Archive for the ‘Serious Business!’ Category


Today in society, most people nearly always expect love to fail. They believe that if they get too close, do too much, or fall too hard, there will be heartbreak right around the corner. If love always fails, how can we explain those few couples that have been together for 20 years plus? Most of us declare that they simply got lucky and that it could never happen to us. Well I beg to differ…

The problem with being in love starts within the self. Of course we hear many people say this, but when you’re in a relationship, the problems within yourself will resurface no matter how much you try to hide it, if not dealt with. The magic question then arises…”does true love exist within yourself”? The next question being, “if not, why is it so hard to love yourself”?

With most of us growing up in the burst of social media age, we find ourselves comparing ourselves to others instead of looking at who we are and liking what we see. Instead of dealing with our flaws,  it’s easier to go on Instagram or Facebook, Vine or YouTube, and simply turn who we are looking at, into who we want to be. We can all be our own kind of great if we were to put just as much effort into ourselves and what we put into the lives of others. If you’re different, embrace your difference. Feed off of the gifts that we were uniquely bestowed with and then you can truly become who we were always meant to be. Love, laugh, and become liberated knowing that you were made this way on purpose.

Before you go judging that special person in your life thinking he or she is too good to be true, trust your instincts, your mind, and your heart. You deserve JOY, so don’t sabotage your chance at something real by thinking you’re not good enough to receive it. True love DOES exist, but you must first love yourself enough to even take that first step. Don’t compare him or her to your past lovers, don’t dwell on the future, but just enjoy the present and who you are as an individual. After all, we were never created to conform. You are beautiful or handsome just the way you are, but let the evolution of yourself be your guide.

 

zs

Advertisements

 

                         

Verses and Ahadith

Here are some Quranic verses and Ahadith Nabvi about suicide for your reference;

  • Quranic Verse 1: “Don’t kill yourself. No doubt Allah (swt) is merciful and anyone who does so, will be pushed in fire. And it is easy for Allah (swt).” (Nisa: 4:29, 4:30)

  • Quranic Verse 2: “We are property of Allah (swt) and we will return to Allah (swt) one day.” (Baqra 2:156)

  • Quranic Verse 3: “Don’t’ kill yourself with your own hands” (Baqra 2:195)

  • Hadith No.1: “Whoever kills himself with an iron weapon, he will be tortured in hell with the same weapon”. (Bokhari)

  • Hadith No.2: “Whoever strangles himself with a rope, he will keep on strangling himself until being burnt in hell. And he who killed himself with a spear, he will keep on being killed by spear until he is sent to hell.” (Bokhari)

  • Hadith No.3: “Before death, a sick person cut his own fingers due to prolonged sickness and depression. Rasulullah (saw) saw him in dream and he was hiding his fingers. Rasulullah prayed to Allah to forgive him for cutting his own fingers”. (Muslim)

  • Hadith No.4: “A hypocrite fighting alongwith Rasulullah (saw) was very brave in the fight but when he was too much hurt, he killed himself with his own sword to avoid pain. Upon this, Rasulullah (saw) informed all that this person goes to hell. He said that there are some who do a few things to qualify for heaven, but they actually qualify for nothing except hell. Similarly, there are some whom everyone considers as going to hell, but they are actually going to heaven.” (Muslim).

  • Hadith No.5: “Rasulullah said there was a person back in time who had a painful acne and he cut his own wound whereby a lot of blood spilled and he died. Allah (swt) said “Heaven is fobidden to him”. (Muslim)

  • Hadith No.6: Whoever kills himself with a weapon made of iron, he will keep on hurting himself in hell with the same weapon in hell. And whoever kills himself with poison, he will keep on eating poison in hell. And whoever commits suicide by falling from mountain, he will keep on falling in the fire of hell forever over and over again.” (Muslim)

  • Fatwa in Durre Mukhtar: “Although one who commits suicide, will burn in hell forever, but the deceased was a Muslim before doing this act and he will be buried as per normal Muslim traditions. Such a person will be given Ghusl, Janaaza Salaat and burial in a Muslim cemetery as is the case with any other sinful Muslim. “


Note: The aim of this article is not to reject the science related to evolution. Its aim is to evoke thinking about the scientific method and the philosophy of science.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 ”In questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” Galileo Galilei

Over the past few decades there has been a growing discourse on science, evolution and its compatibility with Divine revelation. This discourse can be summarised in the following way: the theory of evolution has been established as a scientific fact therefore a believer in a particular revealed text, such as the Qur’an, must reconcile evolution with their holy book. If there is no hope for reconciliation there are three main outcomes: the religious text is discarded, evolution is renounced, or a hope for a better understanding of the religious text and evolution in the future. However, in this growing discussion there is a hidden premise. This premise is that science produces certainty, evolution is fact and science is the only way to establish or verify truth claims. This premise is assumed in the popular discussion amongst many religious people, popular scientists and even the media, and by not bringing this premise to the forefront of the debate many Muslims (and fellow theists) have been left confused and disheartened.

It is not the scope of this article to enter into a discussion concerning the various approaches taken by scholars and thinkers to reconcile evolution with revelation. What will be discussed is what can be described as a foundational approach to the discussion or what is sometimes referred to as anepistemic approach. We believe that this approach exposes the false assumption that the theory of evolution is a fact, or is certain. Therefore, the need for reconciliation is not entirely necessary. By understanding the scientific method and the philosophy of science, and applying the concepts and principles to evolution, it will be evident that it is not a fact, and thus does not reach the level of certainty. This is also true for many of the intellectual outputs of science.

It must be noted that science can reach a level of certainty – but this is very rare – and although highly effective, it has severe limitations. People need to understand this and limit it to its sphere. There are many areas of knowledge that science is de-scoped, in other words, it has no say. Therefore, people must be aware of the fanatics in this debate masquerading as bastions of truth and beacons of light for all to follow. These fanatics are the science fundamentalists who advocate a narrow and dogmatic approach to science. They presume and propagate naturalism, empiricism and scientism, all of which are incoherent and lead to philosophical absurdities. We strongly believe that people should beware of these popularisers, and understand what science really is – a blessing from God with limitations and unresolved problems concerning some of its claims to truth.

A Note on the Definition of a Fact and Certainty

The words fact and certainty in this article are going to be used interchangeably. In the context of the discussion they will mean the representation of a state of affairs (reality). The level of accuracy is affected by the type of assumptions and metaphysical presuppositions used to try and described the state of affairs. The words fact and certainty do not mean a workable theory or the best theoretical model that has yet to be proven false; this is a scientific and pragmatic approach which doesn’t take into consideration the epistemic value of a particular theory. What is meant by epistemic value is a particular theory’s level of accuracy in describing reality, a theory may be a fact from a scientific perspective, but it may have a very low epistemic value. In scientific terminology evolution is a fact, but this use of the term means confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent[1]. To deconstruct the term ‘fact’ from a scientific perspective the key term to understand is ‘confirmed’. In the context of evolution this confirmation is achieved with certain assumptions and metaphysical presuppositions. It is the purpose of this article to expose what these are, therefore, by understanding these assumptions and presuppositions it will allow the reader to think outside of the box, and appreciate that evolution is not certain, in other words it does not yet fully represent reality, even though it may be confirmed scientifically. This is why the termsfact and certainty used in this article will refer to guaranteed conclusions such as the conclusions from deductive arguments (to be discussed later). To confine ourselves to a definition of fact and certainty based on the assumptions and presuppositions of science would be incoherent because they are not established truths either – in reality some of them have been exposed as incoherent, problematic and baseless in this article.

The Epistemic Approach

The epistemic approach that we will use can be summarised in the following way; Since this whole discussion rests on the premise that evolution is a fact and has reached the level of certainty, then the easiest way to provide an intellectual response is to readdress the hidden premise. Is evolution a fact? What epistemic status does revelation have? By answering these two questions, the problem is solved. This approach follows the subsequent logical structure:

i.            Evolution is an intellectual product of science.

ii.            Science is made up of a process and a philosophy (the logic through which we build scientific knowledge, also known as the philosophy of science).

iii.            The scientific process is limited.

iv.            The philosophy of science – most of the time – does not produce certain knowledge (this type of non-certain knowledge in Islamic thought is known as al-‘ilm adh-dhann). When the philosophy of science is understood and applied to evolution, the conclusion is that it is not a fact and has not reached the level of certainty.

v.            Divine revelation is certain knowledge (this type of certain knowledge is known as al-‘ilm al-qat’i) which can be proven using deductive arguments.

vi.            Conclusions:

  1. Science is a limited method of study with its own scope and sphere.
  2. The philosophy of science brings to light a whole range of issues and problems concerning the theory and study of knowledge (epistemology).
  3. The philosophy of science, when applied to evolution, exposes it as not reaching the level of certainty.
  4. Revelation is a source of certain knowledge.
  5. In situations where science and Divine revelation are irreconcilable, revelation supersedes science.

A detailed analysis and justification for the above statements will follow.

i. Evolution is an intellectual product of science.

This is generally true, and does not require justification.

ii. Science is made up of a process and a philosophy (the logic through which we build scientific knowledge, also known as the philosophy of science).

Science is commonly thought to just involve a method or a set of steps that one has to take to ensure the results of an experiment or theory are scientific. While this is true, the philosophy of science – which is the way in which we reach conclusions from the results of a particular experiment – is often a neglected topic of popular science and rarely discussed in the public domain.

So what is the scientific method and the philosophy of science?

The scientific method

The word science comes from the Latin word scientia, meaning knowledge. A concise definition of science has been accurately stated by the philosopher Bertrand Russell,

The attempt to discover, by means of observation and reasoning based upon it, … particular facts about the world, and the laws connecting facts with one another.[2]

To elaborate on the above definition, the scientific method can be described in the following way. The scientific method:

  • Focuseson the physical natural world. Science can only answer in terms of natural phenomena and natural processes. When we ask questions like, what is the meaning of life? Does the soul exist? The general expectation is to have answers that are outside of the natural world — and hence, outside of science.
  • Aimsto explain the physical natural world. Science as a collective institution aims to produce more and more accurate natural explanations of how the natural world works, what its components are, and how the world got to be the way it is now.
  • Only accepts ideas that can be tested. For an idea to be testable, it must logically generate specific expectations – in other words, a set of observations that we could expect to make if the idea were true and a set of observations that would be inconsistent with the idea and lead you to believe that it is not true.
  • Relies on the evidencefrom testing a testable idea. Ultimately, scientific ideas must not only be testable, but must actually be tested – preferably with many different lines of evidence by many different people.[3]

So where does the philosophy of science fit it?

The philosophy of science focuses on deriving and building knowledge from the evidence gathered from testing a testable idea. For that reason, it concerns itself with the implications of the data collected from an experiment, the metaphysical assumptions used to interpret the data, and the thinking processes used to form conclusions based on scientific evidence.

iii. The scientific process is limited.

The limitations of the scientific process are rarely discussed. One key reason for this is that science has become a social enterprise. A social norm has developed that exclaims that science has replaced religion and is now the new gospel truth. Rupert Sheldrake, one of the world’s most innovative biologists and writers, who is best known for his theory of morphic fields and morphic resonance, highlights this point in his new book The Science Delusion,

Yet in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when science and technology seem to be at the peak of their power, when their influence has spread all over the world and when their triumph seems indisputable, unexpected problems are disrupting the sciences from within. Most scientists take it for granted that these problems will eventually be solved by more research along established lines, but some, including myself, think they are symptoms of a deeper malaise…science is being held back by centuries-old assumptions that have hardened into dogmas.[4]

It must be noted that the Islamic spiritual tradition does not reject science, it is quite the opposite; Islam is pro-science. According to historians of science, it was the Muslim intellectuals and scientists that were the pioneers of the scientific method. For instance, the Muslim physicist and scientist Ibn al-Haytham used experimentation to obtain the results in his Book of Optics published in 1021 CE. He combined observations, experiments and rational arguments to support his intromission theory of vision.[5] Also, the Islamic influence on the renaissance – via the establishment of Islamic Spain – was unprecedented, as Professor Thomas Arnold in his book The Preaching of Islam writes:

…Muslim Spain had written one of the brightest pages in the history of Medieval Europe. Her influence had passed through Provence into the other countries of Europe, bringing into birth a new poetry and a new culture, and it was from her that Christian scholars received what of Greek philosophy and science they had to stimulate their mental activity up to the time of the Renaissance.[6]

It is therefore fair to conclude that Islam has not been at odds with science, and this article does not intend to belittle science. In actual fact, science is seen to be a great blessing from God and a sign of His Mercy.

The scientific method is limited due to:

Sensory perception:

George Gaylord Simpson, the renowned evolutionist of Harvard, wrote,

It is inherent in any acceptable definition of science that statements that cannot be checked by observations are not really about anything—or at the very least they are not science.[7]

This means that what cannot be observed is outside the scope of science. For example, questions such as does God exist? and is there a soul? are outside the realm of the scientific method. This does not imply that such questions are meaningless, rather it exposes the limitations of the scientific process, as there are other methods that can provide answers to the above questions. The philosopher of science Elliot Sober verifies this limitation of science, he writes in his essay Empiricism,

At any moment scientists are limited by the observations they have at hand…the limitation is that science is forced to restrict its attention to problems that observations can solve.[8]

It is important to note that to claim that conclusions which have not been established via observation – and by extension science – are meaningless or false, is making the inaccurate assumption that science is the only method to verify claims to truth. This false assumption, known as scientism, will be discussed later.

Time:

Science cannot explain the past or the origins of things. For instance questions such as, what was before the Big Bang? and how did the first living cell emerge? are technically outside the realm of the scientific method. Enno Wolthius explains this in his book Science, God and You:

Science seeks to explain the behavior of that which is, and to check its explanation by means of experiments. But this experimental requirement can be met only in the present time. The past, and especially the beginning of things, lies beyond the grasp of this method, and so science can only speculate about the origin and history of the world.[9]

Morality:

In other words science is amoral. It cannot provide detailed answers to the following questions, how must we act? and what should we do? Science also removes any true meaning to our sense of objective moral obligation. If science were to be relied upon concerning this, the conclusions would lead to absurdities. Charles Darwin thought about this point in 19th century,

If…men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters, and no one would think of  interfering.[10]

What Darwin seems to be pointing out here is that our values would have no objective meaning from a scientific perspective, as we are just a by-product of a set of socio-biological circumstances. This is why the oft repeated statement you cannot get an ought from an is, is true. Science can tell us what is, but it cannot tell us what ought to be. This sense of ought is best explained outside of the scope of science, Professor of Theology and Ethics Ian Markham comments on this:

Embedded in the word ‘ought’ is the sense of  a moral fact transcending our life and world…The underlying character of moral language implies something universal and external.[11]

iv. The philosophy of science – most of the time – doesn’t produce certain knowledge (this type of non-certain knowledge in Islamic thought is known as al-‘ilm adh-dhann). When the philosophy of science is understood and applied to evolution, the conclusion is that it is not a fact and has not reached the level of certainty.

What this statement means is that – most of the time – the conclusions or implications of theoretical models and experimental data do not provide levels of knowledge that can be described as certain. The inconclusive, or non-certain  nature of science is due to major metaphysical assumptions used to interpret scientific results. This includes theoretical and experimental bias, which exposes the relative nature of scientific conclusions. When these assumptions are understood and applied to evolution the conclusion will be clear – it is not a fact and has not reached the level of certainty.

There are a whole range of conceptual, logical and philosophical issues in the philosophy of science that highlight the approximate and tentative nature of science:

The problem of Induction:

Induction is a thinking process where one makes conclusions by moving from the particular to the general. Arguments based on induction can range in probability from very low to very high, but always less than 100%.

Here is an example of induction:

I have observed that punching a boxing bag properly with protective gloves never causes injury. Therefore no one will be injured using a boxing bag.

As can be seen from the example above, induction faces a key problem which is the inability to guarantee the conclusion, because a sweeping generalisation cannot be made from a limited number of observations. The best it can provide are probabilities, ranging from low to very high.[A] In the aforementioned example the person who made the statement could not logically prove that the next person to punch a boxing bag will not get injured.

Therefore, the problem with induction is that it can’t produce certainty.[B] This issue was raised by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume in his book, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume argued that inductive reasoning can never produce certainty. He concluded that moving from a limited set of observed phenomena to making conclusions for an unlimited set of observed phenomena is beyond the present testimony of the senses, and the records of our memory.[12]

From a practical scientific perspective, generalisations made for an entire group or for the next observation within that group based on a limited set of data, will never be certain. For example, a scientist travelled to Wales and wanted to find out the colour of sheep (assuming he does not know the colour of sheep), and he started observing the sheep and recording what colour they are. Say after 150 sheep observations he found that all of them were white. The scientist would conclude based upon his data, using induction, that all sheep are white. This basic example highlights the problematic nature with the process of induction as we know sheep can also be black. Certainty using induction will never be achieved.

Professor Alex Rosenberg in his book Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction explains the problem of induction and he concludes that this is a key problem facing science; he writes,

Here we have explored another problem facing empiricism as the official epistemology of science: the problem of induction, which goes back to Hume, and added to the agenda of problems for both empiricists and rationalists. [13]

Since evolution is based on inductive generalisations from data, including direct and indirect observations, the conclusions from these will never be certain.

The problem with empiricism:

Empiricism claims that we have no source of knowledge in a subject or for the concepts we use in a subject other than sense experience. Philosopher Elliot Sober in his essay Empiricism explains the empiricist’s thesis,

Empiricists deny that it is ever rationally obligatory to believe that theories provide true descriptions of an unobservable reality…For an empiricist, if a theory is logically consistent, observations are the only source of information about whether the theory is empirically adequate.[14]

Empiricism suffers from limitations and logical problems. One form of empiricism – which we will call strong empiricism – is limited to things that can only be observed. This form of empiricism faces a whole host of logical problems. The main problem with strong empiricism is that it can only base its conclusions on observed realities and cannot make conclusions on unobserved realities. Elliot Sober explains this problem,

Empiricists need to address problems in the philosophy of perception. The most obvious first stab at saying what seeing an object involves is to describe the passage of light from the object into the eyes, with the result that a visual experience occurs. However, the invisibility of white cats in snowstorms and the fact that we see silhouettes (like the moon during an eclipse) shows that this is neither sufficient nor necessary.[15]

Further exploring Sober’s example, imagine you observe a white cat walking outside of a house towards the direction of an oncoming snowstorm; you can see the cat walking up to the snowstorm and then you can no longer see the cat. A strong empiricist’s account would be to deny that there is a cat in the snowstorm, or at least suspend any claims to knowledge. However, based on other intellectual tools at your disposal you would conclude that there is a white cat in the snowstorm regardless of whether or not you can observe one.

The problems faced by strong empiricism have not gone unaddressed by empiricists. They have responded by weakening their definition for empiricism by redefining empiricism to the view that we can only know something if it is confirmed or supported by sensory experience – we shall call this weak empiricism. Others have dogmatically maintained the view that the only way to truth is via direct observation and being supported by observation is not good enough. These responses have created an unresolved dilemma for the empiricist. The Philosopher John Cottingham exposes this problem in his book Rationalism:

But what about ‘all water at a given atmospheric pressure boils at 100 degrees Celsius’? Since this statement has the form of an unrestricted universal generalization, it follows that no finite number of observations can conclusively establish its truth. An additional and perhaps even more worrying problem is that when we reach the higher levels of science…we tend to encounter structures and entities that are not observable in any straightforward sense. Atoms, molecules, electrons, photons and the like are highly complex theoretical constructs…here we seem to be very far removed from the world of direct ‘empirical observation’…The positivists tended to respond to this difficulty by weakening their criterion for meaningfulness…it was proposed that a statement was meaningful if it could be confirmed or supported by sensory experience. However, this weaker criterion is uncomfortably vague…Statements about God or Freedom, or the nature of Substance, or the Absolute, may not be directly checkable against experience…The positivist thus seems to be faced with a fatal dilemma: either he will have to make his criterion so stringent that it will exclude the generalizations and theoretical statements of science, or else he will have to weaken his criterion sufficiently to open the door to the speculations of the metaphysician. The dilemma has remained unresolved to this day…[16]

In light of the above, since empiricism is used as a metaphysical assumption to justify evolution then it cannot claim certainty, as there is the main problem of the unobserved. It can be assumed that our observations do not encompass all phenomena therefore evolution is tentative, in other words it can change based upon future observations. For evolution to be certain, all phenomena related to the change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations must have been observed. Including observing all evolutionary processes that give rise to diversity at every level including species and individual organisms.

A prioriand Causality:

Empiricism is exposed as an incoherent metaphysical assumption because it claims that knowledge must be dependent on experience, known as a posteriori in the language of philosophy. If it can be shown that there are truths that are independent from experience, known a priori, then the empiricist’s thesis breaks down.

There are many truths that are known independent of experience and are necessarily true and not merely products of empirical generalisations. These include,

  • Mathematics and logical truths
  • Moral  and ethical truths
  • Causality
  • From semantics (deductive logic – discussed in detail later):
    • All bachelors are unmarried.
    • All bachelors are male.
    • Therefore all bachelors are unmarried males.

The innate knowledge of causality is an interesting way of exposing the empiricist’s worldview. Many empiricists in the field of quantum physics have rejected the idea of causality, known as determinism, for an indeterministic view. This contention has arisen due to the apparent observations in the quantum vacuum, that sub-atomic events behave spontaneously without any causes. From a philosophical perspective it is extremely difficult for these empiricists to justify their conclusions. This is because without the concept of causality we will not have the mental framework to understand our observations and experiences.

As mentioned above, causality is a priori, which means knowledge we have independent of any experience or observations. We know causality is true because we bring it to all our experiences, rather than our experience bringing it to us. It is like wearing yellow-tinted glasses; everything looks yellow not because of anything out there in the world, but because of the glasses through which we are looking at everything. Take the following example into consideration[C]; imagine you are looking at the White House in Washington DC. Your eyes may wonder to the door, across the pillars, then to the roof and finally over to the front lawn. You can also reverse the order of your perceptions. Contrast this to another experience, you are on the river Thames in London and you see a boat floating past. What dictates the order in which you had these experiences? When you looked at the White House you had a choice to see the door first and then the pillars and so on, as well as the ability to reverse the order of your perceptions. However, with the boat you had no choice as the front of the boat was the first to appear.

The point here is that you would not have been able to make the distinction that some experiences are ordered by yourself and others are ordered independently, unless we had the concept of causality. In the example of the boat you would not be able to understand the logical causal connection between the front of the boat and the back. In absence of causality our experiences would be very different from the way that they are. It would be a single sequence of experiences only: one thing after another. So to accept that sub-atomic events do not correspond with causality would be tantamount to denying our own experience. Philosopher John Cottingham summarises how observations already presuppose  causality,

But on Kant’s argument we would not be able to recognize the…event in the first place, unless there were a rule that makes it necessary that the order of our perceptions should be thus and not otherwise. In short, the very experience of an external event already presupposes an understanding of causal necessity.[17]

From this perspective, empiricism is faced with a huge problem. Either they accept that knowledge can be achieved outside of sensory experience or they reject causality and by doing so reject their own perceptions, which would be tantamount to rejecting empiricism itself.

Since empiricism is a key metaphysical assumption used to justify evolution, it then weakens the view that evolution is based on certainty, because empiricism faces many philosophical problems.

Popper’s Falsification, Kuhn & Feyerabend:

The philosophers and thinkers Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend radically changed our view on scientific theories. For instance, Karl Popper understood that the problem of induction will never be resolved and developed “falsification” to show which scientific theories were genuine and which where pseudo-science. Popper’s falsification states that theories cannot be proven to be true but they can be proved false. If a theory claims that something will be observed under certain circumstances, and it is not observed, then the theory is proved false.[18]

Conversely, Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend rejected the empiricist model of science but also Popper’s view that notions can be falsified by having their consequences checked against experience. Kuhn argued  that ‘normal science’  is practiced within a framework of assumptions and agreed practices, in other words it has its own paradigm. Data or experimental results that do not fit within that framework (known as anomalous results) are “routinely dismissed and explained away“[19]. Feyerabend argued that no theory can be completely consistent with the facts. He saw the use of improvised concepts to save the paradigm as essential to the progress of science. Feyerabend took examples from the history of science and argued that scientists regularly deviate from the scientific method when they use improvised ideas to explain observations that are only later justified by theory.

The key points of Kuhn and Feyerabend can be summarised in the following way:

  • A so-called observation may (and probably will) have observation bias.
  • New theories provide different conceptual lenses which will produce new ‘data’ – a new way of seeing things.
  • If observations depend on a theory and theory in some sense determines how we read the world, then there is no way of objectively deciding between two theories.[20]

Robert Sheldrake, one of the world’s most innovative biologists and writers, aptly summarises the above contentions,

Anyone who has carried out scientific research knows that data are uncertain, that much depends on the way they are interpreted, and that all methods have their limitations.[21]

Considering the perspectives on Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend, it is obvious to see that scientific theories cannot be proven in a way that gives them status of certainty. Applying the concepts developed by Kuhn and Feyerabend, we can see that evolution also faces some theoretical problems, and therefore cannot be considered as certain. For example, language acquisition in human beings has caused theoretical problems for evolution. It is not the place to discuss this at length. However, the fact that human beings seem to have an innate ability to take meagre linguistic input and develop knowledge of language that extends far beyond anything that he has learned, cannot be explained by evolution.[22]  Noam Chomsky a proponent of this perspective on language acquisition argues the difficulty evolution has in providing an adequate explanation,

…it is quite pointless to speculate about the ‘evolution’ of human language from animal communication systems.[23]

Simon M. Kirby the British Computation Linguist also raises the challenges evolution faces concerning the development of language,

This highlights an important and difficult challenge facing the study of language evolution: the need for cooperation between different disciplines and between researchers working on different aspects of the problem. Without this cooperation a satisfactory account of the evolution of human language, and therefore of human language itself, is likely to be elusive.[24]

Naturalism:

Naturalism is the view that the super-natural does not exist. The universe is like a box, a closed system, nothing outside can interfere and natural laws are an adequate account for all phenomena. Naturalism is the ontology of most atheists and scientists. They believe that plain cold matter is the source and nature of reality. It has to be made clear here that naturalism is not an epistemological thesis – it doesn’t tell us how to obtain knowledge – it is an ontology, it is the lens with which some people use to describe the source and nature of reality. Therefore, having a naturalistic presupposition is obviously going to skew the way scientific facts and experimental data are interpreted.

Philosophical naturalism faces many issues and therefore should not be used as the lens in which scientific theories are developed. These problems are called ‘recalcitrant facts’. A recalcitrant fact is a fact that resists a theory. For example, if Joe Bloggs was charged with murdering his wife on Sunday 6th January 2013 at 6PM but he could show that he was at a football game outside of the country at the time, the very fact that he was not at the murder scene is a fact that resists the theory that he murdered his wife. So the theory is incoherent and fails. This is true for naturalism. There are many recalcitrant facts that indicate the incoherence of naturalism, some of them include:

  • Consciousness
  • Language acquisition
  • Objective moral truths
  • “Big Bang” cosmology
  • Free Will

Consciousness is an interesting and powerful topic to expose the incoherence of naturalism. For example, a naturalistic ontology cannot explain intentionality which is a product of consciousness. One of the pioneers in the field of Neuroscience Wilder Penfield, explained how when the cerebral cortex of a subject was probed, the subject’s hand would move. The subject was subsequently asked who moved his hand, and he would reply that he didn’t do it, that the neuroscientist did it. If the physical brain was the cause of all conscious activity such as the subject intending to move his hand, then by probing the brain it should also cause the subjective phenomenon of intending to do something. But this wasn’t the case; the subject clearly knew that he did not intend to move his hand. Penfield concluded that there is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to decide.[25]

Although the topic of consciousness requires volumes to be explained and to respond to materialistic objections, the point that to be noted here is that naturalism cannot fully explain consciousness, especially intentionality. The philosopher J. P. Moreland in his essay The Argument from Consciousness explains that there is no plausible naturalistic explanation for the emergence of consciousness,

The truth is that naturalism has no plausible way to explain the appearance of emergent mental properties in the cosmos. Ned Block confesses that we have no idea how consciousness could have emerged from nonconsious matter: ‘we have nothing – zilch – worthy of being called a research programme…Researchers are stumped’.[26]

Evolution is a naturalist’s project. Therefore interpretations of the relevant data and observations will be filtered via the metaphysical assumption of naturalism. Since naturalism is incoherent and faces its own philosophical issues, then it follows that evolution – which has been formulated via a naturalist ontology – cannot be certain.

Scientism:

Scientism claims that a proposition is not true if it cannot be scientifically proven. In other words if something cannot be shown to be true via the scientific method, then it is false. There are a few problems with scientism, some of which we have already discussed, for instance:

    • Scientism is self-defeating. Scientism claims that a proposition is not true if it cannot be scientifically proven. But the proposition itself cannot be scientifically proven! It is like saying “there are no sentences in the English language longer than three words” or “I cannot speak one word of English”.
    • Scientism cannot prove necessary truths like mathematics and logic. For example, If P, then Q. P. Therefore, Q[27] and 3 + 3 = 6 are necessary truths and not merely empirical generalisations.
    • Scientism cannot prove moral and aesthetic truths. For example love, beauty, right and wrong.
    • Science cannot prove other sources of knowledge. For example justified beliefs via ‘authentic testimony’.

A major problem with scientism is that truths can be established outside the scientific paradigm. As aforementioned, authentic testimony is a valid source of knowledge in which epistemologists have argued at length to explain that the say so of others can – within certain criteria – provide a basis for truth.

The epistemology of testimony is the branch of the theory of knowledge concerned with how we acquire knowledge and justified belief from the say-so of other people“.[28] Therefore, one of the key questions it tries to answer is how we successfully acquire justified belief or knowledge on the basis of what other people tell us.[29]

Many truths that we hold are on the basis of authentic testimony, because we trust the statements of others and we have no good reason to reject what they have said. This is especially so when we have multiple people telling us the same thing via different chains of transmission (known as tawattur reporting in Islamic thought). Professor C. A. J. Coady highlights some of the truths we accept on the basis of testimony, he writes,

Many of us have never seen a baby born, nor have most of us examined the circulation of the blood…[30]

 Assistant Professor Benjamin McMyler in his book Testimony, Truth and Authority, explains that some of the things he knows are due to testimony,

Here are a few things that I know. I know that the copperhead is the most common venomous snake in the greater Houston area. I know that Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo. I know that, as I write, the average price for gasoline in the U.S is $4.10 per gallon. All of these things I know on the basis of what epistemologists call testimony, on the basis of being told of them by another person or group of persons.[31]

Although this is a vast topic, there is a general consensus that authentic testimony is a source of knowledge. However, there are disagreements amongst epistemologists on how we validate the transmission of knowledge via testimony. Even scientists require testimony as a source of knowledge in order to understand science itself. For instance, there are many assumptions in science that are purely based on the say so of other scientists.

Whatever discussions there are around testimony, the key point to raise here is that it is a valid source of knowledge. Therefore, the view that science is the only way to establish truth, is false. Professor Keith Lehrer summarises the validity of testimony as a source of knowledge,

The final question that arises concerning our acceptance of testimony is this. What converts our acceptance of testimony of others into knowledge? The first part of the answer is that we must be trustworthy in our evaluations of the trustworthiness of others, and we must accept that this is so. Moreover, our trustworthiness must be successfully truth-connected, that is, the others must, in fact, be trustworthy and their trustworthiness must be truth-connected. We must accept this is so. In short, our acceptance of their testimony must be justified in a way that is not refuted or defeated by any errors that we make in evaluating them and their testimony. Undefeated or irrefutable justified acceptance of the testimony of others is knowledge.[32]

Although scientism – as an issue in the philosophy of science – does not seem to provide problems for evolution, it is useful to highlight that non-scientific sources of knowledge may also play a vital role in our understanding of who we are and where we came from. It logically follows that since science is not the only way to reach conclusions about things, then we should entertain the possibility of other routes to knowledge.

v. Divine revelation is certain knowledge (this type of certain knowledge is known as al-‘ilm al-qat’i)  which can be proven using deductive arguments.

If Divine revelation is from God, then by definition its knowledge claims are true or certain. There is the obvious caveat that this depends on our understanding of what the revelation says and if we have come to the correct interpretation, however, the point here is that since it comes from the Divine – who is the All-Knowing and transcends our limitations – then what the revelation says is going to be true. An important point to highlight is that there are some unequivocal verses in the Quran and some that are open to interpretation. It seems contradictory to make this claim about the Qur’an when some of its verses will be uncertain from the perspective of what they imply and mean. However, interpreting the Qur’an has been made an intellectual endeavour between suitably qualified exegetes. What we are saying here is that the proposition here concerns the ontology of knowledge – its source and nature. Therefore, if the Qur’an is from the Divine it follows that its knowledge claims are true, regardless if we understand what these claims to knowledge are, because by definition God is the All-Knowing and His knowledge transcends human knowledge. With respect to evolution we are assuming that if the verses in the Qur’an cannot be reconciled with the science, then the Qur’an takes precedence due to its Divine nature.

The article does not intend to present a detailed case for how the Qur’an is from God; however it is important to note that using methods outside of the scientific paradigm, it can be rationalised that the book cannot have come from a human being. In other words there are no naturalistic explanations to explain the authorship of the Qur’an. There are various arguments to justify the above claim. For instance, Muslims can rely on deductive arguments to explain the miraculous nature of the Qur’an. Deductive arguments are arguments which the premises guarantee the truth of the conclusion. If the premises of a deductive argument are true then it is impossible for the conclusion to be false.

Here are some examples of deductive arguments:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause

2. The universe began to exist

3. Therefore the universe has a cause

1. Stockholm is in Norway or Sweden.

2. If Stockholm is in Norway then it is in Scandinavia.

3. If Stockholm is in Sweden then it is in Scandinavia.

4. Therefore, Stockholm is in Scandinavia.

1. All men are mortal.

2. George is a man.

3. Therefore, George is mortal.

The above are examples of valid and sound arguments.  A deductive argument is valid if the conclusion follows from its premises. It is sound if its premises are true and it is valid. With regards to the Qur’an there are many deductive arguments that can substantiate its claim of being a Divine book. For example, there is a well known deductive argument concerning the literary miracle of the Qur’an,

1. A miracle is an event that lies outside of the productive capacity of nature (there are no causal links between the event and the nature of the event).

2. The Qur’an’s literary form lies outside of the productive capacity of nature (its literary form cannot be logically explained using the Arabic language).

3. Therefore, the Qur’an is a miracle (a miracle is an act of God).

This deductive argument is valid because the conclusion logically follows from its premises. It is sound due to an overwhelming amount of evidence to substantiate the premises claims. However, it is not the place to justify and explain this argument here, for more information please read the chapterThe Challenge in the Qur’an from the book The History of the Magnificent Qur’an published by Exhibition Islam.[33]

The point that needs to be understood here is that the Qur’an can be shown to be Divine revelation, and therefore its claims to knowledge are certain and factual.

vi. Conclusions.

In light of the above it can be concluded that not only have many people misunderstood evolution, but they have misunderstood science itself. Evolution may be a coherent explanation based upon its own metaphysical assumptions, theoretical limitations and philosophical presuppositions, but it is not certain knowledge. This is because the scientific method is limited and the intellectual tools used to understand the results and data from scientific experiments do not – most of the time – produce certainty. Since revealed texts are certain and science cannot produce certain knowledge, revealed texts will always supersede science if there is a need for reconciliation and if there are irreconcilable differences. For the Muslim, this revealed text is the Qur’an, and this text can be established as a Divine book outside of the method and philosophy of science using deductive arguments.

The irony of this evolution debate is that majority of the people who believe in evolution do so out of the testimony of others, namely our teachers at school or the books we read, because we haven’t done the experiments ourselves. This is no different than a new form of priesthood – the scientific priesthood! But we must be wary, teachers and scientists and priests are human beings, and humans err. For example Marc Hauser, a Harvard professor of biology, was found guilty of misconduct as he invented and falsified data in experiments on monkeys. This was not detected by peer reviewers but by a student whistleblower. Hauser, an atheist, authored the book Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong in which he claims morality is an inherited instinct and that atheists are just as ethical as churchgoers.[34] The point being made here is that although we must respect scientists and teachers, we should not do so blindly. Rather, we must always understand knowledge and claims of truth from an epistemological perspective, meaning does this knowledge have the right to claim certainty? By understanding the scientific method and its philosophy we can easily conclude that it is a blessing and mercy from God, but it does not – most of the time – produce certain knowledge.

This brings us to briefly address scientific consensus. Many people who claim that evolution is certain do so on the say-so of others. They cite the scientific consensus on the issue as a defeater to anyone who claims otherwise. However, if we look into the history of science this position is unsound. There are many examples to show that when the scientific and academic authorities of the time thought something to be 100% certain, they were later proved to be wrong. For example in 1843 Oliver Wendell Holmes published  work on the contagiousness of puerperal fever but the scientific community attacked his conclusion. Just a few years prior to Wendell in 1775 Dr Alexander Gordon published a paper on contagious nature of puerperal fever. His paper highlighted the importance of the correct hygiene as a means to prevent the spread of the disease. Nevertheless, his paper faced harsh criticism and immense opposition. Many lives would have been saved if the scientific consensus was less dogmatic and open to the fact that a consensus should be there to be broken, all of which is in the spirit of the scientific process. There are many similar examples in the history of science, and if we can learn anything from them, is that a scientific consensus on an issue doesn’t necessarily make it the truth.

Interestingly there have been intellectual exchanges and debates concerning philosophical issues in evolution. For example, in the academic volumeConceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology, that was written to highlight the conceptual issues that arise in the theory and practice of evolutionary biology, its editor writes,

Evolutionary biology is a living, growing discipline, and the same is true of the philosophy of evolutionary biology. One sign that a discipline is growing is that there are open questions, with multiple answers still in competition.[35]

Even from an experimental and theoretical perspective there are many academics that have published peer reviewed work that still questions the coherence of evolution. For example a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Bioremediation, Biodiversity and Bioavailability, written by Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, Kurt Stüber, Heinz Saedler and Jeong Hee Kim, entitled ‘Biodiversity and Dollo’s Law: To What Extent can the Phenotypic Differences between Misopates orontium and Antirrhinum majus be Bridged by Mutagenesis’ concluded that the debate continues whether mutations and selection alone will be sufficient to produce all the new genetic functions and innovations necessary for the cytoplasm, membranes, and cell walls.[36]

On a final note, this reminds me of a personal conversation I heard of Richard Dawkins. Someone questioned the answer he gave to an audience member at the World Atheist Convention in Ireland, which was “why did you tell them not to study the philosophy of science and ‘just do the science’?”, his silence really spoke volumes. Once you study the philosophy of science you will start to appreciate science for what it is; a useful evolving tool (no pun intended). It is not the only way to justify claims to truth, and it does not necessarily give you certainties, especially if it is laden with assumptions, theoretical presuppositions and limitations.

Footnotes & References


[A] There are two main types of induction, strong induction and weak induction. Strong induction moves from the particular to the general in a way that makes a conclusion for the whole group. Weak induction moves from the particular to the general in a way that makes a conclusion for the next observation.

An example of strong induction is the conclusion that all ravens are black because each raven that has ever been observed has been black.

An example of weak induction is that because every raven that has ever been observed has been black, the next observed raven will be black.

[B] Induction can reach certainties but not in the form of generalisations. For example,

I observe an instance of A with the quality B.

Therefore, the nature of A allows B.

 If you have observed Crows that are black you can conclude with certainty that some Crows are black. But you could not achieve certainty if you concluded that all Crows were black based on a limited set of observations. This type of induction that produces certainty doesn’t apply to evolution as inductive reasoning in the form of generalisations is not certain.

[C] This argument has been adapted from the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s book Kritik der Reinen Vernuft (A Critique of Pure Reason).

zs

 
 

                                              [1] http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html

[2] Bertrand Russell. Religion and Science. Oxford University Press. 1935, p. 8.

[3] Adapted and taken from Understanding Science: How Science Really Works http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/whatisscience_03

[4] Rupert Sheldrake. The Science Delusion. Coronet. 2013, p. 6.

[5] D. C. Lindberg. Theories of Vision from al-Kindi to Kepler. University of Chicago Press. 1976, pp. 60–7.

[6] Thomas Arnold. The Preaching of Islam, p. 131.

[7] George Gaylord Simpson. The Nonprevalence of Humanoids. 1964. Science, 143:769, Feb. 21.

[8] Elliot Sober “Empiricism” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Edited by Stathis Psillos and Martin Curd. 2010, pp. 137-138.

[9] Enno Wolthius. Science, God & You. Baker Book House. 1963.

[10] Charles Darwin. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. Second Edition. New York. 1882, p. 99.

[11] Ian Markham. Against Atheism: Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris Are Fundamentally Wrong. 2010,  p. 34.

[12] David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 108.

[13] Professor Alex Rosenberg. Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction. 2012, p. 198.

[14] Elliot Sober “Empiricism” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Edited by Stathis Psillos and Martin Curd. 2010, p. 129.

[15] Elliot Sober “Empiricism” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Edited by Stathis Psillos and Martin Curd. 2010, p. 131.

[16] John Cottingham. Rationalism. Paladin. 1984, pp. 109 -110.

[17] Ibid p. 88.

[18] See Karl Popper. Conjectures and Refutations. Routledge and Keagan Paul, 1963, pp. 33-39; from Theodore Schick, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Science. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 2000, pp. 9-13.

[19] Rupert Sheldrake. The Science Delusion. Coronet. 2013, p. 297.

[20] See Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Paul Feyerabend’s article “Explanation, Reduction and Empiricism”.

[21] Rupert Sheldrake. The Science Delusion. Coronet. 2013, p. 298.

[22] Recent Contributions to the Theory of Innate Ideas, p. 123.

[23] Noam Chomsky cited in A. Denkel’s “The Natural Background of Meaning” p. 108.

[24] [Prefinal Draft] Kirby, S. (2007). The evolution of language. In Dunbar, R. and Barrett, L., editors, Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, pp. 669–681. Oxford University Press.

[25] See Mystery of the Mind: A Critical Study of Consciousness and the Human Brain. Princeton University Press. 1978.

[26] J. P. Moreland. “The Argument from Consciousness” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. 2009, p. 340.

[27] Access the following link to understand what this means http://www.philosophy-index.com/logic/forms/modus-ponens.php

[28] Benjamin McMyler. Testimony, Truth and Authority. Oxford University Press. 2011. p. 3.

[29] The Epistemology of Testimony. Edited by Jennifer Lackey and Ernest Sosa. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 2006, p. 2.

[30] C. A. J. Coady. Testimony: A Philosophical Study. Oxford University Press. 1992, p. 82.

[31] Benjamin McMyler. Testimony, Truth and Authority. Oxford University Press. 2011. p 10.

[32] Keith Lehrer cited in The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford University Press. 2006, p. 158

[33] To purchase the book please access the following link http://www.exhibitionislam.com/books.aspx?ID=28

[34] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Hauser#Scientific_misconduct

[35] Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology. Edited by Elliot Sober. The MIT Press. 2006, p. ix.

[36] Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, Kurt Stüber, Heinz Saedler, Jeong Hee Kim, “Biodiversity and Dollo’s Law: To What Extent can the Phenotypic Differences betweenMisopates orontium and Antirrhinum majus be Bridged by Mutagenesis,”Bioremediation, Biodiversity and Bioavailability, Vol. 1(1):1-30 (2007).


“No question is more sublime than why there is a universe: why there is anything rather than nothing.”[1]

When we reflect upon our own existence we will come to the realisation, that at some point in time, we began to exist. Since we were once non-existent and are now in existence, it follows that we must have had a beginning. In light of this, the Qur’an raises some profound questions: were we created by nothing? Did we create ourselves? Or did we create the universe?

“Or were they created by nothing? Or were they the creators (of themselves)? Or did they create heavens and earth? Rather, they are not certain.” Quran 52:35-36

These questions can be addressed to the existence of everything temporal, in other words the entire universe. Therefore, the exegetical implications of these verses can be logically formulated in the following way:

Things that began to exist were either:-

1. Created or brought into being from nothing
2. Self caused or self created
3. Created or brought into being by something else that began to exist
4. Created or brought into being by a non-created or un-caused entity

Before we proceed, the first presupposition has to be subtantiated, as it forms the basis for the Qur’an’s argument for the existence of God. This first assumption is that the universe began to exist.

Did the universe begin to exist?

To substantiate the view that the universe began to exist we can bring into our discussion a plethora of philosophical and inductive arguments:

1. The second law of thermodynamics
2. The absurdity of an infinite history of past events
3. Astrophysical evidence

1. The second law of thermodynamics

The concept of entropy was introduced to explain the direction of various processes that occur in the natural world. Entropy is a measure of how evenly energy is distributed in a system. For example, heat always flows from a body of a higher temperature or energy (low entropy) to one of a lower temperature or energy (high entropy). Take the following illustration of a container with gas,


when the partition is removed, the gas in one end of the container will spread to the whole of the container, going from a state of low entropy (higher temperature or energy) to high entropy (lower temperature or energy).

Hence, according to the second law of thermodynamics, processes in a closed system tend towards higher entropy, as their energy is being used.

Applying the second law of thermodynamics to the universe we will conclude that it must have began to exist. Since the universe is a closed system, with enough time the universe will suffer a heat death or thermodynamic equilibrium. When systems are in thermodynamic equilibrium, they cannot transfer energy. This is because entropy can only increase over time. Therefore, as the universe continues to expand it will eventually become cold and dead. However this raises a question, if the universe never began to exist it would imply that the universe has existed for an infinite amount of time. If this is true then why isn’t the universe already in a state of heat death? This strongly suggests that the universe must have had a beginning, because if it didn’t it would imply that it has existed for an infinite amount of time, which would mean that it should already have suffered a heat death. Since it hasn’t suffered a heat death, it strongly indicates that the universe is finite, meaning it began to exist.

2. The absurdity of an infinite history of past events

Some philosophers such as Bertrand Russell argued that the universe is eternal, meaning it has no beginning and it will never end. However if we think about this we will conclude that this position is irrational. If the universe never had a beginning it means there must be an infinite history of past events. Yet does an actual infinite exist in the real world? Is it possible?

The concept of the actual infinite cannot be exported into the real world, because it leads to contradictions and doesn’t make sense. Let’s take the following examples to illustrate this point:

1. Say you have an infinite number of balls, if I take 2 balls away, how many do you have left? Infinity. Does that make sense? Well, there should be two less than infinity, and if there is, then we should be able to count how many balls you have. But this is impossible, because the infinite is just an idea and doesn’t exist in the real world. In light of this fact the famous German mathematician David Hilbert said,

“The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought…the role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea.”[2]

2. Imagine you are a soldier ready to fire a gun, but before you shoot you have to ask permission for the soldier behind you, but he has to do the same, and it goes on for infinity. Will you ever shoot? No you wouldn’t. This highlights, the absurdity of an infinite regress and this applies to events to. Therefore, there cannot be an infinite history of past events.

3. Take the distance between two points, one may argue that you can subdivide the distance into infinite parts, but you will always be subdividing and never actually reach the ‘infinitieth’ part! So in reality the infinite is potential and can never be actualised. Similarly the ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle explained,

“…the infinite is potential, never actual: the number of parts that can be taken always surpasses any assigned number.”[3]

So if we refer back to an infinite history of past events we can conclude, since events are not just ideas they are real, the number of past events cannot be infinite. Therefore the universe must be finite, in other words the cosmos had a beginning.

3. Astrophysical evidence

The ‘Big Bang’ is the prevailing theory in cosmology. It was first formulated by the aid of some observations made by an American Astronomer called Edwin Hubble. While Hubble was trying to understand the size of the universe, he observed immensely luminous stars called Cepheid Variables and noticed something peculiar. He observed that some of these stars were further away than initially anticipated, and that their colour was slightly changed, shifting towards red, something now known as red-shift. From Hubble’s observations we were able conclude that everything seems to be moving away from each other, in other words the universe is effectively expanding. As time moves on the universe continues to expand, but if time is reversed, the theory is that everything starts to coalesce and come together. Coupled with the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, which is the radiation uniformly filling the observable universe, the idea of the ‘Big Bang’ was born. In other words the universe began at a cataclysmic event which created space-time and all matter in the universe. The physicist P. C. W. Davies explains,

“If we extrapolate this prediction to its extreme, we reach a point when all distances in the universe have shrunk to zero. An initial cosmological singularity therefore forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity. For this reason most cosmologists think of the initial singularity as the beginning of the universe. On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.”[4]

Although our understanding of what happened 10-43 seconds after the ‘Big Bang’ is highly speculative, astrophysicists now concede little doubt that this universe in which we live is the aftermath of the emergence and expansion of space-time, which occurred approximately 14 billion years ago. John Gribbin, an astrophysicist at Cambridge University, summarises the importance of ‘Big Bang’ cosmology,

“…the discovery of the century, in cosmology at least, was without doubt the dramatic discovery made by Hubble, and confirmed by Einstein’s equations, that the Universe is not eternal, static, and unchanging.”[5]

Thus the ‘Big Bang’ model describes our universe as having a beginning a finite time ago. As Alex Vilenkin, one of the world’s leading theoretical cosmologists, writes,

“It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”[6]

Other models have been proposed to try and explain away the obvious metaphysical questions that arise from a finite universe, for instance P.C.W. Davies questions,

“What caused the big bang? . . . One might consider some supernatural force, some agency beyond space and time as being responsible for the big bang, or one might prefer to regard the big bang as an event without a cause. It seems to me that we don’t have too much choice. Either…something outside of the physical world…or…an event without a cause.”[7]

These models include the oscillating and vacuum fluctuation models. These models however still have principles that necessitate a beginning to the universe, in other words they are non-infinitely extendable into the past. Take the oscillating model as an example, this model maintains that if the gravitational pull of the mass of the universe was able to surmount the force of its expansion, then the expansion could be changed into a cosmic contraction or ‘Big Crunch’, and then into a new expansion, with the process continuing ad infinitum. However, there are a few issues with this model,

1. Firstly there is nothing available in modern physics that would allow a universe that is collapsing to spring back into a new expanding universe.

2. Secondly the mean mass density of the universe, derived from observational evidence, has shown that it is not enough to develop the required gravitational force to stop and reverse the expansion of the universe.

3. Thirdly, the second law of thermodynamics (as discussed above) implies the finitude of the universe. According to the oscillation model, the entropy is conserved from cycle to cycle of the various oscillations of expansion, crunch and expansion. This has the effect of generating larger and longer oscillations. Therefore the thermodynamic property of this model implies a beginning, as the universe that we exist in has not suffered a heat death, or thermodynamic equilibrium.

Since we have presented good evidence that the universe began to exist. We can now address the logically possible explanations the Qur’an presents as rationalisations of the origins of the universe.

Created or brought into being from nothing

We know the universe couldn’t have come out of nothing, because out of nothing, nothing comes! This is an undeniable philosophical principle, as P. J. Zwart in his publication About Time explains,

“If there is anything we find inconceivable it is that something could arise from nothing.”[8]

A significant point to raise here is that nothingness should not be misconstrued as the nothingness that some physicists talk about. The term nothingness in this context refers to the absence of anything physical, in other words there is no pre-existing ‘stuff’. In light of the beginning of the universe, there was absolutely nothing before it began to exist, which is why physicists have explained the universe as having a space-time boundary.

However, nothingness as defined by some physicists relates to the quantum vacuum. This is misleading because the quantum is something. In quantum theory the vacuum is a field of energy pervading the whole of the universe. In the word’s of John Polkinghorne, a philosopher of science, the quantum vacuum,

“…is not ‘nothing’; it is a structured and highly active entity.”[9]

So, in context of some of the physicists’ definition, the universe could not have come from absolutely nothing, as the quantum vacuum is something. It is a sea of fluctuating energy, which is still part of the cosmos and it did not pre-exist the universe. This point leads us nicely to the next possible explanation.

Self caused or self created

Philosophically, the universe couldn’t have created itself because that would imply a paradox. It would mean that something can exist and not exist at the same time. The logical ends of this explanation are tantamount to saying that your mother gave birth to herself!

Recently, the world renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking in his new book The Grand Design argues that the universe did self create due to the law of gravity,

“Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing…”[10]

But his view on nothing, as previously mentioned, is not really nothingness but is space filled with the quantum vacuum, which is part of the universe. In essence Hawking is telling us that the universe can create itself, but it has to already exist for it to do that!

Concerning the law of gravity, well that is just a mathematical equation that describes nature. This law is part of the universe, which can also be described as a force of attraction between material objects. Therefore, how can this force exist before matter, in other words the universe?

To assert that the universe created itself would be absurd and self refuting, because in order for something to create itself it would need to exist before it existed!

Created or brought into being by something else that began to exist

This is not an adequate explanation for the origins of the universe. The universe could not have owed its existence to another state of temporal physical existence. To maintain such an explanation would be equivalent of expanding the boundaries of the universe, as all things which have a temporal beginning exist within the universe. Also, if temporal physical existence owes itself to another temporal physical existence ad infinitum, it doesn’t explain anything. Rather it highlights the absurdity of an infinite regress, and that there has to be a beginning to the temporal physical states, which logically must be a non-physical state.

Take the following example into consideration. If the universe, U1, followed another temporal cause U2, and U2 followed another temporal cause U3, and this went on ad infinitum we wouldn’t have the universe U1 in the first place. Think about it this way, when does U1 come into being? Only after U2 has come into being. When does U2 come into being? Only after U3 has come into being. This same problem will continue even if we go to infinity. If U1 depended on its coming into being on a chain of infinite temporal causes, U1 would never exist. As the Islamic Philosopher and Scholar Dr. Jaafar Idris writes,

“There would be no series of actual causes, but only a series of non-existents, as Ibn Taymiyyah explained. The fact, however, is that there are existents around us; therefore, their ultimate cause must be something other than temporal causes.”[11]

Created or brought into being by a non-created or un-caused entity

Since something cannot come from nothing, and self creation is absurd, including the unreasonableness of the aforementioned explanation, then the universe being created or brought into existence by an uncaused entity is the best explanation. This concept is intuitive but also agrees with reality: whatever begins to exist has a cause or a creator.

This cause or creator must be uncaused due to the absurdity of an infinite regress, in other words an indefinite chain of causes. To illustrate this better, if the cause of the universe had a cause and that cause had a cause ad infinitum, then there wouldn’t be a universe to talk about in the first place (something we have already discussed above). For example, imagine if a Stock Trader on a trading floor at the Stock Exchange was not able to buy or sell his stocks or bonds before asking permission from the investor, and then this investor had to check with his, and this went on forever, would the Stock Trader every buy or sell his stocks or bonds? The answer is no. In similar light if we apply this to the universe we would have to posit an uncaused cause due to this rational necessity. The Qur’an confirms the uncreatedness of the creator, God,

“He neither begets nor is born.” Qur’an 112:3

The cause or creator for the universe must be a single cause for several reasons. An attractive argument to substantiate this claim includes the use of the rational principle called Occam’s razor. In philosophical terms the principle enjoins that we do not multiply entities beyond necessity. What this basically means is that we should stick to explanations that do not create more questions than it answers. In the context of the cause for the universe we have no evidence to claim multiplicity, in other words more than one. The Qur’an affirms the Oneness of the creator,

“Say: He is God, [who is] One.” Qur’an 112:1

However some philosophers and scientists claim: why doesn’t the cause be the universe itself? Why can’t the cause stop at the universe? Well, the problem with these claims is that they would imply that the universe created itself, which we have already discussed, is absurd. Additionally, we have good reasons to postulate a cause for the universe because the universe began to exist, and what begins to exist has a cause.

Our argument thus far allows us to conclude that this cause or creator must be non contingent meaning that its existence is dependent on nothing but itself. If it were contingent it would be one more effect in the chain of causes. The Qur’an verifies this,

“God is Independent of (all) creatures.” Qur’an 3:97

The cause or creator must also be transcendent, this means that the cause of the universe must exist outside of and apart from the universe. Since this being exists apart from the universe it must be non-physical or immaterial, if it was material then it would be part of the universe. This is confirmed in the Qur’an,

“There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the Hearing, the Seeing” Qur’an 42:11

This cause must have the power to create the universe, without this ability nothing could be created. The Qur’an testifies to God’s power,

“Certainly, God has power over all things.” Qur’an 2:20

This cause must have a will, because it wouldn’t be able to create the universe without one. What this means is that it must have a will so the power to create could be acted on. The Qur’an refers to God as having a will in many places, for instance,

“And God guides whom He wills to a straight path.” Qur’an 2:213

In summary, we have concluded what the Qur’an concluded over 1400 years ago, that a creator for the universe exists, that is one, has a will, is powerful, uncaused, immaterial and eternal.

Quantum Physics Undermines the Argument

A common contention to the central argument made in this essay is that the assumption – whatever begins to exist has a cause – is false. This is due to the apparent observations in the quantum vacuum that sub-atomic events behave spontaneously without any causes. In light of this common contention there are some good objections we can raise:

1. Firstly, the view that some events just happen, also known as indeterminism, for no reason at all is impossible to prove conclusively. Our inability to identify a cause does not necessarily mean that there is no cause.

2. Secondly, there are deterministic perspectives adopted by physicists to explain these so-called spontaneous sub-atomic events. For instance in the 1950s David Bohm showed there was an alternative formulation of quantum theory that is fully deterministic in its basic structure. [12] Commenting on Bohm’s theory Polkinghorne explains,

“In Bohm’s theory there are particles which are as unproblematically objective and deterministic in their behaviour as Sir Isaac Newton himself might have wished them to be. However, there is also a hidden wave, encoding information about the whole environment. It is not itself directly observable, but it influences in a subtle and highly sensitive manner the motions of the particles in just such a way as to induce the experimentally observed probabilistic effects.”[13]

What this means is that the apparent indeterminism present at the quantum level can be explained deterministically by this hidden wave that produces observed indeterministic or probabilistic effects.

However, since these two interpretations of quantum theory are empirically equivalent the choice between them will not be based on a scientific decision but on a metaphysical one. This leads to the philosophical objection to this contention.

3. Thirdly, from a philosophical perspective it is extremely difficult for these physicists (who adopt an indeterministic explanation of sub-atomic events) to justify their conclusions. This is because without the concept of causality we will not have the mental framework to understand our observations and experiences. In philosophical terms causality is a priori, which means knowledge we have independent of any experience. We know causality is true because we bring it to all our experience, rather than our experience bringing it to us. It is like wearing yellow-tinted glasses, everything looks yellow not because of anything out there in the world, but because of the glasses through which we are looking at everything. Take the following example into consideration; imagine you are looking at the White House in Washington DC. Your eyes may wonder to the door, across the pillars, then to the roof and finally over to the front lawn. Now contrast this to another experience, you are on the river Thames in London and you see a boat floating past. What dictates the order in which you had these experiences? When you looked at the White House you had a choice to see the door first and then the pillars and so on. However, with the boat you had no choice as the front of the boat was the first to appear.

The point to take here is that you would not have been able to make the distinction that some experiences are ordered by yourself and others are ordered independently, unless we had the concept of causality. In absence of causality our experience would be very different from the way it is. It would be a single sequence of experiences only: one thing after another. So to accept that sub-atomic events do not correspond with causality would be tantamount of denying our own experience!

zs

References

[1] Derek Parfit, “Why Anything? Why This?” London Review of Books 20/2 (January 22, 1998), page 24.
[2] David Hilbert. On the Infinite, in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. with an Intro. by P. Benacerraf and H. Putnam. Prentice-Hall. 1964, page151.
[3] Aristotle, Physics 207b8 (available online here http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/physics.html)
[4] P. C. W. Davies, “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser (Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1978), pages 78–79.
[5] John Gribbin, In the Beginning: The Birth of the Living Universe (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993), page 19.
[6] Alex Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universe. Hill and Wang. 2006, page 176.
[7] Paul Davies, “The Birth of the Cosmos,” in God, Cosmos, Nature and Creativity, ed. Jill Gready (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1995), pages. 8-9.
[8] P. J. Zwart, About Time (Amsterdam and Oxford: North Holland Publishing Co., 1976), pages 117-19
[9] John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale. Questions of Truth. 2009, page 41
[10] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. 2011, page 180.
[11] http://www.jaafaridris.com/English/Books/physicists.htm accessed 1 October 2011, 10:32AM.
[12] See D. Bohm and B. J. Hiley. The Undivided Universe. Routledge, 1993.
[13] John Polkinghorne. Science and Religion in Quest of Truth. SPCK. 2011, page 39


Some principles of Sufism, the role of the “Sheikh”, The Covenant, “Dhikr” and Sufism’s stance on the interpretation of the Quran; all of which strongly contradict the teachings of Islam.

 

Principles of Sufism

 

‘Willful and total submission to the Sheikh’, is probably the motto of Sufism.  From a glance, it is clear that a special and complete bond is formed between the head of the Sufi order (the ‘Sheikh’) and the Mureed (follower); understanding the principles of Sufism lies in understanding its basic structure.  So what is it all about?

Basically, the follower gives a pledge of allegiance, whereby he pledges to obey the Sheikh, and in turn the Sheikh promises to deliver the follower from every problem or calamity that may befall him.  The Sheikh also offers the sincere follower lucrative fringe benefits.  Once a follower agrees, he is blessed and assigned a set of Dhikr (chants).  The follower is also to carry on with his life in a manner that is laid out by the Sufi order.  If a conflict arises between his duties within the order and outside duties, the follower is to act upon the instructions of the Sheikh.  In this manner the Sheikh’s hold over the follower becomes absolute.

All in all, the follower is separated from the outside world and is exploited in many ways.  As Muslims we believe that no human has a special power or ability to deliver us from the calamities of the grave or the Hereafter.  Each of us will stand before God and will be judged individually.

God tells us:

“And every soul earns not [blame] except against itself, and no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another.” (Quran 7:164)

We also believe that as Muslims we are not to submit and surrender ourselves to anyone but God, Almighty.  Besides the Creator, all else is apt to make error.  The Prophet, may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him, said:

“Every son of Adam makes mistakes and the best of them are those who repent.” (Tirmidthi)

The Sheikh

He is the ‘supreme authority’, the head of ‘job’ distribution within the Order and gives each of the followers their necessary Dhikr.  It is to this individual whom the follower pledges full and total obedience; thereafter, the two universal laws of the Sheikh-follower bondage will come into effect:

a.     The follower must never argue with the Sheikh, nor ask him for a proof in relation to the actions he does.

b.    Whoever opposes the Sheikh, will have broken the ‘covenant’ and is thus debarred from all fringe benefits offered by the Sheikh, even if he stays a close friend to him.

As Muslims we believe that all acts of worship are ‘Tawqeefiyah’, i.e. not subject to opinion; thus must be substantiated with textual evidences that are both authentic and decisive.  God, Almighty, tells us:

“Say (to them), ‘produce your proof if you are truthful.’” (Quran 2:111)

We believe that there is no middle-man between God and His slaves.  We are to call unto Him directly.  God tells us:

“And your Lord says, ‘Call upon Me; I will respond to you.’ Indeed, those who disdain My worship will enter Hell [rendered] contemptible.” (Quran 40:60)

In Sufism, the Sheikh is thought to be ‘the inspired man to whose eyes the mysteries of the hidden are unveiled, for the Sheikhs see with the light of God and know what thoughts and confusions are in man’s hearts.  Nothing can be concealed from them.’[1]  Ibn Arabi, claimed that he used to receive direct revelation from God, similar to the way that Prophet Muhammad did, and was quoted as saying: “Some works I wrote at the command of God sent to me in sleep, or through mystical revelations.”  M. Ibn Arabi, “The Bezels of Wisdom,” pp.3

We believe that the knowledge of the unseen is restricted to God alone.  Anyone who claims the knowledge of the unseen has indeed told a lie.  God tells us:

“And who is more disbelieving than he who forges a lie against God, or says, ‘It has been revealed to me,’ when nothing has been revealed to him?”(Quran 6.93)

The Prophet said:

“Do not forge lies against me, because he who does so enters the Fire.” (Saheeh Muslim)

The Covenant

This is an interesting ceremony, which by far, is the most important principle of Sufism as it is common among all Sufi Orders.  Here the Sheikh and the follower hold hands and close their eyes in solemn meditation.  The follower willfully and wholeheartedly pledges to respect the Sheikh as his leader and guide to the path of God.  He also pledges to adhere to the rites of the Order throughout his life and promises never to walk away, along with this the follower pledges complete and unconditional allegiance, obedience and loyalty to the Sheikh. After this the Sheikh recites:

“Verily, those who take the allegiance to you take it to Allah.” (Quran 48:10)

The follower is then given his specific Dhikr.  The Sheikh asks the follower: “Have you accepted me as your Sheikh and spiritual guide before God, Almighty?” In reply, the follower is to say: “I have accepted,” and the Sheikh responds saying: “And we have accepted.”  Both of them recite the Testimony of Faith and the ceremony is ended by the follower kissing the Sheik’s hand.

This entire ceremony was unknown during the Prophet’s life and the best three generations that preceded him.  The Prophet said:

“Whoever lives after me shall see many differences (i.e. religious innovations); so adhere to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of my Rightly Guided Caliphs.” (Abu Dawood)

The Prophet also said:

“Verily, the best of speech is the Book of God, and the best of guidance is the guidance of (Prophet) Muhammad and the evil of all religious matters are the innovations.  Every innovation (in religion) is a bid’ah and every bid’ah is misguidance, and every misguidance will lead to the Fire.” (Saheeh Muslim)

Imam Malik, may Allah grant him His Mercy, said: “He who introduces aninnovation in the religion of Islam and deems it a good thing in effect claims by that Muhammad betrayed (the trust of conveying) the Divine Message.”

The Dhikr

It is also known as the ‘Wird’ and in Sufism it is the practice of repeating the name of God, and the repetition of a set number of invocations.  These invocations may include beseeching the dead or seeking help from other than God for needs that only God Almighty can grant.

Ahmad at-Tijani, a Sufi Elder, claimed that the wird was withheld by Prophet Muhammad; he did not teach it to any of his Companions.  At-Tijani claimed that the Prophet knew that a time would come when the wird would be made public but the person who would do that was not yet in existence.  As a result, Sufis believe that there is an ongoing chain of transmission between Prophet Muhammad and their current Sheikh.

Dhikr is categorized by the Sufi elders into three categories:

  1. Dhikr of the commoners, in which they are to repeat ‘La ilaaha ill-Allah Muhammad-ur-Rasoolullah’ (i.e. there is no God worthy of being worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is the slave of God.)
  2. Dhikr of the high class, which is to repeat the name of God, ‘Allah’.
  3. Dhikr of the elite, which is to repeat the Divine pronoun ‘Hu’, (i.e. He).

At times, the Dhikr is chanted in melodic hymns with eyes closed, rich music may be played (to some this is essential); moreover, some will dance before the Sheikh while saying the Dhikr.  Many a time the Dhikr includes open polytheism (the greatest sin in Islam).  God tells us:

“And it has been revealed to you and to those before you: If you attribute partners to God, your deed shall surely be in vain and you shall certainly be among the losers.” (Quran 39:65)

Interpretation of the Quran

In Sufism, studying the exegesis of the Quran or pondering the meanings of its verses is discouraged, and at times, even forbidden.  Sufis claim that every verse of the Quran has an outward meaning and an inward meaning.  The inward meaning is understood solely by the Sufi elders.  On account of this, Sufis have introduced concepts and words that are totally foreign to the teachings of Islam.

In the Quran God, Almighty encourages us to properly understand His words.  God tells us:

“(This is) a Scripture that We have revealed unto you, full of blessing, that they may ponder its revelations, and that men of understanding may reflect.” (Quran 38:29)

The exegesis of the Quran is accomplished by studying the Quran along with the Sunnah; these two sources of Islamic law must be taken hand in hand as one integral unit.  We are to understand and interpret the Quran and the Sunnah the way they were understood by the first generations.

Conclusion

As can be seen from the above, Sufism varies quite drastically from the true spirit of Islam.  Sufism inculcates in the follower the will to stop using the basic faculties given to him by God, the Creator of the world and to submit himself to a form of slavery.

Islam, on the other hand, is very simple; there is no need for intermediaries or any saints between man and God, and one is only to submit and surrender themselves to God, Almighty.

 

 

 

zs
Footnotes:

[1] Saif an-Nasr, Seera of Hamidiyyeh, 1956


A brief look at how Sufism differs and contradicts the teachings of Islam.  This first part defines Sufism, mentions its origins and how it differs from Islam in the concept of belief in God, belief in the Prophet Muhammad (may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him) and belief in Heaven and Hell.

Whether it’s from a documentary on TV or a beautifully designed website, the majority have heard something about ‘Sufis’ and ‘Sufism’; programs on TV have aired, talk show hosts have made mention of them and politicians are taking a keen interest in this group… one has only to type the word ‘Sufi’ on any search engine to be overwhelmed with the videos and pictures that are available.  In cyberspace one can view images and videos of Sufi mystics and elders dancing in rhythmic forms to the background of vibrant melodies.  Disturbing images of mystic Sufi elders jabbing their heads with knives or submitting themselves to various means of torture are all too common as well.  One interested in Islam may get a wrong idea about Islam and Muslims, for to the occident ‘Sufis’ and ‘Sufism’ is just a synonym of Islam and Muslim.

The question that arises, are they really Muslims, and are they practicing Islam? Before jumping the gun, I have to make mention that there are many sites, articles and books that have been written and put together, but most talk about Sufism in an emotional manner, which will lead one to think that they are impartial.  In this humble endeavor, I attempt to write about ‘Sufism’ in an informative manner, far from any biases.

Though only a tiny minority, Sufis can be found in many countries, Muslim and non-Muslim.  But contrary to the belief that Sufism is one ‘group’, Sufism is divided into ‘orders’; each differs from the other in terms of belief and practice.  Some groups are larger than others, and others have gone to rest with the passage of time.  Among the surviving groups today, there is the Tijaani order, the Naqshabandi order, the Qadiri order and the Shadthili order.

Origin of Sufism

In its earliest form, Sufi teachings stressed that an individual should give more emphasis to the spiritual aspects of Islam, a result of many losing sight of this lofty goal of Islam.  After a period of time, however, infamous Sufi elders introduced practices foreign to Islam which were welcomed by its followers.  Practices introduced included dancing, playing music, and even consuming hashish.

The Scholar Ibn al-Jawzi, wrote in his book ‘Talbis Iblis’ about the origin of the name used by this group, saying: ‘They are called by this name in relation to the first person who dedicated his life to worship around the Ka’bah, whose name was Sufah.’

According to this, those who wanted to emulate him called themselves ‘Sufis’.

Ibn al-Jawzi also mentions another reason, he said: ‘they would wear woolen clothes.’ Wool in Arabic is called ‘soof’ and woolen clothes were the sign of an ascetic during those times, since wool was the cheapest form of clothing and was very rough on the skin; in short it was a symbol of a asceticism.  In any case, the word Sufi was not present at the time of Prophet Muhammad and his companions instead first appeared at about 200 Hijrah (200 years after the migration of the Prophet from Makkah to Madinah).

The well known scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, mentions that the first appearance of Sufism was in Basrah, Iraq, where some people went to extremes in worship and in avoiding the worldly life, such as not seen in other lands.[1]

So what is Sufism?

Sufism is a series of concepts and practices that range from poverty, seclusion, deception, depriving the soul, singing and dancing; and is based on a mix of many different religions and philosophies such as Greek philosophies, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as Islam.  It is often referred to by Sufis themselves or by Orientalists as “Islamic mysticism”, in order to give the impression that Islam is either wholly or partly an dogmatic religion with a set of meaningless rituals.  The very nature of Sufism (or Tasawwuf) opposes what a Muslim is to believe in, this will be explained further when I make mention of Sufi beliefs in general.

Traits of a Muslim

A Muslim always refers back to the Quran and narrations of Prophet Muhammad, may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him, called the Sunnah, in matters of religion.  God tells us in the Quran:

“It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when God and His Messenger have decided a matter, they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair.  And whoever disobeys God and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error.” (Quran 33:36)

Prophet Muhammad stressed the importance of following the Quran and Sunnah and the danger of introducing any innovations into Islam.  It is known that the Prophet said: “Whoever does a deed which is not in accordance to my commands (i.e. the Islamic Law), it shall be rejected.” (Saheeh Muslim)

Ibn Mas’ood (a companion of the prophet), may God be pleased with him, said:

“The Messenger of God, may the blessing and mercy of God be upon him, made a straight line on the ground with his hand, then he said, “This is the straight path of God.”  Then he made a (short) line on each side of the straight line; then he said, ‘These (short) lines, each one has a devil inviting people to it.” Then he recited the verse (of the Quran):

“And this is My path straight.  So follow it, and do not follow (other) ways, lest they lead you away from My path.” (Quran 6:153)

Saheeh: Reported by Ahmad and an-Nasaae’e.

A Muslim therefore is required to obey God and His Messenger.  This is the highest authority in Islam.  One is not to blindly follow religious leaders; rather, we as humans are required to use the faculties given to us by God, to think and reason.  Sufism, on the other hand, is a binding order that strips one of free thought and personal discretion and puts him at the mercy of the Sheikh of the order… as it has been said by some Sufi elders, ‘one must be with their Sheikh as a dead person is while being washed’, i.e. one should not argue, or oppose the opinion of the Sheikh and must display total obedience and submission to him.

True Muslims are content with the name “Muslim” given to them by Almighty God, as He says:

“He has chosen you (to conform to His religion) and has imposed no difficulty upon you in religion, the religion of your father Abraham.  He named you ‘Muslims’ both before (in the preceding Divine Scriptures) and in this Book.” (Quran 22.78)

Sufis may insist that they are Muslims, but at the same time some insist on identifying themselves as Sufis rather than Muslims.

Islamic Beliefs at a Glance: Belief in God

In short a Muslim believes in the Uniqueness of God.  He has no partner; no one is like unto Him.  God, Almighty, says:

“There is nothing like unto Him[2]  and He is the all-Hearing and the all-Seeing.” (Quran 42:11)

God is separate from His creation and not a part of it. He is the Creator, and all else is His creation.

Sufis hold a number of beliefs in relation to God, Almighty; of these beliefs are the following:

a)     Al-Hulool: This belief denotes that God, Almighty, dwells in His creation.

b)     Al-It’tihaad: This belief denotes that God, Almighty, and the creation are one, united presence.

c)     Wahdatul-Wujood: This belief denotes that one should not differentiate between the Creator and the creation, for both the creation and the Creator are one entity.

Mansoor al-Hallaaj, a figure much revered by Sufis, said: “I am He Whom I love,” he exclaimed, “He Whom I love is I; we are two souls co-inhabiting one body.  If you see me you see Him and if you see Him you see me.”[3]

Muhiyddin Ibn Arabi, another revered figure in Sufism, was infamous for his statements: “What is under my dress is none but God,” “The slave is the Lord and the Lord is a slave.”[4]

These above beliefs strongly contradict the Muslim belief in the Oneness of God, for Islam is a strict monotheism.  These cardinal Sufi doctrines are not far from some of the Christian beliefs or the Hindu belief of reincarnation. S. R. Sharda in his book, ‘Sufi Thought’ said: “Sufi literature of the post-Timur period shows a significant change in thought content.  It is pantheistic.  After the fall of Muslim orthodoxy from power at the centre of India for about a century, due to the invasion of Timur, Sufism became free from the control of the Muslim orthodoxy and consorted with Hindu saints, who influenced them to an amazing extent.  The Sufi adopted Monism and wifely devotion from the Vaishnava Vedantic school and Bhakti and Yogic practices from the Vaishnava Vedantic school.  By that time, the popularity of the Vedantic pantheism among the Sufis had reached its zenith.”

Belief in the Prophet of God

A Muslim believes that Prophet Muhammad was the Final Prophet and Messenger of God.  He was not divine, nor is he to be worshipped; but he is to be obeyed and one cannot worship God except in a manner that has been sanctioned by Prophet Muhammad.

Sufi orders hold a wide variety of beliefs in relation to Prophet Muhammad.  Of them are those who believe that he was ignorant of the knowledge the Sufi Elders possess.  Al-Bustami, a Sufi Sheikh said: “We have entered a sea of knowledge at the shore of which the Prophets and Messengers stood.”

Other Sufis ascribe some type of divinity to the Prophet saying that all of creation was created from the ‘light’ of Prophet Muhammad.  Some even believe that he was the first of creation and that he is resting upon the throne of God, which is the belief of Ibn Arabi and other Sufis who came after him.

Belief in Heaven and Hell

In short, Muslims believe that both Hell and Heaven are existent now, and are two actual abodes.  Hell is where a sinful person will be punished and Heaven is where a pious person will be rewarded.

Sufis in general believe that one should not ask God to grant them Paradise; they even claim that the Wali (guardian) should not seek it, for it is a sign of one’s lack of intellect.  To them ‘Paradise’ holds an immaterial meaning, which is to receive the knowledge of the unseen from God and to fall in love with Him.

As for Hell, a Sufi believes that one should not try to escape from it.  According to them, a true Sufi is not to be fearful of the Fire.  Some even believe that if a Sufi elder were to spit on the Fire, it would be put out, as Abu Yazid al-Bustami claimed.


Footnotes:

[1] Al-Fataawaa (11/6)

[2] There is no similarity whatsoever between the Creator and His creation in essence, in attributes or in deed.

[3] At-Tawaaseen by Al-Hallaj

[4] Al-Fatoohaatul-Makkiyyah & Al-Fatoohaat

zscurl


HIV is not currently a dominant epidemic in Pakistan. However, the number of cases is growing. Moderately high drug use and lack of acceptance that non-marital sex is common in the society have allowed the AIDS epidemic to take hold in Pakistan, mainly among injection drug users, some male sex workers and repatriated migrant workers. AIDS may yet become a major health issue.Pakistan has seen an eight-fold increase in HIV cases between 2001 and 2012, said a UN report on the eve of the World AIDS Day. The report calls for a rapid increase of voluntary confidential community-based HIV testing and counselling for populations at higher risk in the region.

The report, ‘HIV in Asia and the Pacific: Getting to Zero,” released by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, says that emerging epidemics are becoming evident in 12 countries in Asia and the Pacific region, where an estimated 4.9 million were living with HIV in 2012.

The 12 countries account for more than 90 per cent of people living with HIV and of new HIV infections in the region.

The countries are Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

According to the report, Pakistan introduced the “third gender” option for identity documents and Nepal recognised “third gender” in the national census.

The report points out that inadequate focus on key populations at higher risk of HIV infection and geographical areas with higher HIV burden mean that most countries in the region are not progressing fast enough to reach global targets on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

While significant progress has been seen in some countries — with some reducing new HIV infections by over 50pc since 2001 — impact appears to be slowing with overall number of new HIV infections across the region remaining largely unchanged in the past five years.

Pakistan is the second largest country in South Asia that stands only a few steps behind India and Nepal in terms of HIV epidemic. Until recently Pakistan was classified as a ‘low prevalence high risk’ country but now Pakistan is in a ‘concentrated phase’ of the epidemic with HIV prevalence of more than 5% among injecting drug users (IDUs) in at least eight major cities. However, the country still has a window of opportunity as the current estimates, using the various latest prevalence estimation models; indicate that the HIV prevalence among general adult population is still below .1%. According to the latest national HIV estimates there are approximately 97,400 cases of HIV/AIDS in Pakistan. 

In a message on the AIDS Day, President Mamnoon Hussain said that as HIV is an issue of global concern it is important that the international community focuses on AIDS prevention and cure in the less developed countries and thereby help make Pakistan and the whole world HIV and AIDS free.

He said that promulgation of ‘Blood Safety Ordinance’ both at federal and provincial levels and supply of diagnostic kits and laboratory consumables and equipment to all provincial, AJK, Fata and federal centres are critical advances in the fight against the disease.

Globally new HIV infections have dropped so as Aids related deaths with effective interventions but in Pakistan new HIV infections have been increasing, according to government and international health organisation estimates.
Pakistan is a signatory to the MDGs; goal 6 of which states that Pakistan will “halt and begin to reverse the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS” by the year 2015. But the key challenges hampering the fight against the disease are stigma attached to the disease and financial constraints.
With global funding gradually decreasing for AIDS and diverting towards other health problems due to drop in cases internationally, the financial worries may turn worse when the government will have to support the AIDS control programme solely after 2015, said National Aids Control Programme (NACP) Manager Muhammad Javaid.
More than 130,000 people are HIV infected in Pakistan and only 7819 are registered. People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in various centres and of them merely 3700 have access to treatment with AIDS drugs – known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). The number has increased from 90,000 in 2011 to 130,000 in 2013, according to estimation of NACP, UNAIDS and World Health Organisation.
In Pakistan, proportion of reported to estimated PLHIV is lowest in the region (3.0 per cent); the ART coverage is approximately 9.8 per cent and number of Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) receiving ART per 100 HIV-positive IDUs (2009) is less than 1 per cent. In addition, laws protecting PLHIV against discrimination and preventing obstacles to access to HIV services for vulnerable sub-populations, are also not existent in Pakistan.
HIV treatment, care and support facilities are available to HIV infected people, in Pakistan, through 18 ART centers, 16 Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) Centers and 7 PPTCT sites for pregnant women. Under Global Fund Round 9 till now 11 Community and Home Based Care (CHBC) sites has been established but majority of the treatment, care and support facilities are confined to key cities. In the cities too few people wish to register themselves and among the registered also very few turn up for treatment.
Though, the first case was reported in Pakistan by a migrant worker but the prevalence ratio is not alarming among them and one of the major causes of spread here is unsafe blood transfusion by private blood banks as aforementioned data show around 95 percent patients remain unidentified in the country due to lack of diagnostic and counselling centers and awareness.   Health experts also say that sexual behaviors changing in Pakistan like global trends and homosexuality is becoming one of the major risk factors for the infections here too.
Though, there has been an upward trend in HIV prevalence among  key population that are at risk but Hijra Sex Workers are at higher risk and in contrast to the common perception there has been slight increase in new infections among Female Sex Workers.
A 2011 NACP study has found prevalence of HIV infection 1.6 percent among Male sex workers (MSWs); and 0.6 percent among Female sex workers (FSWs). Amongst ‘Hijra’ & Transgender sex workers prevalence was at 5.2 percent and 27.2 percent among Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) while prevalence of HIV among General public is less than 1 percent.
There is no authenticated data on deaths available but according to registered patients with ART centers about 5800 died with HIV so far.
World AIDS Day is celebrated on 1 December (today) every year to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and to demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic.
The day is an opportunity for public and private partners to disseminate information about the status of the pandemic and to encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care around the world, particularly in high prevalence countries.
Between 2011-2015, World AIDS Day has the theme: “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths”.
There is a need to make aware population to protect future generations from this deadly disease since there is no vaccine or no definite cure of AIDS, said the programme manager. Prevention of HIV infection is the only answer and early access to treatment with AIDS drugs for those who test positive as providing AIDS drugs earlier for those infected with HIV would allow them to live longer and healthier lives, and help reduce the risk that they transmit HIV to others. And for this the government administration, religious groups, civil society and the media will have to work in tandem.

More information can be found at: http://www.unaids.org/en/regionscountries/countries/pakistan/

 


They say ”Endings are the new beginnings”. Such people are actually right. I agree with this notion. It’s because when something ends, it denotes new beginning. For example, when a person dies i.e. his life ends, but actually his dreamy and full of fantasy temporary life ends, and a new beginning i.e. the eternal life hereafter begins as soon as he dies. No, I’m not brushing up my philosophy, but actually stating the TRUTH.

Take another example, how the night falls and a stony silence creeps in the whole atmosphere. Come to think of it?!

After darkness, there is always LIGHT. IT’S THE TRUTH AS WELL. The most common epitome that illustrates this statement is the blessed phenomenon of Allah The Almighty upon us that after the night, dawn comes and morning emerges with the sound of the traffic enmeshed with the chirping and tweeting of the birds in the clear, blue sky. The stars and the moon have hidden themselves in a veil, and Mr. Sun appears. 🙂

Too many times, I encounter such people who lose their optimism down to a cellular level when they suffer from a ‘betrayal, fraud or a breakup of their relationships’, or when they flunk in any subject(s) at the school exams.

The aftermath of such loss of hope, loss of love, loss of humanity, and care and respect is very detrimental. Most of the people (like me) can’t bear up the pain of separation and end up as mental patients, depression patients in the mental asylum. Some of them even succumb to committing suicide!! :'(:(

Suicide is becoming a common aspect among teenagers in our society. Even I suffered from loss of love and loneliness and breakup and failures. The pain of getting betrayed is far worser than it seems. Research shows that the pain of breakup/betrayal causes severe pain/damage to the brain, even more severe than an injury. But from what I’ve gathered from my experiences of life is that only the sincere one i.e. A true lover/friend weeps and gets himself/herself afflicted with the injury of brain and heart after a breakup/betrayal. Instead of worrying over bad grades, you guys should even focus harder on your ACADEMICS… Work hard and prove to your teachers and enemies that u are not a garbage. YOU are YOU.. And YOU are a MARVEL.. Keep your morals HIGH. AIM FOR THE HEIGHT. SO, BEGIN YOUR OWN BEGINNING. AND AS FOR THE VULNERABLE ONES, WHO GOT THEIR TRUSTS BROKEN, THEY SHOULD ALSO MOVE ON AND CARRY ON WITH THEIR FOOTSTEPS..THEY SHOULD WALK FURTHER UNTIL THEY REACH THEIR DESTINATION..BECAUSE, THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD (P.B.U.H.) SAID: ”THE ONE WHO CHEATS IS NOT ONE OF US.” …

 

P.S. THIS WAS COMPOSED BY ME WHEN I WAS 16 YEARS OLD, IN 2013. 🙂 

zscurl


I am at once very poetic and extremely analytical when I write about love. I dissect this highest of human feelings with superb perception. I consider pure, true LOVE as SACRED and before I give myself the pleasure of writing about it, I must purify my lips with what I call a ”Sacred Fire”. I have to feel the inner energy, the glow of my eyes….

When I came to know LOVE, the songs in my heart became a deep silence, and I needed to ask for advice from someone to tell my heart about my heart and myself about myself. LOVE, according to me, consumes our emotions and passions…. Its hand is rough and sweet, takes hold of us in our loneliness and pours into our heart a drink in which bitterness and sweetness mingle….
The real feelings of LOVE are made of tears and laughter, of sorrow and happiness. It is a strange force that brings to our soul both death and life, sorrow and happiness, generating a dream stronger than life and deeper than death.
When love touches our soul with the tips of its fingers, we gather enough energy and strength to cross valleys, climb mountains to meet the one we love and travel from afar to meet the beloved of our life!…
I divide life into two halves: one half is frozen and the other half burning, and love is that burning half. This divine flame comes from the throne of divinity and I prayed that I be consumed by it. Love, according to me is not created by us but is sent from above and directs everything in our life, as it sees fit. . We are merely a plaything in its hands, knowing not where to go or what to do. When we love we should not say that (Allah/God) is in our heart, but rather that we are in the heart of Allah.
Real and geniune love for me is a self-consuming and self-nourishing fire. The flame is as strong as death, which changes everything and gives nothing but itself and takes nothing but from itself….

zscurl


Classics

  1. On Behalf of the Insane Poor (1843) by Dorothea Dix: While individuals with mental health conditions (especially those in lower tax brackets) still grapple against marginalization today, the absolutely nauseating acts nurse Dorothea Dix witnessed at asylums were even more dehumanizing.
  2. Rules of the Sociological Method (1895) by Emile Durkheim: Almost anything by the heavily influential sociologist Emile Durkheim should be considered essential reading, but this one in particular is notable for outlining research strategies and models.
  3. The Communist Manifesto (1848) by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx: Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the core tenets and practices of communism, the most controversial economic treatise ever published still impacted humanity (and, of course, its social structure) in a major way.
  4. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) by Max Weber: In spite of the title, Max Weber did not intend for his book to be read as an in-depth inquiry into Protestantism. Rather, one of his most famous works explores the relationship between society and religion.
  5. Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) by Margaret Mead: Anthropologist Margaret Mead found some valuable sociological, historical and psychological lessons in her studies of indigenous peoples, precipitating a greater understanding of the adolescent and female experiences.
  6. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) by Joseph Campbell: For sociology buffs who love literature and anthropology, this undeniable classic dissects commonalities in religious and folk narratives and characters from various eras and geographic locales.
  7. The Lonely Crowd (1950) by Reuel Denney, Nathan Glazer and David Riesman: Although some of the research has changed over the decades along with shifts in American culture, this landmark read brought up some revolutionary, provocative ideas about self and social interaction.
  8. The Sociological Imagination (1959) by C. Wright Mills: C. Wright Mills delves deeply into sociology’s structure, function and ultimate goals, providing practitioners with some amazing insight into their field — offering up some intellectual challenges about the nature of reality along the way.
  9. Madness and Civilization (1961) by Michel Foucault: This incredibly illuminating book begins in the Middle Ages and traces the complex history of what society does and does not deem mentally imbalanced, its marginalization of various groups and how it justifies such intolerant behavior.
  10. Stigma (1963) by Erving Goffman: In almost every society, anyone who does not fit into a specifically dictated norm ends up sent to the margins, regardless of whether or not they truly deserve it. One of sociology’s seminal works makes sense of the whys and how behind this phenomenon.
  11. The Social Construction of Reality (1966) by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann:The concept of social construction remains a core component of sociological studies, and any students wanting to learn more about the influential relationship between individuals, groups and their perceptions of reality would do well to pick up Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s ruminations on the subjects.
  1. The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) by William James: Although more a work of psychology and philosophy than sociology, students concerned with researching interplay between religion, the individual and the congregations and denominations in question should still consider this book essential.
  2. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) by Emile Durkheim: The religious beliefs and rituals all over the world receive skillful dissection and analysis regarding how they influence the societies surrounding them.
  3. The Sociology of Religion (c. 1921) by Max Weber: As one can easily glean from the title,The Sociology of Religion concerns itself with understanding the role of faith in shaping human society for better or for worse.
  4. The World’s Religions (1958) by Huston Smith: Originally titled The Religions of Man, Huston Smith’s classic work is oftentimes cited as one of the most adroit introductions to comparative religion around.
  5. Our Religions (1994) by Arvind Sharma: Significant scholars representing seven of the world’s most heavily populated religions describe the core tenets that attract followers to their respective faiths.
  6. The World’s Wisdom (1995) by Philip Novak: Sociology students with a keen interest in writing about interplay between religion and society should make an effort to read sacred texts from around the world.
  7. The Good Heart (1998) by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: In his lecture from 1994, the Dalai Lama offers up his own interpretations of Jesus’ teachings, resulting in a fascinating interfaith comparison between Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism.
  8. The Battle for God (2000) by Karen Armstrong: Explore the three Abrahamic faiths, and the patterns they share when fringe groups hold the rest of the faith hostage with fundamentalism and violence.
  9. When Religion Becomes Evil (2002) by Charles Kimball: Wake Forest professor and reverend Charles Kimball outlines the five major warning signs of a religion (or a segment of a religion) giving in to violent fundamentalist urges.
  10. God is Not One (2010) by Stephen Prothero: Using both academics and personal experience, this Boston University professor delves into the eight largest religions in the world and highlights the major differences that nurture heavy conflict.

Contemporary Classics

  1. Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) by Jared Diamond: Sociology aficionados, students and professionals who also enjoy reading about history, ethnography, geography and politics (among other topics) will probably find this critically lauded Pulitzer winner a thoroughly engaging read.
  2. Bowling Alone (2000) by Robert D. Putnam: Though time has witnessed a movement away from some of Robert D. Putnam’s studies and observations, his frank discussions of why so many Americans migrate away from civil and neighborly engagement still ring true in many aspects.
  3. Culture Jam (2000) by Kalle Lasn: Subcultures are just as important to sociologists as the prevailing hegemonies surrounding them. Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn introduces readers to the old art of culture jamming in response to conspicuous consumption and manipulative advertising.
  4. Sexing the Body (2000) by Anne Fausto-Sterling: Contemporary sexologists make some very compelling scientific cases for gender being based more on sociological paradigms rather than something inherently biological. Many, such as Anne Fausto-Sterling, hope to dispel many of the myths surrounding those who don’t fit into the confining cultural binary.
  5. The Blank Slate (2002) by Steven Pinker: All social science students are familiar with the concept of tabula rasa, but Steven Pinker believes that using it as a model will yield erroneous results and thinking.
  6. The Wisdom of Crowds (2004) by James Surowiecki: Though the “crowd mentality” has a tendency to devolve into madness, this journalist argues that there are some very valuable lessons in productivity to be learned from it.
  7. Freakonomics (2005) by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt: In spite of its merging of economics and pop culture, some sociologists looking for something a little bit lighter than Durkheim, Foucault and Weber find Freakonomics a neat read.
  8. The Lucifer Effect (2007) by Philip Zimbardo: Psychologist Philip Zimbardo explores the highly complex sociological and psychological factors that send previously stable, good-hearted people over the edge and compel them to commit violent crimes.
  9. Guyland (2008) by Michael Kimmel: Adolescent boys in America grow up with some potentially damaging social norms regarding acceptable, arbitrarily “masculine” behavior foisted upon them. This controversial read explores the sociology behind some of these hazardous mindsets and what needs to be done to curb them.

Ethnic Studies

  1. Tally’s Corner (1967) by Elliott Liebow: This groundbreaking study of African-American poverty, ethnography and urbanism should be placed on the syllabi and personal reading lists of sociology students and professionals alike.
  2. Coming to America (1990) by Roger Daniels: Now in its second edition, Coming to Americaexplores the unique experiences of immigrants fleeing to the United States in search of new opportunities — many of whom tragically never really find what they’re seeking.
  3. A Different Mirror (1993) by Ronald Tataki: History, sociology and anthropology lessons merge together through stories and perspectives shining light on the nation’s rich, multicultural heritage.
  4. Other People’s Children (1995) by Lisa Delpit: Learn about the myriad ways in which the public school system tends to marginalize minority and impoverished children based more on stereotypes rather than personal aptitude, and how these practices compromise their futures.
  5. Race Rules (1996) by Michael Eric Dyson: This essay collection explores the difficult but absolutely necessary questions behind racial divides in America, which persisted even into the succeeding millennium.
  6. The Earth Shall Weep (1998) by James Wilson: The grim reality of Native American history after the Europeans ravaged their culture and land provides ethnographers and ethnic studies students plenty to ponder.
  7. Asian American Dreams (2001) by Helen Zia: Part memoir, part journalistic inquiry, Asian American Dreams opens readers up to the marginalizing experiences of the eponymous demographic both in school and mainstream society.
  8. Harvest of Empire (2001) by Juan Gonzales: This history book delves deeply into the complex past, present and possible futures of the Latin American peoples, serving as an excellent introduction to this particular corner of ethnic studies.
  9. Unequal Childhoods (2003) by Annette Lareau: For examples of class and race divides still present in the United States, one need only look at the public school system. From there, these gulfs only widen and cause distress in the surrounding societies.
  10. “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” (2003) by Beverly Daniel Tatum: One psychologist dissects how younger generations form and come to terms with their racial identity, paying especially close attention to African-Americans receiving an education in predominantly Caucasian schools.

Women’s Studies

  1. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecroft: One of the earliest feminist treatises ever written laid the groundwork for later movements — all it asked was that women enjoy perfectly equal social standing as men.
  2. The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir: Before the women’s movement gained considerable momentum in America, this French existentialist pointed out the marginalization and “otherness” oftentimes foisted upon females.
  3. The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan: In the book that almost single-handedly launched the Second Wave of the feminist movement, Betty Friedan explored the plight of American housewives and pleaded for social justice.
  4. The Female Eunuch (1970) by Germaine Greer: Though not everyone will necessarily agree with the fiery, radical takes on feminism by writers such as Germaine Greer and Angela Y. Davis, sociologists with a love of studying sociopolitical movements and subcultures will find them absolutely fascinating.
  5. Women Race & Class (1983) by Angela Y. Davis: This incredibly controversial activist offers up her take on the eponymous subjects, based on experiences gained during one of the nation’s most volatile eras.
  6. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984) by bell hooks: bell hooks delivers an incredibly powerful message about how even movements meant to combat marginalization still end up kicking some members to the fringe.
  7. The Beauty Myth (1991) by Naomi Wolf: One of feminism’s core complaints revolves around the objectification and obsession with female beauty and body shape, which receives a thorough history and dissection here.
  8. ManifestA (2000) by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards: Young feminists looking to lead the next generation of empowered women — as well as sociologists studying them — will find plenty of useful information and inspiration between ManifestA‘s covers.
  9. Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005) by Ariel Levy: Explore one of the more nebulous corners of the women’s movement, where some ladies deliberately exploit their sexuality to impress men, yet still label such actions empowerment.
  10. The Purity Myth (2009) by Jessica Valenti: Savvy Jessica Valenti analyzes how social and media perceptions and stigmatizations of female sexuality actively hold back — if not outright endanger — young women.