like Jabhat al-Nusra – a group that has absolutely no problem with the murder of innocent civilians and journalists – is intensely unnerving. They could become the region’s biggest problem in the coming years. This is a group that wilfully match the vicious nature of dictatorial regimes to ensure the black banner is raised above Damascus.

    But it isn’t all gloom. Indeed, there exists secular & democratic rebel groups in Syria who desperately require Western support and cooperation for their cause and the for the future of a Syria not dogged by regressive, Theocratic tyranny. They understand the desperate need for fundamental human rights and democratic institutions. The Coalition of Secular & Democratic Syrians is the most important group in the Syrian civil war. The President of the Coalition, Randa Kassis told Spiegel Online of the problems facing her movement:

    “The Islamist groups, which are superbly financed and equipped by the Gulf states, are ruthlessly seizing decision-making power for themselves. Syrians who are taking up arms against the dictator but not putting themselves under the jihadists’ command are being branded as unpatriotic and as heretics. This is also affecting the many soldiers and officers who have defected to the opposition but who aren’t willing to replace the corrupt terrorism of the Assad regime with a religious tyranny.”

    Secular & democratic forces in Syria are divided. There is no clear strategy. This conflict is reflected in the make-up and operations of the Syrian National Coalition, which is so incredibly complex, faces resignations on a constant basis, that it is almost entirely impotent. The Coalition saw liberal members freeze their membership upon the election of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Ghassan Hitto to the newly formed Prime Ministerial role. One of the Coalition’s liberal democrats, Kamal al-Labwani said:

    “The government is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatar government. We will be against this government and will not give it legality. Democracy is from the land and from the people not from a council that is composed by the government of Qatar.”

    – Hitto resigned in June, citing an inability to unite members and topple the Assad regime. The Muslim Brotherhood’s power within the Syrian National Coalition is made all the more worrying given the fact that the Coalition has widespread international recognition as Syria’s representative body. And yet, it is a body that cannot decide if it is secular, or Theocratic, but is slowly leaning toward the side of Theocracy.

    The Coalition’s first leader in 2012, Moaz al-Khatib insisted that a moderate form of Islamic law should be instituted in a post-Assad Syria, run by Islamic scholars. He is a supporter and friend of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a man who once said:

    “Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the Jews people who would punish them for their corruption…The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them…Allah Willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”

    – Whilst al-Khatib may openly support horrid little fascists like al-Qaradawi, he appears to be opposed to strict interpretations of religious texts (he does not insist on the veiling of women), yet his “moderate” Theocratic principles still insist on entrenching one particular religion above all others, which is, by its very nature, oppressive. His speeches tend to confuse freedom, with Theocracy. The US Christian Right are very similar.
    The Syrian National Coalition is so diverse, that the very fundamentals of forming a governmental system cannot be agreed upon. The question of Church & State separation, cannot be agreed upon. Without a working constitutional framework, there is no government. The very first, and most important question is whether or not a post-Assad Syria be secular, or Theocratic (moderate or not).

    By contrast, independent Islamic extremist groups separate from the Coalition, seem to be far more cohesive and the likelihood of a powerful alliance between them increases. Islamist opposition groups, motivated by religion, and supported and armed by competing Gulf and Arab states, whilst Muslim Brotherhood power infects the Coalition, makes secular & democratic unity on the Syrian crisis all but impossible. And we know what happens when Islamic Theocrats have control of a country. Afghanistan is a prime example of the horrendous abuses and oppression of states controlled by religious fascists. Syria cannot afford that eventuality. The region cannot afford it.

    Without a real diplomatic strategy to unite rebel groups, without Western support for the right groups to make sure the country isn’t overrun and overpowered by Islamic extremist groups, and to ensure strong democratic and secular infrastructure and framework – based on the fundamental right to expression, to association, to belief, to protest, to gender equality, to racial equality, to vote, to sexuality – upon which the rebuilding of Syria must be based, any intervention can only lead to more conflict and the inevitability of a ground invasion further down the line.


    The importance of Moses

    August 15, 2013

    529px-Moses_Pleading_with_Israel_(crop)

    It is difficult to over exaggerate the importance of Moses to the narratives of the three major religions. The Talmud refers to the Pentateuch as the ‘Book of Moses’. Jesus mentions Moses’ supposed Prophecy if the Gospels are to be believed. The Qur’an speaks of the exodus as if historical fact, with Moses (Musa) being a key Prophet for the faith. All three rely on his existence, and his deeds. All three rely on the story of the Exodus. If the stories of Moses & the exodus fall down, all three major faiths fall down with it.

    It is of course obvious, that the first five books of the Bible contain massive inconsistencies and errors. This in itself is not enough to dismiss the entire text, given that it isn’t considered the exact word of God (as the Qur’an is) but it is enough to question the legitimacy of the claim that the first five books were penned by one man; Moses. It has been the opinion of most scholars for around the past century, that the first five books were written by multiple authors. There has been disagreement over how many authors there may have been, when they were composed, when they were edited and put together. Despite the disagreements, it is generally accepted that multiple hands are at work with the first five books.

    The Yahwist source (known as Source J, and named so because it refers to God as ‘Yahweh’ – Jehovah – some argue that this source was produced in the 6th Century BCE as a prologue to Deuteronomistic history covering Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) places Moses as someone only able to stop God’s plagues upon Egypt. God is solely responsible. Moses, the intermediary. Whereas, the Elohim source (Source E, named so because it refers to God as ‘Elohim’) suggests that Moses was someone who openly threatened Pharaoh, and was himself responsible for bringing about the plagues. Both sources were written centuries after Moses supposedly lived.

    The contradictions begin right at the start of Genesis, and proceed from there. The contradictions are actually two versions of the same story. For example, the order of creation in Genesis 1 is: plants, animals, man & woman together. Whereas, the order of creation in Genesis 2 is: man, plants, animals, woman.

    So, if we can discount one Jewish/Christian myth of Moses, what about the others? Well, the most notable story is the Exodus out of Egypt. It is this story that places Moses at epicentre of Judaism, and therefore Christianity, and later, Islam. Without this, Judaism falls to the ground, Jesus’ mention of Moses in the Gospels, is irrelevant, and the Qur’an appears as nothing but a plagiarised version of the other two.

    The supernatural elements of the claims about Moses certainly have no evidence. There is no evidence to suggest that a large amount of Israelites crossed a parted Red Sea, no Egyptian source that ever mentions Israelites enslaved in Egypt who later escaped. In fact, no Egyptian source mentions an enslaved Israelite population at all. There is also absolutely nothing to suggest the plagues took place. No evidence of the mass genocide of first born Egyptian sons.

    We can of course accept that the supernatural elements were invented to give divine aspect, thus solidifying a story for the purpose of group solidarity and power, in much the same way as the later – more creative – stories of the Prophet Muhammad developed in order to solidify a new Arab Empire.

    On a side note, one of the supernatural elements of the story – that of the genocide of first born Egyptian sons commonly known as Passover – always seemed to me to be a particularly vile ‘celebration’. There seems to be an odd obsession with linking death, to salvation within Christianity and Judaism. I have never been able to understand why Jesus needed to die, in order to absorb the sins of humanity. Where is the connection between the two? Why must Egyptian children be murdered, in order to free Israelites? I am delighted that Passover isn’t based on historical fact

    The situation though, seems to suggest that even the more historically ‘believable’ aspects of the story lack any sort of evidence. Archaeologists have all but given up searching for evidence of a mass exodus of Israelites out of Egypt. There is nothing that even slightly suggests it ever happened. Ze’ev Hertzog, an Israeli archaeologist says:

    “The Israelites never were in Egypt. They never came from abroad. This whole chain is broken. It is not a historical one. It is a later legendary reconstruction—made in the seventh century [BCE]—of a history that never happened.”

    Similarly, renowned archaeologist Israel Finkelstein says:

    “Modern archaeological techniques are quite capable of tracing the very meager remains of hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads all over the world…repeated archaeological surveys in all regions of the Sinai peninsula…yielded only negative evidence, not even a single shred , no structure, not a single house, no trace of an ancient encampment…there is simply no evidence at the supposed time of the Exodus.”

    The traditional date set for the exodus at 1450bc (set, due to the mention in Kings of 480 years before the founding of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem) conflicts with Biblical description of just how the Israelites were put to work years before the exodus, here:

    Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
    – Exodus 1:11

    – The name Rameses was used by Egyptian Pharaohs, though the first to use these conflicts with the dates given for the supposed building of the city of Raamses. As Kenneth Kitchen points out:

    The first of these, Ramesses I, reigned only sixteen months and built no cities. None of the rest founded major cities either, with but one exception. He was Ramesses II, grandson of I, who was the builder of the vast city Pi-Ramesse A-nakhtu, “Domain of Ramesses II, Great in Victory,” suitably abbreviated to the distinctive and essential element “Ra(a)mses” in Hebrew.

    Ramesses II reigned from 1279–1213 BC. Two hundred years after the exodus, and even longer after the Bible suggests the Israelite slaves built the city. Ramesses II’s body was buried in the Valley of the Kings, but is now in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum…. not at the bottom of the ocean after the parted Red Sea engulfed him.

    The site “Islamic Awareness” also comes to the conclusion – through Qur’anic inquiry – that the Pharaoh of the exodus (as well as at the time of Moses’ birth) was Ramesses:

    “In conclusion, the Qur’anic presentation of the Pharaoh of the Exodus is internally consistent and fits well with the extant egyptological data. This is also in line with the earlier studies by Hamidullah[87] and Fatoohi et al.[88] who have arrived at similar conclusions, albeit using less exhaustive and sometimes shaky evidence, that the Pharaoh who ruled Egypt before the birth of Moses until the Exodus and his (i.e., Pharaoh’s) death was Ramesses II.”

    – And despite their thorough discrediting of the traditional Biblical narrative, “Islamic Awareness” offer no evidence for an exodus during the time of Ramesses. They also do not mention how Ramesses II actually died; at the ripe old age of 90, with terrible arthritis and hardened arteries… not drowned at sea, as the Qur’an claims.

    The exodus would have been perhaps the most calamitous moment in Egyptian history (with the exception of Augustus’ annexation) The Biblical narrative states that:

    37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside women and children.
    38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.
    – Exodus 12:37-38

    – To put this into perspective, the English city of Manchester has a population under 600,000. Less people live in Manchester than the population of Israelite men (not including women & children) supposedly breaking away from Egypt. When we include women and children, we can guess of a number higher than 1,000,000. At around the time of the exodus, Egypt’s population hit around 3 million people. This means, that around 33% of the population of Egypt escaped from a state of captivity, without any record of them ever existing.

    The Amarna letters dated to the mid-1300s bc, make no mention of any huge slave revolt or inevitable economic meltdown that a 1,000,000+ slave revolt would have caused. The Amarna letters are unique, in that they are 382 diplomatic correspondence on clay tablets from that very specific period of Egyptian history. Fourteen correspondence with the Babylonians, more to the Syrians, Hatti, and Lebanon. None mention Israelite slaves or a mass revolt.

    The website “Answers in Genesis” tries to argue that the Israelites didn’t just build Pi-Ramesses, but also built the Pyramids. David Down, the author of the article, and apparent archaeologist says:

    “When we take the history and chronology of the Bible as written, we find that it makes eminent sense of the archaeological evidence. The pyramid builders were not people who had evolved from animals over millions of years. Rather, they were once part of an advanced civilization which built an imposing tower that soared over the plains of Babylon (Genesis 11), a people descended from a family that disembarked from the 15,000-ton ocean-going Ark (Genesis 6–8). We still do not know exactly how they accomplished all their engineering feats in ancient Egypt, but we can be sure that a people who were less than 30 generations from Adam had incredible intellectual skills.”

    – It is difficult to know where to begin on such a ridiculous paragraph, but what strikes me as being at the heart of this piece, is that Down takes for granted the idea that the Pyramids were built by slaves. This is a myth. It is handed to us by Greek historian Herodotus, who claimed the Pyramid builders were slaves originally, but modern archaeology tells us that the Pyramid builders were in fact, paid labourers. Ex-director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, Dieter Wildung says:

    “The myth of the slaves building pyramids is only the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood.”

    – Many of the workers who died during the construction of the Pyramids, were buried with honour, by the site, something that would not have been offered to slaves. Slaves did not build the Pyramids. Israelite slaves, descended from a family on an ark, certainly didn’t build the Pyramids.

    The ‘Torah’ relies on the story of Moses for credibility with regard its laws, handed down by God, to Moses. If Moses did not pen these laws, and if multiple sources over time penned these laws, then it stands to reason that they came from already established systems of law. Around 3200BC there existed a tribe of people who lived in Egypt called the Kemet. They seem to have been a civilisation who lived a rather advanced existence, just slightly before the Early Dynastic period, and so predating Pharaoh Narmer who is identified as the man responsible for uniting the different tribes of Egypt, thus becoming known as the first Pharaoh of Egypt. The unified Egypt incorporated ideas and beliefs from the tribes that it unified, one of which was the Kemet concept of “Ma’at“. Ma’at was the principle used as a guide on law, morality, truth, and spirituality that was needed to help unify Egypt. The principle was depicted as a Goddess – also called Ma’at – who was said to be in control of the stars, the sky, law, and men. They deified the concept of Ma’at. She was essentially the main God. The guiding principles of Ma’at were set out in what is known as the 42 Declarations of Purity. Of those, 10 of which can be found in the Commandments handed to Moses. Or, possibly, given that Egypt had long been a force in Canaan and the surrounding area, by the 20th century BCE, the influence of those basic principles enshrined in Ma’at; principles that lived on in Ancient Egypt, reached the Israelites, who simply appropriated much of it for themselves.

    Judaism relies on the story of the exodus for its origins. Christianity relies on the historicity of Moses for the very fact that Jesus himself mentions Moses as if a historically accurate figure from the Old Testament:

    Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”
    Matthew 19:8

    Indeed, if the first five books of the Bible are not written by Moses, then Jesus is completely wrong:

    45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
    46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.
    47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

    – Christianity, and the claim of Jesus as a fulfilled Prophecy from Deuteronomy 18:15-22 among others, relies solely on not only the existence of Moses, but his penning at least some of either Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, if not all of it. And yet, we now know that those five books were penned by different authors, at vastly different times.

    Similarly, the Qur’an, a book supposedly the exact, uncompromising, completely accurate word of Allah mentions the story of Moses, as if historical truth:

    Then we sent after them (the messengers) Moses with Our signs to Pharaoh and his chiefs, but they disbelieved in them; so see what the end of the corrupters was (7.103). Moses said: “O Pharaoh! I am a messenger from the Lord of all peoples (7.104). It is a duty on me to say nothing about Allah but the truth; I have come to you with clear proof from your Lord, therefore send with me the Children of Israel” (7.105).
    Sura Al-A’raf

    – This suggests that either Moses’ people escaped from Egypt, left absolutely no trace, and their captors wrote nothing of them, or even acknowledged their existence until God mentions it to Muhammad thousands of years later. Or, the Qur’an is not the word of God, and was instead used as a way to anchor the new Arab empire to a religion that was strengthened by the name of already established mythical names and events. Indeed, later Hadith tell us that Muhammad upon his Night Journey visited heaven, and met Moses. The reliability of both the Qur’an and Hadith, and so, Islam’s claim on Jerusalem, whither away to nothingness, if the story of the exodus is false, which is appears to be.

    There seems to be very little reason to believe Moses achieved what the Holy books claim he achieved. It is as good as certain that there was no vast exodus out of Egypt; the underpinnings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam fall at their most basic hurdle. If the exodus didn’t happen, then Christianity stole it from Judaism and fabricated the words of Jesus in an attempt to confirm the Prophecies of Moses. Similarly, if the exodus didn’t happen, early Muslims must have appropriated the story for themselves, added a few bits, subtracted a few bits, but ultimately the point remains the same. Therefore, the first five books of the Bible – written by different people, at different times, for different purposes – are the most important aspects of the three major religions.

    Collective enslavement of Israelites in Egypt, and their subsequent break from bondage, appears not to have ever occurred. The supernatural elements of the story can therefore be equally as dismissed as fantasy. It is more likely that Canaan slowly became Israel, incorporating Semites from Egypt, with stories of their own, crafting a new narrative for a new people. All civilisations have their creation myths. Moses was a key name to this, much like Romulus was a key name to the mythical creation of Rome. Whether Moses existed historically, may never be determined, but what is becoming increasingly obvious is that the stories attributed to Moses from the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an, are all fabrications.


    Dawkins, Hasan, and the Tale of the Night Journey.

    August 10, 2013

    al-buraq-5

    At the end of 2012, Richard Dawkins met with Mehdi Hasan to discuss religion as a force for good or evil, and if religion can coexist with science, at Oxford Union. During the talk, Hasan was asked if he believed that the Prophet Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse, in reference to al-‘Isrā’ wal-Mi’rāj. His answer was yes, and you cannot prove he didn’t. I wanted to address this answer, because it seems to be the argument from people from the three major religions, that their ‘miracles’ are believable, and thus, rational, because Atheists are unable to prove that they didn’t happen. Moses parted the sea, we can’t prove he didn’t. Jesus returned from the dead. We can’t prove he didn’t. Noah managed to fit millions of species into his boat. We can’t prove he didn’t. The Prophet flew 700 miles on a winged horse named al-Buraq (though, this detail is not mentioned in the Qur’an, but in later Hadith) and up to heaven from Jerusalem, met Jesus, Adam, Abraham, and Moses, all in one night. We can’t prove he didn’t. And so to believers, this suggests that if we can’t definitively prove he didn’t, it somehow increases the probability that it happened, to “checkmate Atheists!”. I find this a uniquely unintelligible position to hold.

    Firstly, I wanted to discuss what I believe to be the motive behind Sura 17 of the Qur’an that briefly mentions the Night Journey. As noted in my previous article, the oldest Qur’anic text we currently have – Sana’a manuscript – dates back to the rule of fifth Uyammad Caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. I have come to the conclusion that Abd al-Malik was an exceptionally gifted ruler and political genius. The foundations of the Islam we know in the 21st Century, can be traced back to him. The legends around the Prophet Muhammad, can be dated back to him. The bringing together of tradition, state power, dynasty legacy, and religion, can be dated back to him. He knew how to secure an empire. He was a master of PR. Muhammad’s name was used to strengthen Abd al-Malik’s position as Caliph. One of his most impressive shows of power and wealth, can be seen with the Dome of the Rock and the ‘expansion’ of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The importance of this project cannot be underestimated. It’s placement – in the centre of Jewish Jerusalem, and towering above the Church of the Sepulcher – was a show of power. In a single architectural blow, al-Malik had overpowered thousands of years of Jewish and Christian history, in their most Holy of places, and designated himself and his dynasty as its successor. The winged horse, the flight, is irrelevant. The point was the importance of Jerusalem.

    To link the Prophet – who never stepped foot in Jerusalem – to Jerusalem, al-Malik needed to be creative, and to send out a powerful message that this city now belonged to the new empire, and the new dynasty. The first step, was to create the most impressive architectural marvel; the Dome. Now, he needed to link this to the new religion that would be the centrepiece of the new empire (religion and empire were intrinsically linked, this wasn’t lost on al-Malik). But there was no obvious link at first. Afterall, the Qur’an names the spot that the Prophet flew to as “the furthest place of worship“, not Jerusalem. There is no reason to suspect the Qur’an meant Jerusalem. Al-Aqsa mosque was not built during Muhammad’s life time. There was no mosque in Jerusalem at this time. The myth must have developed later (though some Muslim writers have found elaborately creative ways to get around this glaring mistake). And so, It will not come as a surprise to you, that the Mosque in Jerusalem, was built by the Uyammad’s, just as a narrative was developing. And so we see attempts from that era, to link the Ka’bah in Mecca, to Jerusalem. To do so, creates a city of Islam out of the city of Jerusalem.

    There are two possibilities: Firstly, Muhammad flew on a winged animal, to the middle of Jerusalem, and then up to heaven, which he did either by passing through a portal to another dimension, or… there is a physical place called Heaven somewhere in the universe…. he then met with the obvious characters from the Biblical and Jewish narratives (coincidentally), and then came back (we can discount the spiritual interpretation, because Hasan is quite clear that he believes the Prophet DID fly to Jerusalem and then to heaven). He passed this story on, which continued to be passed on word for word, until the Qur’an was written down, and further discussed in Hadith.

    Or secondly, it is all myth. And it started around the time we’d expect, given the PR effort the Umayyads were making to secure their dynasty by appealing to the earlier history of the Arab surge out of Mecca, in an attempt to forge an imperial identity.

    I’m inclined to go along with the latter, and I say this because it is the only rational position one could possibly adopt, after studying the evidence, and weighing the probability of the two options. To believe the former, you dismiss the latter, and by doing so you must conclude that the laws of physics are in fact, not laws after all. They can be broken. You also have to decide whether ‘heaven’ is a supernatural realm, in which case al-Buraq managed to pass through a magic portal to get there, or ‘heaven’ is in the universe somewhere, in which case, where? How fast must the winged horse travel to get there? Either way, you see there might be trouble with the finer details of your story. If you chose to believe the story of the night journey, you have a lot of evidence building to do in order to destroy the very foundations of all science. I look forward to your thesis.

    Indeed, belief in the validity of al-‘Isrā’ wal-Mi’rāj, means that the work of thousands of wonderful scientists, those who laid the foundations of our understanding of physical universal principles, must be wrong. That their work, built upon by thousands more well established, peer reviewed scientists from across the planet, repeated experiment, with centuries of thorough investigation and intense calculations and evidence building; must be wrong. To suggest that these principles that have been slugged out over centuries to give us a firm understanding of the way the universe works, are all actually wrong, requires more evidence than simply “well, you can’t say that he didn’t“. To believe it to be true, means you directly contradict, and in fact, dismiss, all known phsyical properties of the universe. You cannot claim reason, after abandoning reason.

    The two positions; that of “he did fly to heaven“, and “he didn’t fly to heaven“, do not have equal weight. The evidence is weighed heavily in favour of science. It is true, I cannot prove beyond any doubt, that the Prophet Muhammad didn’t fly on a winged animal, to heaven. I wasn’t there. But I can make an educated guess, using what we know of the universe and the laws it operates under, because we have nothing to suggest those laws are untrue in any way. Even if suddenly evidence were provided to suggest that universal principles can be broken, we would then need to provide evidence that they were indeed broken on that particular day. A suggestion, in an 8th Century book is not evidence. It is no more evidence, than if I were to write down that I have an invisible monkey that flies me to the moon every Sunday. And it requires of me than just “You can’t prove otherwise.

    If I am to contradict & dismiss absolutely everything we know about the fundamental workings of the universe, then the burden of proof is on me to show that it is at least possible first, and then to show that it did happen as I say it did. As far as I am aware, no religious “miracle” has so far destroyed the foundations of modern science in that way. This includes the night journey.

    Hasan asked Dawkins:

    “Do you regard them all [people who believe in God and the supernatural] as intellectually inferior to you?”

    – But I Think Hasan has the question the wrong way round. It seems to me, if you’re willing to so flippantly and easily believe a story that contradicts and disregards extensive research, studies, evidence of all those who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of understanding of the laws of the universe, and forcefully squeeze your book of unsubstantiated myths and legends, without any evidence to back up what any of it says; you’re the one who believes yourself to be intellectually superior, not just to the person you’re talking to, but to the entire scientific community. Hasan says “I’m willing to say, I can’t prove that he did“. This is irrelevant. If you’re a Muslim, you believe that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged animal, because the Qur’an and Hadith say so. You therefore believe it more probable than not, which in turn means you believe all scientists to be mistaken. This is a sense of intellectual superiority on an extreme level. Dawkins is simply reflecting the work of thousands of scientists – including many incredible Islamic scientists – when he suggests that the Prophet did not fly to heaven on a winged animal. This isn’t about what Professor Dawkins believes, it’s about what science has taught us. Belief of one Professor is irrelevant.

    It seems more probable to me that the universal physical laws, which have never been observably broken, and show no reason to believe they ever will be; were not suspended to allow a man to fly around on winged animal that can either break the speed of light, or can travel between dimensions. It seems far more probable that the story of the night journey was created to provide more strength to a brilliant dynasty that had become obsessed with creating a narrative to justify its power. Thus, staking their claim over Jerusalem. Then came coins, huge stunningly crafted buildings of wealth and prestige in politically important places, patronage of great artists and poets, the centralisation of power into a more bureaucratic state, the nationalisation of Arabic as the language of Empire, and a need to link all of this back to the man that was – undoubtedly – considered the hero of the Arabs in the 7th Century, Muhammad. This all happened at the same time, for the same purpose. This isn’t coincidence. This is design. This is Abd al-Malik’s, and his sons design. The night journey conforms to that design perfectly. It is therefore more probable that the night journey is a myth, for reasons stated above, than it is probable that the physical order of the universe be broken.

    The discussion between Dawkins and Hasan at Oxford Union can be seen here.


    The Search for Muhammad: Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan

    August 8, 2013

    Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Orientalist

    Source: Wikimedia Commons.
    Author: Orientalist

    In the British Library sits a collection of Syriac New Testament fragments of manuscript throughout history. Of these, lays a version of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark, known as Addition 14,461. Scribbled inside the pages, is a note from what is thought to be around the time just after the battle of Gabitha in 636 CE that reads:

    “…and in January, they took the word for their lives did [the sons of] Emesa, and many villages were ruined with killing by [the Arabs of] Mụhammad”

    – This is the earliest non-Islamic mention of a man named Muhammad, written just four years after his death.

    It is without doubt that Islamic literature covering the life, the actions, and words of the Prophet Muhammad, is vast, and along with the Qur’an, the bedrock of Islam. From biographies, to commentaries, to translations and constant reinvention to suit a more ‘acceptable’ modern narrative (the age of Aisha, springs to mind); it goes without saying, that the intrusions into every facet of the life of the founder of one of the Worlds largest religions, is central to the Islamic faith.

    It is truly difficult to know where to start, what we actually know for certain, when trying to figure out just who Muhammad was. Wading through legend, and interpretation rather than fact, is a tiresome venture. But one name crops up as perhaps the most important in the institutionalisation of Islam and the beginnings of forging the legend of the Prophet; Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.

    The first thing to note, for the sake of this article, is the importance of religion, in carving a successful empire. Reza Aslan, in ‘No God but God’ notes:

    “Your religion was your ethnicity, your culture, and your social identity, it defined your politics, your economics, and your ethics. More than anything else, your religion was your citizenship.”

    – The significance of this will be clear by the end of this article.

    The very first biography of the Prophet was produced by Ibn Ishaq; Sīrat Rasūl Allāh. The most notable problems with this, are that Ibn Ishaq was born around 704ad, approximately 70 years after the Prophet had died. He was born two decades after the fifth Umayyad Caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan worked to marry together the new Arab Empire, his own legacy and dynasty (the first dynasty of the Arab empire), with a religious identity of its own. Ibn Ishaq’s biography – a collection of oral traditions – was therefore written around 100+ years (traditionally, 120 years) after the Prophet had died, and just after the Caliphate had indulged in a Public Relations effort. Not only that, but Ibn Ishaq’s work has since been lost to history. We know that Ishaq’s work was edited by al-Bakka’i, whose copy has also been lost to history. al-Bakka’i edit was then edited by Ibn Hisham, whose work (in copies) are the basis for all inquiries into the life of the Prophet that we have today. Everything else, is pieced together from Hadith, that happened to come about even further removed than Ibn Ishaq. For the basis of the life of the Prophet, Ibn Ishaq is often (though not always) taken at his word that he is trustworthy, which obviously means we must take al-Bakka’i’s word that he is trustworthy, and we must take Ibn Hisham’s word that he is trustworthy. And yet, even Islamic scholars throughout history have questioned Ibn Ishaq’s reliability:

    “Imam Malik was not the only contemporary of Ibn Ishaq’s to have problems with him. Despite writing the earliest biography of Prophet Muhammad, Scholars such as al-Nisa’I and Yahya b. Kattan did not view Ibn Ishaq as a reliable or authoritative source of Hadith.”

    If we cannot be certain of the legitimacy of all Hadith, and we place the collection of Hadith at a time that follows a systematic effort to institutionalise Islam by marrying its history to that of the Ummayad rulers, then I see no reason why we can be certain of the legitimacy of any Hadith. If we cannot be certain of the legitimacy of the entire biography by Ibn Ishaq, and cannot be certain of the legitimacy of integrity of Ibn Hisham’s edit, then I see no reason to trust any of it. Both of these contentions have far reaching consequences not just for Muslims, but for those of us who are critical of the Prophet. My criticisms of the Prophet come from the traditions presented of him, through the Qur’an and Hadith. My judgement that he was misogynistic and violent, are based on interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith. If neither can be trusted, than all criticism falls away. I am left with criticism of a legend; but given the structure and practice of belief that legend has inspired and the power it now has over the World, I think it less of a problem to be critical, than it is to believe.

    So what do we know of the Prophet Muhammad?

    Well, if we cross reference early Islamic writings of Ibn Ishaq (though again, we rely on Ibn Hisham for this) with the writings of those outside of Islam, we may get a more accurate picture of Muhammad, than relying purely on the biases of either.

    St John of Damascus, writing before any Hadith were compiled, wrote:

    “There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist. They are descended from Ishmael, [who] was born to Abraham of Agar, and for this reason they are called both Agarenes and Ishmaelites. They are also called Saracens, which is derived from Sarras kenoi, or destitute of Sara, because of what Agar said to the angel: ‘Sara hath sent me away destitute.’ These used to be idolaters and worshiped the morning star and Aphrodite, whom in their own language they called Khabár, which means great. And so down to the time of Heraclius they were very great idolaters. From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy.”

    – St John’s birth year is contentious. Some sources insist around 675, others like Daniel J. Sahas suggest 652. Either way, he lived at a time when the Arab Empire had surged northwards and taken control of his homeland. He would be familiar with stories of Muhammad (Muhammad never stepped foot in Damascus). He lived through the iconoclast controversy, and he was a boyhood friend of the future Caliph Yazid I. He had a keen interest in people of other faiths. Interestingly, in his writings, he never refers to the new occupiers as “Muslims”. There is no “Islam”. No system of laws. The ‘heresy’ wasn’t new, Muslims are referred to as ‘Saracens’ (The Byzantines decreed that because of his supposed heresies, John of Damascus was himself of ‘saracene opinions’) and Muhammad was simply a leader of that old tradition. The chapter itself is called “Heresy of the Ishmaelities”.

    St John was writing just before the accumulation of Hadith began. Around 100 years after Muhammad’s death, and well into the centralising of control toward Damascus, by the Ummayad dynasty. His writings suggest that whilst this new band of ‘heretics’ existed and were linked to a man named Muhammad by the 8th Century, they were not known as Muslims, nor were they considered a brand new religious order, separate from Christianity, with a system of values and laws of their own.

    However, much of that is St John’s Christian bias. The Arabs did not consider themselves to be a heretical Christian sect. Here we see two coins. The coin on the left, is the coin of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. The coin on the right, is the Umayyad coin, modelled on the earlier Byzantine coin…. but with the cross missing:

    coin
    – The Umayyad coin is dated to around 690, during a dispute with the Byzantines. The minting of new coins lead directly to war with the Byzantine Empire. And here we see the beginnings of what would become a very centralised, political Islam, through, in my estimation, the single most important Caliph in the history of the Arab Empire.

    The Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan established the entity that would become an Islamic state, rather than simply conquered lands. In short, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, was brilliant. A master of empire building. A political genius. He came to power upon the death of his father, during a civil war that was tearing the fragile Empire apart. He most feared the rise of the alternative Caliph Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr and his followers. 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.

    He had the coin above created to include an image of himself, defiantly holding onto his sword, as a warrior. Poetry of the time calls the Caliph, the ‘deputy’ of God. They go to great lengths to push this idea, and it is most prominent during the reign of Abd al-Malik.

    The urgency to ensure the strength and growth of the new Arab Empire – an Empire that had already experienced civil war, and was in the midst of new uprisings – depended on creating a history of its own, intrinsically tied to the new Caliph (This happens with all dynasties of old who have spurious claims to power. Augustus adopted the title ‘Caesar’, King Henry VII of England, named his first son Arthur, linking his dynasty to the reign of the legendary King Arthur). It is the result of the attempts to centralise power more concisely and distinctly than any previous Caliph, and to solidify the new Empire, by Abd al-Malik, at a period in history by which the survival of a new state entwined majestically with the growth of the religion that it was based on. Without a powerful religious context, alongside a manipulated legend-based history, a state struggled to survive.

    Unsurprisingly, the first mention of the Prophet Muhammad on any coin, was issued a year after the accession to the Caliphate, in 686, and in the midst of rebellion and civil war….. of Abd al-Malik. The coin reads: “shahāda: bism Allāh Muḥammad rasūl Allāh (“In the name of God, Muḥammad is the Messenger of God”)”. This again, coincides with the Caliph’s attempts to solidify the power of the new Empire, and link his dynasty and his Empire back to the early days, and to Muhammad. Abd al-Malik, is forging a history for his dynasty. The legend of Muhammad was the next stage in the strengthening of the dynasty through forged history.

    Between 685, and 715, the dynasty that controlled the Caliphate was in the middle of perhaps one of the greatest and most impressive Public Relations ventures the World has ever seen.

    Earlier Arab coins, during the period between Muhammad’s death, and the 5th Umayyad Caliph, show no mention of anything that could be linked to the Islam that evolved over the following century. No mention of Islam, or of the Prophet. They include generic phrases like “bism Allah rabbi” (In the name of God, my Lord).

    Coins are one way to strengthen an Empire, but by far the most impressive, is through Architecture. Abd al-Malik oversaw the symbolic building of the Dome of the Rock, in centre of Jewish Jerusalem, on the legendary site of Temple Mount. It stands high above Church of the Holy Sepulchre, dwarfing the old Christian Church. A symbol of great power to the new Monotheism in town. Nothing says the coming of a new age, and a new dynasty, quite like crushing the old one. A symbol of authority, and wealth; great architecture is woven into the fabric of the building of Empire. This was used to stunning effect by the great architects of the Abd al-Malik era.

    His son, al-Walid, upon accession to the Caliphate, continues his father’s legacy, by building the great Umayyad Mosque at Damascus, over the old Christian Basilica of Saint John the Baptist. al-Walid also became the Patron of great artists and poets at the time. The Umayyad’s were creating a brand new culture, that centred around themselves. It is for this reason perhaps that Islam, is an extremely political religion. It was necessary, for the time period.

    Coins emphasising the link between Abd al-Malik’s dynasty, and Muhammad, forging the legend of Muhammad to add weight to the early days and linking it to the history of his dynasty, huge beautiful buildings on the sight of religions of conquered Empires, codifying laws through the Qur’an; this all took place to strengthen Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan’s claim to the Caliphate. He oversaw the centralising of power from reliance on tribal leaders, to a system of bureaucracy (which resulted in the Arabisation of the language of state). He reformed the military, creating official ranks of non-Arab fighters. We can trace the legends of Muhammad to, and directly following his reign. Prior to that time period, all we have are sparse references to a man named Muhammad who was simply a leader of the Arabs. What he said, and what he did, was of little to no significance. Imperial authority, Islamic authority, all resulted from Abd al-Malik’s imperial & dynastic goals.

    Three things are clear. Firstly, the sudden and impressive Arab conquests around the 7th century, included and was most likely lead by a man called Muhammad, though whether his words and deeds were important to this new faith, is unlikely given that it took over a century to decide it might be wise to document his words and deeds, and over 60 years before he even appears on a coin. Secondly, Muhammad preached a Monotheism that differed to that of Christians and Jews, and was considered a heresy by non-Muslims of the period. And Thirdly, by the late 7th Century, 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, upon his accession to a largely fragmented and warring empire.

    What we do not know, and what is pure speculation at best, is the Prophet’s life before his supposed revelations, what actually happened in the cave outside of Mecca (if anything), any aspect of his life, what he ever said, and how he treated others. We simply do not know. It is far more likely that Muhammad, as presented in Islamic literature, was a figure whose legend began to be moulded by the truly brilliant Abd al-Malik, and was further added to in order to suit the goals of later Caliphs.

    Islam as we know it, was intrinsically linked to the Umayyad dynasty. It was all political, all spin, all PR, and based on the geopolitical climate of the late 7th Century. The early Arabs were not Muslims as we know them today. The Fifth Umayyad Caliph carved a political empire. Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan was the great spark that lit the fire of the legend of the Prophet Muhammad.