Late last year Professor Richard Dawkins gave a frank and open interview with Mehdi Hassan on Al Jazeera regarding his views and opinions on religion and his general philosophy on life. Ever since then there has been a consistent, (and frankly quite pitiful) tirade between Hassan and Dawkins on twitter, in the most instances Dawkins deriding Hassan’s Islamic beliefs, in particular about Buraq (which Dawkins refers to as “a winged horse”) and the Night Journey and Heavenly Ascension of the Prophet (ﷺ). After numerous messages on Dawkins’s feed over the last few months criticising the Islamic religion it eventually lead to this infamous one last week:
Unsurprisingly this lead to a huge backlash online, but what was most surprising was the voice of opposition was coming mostly from atheists, who took offense at his implied bigotry in the statement. Dawkins’s response, with his usual sense of indifference, was that he was merely stating a fact, and took issue with people accusing him of being racist. In a sense Dawkins was correct, both in the statement he made, and in the fact that Islam is not a race. But it does not take away from the fact that the reason he posted the message was because he does have a bigoted (not racist) opinion of Islam and religionists in general. The former being highlighted further by another tweet he made previous to this one:
Yes, he was stating a fact, and it was true, but the implied message he is making is that the religion of Islam is one that holds people back from making intellectual progress and development, particularly in the field of science. His bigotry is further highlighted by the dichotomy in the two tweets posted above, in one he claims Islam did well in the Middle Ages, and in the other that the whole Islamic culture is a complete failure. Prejudice by its nature is illogical, the fact his two statements contradict one another and were made less than a month apart are a manifestation of the inward illogical prejudice he holds inside himself against people of faith. Ironically he gives the appropriate response to his first tweet in itself, if the religion of Islam hinders intellectual progress, how did its adherents achieve the breakthroughs and discoveries it did in the Middle Ages? The religion those people followed is the same as what myself and the other two billion Muslims in the world follow, so surely the religion itself is not what is to blame for the slow down in scientific progress. What he fails to mention is the socio-political factors that have led to the current state of the Muslim world in the modern era. When Europe’s long overdue intellectual heyday arrived in the form of the Renaissance (ironically enough the fuel for which was the achievement of the Muslim world), it led to European colonisation, which in turn resulted in the vast majority of the globe’s population to be ruled over by those who deemed them inferior (see Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’), which then meant that the third world developed an inferiority complex, (see Egypt: “We want a western style democracy…we don’t want that guy’s democracy…we want a coup…no we don’t want a coup…” etc). Professor Dawkins also fails to realise that the two main centres of learning in the classical Islamic world were Andalusia and Baghdad, the former being torn down by the Reconquista and the latter by the Mongol Horde.
Further rebuttal of his unnecessary social media tirades can go on, but the fact of the matter is Dawkins’s assertion that religion, and in particular the Islamic religion hinder development and innovation are ill-founded. It adds to the already weak foundation by which Dawkins promotes atheism. Admittedly I haven’t read ‘The God Delusion’ (ironically given all his criticisms of Islam he hasn’t read The Qur’an either so we’re on equal ground), but what is apparent in his approach to religion is the idea that if something cannot be proved, or is deemed impossible by the laws of physics, it must be rejected. So things such as the existence of a Higher Being, angels, the human soul, heaven and hell, can therefore not be accepted as they cannot be proven by science. What this therefore does is remove the possibility of anything metaphysical or existential to be even probable, which is where the problem lies. His thought is bound by the physical constants of the universe and empiricism. The universe is finite, it has a beginning and end, which has been proven by science, but what science cannot prove is what is outside of the universe, both in the sense of space and time. What was there before the universe? What is outside of it? What is after it? These things cannot be answered through the laws of the universe because the universe does not exist in those realms, the physical must therefore give way to the metaphysical. Logic dictates there must be something illogical, relative to the material world, that explains who we are and where we came from, and this is where religion comes in to try and answer those questions. For me personally the answers to those questions comes from Islam, and the reason why I chose this religion was because of The Qur’an. The Qur’an was revealed in Arabic, a language that is bound by such scientific rules of grammar that it is often equated to mathematics. Anyone can learn the vocabulary and grammar of the language to create speech, but no one has, is or will be able to, using the exact same components, create anything that comes close to The Qur’an. It begs to be accepted that only something other than a finite human mind could come up with such a text that opens the heart and shakes the soul as much as The Qur’an simply using the Arabic language. It in itself, like the universe, is a symbol that the physical must be complemented by the metaphysical. The universe, something so vast and amazing, yet bound by physical constants must have been created by a Higher Being, just as The Qur’an bound by the rules of Arabic must have come from the same source.
In conclusion, Dawkins is a scientist, he does not have a firm grounding in theology or philosophy that is sufficient to counter popular religious beliefs, particularly non-Christian ones. His approach to religion is very much a eurocentric western-oriented viewpoint, his understanding of the concept of God is founded on an anthropomorphised culturally Christian understanding, for someone who promotes atheism it begs to be asked why in this globalised age he hasn’t fully researched the eastern traditions and added them into his arguments. All these things are further compounded by his bigotry and derision of religion simply to provide a sensationalist edge to his preaching. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf once mentioned that Nietzsche’s atheism is far more convincing than the ‘New Atheists’ of today, so much so the Shaykh mentioned “Nietzsche took my religious spine, and shook it.” Unfortunately Dawkins comes nowhere close.