The incoherence of Ghazali

I wrote a brief piece for eteraz.org about my feeling of alienation from the discussion of the meaning of Ashura elsewhere in the Islamsphere. In a nutshell, I think that well-meaning Sunnis who try to frame the sacrifice of Imam Husain as a struggle against tyranny and injustice are vastly understating its importance. It's akin to appreciating the Qur'an solely for being a book of eloquent poetry, with a nice fancy cover.

In the discussion that ensued, someone took issue with my contention that there is concensus on the evil of Yazid (LA), quoting extensively from the reknowned Islamic philosopher Al-Ghazali:

"How should it be allowable to curse a Muslim," [Ghazali] asks, "when it is not permitted to curse the beasts of the field, and we have been prohibited from doing so ? . . . Now, it is certain that Yazid was a Muslim, but it is not certain that he slew Husayn or that he ordered or consented to, his death, and as long as these circumstances remain uncertain, it is not allowable to believe that he acted so. Besides, it is forbidden to think ill of a Muslim, since God has said: 'Be not ready to entertain suspicions of another, for it may be that these suspicions are a sin.'

Emphases mine. I find it somewhat ironic that the above was invoked as an example of Ghazali's famed tolerance, even though Ghazali's logic might well be applied to Osama bin Laden. I am in fact partly grateful to Daniel Haar for finding and transcribing the quotation above, for it cements my utter distaste for Ghazali, who was an enemy of the Mu'tazili and on the wrong side of philosophy from Thomas Aquinas and Ibn Rushd (Averroes).

Let us be unafraid to label a thinker "wrong" for our convictions are no lesser than theirs. I respect Ghazali for his achievements but do not respect his conclusions and will not hesitate to label them as wrongly conceived and reasoned. Since he was an enemy of Reason, and preferred the Will of Allah alone as the prime mover of events in the world, his wrongness is hardly a surprise.

Ghazali's contention that the "circumstances remain uncertain" surrounding the culpability of Yazid (LA) in ordering the death of Imam Husain (AS) is simply risible. As for Ghazali's incredibly disingenous interpretation of Qur'an 49:12 that "it is forbidden to think ill of a Muslim" (in fact, the ayat is a general discussion of backbiting or qiyas, and does not single out muslims in any way for applicability. Ghazali's sheer gall in equating an honest historical narrative of Yazid's treachery with "backbiting" is simply obscene).

The taint of Ghazali's apologism still pervades the muslim world and hinders a clear condemnation of evil in the name of Islam - far too many people who would not hesitate to condemn OBL were he a Jew are instead agnostic to his crimes. All in the name of a false muslim solidarity - ironic indeed, given that the victims of Al Qaeda are overwhelmingly muslim themselves!

My views on Ghazali are of course informed by my sectarian identity and theologic education in that context. Others rise to Ghazali's defense, but I don't see any reason to inject false balance when I have my conviction and faith already tipping the scale.


Haj 1427H

This year I had an oppoertunity to perform Haj (the annual pilgrimage for Muslims). This was my first time and I was very anxious and worried about the event prior to going. I heard all sorts of stories about the hardships of Haj with over 2.5 million visitors. I also saw something about how local governments in Medina missed golden opportunity to receive blessings and goodwill from the visiting mulsim brothers and sisters.

We arrived on Dec 17th first to Medina, the Prophet Muhammad (SA) city and the location of Masjid-Al-Nabawi Islam's second holiest location after Makkah and the Haram of Kaabah. Other than the usual feelings a person gets about visiting these holy sites, I wanted to share a few reflections of what I saw from the local government and their practices.

Thousands upon thousands flock to Medina to pay their respects to Rasululah (SA) at this Masjid and his grave site in Medina. Whether you were Shia or Sunni, people throng to the site. Why, you ask? It was obvious that the draw of the site and the holy meaning(s) of the masjid was attracting the people. Then why are the Saudi religious police preventing the muslim brothers from paying their respects properly. What I saw was the local police preventing their Muslm brothers from truly performing all the rituals. There are numerous accounts of these events and when I saw them first hand, it was sad but true. I understand that different Muslim traditions and sects have their own beliefs, but blocking a fellow muslim brother to just perform a few rituals that spiritually lifts him / her and to allow them to experience their own fullfillment of their once in a lifetime trip is a crime against Islam. It is disrespecting the legacy of the Rasullulah (AS). It goes against the grain of the basics of Islam.

The same can be said about Jannatul-Baqi - the Prophets graveyard where the Shia sect have their most respected leaders including the Ahelebait (progeny and family) of Rasululah (AS) - Molatena Fatema (AS), Imam Hassan (AS), Imam Ali-Zainul Abidin (AS), Imam Jafer-Us-Sadiq (AS) and Imam Bakir (AS) and many more. Again the Saudi local police has a huge banner outside which says that one should not consider coming to the gravesite anything but a reminder of death and what it means to you. It says, paying respects to the dead should not be more than just that. They misuse a hadith to make this point. This is all well and good, but again Islam is a huge body of people with many different interpretation. We are not here to debate who is right and wrong but rather to allow muslims of various traditions to express himself freely and show the beautiful diversity of our culture. Why keep the Baqi grounds closed at all times except for a meager 3 hours in a day? Why prevent people from allowing them to pay their respect their way at the gravesite? What purpose does it serve for the police other than impose and opress their own Muslim brothers? The local government claims they are custodians of these holy sites and it is their "privilage" to serve the Muslim Ummah! I would respectfully diagree and say that they are doing everything BUT serving their brothers.

Don't get me wrong, the local government spends millions on infrastructure but keep in mind they are not doing it for free! The country receives almost unlimited economic benefits from Muslims visiting these holy sites and during Haj they charge almost $300 per head in fees. This is not free by any means. Furthermore, the multitude economic benefit of Mulsims buying and conducting tourist commerce when they visit these sites is also a huge benefit to the government.

It is sad that the Saudi government is trapped in their Wahabi principals and are missing the opportunity to serve their fellow brothers and show the diversity and yet unity in Islam. Instead of receiving barakaat (blessings) of prayers from their Muslim brothers for serving them, they receive the wrath of Millions of Muslims feeling a little disappointed after every Haj. What a missed opportunity indeed!!!



Apparently, Barack Obama (or as his detractors call him, Barry Saddam Hussein Osama) has "concealed" being a muslim all these years. And, to some, this makes him the Islamist Manchurian Candidate.

I've got a lengthy piece on the issue at DailyKos - please recommend it if you have an account there.



I hadno idea until right now how horrible my blog looks in Internet Explorer. I'm a Firefox guy, myself. Apologies to you long-suffering IE readers. Will try to make it look better sometime. In the meantime, may I suggest.. *ahem*

Enlightenment, humbug

I've been meaning to write a critique of the Enlightenment for some time now, but am still formulating my own argument. I am more of an Enlightenment man than not, but as a philosophy it is incomplete, and there is nothing within it that can both be true in a universal sense and also the sole domain of Christianity; what is needed is a generalized restatement of the neccessary parts.

In the meantime however Daniel Larison takes on the big E from his own Christian perspective, and I say bravo:

...it is entirely possible to accept that God created everything without having to insist upon the absolute literal interpretation of every number (many of which are clearly symbolic in any case) in the Bible. It is also possible to accept that God created all living things while also acknowledging that evolution is a plausible explanation for how living beings change over time. It is possible to despise Voltaire as an impious fool and loathe Locke as a treacherous stockjobbing mountebank and to view their ideas with disdain without insisting that we live in caves and eat raw meat while dying of the plague.

I've added his post the Enlightenment feed, which also features prominently on the sidebar at Super-Rational.



Svend White had an interesting post which attracted a tangential critique from irascible old Lounsbury, on the matter of transliteration (note: NOT translation) from Arabic to English. The irony of Lounsbury taking someone to task for being pretentious aside, the discussion at Aqoul actually got interesting enough for me to chime in. Also check out Willow's commentary at Eteraz. All in all, a satisfying intra-Islamsphere familial squabble.

interview with Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini

Michael Totten interviews the soft-spoken moderate Shia cleric at his home in Lebanon. There is much wisdom that Sayyid Husseini has to offer, such as:

“I believe that plenty of the Western people believe that there are two kinds of people,” Husseini said. “Some who believe in peace and God and some that believe in violence and the devil. While I was in Germany, I met a student. He told me that I am a Muslim, that I am a terrorist. I told him that he is the German, that he burned people. I said Why are you talking to me? I didn’t burn anybody. I told him also that I didn’t terrorize anybody, and that I was the first person to condemn what Osama bin Laden did to America on 9/11. I told him that we, the Shia people, in Iraq we were the first victims. Saddam killed civilian people, he cut off our heads, he blew up our houses. I told him that Hitler burned the Jews. Nobody in the world has done what he did. Then I told him we are the same. You are German, and you are not Hitler. I am a Muslim, but I am not Osama bin Laden.”

However, Michael has his own insights as well:

It’s extraordinary how the violent extremists of the Middle East have managed to portray themselves as mainstream in front of Westerners. In some countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, perhaps at least the passive supporters of Islamists really are mainstream. In most places, though, they are not. Religiously moderate Muslims are easy to find in the Middle East, especially in modern countries like Turkey and Lebanon. But they get precious little attention in the media. Those with the rocket launchers and the self-detonation belts are more newsworthy and get much more press.

This is why demands of moderate muslims to somehow account for or do something about the extremists are so misguided. Read Totten's entire interview with Husseini - it's a fantastic interview. And support Michael's travels in the Middle East as well.


a war of ideas?

One of the writers at RedState, representative of the general conservative Republican community as a whole, has posed several questions to muslims. I have decided to cross-post my reply to him here.

will you meet my proclamation by engaging me in respectful civil truth-seeking dialogue or will you brand as infidel and censure me?

you mean, with regard to your proclamation of disbelief in the Prophet SAW? Neither. I will just invoke Qur'an 109:6. It may shock you, but I honestly don't care what you believe, or don't believe.

Will you be partner in the valuation of religious liberty, and the defense of all individuals from discrimination for particular theological belief, or will you [irrelevant nonsense]

the premise of this question is insulting. Still, I will reply. I will certainly continue to defend the principles of freedom of religion and speech, and furthermore I will not make my defense of these principles contingent upon reciprocation by you - because at this time it appears to me that there are those who are willing and eager to cast aside those very same principles in a heartbeat should it serve their purposes.

Will you engage me, condemn me, defend me, silence me or remain silent?

I will reply to reasonable questions about my faith - MY time permitting. I will not debate that faith. I will not answer accusations or respond if you demand I condemn something for condemnations' sake.

I will reply to those who treat me as an equal, as a independent human being of shared humanity, as a fellow citizen and a patriot. In fact I have not been silent over these past four years, and I am hardly alone.

I want to KNOW! But not only that, WE need to know! We NEED to insure that no one who makes partners with us on the bargain of religious liberty is hurt by those who make partners against us.

I cannot help you if you choose to be blind. I have given you numerous examples here that if you choose to follow, may open your eyes to see just how much of a natural alliance we are predisposed to. It is MY people, not yours, who suffer the most grievously at the hands of our common enemy. If there is only one place you go, then go here, and you will find answers you seek. But I will not spoon feed you further.


this day I have perfected your religion for you

"This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion."

-- Qur'an 5:3, revealed upon the plain at Ghadir e Khum

Today is Eid al-Ghadir, the day that the Prophet SAW declared, of Ali ibn Talib,

man kunto mawlahu fa' Aliyan mawlahu

The exhaustively well-documented events at Ghadir-e-Khum resonate within the Shi'a breast - this is a day of renewal, of fealty, of expression. It is truly the cornerstone of the edifice of faith. To all who honor this day, I say Eid Mubarak, and present with humility the qasida of Syedna Taher Saifuddin AQ:

madihokumu ya ala fatema-tal-ridha
ila suhekum li khairo hadin va sa'eki


The Appeal to Other Ways of Knowing

In a conversation elsewhere, someone implied that an argument that appeals to "other ways of knowing" (besides the scientific method) is essentially fallacious. Let's acronize the Appeal to Other Ways of Knowing as AOWK for brevity's sake. Now, there certainly are times when an AOWK is a fallacious argument; one example might be, "You're wrong because it says so in the Bible/Qur'an/...". Such a statement certainly qualifies as a belief, but not as an argument in the context of a debate. Many of my own axioms about the universe are indeed defined by precisely such statements, but I would not presume to try and employ such a statement in a discussion with an atheist about the existence of God.

However, it's equally false to simply assert that all AOWK are automatically false, because there are in fact many ways of "Knowing" besides the scientific method. A variant of the "AOWK fallacy" fallacy is presented by another blogger "Skeptico" here, as follows:

Here is another fallacious argument skeptics will have heard:

>> There are ways of knowing other than the scientific one


>> The scientific method is not the only source of truth

..or similar wording. It is an appeal to other ways of knowing apart from science. The claim is that the tools of critical thinking and science are not sufficient to evaluate the believer’s claim; therefore the believer's claim has validity despite the lack of evidence for it.

The flaw in the argument

No one is claiming that science has all the answers or is always right. However, science has proved to be the most reliable method we know for evaluating claims and figuring out how the universe works. If the believer is claiming that there is a better method, it is up to him or her to justify that claim. To demonstrate this, believers need to explain their better method for evaluating claims, and provide evidence that it is indeed a better method. If they cannot do this their appeal to other ways of knowing is vacuous and fallacious.

Emphasis above differs from the original. Let's start with their definition of AOWK. I think it's pretty obvious that there are ways of knowing other than the scientific one. And that it's fairly obvious that the scientific method is not the only source of truth. Example: My knowledge that my love for my wife and child exists today is acquired without the scientific method, and the scientific method cannot explain why that love endures. Another example is in chaotic systems, which are ostensibly deterministic but elude rigorous predictive description. We can forecast the weather and the stock market, but we cannot truly predict it. The various industries that have sprung up about these disciplines rely on interpolation from past observations, not a total characterization of future behavior. In a nutshell, stochastic phenomena are beyond the Zen of science, and lie more in the realm of probability and uncertainty - and this fuzziness is hard-wired into the fundamental substrate of the Universe itself, much to the consternation of great minds like Einstein himself.

Likewise, it is simply true that sometimes, the tools of critical thinking and science are indeed insufficient to evaluate a given claim. This too has basis in fundamental reality; Gödel's Theorem has profound implications on the boundaries of reason[1]. In a nutshell, Gödel's Theorem states that for any rational construct of axioms and theorems, there are always statements that can be neither proved nor disproved. Or as Jones and Wilson put it,

You might be able to prove every conceivable statement about numbers within a system by going outside the system in order to come up with new rules and axioms, but by doing so you'll only create a larger system with its own unprovable statements. The implication is that all logical system of any complexity are, by definition, incomplete; each of them contains, at any given time, more true statements than it can possibly prove according to its own defining set of rules.

The main thrust of Skeptico's argument however is that he requires someone who believes something to be true to provide evidence that the mechanism by which they believe is superior to science. It is not clear to me how a given system for evaluating a statement can be said to be "better" or "worse" then another in a quantitative and meaningful way. What is the metric? Skeptico seems to implicitly assume that an answer arrived at via science is inherently rigorous, but that's not the case. Example: Neither Newtonian mechanics nor Relativity suffice to describe the N-body problem. However, they do represent stages of an asymptotically improving model of the Universe. But for such a model to accurately encompass the totality of complexity within the Universe, you'd need a model as complex as the Universe itself. Hence, you can never be sure that the truth you are describing via Science is as immutable as Truth. This anti-dogmatic trait of the scientific method is a strength, not a weakness[2].

Therefore, the demand that an AOWK be supported with "evidence" of superiority to science is a standard that science itself can not meet. A hypothetical example might be a meeting some centuries ago between someone who empirically shows that the planets revolve around the earth, and a scientist who has a mathematical model for a heliocentric universe. Based on the evidence that both bring to the table, neither can say with certainty who is correct. That we accept heliocentrism today is because we do have Relativity to explain the discrepancies of Newtonian mechanics, satellite observations, etc. But simple skepticism is not enough by itself to disprove the AOWK - the best you can say is that there is room for disagreement. The only time a scientific argument can "win" is if the latter has direct evidence disproving the claims of the other. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence - and to claim otherwise is to make a fallacy of one's own: the Argument from Ignorance.

[1] Also see these previous posts: Waiting for Gödel, the falsity of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and Flew's Wager; also see the evolving conversation at Super-rational blog.

[2] Highly relevant here is Thomas Kuhn's philosophy of "paradigm shifts" within scientific orthodoxy as occurring as "revolutions" rather than an incremental accumulation of knowledge. One case study is the theory of plate tectonics: Alfred Wegener first observed evidence for what he called "continental drift" as far back as 1915 but faced extreme resistance by the scientific community, who held to a more static view of the earth with change primarily driven by heating and cooling cycles. Today there is virtually no one who does not accept plate tectonics as the unifying model of geologic change.



In a nutshell: Good riddance.

With respect to timing, however, it was a complete mess. By executing Saddam so close to Eid al Adha, they played into his own desire for martyrdom status, and exacerbated the Shi'a-Sunni tensions already so raw in civil-war-torn Iraq.

For what it's worth, note that Saddam was hanged, so any attempt to link his execution to the act of zabihat is nonsense. This was an execution of a criminal, and anyone who tries to argue that the date of same is somehow an insult to Islam is giving Saddam a completely unwarranted religious validation. Had Saddam been beheaded, the analogy might have some grounding, but as it was, Saddam was hardly the first devil to die and won't be the last. That's the only lesson to take: Saddam was executed by his nation for crimes against his own people. That's another reason to celebrate on Eid al Adha.