Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Western Reason vs. Islamic Mysticism

A "moderate" Muslim organization called "Muslims Against Sharia" posted a comment on my "Islamophobia is Justified" commentary (in English and in Swedish, no less). Here is my reply to it. I do not often respond to criticisms by Muslims, but the reader will see why I do in this instance in the first and last paragraphs.


Thank you for replying to my “'Islamophobia' is Justified” commentary on Rule of Reason. It quite startled me that you not only praised the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks and his colleagues, but also countered with your own bounty on the head of Abu Omar Al Baghdadi (obviously an alias of the contrivance of the coward who hides behind it).

I printed out your Muslims against Sharia Manifesto to read more closely and to compose some commentary on it. You are to be commended for taking the position on Sharia law that you have – that it must be completely abolished – and I agree with many of the points in the Manifesto, if not entirely with their style of expression, then in spirit, especially in regard to religious privacy, outdated practices, words and phrases, and especially with your endorsement of free expression in terms of depicting Mohammad. I particularly liked your characterization of terrorists as “homicidal zombies’; a more accurate description of them I have not encountered elsewhere.

All that, together with your condemnation of Muslims who murder Muslims and non-Muslims in the name of Islam, certainly deserves recognition of your courage and honesty, and you have mine.

You posed a very interesting question in the Manifesto. After citing the possible (and likely) corruption of the Bible over the centuries (if not expedient inventions of great parts of it by the Church), you ask: “Could it be possible that the Koran itself was corrupted by Muslims over the last thirteen centuries?”

I’m sure you are aware of the abrogation issue concerning the Koran, and if you or Muslim scholars attempt to reform Islam, this will be a major and I think insurmountable hurdle. It is my understanding that the earlier sections of the Koran and Hadith reveal a sort of “kinder, gentler” Mohammad who did not call for war against all unbelievers. I would probably agree with some historians who aver that these sections were calculated merely to win him allies among non-Muslims during his campaign to conquer the Arabian Peninsula. There is no other accounting for their content other than that they are a form of taqiya. Later sections of the Koran abrogate or supplant the earlier ones, however, and these contain the homicidal and belligerent injunctions that fundamentalists cite to sanction jihad.

Another issue I think you or your scholars would face would be retaining Islam’s purported “peaceful” identity, so reforming it would prove to be a daunting but nevertheless insoluble and impossible task.

If you performed a theological and textual vivisection on the written corpus of the religion – that is, managed to “reform” it by excising all its objectionable injunctions, leaving only its more “benign” aspects – could you could still call it “Islam”? What would be left would be a collection of unconnected, disparate rules and sentiments with no system at all. It might be a more pacific creed, akin to the Amish or Quaker, but would it still retain the identity you wanted to preserve? I don’t think it would. You would need to call it by another name.

My final remarks concern faith. Muslims, like Christians, Jews and other religionists, have “faith” in the existence of a supreme being, and that what such a being commands or prescribes as moral is true and right. Of this, all religionists are “certain.”

Now, there is a crucial difference between faith and certainty. You exhibit certainty about the existence, for example, of your car keys, that the laws of cause and effect will enable you to unlock the car door with them, and that the laws of physics will cause them to start the engine. Your certainty is grounded in reality. You don’t even think about it, or need to think about it. Reality and your certainty about it are the given.

You exhibit faith when you believe, without so much as an iota of proof, in the existence of a supernatural being who has never appeared to anyone in history, but whose existence is merely asserted by priests, mullahs or other professional mystics. Apocryphal anecdotes about this being comprise all the sacred texts of all the religions, all of them claiming at some point that this being spoke to or appeared before or somehow manifested his existence to a variety of prophets, seers, saints and so on.

But all of these assertions are merely legends that offer no supporting evidence to substantiate them other than what long-dead, shadowy monks and the like recorded. A pile of unsubstantiated written assertions does not make a truth, no matter how many millions of words or thousands of pages are devoted to “proving” it. Nor do millions of people believing in a thing make it a fact or a truth.

But, you are asked (or told) to accept this “truth” on faith. In short, you are expected to treat the unreal as real. Further, you are not permitted to think about or doubt or question what you are expected to believe. You are not to apply reason to the subject. Even further, you are expected, under pain of sin or punishment, to conduct your life according to a chaos of arbitrary rules and injunctions – pacific or not – purportedly authored by a being – call him Allah, God, Siva, Brahma, Vishnu, or Wontonka – evidence of whose existence you have not a shred, except for the assertions or say-so of a hierarchy of witch doctors.

As you have probably concluded, I am an atheist. I was raised in the Catholic faith, but I could never take it seriously, because every one of its tenets contradicted the evidence of my senses and my nature as a thinking, volitional being, and my senses and my mind and my nature are engineered to deal with reality, not with some fictive other-worldly realm. Every human being is so engineered, without exception, and nature did the engineering or “designing,” not a ghost. If reason cannot be applied to an issue, in this instance, the existence of a supreme being, call him what you will, if it is excluded from any discussion of the subject, then I see no reason to concern myself with the question.

But, you might ask, as so many Christians and Jews do, what about the “first cause”? What about the “beginning”? The cosmologies of the various religions, including Islam’s, are ludicrous, fantastic and metaphysically impossible. I think that most men suffer from a kind of mental block, or absorb it from our semi-rational culture, that stops them from accepting the axiom that existence exists. Period. So they become nominally “faithful” or agnostic.

The concept of a “first cause” or “beginning” is a logical fallacy that beggars metaphysical validation, and is subject to an endless reductio ad absurdum argument. Did existence come into existence when Allah or God or Vishnu snapped his fingers or just “wished” it, and if existence didn’t exist before that, where did this being reside if matter and nothingness did not exist before he did, and where did he come from, and why is his supernatural realm always beyond human perception and comprehension? And so on. It is a matter deserving an essay far longer than my remarks here. Aristotle and Ayn Rand have done a better job of exploding that concept than I could ever attempt.

As a primitive form of philosophy, I do not think any religion is “great.” It has caused so much misery, suffering, horror and destruction in man’s history. And because it has attracted so much attention lately, I find Islam especially repellent for its degrading rituals, prohibitions and virulent anti-mindedness. I don’t like seeing men bowing to a ghost or throwing pebbles at a rock in defiance of another ghost.

Faith and reason are incompatible and antithetical means of living, but most men commit the error of compartmentalizing them to avoid facing the issue. They know that doing the hokey-pokey while reciting a doggerel won’t cause their car keys to work, but they’ll do much the same thing believing it will make a morality work.

Because your Manifesto exhibited a quantum of reason, as did your response to my Islamophobia commentary, I thought it earned a reciprocal reply, which is the best kind of respect I can offer. However, I do not wish to debate this subject at any length, but hope you accept my observations in the spirit in which they are offered.


Muslims Against Sharia said...

Muslims Against Sharia Poll:
Does Islam Need to Be Reformed?

Muslims Against Sharia said...

Many people talk about the need to reform Islam. Now you can stop talking and start helping.

With the help of our readers we went through the Koran and removed every verse that we believe did not come from Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. However, it is possible that we missed something, and we could use your help. If you find verses in the reformed version of the Koran that promote violence, divisiveness, religious or gender superiority, bigotry, or discrimination, please let us know the number of the verse and the reason why it should be removed. Please email your suggestions to koran-AT-reformislam.org.

When we finish editing process, we would like to publish Reform Koran in as many languages as possible. If you could help with translation or distribution of the Reform Koran, please email us at koran-AT-reformislam.org. If you could provide financial support, please visit our support page.

In Memoriam of Aqsa Parvez.