Idolatry is the best we can do…

December 27, 2009 at 10:59 pm (Christianity, God, Islam, myth and metaphor)

… and we ought to just be honest about it.

I have read the first two chapters of Karen Armstrong’s “A History Of God” and I am already blown away. I was actually quite alarmed when I first started reading, because it begins with the words: “In the beginning, human beings created a God…” I suspect this, and my title, will alarm some of my readers too. But please bear with me. There is a very important point to this and while it may threaten religion, it does not in any way threaten belief in God.

It’s easy for us, with our modern fully-evolved theology, to say that the concept of a single transcendent creator is totally different from pagan worship of created things. I used to think that the knowledge of a creator is primordial and natural to our consciousness, but it turns out the early ideas about God(s) even in the Hebrew tradition actually had nothing to do with creation. I still think spiritual insight is natural and inborn. But it leads people to experience and express reality in very different ways.

The God that Abraham and his immediate descendents encountered was called El and was quite different in nature from the God Moses knew, who was called Yahweh. El appeared to Abraham as a man, and wrestled with Jacob as a man. Yahweh on the other hand was perceived on Mount Sinai in the midst of what seems to be a volcanic eruption, and in a burning bush, and could not be seen directly. It is suggested in this book that these ideas or concepts or pictures of God had different origins. In a sense they were different Gods.

Also, a huge news flash to me – early Judaism was polytheistic! They believed in the existence of the other gods. The whole point of the covenant Yahweh made with Moses and his people was that they would forsake all the other gods and worship only Yahweh. This only made sense in a polytheistic context. If they didn’t believe in other gods, there would have been no need.

I always wondered how those Israelites could forsake God as soon as Moses’ back was turned and worship a golden calf. But they were just doing what came naturally to them; different Gods had different roles, for example some were warriors, and some were for fertility, and so they turned to whichever one they felt would benefit them. And they weren’t worshipping the calf itself, but using it as a symbol to invoke one of the Gods they believed in, much like how Muslims use the Kaaba. There was never any worship of overtly man-made things.

It took some time for their conception of Yahweh to evolve to the God that we know today: tawheed, a single transcendent creator.

And so the idea of one single unchanging God who has revealed himself to every prophet from Abraham onwards has been blown out of the water for me. Karen Armstrong drives this point home in the first chapter: throughout history we have always “created” our Gods, in a sense. We have expressed our sense of the divine through our human ideas. This is what I think the word “idolatry” actually means in her writing. And she says (emphasis mine):

Despite the bad press it has in the Bible, there is nothing wrong with idolatry per se: it only becomes objectionable or naive if the image of God, which has been constructed with such loving care, is confused with the ineffable reality to which it refers.

This is where it gets really interesting. She goes on to tell how in around 622 BCE, when the idea that there really is only one God was developing, King Josiah violently suppressed worship of the other Gods. At this time an ancient manuscript was discovered which basically became Deuteronomy, part of the Torah. (It is hinted that this was not so ancient actually. 😉 ) The result of this discovery was that the history of the Exodus – Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land – was revised, to include all the nasty stuff about wiping out the Canaanites because they worshipped Gods other than Yahweh. This new intolerant slant, this belief in being a chosen people favoured by God, was a reflection of the ethos developing at this time under King Josiah. She says about the violent events of the time:

This wholesale destruction springs from a hatred that is rooted in buried anxiety and fear.

Isn’t that fascinating?

It makes me think of, “the lady doth protest too much”. They hated other peoples’ expression of their sense of the divine, because in the backs of their minds, they knew that their own God was just that: an expression of their own sense of the divine.

Pagan polytheism was much more tolerant because the idea of another God did not in any way threaten a person’s own God or Gods. They could all be true. In the same way, universalism such as developed in Hinduism – the concept of an impersonal overarching reality that transcends everything including the gods – was very tolerant. In the first century CE monotheism reached that level of universalism too, in Jewish thought, where theology was considered a private matter and not dictated from some authority on high. But fundamentalism – the belief that your own particular ideas about God are totally right and that other belief systems are wrong – always tends to lead to intolerance and antagonism and ultimately, holy war.

Karen Armstrong suggests that it is perhaps a pitfall of having a personal God, that such a concept lends itself to the “election” of a chosen people. People can project their own egotistical desires onto a personal God in a way that they can’t for an impersonal ultimate reality. However, the concept of a personal God also seems to stimulate social justice in a way that didn’t happen in India for example.

I never really understood why in Islam associating partners with God is the biggest sin. Now it all makes sense. And this is why I am repelled from religion time after time: I prefer to express what I don’t know about God, than to be so sure of my own beliefs in unseen, unprovable ideas that I allow myself to feel superior or more enlightened than others.

I can’t wait to read the rest of the book!

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118 Comments

  1. susanne430 said,

    I’m glad you are posting about what you are reading. Lots of interesting stuff here! I’m interested in hearing more. So do are you thinking more and more that polytheism is the way? Like there isn’t just ONE God, but our ideas/beliefs are all gods and they are all valid? Is this what Ms. Armstrong is teaching?

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Susanne – no, I think what’s happening here is I have suddenly stopped feeling boxed in to one view of God, and stopped feeling that I have to take a dim view of things like the trinity or even polytheism. These views of the divine that have developed around the world are all so different, and yet I think there is truth in all of them; they are all expressing their experience of the same underlying reality. God is far beyond any of our limited understandings.
      As for my own view of God, I will let that develop naturally.
      I hope that makes sense!

  2. Sarah said,

    I was taken back by the title at first, you cheater! xD Tsk, tsk~

    For someone who’s neither a scholar nor a historian; I still always found Karen Armstrong to be a very skilled, incredibly bright, and a deeply spiritual writer. She is generally even-handed in her analysis and has a sympathetic tone for almost all of the ideas on which she touches. While I strongly disagree with a lot of what she said in her books, but I still respect her beliefs.

    I read in on review that she tends, in her books, to slam Western Christianity and goes easy on Islam, and many critics criticizd her as being “biased” towards Islam. That made me go: HMMM. Since she seems to know Islam the least (she tries to correct this in her later book: the battle for God).

    (I used to think that the knowledge of a creator is primordial and natural to our consciousness, but it turns out the early ideas about God(s) even in the Hebrew tradition actually had nothing to do with creation).

    I can only say that as a muslim; but it’s not supraising to me at all. This book would be more accurately titled “A History of Gods”, I think.

    (And they weren’t worshipping the calf itself, but using it as a symbol to invoke one of the Gods they believed in, much like how Muslims use the Kaaba).

    Hmmm, I don’t think that’s a fair comparisim at all. The Kaaba doesn’t symbolize any kind of other “Gods”. The Israelites was born and raised in a polytheistic world, so of course it will be natural for them to worship and invoke other Gods beside their God.

    (Also, a huge news flash to me – the people of that time were polytheistic! They believed in the existence of the other gods. The whole point of the covenant Yahweh made with Moses and his people was that they would forsake all the other gods and worship only Yahweh).

    Wait! I thought it’s a well-known fact?… but maybe I just know about it cuz I’m a geek! xD

    (El appeared to Abraham as a man, and wrestled with Jacob as a man).

    Again, as a muslim, I don’t beilive that was the case.

    This book is not really a history OF God itself, since the God Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in is beyond time, beyond history. “History” itself is a human concept, and therefore the only history we humans can write about is HUMAN history.

    The human history of Abraham and Moses can only be leared by two very differant historical sources: The Quran and every other book. I choose the Quran to be my refrence.

    I don’t agree at all that pagans are more “tolarent” in general than monotheists. Hindus were EXTEREMLY brutal to muslims in India, for example. They also felt “threated”.

    The way I see it; a personal God is just that; a personal God. The minute you get “personal” about Him; you instently get insecure and non-tolerant. A dangerous mistake that a lot of religious folks tend to make (monotheists AND pagans).

    Armstrong’s notion of “God” is somewhat disturbingly foreign to me. She certainly does not appear to be a fan of anthropomorphic interpretations of God, but I have a difficult time discerning the role of her “God” who’s reduced to mere mystical nothingness (perhaps she does not envision a role). I am not sure how relevant it is to even call such a notion “God”.

    The one real negative aspect of this book is how she limits herself to the history of purely human ideas and ideologies, or from a Christian perspective, a history of idolatry. The book sometimes feel like looking at the moon under the assumption that the light you see is native to that sphere. The author holds strong views on nearly everything and is unafraid to state them as if they were objective truths. Nonetheless, it’s still a good book.

    As for me? I personally never really understood why there were too many Prophets needed to be sent to mankind.. until now. People seems to change the concept of God, deliberately or undeliberately, way too often.

    When Voltaire famously stated: “If God did not exist, He’d have to be invented!”, he was onto something very deep. God does not need us as much as we need Him, in every sense of the word. This is what the Quran says: God is inevitable, whether people believe in this or not.

    (I prefer to express what I don’t know about God, than to be so sure of my own beliefs in unseen, unprovable ideas that I allow myself to feel superior or more enlightened than others).

    Being 100% sure of your beliefs is one thing, feeling “superior or more enlightened” is another.

    The first is a sing of sincer faith, the other is a sing of stupid arragance.

    • Sarah said,

      Ah, another thing I forgot to mention:

      Armstrong’s ideas about the “evolve” of the concept of God is nothing new. She just brilliantly sumed up what most westren anthropologists today “beilive” (while adding her own personal conclutions): that the concept of Monotheism evolved through a gradual development out of notions of henotheism (worshiping a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities) and monolatrism (the recognition of the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity).

      But the “idea” of monothism was already there way before the Abrahamic conceptions of God.

      Some Anthropological research has shown that polytheistic beliefs emerged along with the distortion of monotheistic faith.

      The first researcher to discover that polytheism had originally contained monotheism was Stephen Langdon of Oxford University. In 1931, he announced his findings to the scientific world, saying that they were quite unexpected and totally at odds with previous evolutionist interpretations.

      Langdon explained his findings as follows:

      (The history of the oldest civilization of man is a rapid decline from monotheism to extreme polytheism and widespread belief in evil spirits).

      Five years later, Langdon would state in The Scotsman as follows:

      (The evidence points unmistakably to an original monotheism, the inscriptions and literary remains of the oldest Semitic peoples also indicate . . . monotheism, and the totemistic origin of Hebrew and other Semitic religions is now entirely discredited).

      Excavations at modern Tell Asmar, the site of a Sumerian city dating from 3,000 BCE, unearthed findings that completely corroborated Langdon’s ideas. The excavation director, Henry Frankfort, gave this official report:

      (In addition to their more tangible results, our excavations have established a novel fact, which the student of Babylonian religions will have henceforth to take into account. We have obtained, to the best of our knowledge for the first time, religious material complete in its social setting.

      We possess a coherent mass of evidence, derived in almost equal quantity from a temple and from the houses inhabited by those who worshiped in that temple. We are thus able to draw conclusions, which the finds studied by themselves would not have made possible.

      For instance, we discover that the representations on cylinder seals, which are usually connected with various gods, can all be fitted into a consistent picture in which a single god worshiped in this temple forms the central figure. It seems, therefore, that at this early period his various aspects were not considered separate deities in the Sumero-Accadian pantheon).

      In the course of time, people developed different understandings of the various attributes of the one God, which eventually led to distortions in belief in one God. The various attributes of the one God turned into the belief in several.

      The Pharaoh Akhenaten believed in a single God and had all idols destroyed. He expressed his belief in these words in a hymn: “How many are Your deeds, though hidden from sight, o Sole God beside whom there is none! You made the earth as You wished, You alone, All peoples, herds, and flocks; All upon earth that walk on legs, all on high that fly on wings”.

      The anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie says that superstitious, polytheistic beliefs emerged through the gradual corruption of belief in a single deity. In addition, he says that this process of corruption can be seen in present-day society as well as in societies in the past:

      (There are in ancient religions and theologies very different classes of gods. Some races, as the modern Hindu, revel in a profusion of gods and godlings which continually increase. Others . . . do not attempt to worship great gods, but deal with a host of animistic spirits, devils. . . .

      Were the conception of a god only an evolution from such spirit worship we should find the worship of many gods preceding the worship of one God . . . What we actually find is the contrary of this, monotheism is the first stage traceable in theology…

      Wherever we can trace back polytheism to its earliest stages, we find that it results from combinations of monotheism).

      The subject is, however, still debatable till this very day… since “History” itself is only a human concept, and of our historical discoveries about anciant religions are still minimal compared to what we don’t actually know.

      It’s a fascinating subject, nonetheless! =)

      • Wrestling With Religion said,

        I think monotheism – or the idea of one universal reality – makes much more sense than having local or regional variations. So it doesn’t surprise me that it crops up again and again throughout history.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Sarah,

      I am looking forward to the chapter on Islam for sure!

      “the God Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in is beyond time, beyond history.”

      It took a while for this concept of God to arrive, though. It hadn’t arrived by Abraham’s time and it hadn’t arrived by Moses’ time. These two prophets had very different experiences and understandings of God.

      “The human history of Abraham and Moses can only be leared by two very differant historical sources: The Quran and every other book. I choose the Quran to be my refrence.”

      The Quran is not really a history book – it represents the fully-evolved monotheistic perspective of its time. The Bible on the other hand IS basically historical accounts, written much closer in time to the historic events. It is a historical document. It can be used to tell us about the perspectives of the people at the times when its various parts were written.

      “Being 100% sure of your beliefs is one thing, feeling “superior or more enlightened” is another. ”

      It is impossible to think you are right without also thinking someone else is wrong. Nothing wrong with this in many cases – as a scientist I think those who disagree with my results are wrong, because I believe in my results, and I feel I have good reason for that. But I like to think that if I was proved wrong, I would accept that humbly, and not be so personally attached to my beliefs that I act irrationally and try to suppress others’ ideas.

      It’s possible to think you are right about God, and someone else is wrong, and still be open to challenges and be tolerant and respectful. But history shows that people get more personally attached to religious beliefs than anything else, with bloody consequences. No-one has ever started violent action over a mathematical theory that threatened their own understanding of maths.

      Why is this? In my view, it’s because we cannot be at all sure about God. We cannot prove any of our ideas. We become very insecure when we are not prepared to accept this fact. I would rather just accept the fact.

      • Sarah said,

        (It took a while for this concept of God to arrive, though. It hadn’t arrived by Abraham’s time and it hadn’t arrived by Moses’ time. These two prophets had very different experiences and understandings of God).

        Ah! see? that’s why I descried the Quran as my “historical” refrence, even though I’m fully aware that the Quran is not really a historical book.

        like you said: (there is never total consensus on events that happened so long ago. It is just one set of opinions).

        Your opinion is how Bible is a “reliable” historical document, but here is were I disagree.. since I’m muslim and I accept the Quran’s “version” of histrory and how the Bible is gravely distorted when it comes to God, His Prophets, and history. The Quran on and on describs how the message was always One since the time of Adam.

        “The Shahada” is not unique to Islam. It was the message of all prophets.
        It was the message Noah (There is no God, but God and Noah is his messager), Ibrahim (There is no God, but God and Ibrahim is his messager), Moses (There is no God, but God and Moses is his messager), Jesus (There is no God, but God and Jusus is his messager), and Muhammad (There is no God, but God and Muhammad is his messager).

        In Islam, the concept of God didn’t “evolved” with itme. It either “diviated” from the original concept, or “turned back” to the original concept. The whole point of Divin Revelation by sending prophets is to gaiud people back to that pure original concept of God.

        (as a scientist I think those who disagree with my results are wrong, because I believe in my results, and I feel I have good reason for that. But I like to think that if I was proved wrong, I would accept that humbly, and not be so personally attached to my beliefs that I act irrationally and try to suppress others’ ideas).

        Not all scientists are that humble. =) Many of them can be just as irrationally attached to their beliefs as any religious exteremist (espacially if said scientists were anti-faith, like the scientists from the Soviet Union). Scientists can be just as biased to their own beliefs, but won’t express it so openly in public (there is a funny documentary that talks about that. I wish I could remember the title, though).

        Michael Gazzaniga, in his amazing book: The Ethical Brain, had an interesting chapter on religion, where he describes how the brain reacts during religious experiences and the psychological experience of religion. One interesting point he makes in passing is that it turns out that scientists are just attached to their particular theories as religious believers, and in fact, scientists are just as reluctant to surrender their beliefs about science when confronted with contrary evidence as are religious believers. He notes (p. 146):

        (Nowhere does the human capacity to form and hold beliefs become more stark than when clear scientific data challenge the assumptions of someone’s personal beliefs. It would be easy to spin a story line about how a particular person with a set of religious values resisted the biological analysis of this or that finding in an effort to reaffirm his or her belief. There are many such stories, but they miss the point. Scientists themselves are just as resistant to change a view when confronted with new data that suggest their view is incorrect. All of us hold ot to our beliefs, and it now appears that men are even more tencious about not letting go than are women).

        He adds (pp. 146-47): (Interestingly, it turns out that scientists are slower to change their views in the face of new data than are preachers).

        But you’re right, nonetheless. Religious people tend to be “more” personally attached to their beliefs than others. But here you’re forgeting one thing: religion is not just about how you view God, it’s about you view YOUR place in the world and beyond. That’s why religious people tend to get “more” personal than others. But the more the reliogus person became more sincer, the more humbel and tolarent he or she becoms.

        (No-one has ever started violent action over a mathematical theory that threatened their own understanding of maths).

        True. But World War 1 and 2 (the bloodiest wars in human history) would never have happaned if scientists were not so obsessed with competeing with each other by creating wepons of mass destruction.

        • Wrestling With Religion said,

          Sarah,

          If you believe the Quran is the word of God, then obviously you’re going to believe it when it says that the concept of God did not evolve, and discard historical evidence to the contrary (i.e. the Bible).

          I never said the Bible is a totally reliable historical account, I don’t think it is at all. But history is not an exact science like that, so it doesn’t matter if it’s 100% authentic or not.

          Biblical scholars have worked out where the various parts came from, and how many writers there were, through textual analysis and so on. The picture that emerges of a progression of ideas about God is convincing, and highly realistic. Why shouldn’t it evolve? Is it at all likely that people had God sussed out thousands of years ago and there was nothing new to learn or experience or understand since then?

          To argue against this realistic and understandable picture of a progression of ideas about God, you would need to explain why the Bible presents this picture (it is not enough to say “it was corrupted” – why? Who would make it look this way? What would the motivation be?) Just like those who deny biological evolution would have to come up with a really good explanation for – as Phoebe says in Friends – “who put the fossils there, and why?”

          • Sarah said,

            (If you believe the Quran is the word of God, then obviously you’re going to believe it when it says that the concept of God did not evolve, and discard historical evidence to the contrary (i.e. the Bible).

            I’m didn’t merely discarding it based on the Quran. I also presented several historical evidences that points to the other way around (that monotheisim was the original concept, not the evoled concept). Like I said it’s still debatable.

            It’s compelety fine with me if people don’t agree on this issue. But I can never ever buy it, because it implaies a notion of an imporsonal, sadistic God who just threw us all here on Earth and didn’t give a damn about us.

            (it is not enough to say “it was corrupted” – why? Who would make it look this way? What would the motivation be?)

            Scholors today discovred (hundereds of years after the Quran) that the people who wrote the Bible changed tons and tons of things in it over time, so why not the concept of God?

            Disscusing this will take a whole post all together. I should write about it somed ay in my blog… yes, I have a blog now! =)

            (Just like those who deny biological evolution)

            I personally don’t have anything against biological evolution in general, but I don’t beilive that humans “evolved” from apes.

            • Wrestling With Religion said,

              I guess different things make more sense to different people. 🙂

              You have a blog? I hope you’re going to share it with us!

              • Sarah said,

                (You have a blog? I hope you’re going to share it with us!)

                You betcha! =)

                It’s still empty, though. I plan to start writting very soon!

      • Sarah said,

        (I am looking forward to the chapter on Islam for sure!).

        I love how passionatly she writes about Islam. But in this preticular book she mad several mistakes about it. Since you studied Islam for a long time I’m sure it will be easrier for you to point out those mistakes. =)

      • Sarah said,

        Your talk about how religious people and scientists are attached to their beliefs made me ponder on things I never fully thought about before (that’s why I love your blog!).

        It’s very interesting to me how you expresed that scientists don’t got “too personal” about their scientific theories. That may be true when it comes to “scientific theories”, but is it really the case when comes to scientific theories they hold as “beliefs”?

        Doesn’t all non-religious scientists “believe” that humans are merely “evolved” animals and there no such thing as a “human soul”?

        Isn’t this the reason why non-religious scientists are SO eager to attack religious beliefs?? because it challanges how they personally view THEIR place in this world??

        Many have called this phenomenon: Scientism.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism

        I just call it: human nature.

        • Wrestling With Religion said,

          Non-religious scientists have never started wars over whether evolution happened. They don’t need to, because the evidence speaks for itself. It is not a belief that needs defending by violent suppressive action.

          Muhammad Asad believes in evolution, and believes there are references to it in the Quran. Islam certainly does not require belief in a young-earth creationism, unlike a literal reading of the Bible would require because of the short amount of time spanned by the genealogies leading back to Adam. Both books say the world was created in 6 days but this could easily be allegorical.

          I’ve never understood what the problem is with evolution and religious belief. If God wanted to do it that way, so what? The laws of the universe appear finely-tuned to allow intelligent life to evolve, which is a strong argument for God.

          • Sarah said,

            But I wasn’t talking about biological evolution.

            I actualy agree with Muhammad Asad on this. =)

            • Wrestling With Religion said,

              But you don’t believe humans evolved? Why? Just curious!

              • Sarah said,

                I do consider myself as a creationists, but not in the Christain sense of the word. I have no problem with the idea of us humans “evolving” in a certain way, I just don’t beilive we evolved from apes.

                It’s unfortunate that the unfounded extrapolation of evolution theory is used to justify atheism or rejection of a Creator God. This mystifies me, really. Evolution certainly doesn’t contradict creation yet. There is simply no evidence that sentient life (or any life) developed from simple cells nor any evidence of how the original cells developed.

                Am not sure whether this was caused by non-scientist theists misunderstanding of the theory or by the antagonist tone of (some) evolutionary literature, but the process is probably a two way process: creationists and evolutionists annoy each other so much that the bickering turns nasty, personal and intolerant.

                Given that most creationist literature reveals a thinly veiled literalist religious agenda, and most evolutionist literature reveals a thinly veiled secular, atheistic (or anti-God) agenda, it is hardly surprising that we ended up in the current situation- it has been so ever since Darwin made his theory public. If we take it back to Darwin, he was an out and out scientist and not in any way motivated to disprove God. It’s clear that he, when writing exclusively about theory, has no anti-God agenda explicit in the writing.

                Evolution is a scientific theory which has been caught up in a very profound political and philosophical controversy. When stripped off of its imposed symbolism(s) and atheistic interpretation(s), it becomes clear that it is a fascinating scientific theory which deserves respect and also that it cannot refute a Creator God because it is not its job to do so. All it does is provide a (plausible) explanation of how the diversity of Life came about.

                When all is said and done, God is the ultimate source of existence. However He decides to do it is His affair.

                • Wrestling With Religion said,

                  Sarah,

                  I totally agree. And if you believe all this, then we are on the same view about evolution!

                  I’ve been meaning to say, if you quote from other sources on the web, would you mind putting quotation marks around it and giving the source? I noticed you quoted some reviews of the Armstrong book earlier. I just don’t want you to get in any trouble – I have heard of there being legal issues with this type of thing. As long as you acknowledge the sources, there shouldn’t be a problem.
                  Thanks!

                  • Sarah said,

                    Yes, I didn’t remember that I forgot to put quotation marks until I re-read my post yesturday! some reviewers said everything I wanted to say in much clearer words. Is there is a way to edit my post??

                    • Wrestling With Religion said,

                      I don’t think there is, but you could re-submit the comments if you wanted and I’d delete the old ones.

    • Wishing to stay anon said,

      “The way I see it; a personal God is just that; a personal God. The minute you get “personal” about Him; you instently get insecure and non-tolerant. A dangerous mistake that a lot of religious folks tend to make (monotheists AND pagans).”

      I think these are wise words Sarah. Thank you. 🙂

  3. Jasmine said,

    I am a big fan of Karen Armstrong and I love her writing. When I read Karen Armstrong -I get a strong faith boost rather than a strong anti-faith sentiment so I found your conclusions quite interesting ;0) I have great respect for this woman.

    My view is that scholars provide us the idols of our day – with more and more people following scholars (as if they are the same as prophets and Gods) then they actually do any sense of a thing called “faith” within their own selves. And to me such scholar-worship feels like idolatry i.e: why are we asking scholars for answers instead of searhing within and applying the morals that we believe in?

    Another light I shine on reading is this notion I learned in a very basic psychology course I took at Uni, where we were taught that human’s can’t invent things – they taught us that every thing we know or do or think is a copy or an improvement on something that exists already, we “discover”, adapt and improve. So having learnt all of that – I always feel that how can we invent a concept of God that asks us to be moral and good? Thats quite an “out there” invention. Along with Angels, and other spiritual beliefs like the third eye, meditation, self healing – even Yoga! How did they know about Yoga for goodness sake – Lord knows noone can invent somehing like Yoga or Karate today!

    I think that by the time humans got through all of this development you are reading about and up until today – our desperate need for dictionary-like definitions of faith, belief and God have made us into factions that are against eachother – because where you have a word – you have its opposite, its plural, it’s singular and so on and so forth – until you have people warring, fighting and disagreeing over what is ultimately: words, and what we understand about words. So we make them different, we make the Prophets different, we make their angels and experiences different. We confuse the message wih the messenger, we confuse the practices of the followers with the contents of the message and slowly slowly we develop new words and definitions until we have a “Tower of Babel” effect in which “enlightenment” (as per Budda) is totally different and in disagreement with “peace from prayer”. We have “mediatation” as completely seperate to and disagreement with “prayer”to such an extent that the two become almost offensive to each other. [Hence this affect you speak of as people feeling right and superior etc etc ]

    But I imagine – and of course, I wll never know for sure – that back back in the day, we had only so many words to describe things. Prayer and revelation would encompass a range of activties with a very loose definition.

    So -when we look back, with our new lexicon and armed with our new and modern definitions we can look at things as: “wrong” or “idolatry” – we can call things barbarc even if they may not have been at the time – and we keep moving, adding new words and new definitions until everything that we have in our personal “these are the words of my faith” dictionary – and feel that we are against opposites and for similiarities. Add to all of that past defintions of “proof” and “accuracy” to today definitions (which are always constantly changing) and I hope you start to get an idea of the aboslute chaos that the whole world is in.

    We dont even ATTEMPT to reconcile our differences in understanding or try to understand that people use words in different ways – with each person sticking hard and fast to their partcular interpretation and understanding of word.

    Ah! I have so much to say!

    I will have to write three posts at least just to make my point: see how vulnerable words are? We need at least 10 supporting words to define the one very basic message we are trying to convey successfully.

    Ultimately – faith is the power that makes you want to put good deeds above all other desires. Like any practice in life (typing, knitting, blogging, cooking) one develops ritutals and practices to make it better and better and better.

    And lack of faith, is the disrespect of such deeds and feeling like they are pointless. Like self discovery, self evaluation and being kind are useless qualities in a human. And again, one develops ritutals and practices to support this.

    Both are likely to prove themselves right because we rarely have the strength of objectivity and power to tell ourselves that we are wrong.

    And it doesnt really matter (in my view) what language you use to describe faith, practice it or make it happen. We are all as multinational 4 year olds in the same playground trying to tell each other how to play a game with the very little grasp of language that we have. This language affects the way we convey things, it affects our view of past, present and future, it gets lost in translation, it gets lost in meanings – blah! Its lost! And of course it wil affect how we absorb and view histories – such as the one that you are reading, just proves it to me again and again and again! ;0)

    And again, I always say that whatever you are looking at – you (the general you, not you specificaly) will see only your own reflection in it unless you are willing to a.) admit you do not really know anything b.) purify yourself of issues, fears, and blnk yourself out c.) rebuild yourself in the most uncorupt way possible (and please note: all of this is a lifes work-in-progress – and then, maybe, MAYBE you will be able to see things the way they are – and not in the way your existing progamming and language is causing you to. In short: accept that you know nothing but what you interact with, and that there is a huge amount of unknown that you cannot even identify because “how does one know what they dont know they dont know”?

    And once we are willing to blank ourselves out like that and be totally open to everything; then maybe we can aborb some of this thing called “truth”.

    • Sarah said,

      … I like you. Be my friend! xD

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Jasmine,

      yes, when I started reading I thought uh-oh, this sounds a bit anti-faith… but it’s not at all. Phew! 😉

      I agree with much of what you’ve written here. I think I’m now in the place you were in when I started writing this blog – seeing all faiths as expressions of the one reality. I think I would extend what you’re saying about words, to include images (quoting Karen Armstrong!) and ideas. These are all things that do a fairly crude job of representing the divine.

      “Ultimately – faith is the power that makes you want to put good deeds above all other desires. Like any practice in life (typing, knitting, blogging, cooking) one develops ritutals and practices to make it better and better and better.

      And lack of faith, is the disrespect of such deeds and feeling like they are pointless. Like self discovery, self evaluation and being kind are useless qualities in a human. And again, one develops ritutals and practices to support this.”

      I like these definitions. I this comes close to capturing what is common to all.

      “And once we are willing to blank ourselves out like that and be totally open to everything; then maybe we can aborb some of this thing called “truth”.”

      Amen! I feel closer to this than I have ever been, right now. Grabbing truth by brute force doesn’t seem to work, you have to let go and stand back and let it speak for itself… or so I think! 😉

  4. Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

    Like Jasmine, I always get a faith boost from reading Karen Armstrong.

    The fact that the Qur’an focuses so much on believing in one God and abandoning polytheism could be seen as proof of the fact that it addressed 7th century Arabs. In today’s world, monotheism is, if not the norm, very strongly established. So as Muslims today we don’t need to focus on believing in one God. But 7th C Arabs were not used to the idea and thus God had to emphasize it. I see this as proof of the Qur’an having universals and specifics in it.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Sara – yes, the denouncing of polytheism is perhaps a reflection of the time. Interestingly Muhammad Asad often seems to reinterpret the idea of worshipping other (false) gods for the modern age, in terms of materialism, greed, power, ego etc. These are the “false gods” he thinks people worship these days. I think that’s taking it way beyond its origins, but is an interesting idea.

      • Sarah said,

        (Interestingly Muhammad Asad often seems to reinterpret the idea of worshipping other (false) gods for the modern age, in terms of materialism, greed, power, ego etc. These are the “false gods” he thinks people worship these days. I think that’s taking it way beyond its origins, but is an interesting idea).

        I wouldn’t necessarily say that, since the Quran itself refere to it: “Have you seen him who takes his vain desires for his God?”.

        • Wrestling With Religion said,

          Oh, OK. So do you think maybe the whole reason why worshipping the pagan deities was wrong, was because of the wrong values it led to in that instance? And not because of the wrong theology?

          Usually people understand “associating partners with God” to mean primarily believing in other deities, rather than following one’s own selfish desires ahead of God’s will.

          • Sarah said,

            (Oh, OK. So do you think maybe the whole reason why worshipping the pagan deities was wrong, was because of the wrong values it led to in that instance? And not because of the wrong theology?)

            I think having the wrong theology is the issue. The Quran is refering to how certain people will always “obey” (not just follow) their desires in the same manner where religious people obey God. It’s mainly referes here to non-religious people who claim to be free of any kind of worship while, in reality, they worship their own desires

            • Wrestling With Religion said,

              Wrong theology as in no theology, then? What about people who believe in more than one God? Is that wrong just because it’s false, or is it mainly wrong because it’s another way of obeying one’s own desires? What if that wrong theology leads to moral behaviour, like for a lot of trinitarian Christians?

              • Sarah said,

                I didn’t refere to morals in particular. The verse doesn’t imply a “doctrinal” connection between “no theology” and “immorality”, as if the presence of one quality instantly results in the other or is proof of it.

                It merely expressed the painful reality that most materialistic people are unawar of. That they are just as worshipers as the religious people they make fun of. The brilliant writer David Foster even expreesed this idea when he said; (in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship).

                For me, the main reason why I can never ever fathom the idea of an imporsonal God is because to believe in a imporsonal God is to believe that prayer is nonsensical.

                When prayer is nonsensical; hope becoms nonsensional.

                In other words, if the world were truly a product of some accident, a magnificently fortuitous collision, and if there were no God, no Hereafter, and no hope for a meaningful life; or if the world and cosmos were necessary emanations of a God-like superior being but who is indifferent to His own emanation and has no extra-worldly plan, then despair would not only be appropriate, but the only truthful response to have.

                The mere limitation of life, with an end that has absolutely nothing beyond eternal interment in dirt, would properly reduce hope to utter nonsense. Soil and decay as our homecoming cannot be consoled by anything, no matter how poetic the elegies of such a life may be attempted, or the sheer force of mirth, distraction, and affluence— irreconcilable by any argument or hemp.

                You might notice there is a sense of despair in the last chapters of Armstrong’s book.

                Among the many crises the world faces, a crisis of hope must be ranked near the top. People are not misguided into seeking contentment. The problem, however, is relying on the fleeting stuff of this world for happiness because people despair finding it anywhere else, especially in the unseen realm.

                I see this verse of the Quran a passage that exposes the rickety connection between appearance and reality, between surface and truth. In the big picture, this is one of integral purposes of revealed scriptures: to keep human beings from being stranded in the realm of strict common perception and thus develop the habiliments that pierce the materialistic veil.

  5. Achelois said,

    I love this post. And I love Jasmine’s and Sara’s comments.

    As a Unitarian Universalist I do accept all faiths are some form of Truth and now that I read your post I am thinking perhaps it was something that I always held to be true for myself but fully realised it after reading Armstrong. I can’t accept superiority of any religion to be true for myself.

    I don’t proselytize, nor do I like being told that I should not believe this or that. Belief is something so subjective, so irrational although I admit that it is often based on rationality, for instance if I don’t believe that a book is the true word of God it is just a belief but it is certainly based on some rational reasons why i don’t believe it to be so. The same way there are people who believe in God differently than us but their belief is just belief although they may have reasons for that.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Achelois,

      I’ve always had a big thing about being objective, mainly because I find it irritating when people describe their conversions in entirely subjective terms. Like for example, someone who converted essentially because they fell in love with the hijab or some other outward aspect and didn’t even read the Quran. Maybe I was just always jealous because I wanted to believe that easily too. I have difficulty seeing how we can validly come to different conclusions, but then this whole post has totally contradicted that position. So maybe I need to “have a chat with myself” about that!

      • Wishing to stay anon said,

        I have felt the same sometimes; on the other hand, my decision was based on reading the Quran, appreciating much of the suggested lifestyle that goes hand in hand with being Muslim and a growing feeling of GOD. So part of my decision making process involved completely subjective matters. I have to say my ”belief” did not come easy though. It was at least a five year process, sometimes an ordeal, lol. I wonder if there are many reverts to Islam who do revert based on something which to us would seem small, hijab being an example. InshAllah there aren’t because I would find it a little scary to be honest.

        • Wrestling With Religion said,

          anon – it would be horrible of me to point out examples of these types of descriptions of conversions, but yes, I’ve seen a few that appeared to lack any depth whatsoever. Maybe they just failed to express it, though. I’ve also seen examples of strong emotional pressure from partners or even from children that have obviously had a big effect. There is a limit to how objective anyone can be, but I really wanted to be as objective as possible!

  6. Amber said,

    Oh, I have nothing to add except that I *love* Ms. Armstrong’s work. I think I own at least 3/4 of everything she’s written. She has a great writing style, and while she herself is not a historian (and she’s never pretended to be), she takes historians work and puts it into a form that makes it more accessible to people who might never pick up a more scholarly tome.

    I like reading histories written (or compiled) by agnostics/atheists sometimes, because they don’t really have a horse in the race, see? They tend to look at provable facts without trying to prove that a specific religious groups ‘mythology’ is correct or incorrect – just the facts.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Amber – this is the first book of hers that I’m reading, and I like her style too. She seems to summarise scholarly work and make it readily accessible, as you say. Some of the reviews on Amazon seem to be questioning her versions of history, but I guess that will always happen – there is never total consensus on events that happened so long ago. It is just one set of opinions.

  7. anonymous said,

    I agree with you that Idolatry came natural to the Israelites but not because it is a natural human inclination to worship idols and Gods, but because of our own human limitations.
    Namely, that we can only understand abstract concepts by associations with something concrete.

    While today’s societies have transcended making idols and statues, we still struggle with anthropomorphism. Throughout history societies simply regress into a state of having to associate God with an animal, or human being. We still do it today, only it’s a lot more subtle. I’m a huge fan of the current atheistic and agnostic science movements, not because I agree with their conclusions, but because I think their rejection of “God” is really just a rejection of these anthropomorphic conceptions.

    I think Islam in the 7th Century, was essentially a mirror image of today’s science movement. In that it was in itself a rejection of a more extreme form of anthropomorphism, today we’re undergoing another cleansing, of the more abstract forms of it.

    Even people who say “I don’t believe in a man in the sky, I believe in a higher power that is conscious and intelligent”, in their minds they will probably still imagine that this intelligence or consciousness is in itself human like. Even I do it, despite knowing that it’s not true. Maybe once in a while I’ll imagine a white light, or while praying I’ll still think of God as some kind of mother/father figure, even though I know that it is not true.

    I think the Quran helps us grasp the reality of God through two different ways. One is that instead of fighting our limitations, we fully acknowledge them, we acknowledge that there are things beyond our capacity, and we accept that it’s a concept we cannot grasp. Therefore, what distinguishes Islam for me, from any other religion, is that while every other religion attempts to put some kind of spin on God that you must accept, Islam asks you to do the opposite.

    The second thing I see God doing in the Quran, to help us understand his (I use the word his loosely of course) reality, is that the concrete descriptions provided are that of his characteristics, which we see permeating through ourselves in nature (mercy, kindness, power, creation, beauty, etc).

    So my point is, that yes it might be natural and instinctive for us to anthropomorphize and make the abstract concrete, on a primitive level, it is also natural for us, as we grow, to form the capacity for abstract thinking and thus an intellectual concept like transcending this need can also be deemed natural.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      anonymous,

      Thanks for your interesting comment.

      How far do you think we need to reject anthropomorphic concepts? To the extent that God is not a mind at all? I am not sure that anthropomorphism is such a terrible thing. One point Karen Armstrong makes is that the unjust and unfair caste system in India did not happen among societies that believed in a more personal God, presumably because ascribing compassion to such a God is not so difficult.

      “…instead of fighting our limitations, we fully acknowledge them, we acknowledge that there are things beyond our capacity, and we accept that it’s a concept we cannot grasp.”

      This sense of there being limitations to our understanding of God exists in both the Quran and the Bible. And yet both books give us information about God. And of course they do – we need *something* to go on. But I don’t see why the “something” given in either of these books is necessarily superior to the “something” that exists in other religious systems. If you believe it is a direct revelation from God then obviously that is your answer, but I haven’t been able to get there.

      “to help us understand his (I use the word his loosely of course) reality”

      Right there – that’s one aspect: God is referred to in the masculine in the Quran. This all stems from Yahweh being a masculine, warrior God. He was the one that became the universal God for the Jews, so we get this gender baggage from him. Not that I have any problem with a masculine God. I just think it’s interesting how much of our ideas about God are well-evolved concepts that humans have had a big part in the origins of.

      “it is also natural for us, as we grow, to form the capacity for abstract thinking and thus an intellectual concept like transcending this need can also be deemed natural.”

      Yes, I totally agree with that. It seems inevitable to move from the local to the universal, from the primitive to the transcendent. In the Hindu/Buddhist context, the thinking evolved towards a sense of transcendence too, but in that context it was an impersonal ultimate reality that transcended the “gods”. So it’s the same idea in some ways as a universal transcendent God, but also quite different in some ways.

      • Sarah said,

        (God is referred to in the masculine in the Quran).

        Only because of the limitation of language itself. =) There is no “it” in the Arabic language, and the musculine from in Arabic, ironicly, could refer either to males and females alike.

        http://www.readingislam.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1123996015478&pagename=IslamOnline-English-AAbout_Islam%2FAskAboutIslamE%2FAskAboutIslamE

      • Achelois said,

        WWR, Allah itself is a masculine name so even if the reference prounoun was a gender-neutral one in Arabic, the concept is that Allah is masculine. So I agree with you that it is the Yehwah influence.

        • Sarah said,

          (the concept is that Allah is masculine)

          But how’s so? “the concept” of God in English is masculine, while “the concept” of Goddes is “feminine”. The reason why westren muslims usually prefer to use “Allah” instead of “God” is that the word Allah itself is gender-neutral in Arabic and goes perfectly with how Islam view God.

          A westren muslim expressed this idea beautifully in his blog:

          http://brnaeem.blogspot.com/2007/05/hell-with-god.html

          • Achelois said,

            Mmm, because Allah is the masculine of Allat. Even most of the 99 names of Allah are masculine as opposed to gender-neutral names – it is Sabur not Sabura; Aziz not Aziza. And while you can’t name a Muslim man Haleem – you must call him Abdul Haleem (slave of Haleem) because it would be blasphemous to call him only Haleem, you can name a girl Haleema because Allah can never be Haleema but He can be Haleem.

            Al-Lah (The God) was the highest Being even in pre-Islamic Arabia who some say didn’t have a representative idol while some say it did. And one of Al-Lah’s daughters was Allat (‘The Goddess’).

            I read Naeem’s post but I don’t think he is talking about Allah not being masculine.

            One of my Masters research was on linguistic sexism 😉

            • Sarah said,

              (because Allah is the masculine of Allat).

              Hmm, I think I once heard that Al-lat had a female gender, but it’s debatable, since the Prophet’s cousin, Iben Abas, said that Al-lat was masculin (others who said that also are: Mujahid, Iben Al-zubair, Abu Salih, and Hamid).

              The angels were all femals also, because they were “the dauthters” of God. In the Quran, God critisized the Arabs’ hepocricy when they assoiate dauhters to Him while they hate having dauthers themselves. He also critisized those who limit Him to human’s concept of gender.

              (because it would be blasphemous to call him only Haleem)

              Ever heard of “Haleem Hafiz”? xD He’s one of the most famous Egyptian singers.

              It’s only blasphemous to call a man Al-Haleem (THE Haleem).

              • Achelois said,

                Sarah, I’m not faultless and admit that I can make mistakes, hence after your comment I researched a bit to know if I was making a mistake.

                I have The Book of Idols in PDF and Al-lat is most definitely mentioned as female. I mean it is that simple – Al-Lat is a female form in Arabic with ta marboota, any Arabic speaker would note that.

                I also found a picture of her idol online ( http://www.wheeloftheyear.com/images/2006/allat.jpg ) and here is a short description on her ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All%C4%81t ) – I hadn’t seen this before but if you read the last sentence it does say that Allat is the female form of Allah: “Etymologically, the name means “The Goddess”. It is a contraction of the definite article al- and an archaic feminine form of ʾIlāh, God; the masculine counterpart is Allah.”

                Naming is certainly a complex argument because some may claim that it is alright since the definite article is not used. Some may denounce his name altogether just because it means the ‘caretaker of Haleem.’ To each their own. I’m not going to argue theological names with a pop singer 😀

                Anyway, the point of discussion was that Allah is certainly perceived as masculine because of the masculine name ‘Allah’ and the many masculine names from the other 99 names.

                • Sarah said,

                  Ah, interesting! I have to cheeck it out more before I comment further.It’s alway a pleasure to disscus things with you~ =)

                  The reason why I support Iben Abas’s view is because the pre-Islamic arabs were eteremly sexists. They bared their daughters alive and treated women in general like animals. They liked to have their women submetive to them, so I find it very hard to picture them submiting to a “female” God.

                  (Allah is certainly perceived as masculine because of the masculine name ‘Allah’ and the many masculine names from the other 99 names).

                  Was the word Allah perceived as masculine by the pre-Islamic pagan arabs? difinatly. But the coming of Islam to Arabia certainly changed that forever.

              • Achelois said,

                Oh here I found it ( http://muslim-responses.com/Lat_Manat_and_Uzza/Lat_Manat_and_Uzza_ )

                Ibn Abbas didn’t say that the idol Allat was masculine but that there was a man called Al-Lat “who used to mix Sawiq with water for the pilgrims during the time of Jahiliyyah. But that Allat the godess was female since “They *derived* Al-Lat’s name from Allah’s Name, and made it feminine.”

                • Sarah said,

                  Ah, I just read it in an Islamic website! I guess I was wrong on this one. =)

                  All in all, it’s qually blasphemous for a muslim to view God as masculin as much as to view Him as femminin. I bet that Ibn Abbas will still have a problem with Al-lat even if it was a masculin God.

          • Wrestling With Religion said,

            The Quran switches from “I” to “He” to “We” a lot when talking about God, often switching several times in the same sentence. It’s reasonable to suppose that it would also switch from “He” to “She” if God was indeed gender-neutral.

            • Sarah said,

              “We” is also the plural of Power and Majesty in Arabic, not just plularity. “He” can be gender-neutral in the Arabic language, but in the Islamic Creed itself; Allah is “sex-less” (as in: way beyond Human’s limitation of gender).

              • Wrestling With Religion said,

                This is not what I was taught in Arabic. I understand that the plural masculine pronouns hum (they) and antum (you pl.) can refer to women and men, but the singular huwa (he) and anta (you) never refer to females. That’s what I was taught anyway?

                • Sarah said,

                  Here is where the Arabic grammar for male-female pronouns can be tricky.

                  If you read most of the Arabic love songs today you’d think the male singer is gay; since he adrees his lover as hutwa (he)!

                  The sun is feminin in Arabic, while the moon is masculin. But both creation are “sex-less”.
                  I think “gender-less” is a better term to describe how God is refered to in the Quran rather than “gender-nutural”.

                  God was obviously aware that some people might view his as “masculin “, that’s why it’s stated very clearly in the Quran: (There is nothing like Him). No male or female creation.

                  No serious reader of the Quran will miss that, I’m sure.

                  • Achelois said,

                    I think this is a very interesting and very crucial discussion on the topic of whether the impression of Allah that we have today evolved from other previous religions or if it always existed – much like the debate on whether the Quran was created or existed.

                    If it always existed then Allah is gender-neutral as that is God’s true nature whether you call Him Abba, or Father, or Allah – this is what Muslims will explain. If it was created then Allah would most possibly be male because that is how He was *imagined* as opposed to how ‘He’ is. (Isn’t it interesting that no Muslim who writes in English uses the gender-neutral prounoun “it” for Allah?)

                    Anyway, perhaps the only four (4) words in the entire Quran that prove that Allah is percieved as male in Islam are (in Arabic so there is no confusion):

                    وَلَمْ تَكُن لَّهُ صَاحِبَةٌ

                    when He has no female companion/consort(Quran 06:101)

                    • Sarah said,

                      “when He has no female companion/consort” (Quran 06:101).

                      This verse is actually aruging some christains who literarly view God of as “the father” and Jesus as “HIS son”.

                      As in: (you beilive Jesus was the Son of God, does that make Mary “the female companion” of God?)

                      (many mormons beilive that to this very day).

                  • Wrestling With Religion said,

                    “If you read most of the Arabic love songs today you’d think the male singer is gay; since he adrees his lover as hutwa (he)! ”

                    Thanks for improving my Arabic! I didn’t know that.

                    I understand the concept of every noun having a gender even though most objects are gender-less. It is like that in most languages, English is an exception.

                    In English we have the gender-less pronoun “it”, but Muslims do not use that for God when translating the Quran into English. Why should this be?

                    I mean, in Arabic we would refer to the sun as “she”, but in English we would translate the “she” to “it”.

                    I guess it’s because we think of God as a person, and so to use “it” sounds wrong because that is for things, not for persons.

                    • Sarah said,

                      (I guess it’s because we think of God as a person, and so to use “it” sounds wrong because that is for things, not for persons).

                      “it” in Arabic refers to any non-thinking creature (animals) or non-living things (objects). God is nethir those things in Islam, that’s why “it” is not used.

                    • Candice said,

                      My husband is weird about things having genders. He uses “it” usually, but sometimes insists that a chair is “she”. I understand the nouns having “gender” since it’s like that in French too, but things are still genderless in reality! I don’t know why it’s hard for him to get that. So he is very offended when people use She for God or even say He is genderless.

                    • Wrestling With Religion said,

                      That’s interesting. Maybe it shows that language actually shapes people’s perceptions of things, too.
                      It seems like quite a few people are perfectly comfortable with a masculine God!

            • Achelois said,

              That’s a good point WWR!

              • Achelois said,

                @ Sarah “This verse is actually aruging some christains who literarly view God of as “the father” and Jesus as “HIS son”.”

                Yes, if you take it out of the context you can argue like that and most will claim that, I admit.

                But if you read it in the context the very verse before this is addressing the pagans who believed Jins were Allah and that Allah had children.

                The Arabic of this verse does not mention the “son” (noun) at all. The complete verse in Arabic is:

                بَدِيعُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ أَنَّى يَكُونُ لَهُ وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ تَكُن لَّهُ صَاحِبَةٌ وَخَلَقَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ وهُوَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

                which is translated as:

                He is the original creator of the heavens and the earth: How can He beget when He has no female consort? He created all things, and He hath full knowledge of all things.

                Even if we ignore that the preposition phrases are in third person masculine singular, the *walad* here is a verb (beget) and not a noun (son) which refers to the preceeding verse where Allah was said to have children (sons and daughters) by the pagans. Also, note that the sons in verse 100 is plural of ‘ibn’ and not the plural of ‘walad.’

                • Sarah said,

                  I think a better transelation would be:

                  “Allah is the one that created the skies and the Earth without a precedent. How could it be that He has a child when He has no female partner? He created everything, and He knows everything.” (Al-’An`aam, 101)

                  Also, when Jesus is refered to as the son of God in the Quran, it’s usually refered as *walad* rather than *ibn*.

                  “وَقَالُوا اتَّخَذَ اللَّهُ وَلَدًا”

                  Meaning: (They said: “Allaah has taken a son).

                  When we study the Quran it’s better not just analyze a certain verse in isolation of other related verses.

                  In tons of other related verses, God have refuoted the claim to have a male partner in His power. In this pitecular verse, He refuoted the claim that he begot a son by having a masulain nature and needing a “sexual” female partner.

                  It’s always fun to disscus these kinds of topics but I gotta run now; mom is nagging me again! =(

                  • Achelois said,

                    Hmm, I don’t agree with that interpretation or that it would be a better translation simply because walad is not a noun in that verse so it doesn’t refer to any noun – son, child, daughter, whatever one may want to use. I think I already gave a lengthy grammar lesson on it 🙂 Haha!

                    Walad can be used as noun and as a verb. The words you quoted have walad as noun (son) and the verse I proposed has walad as verb (beget) which incidently I was analysing in the context and not in isolation hence my explanation of the preceeding verse.

                    But I guess everyone reads the Quran like they can or like they want to. I did that many times too when I used to write for a Quran blog and wanted to prove that what I understood was right so I guess whatever makes you comfortable should be the way.

                    Good fun discussing this with you. It made me rethink what I think 😀 Hope your tooth is better!

                    • Sarah said,

                      Opss, yes I finally got what you mean about that verse (stupid tooth ache making me feel dizzy! >_<).

                      (I guess whatever makes you comfortable should be the way).

                      I'm human, I'm allowed. =) but I can honestly say that it's not really that in this case. I take the Quran very very seriously; and I never allow myself to twist the verses to satesfy my ego.

                      I don't think any serious reader of the Quran will get the impretion that God is masculin simply by that verse. Since it's actually refutiong the oppeset; that God is "the father" (with a female partenar) of some His creation.

                      When God stated: (There is nothing like Him), it was to clear any misconception of any verse about His nature.

                      Blah! my mom just told me she canceled my appointment with the dentist tommorow.

                      Sucks to be me!

                    • Sarah said,

                      I might be boring you already, but I may come back later on to disscus this stuff further (cuz it’s fun!).

                      If you don’t mind, of course.

                • Sarah said,

                  One more thing before my mom kills me!

                  In this verse: (And they make into females angels who themselves serve Allah. Did they witness their creation?), God is criticizing the pagans who claimed that the angels are females by asking: “Did they witness their creation?”, since they never “saw” the angels then they have no right to claim what their nature is.

                  If God would criticize this when it comes to one of His unseen creation; then what do you think He’d say to those who aplay the same to Him?

                  No one “saw” God, so no one has the right to claim His nature is this or that except God Himself.

                  And God stated very clearly: (There is nothing like Him). No male or female creation.

        • susanne430 said,

          I read a blog post many months ago that made me think about this male/female thing in relation to God. The guy was discussing “The Shack” which portrayed God as an overweight, black woman. In his post the author writes about how some people thought this was so wrong because they cannot imagine God as female. This is part of what he wrote and I liked what he said for the most part.

          “Truth be told, those who think God looks (or acts or is shaped) like a man have a woefully inadequate understanding of God who is Spirit. Truth be told, those who think God looks (or acts or is shaped) like a woman have a woefully inadequate understanding of God who is Spirit. Truth be told, those who cannot imagine God as either, both, and neither have a woefully inadequate picture of the Holy God who will not be limited by the imagination that he built within us in the beginning. Why is this so hard to understand?

          I suppose those who think God is one or the other are perfectly satisfied with their understanding of God and, thus, have nothing more to search for, nothing more to seek, no more reason to open their bibles, no more reason to pray, no more reason to even hope. . . . I don’t want a god who is limited by my ideas of ‘male’ and ‘female’. I don’t even want a god who is limited by my ideas of mere ‘god’ and ‘goddess.’ I want a God who is strong and sensitive, masculine and feminine, burly and beautiful, willing and wonderful, purposeful and passionate. I want a God who is perfectly masculine and perfectly feminine and creates both to His own glory. I want the God of the Scripture who is perfectly shown us in Jesus.”

          About Jesus, he reminded us where Jesus uses a feminine metaphor to describe his wishes:

          “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)

          And also he reminds of us God creating both male *and* female in His image according to this verse.

          So God created man in his own image,
          in the image of God he created him;
          male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

          God is Spirit … not male or female as we humans think of it.

          • Achelois said,

            Susanne, that is simply a brilliant quote – thank you so much. It is so perfect, I think I’ll print it off!

            Personally I don’t have any problem visualizing God as masculine. I have always done that. On one blog my friend and I were discussing how our children see God. My older ones see God as masculine – my son actually said (and he’s only 6!) that Allah is a man because His name is Allah not Allai – (he still doesn’t know that the feminine of Allah is Allat) and it really got me thinking about the whole thing and hence my comments here. My daughter was less than generous and said Allah is a man because He has given more rights to men than to women! Anyway, that was a different discussion and I digress.

            I can see evolution of God and I don’t know if you remember I wrote a three page essay on it on my previous blog? It was how monotheistic religions murdered the goddesses. The last line from it was “God is One and *He* is the most powerful. It is an informed belief that doesn’t disturb me.”

            It honestly doesn’t. In Islam God loves like 70 mothers, but again no one can visualise him as a goddess. I strongly believe that we all inherently and secretly visualise God as masculine and what’s so wrong about it?! It is a result of our patriarchal connections. My friend and I were also discussing how as kids we visualised God as King Triton from Ariel!

            It never disturbed me about Christianity that God is seen as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all of whom are masculine. And it never bothered me that in Islam God is Allah and Rabb and Rahman and Raheem (all masculine names). I can see evolution of God in Islam as well: the verses that indicate the masculine nature of God were revealed before the verses that insist that there is none like Allah (42:11 or 112:1—4). So what? There is nothing that directly shows Allah to be masculine. But I can understand how it can potentially be a source of much problem – Arabian polytheists often imagined a deity after a man or woman and promptly created idols. They even made idols after dead persons and so it was important to explain to them that Allah had no form or was beyond gender – this is exactly why Surah 112 was revealed because the pagans asked Muhammad what does God look like and what is He made of; he kept quiet for a while and then recited Surah 112. (But then the polytheists even worshipped formless stones like the mountains and rocks – Black Stone being an important rock so there was nothing that could curtail their imagination!).

            This is why iconography is strictly forbidden in Islam and I can understand it. This is one of the things that I love about Islam that there is nothing in material to base your opinion about God’s form.

            No matter how much I try I can’t shed my personal picture of God from my mind – big, burly, old, long beard and very expressive. And I’m comfortable with it. *shrugs shoulders and goes off skipping rope*

            • susanne430 said,

              “My daughter was less than generous and said Allah is a man because He has given more rights to men than to women!”

              Ha, ha! 😀 How old is she?

              Oh, I’m the same as you. I picture God as masculine and have never had a problem with that either. I only brought up this man’s posting since the topic had turned to this masculine/feminine thing and I found what he wrote very interesting. God is a spirit and does not have a body like us, according to the Bible. However, instead of being referred to as an “it,” we use “he,” and I am more than fine with that. HE is One who treats me with more love and kindness than I ever deserved and I don’t care if you are he, she or it if you bring value to women and treat people as well as God treats me. 🙂

              I’ll join you skipping rope now. 😉

  8. Wishing to stay anon said,

    At times I feel that Muslims misunderstand some cases of idolatry. I know for one that in some cases where people seem to be worshipping idols, they are in fact very award that the idol itself is not a god, but rather a vehicle for personal change via presenting something ideal in material form. However over time my understanding of Allah’s commands and the possible reason has deepened. Again it seems to be one of those blanket rules and I really can understand why because all around the world, whether they should or not, you can find people placing too much importance in their idols…they become more than what they should and that is of course, associating partners with Allah.

    • Sarah said,

      (I know for one that in some cases where people seem to be worshipping idols, they are in fact very award that the idol itself is not a god, but rather a vehicle for personal change via presenting something ideal in material form).

      Very true. That’s what the Quran would usually describe the pagans in Mecca.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      anon,

      “all around the world, whether they should or not, you can find people placing too much importance in their idols…”

      I agree. Karen Armstrong loves to point out that fundamentalism is a type of idolatry gone too far, as in: my idea of God is the same as the reality of God.

  9. Achelois said,

    “I never really understood why in Islam associating partners with God is the biggest sin. Now it all makes sense. ”

    How does it make sense now? What did you discover?

    Sorry, I didn’t notice this sentence before.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      The insecurity that characterises fundamentalism of all kinds. Theological disagreement was the biggest sin because it was the biggest threat.

      • Achelois said,

        “Theological disagreement was the biggest sin because it was the biggest threat.”

        That is so interesting. I can see that theological disagreement is much disliked but is provoked often as well. This is something I believed but didn’t know I had an opinion on, thank you for raising that awareness.

  10. anonymous said,

    Wrestling With Religion,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response,

    Let’s say you had a classroom of the single most sexist boys in history. They fight and they oppress the girls. You were the principal and you had to teach them about feminism and gender equality. You have a female teacher and a male teacher, both equally skilled. However, they will most definitely dismiss the female one. They wont even give her the time of day. Do you send in the male teacher, or do you take a stand and send in the female one as an act of righteousness ? If you send in the male, you’ll get through to the boys, if you send in the female, you’ll take a stand, it’ll be poetic, it’ll be righteous, but you won’t get through to them. Which one would you choose ?

    My personal answer would be, that it would depend on the situation. If my goal is to take a defiant poetic stand for feminism, the perfect solution would be to choose a female teacher, however, if my end goal is to change these boys, then I’d choose the male.

    My point is that it is very easy to assume that the decisions that took place by the prophets or God, were wrong or sexist or imperfect, but by default you’re assuming that you have a superior solution, or a superior solution existed, (and that they took the wrong one, in dealing with their particular situation).

    The issue is, you cannot assume the Quran imperfect, unless you define it’s goal. Was it’s goal to exist as a timeless reflection of a merciful perfect God ?

    Or was it sent down as a very timely device to neutralize a patriarchal regime and spread Islam to mankind ?

    Would a gender neutral conception of God within the Quran be more effective to it’s objective ?

    So in addressing the masculine aura of God in the Quran –

    There’s a very interesting concept studied by psychologists and in Neuro-linguistics – called “psychological air”. Basically, if you want to get your point across to someone you will almost always be dismissed if you argue against them head on. For someone to consider your points, you have to first acknowledge (without agreeing) their stance, whatever it may be. You’re giving them psychological air. A lot of the time arguments don’t start because of disagreements, but because the person feels unacknowledged and perceives you as a threat. (You’ll see the Quran doesn’t outright dismiss slavery or polygamy – but instead acknowledges them before piling on restrictions that would lead to their atrophy).

    I was wondering if you’ve considering the fact that while God addresses both men and women in the Quran, the reason it’s so heavily focused on the men and catering to them is because the men were the problem ? In fact, when it comes to the issues being tackled in the Quran, were most of them started by men or women ? If we went back to the classroom analogy, if you were personally teaching the class of sexist boys, wouldn’t you first have to neutralize them, before you can move on and address the needs of the girls ?

    You stated in another post that you see yourself as an advocate of radical objectivism. So I think you have to approach this like a logician. It’s not about what you feel should’ve happened, it’s about what should have happened to achieve the objective. I’d say you have to first determine the objective of the Quran, and Islam, before you determine whether this is the approach a perfect creator would take towards handling that situation. The situation is a patriarchal, tribal, desert society with slavery, misogyny, wars and inequality, now if you don’t think the approach taken was the perfect approach, then I think it only fair that you come up with alternative approaches – if objectivity is paramount that is.

    Speaking of logicians, I personally despise the online sources available about Islam. I happen to be in complete disagreement with the current orthodox approach, and would never fault anyone for dismissing the religion based on the mainstream. What we have today isn’t necessarily the Islam of the Quran, but a mixture of hundreds of years of interpretation, law, translation and motivations. I think to truly be a muslim today, one has to truly delve into the history of it all, and really examine what went on during the prophet’s time, and what inventions took place after.

    To help you with your journey, I thought I’d share with you the only source I found worthy online – and that is of Gary Miller, who is very popular among Muslim sources, as I believe he is the first contemporary thinker to take a logician’s approach to the Quran and God (he himself is a mathematician). Here is the link – I seriously recommend it –

    Check out his other lectures as he also deals very heavily with Christian and Muslim beliefs and a very objective manner (he himself was a former missionary).

    PS – It’s interesting that you mentioned the caste system in India, as I happen to be in India right now and regardless of how it emerged, the caste system is very widespread on both a conscious and unconscious level everywhere. They have very anthropomorphized conceptions of God and the caste system while of course negative in a sense, actually provides the people in poverty with a sense of hope and contentment, as they feel that it’s simply a consequence of a former life. It’s also interesting that the idea of multiple Gods and the caste system is reserved for the poorer and less educated, while higher priests and intellectuals have a more monotheistic approach – the idea is that people of lower states cannot grasp a non-anthropomorphized God. If we tie this back to Islam, I’d say it’s the same idea that while we might be able to grasp a gender neutral, non-anthroporphized God, the people of 7th Century Arabia still needed some kind of masculine Aura to emanate from both their prophet and their God, so that they could even get their heads wrapped around it. I think the Quran plays a clever balancing act of providing them with that aura without actually defining God with it.

    • Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

      Wow, anon – AMAZING response.

      I have been struggling with issues in Islam and feminism for a while and have never approached it that way – it makes a lot of sense.

      By the way Karen Armstrong makes a similar argument in one of her books – the Qur’an was trying to achieve certain objectives and so could not take a stand on feminism as well.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      anonymous,

      “The issue is, you cannot assume the Quran imperfect, unless you define it’s goal. Was it’s goal to exist as a timeless reflection of a merciful perfect God ? Or was it sent down as a very timely device to neutralize a patriarchal regime and spread Islam to mankind ? ”

      This is very interesting, because when I raised the question of what the Quran is supposed to be (in another post), at least one person got very insistent about it being a universal life manual. It doesn’t come across that way to me and it’s interesting to hear you suggesting – if I understand you correctly – that it was more a manual for Muhammad.

      My next question would be what does such a time-bound set of guidelines have to offer us today. For me it would have to offer something really significant to be worth the pain of coming across all these upsetting things and the effort of bending my head around them to make them ok because they were “of the time”. Or trying to convince myself that enormous volumes of hadiths are completely wrong. I just didn’t find anything that inspiring to be worth going through this. I’m not saying it’s not there, I just didn’t find it.

      Also, to what extent *was* the society successfully reformed. I read in comments on this post this morning, that Muhammad allowed exploitative temporary marriages to be contracted even during the conquest of Mecca, quite late in the game.

      Thanks for the link to Gary Miller. I have not heard of him before, and I will certainly check him out.

      “I think the Quran plays a clever balancing act of providing them with that aura without actually defining God with it.”

      Yes, it does. I’m discovering that this duality of immanence and transcendence in the picture of God is present in a lot of religious thought systems. It may even be considered a “universal truth”.

  11. anonymous said,

    Personally I think the benefits of it are indirect as much as they are direct. I think there’s a western bias towards acknowledging the effects of Greek culture on us, but almost none towards Islamic culture. Even though thinkers like Ibn Rushd (Averroes) have had a significant impact on our current rationalism paradigm in the west. Also the fact that a large portion of greek intellectualism was transferred to the west through the Islamic civilization. The Islamic civilization thusly cultivated a significant portion of their knowledge by using the Quran as a basis. In the link to Gary Miller, it actually discusses how the embryologist Keith Moore used the Quran to refine his definition of fetal development in the Canadian medical text books (even though he’s not a convert).

    In regards to your other questions, I would highly recommend you read No God But God by Reza Aslan. He brings up interesting notions like maybe not all Quranic passages needed to be preserved as some were very time sensitive – I don’t agree with his point, but I do think it further drives home the idea that the priority was 7th Century Arabia. It is the universal principles that are relevant today. I think our society has already acknowledged the importance of morality and we’ve established a national sense of decency, so it’s very easy to take for granted that there did exist a time where you actually had to tell people not to steal, that men and women are equal, etc.

    But all in all it is this approach that the Quran is a timeless book that I think is doing the most damage. It is timeless the way Shakespeare is timeless, in that it’s set within a very specific period, with archaic language and phrasing, made for a particular audience, but its principles are universal and relevant. I believe the point is to examine the situation the Arabs were facing, and how God handled it with foresight. Did the decisions “God” made through Muhammed end up working out and showed a clear sign of foresight, or did they not ? I leave that up to you.

    Hamza Yusuf once brought up an interesting point that within the Quran, when it addresses the Jews, it’s not doing so as an attack, but it’s using the Jewish community as a preview of the phases the Muslim community would probably endure. I think among these things is the fact that it is just inevitable that authority figures and intercessors would come in and emphasize and de-emphasize issues according to their desires. For example, why is a woman not veiling is held as a huge punishable sin, when God does not mention a punishment within the Quran for it, yet gluttony as a sin is de-emphasized in Islam, even though God explicitly states that “he does not like the gluttons” ?

    The issue is that we have a religion being handled by developing countries. Whenever I visit the Middle East, it always dawns on me that they don’t trust themselves with their medicine, or education, with the elite sending their families for treatment and Education in Europe. So if they can’t trust themselves on things as basic as food, medicine or Education, then why are they still considered the authorities on shaping the Islamic paradigm ? The other issue is that the scholars there are often completely inept in sociology or psychology. Most institutions are run by engineers and doctors – if that’s the case, wouldn’t issues like the veil and women’s rights need a psychologist or sociologist to examine them, and not just someone versed in “fiqh” ?

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      I am happy to acknowledge the positive contribution Islamic civilisation made to the world’s history during its golden age. I think there are some great things in Islam even as it is today. It is a spiritual path for people and I actually think people do better at it now than they did originally. Muslims these days are usually rightly horrified at things like concubinage. Religious systems adapt and evolve like that. The people that want to stick to the original – like hardcore Salafis – are a baffling minority.

      You seem to be saying that the mainstream idea of the Quran as a timeless book, and the interpretations that spring from that idea, are wrong, and as such the spirit of Islam has been hijacked. I would agree with that. I think people use the Quran and even the hadiths in a much more literal, rigorous, details-oriented way than they did originally. Some Christians do that with the Bible too which is probably even more inappropriate.

  12. Achelois said,

    Anonymous has the most excellent comment. Very valid arguments.

    I have always held this belief that perhaps why feminism is not found in the Quran is because it wasn’t needed. Nowhere does Quran or hadith claim superiority over improving the “Status of Women”; there has been no allusion to championship over women rights. “Status of Women” is a modern slogan and concept, made more popular after the Feministic Movement.

    There are a couple of references against female infanticide, but there are historical data that suggest that female infanticide was not so wide spread (just like worship of Mary was not the ‘norm’) and those who killed their female infants sometimes also killed the male if they had too many children.

    Ahadith on the other hand show us that women in pre-Islamic Arabia were often bold, independent and headed matriarchial tribes. There were certainly tribes in which women were scorned and the Quran scorns such tribes in return. The Ansari women were definitely so fiery, Muslim men thought they were a bad influence on Meccan women and hence that hadith directed to them to shush them (according to some hadith scholars) – women are less in intelligence and religion. Arabian women also practiced polygamy and perhaps the best way anyone puts polygyny in Islam is Fatima Merisini who says that polygamy was the norm in Arabia, Islam only made it exclusive to men. Khadeejah is the best example of pre-Islamic Arabian women’s independence and power. It is a fallacy that feministic movement was required in 7th Century Arabia. It was already in place. In fact, it was the men who needed help. LOL. There is also a hadith in which Aisha actually says that no non-Muslim man beats his wife the way Muslim men do. So I feel Islam worked towards balancing the power between sexes (which I think is admirable) and it seems that didn’t work and women eventually lost a lot. But I definitely see Islam playing a pivotal role in making universal laws – no tribe shall bury their children; no woman shall have more than one husband; if a woman is immoral, no matter who she is, her husband should discipline her, and so on.

    Also, regarding the “miracles in the Quran” – I feel it is a modern hoo-ha which is not helping Islam at all. It makes absolutely no sense to teach Atomic Science to second graders. Similarly it would make no sense to tell illiterate and simple Arabians in the 7th Century about Science that they wouldn’t fully appreciate to have come from their God. Quran taught what those Arabs already knew. It only *reminded* them. Hence, my comment here – https://wrestlingwithreligion.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/what-are-messages-from-god-if-theyre-not-real/#comment-2095

    Embryology, gravity, earthquakes, solar system, meteoritic iron – they knew it all. Opponents of Islam spend hours debating how these Scientific *miracles* are faulty – earth is not flat; fetus is not a blood clot; mountains actually cause earthquakes rather than prevent them – but that is what people thought back then and the Quran was only using their pre-existent knowledge to hit home its message just like it uses popular legends like the story of the People of the Cave. Sure, Aristotle knew embryology like the back of his hand, which is the whole point. The doctors of Arabia who had studied Aristotle’s notes knew exactly what the Quran was talking about and hence accepted the message and affirmed its truth. If you tell me that there are aliens on the Sun, I will not fall flat on my face in prostration but if you use my pre-existent knowledge and explain how God is so Merciful that He created photosynthesis so that it balances life and provides me Oxygen, I will understand what you are talking about.

    Early Muslims neither wanted Science nor feminism. They had both. What they didn’t have, is what Quran gave them and hence it is time-bound. The timeless message is that there is only one God worthy of worship and devotion. Like Daniel Pipes said “because Muhammad created a new community, the religion that was its raison d’etre had to meet the political needs of its adherents” – now whether we agree with the political maneuvers in the Quran or we don’t, that is a completely different debate but those maneuvers are not timeless and should not be misused today to spread terror.

    • Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

      About the Qur’anic miracles: I think the Qur’an is both specific and timeless – it has universal principles with specific examples. The miracles may not have meant anything to the Arabs then, but it does mean something to Muslims today. As a Muslim, I find it amazing that the Qur’an states that iron doesn’t come from the earth, something no one knew until later.

      I recommend you check out Gary Miller’s “The Amazing Qur’an”, specifically the part about embryos. It’s simply amazing. Here is part of it:

      “I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Keith Moore for a television presentation, and
      he mentioned that some of the things that the Qur’an states about the growth of the human being were not known until thirty years ago. In fact, he said that one item in particular – the Qur’an’s description of the human being as a “leech-like clot” (‘alaqah) at one stage – was new to him; but when he checked on it, he found that it was true, and so he added it to his book. He said, “I never thought of that before,” and he went to the zoology department and asked for a picture of a leech. When he found that it looked just like the human embryo, he decided to include both pictures in one of his textbooks. Dr. Moore also wrote a book on clinical embryology, and when he presented this information in Toronto, it caused quite a stir throughout Canada. It was on the front pages of some of the newspapers across Canada, and some of the headlines were quite funny. For instance, one headline read: “SURPRISING THING FOUND IN ANCIENT BOOK!”! It seems obvious from this example that people do not clearly understand what it is all about. As a matter of fact, one newspaper reporter asked Professor Moore, “Don’t you think that maybe the Arabs might have known about these things – the description of the embryo, its appearance and how it changes and grows? Maybe there were not scientists, but maybe they did something crude dissections on their own – carved up people and examined these things.”

      The professor immediately pointed out to him that he [i.e., the reporter] had missed a very important point – all of the slides of the embryo that had been shown and had been projected in the film had come from pictures taken through a microscope. He said, “It does not matter if someone had tried to discover embryology fourteen centuries ago, they could not have seen it!”.”

      So in conclusion I don’t agree that the Qur’anic miracles should be disregarded or ignored; they definitely say something about the validity of the Qur’an from an Islamic point of view.

      About the feminism issue, while some have argued that women in pre-Islamic Arabia were matriarchs, I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration. They certainly did have rights and were not as downtrodden and deprived as some Muslims make them out to be, but there were also a lot of problems. It is very rare that a scholar says there was no widespread female infanticide, and domestic abuse was also common. So yes, some women did have a lot of power (e.g. Khadija), but I wouldn’t say it was a time where feminism wasn’t needed.

      Like anonymous said, I think the Qur’an’s objective was to convince the men of the equal worth of women, and also to spread Islam. Thus it had to approach the issue of women from a certain angle in order to achieve these aims. Karen Armstrong’s argument is that the Qur’an could not simply give women all these rights feminists in the 1960s began demanding, because no one would have listened or followed that, especially not the men. It had to be a gradual process.

      • Achelois said,

        Sara, actually I believed strongly in the authenticity of the Quran because of the scientific miracles that I was taught. I even wrote an article on Alif Laam Meem on Embryology in the Quran. It was then that a reader who is himself an embryologist in the ME wrote to me and explained at length the several errors in the discussion of embryology in the Quran. He is still Muslim; it didn’t shake his faith but I’m grateful to him that he corrected me. The problem is that Muslims only read what supports the Quran and disregard everything that points out problem areas.
        Dr. Campbell in his book, The Qur’an and the Bible in the Light of History and Science devotes a whole chapter to embryology in the Quran and claims that: “Dr. Moore does not know Arabic and said straight out to me in a personal conversation that if the true meaning of ‘alaqa is “clot”, then there is no such stage in the development of an embryo.”
        I don’t want to go into all the details, it is very lengthy, but evidence presented in Dr. Campbell’s book is more convincing than Moore’s. He explains at length that the stages in the formation of the fetus given in surahs 2:259; 22:5; 23:12-14; 40:67; and 75:37-39 are actually wrong and based on the faulty knowledge of the 7th Century surgeons who had studied embryology from the works of Aristotle in the 4th Century, Hippocrates in the 5th Century, and Galen as early as the 2nd century.
        In ‘Is the Quran Divine and Unaltered?’ Dr. James Smith argues that we now know well that “There is no clotting stage during the formation of a fetus (Campbell 1989:185). Furthermore, the sperm does not become an “adhesion” or fertilized ovum without an unfertilized ovum. One needs the other. Secondly, “the thing which clings” does not stop clinging to become “chewed meat,” but remains clinging for 8.5 months! And finally the skeleton is not formed before the flesh (or muscles), as the muscles and the cartilage precursors of the bones start forming simultaneously (Campbell 1989:188). In fact, according to Dr. T.W. Sadler Phd., the author of Langman’s Medical Embryology, from a personal letter to Dr. Campbell in 1987, it has been proved that the muscles form several weeks before there are calcified bones, rather than arriving later as the Qur’an implies (Campbell 1989:188).”
        I don’t know if you saw the link I provided in the previous comment. Meteoritic iron was known to ancient Egyptians as early as two thousand years before Christ. There are about 20 items in the tomb of Tutankhamun made from iron derived from meteorites (note that the iron was isolated – a complex process!). It was especially used because it was considered Heavenly. It is quite possible that ancient Arabs only knew about meteoritic iron! There was nothing amazing to a 7th Century Arab about iron falling from the sky (note that there are several verses referring to meteorites and the Black Stone is itself part of a meteorite and still considered Heavenly today in the 21st Century by over a billion people who kiss it annually). It is amazing to us because we wrongly assume they knew nothing.
        So while I understand your position that the scientific miracles “definitely say something about the validity of the Qur’an from an Islamic point of view” that is because perhaps (and I’m assuming so I have 50% chance of being completely wrong, I admit) you don’t about the refutation of those claims. Thus, I believe (and this is just my opinion) that if Muslims really want Islam to be accepted universally, they have to acknowledge that the Scientific facts provided in the Quran are not always right. There are at least seven major errors that modern scientists have pointed out in the Quran.
        There can be a possible solution which is that we begin to accept (like Asad explains the fables and legends) that the Quran uses the knowledge that 7th Century Arabs had to explain to them the meaning and power of God. 7th Century Arabs thought that fetus was a clot so Quran calls it a clot. They believed that semen became a clot so that is what Quran says. They believed that the Sun rotated and the Earth is flat and mountains keep it in place and that is what the Quran says. I *think* the message is not that God is teaching (often faulty) Science, but that He is so magnificent that He can spin the Sun and thumb mountains in place to protect the land from earthquakes. The message is not that semen turns into coagulated (menstrual) blood (which was Aristotle’s theory) but that what you can see and even what you can’t see is only from Allah.
        We get too lost in marveling the Science in the Quran which is being refuted extensively (and we don’t even want to read it), whereas perhaps the message is not in the details but the larger picture.
        That is what I think, I’m not saying it is right, just saying that it is one way of looking at things when you acknowledge that there are problems and the miracles are not really miracles. It helped me debate with those who showed me the Scientific errors in the Quran and then asked “Do you still believe this is the word of God?”

        First of all, what Moore doesn’t know is that alaqah does not only mean leech-like clot. The root word Ayn-Lam-Qaf means: to adhere to, hang, love, leech, have an attachment, cling, hold fast, pertain, catch, concern, become attached by love, suspend, fasten a thing, cleave, clot of blood, germ-cell, fertilised female ovum. These are all modern definitions. The only definitions of Ayn-Lam-Qaf in ancient Arabic were to hang or attach, and clot.
        alaqah is used as a ‘suspended clot’ in verses: 22:5, 23:14, 23:14, 40:67, 75:38, 96:2
        and the root word is used in the word mu-allaqatun in verse 4:129 to refer to hanging.
        The problem is that Aristotle in the 4th Century, Hippocrates in the 5th Century, and Galen as early as the 2nd century had all already studied and recorded fetal development even though (now we know that) because of crude dissection methods the details are not completely correct. Because no microscope was available to them they believed that a fetus was a coagulated blood clot which was the result of the union of sperm and menstrual blood. This is what the Quran calls a fetus.

        Sorry my comments are always so long. I am both embarassed and ashamed.

        • Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

          Achelois,

          Thank you so much for posting all that info. You were right – I hadn’t heard of those rebuttals. I haven’t looked at them in depth yet but I will soon.

          Like anonymous said, this is why Muslims shouldn’t base all their faith on the miracles thing – because what happens then if one day someone proves it wrong?

          Thanks again!

          About women in pre-Islamic Arabia, I have never heard that argument before (that God was trying to balance power between men and women) but it is very interesting. I wonder why no Islamic feminists have used it.

          • Achelois said,

            “Like anonymous said, this is why Muslims shouldn’t base all their faith on the miracles thing – because what happens then if one day someone proves it wrong?”

            Yes! I concur with anonymous.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Achelois,

      I always wondered about the common argument of “Islam liberated women” considering Khadija was so independent. Also, one of the many issues I had with the Quran is why God needed to give a verse instructing men how to discipline their wives like little children. I don’t really care whether it says “hit” or “leave”, in the same way that I don’t care whether parents choose to smack their children or not. The issue is men disciplining women. I just couldn’t imagine why that would be necessary. The way you explained it makes total sense.

      • Achelois said,

        I still think Islam balanced the power and made universal laws. That didn’t work in favour of the women but then they weren’t fighting the battles and spreading Islam so it worked for the religion.

        That is much better for me to accept than think that Allah forgot all about me because Islam had to be spread.

        Also, I don’t see feminism like Armstrong does. She compares Islam’s feministic standpoint with the Western feministic movement and claims that asking Islam to have given women the rights that Western feminism gave is asking too much. I understand that she is talking from her own experience, but she is not at the receiving end of rules and rights that men are given in Islam. Women rights take a completely different meaning if you are *being* divorced by sms while if you want a divorce you have to go through a long process and give up a lot of rights. It means something totally different when your husband sleeps with three other women, and when your father dies you receive only half of what goes to your brother. It is completely different when a man disciplines you and then says Allah has allowed it.

        Did the 7th Century women inherit nothing? Sure, they did. Khadeejah inherited her former husband’s entire business. Did they have no right to divorce? They changed the direction of the tent which meant they wanted nothing to do with the man. Beat that with a text message! Did they suffer under unbridled polygyny? They practiced polygamy themselves.

        We can argue it wasn’t the norm but then what became a universal norm wasn’t the norm either.

        Beating is not a choice given to men but a command. Adrubhuna is an imperative verb. If a man is given a divine order that he should do it, he will. It makes matters simpler if we accept that Allah was balancing power than to think He was ordering men to beat their wives because spreading Islam was more important. That is how I think.

        • susanne430 said,

          I always hated the thought that men could get rid of their wives so easily, marry more than one woman at at time and have the option of beating them if they were misbehaving. I’m sorry. Even if the beating were with a stick the size of a toothbrush or a toothpick, it’s the principle behind the thing. Women are not children. I don’t care if we aren’t as appreciative of our menfolk providing for us all day long (as if women aren’t busy with taking care of the house and children and giving you sex whenever you want), you still don’t treat us like we are your children.

          And then to top it all off, we get to see our husbands have eternal sex with other women. THIS is the hope of the afterlife?

          No wonder your daughter said Allah was a man because of how all the good things went to the men.

          • susanne430 said,

            Or Allah was a “He” — not a “man” per se. I hope you know what I meant. 🙂

          • Achelois said,

            Like the Na’vi would say “I see you”!

            • susanne430 said,

              Ah Achelois is high on antihistamine *and* speaking Na’vi now. Watch out world!

              😉

        • Wrestling With Religion said,

          “It makes matters simpler if we accept that Allah was balancing power than to think He was ordering men to beat their wives because spreading Islam was more important.”

          My alternative explanation would have been that men were the boss of women and so that was just how they thought, that women needed to be disciplined sometimes – but that the verse limited the extent and scope of the discipline. So it represented a concession to what I assumed were prevailing ideas, but was a step in the right direction.

          Yours makes more sense to me because the verse, as you say, gives positive imperative commands. It doesn’t say “DON’T hit them until you have given them plenty of warning.” It could easily have done if that was the intention! Instead, it really just seems to say – if your wives behave badly, here’s how you should deal with it. So your interpretation that it was redressing a power imbalance between men and women seems to fit more with how it comes across (although obviously I am no scholar).

          Don’t worry about writing long comments 🙂 I for one love reading them. You seem to have a ton of knowledge. It’s interesting to read something of your thought processes that you’ve been through as well.

          • Achelois said,

            “My alternative explanation would have been that men were the boss of women and so that was just how they thought, that women needed to be disciplined sometimes – but that the verse limited the extent and scope of the discipline. So it represented a concession to what I assumed were prevailing ideas, but was a step in the right direction.”

            I agree. That is a sane conclusion.

            My belief is that all religions teach goodness and truth at varying levels. That is what differentiates them from cults. No religion that is completely wrong or bad would survive and the more popular the religion the more there are chances that it is fulfilling the needs of its adherents which may not always be spiritual needs. For spiritual attainment there are always the mystic varieties. There is something else that sells, and that something doesn’t have to be condemned as negative. So even if there is something that doesn’t convince me of a religion’s validity, doesn’t mean it becomes wrong. I still support it because there is always something to learn of value from every religion.

            • Wrestling With Religion said,

              But yours makes more sense! It is like a condensed version of a Super Nanny-style manual on how to deal with unruly children (except it’s for wives).

              If a holy book came today and it contained a Super Nanny-style manual for how to discipline children and it seemed fair and progressive, we would accept that part of it.

              But several centuries into the future, perhaps people will have decided that disciplining children is an abhorrent idea, children are equals with adults, they do not need to be disciplined but rather, supported and helped to solve their own “issues”. (I can totally see that happening, lol.) In which case the holy book that came today would look really bad.

              Whether God speaks to people’s own cultures in ways that later become “out of date”, I don’t know.

              But Super Nanny is needed today because of unruly children. So it only makes sense to assume that verse was needed at that time because of unruly women.

              • susanne430 said,

                “So it only makes sense to assume that verse was needed at that time because of unruly women.”

                So the women got worse from Biblical times to Muhammad’s times? Because I don’t recall any Bible verses that encourage hitting women when they misbehave. *thinking* I guess the Arab women were just plain wild and bad to the bone!!

                So I’m thinking a new revelation needs to come forth so we can discipline all these unruly men. You know like the ones who claim to be Muslim yet harass women in the Middle East or those who claim to be Christian and harass women and so forth.

                Sorry, God okaying hitting your women just leaves a really bad taste in my mouth, but maybe you’re right. *sigh*

                At least the Muslims should see this was the way unruly Arab women were in the past and not think it means today they are the same. I daresay the Arab men are more unruly than the women these days. Perhaps those living among Arabs can confirm that for me?

                • Wrestling With Religion said,

                  I am not attempting to justify it, Susanne, just to understand how it came about.

                  Yes, I think we do need a new revelation to deal with the unruly men! lol.

                  • susanne430 said,

                    I’m sorry if I sounded like I was accusing you of trying to justify it. Oops. I was expressing my frustration at such a teaching being “from God” – not you. And I was trying to make sense of it in my mind by suggesting how scandalous the Arab women of Muhammad’s time must have been. 😀 Speaking of which there ARE Christian devotionals on “Bad Girls of the Bible.” Still, I don’t recall hitting them ever being an option. Stoning for adultery in Mosaic law, yes. True. But that was also true for adulterous men.

                    Anyway, things to ponder, eh? 🙂

                    • Wrestling With Religion said,

                      No, don’t worry! Feel free to express your disbelief that God would send such a verse. I was just clarifying.

                      I try to be culturally relative and not see things only through my own cultural lens, and try to understand what motivated them. I find it interesting. But whether they are divine in origin is a completely separate question. I’m trying to stay away from that question now. But you can go there, of course.

                      By the way you have a fantastic sense of humour. Very inflammatory, but always made me smirk, even when I didn’t want to. 😛

      • Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

        I guess one powerful woman doesn’t mean all women were powerful. Aisha for example was very opinionated and active, but that doesn’t convince everyone that women in general at the beginning of Islam were all opinionated and active.

        • Achelois said,

          That’s very true. I can actually point out only a few strong women – Khadeeja, Aisha, Hind and Umm Salama. Or perhaps we only know about these and the rest never made it into ‘his’tory?

          • Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

            I really believe that. Islamic history was written (mainly) by patriarchal males, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of strong women were simply not written about.

        • Achelois said,

          Also Sara, I haven’t read about power balance anywhere either – it is my theory 🙂

          I can’t understand otherwise why Islam would curtail the power women enjoyed before Islam. I know that most studies show that women were downtrodden and neglected and abused, but there are studies that show that this was not the case. The most controversial book on this subject is by Hatoon al-Fassi titled Women in Pre-Islamic Arabia. Fassi who is Muslim and Saudi. Fassi argues that women in pre-Islamic Arabia had far greater rights than Saudi women have today. Of course she doesn’t openly claim that those rights gradually diminished when Islam spread through Arabia but she certainly insinuates it with such powerful facts and examples that King Saud University banned her from teaching there!

          Fassi said in an interview that:

          “One of the objectives of this book is to question the assumption of subordination of women in pre-Islamic Arabia,” Fassi writes. “Most of the practices related to women’s status are based on some local traditional practices that are not necessarily Islamic. Nor are they essentially Arabian… I found that with Nabataean women the legal status and self representation was stronger and more evident…”

          My understanding on the subject is that women were definitely in a very poor state in many tribes but there were also tribes that were led by women, it is a historical fact, and had women who practiced polygamy treating men as dispensable objects and divorced them at whim. There is hadith and even a Quranic verse which shows how common it was for women to propose marriage to men. Do abused and silenced women go and tap a man on his shoulder and claim that they are daughters of the Wind and would like to marry him?

          These women were rich, powerful and strong, but they were Pagan. Islam clearly saw that women from People of the Book were not polygamous and didn’t have the right to divorce. They didn’t have total right over inheritance that had to be distributed in a particular manner. ALL Jewish and Christian tribes and families were patriarchal. Islam set out to create universal laws where all Muslim women would be the same and differences between tribes regarding female power would diminish.

          Today we think that women had absolutely no legal status (because that is what we are told by male Muslim historians) and hence two women as witnesses equaling one man was a step ahead, but it could well have been that their legal status was actually reduced as Fassi argues. That is *perhaps* one reason that Islam didn’t really attract many women to convert initially. Women like Hind and Asma bint Marwan opposed Islam and its Prophet fiercely – Asma had to be silenced with death, she was so dangerously strong, and Hind converted when she had no choice left but to surrender. Even the Prophet’s own consorts did not all convert as some scholars maintain. If Islam was bettering their situation they would have seen goodness in it for themselves and at least wouldn’t have opposed it so severely.

  13. anonymous said,

    I think I’d have to add to CLA’s post that I think the issue of the scientific miracles reveals the different approaches people are taking to “proving” the Quran to themselves.

    I see everyone approaching the Quran as something that has to prove itself. Therefore, the reader in question approaches the question thusly:

    1) The Quran claims to be from God.
    2) I am skeptical.
    3) Therefore the Quran has to prove itself to me.

    While this approach is valid, I believe the alternative approach is always neglected.

    1) The Quran claims to be from God
    2) I am skeptical
    3) Therefore I will justify my skepticism to the Quran.

    While a subtle difference, it vastly changes the viewpoint one takes. When Einstein suggested the theory of relativity (this is something Miller also brought up), he did not first attempt to PROVE the theory, instead he provided falsification tests. I believe the Quran itself provides its own falsification tests. The point of the scientific accuracies is thusly transformed from a proof of foreknowledge, to a potential achilles heel. If the Quran was not of God, then there would have to be scientific inaccuracies. The point is that it would be one of the things to strengthen the Quran’s claim.

    The problem is Muslims are relying on it as the essential, crucial crux in proving the validity of the Quran.

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      I had a look at the Gary Miller videos but I really wasn’t expecting it all to be about scientific miracles. I was quite surprised. My issues with the Quran were not primarily about the science in it, although as Achelois mentioned, the idea of mountains as pegs keeping the earth stable did trouble me a bit as an earth scientist.

      Both skepticism and belief can be “justified”. For example I would be interested to know where the reference to “leech” appears in the Arabic. As far as I remember, Muhammad Asad translates ‘alaqah as “a clinging thing” or something like that. He was also trying to say that this interpretation showed its astonishing accuracy.

      Here is an interesting question: If an ancient book contained *clear* scientific miracles, but its message ran counter to what you thought God would say, for example it said all firstborn children should be killed (note – I AM NOT SAYING THE QURAN SAYS THIS!) – would you accept something unreasonable on the basis of the scientific miracles? I like to think not.

      My point is, these things should not be used to judge whether something is a message from God. I keep coming back to the idea that our own reason and moral compass is the only means of evaluating spritual or moral truth in a message. “Revelation” always has to be submitted to that, otherwise it is potentially dangerous. I would not accept a whole book on the basis of part of it, either; if it is all inspiring except for one sentence which is horrible, I will reject that one sentence. I don’t think there’s ever a reason to suspend reason and just accept something. I know we will all disagree about what is right and what isn’t, but with enough sincerity and debate, we should collectively move closer to the truth. Like we did when we abolished slavery for example.

      So in the case of the Quran, there are things in it that I think are right and there are things in it I don’t think are right. I therefore can’t accept that it is dictated by God, but I can say that some of it may be inspired by God in whatever way.

  14. anonymous said,

    (I just wanted to respond to Achelois post regarding science and the Quran – I apologize for this juggernaut of two posts, but I respect both you and wrestling with religion’s opinions too much to simply half ass it. I hope it’s thorough and insightful. Also I felt that Campbell and your embryologist friend’s opinions needed to be addressed in a post of their own).

    My cousin and I were talking once, a while back, and he was going through a rough patch. I had just quit my job and was seriously ready to start following up on my ambitions. “What’s your ultimate dream in life ?” he asked me. I went about divulging pieces of a rough plan I had in my head. As soon as I did, he started poking as many holes as he could. This was nothing new to me, but what was interesting is that he wouldn’t relent. Every possible part of my plan had a hole. “Oh you want to be successful at this and this place ? Well why would you be ? Have you seen what happened to this, this and that ?”, I remember the incident because the 15 minute conversation started to sound like a therapy session with a feverish paranoid person, I finally snapped and yelled at him for the first time. I said “Yes, it’s possible, I can fall flat on my face, meteors could fall, my dreams could be a mirage, yes I know the possibilities are out there, but them existing out there as possibilities does nothing to validate them”.

    Before I explain what that rant was about, I’d like to explain that I don’t care for debating the accuracy of embryology in the Quran, but I will for the simple fact that in my opinion most of the critics specifically William Campbell and all of answering-islam.org are acting like my cousin. They essentially set up straw men, they’ll list the slightest possibilities to invalidate a Quranic claim then call it a day, and never have to be bothered with it again.

    Oh the Quran mentions barriers in the ocean ? Oh he must’ve met sailors when he was a merchant. Oh the Quran mentions embryology ? Oh well the Greeks did too, the Prophet must’ve gotten it all from a little crude dissections and a sexy splash of good ol’ Aristotle. Mix it with 2 oz of Pharonic theories on Iron, and garnish with some of the Torah, some of the Bible, mix it with the Arabic poetry at the time and voila you too can have your very own Quran. Oh he was illiterate ? Tish tosh, he was a merchant, he must’ve known how to read, those bias muslims are just being crazy. What do you mean mass literacy wasn’t common place in 7th Century like it is now ? What do you mean it’s designated by the fact that they were all mostly illiterate and thus relied on an aural tradition, and you had to rely on scribes for writing ? Lay off the sauce will ya ?

    The issue is that this isn’t the author of bloody Gilgamesh, this is a historical figure whose biography is so detailed, that we have more information on him than we do on our Greek thinkers. One can actually dig through his history, the Quran, as well as Islamic history and test these theories out. Otherwise it’s like going “well microbes don’t exist they might just be dust particles, oh they move ? It must be the wind” – then get some dust particles, get some microbes, observe some wind, get a microscope and compare.

    Divine linguistics, Apologetics and how our minds are like wet cement.

    What I see happening here is this. The Quran associates certain people who argue against the Quran as arrogant. I never understood this till I started addressing my own skepticism in the beginning. The default approach I always see is to attack the Quran with skepticism and then respond to Islamic apologetics. Now consider this. If The Quran truly was of God, would God have to justify himself/itself to you ? Or would you have to justify yourself to him/it ? So why don’t we have skepticism apologetics here ? It has to boil down to subconscious arrogance (I’m not implying you fall into this category), you have to assume that you have the higher ground, your society has the monopoly on reason, and the Quran has to justify itself to you and your society, and not the other way around.

    I fully support the notion that you brought up that Muslims are hurting themselves by using science miracles as the basis of their arguments, and I’m completely on board the “Quran isn’t a science book appeal”, I have to disagree completely with the idea that the science miracles are modern hoo-ha though. The Quran isn’t a science in the sense that the miracles in it aren’t SCIENTIFIC miracles they’re LINGUISTIC miracles. The point of the Quran is that you’re supposed to be able to hear it (or read it), and judge whether or not you’re hearing the words of a divine presence, from the language alone. One aspect of this for example is accurate word choice.Therefore, the point isn’t that the Quran PREDICTED scientific advances, it’s that out of all the words it could have chosen it choses the most accurate one, that someone of the time couldn’t have chosen. For example, of all the words to describe an embryo the Quran chose alaqa – which means a leech like substance or something that clings. While at the time the greeks had advancements in embryology from dissection, our understanding of the embryonic fetus at conception is from the TECHNOLOGICAL advancement of the microscope. No one at the time could have possibly known that it looks/acts “leech-like” and “hangs”. The point is, of all the words that could have been used, it chose alaqaa. Now the typical response is: “So ? you’re going to base all your proof on a word that might have been pure coincidence ?”. Well no, the point isn’t that word alone, it’s that the same incident would happen again, and again. Every time God mentions something scientific he would use the most appropriate word, even if that word described the science in a way that was too advanced at the time. Also I often hear the argument that maybe the words are just so vague, that Muslims are shaping them to their liking – like with Nostradamus. But again it’s just not the same, with Nostradamus you have vague statements like the “After there is great trouble among mankind, a greater one is prepared. The great mover of the universe will renew time, rain, blood, thirst, famine, steel weapons and disease. In the heavens, a fire seen.” This statement is so vague that I could personally put my own interpretation on it to mean anything – I often see this type of language in weak Hadith. In “What the Dog Saw” by Malcom Gladwell he explains how there’s a type of deceitful language that profilers use at the FBI to describe serial killers. “This person will be tall – but they could be short, uncomfortable with women, but he’ll have women friends. A lone wolf – but will function in social settings”. Notice how you can apply this to anyone you’ve met. What peeves me is that critiques of the divine linguistics theory automatically go for this attack without justifying it on any level. If they truly are being as “rationalist” as they claim to be they would establish the criteria for Quranic language, and the criteria for the vague language of Nostradamus and compare. But they don’t. It’s just that they kinda feel like they sound the same.

    For me really, my favorite example, is the verse in Surat Al-Rahman (55: 34) in it’s original Arabic, but it would crudely translate to: “When the sky is split turning rose- like leather”. What I love is that coupled with the verse describing the “Alaqaa”, you have an image that could only be seen using a microscope, versus an image you could only see using a telescope.

    I think you’re being a bit unfair in your claim that Muslims keep getting into trouble with the claim that “that if Muslims really want Islam to be accepted universally, they have to acknowledge that the Scientific facts provided in the Quran are not always right. There are at least seven major errors that modern scientists have pointed out in the Quran”. First of all, how do you define modern ? Because, research centers in the East are evaluating the Quran according to science just fine. So by modern do you simply mean Western ? But I digress. There is no major modern scientific consensus studying the Quran in the West. Nor are there any major Muslim academics seriously making a case for the Quran to be studied as the work of God in major scientific journals or circles.

    By official science circles, and academia, I mean research institutes and major Universities (Harvard, Oxford, etc), are not only not entertaining the very thought of evaluating the Quran scientifically, they’re not even entertaining the thought of an Abrahamic God in itself, as a valid scientific concept.

    What I think you’re referring to is arguments made against the Quran by Campbell, answering-islam, infidel.org and faithfreedom. Together they make the most unacademic, bias, agenda driven cacophony of naysayers trolling the internet. Consider them “modern scientists”, if you consider TMZ a credible news source.

    I find your posts intelligent, even the one I’m responding to, so I’m actually partially taken back by the fact that you cite Campbell as the guy that shook your faith in the Quran. Campbell didn’t prove anything, he simply posed arguments with the authority of an opinionated blogger. Not only that, but out of all the anti-Quran pundits, there is entire literature devoted to refuting his book (I’ll get to their arguments later).

    Also I’m a bit confused by the fact that you said you compared Keith Moore’s book to Campbell and found Campbell more convincing. How could you compare them ? Moore doesn’t have a book devoted to the Quran, he has an article in an academic journal called The Journal of the Islamic Medical Association. Or did you compare Campbell’s book to his textbook: “The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology” ? Either way, are you saying you compared William Campbell’s opinions against a premier embryologist’s research and found Campbell more credible ? You also mentioned a person who mailed you personally as an embryologist citing the various errors, but you’re making it seem like it’s William Campbell and anonymous Embryologist man vs Chopped Liver Keith Moore. As opposed to Dr. Moore the Henry Gray/Elsevier Distinguished Educator Award winner. But we don’t want to regress into ad hominem attacks on Campbell or the embryologist of mystery. It’s his arguments that matter yes ?

    Before I present the arguments against him by other scholars, I just want to point out the errors I see personally from my own research.

    First off, you mentioned that apparently Campbell had an alleged conversation where Keith Moore confides that if “Alaqaa” means clot then no such stage occurs. First off, I hate the implication Campbell is trying to give off here: “No, no forget these press conferences Moore had, the ones found online and published everywhere – in secret he really told me the truth that it’s all hooey”. Second of all it’s this idea that the word Alaqaa means clotting. “There is no clotting stage during the formation of the fetus”. His point being that this is an ancient rip off of Greek theory.

    Campbell asserts that Moore doesn’t know Arabic. But Campbell does ? Moore doesn’t have to know Arabic, the leech like substance idea was presented to him by Arabic students. If this was some kind of mistake then, I find it a rather radical coincidence that that exact translation they gave him is what led to Moore evaluating the embryo under a microscope

    Luckily I don’t have to trust the self proclaimed premiere minister of Arabic Campbell with his translations since I happen to speak Arabic. Also luckily the word “Alaqaa” actually has its uses in colloquial Arabic as well. I have never, ever heard the word used as anything but it’s original definition of “something that clings/hangs”. Basically when you tell someone to hang their clothes you say “alaq hoodomak (clothes)” or if someone is hung up on someone – it’s “metALAQ beha (her)”. The word for clot in Arabic is “jalta”. Even if the word somehow had some obscure reference to clot in there, I don’t get where it says it’s CLOTTING. He then moves on to this idea that the alaqaa does not stop clinging for 8.5 months. Regardless of whether or not that statement is accurate, I don’t get what verse he’s referring to where the Quran actually said “and then it stops clinging”. I’d address the rest but i’d rather just present you with the scholarly responses in a bit.

    Now we move on to a pet peeve of mine, which is the almost rarely backed up thesis that Muhammed simply ripped off Aristotle’s theories on Embryology. First off, while Aristotle did originate the theory of epigenesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenesis_(biology)), no one ever tells you that it was a theory that was largely ignored till 1795 when Caspar Friedrich Wolff brought it to light (click on the link and see for yourself). You know why it was ignored ? Because it contradicted the creationist consensus of the time, the major theory during that time was Preformationism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preformationism). So if Muhammed and the Muslims were ripping off greek science, wouldn’t they technically go for the one that was in vogue at the time ? Also, are you telling me a 7th Century tribal community, that was largely illiterate, and believed in worshipping dates and that the sky was held up by columns, had a complete understanding of epigenesis, and that a man trying to argue for a creator would have gone for the theory that contradicted creationism at the time ?

    Maybe, the prophet was ahead of his time, maybe he knew in his heart of hearts that Aristotle was the underdog here. So by chance he chose the less popular theory, in hopes that it would pay off a few centuries later. And maybe it was just a guessing game, with all the science at the time. For example, at the time the greek understanding was that the atom was the smallest thing, the “dharra”, but The Quran manages to sidestep this, saying:

    “He [i.e., Allah] is aware of an atom’s weight in the heavens and on the earth and
    even anything smaller than that…”

    If these are just really, really good guesses, then you have to take in the nature of odds (discussed by Gary Miller in his “Amazing Quran” lecture – which is available in written form).

    What about Galen and the others ? Again I’d like to direct you to this very thorough article which explicitly, and objectively compares all the thinkers you mentioned and what the believed at the time as well as the Quran. Just take a look for yourself, irrespective of the author’s arguments:

    http://www.quranicstudies.com/articles/medical-miracles/does-the-quran-plagiarise-ancient-greek-embryology.html

    Had Campbell been a respectable objective rationalist, I would take no offense to anything he says, but my issue is that he’s using the epitome of desperate and seedy tactics to try and tear down whatever he can.

    Also the embryonic stages aren’t complex algorithms, they’re very basic, to the point descriptions of what goes on. I don’t see how they’re wrong compared to modern science unless you really, really stay up all night finding ways to twist the meanings of the words. Straw men everywhere.

    Now, researching for this post actually helped me understand something, why is this whole thing being dismissed so readily. I even realized that for me personally, while I believed these things to be miraculous, it never really sank in till now.

    There’s a book called “Made To Stick”, which discusses what sticks in people’s minds and what does not. If you’re communicating a theory to someone, you have to use concrete terms. Other wise you’re dealing with abstraction, which wont sink in. So if you want to express a theory, the best way to go about it, is to relate it to something tangible. People have to find a window to follow you through your ideas.

    So this is what happened with me, that really drove the point home. If someone said “alaqaa” referred to a clinging thing, and I read Keith Moore’s conference transcript, in which the press asked: “couldn’t he have just found out from crude dissections ?” and his response was: “no, you’re missing the point, this could only be seen with a microscope”, it might seem compelling, but I wont be in the same frame of mind as Moore because I didn’t experience it myself. It wasn’t until I read the verse with the words alaqaa and then clicked here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tubal_Pregnancy_with_embryo.jpg. I then asked, well that’s a microscopic image, how on Earth would someone in 7th Century Arabia figure it out ? Then I looked at the verse about space splitting and looking like a flower like leather and saw this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Keplers_supernova.jpg. How would it occur to someone at the time to even think that up ? Or the fact that the universe is described as “expanding”, or any of the other numerous things.

    In the end what does this all mean ? Am I saying “see all these signs of foreknowledge ? this is surely the work of God” ? No. I’m not. What I’m trying to show you, is that regardless of what your final conclusions are, you must admit that there is something compelling going on here, and we really have to start thinking “well where is this Quran from then ?”. In fact, my problem is that most muslim websites act like children when they throw around their arguments about the Quran: “See this ?! Sure it is from Allah, and you are all non-believers !”. While the anti-muslim sights go: “See ? Alaqaa means clot ! The Quran is a forgery, case closed !”. I just get a Fox News vibe from both camps.

    In regards to the other 7 mistakes you mentioned, I’m going to assume that if they’re not from Campbell, then Campbell summarizes a large portion of them. You used the term “modern scientist”, now I don’t think Campbell is a scientist, but I could be wrong, however, here are some responses from “modern scientists” fully addressing his claims:

    Dr. Jamal Badawi:

    http://tv.muxlim.com/video/9U3pEbzS3qz/Jamal-Badawi-Review-Of-Dr.-William-Campbell-In-Light-Of-Quran-1-3/

    Dr. Zakir Naik in a debate with ol’ Willy C. :

    I’ve already seen answering-islam with their “Zakir Naik: the ultimate showman ?”, search results, so in the end I’ll have to leave it to you to choose which camp you side with, only I’d seriously advice you follow up on their counter-arguments yourself.

    Intelligence chatter and Quranic foreknowledge:

    In his book “What The Dog Saw”, Malcom Gladwell writes about a phenomenon which he calls “The paradox of intelligence reform”. He mentions 3 incidents: the Yum Kippur war, Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Each of these incidents involved a sudden strike by a foreign power that were not intercepted through intelligence agencies. In hindsight, everyone pointed to how the pieces were all right there and these attacks could have been prevented. For example, with 911, evidence was shown that the FBI and the CIA all had various sources and indicators of the 911 plot brought to their attention. So why didn’t they act upon it. The problem is something called “intelligence chatter”. Yes, they had memos and leads on a possible attack on U.S soil, but they also had hundreds of alternatives, and dozens of other leads pouring in, most of which prove to be dead ends. The agencies could not possibly follow every single one, therefore often they have to rely on intuition, and in the case of 9/11 (or Pearl Harbor or Yum Kippur for the Israelis) are proven dead wrong. It’s easy to use our hindsight to assume that had we been in the FBI/CIA’s place we could have easily detected the patterns, but we forget that after the incident it becomes easy to trace the leads that led to it, before it happened we tend to forget that we’re not armed with foreknowledge, and have to deal with the fact that this particular pattern is swimming in the “chatter”.

    How does this relate to the prophet and the Quran ?

    Let’s assume all these claims are true. Every single fact in the Quran was available in this civilization or other, putting aside the complications that arise for the prophet to have gathered it all, you have to take into account that maybe in hindsight, which is always 20/20, if these facts existed, then aren’t they also co-existing with tons more contradictory facts, that were in the mainstream ?

    In fact, do you know why alaqaa is so associated with the word “clot” ? Because like Campbell said, there was eventually a point where greek theories on clotting embryos was the mainstream consensus, so if you have a Quran that says “alaqaa” and makes no mention of the clotting, as a translator you’re going to have difficulty explaing such a grave “error” to the masses. Which raises another point, if the Quran is the word of God, then it has to be more advanced than science today yes ? So if we judge it by the science of today, and there’s a contradiction, should we judge it by our modern standards, or judge science by Quranic standards ? I believe the same argument can be made for morality.

    Anyway, if I’ve been living my whole life with people I know saying things like “alaq hoodomak (clothes)”, and it really meant “go clot your clothes”, then I’m in trouble.

    Langauge

    In the end though, I might’ve gone on about scientific miracles and what not, but I want to clearly emphasize that the Quran’s profound aura, isn’t because of foreknowledge in science, it’s in the linguistics. Namely, the initial reason people converted in Arabia, had nothing to do with science, it was all language based. You had some of the best poets of the time, and suddenly there comes this shepherd who challenges them all with something they couldn’t contend with. Hence the challenge: write 10 verses like it, if your skepticism is true. Today, this challenge is only understood by a minority of professors in the middle east, but is largely lost on the masses. Hence, while at the time it was the poetry that compelled them, today the way we relate to it is through our science/rational age. This is why we as a society are so attracted to the word choices reflecting scientific facts, because rationalism is paramount to us in our day and age. Just like at the time poetry was what fascinated them. A few centuries from now, the focal point might change drastically.

  15. Achelois said,

    *Anonymous*

    Thank you very much for your most informative and excellent comment to me. I really appreciate all the effort you have put into this post.

    Let me explain a few things outright to you because I’m blatantly frank and don’t like sugar-coating words or beating about the bush – I live in a country where Internet is heavily censored. I can’t access half of the sites that anyone sends. I can’t even access Flickr, go figure! I have openly told people on their blogs that I can’t access sites they have posted. There are a few witnesses here as well. So the list of sites that you posted here which you assume I may have referred to – I can’t access even one of them. I got all this stuff from the email by the embryologist I wrote about. I didn’t know where he was copying from but he sent me several documents.

    I’m assuming from the URLs that you took particular offence because they sound like anti-Islamic websites. I apologize if that is the case. But I can’t support or attack them with you here because like I said I can’t access them.

    That being said it is a strong possibility that the man who emailed me was posing to be Muslim. In that case it was wrong; very wrong.

    But I think your emotions are making you do with my comment what you are opposing about Campbell and the others – you are reading something I never wrote. You said “I find your posts intelligent, even the one I’m responding to, so I’m actually partially taken back by the fact that you cite Campbell as the guy that shook your faith in the Quran.”

    I never said that Campbell or anyone for that matter “shook my faith in the Quran.” No one can make you shake your faith in anything. Faith is too personal in that way. And sorry but I never allow anyone to shake anything (LOL) for me except God. So if ever my faith in anything is shaken, it is shaken only by God.

    I wrote that “I believed strongly in the authenticity of the Quran because of the scientific miracles that I was taught” – I was explaining that the ONLY reason I believed that Quran was a divine book was because of the Scientific miracles that were pointed out to me. As a non-Science person I would have never even bothered about them but I was *taught* that the Book is divine because it has scientific miracles. What I was doing was wrong and I was only pointing out the dangers of doing that.

    So if you are claiming that Campbell or even the embryologist “shook my faith in the Quran”, that is an incorrect statement or deduction. I only said I was grateful that the embryologist “corrected me” (whom you are assuming is a made-up character but if you knew me like Susanne here knows me for a long time, you’d know I’m too strong a person to need a made-up figure to argue for me).

    Secondly, you say you are “a bit confused by the fact that you said you compared Keith Moore’s book to Campbell and found Campbell more convincing. How could you compare them ? Moore doesn’t have a book devoted to the Quran, he has an article in an academic journal called The Journal of the Islamic Medical Association.”
    Again, I will plead to you to read what I really wrote. I wrote that the “evidence presented in Dr. Campbell’s book is more convincing than Moore’s.” That is, Moore’s argument in the link that you posted and the excerpt Sara copied.

    Please also remember that you had posted an Islamic video link whereas Campbell’s argument is not academic but purposefully anti-Islamic like you claim, so it seems to you that you posted something to encourage people to consider the Quran and I posted something in retaliation to refute your claim. That is not true because if you go to Alif Laam Meem (here it is for your ease – http://iqrabismirabik.wordpress.com/2007/07/18/surah-al-hajj-verse-5/ ) you will see that I posted on embryology over a year ago and Campbell’s entire chapter was emailed to me after that and I didn’t know its source. It is definitely not pro Quran but I didn’t know it was from an anti-Islamic site. Again, I can’t comment on it because I can’t access the website.

    Here I will also explain why I still think I was corrected by the embryologist. When I posted on embryology I was assuming from what I was taught by my Quran teacher that NO ONE in the 7th Century knew about it and so when Quran mentioned it, it suddenly became a miracle! I didn’t know at the time that there were people who knew about embryology before Islam. So when I was pointed out Galen and Aristotle and Hippocrates, I was surprised. But note that I NEVER once said that Muhammad copied from them; only because that is your “pet peeve” you are wrongly assuming that I am arguing that Muhammad was a plagiarist. What I wrote was that Campbell explains that embryology in the Quran is faulty.

    You also seem to have an issue with my use of the word “modern scientists.” Why do you assume I’m referring to anti-Islamic people? Just recently I refused to comment on my best friend’s series of posts on Science Vs Religion because I believe in God and I believe in Science and I can’t side with anyone who supports Science to ridicule God. That is what I told her frankly. I’m not arrogant like that even if may sound impossible to you. I used a generic term for people who study Science and are contemporary people. When we know today that universe looks like a rose, we also know today that Earth is not flat. Who told us that? I never went into space. It is modern scientists who tell us that and show us outer-space pictures as proof. But Quran calls it flat and the result is that Sheik Abdul Aziz Ibn Baaz said in 1993 that “The earth is flat, and anyone who disputes this claim is an atheist who deserves to be punished.” See the dangers of believing in the “scientific miracles” of the Quran?! So you and I, we are atheists – that is if you believe the earth is round like I do 😀 j/k

    The other one is about meteoritic iron that I pointed out because I had remembered it from my visit to the British Museum; I have never read that argument anywhere before so I won’t give anyone the credit for it but myself 🙂 Contemporary scientists and modern science (does that sound ok? 🙂 ) has allowed us to know how far back into history people knew about meteoritic iron. No “modern scientist” came to me to tell me “do not believe in the Quran because ancient Egyptians knew 2000 years before Muhammad that iron fell from the sky!” LOL. I only cautioned not to base argument on such topics because we know today that even in the 7th Century Arabia people knew about meteoritic iron.

    When I said seven errors I wasn’t pointing out to any Oxford-Harvard-MIT research invalidating Quran. I meant *little* things like mountains and earthquake, and earth being flat, and meteoritic iron and so on. I grew up hearing from my father at almost every dinner how Allah had nailed mountains into the earth, SubhanAllah. I never heard my father say, Allah nailed mountains to prevent earthquakes and so I can appreciate that verse because to me it shows Allah’s magnificence and not science. That was my basic argument and still is.

    BTW, Naik and Badawi aren’t “modern scientists” either, but you probably meant that remark as a slight to me so I understand it 🙂 Like we say “Cambell is not my uncle” so I really don’t care about what you think about him but since you hate him so much (which spurred thsi comment from you) and have written so much refuting him so I Googled him just now and yes he is a ‘practicing’ scientist unlike Naik.

    I also understand Arabic and the first time I heard “Read in the name of thy Lord who created you from a clot” I didn’t bother whether it was coagulated blood, or blood clot or leech-like clot or hanging clot. I just marveled at how insignificant I am. I was created out of a blood clot that seems so gooey and yucky. That is my worth. Again, sorry to disappoint if I didn’t come out as arrogant there. LOL.

    At that time I never once thought that perhaps Muhammad didn’t know that an embryo looked like alaqa and that it must have flabbergasted him to hear that word since he didn’t have a microscope. My understanding was and still is that Muhammad and all other readers of the Quran in the 7th Century already knew that an embryo looked like a “leech-like clot” (Yusuf Ali was the first to call it a leech-like clot and not merely a clot). You don’t need a microscope to know that if you ever had the misfortune of having an early miscarriage! A miscarried embryo does look like a leech-like clot. Again see my post where there is a non-microscopic picture of a “leech-like clot” (http://iqrabismirabik.wordpress.com/2007/07/18/surah-al-hajj-verse-5/ ).

    But my marvelling was all spoilt when I saw the video “The Truth” and it broke the verse into words and syllables and painstakingly explained through pictures how great the scientific miracle of embryology was. My whole argument is that 7th century Arabs didn’t need science. That is not what sold the Quran to them. And I know this is your argument as well but then you also confuse me when you say “I then asked, well that’s a microscopic image, how on Earth would someone in 7th Century Arabia figure it out ?”. You are again arguing for divine origin of the Quran by using Science and the picture of a 7 week old fetus that is very clearly visible with the naked eye. It is not microscopic. However, I will extend my argument to say when we break it all into little scientific miracles there will be people who will refute it and they are doing just that.

    I also argue that even Eve knew that fetuses were ‘attachments’! You have them attached to a placenta and you birth that placenta separately so whether you call an embryo an attached thing or clinging thing, common sense is that you don’t need a microscope to know that it is attached/clung.

    Yes, but you definitely need not only a microscope but an ultrasound machine to know that the leech-like clot is an *attachment* and not just floating or suspended there even though a miscarried embryo as small as two weeks old can be seen by the naked eye and magnifying glass was being experimented with as early as 1 AD.
    Since you spent considerable time in explaining what alaqa means (by giving examples of hanging clothes) I am assuming (I may be wrong) that you missed this note from me:

    The root word Ayn-Lam-Qaf means: to adhere to, hang, love, leech, have an attachment, cling, hold fast, pertain, catch, concern, become attached by love, suspend, fasten a thing, cleave, clot of blood, germ-cell, fertilised female ovum. These are all modern definitions. The only definitions of Ayn-Lam-Qaf in ancient Arabic were to hang or attach, and clot.

    alaqah is used as a ‘suspended clot’ in verses: 22:5, 23:14, 23:14, 40:67, 75:38, 96:2
    and the root word is used in the word mu-allaqatun in verse 4:129 to refer to hanging.

    This is not from Campbell or Moore or the emailing embryologist. This is what I wrote to explain what alaqa means. What I’m saying is I already said it meant a ‘suspended clot’ (or if you prefer the word thing then “suspended thing”). In fact, I was the one to give the definition that it can also mean cling. In colloquial Arabic today, alaqa never means cling and in modern formal Arabic it has begun to be used to refer to a leech. But I argue that based on the root word and its sue in other places, alaqa in ancient Arabic meant suspended thing and not clinging/attached thing. علق in Arabic means suspended thing (male root); العلقة (female root) means suspended clot/mass; and كالمعلقة (female root) means suspended in mid-air. I’m actually surprised that eventhough you are not an Arabic speaker yourself, you have been around Arabic speakers but you don’t know that العلقة also means a blood clot. One word has many meanings in Arabic you know that, like khmr can mean an outer garment and even a table cloth. But one can’t argue it only means an outer garment.

    Nevertheless, you are arguing in favour of “clinging thing” by giving the example of hanging clothes. Clinging is attaching and hanging is suspending. “Leech-like attachment” is therefore, IMHO, a modern definition. That is why Moore’s argument didn’t impress me because alaqa according to my knowledge of the Quran didn’t mean a leech-like attachment in 7th century Arabia. Even Ibn Kathir calls it a “dangling clot.” Imagine what mu-allaqatun in verse 4:129 would mean if alaqa meant a leech-like attachment!

    I’m a language person. This is what I do for fun and for my bread. I do not base my trust on Science but on language and it was the language that I was provoked to consider when the embryologist emailed me and so I said he ‘corrected me.’ But I addressed Campbell here because he talks *more* on Science than language which is what we were discussing.

    The language of the Quran as miracle is a very, very, very lengthy topic which one can’t discuss without also going into the history of how Arabs learnt and spoke and behaved. I don’t want to go into that here.

    It was nice chatting with you anonymous, honestly. There is much to learn from your comment. It is lengthy and a little disorganized (LOL, sorry that is the teacher in my talking) so I’m not sure if I have addressed all your concerns. Please do tell me if I have left anything out. I didn’t want to discuss a blood clot or leech either but I wanted to clarify what I wrote and what you assumed.

    ———–

    Sorry WWR for this mini-dissertation from me 🙂 I just wanted to clarify what I meant and what I never wrote.

  16. Achelois said,

    WWR, can you fix *my boldness* – haha!

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      Fixed your boldness!
      I’m loving this lengthy discussion, will now read what you’ve written!

      • Achelois said,

        Thanks!

        I’m actually embarrassed that I write such long comments *trying to make the embarrassed emoticon but doesn’t know how to*

  17. anonymous said,

    Achelois, I think you may have mistook my snark as aimed at you. I was going to put a disclaimer stating that while you inspired my response, and I addressed some of your points, I’m using it as a springboard aimed at the general arguments made against the Quran (but it slipped my mind). I mentioned the issues related to Nostradamus, and linguistics which you of course never said either. However, I’d still like to apologize if I may, for any misunderstanding between us.

    The ONLY thing that bothered me slightly was that you said “modern scientists have disproved the Quran”. My point was that they haven’t, because:

    There is no official scientific body evaluating the Quran in the West. There may be thinkers here and there, but it’s not part of the Scientific consensus. I never said you were being anti-Islamic, but you would have to exclude the scientists in the East, where scientific research into the Quran does take place, and a large consensus does acknowledge it. There’s even Hans Kung – the head Christian theologian who evaluated the Quran as objectively as possible and had to contend that the current accusations against it are baseless.

    In regards to the picture:

    I was unclear when I said microscope, but it is still macroscopic photography using a macroscopic lens. Whether or not the thing itself is visible, it would not be visible to the naked eye, the way it is in the picture –

    “Kodak Elite 200 slide film, with a Minolta X-370 camera and 100mm f/4 Rokkor bellows lens AT NEAR FULL EXTENSION”.

    Also it’s a five week pregnancy not 7. The article states that it’s only 7 weeks by dated methods.

    However, I will contend that I should have given you an image closer than 5 weeks as the Quranic verse is referring to the embryo at conception.

    Like you said though – saying that it “clings” might be just pure common sense. But I touched up on this saying, that the point isn’t that the Quran predicts that it would look like a “alaqaa” under a mircoscope, it’s that it’s still accurate word choice, coupled with all the other word choices, in regards to a) the rest of the embryonic process and b) the other times it touches upon issues of science it does so with accurate word choice.

    I think I have to admit I made a mistake by focusing entirely on the word “alaqaa” as Moore himself was saying that it was the entire description, and not just that word that led him to revise the definition. But that’s my point, the descriptions in the Quran were so accurate, from the word alaqaa onwards, that Moore actually amended his official embryology text book to include definitions from them. An embryologist in the 21st century, not the 7th, 8th or onwards, but in the 21st century actually thought the Quran was more advanced than his text book. And it’s not a rogue scientist, working alone, his textbook obviously had to be approved by an entire scientific body. So again this ties back to your point that “modern scientists disprove Muslim claims of science and it’s all modern ho-ha. Because that’s actually a rare instance in western science where it HAS been accepted (although indirectly – although I believe Moore may have credited the Quran in the book).

    In regards to credentials:

    I’m still not convinced that Campbell’s an active scientist, I meant that literally. I haven’t managed to pull up a profile on him, but what I do understand that his main background is in Christianity. However, I’m not sure, and might be wrong. However, the two people I did give you are in fact scientists. Jamal Badawi, has several PHDs and is an active professor in the west, and Zakir Naik is a physician, and is the founder of the Islamic Research Foundation. Also, I think this extends to an interesting question – why is it that we rely on scientific opinions on everything, yet when Muslim scientists give their opinion on what a verse does or does not mean they’re discriminated against as being bias or agenda driven ? (I’m not saying that you’re doing this).

    Alaqaa and clotting:

    The reason I used the hanging clothes analogy, is to make the point that it’s also available in colloquial dialect concrete. I didn’t say it doesn’t have connotations of clotting, my point is that that’s not the word that’s synonymous with clotting. It’s synonymous with hanging, having an attachment, etc. What campbell is implying is that alaqaa’s sole definition is clotting, as if THAT is the word people use to say “clotting” – now notice how he misconstrues this and goes on an entire line of thinking associating this with Greek theories of coagulation during the embryonic stage.

    You also made a point that leech-like is a modern translation. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, the word still means hanging or suspended thing, “leech-like” would still be a means to explain the definition in concrete terms – to make it easier to understand. However, I still think it’s a radical coincidence that the word also happens to describe exactly what an embryo does at the time – which is also to act like a blood sucker and leech. If we contend that the Quran is a book of God, then we’d also contend that the definition would take into account the modern connotations of the scientists at the time – however that’s just my theory.

    To sum up – my point is that even if it has connotations of “clotting”, Campbell is misleading his readers by implying that the word itself is synonymous with clotting and that the Quran is thusly referring to Greek theory. Also, that despite responses from Islamic scientists, who not only understand Arabic, science and so on, they’re ignored, and considered bias sources.

    Finally –

    I’ve also enjoyed this discussion, I’d once again like to emphasize that my initial post was not aimed at you personally, but was simply using the points you made as a springboard to discuss other subjects, I apologize if it was a little disorganized, I simply did not have time to go back and edit it.

  18. Achelois said,

    No worries anonymous!

    I’ll tell you what I liked about Campbell. You don’t have to agree at all.
    I didn’t pay much attention to his argument over clot vs. leech. I liked the fact that he informed me that people did know about embryology and they even knew that the fetus went through stages.

    He also points out that sperm does not change into an ‘alaqa’ because fertilization with the ovum is required. Now any woman who has had sex and any grown man, know about sperm and know it is deposited inside the female body. But no ancient man would know that there is the ovum inside the woman’s body so tiny you’d need a microscope. But the verse ignores the ovum totally and explains that the sperm changes into the leech-like suspending thing.

    I also liked that he explains that bones are not made first before muscles and skin. Frankly, it wouldn’t have mattered if Quran didn’t put it in chronological order.

    Also, we are really imagining an embryo to be microscopic. It isn’t that small which surprises me that a physician like Moore said an embryo can never be seen without a microscope. Here is a real photo of a six week old miscarried embryo (http://www.jillstanek.com/archives/bethanyf.jpg). It isn’t that small that you can’t see it. Even at just about four weeks you can see it without a microscope.
    So a ‘suspended clot/leech/mass’ all make sense. Ancient Arabs knew it was attached and that it looked like a clot/leech.

    Regarding the word alaqah – it is even used in hadith. We are assuming that an embryo couldn’t have been called alaqah (since we think it only refers to leech) and that the word used is precise. But hadith literature supports that an embryo was called alaqah in common Arabic.

    But that is not my argument either.

    My argument is not that these alleged ‘errors’ show that Quran is not from God. My argument is that faith in Quran’s divine source should not be based on science. That wasn’t the initial argument anyway. The argument was it is divine because it has perfect language.

    Quran keeps asking ancient Arabs to see Allah’s signs, to observe, to ponder, to evaluate. How could they have seen, observed, evaluated and pondered if they didn’t know all these scientific facts in the first place?! The main claim is not that the 7th Century Arabs didn’t know Allah sends down iron from the sky, for if they didn’t know meteorites had iron that verse would have made no sense to them. The main claim is ‘Look at Allah’s might he can throw heavy iron from the sky!’

    1400 years later if you tell me ‘how did any human know about meteoritic iron 1400 years ago? Surely this Book is from God!’ you are compelling me to show you that meteoritic iron was known to people 3500 years ago.

    That is my simple request/argument. No scientific miracles, please 🙂
    “why is it that we rely on scientific opinions on everything, yet when Muslim scientists give their opinion on what a verse does or does not mean they’re discriminated against as being bias or agenda driven ?
    That is an interesting question. But first let me show you the link I found Campbell on (http://www.islam.com/reply.asp?id=930746&ct=19&mn=930746 ) I can’t verify the authenticity of the info on him there. Just saying he is on an Islamic site.

    Regarding Badawi. I hold him in high regard. And I’m a HUGE fan of Khaled Abou Fadl – got a lot of flak from Muslim Matters for calling him my hero 🙂 But, I don’t like Naik and I’ll leave it at that.

    Badawi is not a scientist and most Muslims wouldn’t even know that. He has several degrees, all in religion and he teaches religion. Naik never practiced medicine. So if the info on Campbell is correct (who has published a book which is available on Amazon and not just on anti-Islamic sites) then he is the only ‘active scientist’ but if that info is wrong than Naik is the best choice 🙂

    So why do we want to prove Quran’s advanced Science but discriminate against Muslim scientists? I *think* the problem is that frankly there aren’t many Muslim scientists today. The ones that are around often (not always) twist words and science to fit religion. They also tell huge lies. For example, anyone who knows even a little bit of Arabic will tell you that ‘daha’ means to stretch or expand and that the Quran categorically says that Allah expanded/stretched the earth, but the only Muslim scientist to interpret Quran, Khalifa, claimed that the translation of 79:30 is ‘He made the earth egg-shaped’!

    And Khalifa claimed to be a prophet so Muslims hate him and he was eventually killed by a Muslim man. But they will use the same bad translations to support the miracle of Quran. I can’t believe that no one can see a specific agenda behind Khalifa’s bad translation. So the only man who was validating scientific miracles in the Quran was killed.

    That is why no one takes Muslim scientists seriously. If they can’t lie they will claim the language of the Quran is so unique it is too difficult to understand by ordinary human beings. For God’s sake!

    I also have a feeling that when Muslims like Badawi who are not scientists start talking about science and Islam (which is agenda driven if they aren’t scientists), it gives the impression to those who don’t know that they are not really scientists, that all Muslim scientists will talk like this. Personally I think I would learn a lot from a Muslim scientist talking about Quran but I would like them to also explain verses that don’t make sense to modern mind and not only dwell on the miracles.

    Anyway, thanks for making me think about what I was thinking about 🙂

    • Wrestling With Religion said,

      “But the verse ignores the ovum totally and explains that the sperm changes into the leech-like suspending thing.”

      Something I’ve been meaning to say for a while but kept forgetting: I noticed in Sura Talaq when I was reading it, there are little bits that give the impression the child is basically the father’s (and of course fathers traditionally get custody). This seemed to me to tie in with a lack of awareness of the egg.

      Verse 6:

      [Hence,] let the women [who are undergoing a waiting-period] live in the same manner as you live yourselves, in accordance with your means; and do not harass them with a view to making their lives a misery. And if they happen to be with child, spend freely on them until they deliver their burden; and if they nurse your offspring [after the divorce has become final], give them their [due] recompense; and take counsel with one another in a fair manner [about the child’s future]. And if both of you find it difficult [that the mother should nurse the child], let another woman nurse it on behalf of him [who has begotten it].

      • susanne430 said,

        So the female body is just a place for the male’s seed to grow safely until it is delivered and given to its proper owner. Sounds a bit like a surrogate mother. :-/

        • Wrestling With Religion said,

          This was in the context of divorce – sorry, should have made that clear. Talaq means divorce so it’s a Sura dealing with issues around divorce.

      • Achelois said,

        Very interesting point, WWR!

        I find it disturbing that a woman should be paid by the ex-husband for her milk that she feeds to *her* own child.

  19. anonymous said,

    While there are many points we could keep discussing back and forth, I thought I’d just keep it simple and agree to disagree on the rest. There’s only one point you made where I felt I’d have something new to say.

    “Quran keeps asking ancient Arabs to see Allah’s signs, to observe, to ponder, to evaluate. How could they have seen, observed, evaluated and pondered if they didn’t know all these scientific facts in the first place ?”

    The point is that the Quran while aimed specifically for that time period, if it is supposed to be beyond human beings in a lot of respects. It’s like saying, why would God make the universe so big if we can only explore so little of it ? That’s the point, if God says the language in it is perfect, then for that statement to be true it would have to be perfect in every regard, including things that were beyond the Arabs at the time.

    Secondly it’s a known fact that the Quran is supposed to be an ever growing miracle. Meaning, that every age will relate to it differently. The Arabs of the time, related to it through the poetry of the langauge, today we relate to it from a scientific and rational point of view.

    If it was a forgery, then the author would probably only care about the people at the time, and therefore have no need to add little tricks in hopes that someday someone would find out.

    I personally like Khaled Abou Fadl too, but I think he belongs in another category all together, as he deals mostly with sociological issues related to Islam and the Quran. As do most of the Muslim scholars in the West. Because like I said, the idea of Quranic science is so beyond the notion of being entertained, that I doubt you will ever find a serious, objective western research into it. Hence, my saying that you can’t really say it’s been disproven, or proven in the West, since no serious discussion has even taken place.

    Lastly, I’d have to disagree with your assertion that Khalifa is the man with the only scientific approach, and that they all twist things – I think you’re being a bit bias and general here. The man not only claimed to be a prophet, but he had a great deal of conjecture relating to mathematical signs in the Quran, which I found as credible as the theories of the Jim Carrey film: “The Number 23”. But instead of arguing this point further, I’d rather bring up something that interests me a bit more, that we can probably agree on.

    The fact that the man was killed is another peeve of mine, if you notice Abou Fadl, along with most of the best speakers and thinkers of Islam, including Tariq Ramadan, are either exiled from this place or other, or are under FBI protection. I blame this on the politics of the countries from which Islam originated.

    I believe Arab muslims have very heavily invested in something that was said to them by God through the Prophet, which was that “you are the best of nations”, but like Hamza Yusuf once said, that was for the people of the prophet specifically. The Quran is merely alluding to a set of principles, laws in life if you will, that anyone can follow to become prosperous. I believe Jesus, Buddah, and the others, were merely pointing these laws out, it’s people that build entire organized religions around them. Were there sheikhs in the time of the prophet, or churches in the time of Jesus ? I believe the problem is, that these institutions start out as a means of organizing and interpreting miraculous events but then they take on a life of their own.

    Which is why I believe the statement (attributed to the prophet) that there will come a time when Islam will exist in its outward appearance only, with nothing of the inner – is most likely true.

    I don’t believe in the mainstream, organized, orthadox Islam, but I believe none of the faults I see in it are attributable to the Quran, but to the people themselves.

  20. anonymous said,

    I also just wanted to add that if you’re interested in the most prominent Muslim scientist to approach the Quran and God in modern times, and if you can understand Arabic (although maybe translated versions are available), I’d look up Mustapha Mahmoud. He was a Muslim scientist who lost his faith completely, and then regained it during his career as a scientist. His work is mostly known in Egypt, but not outside unfortunately.

    • Achelois said,

      “If it was a forgery, then the author would probably only care about the people at the time, and therefore have no need to add little tricks in hopes that someday someone would find out.”

      I agree!

      “Lastly, I’d have to disagree with your assertion that Khalifa is the man with the only scientific approach…”

      I only said he was the only scientist to interpret the entire Quran. All other interpreters are not scientists.

      “he had a great deal of conjecture relating to mathematical signs in the Quran, which I found as credible as the theories of the Jim Carrey film: “The
      Number 23””

      Phew! Thank God someone else also thinks that 🙂 But his mathematical conjecture is still a big hit with Muslims apologists, you know.

      “Hamza Yusuf once said, that was for the people of the prophet specifically”

      Of course, he’d say that being a non-Arab himself 😀 LOL

      Mustapha Mahmoud? Who died recently? Don’t know much about him. Thanks, I’d like to read him if you have links (that aren’t blocked! LOL). I read Arabic.

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