Imam learns the high price of speaking out

Here’s a happy, sad and messy story about the imam of a London mosque who  preached – or at least opened for discussion the idea – that Islam and the theory of evolution are compatible – and that Muslim women should be allowed to uncover their hair in public.

The (part-time I think) imam, Dr Usama Hasan, is was a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a former planetarium lecturer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. So he’s a man of science and learning.

So far so good. Except that some other people, other Muslims, have taken exception to his suggestion that evolution is worth considering. Dr Hasan has been on the receiving end of protests at his university (he’s since stepped down from the job). The police have warned him to stay away from the Masjid al-Twahid mosque in Leyton, east London after leaflets were distributed saying he should face death for his views. (And apparently fake messages saying he’s been suspended from the mosque have been published on the web.)

He’s worried about his family. He says he’s stepped up security at his home. He fears he could be attacked like Labour MP Stephen Timms, who was stabbed by radicalised student Roshonara Choudhry, apparently in revenge for the invasion of Iraq.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that – in the light of the above – Dr Hasan has issued a clarification and then a retraction of his views on evolution.

Unwavering steadfastness is attractive in films and stories. But when your real life children are involved, is it perhaps more honourable to sideline high-minded principle – at least for a while?

I should mention that Dr Hasan has been attracting support from other Muslim figures – like Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation (which challenges Muslim extremism) and Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4UK (which promotes Muslim engagement in British society).

Inayat Bunglawala is quoted as saying that there is “widespread ignorance” about evolution among the Muslim community:

Many traditional imams are grounded in ancient books in Arabic but have very little grounding in science. I find it staggering how they can be so strongly opposed to evolution without reading about it. That seems to be opposite of the very first commandment of the Qur’an, which is to read.

Muslim religious leaders don’t have a monopoly on science -phobia. I was once taken aback to witness a vicar “correct” a child who identified the sun as a star.  But I digress…

You find other discussion about this on the Pickled Politics blog and a Guardian piece here. Dr Hasan’s own site is here – where you can read his painful/pained retractions. He dedicates his blog to the Unity of God, the unity of knowledge & the unity of the peoples of the world.

So…. it’s all a bit messy. And who dares to stumble into in-house rows in someone else’s place of worship or religion? Well, my conclusion is this – he’s welcome to come round to ours for a cup of tea – the universal panacea. And that’s what I’ve told him. (Assuming he still gets his work emails.)

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8 Comments

Filed under life, politics

8 responses to “Imam learns the high price of speaking out

  1. A good article; hard for people caught up with such dominating ignorance. I once heard fundamentalism is steadfastness gone awry, and then i think how the average human suffers when ignorance prevails. God bless all the Muslims who reflect and believe in the Unity of God.

  2. Great reflection, BWT. Isn’t it sad, though, that he has to pay this price in England, Darwin’s home country? How far then, should one have to capitulate from established cultural norms as a result of others anger and offense?

    I hope he takes you up on your offer of tea and company.

  3. This especially strange in that the anti science trend in modern Islam contradicts its history during the Dark Ages in Europe. The Islamic nations kept alive and advanced understandings in astronomy, mathematics, medicine, literature and efficient government. A degree of secularization allows the light of tolerance, equality, democratic processes and respect for woman. They treat their camels and goats better than their women. It inhibits them from modernization in the technopolis that characterizes the world today. Just as do the irrational creationists involved in politics here in the USA. I sort of Like Mike Huckabee but could not vote for a man that believes the world was created in seven days, the Adam and Eve thing and all the other mythology of the ancient Hebrews.

    • Thanks Carl for the historical points. I was going to spout off on the same angle when I wrote the post, but – hey – it was getting late, and I hoped someone else would. And you have.

      I would not agree with your camels and goats v women point though.
      Sure, some very mad bad Islamic guys have mad bad ideas about women, but I wouldn’t characterise the policies of Islamic states in general towards women in that way. Even Saudi Arabia has women in elected office – admittedly few, and though I’m not (definitely not) holding up Iran as a beacon of tolerance and equality – they have also had women parliamentarians, young women highly educated in the state sector and women working in high level medical fields (admittedly as part of religious-based gender restricted role allocation – eg female gynaecologists). So not lower than camels and goats.
      I guess at this point you might bring up the lashing women risk if they fail to observe segregation and dress codes – and… you’d have a point.

      The self-exclusion from the technopolis is an inhibitor right enough. But it can have some saving graces. Sometimes the rush to the modern undermines community and family. And sometimes having to find ways of working outside the globalised norm leads to interesting innovation – in Islamic banking and hawala money transfer systems for instance.

      But I’d also have difficulty voting for a fella who was so willing to suspend rational thought. That attitude often seems to be an easy first step to justifying just about anything – from war to the concealment of child abuse.

      @ Esther – like the definition of fundamentalism – steadfastness gone awry. A road any of us can go down I suppose when you put it like that.
      @ Kinzi – Not so far. Will keep you posted.

  4. Hey, the teacup is exactly like mine. Drink a bit o’ Bigelow nearly everyday.

    Hats off to the message. Still, as long as man in on earth there will be war.

    Buuut … we must never give up hope.

  5. It seems trivial to go into this in light of the broader context of a man whose life and family has been threatened, but this is a thought-provoking post to me. I’m an atheist (though not an outspoken one) and, as you might have guessed from a previous comment, a bit of a palaeo-buff, so this whole evolution denying issue really gets my goat. And, all due respect to Dr. Hasan, I’m afraid I do hold the view that science and religion are ultimately incompatible – to me, one is about truth regardless of one’s worldview, and one is about altering or ignoring truth to fit an existing worldview. That said, I can empathise and even support his about turn, because no matter how much stock I or anyone else might put in the value of scientific knowledge, the safety of human life has to take priority. It’s just tremendously sad the just the open discussion of this topic should be opposed with such vitriol.

  6. Barbara Rodgers

    I must say that I believe there are as many disagreements in the scientific community about what is “truth” at any given moment and that the “truths” we are handed are subject to constant revision and updating. Religion and science both have valuable things to offer humanity, but both have their fundamentalists who cling to their chosen dogma and remain intolerant and resistant to change. Evolution is change, and we are crazy if we think we are all done with evolving.

    As Albert Einstein expressed it: “The belief in an external world independent of the perceiving subject is the basis of all natural science. Since, however, sense perception only gives information of this external world or of “physical reality” indirectly, we can only grasp the latter by speculative means. It follows from this that our notions of physical reality can never be final. We must always be ready to change these notions – that is to say, the axiomatic basis of physics – in order to do justice to perceived facts in the most perfect way.”

  7. Rep

    Gratitude for a profound post.

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