Sunday, December 18, 2011

Alcohol in the Qur'an - Booze is God-given!

My latest mail to "Kevin"
In An-Nahl (The Bee) there is a series of verses listing the wondrous things God has provided for mankind (I'm sure you know it)
16:65 starts the list with the rain that brings forth life - "a sign for those who listen", 16:66 talks of milk coming from cattle - "an instructive sign", 16:68 talks of the eponymous bee, and 16:69 finishes this section with the following: Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought.
Now, do you know what we find right in the middle of this wondrous bounty that God has provided? This...
16:67: And of the fruits of the palms and the grapes-- you obtain from them intoxication and goodly provision; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who ponder. (Shakir) or And of the fruits of the date-palm, and grapes, whence ye derive strong drink and (also) good nourishment. Lo! therein is indeed a portent for people who have sense. (Pickthall) Yet strangely Yusuf Ali appears to have found a different version of the original Arabic, for any mention of strong liquor is absent: And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, ye get out wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise.

Now, I know that Muslims say that the mention of strong drink in this verse is to show that we can choose to abuse God's gifts, and the mention of "a sign to ponder" reinforces this, and I have no doubt you will say this is the case.... But as you can see, all the other verses in this section have the same ending about "signs". This is the first time I've gone back and read the whole surah which puts the verse in context. It seems clear to me (and presumably to Yusuf Ali as well, since he felt the need to redact the offending words - why else would the mention of strong drink be missed out?) that the list is designed to be read as just that, a list of the bounty provided by God: He has provided the Arabs with milk, rain, honey and the necessary to make strong drink. There is no reason to read this verse any other way, and taken together with the other verses about alcohol from the Meccan period, any other understanding requires interpretation after the fact.

This is what worries me in a nutshell about the "experts" to whom the believers turn when they have doubts as to how a certain verse should be read. That the Qur'an later states alcohol is to be avoided, and it is impossible that God should contradict himself, it follows that the only interpretation possible is the one that you have learned to accept. Read it from the point of view of someone with no preconceived notions as to what it MUST mean, however, and a very different conclusion is, I think, inevitable.

Sure your too busy, but I'd be intrigued to hear what you make of this.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Questions to Muslims

This is a small selection of the many more questions posted by ex-Muslims on the Council of Ex-Muslims internet forum from a video posted by CEMBadmins on Youtube.

Does God’s stated purpose of creating Man so that he can worship Him seem worthy of an intelligent and immensely powerful being? If God is self-sufficient and does nothing in vain, isn’t His creation the height of vanity?
If creation is for our benefit, then what is the benefit to those who will burn forever?
What is the point of God’s test when he knows the outcome? Is it just so that He can have a reason to punish and reward?
Can a being who creates humans he knows will fail His test and will be tortured without end be called “the most merciful of those who show mercy”?
If God wanted us to freely choose to worship Him, then why threaten us? Does someone with a gun to his head really have a free choice?
Why does God cause so much suffering to humans? Is it part of God’s test?... to prompt them to turn to Him in obedience and worship? Isn’t that like a conman who causes a problem and then offers to fix it for you?
Why would God give humans the ability to reason, then punish them for rejecting beliefs that reason cannot reconcile?
Why does the human body look suspiciously like it was the result of a long cumulative process of evolution, resulting in imperfections, and vestigial organs and genes and not the result of the instant and perfectly planned creation of Adam and Eve?
Which is more evil, the imperfect creature who commits evil or the perfect entity that created evil?
Is being good because you fear God, really being good?
Why did God send all known prophets, miracles and books to one small area of the world and at a time when people were superstitious and gullible?
Why did God protect only the Qur’an from corruption? Could He have protected the Bible and prevented billions from claiming He had a son?
What’ so special about prophet Jesus that God made him born to a virgin, took him up to Heaven before he was crucified, and is going to bring him back again before the day of Judgement?
Do you believe it’s acceptable for a husband to hit a rebellious wife?
Why do so many characteristics of Allah, like anger and vengefulness, seem like human ones?
Why does the Qur’an say “Don’t ask questions about things you don’t understand when the answer will trouble you”?
Should followers of other religions also not ask questions about their religion when it might trouble them?
Why will God never forgive shirk? What are they guilty of? Ignorance? Being born to the wrong family? The Qur’an often criticises idolaters for following the religion of their parents. Are you really any different?
You believe other people are following false, unfounded or corrupted beliefs. Are you certain you are not also?"

Friday, December 9, 2011

# 1 Sperm emerging from between the backbone and ribs - Top 5 reasons to believe the Qu'ran is manmade

Consider for a moment Muslims' oft repeated challenge  to those who question the authenticity of their holy book: Find one mistake -just one - in the Qur'an, they say,  and we will accept that Islam is a false creed.
So completely do Muslims believe that that their revelation is the perfect word of God, unchanged and unchanging, that they cannot conceive of any error being possible.

And yet there are many statements in the Qur'an that seem to contradict common sense and run counter to what we know about the world, the animal kingdom and our own bodies. I have listed some of the more glaring examples in previous posts in this series, but there is one error that leaves Muslims grasping at semantic straws and inventing imaginative interpretations that, quite frankly, beggar belief.
Here is the offending ayat (86:5-7) in Pickthall's translation:
So let man consider from what he is created. He is created from a gushing fluid that issued from between the loins and ribs. Transliteration: Falyanthuri al-insanu mimma khuliqa Khuliqa min ma-in dafiqin Yakhruju min bayni alssulbi waalttara-ibi

Picture showing testes and prostate - anyone spot the ribs?

For the sake of completeness, let us examine some other translations, lest Muslims accuse us of cherry picking...
Yusuf Ali: proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs.
Pickthal: that issued from between the loins and ribs.
Arberry: issuing between the loins and the breast-bones.
Shakir: coming from between the back and the ribs.
Sarwar: which comes out of the loins and ribs.
Khalifa: from between the spine and the viscera.
Hilali/Khan: proceeding from between the back-bone and the ribs.
Malik: that is produced from between the loins and the ribs.
QXP: that issued from between tough rocks and mingled dust.????????
Maulana Ali: coming from between the back and the ribs.
Free Minds: it comes out from between the spine and the testicles.!!!!!!!!

(The reason for giving multiple translations becomes clear when one tries to debate issues such as the above with Muslims, for one of the favourite ways of muddying the waters when presented with a clear error in the Qur'an is the old "Ah, but Arabic is such a difficult language - you cannot hope to understand its myriad complexities")

Not only is the above statement about semen being produced from a region between the backbone and the ribs patently incorrect, it also bears a striking similarity with the teachings of the Greek physician, Hippocrates, who believed that semen was produced throughout the body before being collected in the kidneys (located between the ribs and the backbone) and thence to the penis. Given that we know such writings were available to Muhammad's followers (see here for a fuller examination of this) it seems that not only do we have a clear error in the Qur'an but also a fair idea how and why the author might have made such a mistake.

So how do Muslims try to explain away this apparent gibberish?  Shaykh `Abd al-Wahhâb al-Turayrî of is typical of the Islamic apologists. He writes:
The words translated as “backbone” (sulb) and “ribs” (tarâ’ib) are not understood in Arabic to belong to the same person. Arabs understand the “sulb” to refer to a part of the male body and the “tarâ’ib” to a part of the female. Ibn Kathîr states: “It refers to the ‘sulb’ of the man and the ‘tarâ’ib’ of the woman…” He then quotes this interpretation on the authority of the Prophet’s companion Ibn `Abbâs. This same understanding is given in all the major classical works of Qur’anic commentary.
Many non-Arabs misinterpret this verse because they think that sulb and tara’ib refer to different body parts of the male. In reality, tara’ib is feminine, and refers to the female’s body part. For fourteen hundred years, all of the scholars have held this belief, and not a single classical scholar has ever differed on this point. The reason is that the Arabic makes it clear that tara’ib refers to a feminine body part, and not a male one.
Lane’s Lexicon says:
Tara’ib: … most of the authors on strange words affirm decidedly that it (tara’ib) is peculiar to women. (Lane’s Lexicon, p.301)

So let's have a look to see what Lane's Lexicon p 301 actually says. This is the definition of tara'ib we find before the quoted section above: The part of the breast which is the place of the collar, the bones of the breast which are between the collarbone and the pap, the part of the breast or chest that is next to the two collar bones, the four ribs on the right side of the chest and the four on the left thereof.

So if I understand things correctly, we have, according to Shaykh `Abd al-Wahhâb al-Turayrî, the Qur'an stating that man is created from a gushing fluid coming from an area between the backbone/loins (take your pick) and the chest area of a woman. That's so much clearer.

And let us not forget that the Qur'an claims for itself a clarity beyond criticism: a book in clear Arabic speech (16:103) He it is who has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves. (3:7)

Does it not seem strange to educated Muslims that their holy book should on the one hand claim to be written in clear language and on the other be so opaque as to lead to whole books of contradictory interpretations?

Perhaps we should turn to the iERA (Islamic Education and Research Association) for some help
This is a reply an acquaintance received when he put my qualms regarding this verse to the "scholars" at iERA:

The statement “sperm produced from between ribs and backbone?” is inaccurate. The most correct interpretation and translation (see Abdel Haleem’s translation of the Qur’an) states that it is not the sperm that is produced from the ribs and the backbone but rather that the baby comes from there (in other words the womb). This is the view of the classical scholar al-Razi in his al-Tafsir al-Kabir. The pronoun refers back to man and not to the gushing fluid:
5) Man should reflect on what he was created from.
6) He is created from spurting fluid,
7) then he * emerges from between the backbone and breastbone **
*= The Pronoun here is taken to refer to the person rather than the fluid.
**=Of the mother, where she carries the baby.

Ah, so now it's not the terms for backbone or ribs that are being debated, but in fact the grammar and, more specifically, the difference between a personal and a relative pronoun. I'm afraid I do find it difficult to summon up the requisite awe for God's wondrous prose and a concomitant willingness to suspend my critical faculties and believe this is divine revelation, when even expert speakers in the language of Allah can't agree on what the bloody thing means.

Let us turn to a world expert, the translator of the above verse quoted above by the iERA, and ask him why he chose this new interpretation which is so blatantly at odds with all the others that have gone before. In an email (which I'd be happy to show to anyone who requests it) Professor Abdel Haleem explains the reasons for his interpretation thus:
My interpretation is that this issuing /emerging refers to man, not the fluid, which does not violate the scheme of imagery that runs through this compact sura, or our knowledge of biology: the spurting fluid from which man is created has little to do with bones.

Let me just underline that for you, in case you missed it. We have here a leading academic, expert in the field of Qur'anic interpretation and translation, Professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, an OBE no less, and editor of the Journal of Qur'anic Studies stating that he chose his translation of this ayat because "it doesn't violate ... our knowledge of biology".

Can anyone think of any other academic discipline in the world where the experts are happy to admit that they have chosen a particular interpretation of a text (which runs counter to all other previous ones) because otherwise it risks suggesting that the author is fallible?

No - I thought not.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

# 2 - Abu Lahab - Top 5 Reasons to believe the Qur'an was man-made

Let us for a moment consider the Muslim claim that the Qur'an is the uncreated word of God that has been in existence since the beginning of time and which exists in its perfection in Heaven unchanged and unchanging from the moment it sprung into being, written by the magic pen...
Then let us read the following surah
The power of Abu Lahab will perish, and he will perish. [1] His wealth and gains will not exempt him. [2] He will be plunged in flaming fire, [3] And his wife, the wood carrier, [4] Will have upon her neck a halter of palm fibre. [5] (111:1-5)

Who is this fellow who is so reviled by God that he is cursed by name in the final revelation to mankind? (Not only that, but his poor wife gets it (literally) in the neck as well...)
Abu Lahab was an uncle of Muhammad who had the temerity to question his nephew's claims to prophet-hood.
Now, of course, God knew that Uncle Lahab was going to do this because the Qur'an is "uncreated".
So ever since he was a baby, Abu Lahab's fate was to go to hell (along with his poor wife).
Do Muslims ever stop and wonder whether it might not be more reasonable to assume that the author of the Qur'an was so hacked off with his uncle pissing on his bonfire that one day he'd just had enough and decided that his god was going into bat on his behalf...
What errant nonsense it all is.
What complete bloody tosh.
Sorry - normal service will be resumed shortly...