Meant To Discredit Islam
At the following link you attribute a particular statement to Caliph Umar I that is, upon further investigation, actually a fabrication perpetrated by Christians to attack Islam. The statement reads thus:
"If the books agree with the Koran, the Word of God, they are useless, and need not be preserved; if they disagree with it, they are pernicious. Let them be destroyed."
The following links give a good argument that the statement is a fabrication. Please also take this as a lesson for the future -- that one should not print a statement without first verifying its accuracy (if indeed you are committed to the truth).
Actually, even common sense might tell someone Caliph Umar I could not have been a book-burner given that the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and other cultures actually survived and kindled Europe's Renaissance because it was translated into and preserved in Arabic whereby it was passed back to Europe through the great learning centres, libraries, and universities of Muslim Spain, ruled, incidentally, by the Umayyad dynasty.
Many thanks for your time.
From: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
To: "Abu Amr"
Subject: Retraction Posted -- Thank You Very Much For This Information!
Date: December 10, 2001 7:56 AM
I thank you for your bringing attention to this error in the stern yet gentle manner which brings fond memories of my Grandmother, a "cultural Muslim" (of sorts) who lived in Beirut, Lebanon, for many years while Grandfather worked for Aramco in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Grandma repeatedly told me that she would have become a Muslim except for one "minor problem": Grandmother didn't believe in God. "It is such a beautiful religion," she used to tell us as she cleaned and groomed and arranged her large collection of artifacts from the Middle East. Her home was filled entirely with furniture and art and carpets and brass and teakwood, mostly from the Middle East. Whenever I am with a Muslim, particularly a Lebanese person, I experience the same feeling I had when my Grandmother was still with us -- so thoroughly did she pick up the manners and customs and thinking of Islamic culture.
even common sense might tell someone Caliph Umar I could not have been a book-burner
Yes, I take full responsibility for having failed to go with a very strong suspicion I had the very moment I posted this one alleged quip. I have always suspected this quotation, though I really didn't have the resources to verify it. I placed this one in the collection very early. Then, as the collection grew, I forgot that it was even there. It would not have been posted today had it been presented to me for consideration. But this quote dates back to at least a back-up copy I have that is just under three years old. Perhaps this quote goes back as far as five years, which is about when I started building this collection. Unfortunately, the collection is now so large that I can no longer be aware of each item in the collection. Several readers, though, have offered to pore through this section and the Letters section to look for errors such as this.
What did cross my mind even before I placed the quotation into what was then a very small collection was that this one seemed odd: It was the Christians who were primarily responsible for sacking the Library of Alexandria. By the time Islam was even founded, it seemed as if very little of Alexandria's scholarly culture remained.
Another thing for which I take full responsibility is that I was told that John Draper's book has a reputation for getting a few of the facts wrong (although I had yet to document any errors until now).
Nevertheless (and here's why this is always so tricky), the man who told me that Draper's book was suspect is himself suspect as a source of information! I've caught this man giving me false information enough times that I long ago stopped using him as a source of information! Even if it seems reasonable and likely, even if it contradicts nothing that I can verify, I would not cite something if this man was the only source for the information. I would need independent verification. This is what happens when you get "fast and loose" with the truth.
Yet, it was this man who told me that John Draper's book was suspect as a source!
What do you do?
This is what you do: You simply do the best you can and fix errors as soon as they come to your attention. All the historians that I have respected have written things in their books that I later found to be in error. Thus, you learn who is most likely to be a reliable source (rather, least likely to transmit questionable information) and you do the best you can. Nobody can fully verify any statement about history because nobody can go back in time and be a witness. But anybody is capable of committing to correcting all known errors and never knowingly transmitting false information -- as I have tried to do since I started this project.
Thank you for this! I will change the quote right away so that it exposes the quote as the fraud that your scholarship shows it to be. I have, on several occasions, noted that certain quotes are frauds. The latest is at the bottom of the Jerry Falwell page. As much as I dislike Falwell, as much as I actually enjoy reading that he stuck his foot in his mouth -- again -- and as much as I like opening the Falwell page into the editor and posting his latest "scary quotes" on the Web, I will not knowingly slander even Rev. Falwell! I had a quote posted that turns out not to have been his; so, as with the Omar quote tonight, I immediately dropped what I was doing when I discovered it to be a fabrication and got to work correcting the problem. I did not simply remove the quote, as the two others I know of who had the Falwell quote up (and several others simple left it in place even though the knowledge of its falsity is now widely known). Instead, I posted a retraction so that our readers would know the truth about this quote.
We can only use the best information we have and keep on learning. Your information is definitely superior to the information I used before; however, that's all your information is: vastly superior. Nobody's information is infallible. We can only do the best we can and try to make good judgements and learn from our mistakes. Most importantly, upon encountering a very good case for retracting the quotation, I dropped what I was doing and removed it within about an hour of you having sent this e-mail.
Without a substantial budget to staff this project with scholars, that is the best I can do and is the best I can promise. I am only one man, but I am a man of integrity, which is why I keep my lines open in case someone objects to what I have done or said: if so, I will examine their case and make the best judgement I can make -- and, I will hold myself accountable for my mistakes. And, as with other information that has been graciously given to this project by our readers, I have returned in kind by giving credit where credit is due.
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
people with no reason to believe
Added: December 19, 2001
Thank you for the swift retraction. It is proof enough that your intentions are honourable. I found the quote in question immediately to be somewhat dubious on account of the fact that the general character of Umar I, as well as the vast majority of the early Muslims, is known to be at odds with ignorance.
Umar I was a builder rather than a destroyer -- the founder of many cities in the Middle East including Basra, Kufa and Fustat. I recently saw a documentary on the early Muslims and the city of Basra showing it to have been a well-planned city with an extensive aqueduct network delivering much-needed water to the city's residential areas and having a sophisticated water purification system that used gravity to filter out impurities. It is unfortunate that today the Middle East is less advanced in terms of public works and social programmes than it was over a millennium and a half ago. I guess its just a question of having the right leadership.
As for me I'm currently (voluntarily) unemployed. I just finished the university about six months ago -- I studied History and Political Science (not the norm for people from our cultural background) -- and I got back from a 'holiday' in Pakistan around a month back. I really don't want to go into the mundane cycle of work so right now, so I'm considering other options, primarily writing or journalism.
Currently I'm working on a screenplay drama that I think holds some promise. That should be completed within a month or so. I am, as you rightly guessed, a Muslim, and from the subcontinent though I have lived the vast majority of my life in the West, much like yourself I take it. I was somewhat surprised to learn you were of Lebanese ancestry and even more surprised to learn that your grandmother was an atheist. I didn't think atheism as a phenomenon existed in the Middle East until very recently (though it has existed in the West for several centuries).
There is a question that has always perplexed me about atheism and atheists. Atheists cannot, by definition, believe in a higher authority to legislate what is right and wrong. I therefore assume atheists rely on reason (more universal than humanism that has its origins in the emotions and sentiments, which differ worldwide) to define right and wrong. But right and wrong are totally subjective values and cannot be defined using reason. The only thing naturally inherent to all humans, and therefore able to be used as a rational basis, are the instincts to survive and reproduce. Let me make my thinking more clear by posing a question: Why, from a rational perspective, is it wrong to kill for an individual if he gains (overall) from doing so?
I look forward to your reply. Thanks again.
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Abu Amr"
Subject: Re: Retraction Posted -- Thank You Very Much For This Information!
Date: December 12, 2001 12:41 PM
I will clarify my Grandmother's ancestry: she was pure English-Native American Half-Breed, and has written down much of this information but it is not in my possession at the moment. After the Second World War, she and her husband (who was probably at least to some extent of mixed Native American and English blood ancestry) went to work for Aramco for (I want to say) 20 years. This is the irony of what I was trying to say in the wee hours of last night: even though she was not from the Middle East, she assimilated unto herself many quiet mannerisms that you really wouldn't notice to meet her. However, whenever I am in the presence of a Lebanese or a Jordanian, and at times even an Iranian or a Saudi, I feel the same feeling I used to have when I was in the presence of my grandmother. It is the mannerisms that she assimilated, the Middle-Eastern mannerisms and ways of thinking, talking, and even of holding herself, that are triggering this feeling in me.
Thus, I have Middle Eastern ancestry in a cultural sense. However, I have no genetic ancestry whatsoever, because I was an adopted orphan. Thus, all ancestry that I have, that I can talk about, is cultural. The only sense of heritage that I know is cultural. Others are fortunate in that they never find themselves being forced to distinguish between cultural heritage and genetic heritage. This has been at the forefront of my experience, and so I am aware of it like nobody who is not an orphan ever could be.
Once I worked for a radio station which carries a Farsi-language program for one hour each week. I was working as an advisor to the Program Director. However, when the station discovered the program was essentially pro-Shah propaganda, they cancelled it in favor of (what they hoped was to be) a more politically neutral program (as the contract for that slot called for news and entertainment, and forbade political advocacy). I remember opening the typewritten letter of protest from the spokesman of the group whose program was canceled. I read perhaps the first two or three lines of the letter and for the next two or three minutes experienced vivid feelings and visualizations of being at my grandfather's house during the early 1960s, the first one he owned after he returned from working in the Middle East. Many other times, both before and since, something similar has happened, but never as vividly as this letter from the Iranian Royalist.
totally subjective values and cannot be defined using reason. the only thing naturally inherent to all humans, and therefore able to be used as a rational basis, are the instincts to survive and reproduce. let me make my thinking more clear by posing a question -- why, from a rational perspective, is it wrong to kill for an individual if he gains (overall) from doing so?
I would assume that the pursuit of immediate gain and personal gain are not inevitable results of evolution. More and more, biologists and zoologists are witnessing behavior in animals that can only be described as cooperative or even altruistic. Rather, one might say that they are beginning to admit, from an evolutionist's standpoint that they see this. Evolution is clear, but until recently, the notion of altruism in animals seemed to contradict what had been widely believed about how evolution works and what results we could expect. Thus, it is becoming widely accepted that evolution can and does produce instinctive behavior patterns which go beyond either immediate gain or personal gain. The bottom line is the propagation of the DNA, the genetic code; the ultimate method is to bring the young up to the age of procreation. It's one thing to bear young, but what evolution "seeks" is to see the young to the age of bearing their own young. In this light, it is easy to see evolution as being capable of producing altruistic traits, and even to produce species, such as ants and bees, which depend entirely upon cooperation rather than individual success. To study and observe how the workers and soldiers protect the queen in such species is very enlightening: she is the pattern-maker and carries the key to the survival of the group. Individuality is not an issue, here.
We also know that the human spends a larger percentage of its life in a state of helpless dependency upon its parents, and only on rare occasions will an individual human truly escape dependency upon the clan (the seaman celebrated in nineteenth century literature, for example. who is, for the most part, extinct today).
Neither can we write off the likelihood that the human brain is complex enough to inherently develop character traits that have no direct genetic or cultural causes, and that there are probably some such traits that we could expect to appear to contradict, at first glance, the notion of naturalistic evolution.
These are all possibilities to which some have pointed as suggestions, and some more strongly than others. There are other possibilities as well.
Nevertheless, the problems inherent in the burden of showing that there is more going on than simple naturalistic forces is so much greater than any burden that comes with addressing the problems of accepting the naturalistic position that I must remain a naturalist and refrain from taking that further (and admittedly much more complex) leap of positing that more than simple natural forces and processes has been involved in bring the world to the state in which we find it today.
To me, atheism and naturalism are the default philosophical positions: one must add to atheism (or naturalism) to get theism.
Perhaps this would make more sense if I reiterated the classic definition for atheism that has been in use since the Era of Enlightenment stopped defending atheism from being a capital crime. The standard definition that atheistic writers and philosophers tend to have preferred during this time is to say that "atheism is the simple absence of theism, the lack of a god-belief for whatever reason." In this sense, atheism does not necessarily assert that no gods exist. To do so, I think, would be to put the burden upon our shoulders. In any event, though we could come up with a compelling philosophical case against the existence of each of the 5,000 or so deities which humankind has endorsed, we could never empirically disprove the statement, "God exists." Of course! It is impossible to empirically disprove any existential claim, and this one is no exception.
To tie this with the above discussion, we can say that we know (or are reasonably sure) about this or that natural process. We can say, for example, that we know the Sun exists. We can also put together numerous observations and say with reasonable certainty that the Sun, like all other stars of its type, came to existence as the result of matter in a certain part of the Universe coming together through gravity. We can even describe the processes we used to come to these conclusions, and others can take this data and try to refute it. If they can refute it, then we have learned something new, and almost all scientists will abandon an old hypothesis in favor of one that has more compelling evidence to back it up. Scientists are constantly taking their pet theories and rigorously testing them against new findings to make sure the old theories withstand scrutiny in light new observations.
This is the default position, because it admittedly uses only observations made by humans using the five known senses plus instrumentation constructed by humans.
Although many claims and statements made by the various holy books (those alleged to be inspired, etc., by a deity) can be subject to scientific scrutiny. However, I do not think the direct claim for the existence of a deity is one of those claims capable of undergoing scientific scrutiny. Many indirect claims can be scrutinized, but I don't think any direct claims are capable of scientific scrutiny. If this is the case, then we have posed a question that goes beyond anything resembling a default position.
I submit that theism is an added attraction, so to speak, and that the related claim, the direct claim that we were created, also goes beyond anything that can be called a default position. Thus, it is theism that must make the compelling case and bring forth the convincing evidence before we have any business giving our assent to that claim.
I am sorry if this is sketchy, I am moving this week, and this has me under a lot of stress and thus very distracted.
If you would like to talk some more, feel free to ask more questions or provide us with some more information. I would sorely like to hear more about the role the Muslim cultures played in preserving classical Greek art and literature, and also the role that they played in preserving scientific tradition. This is information that people in the West rarely encounter, due to the bias and prejudice in our education systems and the commercial nature of our press in that newspapers and the television networks cater to what will sell (and telling us that these other cultures outrank us in numerous and various ways does not sell!).
Another question I would have involves violence and the Koran. I have (for the most part) withstood the temptation to discuss what others are calling the violent elements in the core philosophy of Islam. I would be more interested in hearing the other side, being interested in hearing more about what my Grandmother considered the beauty and peacefulness inherent in Islam. If several atheists (and many Christians) point to what they see as the violent elements, then what is the counter-argument, showing that Islam is, in fact, peaceful? I would be interested if you could point to some studies on this question, or if you could even write down some of the basic points in this argument.
Positive Atheism Magazine
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