A reply to Richard Dawkin’s ‘make sense’ tweets

Dear Professor Dawkins,

Today you tweeted a lot and also retweeted a lot. Below are my responses to most of those anti-religious tweets.

“God couldn’t think of a better way to forgive the sin of Adam (who never existed) than to have his son (aka himself) executed. Makes sense.”

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One Year Since My Father’s Death – Reflections on: TV, Music, Food, Religion & Sufism

On January 13 2012, my late father, may he rest in peace and light, died of cancer. We know that one in three of us will get cancer some time in our life – it’s a scary prospect but one we must acknowledge. My dad, unfortunately, first got cancer when he was about 41 or 42, which is pretty young. Age, however, is irrelevant: kids get cancer these days.  Continue reading

Islam in revolt: evolution and homosexuality

Islam, being the youngest of the three Abrahamic religions, has had the least amount of time to evolve, or “regenerate” as Martin Lings, the English writer and biographer of the Prophet Mohammed, once put it. And it’s strikingly evident: while Christianity has accepted, and welcomed debate around, homosexuality and Darwin’s evolution theory, it pales besides the resistance of change within Islam. However, for the first time in Islam’s 1400-year history, these issues are finally being openly discussed, and rightly so. Continue reading

Is Buddhism the answer to Britain’s problems?

The 2011 Census results, which came out last week, showed that the amount of people who identify themselves as Christians has declined by four million since 2001. What’s more, 14 million people, about a quarter of the population, say they had no religion at all, a rise of 6.4 million over the decade. With the Church of England receiving such negative press lately, largely because of the decision not to allow women to become bishops and its opposition to gay marriage, the future of Christianity in this country is uncertain. Continue reading

Pornified: How British culture became so porn-obsessed

110,000 people in the UK have signed a petition to protect children from online pornography which will be handed to Prime Minister David Cameron next week, to put pressure on him to take action. The petition, signed by everyone from MPs to teachers, aims to combat the rocketing tide of online porn which is affecting young children. Last week, ChildLine published statistics showing that the number of children calling the helpline over the past year has soared by one third, due to children encountering hardcore porn. It’s natural for young children to act in disgust when faced with pornographic images – however, as we get older, innate feelings within human beings slowly dissipate. Continue reading

Is praying to God useless?

When we are distressed or when we need sudden help, we often call on our Lord. Non-believers sometimes do, too. There seems to be an innate disposition within the human psyche telling us that we are not alone and that there is something above us. However, what we don’t realise is that we tend to call upon our Lord only when we need help, not when times are good.

The reasons behind praying are multifaceted and can be understood on many levels. Indeed at the heart of all the major world religions is the act of prayer, whether it be in the form of mediation or otherwise.

Praying can be seen as an act of gratitude for the blessings we continually receive; or an act of praising our Creator, simply because He is worthy of praise and, in doing so, we fulfill a primary function as human beings; or simply because we, as the creation, feel the innate tendency to worship that which is above us. Simply put: prayer is natural to us.

For Christians, there is no standardised prayer that one must perform but the purpose — like all the other dispensations — is to gain an awareness and closeness to God.

Buddhism — unlike the Abrahamic faiths — does not propound the body/soul dichotomy but teaches us about focusing the mind through deep meditative practises to attain ‘peace of mind’ – quite literally. Meditation is now used by the religious and the non-religious alike and is widely believed to help the human mind find peace and relieve worry and anxiety.

The Islamic tradition is arguably the only dispensation that has a formalised pattern of prayer that one must follow. While it may come across as a mere ritual, the perfunctory nature that many Muslims treat it as is actually abhorrent to God. The prayer, or Salah, is all about having a connection with one’s Lord, attempting to gain experiential knowledge of the Divine and cleansing oneself spiritually in the process.

Salah should begin by one emptying the mind so that full concentration can be given to one’s Lord. The prayer consists of standing, kneeling and prostrating and is therefore a physical activity as well as a spiritual one.

The prayer begins with Allah hu Akbar, God is the greatest – reminiscent of the ontological argument propounded by the Christian philosopher Saint Anselm. One is immediately reminded that there is none greater than He, and while in the state of prayer, is in the complete protection of his or her Lord.

The prostration — an act also performed by Moses (see the book of Numbers chapter 16 verse 4 in the Old Testament) and Jesus (see the book of Matthew chapter 26 verse 39 in the New Testament) — is one of deep symbolic significance. By putting one’s head on the ground, the most important part of the body and the home of the ego, we are effectively disempowering the ego – forcing ourselves to become humble and freeing our mind from the pride that often permeates it. Furthermore, it is believed that when one is prostrating, it is the closest one can be to the Divine – not physically but spiritually.

Hamza Yusuf, intellectual and Muslim scholar, says that has been mentioned in the Islamic traditions that when we prostrate ourselves before our Lord, we are symbolically (and literally) elevating our heart above our mind.

It is never too late to start praying.

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Atheism is The Answer: Why I Reject The Existence of God

I’d first like to tell you a bit about my past. I grew up in a middle class family: I went to a private school, received a good education and lived with my parents. My upbringing was a bit confusing though. My dad is an atheist but my mother is a Christian, albeit not a very practising one. On the one hand, my father told me there is no God and on the other, my mother told me Jesus is God. I felt a bit confused growing up but ,when I was 17, I made a decision for myself: I decided there isn’t a God, He is made up. In the same way there isn’t — as far as we know — unicorns, werewolves or pixies, what reason is their to believe in a God?

Let’s face it: the universe is far too complex and mysterious for us to say there is a ‘God’. A few hundred years ago, way before the recent developments in modern-day science, a belief in God would have seemed plausible. However, due to the rapid advancements in society, we no longer have any reasons to believe in a Supernatural Being. If I have any belief, it is in science; one day we will eliminate God from the equation. It’s foolish and, in fact damaging to our society to believe in such a mysterious Being when, really, we should be concentrating on the here and now.

Furthermore, I don’t need a moral code or a religious scripture to dictate to me how to behave, I can rely on my own moral compass, thank you.

Karl Marx once said that his idea of misery is “submission“. And it’s true, why should I worship and obey this ‘God’ when, not only is there no evidence for ‘His’ existence, but I have no knowledge of this mystical entity. Why does ‘He’ want us to worship Him anyway, is He that greedy for praise? I once heard someone say: ‘When we worship Him, it doesn’t benefit Him, it benefits us’. Well, that makes no sense, how exactly does it benefit us? All it does is keep us in a state of heedlessness and delusion. It benefits us in that it helps to dismiss our deep-rooted, psychological need for a father-figure and provide us comfort from the inevitable: death.

If ‘God’ really does exist, why can’t He just come down and show himself to us, is He not able to? And the very reason we say ‘He’, shows the inherent sexism indelibly marked in our Judeo-Christian heritage and, in particular, religious scriptures.

Why would God put restrictions on us and tell us what to do if He gave us free will? Why would I believe in a God who tells me that I can’t go out and drink alcohol or eat pork but then implores me to kill non-believers and accept his other barbaric codes of living?

I am not perfect, but who is? I am sometimes accused of being arrogant and having a bit too much pride, but I would like to think I’m a good person. I don’t go round killing or hurting anyone – religious extremists and suicide bombers, however, can’t exactly say the same, can they? But then they are the ones who go to ‘Heaven’? I remember reading the Bible years ago and thinking: what a pile of tripe; the Old Testament in particular is so vociferously condemning of anyone who opposes the Law, and the New Testament is riddled with contradictions. And, if Christians can’t even explain the concept of the Trinity to me, why should I believe it? Admittedly, I agree with the great man himself, Richard Dawkins, when he says Jesus was a great moral preacher. While Jesus may have been a nice person, what reason is there to believe any of his metaphysical theories? I’ve read the Quran too, well half of it, I felt uncomfortable reading it and it was too incoherent to bother with. Muslims sometimes say to me: ‘Look at all these scientific miracles in the Quran, look how amazing linguistically it is’, or worse, ‘look how amazing the Prophet Muhammad’s life was: his kindness, humility and sincerity’ – yeah, he was pretty amazing, at being a war Lord, I’ll give him that.

I don’t need a ‘God’ to make me happy: I have women and money; I live in a big house and I’ve got a great car – I’m happy with all the things I’ve got in life; although I feel a bit disquieted when I’m alone sometimes. I don’t think I’ll ever believe in ‘God’, in fact, I’m willing to place a pretty large bet that I’ll never believe in ‘Him’.

If you have taken what I said at face value, you have not understood this – read it again, think and look at the italicised words.

Understanding the Muslim festival of Eid-Al-Adha

Millions of Muslims in this country will be celebrating the festival of Eid-Al-Adha today, but what is its significance? And what can Muslims and non-Muslims learn from this special day?

The Quran expounds the story of Prophet Abraham who was told in a dream to sacrifice his one and only beloved son, Ismaeel. After much confusion, doubts and inner disquiet, Abraham decided to surrender to the call – which he knew was from his Lord. But those who are familiar with the Biblical and Quranic story will know that God was not interested in the sacrifice: He wanted to test Abraham and provide humanity with an invaluable lesson.

The Quran differs from the Biblical narrative in that Abraham first told his son that he was going to sacrifice him. However, what is fascinating is Ismaeel’s response, the young boy said: “Oh my father! Do as you have been commanded. You will find me, God willing, amongst the patient and steadfast.” This highlights that both Abraham and Ismaeel were in complete submission to the Divine.

However, God is not a Shylock. Upon raising the knife to sacrifice his son, God made the knife blunt, Abraham received a lamb instead and the test was complete. Abraham, according to Muslims, is our exemplar and the spiritual father of the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All the prophets of Islam: Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad et al, where all given great tests, but the test given to Abraham is unparalleled. Tests are an inevitable part of life, whether it be the death of a loved one, the loss of wealth or being betrayed by someone you trusted – we all go through hardships. But every test and vicissitude can be seen through, and often, the outcome benefits us. “Verily God is with those who are patient”- as the saying goes

Eid-Al-Adha also commences the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims who are financially, physically and mentally able to do so. Hajj is the single biggest human gathering in the world, it is believed that more than 3 million Muslims gather together in Mecca in unity. The pilgrimage, which Malcolm X famously went on, is unlike any other human event.

Malcolm X said: “During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.”

And:

“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures.

Islam is thus the continuation of the messages brought by Moses and Jesus and all the other prophets of God. It is not merely a religion but more a way of life; practising the faith in a purely perfunctory manner misses the point and understanding the profoundly nuanced traditions within the faith is essential.

Eid Mubarak!

Beautiful sayings of Jesus in the Islamic tradition

The following sayings by Jesus (may peace be upon him) are some of the many derived from the Islamic tradition. They’ve been taken from Hamza Yusuf’s book Walk on Water – The Wisdom of Jesus.

Jesus (pbuh) met IblÏs [Satan] and IblÏs said, “Is it not true that only what has been decreed will happen?”

Jesus replied, “That is true.”

Then IblÏs said, “So throw yourself down from the top of this mountain, and let us see if you live or not!”

Jesus answered, “The servant does not test his master; rather, it is the master who tests his servant.”

Jesus (pbuh), the son of Mary said, “God has given me the power to give life to the dead, sight to the blind, sound to the deaf; but He did not give me the power to heal the fool of his foolishness.”

It is related that Jesus (pbuh), the son of Mary,  said, “It is of no use to know something if one does not act upon it. In truth, an abundance of knowledge only increases one in pride if one does not act accordingly.”

Once someone asked Jesus (pbuh), “How are you able to walk on water?”

Jesus replied, “With certainty.”

Then someone said, “But we also have certainty!”

Jesus then asked them, “Are stone, clay, and gold equal in your eyes?”

They replied, “Certainly not!” Jesus responded, “They are in mine.”

Jesus (pbuh) was known to have said, “Virtuous action does not consist in doing good to someone who has done good to you—that is merely returning a favor. Virtuous action consists in doing good to those who have wronged you.”

Jesus (pbuh) son of Mary, said, “Do not speak much without remembering God, for by doing so, you harden your hearts. Surely a hard heart is distant from God though you are unaware. Do not, like lords, look at the faults of others. Rather, like servants, look at your own faults. In truth, humanity is comprised of only two types, the afflicted and the sound. So show mercy to the afflicted, and praise God for well-being.”

Jesus (pbuh), the son of Mary, was known to have said, “Love of this world is the source of every wrong action, and there is much harm in wealth.”

They asked, “What is its harm?”

Jesus replied, “Its possessor is never safe from pride and arrogance.”

They said, “What if he is free of those two? Is there still harm?”

Jesus responded, “Yes, for by nurturing his wealth, he is diverted from the remembrance of God.”

Some people once said to Jesus (pbuh), “O Spirit of God, inform us about the nature of wealth.”

He answered, “The possessor of wealth always has one of three qualities: he either gains it by unlawful means, obstructs it from reaching the one who deserves it, or by accumulating it is distracted from worship of his Lord.”

Jesus (pbuh), the son of Mary, said, “Love of this world and love of the next world can never reside in the heart of a believer simultaneously, just as fire and water cannot be contained in a single vessel at the same time.”

Jesus (pbuh) once said, “Woe to the possessor of this world, since he must die and leave the world behind. He places his hope in it and is deceived. He trusts it and is forsaken.

Jesus (pbuh) once said, “Woe to the deluded, for this world shows them what they detest. In the end, they must abandon what they love, and depart for that which they were promised. Woe to the one whose constant preoccupation is this world and whose grave mistakes are his very actions. What shame they will cause him soon enough!”

Jesus (pbuh) once said, “You will never obtain what you desire except through patience with what you despise.”

Once a woman said to Jesus (pbuh), son of Mary, as he was working, “Blessed be the womb that bore you, and blessed be the breast that suckled you.”

Approaching her, Jesus said, “And blessed be someone who, having read the Book of God, acted in accordance with what was in it.”

Jesus (pbuh) once said, “Work for God and not for your stomachs. Look at the birds: they rise up at dawn and enter into the evening having neither planted nor harvested, yet God provides for them. Now if you say to me, ‘Our stomachs are so much larger than those of birds,’ look then at the oxen, the wild beasts and the donkeys; they neither plow nor harvest the earth, yet God provides for them as well. Beware of the luxuries of this world, and fear them, for the luxuries of this world are filth in the sight of God.”

For more sayings by Jesus (pbuh) and references for the above quotes please visit:  http://sandala.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Walk-on-Water.pdf