Dialogue with a Saudi Muslim (4)

See: Part One;  Part TwoPart Three.

Soliman al—Buthe (or al—Buthi) wrote an Open Letter to Congress in 2005. Then he initiated a dialogue with me, so we decided on this sequence.

 

1. In 2005, I commented and asked questions about the Open Letter.

2. Months later in the same year, Mr. al—Buthe answered my questions and challenged me on various issues. He sought the advice of Saudi scholars, as well.

3. Finally, in 2006, I reply to his challenges and questions. Sometimes I embed this part in our 2005 dialogue. I too receive help from colleagues.

 

The years 2005 and 2006 have been inserted to clarify the flow of our dialogue.

 

2005 Open Letter to Congress (continued):

Compatibility with Modernity

Like all developing nations, Saudi Arabia faces many challenges. We have social, economic, and political issues that need to be addressed. Our religious teachings, however, are not against modernity, progress, or development. Rather, this religious movement has led to a general renaissance in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic world as a whole. In just 70 years, Saudi Arabia has developed a nationwide education system consisting of eight universities, 100 colleges, and 26,000 schools that provide free education to over 5,000,000 students. The teacher—student ratio of 1:12.5 is among the lowest in the world, with over one quarter of the annual state budget allocated to education. There are currently 320 hospitals in the Kingdom consisting of 46,048 beds. In the face of these facts it is difficult to understand how our religious beliefs could possibly be inherently anti—progress and anti—modernity. Although we have much to improve, the achievements of the Kingdom thus far demonstrate that a modern society can be built upon core teachings and that progress is not hindered by an adherence to Islamic law.

JA (2005): My sincere congratulations on the development of your schools, colleges, and universities, and especially the number of hospitals. This seems positive.

1. Do you know which percentage of students specialize in religious education, such as Islamic Studies, at the universities? Is it thirty percent?

SaB (2005):

I have not been able to find any official statistics on this matter.  We do not teach purely religious studies in the narrow sense of the word even in our "Islamic universities."

These universities offer courses on all the social sciences, on computer science, on foreign languages like English, and so on. Remember, however, that we are not a secular country. Because our religion forms the basis of our life, we teach it in schools and offer courses on it even to students who specialize in disciplines like medicine and engineering.

If you are asking this question because you believe in the myth of the linkage between terrorism and Islamic studies, we refer you to the recent article "The Myth of the Madrassa" written by Peter Bergen and Swati Pabdey. (Please see The Myth of the Madrassa)

JA (2006): The reason I ask about the percentage of students who choose Islamic Studies or other religious majors is the high unemployment and crime rates in your country. John R. Bradbury worked as a journalist in Saudi Arabia for more than two years, writing for various western publications. In his book Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis,  he provides statistics for the rise. He writes:

 

The statistics available are breathtaking. A 2003 report by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, for example, said that crime among young jobless Saudis rose 320 percent between 1990 and 1996, and is expected to increase an additional 136 percent by 2005. More than 60 percent of Saudis are under 21, and the kingdom's population growth rate is roughly 4 percent—one of the highest in the world . . . . (p. 142)

 

Thus, the crime rate increases, despite the harsh punishments your legal system regularly metes out, such as chopping off heads. Bradbury recounts some episodes of public beheadings. In 2003, for example, more than 50 took place for everyone to see (p. 144). Academic programs covering economics and the social sciences may help the problem of crime. I read, above, and elsewhere that you have such programs, so this is good.

 

We have asked a friend and colleague, originally from Saudi Arabia, to comment on our dialogue. He adds:

 

The Saudi Government will allow westerners who are converts to attend the Islamic University in Mecca or Medina to earn a degree for Islamic studies. The only reason they allow them to do so is to help them become Imams and to use them to convert others to Islam. They would have never allowed any westerner who is not Muslim to attend these Islamic universities because they are in holy places / cities and only Muslims are allowed access to these places.

 

These days, from my conversations with my family and friends, the Saudi government is not allowing any non—Saudis to attend their universities, period. They may have some very little exceptions — but never for medicine or engineering. This process is part of what the government of Saudi Arabia calls Saudization. Also, non—Saudis are not allowed to own any property (e.g. land or homes) or businesses. They must have the property or the business in a Saudi partner's name, who is called a sponsor.

 

The point that this Saudi colleague is making (I believe) is that his (former) nation closes the door on an even exchange of ideas, to help solve his nation's problems. America and other free societies invite hundreds of thousands of students from all countries, cultures, and religions to study in their universities, often providing grants and scholarships for them. They allow business partnerships with foreigners. Why is Saudi Arabia closing itself off from the free and even exchange of ideas and partnerships?

 

As for the Madrassas and violence, please click on this report, which balances out your positive link.

JA (2005) 2. One of the hallmarks of modernity and progress is women's freedom. Why are not Saudi women allowed to drive cars and to vote?

SaB (2005):

What is modernity? And what is freedom?

Take 'modernity,' a very vague term.  Your references suggest that it merely is the state of being modern.

But what does it mean to be modern?

Apparently "modernity" means whatever happens to be currently popular in the West. The West is modern in many disparate ways. To be 'modern' in this sense would require every non—Western society to abandon its culture and live in a constant state of imitation of changing Western norms. We are emphatically against this wholesale adoption of Western modernity as it relates to a promiscuous freedom. We believe that we have much that is good by any rational and moral standards, and we are therefore keen not only to preserve it but also to invite others to it. But at the same time we believe that there is much worldly good in the West, and we are keen to derive benefits from that good. This applies especially to science and technology and anything that helps us to advance in these respects. We do not, however, share Westerners' current beliefs —— religious or secular — and strongly oppose many of the West's prevailing values.

Thus we think that there is a significant difference between 'modernity' in general and religious/moral modernity.  We have shopping malls of chrome and glass and the latest technology; we all use mobile phones which are actually more advanced than those in the West; we drive cars, eat in restaurants, drive through fast food outlets, get our cash from ATMs, and all have computers, satellite televisions, and Bluetooth—enabled devices.

Thus we reject the notion that we must do something simply because it happens to be Westerners' current prevailing cultural prejudice. We are simply not impressed by being told that something is one of the hallmarks of modernity as the West does in the following examples. We evaluate things by being true or false, useful or harmful, suitable or not suitable, and not just because the West counts them among the hallmarks of your modernity.

JA (2006): I am confused about something. You say in your Open Letter, which you initiated to the American Congress, that Saudi Arabia is compatible with modernity (your word). Then, when I bring up the word 'modernity,' you talk about 'cultural prejudice' and the 'wholesale adoption of Western modernity as it relates to a promiscuous freedom.' No one said anything about adopting the extremes or the vices in the West. I agree that the West has gone too far in that regard. But Saudi Arabia has let the pendulum swing too far to the other extreme—to the far side of repression, such as executing or flogging or imprisoning sexual sinners (read about this excess here and here)? Does this work? Read below.

SaB (2005): One of the primary aims of Islam is the welfare of the family. Being good to one's parents is mentioned in the Qur'an as second only to worshipping God:

Qur'an 004:36—38 'And worship God. Ascribe no thing as partner to Him. (Show) kindness to parents, and to near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and into the neighbor who is of kin (to you) and the neighbor who is not of kin and the fellow traveler and the wayfarer and (the slaves) whom your right hands possess. Lo! God loves not such as are proud and boastful, who hoard their wealth and enjoin avarice on others, and hide that which God has bestowed upon them of His bounty. For disbelievers We prepare a shameful doom; and (also) those who spend their wealth in order to be seen of men, and believe not in God nor the Last Day. Whoever takes Satan for a comrade, a bad comrade has he.'

To protect the family Islam prohibits all kinds of extra—marital sexual relations and has severe punishment for those who commit adultery and fornication.  As a consequence, free mixing between men and women is not encouraged.  Today some of our learned men thought that it would be advisable for women not to drive cars as this would tempt women to mix easily with men and vice versa. Thus the prohibition on women driving was seen as a precautionary matter; none of the learned men said that it was religiously forbidden for women to drive cars (please see Karen Hughes Driving Saudi Arabia — U.S. Relationship).The issue of women driving was never seen in our society as depriving women of a right; this is evidenced by the fact that few Saudi women even want to drive.  In the end, this question is all a matter of what is beneficial and what is not in the light of the principles in which Muslim men and women believe.

JA (2006):  You report that the reason for prohibiting women from driving cars is to separate the sexes because they may commit sexual sin and be severely punished. In Part Two I have already noted that homosexuality takes place in Saudi Arabia, so how does one fix that problem? By forbidding men from driving? I am not being facetious. It seems that the reason offered by the religious scholars for prohibiting women does not work entirely. It is a sad fact that humans will commit sexual sin, no matter how much they are smothered by rules and religious police.

 

Bradbury reports in his book (cited above) that the separation of the sexes creates the (unintended) backlash of men seeking comfort and sexual gratification from other men, and women from other women.

 

So malls in Jeddah, as well as in Riyadh and Dammam, have predictably become the preferred haunts of another group: male seeking sex with other males. Unlike the boys and girls seeking to mix, they do not have to hide their intentions. Indeed, they stroll certain of the malls and supermarkets openly making passes at each other. They are dressed in variations on Western fashion that would, in America, be considered outrageously queer, but in Saudi Arabia raise eyebrows only among those who insist on 'Islamic'—that is, Bedouin—dress at all times. These young men openly cruise, often exchanging comments in loud voices with their friends when a desirable object comes into view. (p. 154)

 

Additionally, Bradbury reports that gay websites have exploded in Saudi Arabia:

 

The number of gay—themed Saudi websites especially has exploded in recent years. Some of these sites are blocked by those responsible for censoring the Internet, but software to avoid the blocks is easily purchased in local markets. Most sites exist for one reason only: to facilitate meet—ups. Even gay pornography is freely available to anyone who has a satellite dish in their bedroom, which is to say all middle—class Saudi boys. (p. 155).

 

He goes on to report that lesbians also seek their own encounters and can easily do so because of the segregation of the sexes (pp. 162—65).

 

To return to the specific issue of driving, why do women have to be restricted from this privilege completely? Why not permit those who want to drive to enjoy this privilege at least one or two days a week? There is a middle ground somewhere.

 

Next, it may be true that 'few Saudi women even want to drive.' But here are the few. This news report by Faiza Saleh Ambah offers these few a voice. Did Karen Hughes meet with them?

 

Inside a rented hall on the outskirts of the Saudi capital, women slip on T—shirts over their silk and cotton blouses. "Yes to the empowerment of women," it reads. Nov. 6, 1990, is printed in red under tire tracks.

 

About 20 women have gathered privately here for their annual reunion to mark their defiance 15 years ago of this conservative kingdom's ban on female drivers . . . .

 

After the protest, thousands of leaflets with their names and their husbands' names — with "whores" and "pimps" scrawled next to them — circulated around the city. They were suspended from jobs, had passports confiscated, and were told not to speak to the press . . . . About a year after the protest, they returned to work and received their passports. But they were kept under surveillance and passed over for promotions.

 

But now, due to the courage of one member of Saudi Arabia's consultative Shura Council, a new reform—minded king, and a society forced into open debate following violence linked to Muslim extremists, the subject is once again taking center stage.

 

The report continues by saying that most Saudi women view driving as an imitation of the decadent West. Again, this opinion lets the pendulum swing too far to the other extreme of suppression.

 

Here is a very short excerpt from an interview with a member of the Saudi Shura Council Muhammad Aal Zulfa, which aired on Al—'Arabiya TV on June 8, 2005. He would let his wife and daughter drive.

 

This article says that Bahrain, an island and independent state that is connected to Saudi Arabia by a bridge, provides a "breathing lung" for Saudis because the Islamic island allows people to do as they want. The words "breathing lung" mean that Saudi Arabia suffocates people. On the weekends an average of 40,000 cars line up to cross the bridge.

 

Surely there is a middle path between decadence and repression.

SaB (2005): As to voting, it was never the practice in our society to resort to voting for choosing our leaders.  Over the years we have been very contented with the manner in which our leaders have been chosen.  Now that voting has been adopted on a limited level, no one here is saying that there is something in Islam which allows men but not women to vote; indeed, many of our officials are saying that this restriction was only a matter of convenience because of the additional infrastructure that would be required.  Many believe that this restriction will be lifted in the future, and perhaps in the very near future.  (How many years were American women denied the right to vote?  How many years were American Blacks denied the right to vote?) 

JA (2006): First, I am encouraged about your statement that there is nothing in Islam which 'allows men but not women to vote.' But I am unclear about the 'infrastructure that would be required.' I hope it gets ready for the next elections.

 

Second, it is true that for about a century and a half America did not allow women to vote, but we have corrected the problem at the beginning of the twentieth century, passing the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919, which opened the door to this basic right. Our nation was one of the first. France did not open the voting booth to women until after the Second World War.

 

Third, it is true, sadly, that black Americans were disenfranchised. But we have corrected the problem with the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The world awaits Saudi Arabia to correct its problems. This is why, as noted in my first point in this section, that I am encouraged by your words: 'Many believe that this restriction will be lifted in the future, and perhaps in the very near future.' I hope such freedom happens soon, in the near future. 

JA (2005) 3. One of the hallmarks of modernity and progress is an appreciation of science. Sheikh AbdulAziz bin Baz became Chancellor of the Islamic University of Medina in 1968. In 1974, he was appointed president of the Directorate of Religious Research, Islamic Legal Rulings, Islamic Propagation, and Guidance. This prominent cleric, when he was Vice—Chancellor of the Islamic University of Medina, published an article in two newspapers in 1966. In them he claimed that the Qur'an proves that the sun orbits around the earth and not that the earth orbits around the sun.

First, do you know whether he published this article? Second, does his view reflect the view of many conservative Saudis?

SaB (2005): First, Islam has no problem with science; it was in the Muslim world that science first flourished, and it was upon that basis that Europeans built their science.

Second, the Sheikh did not mention anything about orbiting. He was only criticizing the belief that the sun is stationary because there is a verse in the Qur'an which says that it 'runs.' We now know that the whole solar system moves around the Galaxy and that the Galaxy itself is traveling through space. Sheikh Abd—Aziz Ibn Baz was not a scientist, and he did not claim the doctrinal infallibility of a pope; he was simply expressing a view in which he honestly believed.  Although he was a great religious teacher, Islam recognizes that no man can have the infallibility popes still today claim.  Accordingly, Ibn Baz could not force his view on all Muslims — he didn't even think about trying to start an inquisition against the many who differed with him. In the face of Ibn Baz's statement, what should we Muslims have done — prevented him from expressing a view simply because we believed it erroneous?

Addressing the Western theologians' problems with science, many Christian scholars today emphatically oppose Darwinism and believe that creationism should be taught in school. (Indeed, your President Bush advocates teaching 'Intelligent Design' — a poor cousin of creationism — in public schools!)  How should those people be answered?

Third, our Sheikhs are only learned Islamic scholars; they are not popes whose words on religious topics become part of the religion. The Islamic religion is based on two sources only: the Qur'an and the Sunna (words and deeds of the Prophet).

Fourth, George Washington is said to have been one of those who believed that the earth is flat (please see Flat Earth Society). But famous Muslim scholars like Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiya who lived centuries before him knew that the earth is spherical.

JA (2006): My comments come in three numbered points. I omit a discussion of your third reply, but my second point alludes to it, on contrasting Christianity today and in the Medieval Age.

 

(1) For your first point you say:

 

First, Islam has no problem with science; it was in the Muslim world that science first flourished, and it was upon that basis that Europeans built their science.

 

This is a common belief in the Muslim world, and even some Westerners perpetuate it. But it needs to be balanced out and clarified.

 

Alvin J. Schmidt, in The Great Divide,  pp. 200—01, summarizes his findings in Chapter 8, which covers science. He corrects two popular misconceptions: the West is heavily indebted to Islam; and the church always stood in the way of scientific advancement. Actually, Islam is indebted to its conquered peoples, usually Christians and Jews.

 

Starting off, he concedes that some noteworthy natural philosophers (pre—scientists) lived in the Islamic empire. But they stand on the shoulders of Greeks, who were not completely wrong about some things.

 

Although Islam produced some noteworthy natural philosophers among the Arabs [Avicenna (980—1037); Averroes (1126—1198); Jabir Ibn Hayyan (c. 760—815); al—Kindi (813—880); and al—Razi, (c. 865—925)], they never attained the intellectual stature of the Greeks . . . In the words of one historian of science, 'The legacy of the Islamic world in medicine and natural science is the legacy of Greece, increased by many additions, mostly practical' . . . .

 

Then he points out that the science we know today began in the thirteenth century, long after science stalled under Islam. Also, it was the church that was a major patron of scientific learning. He ends with a short list of groundbreaking western discoveries fostered by Christianity, and bypassing Islam that seems to have bogged down in an exclusive search for religious truth and that seems largely to have ignored scientific truth. Western science was not built on the basis of Islamic 'science,' a misnomer in the first place, because, as noted, science did not really begin until the thirteenth century. Before then, it may be called a 'proto—science,' which is built on Greek 'proto—science.'

 

Finally, it is well to remember that Muslims discovered no scientific laws, such as Kepler's three laws in astronomy, Newton's law of gravity, Pascal's law of liquid measure, Ohm's law in the field of electricity, Boyle's law in chemistry, Kelvin's absolute zero, Faraday's electromagnetic induction, Dalton's atomic weight, Lavoisier's law of conservation of energy, or Mendel's law pertaining to heredity. Nor did any Muslim discover bacteria, introduce chloroform, inoculate against disease, discover circulation of the blood, introduce antiseptics, or encourage the dissecting of human cadavers. These and other great moments in science were by—products of Christianity's influence, all outside of the context of any Islamic influence and motivation . . . .

 

The next scholar, after quoting Westerners who put down their own western intellectual history and who exalt Islam's history to high heaven, clarifies and balances matters out. He says that Muslims translated insignificant ancient texts and that Christendom already had the important ones. He also says in the fourth paragraph, below, that Islam was caught up in Neoplatonism, a poor reflection of Plato, and what philosophy did exist in Islam rose higher than the Quran. So Islamic philosophers Avicenna and Averroes believed.

 

So the great rescue of Greek philosophy by translation into Arabic turns out to mean no rescue of Plato and the transmission of Latin translations of Arabic translations of Greek texts of Aristotle, either directly or more often via Syriac or Hebrew, to a Christendom that already had the Greek texts and had already translated most of them into Latin, with almost all of the work of translation from any of these languages into any other having been done by Christians and Jews and none of it by Muslims.

 

But if Islamic scholars did not actually translate ancient Greece's natural philosophy from Greek into Arabic and from Arabic into Latin, did not actually rescue Plato and Aristotle from oblivion, and did not actually ignite the Renaissance with them, didn't they create a vibrant and superior philosophy?

 

Were not Avicenna and Averroes great? Great they were, and philosophers too, but not exactly Islamic ones.

 

Islamic philosophy is a misnomer; at least, what we in the West think of as Islamic philosophy is. It is not Islamic in the sense of being rooted in Islam or even in the weaker sense of being melded to it. It is based rather on those vaunted translations from Greek and has a higher allegiance to Neoplatonism than to Islam. It considered philosophy the highest expression of truth, available only to the wisest, and Islam a lower expression suitable for the masses. It believed that the Koran is temporal, not eternal, and that God knows only universals, not particulars. In short, it was in opposition to what we and most Muslims think of as Islam.

 

(Source, emphasis original. This article by the same scholar also cites Westerners putting down their own tradition and exalting Islam. They praise Islam to dispraise the West. But the article also balances out the picture.)

 

(2) In your second point you write:

 

Second, the Sheikh did not mention anything about orbiting. He was only criticizing the belief that the sun is stationary because there is a verse in the Qur'an which says that it 'runs.' We now know that the whole solar system moves around the Galaxy and that the Galaxy itself is traveling through space. Sheikh Abd—Aziz Ibn Baz was not a scientist, and he did not claim the doctrinal infallibility of a pope; he was simply expressing a view in which he honestly believed. 

 

I have not read Sheikh Ibn Baz's article, but this is an excerpt taken from Sandra Mackey's The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom, p. 98. Her book is generally sympathetic of your country

 

In an essay written to refute the heresy of the theory of the solar system taught at Riyadh University, [Ibn] Baz said:

 

Hence I say the Holy Koran, the Prophet's teaching, the majority of Islamic scientists, and the actual fact prove that the sun is running in its orbit, as Almighty God ordained, and that the earth is fixed and stable, spread out by God for his mankind and made a bed and cradle for them, fixed down firmly by mountains, lest it shake.

 

See a quick biography of Ibn Baz, which confirms that the Sheikh believed the sun orbits, not the earth. Also see this short entry on Salafi / Wahhabi literalism.

 

Still under your second point you write:

 

. . . Although [Sheikh Abd—Aziz Ibn Baz] was a great religious teacher, Islam recognizes that no man can have the infallibility popes still today claim.  Accordingly, Ibn Baz could not force his view on all Muslims — he didn't even think about trying to start an inquisition against the many who differed with him. In the face of Ibn Baz's statement, what should we Muslims have done — prevented him from expressing a view simply because we believed it erroneous?

 

Specifically, you say that Ibn Baz 'did not even think about trying to start an inquisition against many who differed with him.' If I understand this comment, you may be implying that the popes started inquisitions, and this is worse than Ibn Baz's beliefs. In reply, it is misguided to reference violent events and oppressive policies hundreds of years ago, and even a thousand years ago, that the church committed. Why? Do not critics of Islam point out violence and oppressive policies long ago?

 

However, Christian authorities today do not engage in any inquisitions. Christian leaders today do not see this entire era of church history as authoritative, as if we should bring forward all of its policies and practices in such matters. The church has reformed. That is, no Protestant pastor or Catholic priest today says that we should persecute and abuse and harass Christians or atheists for holding views contrary to the Bible or church teachings, particularly not in scientific disputes. However, Islam persecutes and harasses nonconformist scholars often enough, today, not only a thousand or more years ago. (Why? It punished and killed dissenters in its origins, unlike the New Testament and earliest Christianity.) Thus, no one demands, as you say in your last sentence of the excerpt, that Muslims should have prevented the Sheikh from expressing his conservative views among many strict Quran—believing Muslims or anyone else.

 

In any case, I am pleased to read your reply that says Saudi universities disagree with the Sheikh and call his view erroneous.

 

Your final comment in your second point says:

 

Addressing the Western theologians' problems with science, many Christian scholars today emphatically oppose Darwinism and believe that creationism should be taught in school. (Indeed, your President Bush advocates teaching 'Intelligent Design' — a poor cousin of creationism — in public schools!)  How should those people be answered?

 

Your comment here disappoints me. This is one subject on which Christians and Muslims could work together. In any case, you call Intelligent Design 'a poor cousin of creationism.' Does this imply that strict creationism is the privileged first—born son? It seems that Intelligent Design can only help Islamic theology in the world of modern science, unless you hold to a literal six—day creation.

 

Next, maybe a few Christian scholars want creationism taught in public schools, but most such scholars prefer that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution. This Jewish scholar, for example, who rejects Intelligent Design, says that it should still be taught in our schools:

 

Of the many reasons why intelligent design — an argument I reject — ought to be taught alongside evolution in our public schools, perhaps none is more compelling than the ignorance and demagoguery which is evident in our current national debate over the issue. Below are four myths you frequently come across while reading the political literature on the subject, followed by the facts. (Source)

 

Personally, I do not worry about the issue of teaching Intelligent Design in the public schools, one way or the other.

 

(3) Finally, your fourth point says:

 

Fourth, George Washington is said to have been one of those who believed that the earth is flat, but famous Muslim scholars like Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiya who lived centuries before him knew that the earth is spherical.

 

In reply, it may be true that these two Muslim scholars knew that the earth is spherical, but this was widely known, long before Islam came on the scene.

 

It was widely known [before Aristotle's time in the fourth century BC] that the earth was spherical, for example from the shadow of the earth which is cast upon the surface of the moon during lunar eclipses . . . (Peter Whitfield, Landmarks in Western Science, p. 33).

 

In fact, at least one Greek natural philosopher understood that the sun is the center of the cosmos.

 

A particular fame however is attached to one of [the Hellenistic scientists], Aristarchus of Samos (flourished 280 BC), for his suggestion that the Sun and not the earth was the centre of cosmos . . . But in proposing a moving earth, Aristarchus was violating all accepted wisdom, and indeed the evidence of our own senses. (Whitfield, p. 42)

 

Also, there is a difference between George Washington and Sheikh Ibn Baz. The former was a general and the first President, who lived in the eighteenth century. The latter was an Islamic scholar who lived in the twentieth century and who, presumably, had access to news reports (if only auditory) about humans landing on the moon. He benefited from advances in astronomy and rocket science in a way that President Washington could not—assuming that he really did believe that the earth was flat.

 

Finally, you link to information about the Flat Earth Society. We live in a free country, so people may put up any website or form any society that they want, without fear of harassment. But this society is not part of an accredited university or college or research lab recognized by anyone of reputation, nor is it a member of any respectable scientific community or organization. On the other hand, Sheikh Ibn Baz was deeply entrenched in the Saudi religious establishment and in an accredited university.

 

For challenges to science in the Quran, please go to this webpage. I especially recommend this scholar. The Saudi colleague whom we invited to make comments adds: 'It should be mentioned that all of the so—called scientific evidence in the Quran is based on visible evidence we can see with our own eyes, not on divine knowledge.' This lengthy summary of a debate between the scholar previously linked and a Muslim brings out this fact in more detail.

 

Summary

 

Mr. al—Buthi, I again quote two paragraphs from Bradbury's book, cited above.

 

This one describes the astronomical rise in crimes in the land of the Two Holy Mosques, where Islamic punishments are carried out physically and swiftly:

 

The statistics available are breathtaking. A 2003 report by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, for example, said that crime among young jobless Saudis rose 320 percent between 1990 and 1996, and is expected to increase an additional 136 percent by 2005. More than 60 percent of Saudis are under 21, and the kingdom's population growth rate is roughly 4 percent—one of the highest in the world . . . . (p. 142)

 

The next quotation describes how segregating the two sexes leads to increased homosexual encounters:

 

So malls in Jeddah, as well as in Riyadh and Dammam, have predictably become the preferred haunts of another group: male seeking sex with other males. Unlike the boys and girls seeking to mix, they do not have to hide their intentions. Indeed, they stroll certain of the malls and supermarkets openly making passes at each other. They are dressed in variations on Western fashion that would, in America, be considered outrageously queer, but in Saudi Arabia raise eyebrows only among those who insist on 'Islamic'—that is, Bedouin—dress at all times. These young men openly cruise, often exchanging comments in loud voices with their friends when a desirable object comes into view. (p. 154)

 

What about the US?

 

As for crime, in Part Three I cited this line graph on a short page at the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It shows that violent crimes (e.g. homicide, rape, assaults, robbery) in America have decreased dramatically since 1994 to 2003. Next, this line graph, also found at the BJS, depicts a dramatic drop in property crime (burglary, theft, and car theft) from 1994, though the rate has leveled off since 2002.

 

I also repeat and answer these questions from Part Three. What is the point of placing these two line graphs here? To boast that America has reached sinless perfection and has no room for improvement? No. Maybe the crime rate will increase (God forbid) in the next decade (or go down). The point is this: though many factors contribute to a drop in crime rates (or their rise), it is possible to see such a decrease without Islamic law. This means, therefore, that it is not needed to improve any society. Other, less brutal, methods can be applied in order to lower crime and enhance the quality of life.

See: Part One;  Part TwoPart Three.

Soliman al—Buthe (or al—Buthi) wrote an Open Letter to Congress in 2005. Then he initiated a dialogue with me, so we decided on this sequence.

 

1. In 2005, I commented and asked questions about the Open Letter.

2. Months later in the same year, Mr. al—Buthe answered my questions and challenged me on various issues. He sought the advice of Saudi scholars, as well.

3. Finally, in 2006, I reply to his challenges and questions. Sometimes I embed this part in our 2005 dialogue. I too receive help from colleagues.

 

The years 2005 and 2006 have been inserted to clarify the flow of our dialogue.

 

2005 Open Letter to Congress (continued):

Compatibility with Modernity

Like all developing nations, Saudi Arabia faces many challenges. We have social, economic, and political issues that need to be addressed. Our religious teachings, however, are not against modernity, progress, or development. Rather, this religious movement has led to a general renaissance in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic world as a whole. In just 70 years, Saudi Arabia has developed a nationwide education system consisting of eight universities, 100 colleges, and 26,000 schools that provide free education to over 5,000,000 students. The teacher—student ratio of 1:12.5 is among the lowest in the world, with over one quarter of the annual state budget allocated to education. There are currently 320 hospitals in the Kingdom consisting of 46,048 beds. In the face of these facts it is difficult to understand how our religious beliefs could possibly be inherently anti—progress and anti—modernity. Although we have much to improve, the achievements of the Kingdom thus far demonstrate that a modern society can be built upon core teachings and that progress is not hindered by an adherence to Islamic law.

JA (2005): My sincere congratulations on the development of your schools, colleges, and universities, and especially the number of hospitals. This seems positive.

1. Do you know which percentage of students specialize in religious education, such as Islamic Studies, at the universities? Is it thirty percent?

SaB (2005):

I have not been able to find any official statistics on this matter.  We do not teach purely religious studies in the narrow sense of the word even in our "Islamic universities."

These universities offer courses on all the social sciences, on computer science, on foreign languages like English, and so on. Remember, however, that we are not a secular country. Because our religion forms the basis of our life, we teach it in schools and offer courses on it even to students who specialize in disciplines like medicine and engineering.

If you are asking this question because you believe in the myth of the linkage between terrorism and Islamic studies, we refer you to the recent article "The Myth of the Madrassa" written by Peter Bergen and Swati Pabdey. (Please see The Myth of the Madrassa)

JA (2006): The reason I ask about the percentage of students who choose Islamic Studies or other religious majors is the high unemployment and crime rates in your country. John R. Bradbury worked as a journalist in Saudi Arabia for more than two years, writing for various western publications. In his book Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis,  he provides statistics for the rise. He writes:

 

The statistics available are breathtaking. A 2003 report by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, for example, said that crime among young jobless Saudis rose 320 percent between 1990 and 1996, and is expected to increase an additional 136 percent by 2005. More than 60 percent of Saudis are under 21, and the kingdom's population growth rate is roughly 4 percent—one of the highest in the world . . . . (p. 142)

 

Thus, the crime rate increases, despite the harsh punishments your legal system regularly metes out, such as chopping off heads. Bradbury recounts some episodes of public beheadings. In 2003, for example, more than 50 took place for everyone to see (p. 144). Academic programs covering economics and the social sciences may help the problem of crime. I read, above, and elsewhere that you have such programs, so this is good.

 

We have asked a friend and colleague, originally from Saudi Arabia, to comment on our dialogue. He adds:

 

The Saudi Government will allow westerners who are converts to attend the Islamic University in Mecca or Medina to earn a degree for Islamic studies. The only reason they allow them to do so is to help them become Imams and to use them to convert others to Islam. They would have never allowed any westerner who is not Muslim to attend these Islamic universities because they are in holy places / cities and only Muslims are allowed access to these places.

 

These days, from my conversations with my family and friends, the Saudi government is not allowing any non—Saudis to attend their universities, period. They may have some very little exceptions — but never for medicine or engineering. This process is part of what the government of Saudi Arabia calls Saudization. Also, non—Saudis are not allowed to own any property (e.g. land or homes) or businesses. They must have the property or the business in a Saudi partner's name, who is called a sponsor.

 

The point that this Saudi colleague is making (I believe) is that his (former) nation closes the door on an even exchange of ideas, to help solve his nation's problems. America and other free societies invite hundreds of thousands of students from all countries, cultures, and religions to study in their universities, often providing grants and scholarships for them. They allow business partnerships with foreigners. Why is Saudi Arabia closing itself off from the free and even exchange of ideas and partnerships?

 

As for the Madrassas and violence, please click on this report, which balances out your positive link.

JA (2005) 2. One of the hallmarks of modernity and progress is women's freedom. Why are not Saudi women allowed to drive cars and to vote?

SaB (2005):

What is modernity? And what is freedom?

Take 'modernity,' a very vague term.  Your references suggest that it merely is the state of being modern.

But what does it mean to be modern?

Apparently "modernity" means whatever happens to be currently popular in the West. The West is modern in many disparate ways. To be 'modern' in this sense would require every non—Western society to abandon its culture and live in a constant state of imitation of changing Western norms. We are emphatically against this wholesale adoption of Western modernity as it relates to a promiscuous freedom. We believe that we have much that is good by any rational and moral standards, and we are therefore keen not only to preserve it but also to invite others to it. But at the same time we believe that there is much worldly good in the West, and we are keen to derive benefits from that good. This applies especially to science and technology and anything that helps us to advance in these respects. We do not, however, share Westerners' current beliefs —— religious or secular — and strongly oppose many of the West's prevailing values.

Thus we think that there is a significant difference between 'modernity' in general and religious/moral modernity.  We have shopping malls of chrome and glass and the latest technology; we all use mobile phones which are actually more advanced than those in the West; we drive cars, eat in restaurants, drive through fast food outlets, get our cash from ATMs, and all have computers, satellite televisions, and Bluetooth—enabled devices.

Thus we reject the notion that we must do something simply because it happens to be Westerners' current prevailing cultural prejudice. We are simply not impressed by being told that something is one of the hallmarks of modernity as the West does in the following examples. We evaluate things by being true or false, useful or harmful, suitable or not suitable, and not just because the West counts them among the hallmarks of your modernity.

JA (2006): I am confused about something. You say in your Open Letter, which you initiated to the American Congress, that Saudi Arabia is compatible with modernity (your word). Then, when I bring up the word 'modernity,' you talk about 'cultural prejudice' and the 'wholesale adoption of Western modernity as it relates to a promiscuous freedom.' No one said anything about adopting the extremes or the vices in the West. I agree that the West has gone too far in that regard. But Saudi Arabia has let the pendulum swing too far to the other extreme—to the far side of repression, such as executing or flogging or imprisoning sexual sinners (read about this excess here and here)? Does this work? Read below.

SaB (2005): One of the primary aims of Islam is the welfare of the family. Being good to one's parents is mentioned in the Qur'an as second only to worshipping God:

Qur'an 004:36—38 'And worship God. Ascribe no thing as partner to Him. (Show) kindness to parents, and to near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and into the neighbor who is of kin (to you) and the neighbor who is not of kin and the fellow traveler and the wayfarer and (the slaves) whom your right hands possess. Lo! God loves not such as are proud and boastful, who hoard their wealth and enjoin avarice on others, and hide that which God has bestowed upon them of His bounty. For disbelievers We prepare a shameful doom; and (also) those who spend their wealth in order to be seen of men, and believe not in God nor the Last Day. Whoever takes Satan for a comrade, a bad comrade has he.'

To protect the family Islam prohibits all kinds of extra—marital sexual relations and has severe punishment for those who commit adultery and fornication.  As a consequence, free mixing between men and women is not encouraged.  Today some of our learned men thought that it would be advisable for women not to drive cars as this would tempt women to mix easily with men and vice versa. Thus the prohibition on women driving was seen as a precautionary matter; none of the learned men said that it was religiously forbidden for women to drive cars (please see Karen Hughes Driving Saudi Arabia — U.S. Relationship).The issue of women driving was never seen in our society as depriving women of a right; this is evidenced by the fact that few Saudi women even want to drive.  In the end, this question is all a matter of what is beneficial and what is not in the light of the principles in which Muslim men and women believe.

JA (2006):  You report that the reason for prohibiting women from driving cars is to separate the sexes because they may commit sexual sin and be severely punished. In Part Two I have already noted that homosexuality takes place in Saudi Arabia, so how does one fix that problem? By forbidding men from driving? I am not being facetious. It seems that the reason offered by the religious scholars for prohibiting women does not work entirely. It is a sad fact that humans will commit sexual sin, no matter how much they are smothered by rules and religious police.

 

Bradbury reports in his book (cited above) that the separation of the sexes creates the (unintended) backlash of men seeking comfort and sexual gratification from other men, and women from other women.

 

So malls in Jeddah, as well as in Riyadh and Dammam, have predictably become the preferred haunts of another group: male seeking sex with other males. Unlike the boys and girls seeking to mix, they do not have to hide their intentions. Indeed, they stroll certain of the malls and supermarkets openly making passes at each other. They are dressed in variations on Western fashion that would, in America, be considered outrageously queer, but in Saudi Arabia raise eyebrows only among those who insist on 'Islamic'—that is, Bedouin—dress at all times. These young men openly cruise, often exchanging comments in loud voices with their friends when a desirable object comes into view. (p. 154)

 

Additionally, Bradbury reports that gay websites have exploded in Saudi Arabia:

 

The number of gay—themed Saudi websites especially has exploded in recent years. Some of these sites are blocked by those responsible for censoring the Internet, but software to avoid the blocks is easily purchased in local markets. Most sites exist for one reason only: to facilitate meet—ups. Even gay pornography is freely available to anyone who has a satellite dish in their bedroom, which is to say all middle—class Saudi boys. (p. 155).

 

He goes on to report that lesbians also seek their own encounters and can easily do so because of the segregation of the sexes (pp. 162—65).

 

To return to the specific issue of driving, why do women have to be restricted from this privilege completely? Why not permit those who want to drive to enjoy this privilege at least one or two days a week? There is a middle ground somewhere.

 

Next, it may be true that 'few Saudi women even want to drive.' But here are the few. This news report by Faiza Saleh Ambah offers these few a voice. Did Karen Hughes meet with them?

 

Inside a rented hall on the outskirts of the Saudi capital, women slip on T—shirts over their silk and cotton blouses. "Yes to the empowerment of women," it reads. Nov. 6, 1990, is printed in red under tire tracks.

 

About 20 women have gathered privately here for their annual reunion to mark their defiance 15 years ago of this conservative kingdom's ban on female drivers . . . .

 

After the protest, thousands of leaflets with their names and their husbands' names — with "whores" and "pimps" scrawled next to them — circulated around the city. They were suspended from jobs, had passports confiscated, and were told not to speak to the press . . . . About a year after the protest, they returned to work and received their passports. But they were kept under surveillance and passed over for promotions.

 

But now, due to the courage of one member of Saudi Arabia's consultative Shura Council, a new reform—minded king, and a society forced into open debate following violence linked to Muslim extremists, the subject is once again taking center stage.

 

The report continues by saying that most Saudi women view driving as an imitation of the decadent West. Again, this opinion lets the pendulum swing too far to the other extreme of suppression.

 

Here is a very short excerpt from an interview with a member of the Saudi Shura Council Muhammad Aal Zulfa, which aired on Al—'Arabiya TV on June 8, 2005. He would let his wife and daughter drive.

 

This article says that Bahrain, an island and independent state that is connected to Saudi Arabia by a bridge, provides a "breathing lung" for Saudis because the Islamic island allows people to do as they want. The words "breathing lung" mean that Saudi Arabia suffocates people. On the weekends an average of 40,000 cars line up to cross the bridge.

 

Surely there is a middle path between decadence and repression.

SaB (2005): As to voting, it was never the practice in our society to resort to voting for choosing our leaders.  Over the years we have been very contented with the manner in which our leaders have been chosen.  Now that voting has been adopted on a limited level, no one here is saying that there is something in Islam which allows men but not women to vote; indeed, many of our officials are saying that this restriction was only a matter of convenience because of the additional infrastructure that would be required.  Many believe that this restriction will be lifted in the future, and perhaps in the very near future.  (How many years were American women denied the right to vote?  How many years were American Blacks denied the right to vote?) 

JA (2006): First, I am encouraged about your statement that there is nothing in Islam which 'allows men but not women to vote.' But I am unclear about the 'infrastructure that would be required.' I hope it gets ready for the next elections.

 

Second, it is true that for about a century and a half America did not allow women to vote, but we have corrected the problem at the beginning of the twentieth century, passing the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919, which opened the door to this basic right. Our nation was one of the first. France did not open the voting booth to women until after the Second World War.

 

Third, it is true, sadly, that black Americans were disenfranchised. But we have corrected the problem with the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The world awaits Saudi Arabia to correct its problems. This is why, as noted in my first point in this section, that I am encouraged by your words: 'Many believe that this restriction will be lifted in the future, and perhaps in the very near future.' I hope such freedom happens soon, in the near future. 

JA (2005) 3. One of the hallmarks of modernity and progress is an appreciation of science. Sheikh AbdulAziz bin Baz became Chancellor of the Islamic University of Medina in 1968. In 1974, he was appointed president of the Directorate of Religious Research, Islamic Legal Rulings, Islamic Propagation, and Guidance. This prominent cleric, when he was Vice—Chancellor of the Islamic University of Medina, published an article in two newspapers in 1966. In them he claimed that the Qur'an proves that the sun orbits around the earth and not that the earth orbits around the sun.

First, do you know whether he published this article? Second, does his view reflect the view of many conservative Saudis?

SaB (2005): First, Islam has no problem with science; it was in the Muslim world that science first flourished, and it was upon that basis that Europeans built their science.

Second, the Sheikh did not mention anything about orbiting. He was only criticizing the belief that the sun is stationary because there is a verse in the Qur'an which says that it 'runs.' We now know that the whole solar system moves around the Galaxy and that the Galaxy itself is traveling through space. Sheikh Abd—Aziz Ibn Baz was not a scientist, and he did not claim the doctrinal infallibility of a pope; he was simply expressing a view in which he honestly believed.  Although he was a great religious teacher, Islam recognizes that no man can have the infallibility popes still today claim.  Accordingly, Ibn Baz could not force his view on all Muslims — he didn't even think about trying to start an inquisition against the many who differed with him. In the face of Ibn Baz's statement, what should we Muslims have done — prevented him from expressing a view simply because we believed it erroneous?

Addressing the Western theologians' problems with science, many Christian scholars today emphatically oppose Darwinism and believe that creationism should be taught in school. (Indeed, your President Bush advocates teaching 'Intelligent Design' — a poor cousin of creationism — in public schools!)  How should those people be answered?

Third, our Sheikhs are only learned Islamic scholars; they are not popes whose words on religious topics become part of the religion. The Islamic religion is based on two sources only: the Qur'an and the Sunna (words and deeds of the Prophet).

Fourth, George Washington is said to have been one of those who believed that the earth is flat (please see Flat Earth Society). But famous Muslim scholars like Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiya who lived centuries before him knew that the earth is spherical.

JA (2006): My comments come in three numbered points. I omit a discussion of your third reply, but my second point alludes to it, on contrasting Christianity today and in the Medieval Age.

 

(1) For your first point you say:

 

First, Islam has no problem with science; it was in the Muslim world that science first flourished, and it was upon that basis that Europeans built their science.

 

This is a common belief in the Muslim world, and even some Westerners perpetuate it. But it needs to be balanced out and clarified.

 

Alvin J. Schmidt, in The Great Divide,  pp. 200—01, summarizes his findings in Chapter 8, which covers science. He corrects two popular misconceptions: the West is heavily indebted to Islam; and the church always stood in the way of scientific advancement. Actually, Islam is indebted to its conquered peoples, usually Christians and Jews.

 

Starting off, he concedes that some noteworthy natural philosophers (pre—scientists) lived in the Islamic empire. But they stand on the shoulders of Greeks, who were not completely wrong about some things.

 

Although Islam produced some noteworthy natural philosophers among the Arabs [Avicenna (980—1037); Averroes (1126—1198); Jabir Ibn Hayyan (c. 760—815); al—Kindi (813—880); and al—Razi, (c. 865—925)], they never attained the intellectual stature of the Greeks . . . In the words of one historian of science, 'The legacy of the Islamic world in medicine and natural science is the legacy of Greece, increased by many additions, mostly practical' . . . .

 

Then he points out that the science we know today began in the thirteenth century, long after science stalled under Islam. Also, it was the church that was a major patron of scientific learning. He ends with a short list of groundbreaking western discoveries fostered by Christianity, and bypassing Islam that seems to have bogged down in an exclusive search for religious truth and that seems largely to have ignored scientific truth. Western science was not built on the basis of Islamic 'science,' a misnomer in the first place, because, as noted, science did not really begin until the thirteenth century. Before then, it may be called a 'proto—science,' which is built on Greek 'proto—science.'

 

Finally, it is well to remember that Muslims discovered no scientific laws, such as Kepler's three laws in astronomy, Newton's law of gravity, Pascal's law of liquid measure, Ohm's law in the field of electricity, Boyle's law in chemistry, Kelvin's absolute zero, Faraday's electromagnetic induction, Dalton's atomic weight, Lavoisier's law of conservation of energy, or Mendel's law pertaining to heredity. Nor did any Muslim discover bacteria, introduce chloroform, inoculate against disease, discover circulation of the blood, introduce antiseptics, or encourage the dissecting of human cadavers. These and other great moments in science were by—products of Christianity's influence, all outside of the context of any Islamic influence and motivation . . . .

 

The next scholar, after quoting Westerners who put down their own western intellectual history and who exalt Islam's history to high heaven, clarifies and balances matters out. He says that Muslims translated insignificant ancient texts and that Christendom already had the important ones. He also says in the fourth paragraph, below, that Islam was caught up in Neoplatonism, a poor reflection of Plato, and what philosophy did exist in Islam rose higher than the Quran. So Islamic philosophers Avicenna and Averroes believed.

 

So the great rescue of Greek philosophy by translation into Arabic turns out to mean no rescue of Plato and the transmission of Latin translations of Arabic translations of Greek texts of Aristotle, either directly or more often via Syriac or Hebrew, to a Christendom that already had the Greek texts and had already translated most of them into Latin, with almost all of the work of translation from any of these languages into any other having been done by Christians and Jews and none of it by Muslims.

 

But if Islamic scholars did not actually translate ancient Greece's natural philosophy from Greek into Arabic and from Arabic into Latin, did not actually rescue Plato and Aristotle from oblivion, and did not actually ignite the Renaissance with them, didn't they create a vibrant and superior philosophy?

 

Were not Avicenna and Averroes great? Great they were, and philosophers too, but not exactly Islamic ones.

 

Islamic philosophy is a misnomer; at least, what we in the West think of as Islamic philosophy is. It is not Islamic in the sense of being rooted in Islam or even in the weaker sense of being melded to it. It is based rather on those vaunted translations from Greek and has a higher allegiance to Neoplatonism than to Islam. It considered philosophy the highest expression of truth, available only to the wisest, and Islam a lower expression suitable for the masses. It believed that the Koran is temporal, not eternal, and that God knows only universals, not particulars. In short, it was in opposition to what we and most Muslims think of as Islam.

 

(Source, emphasis original. This article by the same scholar also cites Westerners putting down their own tradition and exalting Islam. They praise Islam to dispraise the West. But the article also balances out the picture.)

 

(2) In your second point you write:

 

Second, the Sheikh did not mention anything about orbiting. He was only criticizing the belief that the sun is stationary because there is a verse in the Qur'an which says that it 'runs.' We now know that the whole solar system moves around the Galaxy and that the Galaxy itself is traveling through space. Sheikh Abd—Aziz Ibn Baz was not a scientist, and he did not claim the doctrinal infallibility of a pope; he was simply expressing a view in which he honestly believed. 

 

I have not read Sheikh Ibn Baz's article, but this is an excerpt taken from Sandra Mackey's The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom, p. 98. Her book is generally sympathetic of your country

 

In an essay written to refute the heresy of the theory of the solar system taught at Riyadh University, [Ibn] Baz said:

 

Hence I say the Holy Koran, the Prophet's teaching, the majority of Islamic scientists, and the actual fact prove that the sun is running in its orbit, as Almighty God ordained, and that the earth is fixed and stable, spread out by God for his mankind and made a bed and cradle for them, fixed down firmly by mountains, lest it shake.

 

See a quick biography of Ibn Baz, which confirms that the Sheikh believed the sun orbits, not the earth. Also see this short entry on Salafi / Wahhabi literalism.

 

Still under your second point you write:

 

. . . Although [Sheikh Abd—Aziz Ibn Baz] was a great religious teacher, Islam recognizes that no man can have the infallibility popes still today claim.  Accordingly, Ibn Baz could not force his view on all Muslims — he didn't even think about trying to start an inquisition against the many who differed with him. In the face of Ibn Baz's statement, what should we Muslims have done — prevented him from expressing a view simply because we believed it erroneous?

 

Specifically, you say that Ibn Baz 'did not even think about trying to start an inquisition against many who differed with him.' If I understand this comment, you may be implying that the popes started inquisitions, and this is worse than Ibn Baz's beliefs. In reply, it is misguided to reference violent events and oppressive policies hundreds of years ago, and even a thousand years ago, that the church committed. Why? Do not critics of Islam point out violence and oppressive policies long ago?

 

However, Christian authorities today do not engage in any inquisitions. Christian leaders today do not see this entire era of church history as authoritative, as if we should bring forward all of its policies and practices in such matters. The church has reformed. That is, no Protestant pastor or Catholic priest today says that we should persecute and abuse and harass Christians or atheists for holding views contrary to the Bible or church teachings, particularly not in scientific disputes. However, Islam persecutes and harasses nonconformist scholars often enough, today, not only a thousand or more years ago. (Why? It punished and killed dissenters in its origins, unlike the New Testament and earliest Christianity.) Thus, no one demands, as you say in your last sentence of the excerpt, that Muslims should have prevented the Sheikh from expressing his conservative views among many strict Quran—believing Muslims or anyone else.

 

In any case, I am pleased to read your reply that says Saudi universities disagree with the Sheikh and call his view erroneous.

 

Your final comment in your second point says:

 

Addressing the Western theologians' problems with science, many Christian scholars today emphatically oppose Darwinism and believe that creationism should be taught in school. (Indeed, your President Bush advocates teaching 'Intelligent Design' — a poor cousin of creationism — in public schools!)  How should those people be answered?

 

Your comment here disappoints me. This is one subject on which Christians and Muslims could work together. In any case, you call Intelligent Design 'a poor cousin of creationism.' Does this imply that strict creationism is the privileged first—born son? It seems that Intelligent Design can only help Islamic theology in the world of modern science, unless you hold to a literal six—day creation.

 

Next, maybe a few Christian scholars want creationism taught in public schools, but most such scholars prefer that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution. This Jewish scholar, for example, who rejects Intelligent Design, says that it should still be taught in our schools:

 

Of the many reasons why intelligent design — an argument I reject — ought to be taught alongside evolution in our public schools, perhaps none is more compelling than the ignorance and demagoguery which is evident in our current national debate over the issue. Below are four myths you frequently come across while reading the political literature on the subject, followed by the facts. (Source)

 

Personally, I do not worry about the issue of teaching Intelligent Design in the public schools, one way or the other.

 

(3) Finally, your fourth point says:

 

Fourth, George Washington is said to have been one of those who believed that the earth is flat, but famous Muslim scholars like Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiya who lived centuries before him knew that the earth is spherical.

 

In reply, it may be true that these two Muslim scholars knew that the earth is spherical, but this was widely known, long before Islam came on the scene.

 

It was widely known [before Aristotle's time in the fourth century BC] that the earth was spherical, for example from the shadow of the earth which is cast upon the surface of the moon during lunar eclipses . . . (Peter Whitfield, Landmarks in Western Science, p. 33).

 

In fact, at least one Greek natural philosopher understood that the sun is the center of the cosmos.

 

A particular fame however is attached to one of [the Hellenistic scientists], Aristarchus of Samos (flourished 280 BC), for his suggestion that the Sun and not the earth was the centre of cosmos . . . But in proposing a moving earth, Aristarchus was violating all accepted wisdom, and indeed the evidence of our own senses. (Whitfield, p. 42)

 

Also, there is a difference between George Washington and Sheikh Ibn Baz. The former was a general and the first President, who lived in the eighteenth century. The latter was an Islamic scholar who lived in the twentieth century and who, presumably, had access to news reports (if only auditory) about humans landing on the moon. He benefited from advances in astronomy and rocket science in a way that President Washington could not—assuming that he really did believe that the earth was flat.

 

Finally, you link to information about the Flat Earth Society. We live in a free country, so people may put up any website or form any society that they want, without fear of harassment. But this society is not part of an accredited university or college or research lab recognized by anyone of reputation, nor is it a member of any respectable scientific community or organization. On the other hand, Sheikh Ibn Baz was deeply entrenched in the Saudi religious establishment and in an accredited university.

 

For challenges to science in the Quran, please go to this webpage. I especially recommend this scholar. The Saudi colleague whom we invited to make comments adds: 'It should be mentioned that all of the so—called scientific evidence in the Quran is based on visible evidence we can see with our own eyes, not on divine knowledge.' This lengthy summary of a debate between the scholar previously linked and a Muslim brings out this fact in more detail.

 

Summary

 

Mr. al—Buthi, I again quote two paragraphs from Bradbury's book, cited above.

 

This one describes the astronomical rise in crimes in the land of the Two Holy Mosques, where Islamic punishments are carried out physically and swiftly:

 

The statistics available are breathtaking. A 2003 report by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, for example, said that crime among young jobless Saudis rose 320 percent between 1990 and 1996, and is expected to increase an additional 136 percent by 2005. More than 60 percent of Saudis are under 21, and the kingdom's population growth rate is roughly 4 percent—one of the highest in the world . . . . (p. 142)

 

The next quotation describes how segregating the two sexes leads to increased homosexual encounters:

 

So malls in Jeddah, as well as in Riyadh and Dammam, have predictably become the preferred haunts of another group: male seeking sex with other males. Unlike the boys and girls seeking to mix, they do not have to hide their intentions. Indeed, they stroll certain of the malls and supermarkets openly making passes at each other. They are dressed in variations on Western fashion that would, in America, be considered outrageously queer, but in Saudi Arabia raise eyebrows only among those who insist on 'Islamic'—that is, Bedouin—dress at all times. These young men openly cruise, often exchanging comments in loud voices with their friends when a desirable object comes into view. (p. 154)

 

What about the US?

 

As for crime, in Part Three I cited this line graph on a short page at the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It shows that violent crimes (e.g. homicide, rape, assaults, robbery) in America have decreased dramatically since 1994 to 2003. Next, this line graph, also found at the BJS, depicts a dramatic drop in property crime (burglary, theft, and car theft) from 1994, though the rate has leveled off since 2002.

 

I also repeat and answer these questions from Part Three. What is the point of placing these two line graphs here? To boast that America has reached sinless perfection and has no room for improvement? No. Maybe the crime rate will increase (God forbid) in the next decade (or go down). The point is this: though many factors contribute to a drop in crime rates (or their rise), it is possible to see such a decrease without Islamic law. This means, therefore, that it is not needed to improve any society. Other, less brutal, methods can be applied in order to lower crime and enhance the quality of life.