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August 20, 2003

Is evolution haram?

The title is kind of a joke, but actually, Zack Ajmal has a post about Islam & evolution. I tend to get way too worked up by this topic...so I asked a polite question that hopefully was not laced with sarcasm. But, I never promised that I wouldn't unleash Darwin's wolves! So I challenge GNXP readers to join the fray (in a civil fashion).

Related note: Here is a profile of ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq (via Diana). Religious liberal Khaled Abou El Fadl asserts that "if you know what the Islamophobes and Orientalists believe, this author has nothing original to add." Since when was being original always so important for an author??? Yes, Warraq's work reads like a jeremiad, but it offers an insider's view that is crucial, you can't doubt his sincerity, you can feel his passion. Robert Spencer might seem like a scold, but Warraq is simply strident. Where Bernard Lewis & co. might hint & gesture at the general direction, Warraq will take a sword and slash through the bullshit to tell you in less decorous language how it really is from his perspective.

Godless comments:

As I've said before, I will be happy when "Piss Mohammed" is in museums alongside "Piss Christ". Islam needs to be rhetorically deconstructed and politically neutered, just like Christianity and Judaism were. I really wouldn't care if radical Muslims weren't waging war on the world, but they are. I am not speaking of moderate/secular Muslims like Ikram and Zack, but rather of the nontrivial mass of anti-Western fanatics.

For those who would bring up other religions...Hindutva is likewise alarming and occasionally outright murderous, but there are major differences between militant Hindu nationalism and radical Islam:

  1. Hindus are not exporting violent revolution around the world
  2. Hindus in the West are not fifth columnists like Al-Muhajiroun
  3. Hinduism has not historically been violent and expansionist
  4. Vocal critics and opposition parties to Hindutva exist within India

That said, as an atheist I personally wouldn't care if there was a display with "Piss Ram". Anything that angers a fascist like Bal Thackeray is ok with me :)

Razib adds: A few points. Pictorial depictions of the prophet are frowned upon in Islam, even the images I've seen of him have the face blotted out, so there would probably be a bit of an outcry before it was drenched in urine. As for "piss Ram," Hindus use cow urine in their traditional medicine and are recommended to drink it because of its sacred properties, so I don't know how offensive the devil worshippers would find it ;)

Posted by razib at 01:41 AM




Where are the Muslim Woody Allens and Lenny Bruces?

(Don't mention the current crop of Muslim so-called comics; most of their shtick is directed against us infidels. I'm talking about self-deprecating humor.)

Posted by: Diana at August 20, 2003 07:59 AM


Hey come on, the Tamils invented suicide bombing. Give the guys credit.

Posted by: zizka at August 20, 2003 08:07 AM


Diana: Some of those comics do self-deprecating humor.

godless: I agree that Tamils are not fighting a religious war but the divisions in Sri Lankan society are along ethnic lines which correspond very well with religious ones. The Tamils are Hindu, Sinhalese are Buddhist and then there are Muslims in Eastern Sri Lanka (who have had violence committed against them by the Tamil separatists.) I am not sure which ethnic group the Muslims belong to.

Similarly, Chechnya and Kashmir were originally ethnic rather than religious wars. It was only the induction of nutcase Afghan war graduates which have changed the character there. If you remove these crazies, the original problems will still be there.

Posted by: Zack at August 20, 2003 11:40 AM


well one reason that the tamil vs. sinhalese war is not that religious is that over 10% of tamils (non-muslim tamils, i hear from sri lankans that most sri lankan muslims speak tamil, but are not considered tamil) are chrisitan....

Posted by: razib at August 20, 2003 11:43 AM


zack, can you suggest some names? i saw something with john stossel and it stunk: a bunch of whiners basically telling me what an asshole i was for being scared of mullahs. not exactly lenny bruce.

oh, i take it back partially -- there was ONE guy who was funny, he did a shtick on being a pocket-protecting wearing, glasses-wearing nerd and having the thrill of terrifying people...that was funny, but he was the only one. i forget his name.

Posted by: Diana at August 20, 2003 12:14 PM


Further to razib's points about Tamils above, a large percentage of the Tamil Tiger elite are... (gasp!)... ROMAN CATHOLIC. Indeed, the Tigers have been known to "retain" a number of Catholic priests to provide pre-battle services at Tiger camps. This is in sharp contrast to the vast majority of the Sri Lankan Brahmin elite (i.e. the Hindu priests) who are more or less staunchly opposed (at least publicly) to the seperatism struggle.

As well, most Brahmins in the diaspora tend to distance themselves from Tiger front organizations outside of Sri Lanka and usually want nothing whatsoever to do with them; as a result the membership of most front organizations are almost 100% non-Brahmin. You can verify this by "checking names" if you so desire. You'll find a lot more Caroles, Anthonys and Pauls than Sarmas or Kurrukals.

As I recall there's only 5 Tamil Tigers on the FBI Fugitive list and you've already got 1 Catholic name there. Last time I checked, anyhow.

zizka: I don't know the history of early Tiger terrorist operations. However, I do know that the current leader and founder trained as a mercenary in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria perhaps). I always assumed he learned terrorist techniques from the Muslim groups there.

Posted by: Johnny Rotten at August 20, 2003 12:14 PM


Diana: I remember some British female comic. Can't remember her name, may be Asma something. I think a couple of men tried to jump on the stage when she made a joke about men groping her at the pilgrimage at Mecca. That's the only one I can recall offhand.

razib: Thanks for the info about Tamils.

About Ibn Warraq, I want to point out that some people think of him as some sort of scholar. It is in that sense that you should take Khaled Abou El Fadl's comments about him. Ibn Warraq is an ordinary guy somewhat obsessed with his ex-religion. He can obviously provide some insights but don't consider him an authority on the topic.

Posted by: Zack at August 20, 2003 12:24 PM


well zack, have you read WHY I AM NOT A MUSLIM? there really isn't anything scholarly in there, it's stuff you could easily find yourself at a university library, and there is a reason warraq is fixated, and that's the attitude toward apostates among muslims in the west.

certainly it isn't the same as in muslim countries-and in places like malaysia and pakistan, i know of apostates who just don't talk about it publically and no one bothers them, even if they views are open secrets in their circles. but i had an aquaintance who was of iranian origin who headed an atheist club at university of maryland, another iranian found out, and next thing he knew he received a barrage of death threats on his answering machine. no one did anything about it, but it was kind of bizarre, and the people mostly spoke english with an AMERICAN accent. of course, people that would take out of the time to call and threaten someone because of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) are kind of weird, but the point is that weirdos are more than a non-trivial number of american muslims.

from a personal perspective, i'm pretty open & honest about being an atheist to people who i know, since there is an often an assumption among religious people that EVERYONE must believe in god. christians are often aghast, but readjust quickly, but muslims tend to much more bothered. no one has said they would assault me, but obviously a substantial portion of muslims are REALLY bothered by an expression of apostasy by someone born a muslim. some of the attempts to "revert" me verge on harrassment. i think many muslim apostates keep their mouths shut in the west not because they're scared, they just don't want to be bothered a lot about the issue, because some muslims won't drop it. oh, and btw, converts are the most terrible in my experience at this sort of behavior, like my apostasy undercuts their own conversion or something.

Posted by: razib at August 20, 2003 12:40 PM


razib: I agree about the attitude and Ibn Warraq as well. I have however seen media stories where it seems he's a scholar or something.

Regarding attitudes, I knew more atheists in Pakistan than here. But most generally kept their atheism to their close circle. OTOH, there is a social circle (the very rich, urban families) in Pakistan where atheism is actually fashionable. :-)

Posted by: Zack at August 20, 2003 12:46 PM


OTOH, there is a social circle (the very rich, urban families) in Pakistan where atheism is actually fashionable. :-)

yes-this doesn't surprise me-i have heard about saudi wine cellars & the love of wisky & gin in the pakistani army, etc. this sort of private vs. public deceit and deception, the cult of shame and appearence, is part of the problem. some of this exists in the united states, and some of it is good (don't put out dirty laundry to hang everywhere), but taken to extreme levels in leads to social sickness. for instance-everyone jokes about the ashnas of the pathan regions, but they are also very homophobic....

i suspect that some of the autocrats of the middle east are probably not muslim and even atheists in the closet-but they mouth muslim platitudes publically-i just don't think it's good for society (i'm not a straussian obviously).

Posted by: razib at August 20, 2003 01:49 PM


her name is shazia mirza; she's ok, she has her moments. on the whole, though, muslims don't strike me as being wildly funny.

godless said that standup comedy was a black contribution to world culture; no way, the jews created "shtick" in those catskills resorts in the 1940s and 1950s. rent broadway danny rose.

there was a asian-british tv show 'goodness gracious me" that had some wildly funny sketches directed at both british racism towards browns and asian behavior in britain--but they were all of hindu or sikh origin, although some of their skits targeted pakistani-brits. one of their skits was of a british muslim boy who fantasizes being woody allen. but the comedians were all non-muslim.

muslims strike me as being way solemn.

Posted by: Diana at August 20, 2003 04:47 PM


Diana: That's the one.

Regarding Muslims comics in general, there are few in the West. But there are quite a few at least in Pakistan and some are very popular.

Posted by: Zack at August 20, 2003 06:21 PM


I should add that there is in general a taboo against making fun of Islam. That doesn't mean that comedians don't make fun of religious people, but there are limits.

Posted by: Zack at August 20, 2003 06:30 PM


My uncle by marriage is Persian (he doesn't call himself Iranian) and he thoroughly rejects Islam, as does much of his extended family and most of his friends. I'm going to discuss this more thoroughly with him at the family reunion I'll be attending next week, but my impression is that there are LOTS of educated secular Persians who escaped Iran around the time Khomeni took power, and that there are an even larger number of secular Persians still there. Iran appears to be the only Islam country where an organized secular resistance exists.

Perhaps this is partly due to the direct experience of repressive theocratic rule, but the Persians are also unique in the sense that they have a rich pre-Islamic culture to identify with. Unlike the Arabs whose cultural zenith coincided with the rise of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, the height of Persian culture coincided with the Zorastrian empire of Cyrus and Darius I, which permitted the religious and intellectual automony of its conquered people's. (The Persian empire was hailed as a liberator by the Jews from the oppressive reign of the Chaldeans.) As opposed to the viewing Islam as a native tradition, many Persians regard it as a imperialist imposition that was destructive of local culture -- and they're right.

I have much more hope for the Persians than I do for the Arabs. Although there are plenty of Arab apostates, they are silenced by the broader culture and are far from organized.

Posted by: Chris W at August 21, 2003 01:17 AM


Sorry for all the mispellings and grammar errors -- I have a bad habit of not proof-reading my posts until after sending them.

Posted by: Chris W at August 21, 2003 01:21 AM


Godless, I am talking about the *creation* of standup as an performance form. This was actually from vaudeville, then with the death of vaudeville migrated to the resorts and comedy clubs. Jewish comix created and dominated this form until well into the 70s, when the blacks you cite took over.

BTW some of us dinosaurs think that the black comix you allude to are not very funny.

Posted by: Diana at August 21, 2003 08:33 AM


the Persians are also unique in the sense that they have a rich pre-Islamic culture to identify with

chris, you best a bit more cautious in your hyperbole, egyptians, tunisians, pakistanis, indians, bangladeshi, malaysians, javanese, of muslim persuasians etc. also have a pre-islamic culture to identify with ;) and muslim bengalis, unlike the persians, do not use the arabic script and have not arabified their language ;)

also, i would suspect most historians, and persians if they are in-the-know, would identify the sassanian period between khusrow I & khusrow II as their zenith, the achaemenid's were too early and zoroastrianism was not as well developed nor was persian identity as well-defined.

Posted by: razib at August 21, 2003 09:28 AM


Pre-Islamic culture doesn't figure independently in the Persian mind rather it wholly complements Islamic culture; the two blend to the degree as to be indistinguishable. Persians remember Rustam while paying tribute to Ali.

I believe the Iranian Intermezzo surely is the greatest Persian flowering (the Tajikis assimilated into the Persian language) since the universality of Islamic civilisation allowed the wholesale exportation of Persian values and cultural ideals. Zoroastrianism was restricted to the Iranian cultural world (Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and westerly regions of pakistan) and was insular in the same manner as Hinduism (not to say Hindu culture didn't spread but I believe it was primarily through "soft power", which is why the peripheries of the Indic world converted at the onset of the Islam). Perso-Islamic culture was the dominant paradigm of Sub-continental, Anatolia and Central Asian culture whereas during the Achaemenian or even Sassanian empires this influence was not reached.

Islam united devastated swathes of ancient civilisation (Egypt, Mesoptamia, Indus Valley) and infused it with a cohesive Perso-Arab cultural framwork.

It's brought about brilliant cultural synthesis for instance amongst the Punjabi tribes, claiming Arab and Central Asian genealogy is rooted in the historical practises of the pre-Islamic era and is a part of the regional dynamic & tribal power play.

Btw in Pakistan I think that atheism is more of the apathetic quality since the urban upper class are the only segment of the Pakistani population not as preoccupied with the Islamic world as the populace.

Perhaps we Pakistanis are alone in our fervent national passion for Islam. It isn't fanaticism, far from it, but there is an exceptionally and highly acute awareness of being rooted in the Islamic world.

Posted by: Zachary Latif at August 21, 2003 11:23 AM


"chris, you best a bit more cautious in your hyperbole, egyptians, tunisians, pakistanis, indians, bangladeshi, malaysians, javanese, of muslim persuasians etc. also have a pre-islamic culture to identify with"

Do modern-day Egyptians identify as the same people as the ancient Egyptians? Do the Tunisians consider themselves to be the descendents of the Carthaginians? I have to admit complete ignorance on the pre-Islamic culture of the Pakistanis, Bengladeshis, and Malaysians -- that's not an area I've looked into as of yet. I didn't mention the Indians, simply because the majority are not Muslim.

"also, i would suspect most historians, and persians if they are in-the-know, would identify the sassanian period between khusrow I & khusrow II as their zenith,"

Really? I always had the impression that the Sassanids stood in the shadow of the Achaemenids. However, my understanding of Persian history is very limited, as I've mainly studied it in terms of how it related to Greece, Rome or Judea.

Posted by: Chris W at August 21, 2003 11:54 AM


well...you have a point about egyptians & tunisians (though the copts, who are 10% of egypt's population are self-conscious about their pre-islamic origins)-but remember that middle eastern muslims are only 25% of the world's muslims. there are are 350 million muslims in south asia (the large number in any geographic/cultural area), and they form about 35% of the total population of the india+pakistan+bangladesh. punjabis & bengalis are both ethnic groups where the majority are muslim. since "indians" are not an ethnic group, it's deceptive to state they are not majority muslim....

the main beef i have is that middle east centered conceptions of islam are something that muslims regularly have to fight-especially in light of the fact that 75% over the world's muslims live outside turkey, iran + the arab world.

as far as persia-people forget the extent of the sassanian empire. at one point in the early 7th century the persians had laid seige to constantinople, conquered egypt, syria and anatolia and yemen-all under a self-conscious zoroastrian persian leadership. there is some debate after all as to how far cyrus fostered zoroastrianism-though darius & xerxes went farter.

Posted by: razib at August 21, 2003 12:02 PM


As Diana pointed out, stand up comedy has roots in the Catskills, before that, Vaudeville, before that in British music halls and even before that, the court jesters. There are characters from Shakespeare whose soliquoys would qualify them as "stand ups" and who express infinitely more than a few yucks and insults. The march of non-black comedians in the U.S., roughly coincides with the arrival of verbally gifted immigrants--Irish (19th c.), Jews (20 c.)-- who's next? BTW, some of the late 20th c. comix cited are about as funny as hepatitis.

Posted by: MaryClaire at August 21, 2003 12:26 PM


I guess my post reveals a Euro-centric historical focus, which I admit to. When asked to consider the great civilizations of the East, westerners think of the Persians, the Chinese, the Subcontinental civilizations (which we uniformly regard as "Indian", even though the Indus River is located in what is now Pakistan), the Japanese, the Mongols (at least during their 300 years of imperial rule), the various Muslim dynasties, and that's it. And we might also consider the Korean and Khmer civlizations worth mentioning.

When we think of the Hindu Kush/Khyber Pass/Bactria area, we think of it not as a location of any "great civilizations", but as an area that got conquered a lot by various empires not actually based there. And when we think of the Southeast Asian archipeligo -- where many Muslim Malaysians, "Indonesians" (which also isn't an ethnicity) and Filipinos live -- we don't think of any civilizations being present at all. Instead, we think of the islands as full of small-scale horticulturalists and hunter-gatherers.

Although I don't have extensive knowledge of these areas, I know that they didn't contain civilizations as influential as either of the Persian dynasties (otherwise I would have heard of them :) (For the record, I think that early agricultural civilizations were probably *less* pleasant to live in than small foraging or horticultural communities. However, they might be more likely to appear to nationalist sentiment that would counter Islam, as intellectual and scientific achievements will be prized in a modern era.)

Posted by: Chris W at August 21, 2003 12:44 PM


Tamil Catholic suicide bombers. OK. Learn something new every day.

I think that pre-Islamic identifications, even if semifictitious, are common in the Muslim word. Two Christian sects call themselves Chaldaeans and Assyrians, at least in western languages, some Lebanese identify with the Phoenicians as I recall, and I've read that Saddam identified with Nebuchadrezzar.

Central Asia has been an important center of civilization several times. Some of the great Chinese Buddhist thinkers were Central Asian in origin, and so was Avicenna as I recall. One of Tamerlane's successors, Ulugh Beg, codified astronomical tables which were used by Tycho and Copericus. I've even read that Zoroaster came from there.

Posted by: zizka at August 21, 2003 02:01 PM


And when we think of the Southeast Asian archipeligo -- where many Muslim Malaysians, "Indonesians" (which also isn't an ethnicity) and Filipinos live -- we don't think of any civilizations being present at all. Instead, we think of the islands as full of small-scale horticulturalists and hunter-gatherers.

java is one of the most dense islands in the world, about 100+ million people live there today-and it has had "civilization" since around 500...before northern europe.

north indian civilization (and later indian civilization period) at the elite levels of military & temporal power was muslim from about 1000 additionally.

Posted by: razib at August 21, 2003 03:12 PM


"java is one of the most dense islands in the world, about 100+ million people live there today-and it has had "civilization" since around 500...before northern europe."

I hope it was apparent that I was referring to the archipeligo from the Ancient to the Medieval period, as I'm fully aware of how populous modern Indonesia is. However, you did answer my query...

However, in the Brittish Isles, Celtic and pre-Celtic civilizations with agriculture, monumental architecture, and the like date back far before 500 C.E. Scandanavia and Germany are another story.

Posted by: Chris W at August 21, 2003 11:39 PM


I hope it was apparent that I was referring to the archipeligo from the Ancient to the Medieval period, as I'm fully aware of how populous modern Indonesia is.

it was always populated densely, this famous buddhist temple complex was built in the 7th century.

Posted by: razib at August 21, 2003 11:47 PM


Razib, a poster wrote the following quote under another topic, and I found it particularly relevant to our discussion, although it wasn't something I was aware of:

"Naipaul described how Pakistanis believe they are Arabic, since it is more comfortable to believe that one’s ancestors came in with the conquering army, than the more likely case – a low caste Hindu who converted, the descendant of a woman who was forced into a Muslim marriage, or a descendant of a convert or die Muslim. This dlusion carries over into choice of food, as many Pakistanis claim that their favorite fruit are dates, even though dates generally do not grow in that climate. But apparently, mangos are too associated with the kafirs of India"

Posted by: Chris W at August 22, 2003 06:02 PM