Happy New Year!

Allow me this opportunity to wish you all a blessed and fulfilled 2021. In spite of everything going on in the world there is still truth, goodness and love. Let us keep fighting for these values while living them out in our personal spheres. We may feel powerless to impact things at a global level but and for most of us this probably true. Perhaps this is not our calling, however. By seeking to work for the best wherever we are we may be making an incalculable positive impact.

As George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans) reminded us: ”The growing good of the world is mainly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not as ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and now rest in unvisited graves.

Maybe not the cheeriest thought with which to begin a new year but nevertheless profoundly true, especially as we seek to bring order to a world threatening to tear itself apart!

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A Different Kind of ‘New Normal’?

I get it. I understand that there is much going on around the globe at the moment. Yet, I cannot help but feel that we’ve reached a very dangerous point in the history of the world’s interaction with the Muslim religion. A point where instances of violence inspired by the teachings of Islam are simply regarded as ‘the way things are’.

Admittedly the killing of French teacher Samuel Paty (16 October), after he showed cartoons of Muhammad in his classroom, made headlines around the world. Yet, the reality is that this outrage was not some kind of outlier. It was merely the visible tip of a very large iceberg.

In the time since Paty’s death (to cite but a few examples) the following happened:
Throughout October – Afghanistan: Attacks perpetrated by the ‘Islamic State’ in Afghanistan’s Khorasan province leads to the death of 243 people and 339 injuries.
30 October – Nice, France: Churchgoers in Nice was attacked by a knife-wielding Tunisian ‘refugee’, with three people killed. One was ‘virtually beheaded’ according to reports.
2 November – Vienna, Austria: A Muslim gunman opened fire near Vienna’s main synagogue, killing three people and wounding twenty three.
10 November – Cabo Delgado, Mozambique: Muslim raiders, linked to ISIS, killed 50 villagers in Mutaide, Mozambique as part of their ongoing efforts to turn the Cabo Delgado province into an Islamist stronghold. In actions strongly reminiscent of those of the Taliban, and surely designed to sow maximum terror, they used the town’s football pitch as an execution ground.
11 November – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Several people are injured during an attack on foreigners marking Remembrance Day.

The sad reality is that a similar list can be drawn up for just about any two week period that you might care to pick. Yet, who notices anymore? The fact is that we seemed to have slipped into a kind of ‘new normal’ where unceasing violence inspired by the Qur’an and hadiths are just part of the background noise.

We cannot simply make our peace with this. Yes, there are many other fish to fry but the reality is that we either ignore what is going on (and place an intolerable burden on upcoming generations) or we take serious steps to understand what is behind all the violence and do our best to deal with it by challenging Islam in the battle of ideas.

Ps. For much more about the links between Islamic teaching and violence, please see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot’

Saudi Press: We Need to Change the Qur’an

An Early Qur’anic Manuscript

We need to change the Qur’an! Not quite the kind of headline that you would expect in the Saudi press, but this was exactly the message of two recent articles that appeared in the Kingdom.

The first was published by journalist Ahmed Hashem in ‘Saudi Opinions’ on the 10th of January. Hashem states that there have been huge numbers of copyist errors since the text of the Qur’an was supposedly fixed for all time under Caliph Uthman Bin Affan (ruled 644-656). Hashem lists as many as 2,500 errors that occur in the Qur’an that Muslims read today, citing many concrete examples. He, therefore, urges the Saudi authorities to take action in order to: “…make the text more readable for present day Muslims and more linguistically correct.

This rather startling admission that there are fundamental issues with the reliability of the Qur’anic text was followed by an article published on 20 July 2020 on the Saudi website Elaph, written by Iraqi Kurdish researcher Jarji Gulizada. In it he echoes Hashem’s call that fundamental changes should be made to the Qur’anic text because in its present form: “…it is not suitable for the Islamic nation in the modern world, and especially for non-Arab Muslims.

The articles caused a major furor across the Arab world, particularly because they threw a searchlight on an issue that is rarely addressed in the Muslim world: Namely that serious questions can be asked about the process through which the Qur’an was written down, preserved and transmitted.

At the very least it should tell us that the cozy certainties that the Qur’an has ‘never been changed, never been altered’ (words used in an ad on the London Underground recently) are very far of the mark.

I look at this issue in depth in my book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History’, along with many other questions about the early history of Islam.

Hagia Sophia Falls Victim to Islamic Suprematism (Again)

The church at the heart of Eastern Orthodoxy – Turned into a mosque to demonstrate the superiority of Islam

In 987 AD some ambassadors from a pagan people known as the Rus were sent from their base at Kyiv (Kiev) to explore the belief systems of other peoples in the region. On their travels they were ushered into ‘The Church of the Holy Wisdom’ in Constantinople. Here is how one of them described that experience:

“We were led into a place where they serve their God, and we did not know where we were, on heaven or on earth; and do not know how to tell about this. All we know is that God lives there with mortals and their worship is better than in any other country. We cannot forget that beauty, since each person, if he eats something sweet, will not take something bitter afterwards; so we cannot remain any more in paganism.”

Thus began the long process of the conversion of the Russian people to Eastern Orthodoxy, inspired by a building. And what a building! Completed in 537 during the reign of possibly the greatest of the Byzantine Emperors, Justinian I (482-565), Hagia Sophia stood at the heart of Orthodox Christianity ever since. Its power, grandeur and majesty never ceases to amaze. That was precisely the point. As Justinian reportedly declared, reaching back to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem for an appropriate comparison: “Solomon, I have vanquished you!

Hagia Sophia soon became the seat of the Orthodox patriarch. This means that for Orthodox believers its status is, in some ways, comparable to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Sadly, however, the empire, at the heart of which it stood, was vulnerable to the encroachment of Islamic jihad. After centuries of heroic resistance the Byzantine empire finally succumbed to the armies of Islam on 28 May 1453. Fittingly and symbolically the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, retreated to Hagia Sophia where he was cut down at the altar by the forces of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II.

Mehmet II had big plans for Hagia Sophia. Upon first entering the church he brought with him a muezzin to issue the Islamic call to prayer. This officially, in Muslim eyes at least, turned the church that had stood at the heart of Orthodox Christianity for 936 years into a mosque. Soon four minarets would be erected next to it to reinforce this position. The loss of Hagia Sophia is still an open wound for Christians around the world and you do not even have to be a Christian to bemoan the forcible conversion, to an alien purpose, of a building with roots stretching all the way back to late-antiquity.

Fast forward to the 20th century and the setting up of the Turkish Republic in place of the Ottoman Empire. In 1931 the great Turkish reformer Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, determined to steer his country on a more secular path, decided to forge a middle-way solution for the status of Hagia Sophia by declaring it to be a museum. This meant that people from both faiths, or none, could at least visit the cathedral and draw their own conclusions from its history. And vast numbers of people did. Clocking in at more than 3 million annual visits it is by far the most popular visitor attraction in Istanbul.

All that changed with the 11 July 2020 announcement by Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the building will, once again, become a mosque. Why would he do such a thing? Is it perhaps lack of space for Istanbul’s Muslims to pray? Hardly. Just across the road from the Hagia Sophia is the ‘Blue Mosque’ with enough space to comfortably accommodate 10,000 worshippers. No, Erdogan’s announcement is a long cherished dream of Turkey’s Muslim faithful. They want the message that Islam vanquished all that came before it to be heard loudly and clearly. What better way to broadcast this than camping out in one of the most significant Christian churches ever constructed?

The world should sit up and take notice of this event. We are so often told that Muslims only want peaceful coexistence. That Islam is just one more thread in the lovely tapestry of diversity. What better way could there have been to showcase this desire for peaceful coexistence than to allow Hagia Sophia to remain a museum (or even, perish the thought, to revert to its intended purpose and become a church again)? Instead, we see a clearly supremacist and aggressive assertion of the absolute superiority of Islam. All of this in a country long promoted as a shining example of a moderate Islamic society.

We are asked to believe that supremacist impulses are somehow left behind when Muslims live in non-Islamic societies. Yet, there are countless mini-Hagia Sophias scattered around the world. Churches, synagogues and temples that are now used as mosques. All communicating the same message. Islam is not here to integrate but to dominate.

Perhaps the fate of Hagia Sophia will finally cause the world to wake up to the reality and dangers of Islamic suprematism. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.

For more on the textual basis of Islamic suprematism and the ways in which this is manifested, please see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam? – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot’