New contributor Adil has produced a beautiful piece which is a real eye-opener. Agree or disagree, he is a fantastic essayist and a pleasure to read. I really hope to see more from him, as will you…
Recent years have seen an increasing number of Muslims, particularly younger ones, performing Dawah (sharing Islam with others) by means of philosophical argumentation in the public arena, often in the form of debates, whether formal or on the street. Whilst most people from any faith would agree that faith should not solely hinge on philosophical argumentation, using philosophical arguments is not inherently problematic; I certainly believe that a robust understanding of philosophy can strongly augment ones faith and address claims against it. Unfortunately, many Muslim popularisers of this style of argumentation continue to use methods of proselytisation which I, and other Muslims find problematic. The approach which I speak of can be crudely summarized as:
A hard line Salafi interpretation of Islam argued for with liberal use of scientific and only partially understood philosophical arguments which are conveyed in a point scoring style of argumentation
Whilst this description is inapplicable to most Islamic spokespeople, it holds true for a significant minority of Dawah-givers who have become very popular amongst young Muslims who are enamoured with their confident rhetoric. One organisation which embodies the above description is The Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) whose stated goal is ‘To present Islam to wider society’; a laudable cause which needs to be done more and done well. However, I have great concerns about the methodology and ethos of the organisation (at least the UK branch), and some of their imitators who set up various Dawah stalls around University campuses and other areas. Prominent speakers from or affiliated with iERA whose views and/or methodology I find troubling include Hamza Tzortzis, Imran Ibn Mansur AKA ”Dawahman”, Abduraheem Green and Adnan Rashid. To learn more of the history and emergence of this style of Dawah, I recommend a truly excellent and eloquent article named ‘Dawah Carriers Are Destroying Your Faith….And Having A Good Time In The Process’
While I have reservations about critiquing the methods of people who have indeed successfully brought others to Islam, I believe it that most of those people came to Islam in spite of the shortcomings which I discuss below, and that there are better methods to convey Islam then this style of apologia. Without further ado here are my top 10 issues with the Dawah carriers I have mentioned, though this critique is not limited to them.
1.) Their arguments have been Shamelessly Plagiarised
It is now common knowledge that Hamza Tzortzis and ‘Dawahman’ have copied most of their philosophical arguments from popular American evangelist William Lane Craig. Tzortzis fans typically respond by pointing out that Craig got his arguments from medieval Muslim theologians (which holds true for the famous Kalaam cosmological argument, as Craig candidly admits). There is nothing wrong with borrowing ideas; but as every University student knows, if you want to use someone else’s ideas, at least take the time to shuffle the wording a little and swap a few words for some appropriate synonyms even if to avoid the plagiarism software! The fact that Dawahman, Tzortzis et al did not invent their arguments does not diminish their credence. The fact that they blatantly copied William Lane Craig does. True, this does not invalidate their conclusions (nor does the fact that fellow Salafis typically detest Kalaam arguments), but it is perfectly natural to lose trust in an argument when it has been borrowed verbatim from someone else, particularly an exclusivist Christian evangelist who also criticises Islam. But who knows? Perhaps, to borrow an argument from our atheist friends; we live in an infinite multiverse where some universes will yield Muslim and Christian apologists who at the same time and same place will generate almost word for word identical arguments? But I thought we were above that logic? Read some quotes from Hamza Tzortzis and Dawahman and some from Bill Craig and decide what is most plausible.
These quotes are taken from Hamza Tzortis’ article responding to Richard Dawkins The God Delusion alongside quotes from an article by William Lane Craig entitled ‘does God exist’
Hamza Tzortzis: “The existence of a life permitting universe is due to conditions that must have been fined-tuned to a degree that is literally incalculable. Take the following examples:”
William Lane Craig: “The existence of intelligent life depends upon a conspiracy of initial conditions which must be fine-tuned to a degree that is literally incomprehensible and incalculable.”
Hamza Tzortzis: “The Strength of Gravity & the Atomic Weak Force: Physicist P. C. W. Davies has calculated that a change in the strength of gravity or of the atomic weak force by only one part in 10100 would have prevented a life permitting universe.”
William Lane Craig: “For example, the physicist P. C. W. Davies has calculated that a change in the strength of gravity or of the atomic weak force by only one part in 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe.”
Hamza Tzortzis: “Big Bang’s Low Entropy Condition: Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the Big Bang’s low entropy condition existing by chance are on the order of one out of 1010. Penrose comments, “I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 1010.”“
William Lane Craig: “Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the Big Bang’s low entropy condition existing by chance are on the order of one out of 1010^(123). Penrose comments, “I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 1010^(123).”“
Note that Craig quotes Penrose Directly while Hamza accidently drops ^123, leaving Penrose describing the more modest figure of ten billion!
And finally, from Hamza alone:
Hamza Tzortzis: According to Penrose the volume of the phase space would be 1/10 to the power of X which is 10123. This is smaller than the ratio of a Proton! This precision is much, much greater than the precision that would be required to hit an individual proton if the entire universe were a dartboard!
It is clearly up to the reader to decide what the ratio of a proton is! Doesn’t a ratio have to entail at least two entities? Did he mean radius? Who knows?
*Note: I believe Hamza has updated his article since and given proper references to the Christian apologists where he got his arguments from. Firsthand evidence of blatantly copying Bill Craig can be seen in some of his lectures and debates on the existence of God.
As for the Dawahman, read this transcript from the beginning of a video featuring him entitled: 10 Ways The Dawkins Delusion Proves That Allah Exists!
Science cannot account for mathmatical and logical truths. Science pressuposes logical and mathmathical truths so for science to try to explain it would be tantamount to science going around in circles. Science cannot account for metaphysical truths, the self, the conscious, if this external world is in fact a reality, it is rational that we can but scientifically we cannot show that. Science nor does it tell us anything about moral truths it cant account for whether the nazis in the concentration camps were evil which of course objectively with objective morality we can say yes they were evil but science doesnt comment on whether it was evil whether it was not evil. The same way science cannot account for aesthetic truths for example if you see your wife and she looks beautiful as you say in the UK she looks real nice with make up and everything. ”Babe you look *something* (I think he says ‘banging baby’ or some sort of back ally slang) today Mashallah” SubhanAllah. Thats an aesthetic truth. Science cannot comment on your perception of beauty right? And finally, most surprisingly, science cannot comment on, cannot account for science itself because for you to say that science is the means to absolute truth how do you scientifically show that to be true? You cant scientifically show that statement to be truth its self refuting. And science actually …it …. many scientific theories for example the erm, Einsteins theory of specific, no special relatively sorry it hinges on the assumption that when light travels from point A to point B it travels at a constant speed but you can’t prove that, you have to assume that so science is based on faith to some degree.
Smart stuff right? Even with the gangster speech. How does it compare to William Lane Craig describing rational notions which science cannot prove to Peter Atkins during a debate:
Logical and mathematical truths cannot be proven by science. Science presupposes logic and math so that to try to prove them by science would be arguing in a circle, metaphysical truths, like there are other minds other then my own or that the external world is real or that the past was not created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age are rational beliefs which cannot be scientifically proven. Ethical beliefs about statements of value are not accessible by the scientific method. You can’t show by science whether the nazi scientists in the camps did anything evil as opposed to the scientists in Western Democracy. Aesthetic judgements number four cannot be accessed by the scientific method, because the beautiful, like the good cannot be scientifically proven; and finally, most remarkably would be science itself. Science cannot be justified by the scientific method. Science is permeated with ah unproveable assumptions for example in the special theory of relativity the whole theory hinges on the assumption that the speed of light is constant in a one way direction between any two points A and B but that strictly cannot be proven. We simply have to assume that in order to hold to the theory.
Even with Dawahman adding the gangster talk in the middle I doubt this would even pass a plagiarism check!
The sad thing is, I believe these arguments themselves are pretty strong. Clearly, there are some rational notions which science cannot account for, and the Kalaam cosmological argument for me, robustly defends the need for a cause of the Universe. The plagiarism however, is blatant and simply undermines the arguments, given that they have been pretty much copied verbatim from someone else. Also are Salafis meant to be ‘imitating kuffar’ like this? I will leave the author to fathom some of the problems entailed by hardline Salafis copying the overwhelming majority of their religious apologia from a hard-line Christian evangelist who strongly criticises Islam, but they are fairly obvious. Where is Abduraheem Green to slap down his buddies for copying Bill Craig so blatantly? Given Mr Greens paranoia about ‘imitating Kuffar’ he is a walking definition of the term ‘slippery slope’; is he not worried that if his colleagues are copying everything else Bill Craig says maybe they might start worshipping Jesus soon?
2.) They are unwilling to criticise extremism….and unwilling not to embody it either
This concept differs from the common scenario created by Islamophobes when a Muslim does so much as sneeze on someone and a demand goes out to Muslims worldwide to ‘condemn’ the guilty parties, pretty much to clear their name, as if Muslims bear some sort of collective responsibility by default.
This is different. This is an unwillingness to whole heartedly criticise brutal practices which practitioners justify (or try to reconcile) using Islam; and with the same vigour as they do unto their more preferred opponents i.e. non Muslims and non Salafi Muslims (The extent to which they view differences between the two is debateable). This is particularly applicable to people they share platforms with (or have been tutored by), such as the preacher Haitham al Haddad who regards Osama Bin Laden as a martyr and recommends female circumcision. Other then saying that killing civilians is not Islamic, which granted, even hard-line groups such as iERA and Hizb ut-Tahrir will do, harsh critique seldom if ever happens; one pertinent reason being that several prominent Dawah popularisers are themselves extremists. Yes, extremism is a promiscuously used term and often one given to Muslims who consistently practice or have the ‘audacity’ to apply Islamic principles anywhere beyond their own homes. However just because Islamophobic neo con stooges (i.e. Maajid Nawaaz) overuse the term does not render its use redundant in all circumstances. By extremism I mean comments like this:
The purpose of the jizya is to make the Jew and the Christian know that they are inferior and subjugated to Islam, OK?
Even by some statement that you can make. For example, slandering and attacking the Muslims unjustly, such as you find many Muslims have done this about the Taliban. Slandering them and attacking them and reviling them based upon news that has come from the disbelieving media, helping the kuffar against the Muslims.
You know guys, I’ll tell you something right? I’ll probably, someone at least is probably going to want to assassinate me after what I’m going to say here but you know, I don’t really get very sad when, you know, a non-believer dies
I was staying with my parents and my dad came down and told me, you know, early in the morning, you know, that Lady Diana had died, you know…hamdulillah…hamdulillah” (laughter).
…if you find the Jew or a Christian walking down the street, push them to the side *makes pushing gesture*. It is well-known from what Umar ibn al-Khattab and the khulafa ar rashidin used to implement, that the Jew and Christian was not allowed to ride on a horse when the Muslim is riding on a horse. They would have to walk”
”Here we need to concentrate on our immediate problem and that is kuffar, we’re surrounded by them”
Who are these comments from? Some random Dawah guy off the street who doesn’t really represent anyone? Is this a strawman? This is Abduraheem Green, the CHAIRMAN of iERA, described as a ‘warm and engaging character,’ on their website! To my knowledge, he has not retracted any of these statements nor have Hamza Tzortzis, Yusuf Chambers or any of his other colleagues condemned or criticised his statements. Yes, things can be taken out of context, even statements which might appear damning. I would not, for instance claim Hamza Tzortzis to be extreme based on his infamous comment ‘as Muslims we reject the idea of freedom of speech or even freedom.’ Perhaps he would go on to articulate the implications of unregulated freedom of speech or the philosophical incoherence of absolute freedom, I have my doubts, but who knows? The furious and incoherent statements from Mr Green (and many many more), however are on YouTube for all to hear and only sound viler when heard in their full context. Green, being a very knowledgeable follower of Islam must surely remember that according to Muhammad (pbuh), a violent speaker (which Green certainly can be) will not enter paradise. Or perhaps that was not meant to be set in stone? Are you a modernist Mr Green?
3.) They are often rude and intrusive
One would think representatives of a system which makes politeness and dignity incumbent, would be zealous paragons of good manners. Whilst most Islamic speakers do embody such virtues; for iERA speakers like Hamza Tzortzis and Dawahman, maintaining dignity seems optional at times. Whilst they may not surpass the obnoxiousness of the subjects of their clashes (Richard Dawkins, Laurence Krauss et al) it is not unreasonable to hold them to a much higher standard. Some gems from Mr Tzortzis include:
-The following jab during a debate with Professor Pervez Hoodboy: ”Its abit of a culture clash. In Britain people tend to be more nuanced. Maybe because you’re a product of the Muslim world which you hate so much” (Which lead the Professor to storm out)
-Comparing Professor Graham Thompson to a baby during a debate about the existence of God
-Asking a debating opponent in Ian Bryce ”if you can even read.” (Bryce was a particularly crude and vitriolic opponent in the debate; but was this not an opportunity to showcase ‘reasoning with what is best’ as the Qur’an demands?)
-Jabs and low blows throughout his infamous debate with Professor Laurence Krauss. Granted, Krauss, as usual debated in an insulting and arrogant manner; but so what Hamza? Were you trying to ‘imitate the kuffar’ or something? Brother Green won’t be happy about this.
-On TV: ”I call him Richard DORKins.” Admittedly, I have called Richard Dawkins worse at some point. But I am not publically representing Islam on TV, and would know better than to be so childish if I was. Surely someone so interested in salvation would know better than to alienate someone for your own petty pleasure by insulting their surname on TV? This is as puerile as an Islamophobe making a stupid quip about the HAM in Hamza!
For all of the above and more; Tzortzis remains a bastion of etiquette compared to his more shrill compatriot; the Dawahman. For those unaware, Dawahman is a young proselytiser who amalgamates Islam with back alley slang, and (according to him) ‘swaggah’ with nice dress which is done purely for the pleasure of Allah (I never realised Allah was so interested in fashion; no doubt were Dawahman stuck on a desert island with no hope of rescue, he would put equal effort in retaining his ‘swaggah.’ I always imagined that the beauty being eluded to in this beautiful saying related more to the beauty of the Universe, and animals and the natural world but perhaps mine is a silly modernist interpretation or something). My qualms with Dawahman however are not limited to my impression of his image and mannerisms, which are not to my taste but admittedly subjective. Less subjective is his rudeness and social ineptitude. Perhaps Dawahman has forgotten Qur’an 6:108: (”And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah , lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge” ) if the following of his antics are anything to go by:
-A cringe worthy sung adaptation of Merry Christmas: ”Merry Shirkmas.” (Shirk: Ascribing partners to God)
– (To a random passer-by on the street straight after ascertaining that he had a girlfriend) ”If she breaks your heart which she most likely will or you’ll do the same, you’re not going to get married trust me” And later telling him to remove an earring and throw it away in front of him because ‘it was gay.’
-A myriad of jabs and insults against Richard Dawkins (this can be found in a video ’10 Ways The Dawkins Delusion Proves That Allah Exists!’) including a mocking: ”You fail” after each point of refutation against Dawkins, ”This is why I call you a DORK” ”What an idiot” ”Richard Dawkins is a pratt.”
All of these immaturities however, pale compared to the utterly embarrassing scene consisting of Dawahman harassing Laurence Krauss following his debate with Hamza Tzortzis, yelling that he had a question and was ‘oppressed’ because he was initially ignored. Picture a shrill and hyperactive adolescent asking you to define a word chanting ‘answer my question answer my question’ several times; putting a microphone in front of your mouth for a split second and then laughing at you shouting down the microphone ‘FROM HIS OWN MOUTH, he couldn’t explain what empiricism is’ whilst jumping up and down. You now have a impression of what followed; though even were I an adept writer I would not be able to articulate just how cringe-worthy and embarrassing the scene was. Unsurprisingly a video of this scene now features on many Islamophobic channels where Dawahmans behaviour is used as an excuse to bash Islam and Muslims wholesale.
Unfortunately, while many street Dawah speakers are polite and dignified, the approach of others resembles a bullying nature; threatening people with the promise of hell, pressuring interested persons to take the Shahada on the spot, and seldom genuinely engaging with the other view but nodding and say ‘yep’ and maybe ‘I appreciate that’ once or twice before interrupting them; sure, much of this anecdotal; such that I am willing to concede that maybe I have just been unlucky and heard of a disproportionate amount of bad cases by chance; I certainly hope so.
4.) They are disingenuous
There is a fine line between vindicating your views and point scoring, and invariably even the people with the best of intentions will probably cross it at some point. For many Dawah warriors however, that line is far on the horizon…behind them.
The first and only time I witnessed Hamza Tzortzis in the flesh was at a talk titled ‘Multiculturalism and Islam’ which I eagerly anticipated, expecting a scholarly discussion on how Islam tackles with the issues posed by multiculturalism; perhaps how using such principles would help us today; but how did Hamza start? By announcing that he would phrase the title of the talk as ”Why Islam.” He then proceeded to talk about anything but multiculturalism (which was not discussed at all) and trotted out his arguments pinched straight from Bill Craig! Disingenuous to say the least as are some of his arguments in practice (Not to deny the intrinsic merit of the arguments themselves).
When arguing whether God exists, Hamza typically uses William Lane Craigs arguments: Kalaam cosmological argument, fine tuning, objective morality, and then the inimitably of the Qur’an (instead of Craigs Resurrection of Jesus argument). Seasoned debaters like atheists Dan Barker and Ed Buckner knew what the name of the game was and tried to refute Craigs, I mean, Hamzas arguments, and Hamza responded to their rebuttals and so forth. Fine. Other academics were not fully aware of the nature of this type of debate were clearly unprepared and not aware of the nature of the debate (Professors Graham Thompson and Pervez Hoodboy who Hamza Tzortzis debated being two such examples). A suitable response from the Muslim speaker in the rebuttal session would be to address the fact that there is obviously some misunderstanding about what the debate is supposed to entail, and that the different approaches need to be reconciled and perhaps requesting the other speaker to consider the arguments themselves and their relevance. But in practice the following usually happens; ”The Professor was unable to refute this contention, that contention, this contention and that contention,” Strictly speaking this may be true, but beating someone ‘on points’ because they had not knowingly signed up for this does not even help the cause because neither speakers are properly engaging with the others arguments. Point scoring and poor debate etiquette (which I know many atheist debaters show, which is why the Muslim debater should argue his case even with the ‘handicap’ of excellent debate etiquette and not by point scoring) only preaches to the converted.
I also take issue with the argument based on the ”inimitably of the Qur’an when presented as one of several arguments for the existence of God; while its conclusion may be true; it is simply a disingenuous and unfalsifiable argument when used in a debate format. Typically the speaker will assert that the Qur’an is outside the productive capacity of the Arabic language, the best Arab poets and writers cannot match it, and it has an unimaginably high ratio of rhetorical devices per sentence. This is a pretty good argument if you want to score points, because no one can even attempt to falsify it in the space of a few short minutes. What is the opponent supposed to do; learn Arabic and then try to make a sentence crammed with more rhetorical devices? According to the those who put forth this argument ”It doesn’t matter if you don’t know Arabic because this is objective and everyone in the world who studied the Qur’an knows this.” One might as well say ‘it is a miracle. Just trust me.’ At no point am I contesting the conclusion of this argument; I would expect a revelation to be written in a unique linguistic manner but instead of just asserting this to score in an argument; one would get far more respect by saying along the lines of: ‘This isn’t an argument that I’m trying to win the debate with but I urge you, as a seeker of truth to look at the Qur’an in your own time and the opinions of various academics and so forth about it etcetera’ In a debate format this argument could be made about pretty much any other holy books, even if the claims were false, and it would still be impossible to falsify within the format of a short debate!
Finally, Kalaam (dialectics or speculative philosophy in theology) is completely at odds with the Salafi ideology of groups like iERA. Does Hamza Tzortzis realise that his use of the Kalaam cosmological argument would be considered a despised and heretical innovation to Salafi scholars? Does he realise that not only is the principle of his using the argument inconsistent, but the argument itself it is incompatible with the anthropomorphic conception of God which his beloved Ibn Taymiyya had? A God which an actual face and actual body parts? Salafis using the Kalaam Cosmological argument are risking a catastrophic rebuttal from atheists when they realise that Salafis believe in tajseem (anthropomorphism) and would rebutt them along the lines of ‘What is the explanation God?’ as their conception of God actually shares characteristics with contingent entities if he has a face and hands and a body etc.
In conclusion, stealing arguments from ‘Kafir’ (Note: I have no problem with using arguments from non Muslims but unlike the likes of iERA I do not regard non Muslims as kafir by default; and I would also have decency not to shamelessly plagiarise them) which are at inconsistent with their own theology is intellectually dishonest sophistry, and I think their opponents see it.
5.)’‘God is not merciful”
This is a reference to the theology of Zakir Naik, Adnan Rashid, Hamza Tzortzis et al which they staunchly maintain is ”what Islam clearly says.” Two obvious examples include their view that being a non Muslim effectively warrants eternal damnation no matter what (barring a few extreme circumstances such as never hearing the word Islam; though one cannot help but consider the pointlessness of telling people about Islam if most people who hear of it will be automatically damned), and that even non violent apostasy deserves capital punishment.
Regarding the former; the salvation question is a complex and difficult one, (a book I recommend for learn more about this is ‘Islam and the fate of others’ by Professor Mohammad Hassan Khalil) which I cannot comprehensively address here; but merely point out that to many of the greatest Muslim thinkers, the damnationist paradigm which is now propagated was not self evidently ”what Islam clearly says.” Have the Dawah warriors read Al Ghazali who believed that the hereafter would eventually be like this life in that the majority of people will be glad that they exist rendering damnation a fate for a minority? Perhaps the quasi Universalism of Ibn Arabi or the eventual universal salvation which Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya believed was necessary in order to be consistent with absolute mercy; regarding the fire to be an agent of purification? Do they know that Ibn Hazm was unable to reconcile his staunch damnationist stance with the mercy of God and argued that God was actually not gracious nor merciful in a way humans relate to? Do they realise that even ultraconservative Ibn Taymiyya who they love quoting believed that one day the fires of hell would be extinguished? (Some have contested that he held this view; this is addressed in the aforementioned book).
Have modern day Dawahmen read the vast body of scholarship suggesting that the state of ‘Kuffar’ is an active state of covering the truth when it has been made evident and not merely a passive state of not possessing belief? Some scholars go further to say that only people who actually know that Islam is true and then reject it fit the Qur’anic conception of a disbeliever. Are they all deviants? In essence, the salvation theology of Dawahmen is very similar to original sin in practice; if you are not the right religion you are pretty much damned by default; not for wantonly and deliberately turning away from the truth. Whether the Dawahmen have it right or not, is not the sole issue here, rather the disingenuous implication, if not assertion that theirs on this matter is the only remotely viable (some of their followers will even claim ‘non deviant’) view. For the conception of God held by the Dawahmen, statements of God’s mercy are but hollow disclaimers and not befitting the Islam of compassion and mercy and justice in any real sense of the words.
6.) They make outrageous generalisations about other belief systems
While many Islamic apologists aspire to project as accurate a view of different belief systems or political systems as possible, such that even adherents to those systems would be happy with the way they are presented; others prefer to grossly generalise both the ideologies, and their followers in a not too dissimilar fashion to the way Muslims sometimes get smeared across the board by Islamophobes.
Before going a step further; I am not a liberal, nor a feminist (invariably I will get accused of being one; or being ‘pro liberal,’ and even the fact that I have stated I am not liberal nor a feminist may well be used as evidence that I am, something about ‘denial,’ we shall see). I am also very critical of many conceptions of liberalism and feminism, and I also know that the founding fathers of liberalism were far less tolerant of other belief systems then one might assume. Finally, I realise that some generalisations are inevitable and not inherently bad, providing people are aware of exceptions. ‘Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus,’ is a generalisation which does not always hold true, but is not wholly inappropriate. The stereotypes about liberals and feminists which have become a target for several prominent Muslim spokespeople however, are much less frequently applicable to those who call themselves liberals or feminists; who on the whole do not fit, the career orientated, family detesting, religion hating, male hating bigoted persona which is described as what feminism and liberalism entails.
Invariably this gets countered by the claim that there is no standard to hold feminists to account and thus, Femen activists and other extremists are not really violating any feminist principles, whereas a violent Muslim can objectively be shown to violate Islamic ones because the scriptures and so forth condemn such behaviour. They will then come to the heart of the matter and state that Islam is sufficient and feminism and liberalism are Kufr (denial of God/his commandments) and should not be the way you address the world; ergo calling yourself a Muslim feminist is Kufr because feminism is not an Islamic concept. Recently, Tariq Ramadan said that he didn’t mind feminism providing he got to define it. He was scathingly criticised by Abdullah Al Andalusi, from the Muslim Debate Initiative who argued that the same could be said of the word ‘gobbledygook,’ and that the logical conclusion of Tariq’s approach would be that one could call themself a Muslim polytheist but define polytheist as different aspects of God or a Muslim atheist but define atheist as rejecting other Gods and so forth. This fails to recognise that even if a principle like feminism is UnIslamic, common sense dictates that it is at least not as overtly logically contradictory as polytheism, given that the Islamic declaration of faith itself states that there is only one God! Furthermore, it is invariable that we will give ourselves labels in addition to ‘Muslim,’ but providing these do not contradict Islamic principles I cannot see the problem. Is there a problem with a Muslim calling themselves an environmentalist? Or a humanitarian? The above logic would demand that a Muslim couldn’t call him/herself either! Any alleged problems with a not set in stone definition attributed to feminism are equally applicable here! Just as there is nothing in the book of feminism saying do not protest Femen style, there is no rule in environmentalism saying do not murder people who destroy the rainforest; is it Kufr to be a Muslim environmentalist?
I propose the seemingly radical suggestion of using more ‘nuance’ (something Hamza Tzortzis insists his opponents should use) and look at people’s individual views for what they actually are. If a Muslim calls themselves a feminist but by feminism they merely mean that women are intrinsically of the same value as men, then why anathematise them and play the quotation marks game when describing them as Muslim? If a Muslim refers to himself/herself as a feminist and is blatantly an outrageous provocateur (like Mona Eltahaway) and is clearly trying to stigmatise men for instance, then by all means criticise them and I will too.
7.) They liberally make implicit takfir (excommunicating a Muslim as being an apostate)
One might think that groups who constantly bemoan the disunity of the Ummah and how fitna and discord is everywhere would avoid alienation of other Muslims as much as they possibly could; but you would be wrong. Muslims who critique the methods of organisations like iERA, or their doctrines, or live in a manner which is deemed to be too liberal (and believe me, the bar for too liberal is set very very low) can expect to have the validity of their faith challenged. The act of openly declaring a Muslim a non Muslim is a very strong one and a false accusation of Kufr (ingratitude/rejection of God) is a great sin; so explicit takfir is rare. Instead, the offending Muslims will be henceforth referred to as ”Muslims” (and only with inverted commas); or referred to in other scathing terms; clearly implying that their being Muslim is merely a title and not an applicable description of them.
What is interesting not note that this implicit takfir is generally used against Muslims who are too modern and liberal; but seldom if ever towards Muslims who are ultraconservative, even if their ideals and behaviour are completely insane. When was the last time anyone from the Muslim debate initiative or iERA scathingly questioned the ‘Muslimness’ of the Taliban (a group Abduraheem Green said Muslims must not criticise)? True, I have heard one or true remarks that such groups unfortunately have been using some UnIslamic methods (this will sometimes be said in a backhand way i.e. they are copying Western Utilitarian style warfare; which might be true, but surely that warrants even harsher and more frequent criticism!), but the contempt and ‘witheringness’ in the critique of the Muslim groups which truly drag the name of Islam through the mud is conspicuously absent.
8.) ”Aisha WAS 9. You’d better believe it”
While this may not sound top ten problem worthy; some popularisers have made it so, and will not even suffer to respect the view that others have that Aisha was older when she married Muhammad (pbuh) as if this were some sort of a trial to prove ones worthiness. I do not wish to get stuck into the various evidences that Aisha was older then 9; personally I think strong evidences exist, but I do not wish to discuss them here. This issue here is that numerous Dawah personalities anathematise people who do not accept that it is an Aqeeda (belief) issue. One would think, given that their notion of salvation is generally a case of ”Muslims, heaven no matter what, perhaps after a stint in hell; non Muslims, remain in hell no matter what,” they would show some flexibility on this issue. One wonders, if push comes to shove whether they would rather people remain non Muslim and believe Aisha was 9 then be Muslim and believe she was older. Or perhaps they are bound to give certain answers because their funding sources (including donations from Saudi) might dry up were this issue not defended ‘properly.’ One can only speculate.
9.) They encourage Islamophobic activity and alienate people from Islam
How attractive is a soft spoken, well researched and original scholar as a target for a ‘debunking’ video? Comb the internet and you may find one or two if you try hard enough, but not many. Contrast that with a loud, ill mannered, confrontational apologist who has made numerous gaffes, plagiarised many of his arguments and has (barely) closeted extreme views. A phrase involving flies comes to mind. Many popular anti Islam channels and blogs are only as ever present as they are because of popularisers from organisations like iERA; which is observable by the number of videos featuring them; there are about as many anti Islam videos online as there are Islamic videos featuring Hamza Tzortzis! Contrary to what the proud counter-claim might be; this is not indicative of people believing they are right and desperately trying to stop them; in many cases I fear they are looking for easy meat; easy meat which they have found in the form of Dawahman harassing Professor Krauss, Adnan Rashid and Hamza Tzortzis crashing an atheist convention and Abduraheem Green raving like a lunatic about how disgusting non Muslims are amongst other things.
Negative attention may have been positive for Muhammad Ali but it is not positive for the message of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and I firmly believe that there are Muslim apologists who generate as much negative attention as positive; from their inconsistent methodology to their extreme views. Yes some people have converted to Islam because of them; but how many more people have been scared away from Islam (including those born into it) by their harassment or damnationist theology or refusing to even respect the view that Aisha was anything other than 9 years old when she married the Prophet? What happens when someone who’s faith was affirmed by arguments for the existence of God realises that they were plagiarised almost verbatim from someone else, even if they were actually valid arguments?
Another question to ponder is what is the retention rate of people who convert from street Dawah? Given that many of them go into the conversation knowing next to nothing about Islam and go through a flow chart of questions which ends in them taking the Shahada, can we really be certain that most of them stay Muslim? It would be very easy for some new converts who converted quickly because of being put on the spot to go straight home, sleep on it, and convince themselves they just did it for a laugh almost, much as it hurts to think. Without an intellectually fulfilling, holistic, and relevant framework to live (which cannot be delivered in a 20 minute Dawah session) a convert must be very proactive in order to cope. Certainly, some people who give Dawah also support converts, but is the hardline (which need not mean ‘most authentic’) Islam of the Dawahmen the Islam the convert signed up to? He knew he would have to pray and fast and not drink alcohol but did he realise a beard was obligatory or that all his family are damned almost by default for not being Muslim? Maybe the Salafi paradigm (billed to the convert as the holistic Islamic paradigm) is not so appealing. Of course, not all people who proselytise do teach this; Shabir Ally, the president of the Islamic information and Dawah centre in Toronto for instance would reject both claims; and I think he is a brilliant and wise representative of Islam, but I am not criticising such people.
10.) There are better people out there to listen to
I am not alone in being disillusioned with the style of Dawah which I have described and the views of some of its deliverers. Since becoming disenchanted, I went on a search for academics and spokespeople whose work I felt I could place more trust in (I dare someone from iERA to criticise me for the fact that some of them are non Muslim while keeping a straight face). Fortunately I found many, who I have found far more credible, consistent and intellectually honest. Below, I list a few whose works I have found enlightening and intellectually fulfilling. If you are interested religious and Islamic thought, starting from the big questions like the existence of God, the problem of evil, views on salvation and other important questions in religion I recommend a search for books, podcasts, videos or any other resources with material from the following individuals. For all their superior academic credentials (to my knowledge iERA does not actually have any accredited academics, maybe because Western Universities are indoctrination/disbelief centres according to their chairman) none of them use jargon to intellectually infatuate a philosophically illiterate audience and they are straightforward to follow.
Shabir Ally; The president of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International in Toronto, Canada.
Alvin Plantinga; One of the leading analytic philosophers of the 20th and 21st century. Even the aforementioned William Lane Craig looks upto him, though unlike Craig, Plantinga has more inclusive views on other religions and salvation.
Keith Ward; Former Regius professor of divinity at Oxford University and one of the best modern day philosophers I have had the privilege to listen to. Ward has criticised Christian fundamentalism and defended Islam on several occasions.
Paul Bilal Williams; not a scholar but has written many insightful articles on his blog bloggingtheology.org.uk and has participated in numerous insightful debates.
Gai Eaton (now deceased); A British writer and Sufi scholar. There are few things I would not have given to meet this great man before he died.
Timothy Winter; A lecturer of Islamic studies at Cambridge University
Mohammad Hassan Khalil; Associate professor of Religious Studies at Michigan State University
Richard Swinburne: An Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford and an author of many excellent books
Seyyed Hossein Nasr: A Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University and a prominent Islamic philosopher
Karen Armstrong: An excellent British author and commentator known for her books on comparative religion
In summary, while spreading information on Islam, for purpose of creating a more harmonious and attracting converts is a noble cause; but as we have seen, this does not mean that everyone who aims to spread Islam can do no wrong. I believe that many of the methods used to spread Dawah do not capture the grace and beauty of Islam, from their delivery, to their theology and lack of substance. Lack of substance? How many converts are shown how to truly live by Islamic principles? Converts are instructed how to pray, fast and perhaps give charity; maybe refrain from gossiping at a push. How many of them are told that if they pick up litter or show kindness to an animal they have done an act of worship? How many of them are told just how much emphasis Islam places on kindness and helpfulness from everyday acts to people you know and people you don’t, to how ethical your lifestyle is? There might be a reference here or there, but the peripheral importance of these notions is generally evident.
Let us picture (and this will take some imagination); a Western country with a minority of Muslims where every Muslim family is the most liked family in their neighbourhood. They mow the lawn for their elderly neighbours; they pick up litter from the street; they are friendly; they have a reputable job but it is common knowledge they give much of their money to good causes, not that they would ever mention it; their kids are the nicest and most hard working in school; they volunteer; they give food to the homeless shelter; and they visited the racist old man who told them to ‘go back home’ when he got sick. How and why can they do all this? Because their religion teaches it. Sounds like an interesting religion; whether ‘true’ or not it certainly has some good things to say. Perhaps there are still (apparent) intellectual problems in the way of embracing this religion for some people. Perhaps some people now do want to hear some proofs in the form of arguments. Consider now how people will consider these arguments. With objectivity; prepared, even hoping to believe that the philosophical foundations are sound; as opposed to when arguments comes from a loud and annoying apologist where the natural and instant reaction to any of their arguments would quite plausibly be ‘This guy is shrill, annoying, socially inept and thinks I should automatically burn in hell because I can’t understand a word game with a language which I dont even understand. How can I establish this world view cannot be true? Maybe google ”Dawahman debunked” and get acquainted with all the channels there and all of their videos. I think I’ll learn about Islam from them instead. Interesting. Says here Islam was started by a paedophile…and all Muslims have a duty to wage jihad…a site called Jihadwatch should clue me up on that…, ‘
Maybe, just maybe, a few more of us could, whilst having a robust knowledge of philosophy, spread Islam by being the best Muslims and the best people (the former should inescapably entail the latter) we can be; and making it clear we do not merely want to behave like this because Islam commands us to but because Islam makes us want to be this way because we are that grateful for the gift of Islam. Maybe this makes me some sort of liberal modernist heretic or something similar but I urge you, as a responsible reader to judge to the best of your ability yourself.
As-Salamu Aleikum, peace be with you and have a wonderful day.