Anwar Ibrahim Free Again To Pursue Reform Agenda

Today’s release of the Malaysian political leader Anwar Ibrahim is a welcome day for all those who wish to see greater freedom, democracy and reform in the Muslim world.

Anwar was imprisoned on trumped up charges back in 1998 for challenging cronyism and corrupt practices in Malaysia. At a time when too many Islamic groups were (and sadly still are) overly focussed on the issue of Hudood penalties (the criminal code in Islam), Anwar urged people to rather turn their attention to the question of good governance and ensuring greater freedoms in society.

He argued that it is the very lack of freedom in many Muslim countries and the resulting dearth of vibrant discussion and debate on key religious and political issues that has strengthened conservative and retrograde interpretations of Islam. Encouraging greater freedoms and allowing multiple interpretations of Islam to be debated is essential to facilitate much needed creativity in addressing the challenges facing Muslim societies. Without this freedom, creativity is stifled and creativity is key to making progress.

At the end of 2001 I was invited (as part of the MCB) to a gathering of a hundred or so Muslims by the late Dr Zaki Badawi at a posh central London hotel where the guest of honour was Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was Prime Minister of Malaysia at that time and had just a couple of years earlier instigated the character assassination and imprisonment of Anwar. As soon as we were allowed to ask questions I made a dash to the microphone and asked how Dr Mahathir could possibly justify the unjust treatment of Anwar. A recalcitrant Dr Mahathir insisted that Anwar had engaged in criminal behaviour and his punishment was justified.

To Muslims of my generation, Anwar was a true hero and inspiration. He had been the leader of an Islamic student organisation, ABIM, in his youth and had made the transition into government where he became a rising star and was widely tipped to become the next Prime Minister of his country.

Anwar has suffered tremendously for his reformist stance which makes seeing him go free today all the more beautiful and moving. As the presenter in the video below of an Anwar Ibrahim talk on Islam and Democracy says, a person who stands firm on a principle and is prepared to suffer for it can end up moving a nation and indeed the world.


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Andrew Gilligan – the World’s Worst Journalist

Is there a working journalist with a more woeful record for getting it wrong and writing lies than Andrew Gilligan?

Today, the Sunday Telegraph accepted that Gilligan had written a defamatory story concerning the general secretary of the Finsbury Park mosque, Mohammed Kozbar, and had falsely portrayed him as being a supporter of Muslim extremism. The article, published in March 2016, was headlined “Corbyn and the mosque leader who blames the UK for Isil” so no prizes for guessing whose political career Gilligan was also hoping to trash at the same time. The Sunday Telegraph has removed the article from its website and been forced to pay substantial damages to Mr Kozbar while now admitting that “in fact, Mr Kozbar has never ‘blamed the UK for ISIL’”.

But, of course, this is not the first time that Gilligan has been caught out writing inflammatory rubbish. Just last August 2017, the Sunday Telegraph was again forced to apologise and pay damages after another Gilligan story fell apart after publication. This time it was forced to pay £20,000 in damages and apologise to Haras Ahmed for falsely accusing him of being an “Islamist activist” who was allegedly seeking to undermine the government’s Prevent strategy – a strategy that has many critics within the UK Muslim communities. The paper accepted that “whilst he is critical of the Prevent strategy (elements of which he believes are highly discriminatory), he does not support Islamist extremists and is in no way himself an extremist.”

And the year before that, in 2016, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph apologised to Mujibul Islam, a businessman in Tower Hamlets, following a series of Gilligan articles about him which the Telegraph accepted “suggested that Mr Islam was a willing beneficiary of…corruption”. The Telegraph papers accepted that the allegations were “untrue” and once again had to pay damages.

Gilligan now works for the Sunday Times. Interestingly, in February 2017, Gilligan wrote a story for his latest employers about a new so-called “Trojan Horse” plot by Muslims, including Nasim Ashraf and Hafizan Zaman, to takeover a state school in Oldham. The very next day the Daily Telegraph – Gilligan’s former employers – followed up on Gilligan’s exclusive story and wrote up a similar story. You can guess what happened…the Daily Telegraph was forced to accept that the allegations “were unfounded” and apologised and paid damages to the Muslims they had accused. You would have thought that the Telegraph papers would have learned to steer well clear of a Gilligan “story”.

And what happened to Gilligan’s original Sunday Times story? Well, if you click on this link it currently says “This article is the subject of a legal complaint from Mr Nasim Ashraf and Mrs Hafizan Zaman.” I don’t fancy the paper’s chances. Do you?

Could it be that the Sunday Times is now regretting employing the world’s worst journalist?

On the other hand, perhaps the Murdoch-owned paper believes that publishing inflammatory articles about Muslims is an essential part of its mission as a right-wing rabble-rousing newspaper.

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Book Review: The Qur’an – A Historical-Critical Introduction by Nicolai Sinai

I first read the Qur’an in English translation at the age of 18 during the summer break following my ‘A’ level exams and the start of university. Up until then I had largely only read the Qur’an in Arabic – a language I did not understand at the time – at the madrasa. The translation that I first read was by Marmaduke Pickthall which my mother had bought for me some years previously and I had put it aside as I was uninterested at the time. Now, during that long summer, on beginning to read the Qur’an I was at once gripped by the authority and immediacy with which the Qur’an spoke. This really was like no other book I had ever previously read. The Qur’an repeatedly claimed to be Divine speech and demanded to be taken seriously by the reader.

In the many years since that summer, I have purchased and read many different English translations of the Qur’an and have also sought out Western critiques of the Qur’an too. After all, a true faith should be able to withstand criticism, right?

Beginning in the late 1970’s a revisionist school of thought appeared amongst some influential Western scholars including John Wansbrough, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook. This school claimed to have uncovered findings which undermined the traditional Muslim accounts of Islamic/Qur’anic history and argued that the Qur’an was not revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century (610 – 632 CE according to traditional Muslim accounts), but was produced much later. Wansbrough argued that the Qur’an was produced in the late 8th/early 9th century during the Abbasid era. If true, these claims would cause immense damage to the Muslim worldview.

In his latest book “The Qur’an: A Historical-Critical Introduction“, Nicolai Sinai, an Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University, says that the “…aim of the present book is to induct readers into the current state of the historical-critical study of the Qur’an.” His findings will be of interest to many Muslims and some detractors too.

Sinai quickly disposes of the revisionist school’s arguments. In the years since Wansbrough/Crone/Cook made their claims a number of Qur’anic fragments have been discovered – including a few years ago in Birmingham – that appear to strongly support the traditional Muslim account of the Qur’an’s genesis.

“…it appears increasingly certain that at least a large part of the Qur’an was extant by the middle of the seventh century, since several sheets from early Qur’anic manuscripts have now been subjected to radiocarbon dating. Thus, the testing of a folio belonging to a very substantial Qur’anic palimpsest discovered in the Grand Mosque of San’a has produced a likelihood of more than 95% that the parchment is older than 660 CE…the increasing number of such tests would appear to confirm that a very considerable portion of the Qur’anic text was around, albeit not without variants, by the 650s.”

The revisionist school had also claimed that Islam had not originated in the Hijaz but much further to the north near the border of Palestine. This argument was also taken up by Tom Holland in his book, In The Shadow of the Sword (which I reviewed here) and his accompanying sensationalist Channel 4 documentary “Islam: The Untold Story”. Holland argued that Islam’s origins lay not in the Makka that we know today, but much closer to the modern Israeli border in the north. Makka, argued Holland, was a much later creation by the Umayyads. Sinai debunks this hypothesis too. Sinai adduces a number of arguments which support the traditional Muslim history of Islam’s origins including pointing out that the Qur’an (33:13) explicitly refers to Yathrib (later renamed to al-Madinah) which is in the Hijaz and has been attested to in other literary and epigraphic sources. Sinai says:

“…[I have ended up] endorsing core aspects of [the traditional Muslim] scenario, namely, the historical existence of Muhammad, a default dating of most of the Qur’an to his lifetime and…a placement of the Qur’an’s genesis in the Hijaz region of Western Arabia…the prospects for identifying a compelling alternative to the traditional Hijazi locale and for explaining why and how the Qur’an’s true birthplace could have been so completely obliterated from Islamic historical memory are unpromising, to say the least.”

Sinai’s book also takes a look at how in the past many Western scholars had simply assumed that the Qur’anic suras (chapters) were roughly compiled out of groups of verses and observes how by contrast “a growing tendency in Western scholarship since the 1980s has insisted that many Qur’anic texts are in fact much tighter literary unities”. This is an interesting development and some Muslim readers will recognise that the late Pakistani Islamic scholar, Amin Ahsan Islahi, was one of the pioneers of this school of thought.

Overall, Sinai’s book has much to recommend it. His conclusions do not mean that the Qur’an is God’s Word of course – and I have written previously of how certain Qur’anic passages do pose a problem for modern readers – but it does serve to confirm that the traditional Muslim accounts of the Qur’an’s birthplace do appear to be sound.

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A Look at the Prevent Strategy – 15 years on…

It is fifteen years now since the then Labour government set up the Prevent programme back in 2003 as one of the four key strands of its overall CONTEST strategy (Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare) to try and reduce the threat of terrorism, yet it continues to remain highly controversial especially amongst UK Muslims.

Over the years there have been a number of widely publicised questionable referrals made to Prevent which have served to increase suspicions about its purpose. That sort of publicity understandably damages the standing of Prevent and contributes to increasing fears amongst other Muslims about how they and their children too might perhaps be suspected of being extremists by over-zealous officials.

It would be a mistake, however, to allow unfortunate referrals to overshadow the necessity of the Prevent programme in the first place. Mistakes are bound to occur.  In ordinary police work not every line of inquiry for a suspected crime leads to an arrest. Not every arrest leads to a criminal charge. Not every charge leads to a conviction. And not every conviction is safe. We are all human beings and human beings are fallible.

So, as Will Baldet, co-ordinator, Prevent Leicester, comments in a video about Prevent: “If inappropriate referrals are being made then I would want the training to be improved. What I don’t think is appropriate is that you abandon a strategy because somebody in the strategy has made a mistake. What you do is hone and refine the strategy.”

Back in 2010, I met with the then head of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, Charles Farr. Farr argued that the government had – quite rightly – set up anti-knife, anti-gun and anti-drug programmes to try and dissuade young people from getting involved in activities that might harm themselves and harm others. He said it would be untenable, therefore, if the government did not also have a programme to dissuade people from getting involved in terrorist activities. The government, regardless of its political complexion, has a primary duty of protecting its citizens and Prevent needs to be viewed in that light.

Earlier this week, the Home Office released figures for the year ending March 2017 which showed that suspected far-right extremists constituted 16% percent of those who had been referred to the Prevent anti-radicalisation programme. This was an increase of a quarter over the previous year’s figures. As we discovered earlier this year at the trial of Darren Osborne – the man who attacked worshippers outside Finsbury Park Mosque – he had, according to the judge, been “rapidly radicalised over the internet by those determined to spread hatred of Muslims…Your use of Twitter exposed you to racists and anti-Islamic ideology…In short, you allowed your mind to be poisoned by those who claimed to be leaders.”

In his parting speech in February 2018, Mark Rowley, the former head of counter-terrorism policing, warned “against the rise of the far right as he revealed that four extremist rightwing plots had been thwarted in 2017.”

Would we not want to see attempts made to engage with others like Osborne, whether they are suspected far-right activists or Muslims or whoever else, well before they get to the stage of actually carrying out terrorist attacks? That is the purpose of Prevent.

Roshan Salih, the editor of the 5 Pillarz website refers to Prevent as constituting “state Islamophobia” in the video I have linked to above. That criticism seems rather overdone and unhelpful. Let’s be frank about what a referral to Prevent actually means. It means that your case – if it is deemed to be a cause for concern – will be assessed by a panel which will include local police officials and local authority figures and they will discuss whether your case may benefit from intervention in the form of mentoring etc that might perhaps be useful to you. It is hardly waterboarding, right?

It is true that some of the Muslims associated with promoting the Prevent agenda are viewed with concern by the wider UK Muslim community as not being sufficiently independent. Certainly their lionising by journalists such as Nick Cohen, John Ware and Andrew Gilligan – who are not viewed as being exactly friendly to UK Muslims – continues to damage the Prevent brand. At the same time the reluctance of the government to engage with organisations that by all accounts do genuinely have significant support amongst UK Muslims, such as the Muslim Council of Britain and MEND, adds to the impression that the government is only willing to talk with Muslims that are sufficiently deferential and pliable.

And yet…the safety of the UK and our fellow citizens should be a concern for all of us. We should not refrain from co-operating with those tasked with maintaining our security. At the same time, it is absolutely right to raise any concerns we have about how Prevent is operating. And the government and authorities should be seen to be engaging with those concerns seriously with a view to improving the effectiveness of the Prevent strategy.

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Fiyaz Mughal Slanders Imams Over Anti-Semitism

Each day I receive an email from Jewish News Online in which they highlight some stories. Yesterday’s edition contained an article by Fiyaz Mughal – the founder of Tell MAMA – entitled “Chief Rabbi right to call out ‘see no evil hear no evil’ mantra on anti-Semitism.” The article was in support of the call from the UK’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mervis, for Muslims around the world to be more vocal in standing up to anti-Semitism. Mughal writes:

“The fact that there has not been one single Imam who has publicly spoken up about the need to tackle anti-Semitism within and beyond Muslim communities, is telling.”

When I read that I did a double take. Whaaaaat? Not a single Imam? In the whole world? Really? What was Mughal basing this on? How much research did Mughal actually do before he came up with that astonishingly sweeping claim? It took me all of ten seconds to type in the words “Imams condemn anti-Semitism” into Google and it turned up quote after quote by Imams across the world condemning anti-Semitism. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Here’s an extract from a Reuters story “Euro imams, rabbis pledge zero tolerance for hate preachers”:

“Seventy European Muslim and Jewish leaders pledged on Wednesday to show “zero tolerance” to hate preachers of any faith including their own ranks, citing what they called rising religious intolerance on the continent. Imams, rabbis and community leaders from 18 countries agreed to jointly counter bigotry against Jews and Muslims…”

That certainly sounds like Imams speaking out against anti-Semitism both “within and beyond” does it not? Several years back the Muslim Council of Britain (whose affiliates include hundreds of mosques) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews issued a laudable joint statement in which they said:

“We condemn any expression of Islamophobia, Anti-semitism  or any form of racism. We call for Muslim and Jewish communities to redouble efforts to work together and get to know one another.”

So, many Imams have indeed spoken out against the evil of anti-Semitism.

And how about Muslim communities? Just a few months ago, I recall reading a wonderful story in The Independent about a group of Muslims in Leeds who went to show solidarity with the congregants of a synagogue that had been defaced with racist graffiti. It was a really heart warming gesture. This story is especially poignant because in his article Mughal notes several examples of Jews displaying support for Muslims who are victims of anti-Muslim bigotry, but tellingly provides no examples of Muslims standing up in solidarity with Jews. At best one would say that conducting basic research  is clearly not a Fiyaz Mughal strongpoint. If one was inclined to be less generous, however, you might say that Mughal was rather dishonestly giving a very selective and partial portrait in order to deliberately bolster his misleading argument.

And then there was this contribution in the Jewish Chronicle from your present writer over a decade ago where I said:

“We have to be honest, and I think there has been a real danger – because passions are so heated around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – of genuine disputes over Israeli policies sliding to an easy, or casual, form of anti-Semitism…Muslims as well as others ought to be cautious about that. It would be absurd if, after being on the receiving end of prejudice, we ended up being prejudiced ourselves.”

And there are plenty of other similar examples one could quote from. All forms of bigotry, whether it is prejudice against Jews, Muslims or any other religious group, ought to be vigorously challenged. We should be wary of making sweeping generalisations of any group of people.

So, why did Fiyaz Mughal make such a manifestly false claim in the Jewish News in support of the Chief Rabbi? Interestingly, Mughal acted in much the same obsequious manner last summer when following the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in London Bridge and Borough Market – a time when public figures would normally have been extra careful not to encourage division in the UK – the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, wrote a very ill-judged article in the Jewish Chronicle saying:

“…it is time now for the diverse Muslim communities of the UK to stand up and be counted – to go beyond mere condemnation. I believe they need to stage a huge rally of their own in a prominent location such as Trafalgar Square.  Muslim religious and secular leaders must make the point loudly and publicly that these attacks are a perversion of Islam and the attackers will be liable to be punished after death and not rewarded in heaven. Every British mosque should be holding its own protest against terrorism, proclaiming Not in our Name.”

To their immense credit around 100 British Jews from a number of different synagogues and unaffiliated individuals wrote an open letter strongly rebuking Jonathan Arkush saying:

“We particularly reject the assertion that members of a religious or ethnic group must quickly and publicly denounce any members of that group who act repugnantly. We hope you will remember that this has been used to persecute Jews in living memory. Just as we as Jews have no responsibility for the actions of Jewish terrorist groups, Muslims are not personally responsible for the actions of groups such as ISIS. Finally, we are deeply troubled with your presuming to enforce a mandatory public reaction on the entire Muslim community in the wake of these attacks. We commend the Muslim community leaders who have spoken out against the terrorists, but it is not for us to dictate how people in grieving communities should respond. We stand with all our Muslim sisters and brothers, and all people of faith and no faith, in love and healing from these atrocities – together.”

It was a highly commendable letter which displayed genuine solidarity with British Muslims at a sensitive time when the terrorists and their supporters would have been desperately trying to set communities against each other.

But how did Fiyaz Mughal respond? Did he also roundly criticise the President of the Board of Deputies for trying to “enforce a mandatory public reaction on the entire Muslim community”? Of course not. The very next day, Mughal wrote an astonishingly ingratiating article for the Jewish Chronicle rushing to Arkush’s defence saying that the Arkush comments were “sensitive and thought through – and carried with it a deep sense of empathy and care for Muslim communities.”

A couple of years ago, Fiyaz Mughal was the subject of a fawning interview in the Observer by that notorious supporter and propagandist for the illegal war against Iraq, Nick Cohen. In the article, Mughal accused his opponents in the Muslim community of being “charlatans”. Well, there are certainly some charlatans around, no question. Perhaps Fiyaz Mughal should take a good hard look in the mirror.

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Review: Resurrection – Ertugrul

For the first time ever, I have engaged in the somewhat dubious activity known as binge-watching. Truthfully, I just couldn’t help it and trust me neither will you. Resurrection: Ertugrul – a number one show in its native Turkey – is turning out to be a genuine sensation for Muslims in the West, starved as we are of decent dramas that seek to reflect our values. Anyhow – and I am rather shocked myself to say this – I have watched, or rather, greedily devoured, the first 25 episodes over the past week on Netflix and can’t wait to watch more.

Set in the year 1225 C.E. in an unspecified location that appears to be in Anatolia, Resurrection: Ertugrul is inspired by the life of Ertugrul, a scion of the Turkmen Kayi tribe and the son of its leader, Sulayman Shah. Ertugrul was the father of ‘Uthman, after whom the ‘Uthmaniyyah Khilafah (Ottoman Empire) was named. His descendants would go on to rule a huge part of the Muslim world for around 600 years.

The very beginning of the first episode sets the defiant tone of the series. It is almost as if the creators of the series took on a wager:

“In secular Turkey I bet you can’t begin your series by mentioning God’s name!”

“Oh yeah? We are Muslims. We will say “God is great. God is One” loudly not once, but 15 times, right at the outset. Watch us.”

And that’s just what they do! I won’t reveal how they integrated that into the storyline but it is artfully and very cleverly done.

The setting of the drama near the beginning of the 13th century allows the writers to introduce a number of plot elements including famine, the upheaval caused by the Mongol invasions, the petty rulers of the Muslim city states, Crusader intrigue (it is set less than 40 years after Salahuddin al-Ayyubi liberated Jerusalem), the Black Death and perhaps most joyfully, the regular appearance of the Sufi saint, Ibn al-Arabi who lived in the region at this time.

As we begin the series, the Kayi tribe are dealing with a famine and are about to face the onset of a harsh winter in which their flocks and almost certainly many of the weaker members of the tribe will face death. They have to look for a way out.

It is a running theme of the series that the Kayi tribe constantly faces problems. However, as the physicist David Deutsch says in his magnificent book The Beginning of Infinity: “Problems are inevitable. Problems are soluble.” Ertugrul, his father Sulayman Shah and the Kayi tribe face trouble after trouble but they prepare and plan to deal with each one of them with resolution and firm faith in God that justice must prevail.

Set against the Kayi tribe are not just the scheming Crusaders of the Knights Templar who want the Vatican to launch a new Crusade to recapture Jerusalem, but also their Muslim collaborators who treasonously deal with the Crusaders for personal profit at the expense of the interests of the wider Muslim world.

Ibn Arabi regularly pops up, (one reviewer likened him to a Muslim Gandalf) to offer insights from the Qur’an and the lives of the Prophets to bolster the faith of the characters.

Another enigmatic character is the mysterious Afsin Bey of whom one character says after he has once again gone missing for a few days:

“You know how Afsin Bey is! We cannot hear from him unless he wants us to. He puts on his shroud and infiltrates into the heartland of the infidels. We do not know whether he’d surface in Frank territory or in a Persian city.”

To compound the problems of the Kayi tribe, the ruler of the Muslim city state of Aleppo where they want to move their tribe to shelter from the famine is a drip of a man who prefers writing love poems to focusing on the well-being and safety of his people who are being continually undermined by Knights Templar infiltrators.

The series is very well made and the gripping nature of each episode leaves the viewer wanting to watch more. Some of the CGI effects which are occasionally a bit ropey can be forgiven.

The acting throughout is of a very high standard and the costumes look gorgeous on the screen. A lot of care has clearly gone into the production of this series.

The huge success of Resurrection: Ertugrul should perhaps be viewed in light of recent changes in Turkish society. Following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after the first world war, Turkey became so aggressively secular that it actively sought to undermine religious values and actively discriminated against practising Muslims with bans on bearded Muslim men and employing Muslim women wearing the headscarf in the civil service etc. Recent years have seen a gradual reversal of these policies with the electoral success of the Islam-oriented AK Party under the leadership of President Recep Tayyib Erdogan.

Interestingly, I noticed that towards the end of the credits, Kemal Tekden is listed as a producer (it is his Tekden Films that produced the series). Kemal Tekden also just happens to be an AK Party MP. Turkey has developed a very successful export market for its TV dramas with a recent story claiming that Resurrection: Ertugrul has now been exported to over 60 countries.

If you haven’t watched any of Resurrection: Ertugrul yet – get on to Netflix and give it a chance now. You may surprise yourself.

Update: 15th March 2018 Almost four weeks after writing the above I have completed watching both Seasons One and Two of Resurrection: Ertugrul. Definitely got my money’s worth out of my Netflix subscription this month. The episodes just seemed to get better and better, and the themes grander and grander. Your heart will soar each time you see Ertugrul paying attention to Ibn al-Arabi’s aptly timed reminders from the Qur’an. You will shake your head in anger when you see how otherwise noble people are corrupted by gold and the promise of positions of state. Now – when are Netflix going to upload Seasons Three and Four?

Update 29th April 2018 The Turkish broadcaster TRT World has uploaded a cool promotional video highlighting some of the reasons why overseas audiences have become so hooked on the Resurrection: Ertugrul series.

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Book Review: The Language of God by Francis S. Collins


The year 2006 saw the publication of two very different books about the God hypothesis: the evolutionary zoologist and prominent atheist, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and the physician-geneticist Francis Collins’ The Language of God.

Collins is best known for his leadership of the Human Genome Project which published a first draft of the entire human genome back in 2000. In The Language of God he recounts how he was not brought up in any particular faith by his parents and went on to regard himself as an atheist as he became an adult. In his late twenties, however, he came across the book Mere Christianity by the Oxford academic C.S. Lewis which made a deep impression on Collins and he thereafter became a committed Christian.

Collins was clearly impressed by the Moral Law argument advanced by C.S. Lewis and quotes a passage from Mere Christianity as follows:

“If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe – no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions?” (p29)

How does Collins seek to reconcile science with religion? In recent years a number of scientists and philosophers – perhaps influenced by evolution denial amongst some evangelical Christian groups along the violent fanaticism of some Muslim groups – have argued for the need to “outgrow” religious beliefs and they ascribe it to an earlier phase of humanity’s development which we need to move on from. This line of argument views religious beliefs as being our first attempt at understanding the world around us but that it has now been superceded by the outstanding success over the past four centuries of science and the scientific method.

As a scientist who has helped map the genetic blueprint of humanity, Collins accepts and welcomes the knowledge and understanding that science has given us, but argues that religion can help provide answers to key questions that all of us have and that science cannot possibly answer.

“Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world, and its tools when properly utilised can generate profound insights into material existence. But science is powerless to answer questions such as “Why did the universe come into being?” “What is the meaning of human existence?” “What happens after we die?” One of the strongest motivations of humankind is to seek answers to profound questions, and we need to bring all the power of both the scientific and spiritual perspectives to bear on understanding what is both seen and unseen.” (p6)

But what about the passages in the Bible in the Book of Genesis about the creation of the world? A literal interpretation of those passages has led many – predominantly American Christians to believe that the earth was created just over six thousand years ago, as opposed to around 4.5 billion years ago as discovered by science. Collins urges Christians not to take a literal approach to those passages and strongly argues for an allegorical/poetic interpretation which lays greater stress on the larger picture i.e. that the universe had a beginning and was willed into being by a Creator. The consequences of the Big Bang theory – which also postulates that the universe came into being at the very start of time – are “electrifying” for believers according to Collins.

“I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.” (p67)

Dawkins would call this the Argument from Personal Incredulity or also a God of the Gaps approach – just because science cannot currently answer a specific question – in this case what brought about the Big Bang – it is tantamount to giving up to just say “Well, God did it.”

In the end it all seems to boil down to whether you think science can in principle discover what caused the Big Bang or whether you think it is – as it currently seems – beyond the limit of what science can discover about the universe?

Collins comes down firmly on the side of believing that there are limits to what science can discover about the universe and argues that faith in science and faith in God can be combined harmoniously to answer our deepest questions.

“The God hypothesis solves some deeply troubling questions about what came before the Big Bang, and why the universe seems to be so exquisitely tuned for us to be here.” (p81)

Interestingly, at the end of 2006, the year of the publication of Collins’ The Language of God and Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Time magazine set up a debate between the two writers and published a special edition entitled “God vs Science”. The debate between the two – which is well worth studying – can be read at this link.

I have not found much useful material in English by contemporary Muslims about science and the God hypothesis and I do wonder what that says about the current state of the Muslim world. Thankfully, there are some thoughtful Christian scientists who have shared their ideas with us and I think the world is a better place because of them.


Posted in Books, Science & Evolution | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments