By Waseem Altaf
February 10, 2012
“When I became convinced that the Universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, of the joy of freedom”
Almost after every prayer, five times a day and particularly after the Juma prayers, millions of Muslims in mosques and at homes, pray for the destruction of the ‘enemies of Islam’. This practice is going on for centuries, but today what we find is that the ‘non-Muslims’ of the developed world excel Muslims in every sphere of life, while the circumstances are fast worsening for the Muslims of the world.
The reason is simple: While the Muslims rely on the supernatural and the metaphysical the majority of ‘non-Muslims’ in the developed world base all their inferences on naturalism, the foundation of science.
It was 1991, during the first gulf war that many of our top military generals were predicting defeat for the Americans, claiming that although the US forces were well equipped, they were not infused with the spirit of jihad which characterized the Iraqi armed forces.
The same predictions were being made during the Arab-Israel wars of 1967 and 1973. And fathe mubeen was also forecast for Pakistani forces in all the wars including Kargil. What we find is total defeat for the Muslim forces at the hands of the ‘non-Muslim’ armies.
The reason is again simple: The ‘non-Muslim’ forces were better trained, better equipped and had superior leadership, whereas the Muslim armies were deficient in all respects.
Numerous students excel others in exams and achieve positions in various boards and universities in the Muslim world. When asked how they managed it, the response is almost always similar. ‘It was due to the prayers of the parents and the efforts of teachers’. Now the fact of the matter is that almost all parents pray for the outstanding success of their children and teachers put in same effort for the entire class. Then why is it that only some excel while others are left behind?
The answer, yet again is simple: Some of the students have better opportunities and are hardworking than the others. It is however pathetic that instead of taking the responsibility themselves they attribute it to an external factor, a value which the regressive culture imposes on them.
The time when every phenomena like the rising of the sun or the blowing of the wind was attributed to an act of god or gods is long gone. Similarly, ascribing every success or failure to a supernatural being is also history in the modern world. Science is fast replacing religion. As our understanding of the universe increases, lesser and lesser room is left for the god to function and fill the gap. The Greek god Helios and his chariot became redundant when man came to know how the Sun moves across the sky.
So, it is always the empirical evidence and the logical reasoning combined together to unravel the truth and not blind faith in a supernatural entity controlling everything.
Let us take the example of the mysterious deaths of more than a hundred people at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology. The deaths were not caused because the dead were any dear to God who wanted their early departure from this temporary world or due to some magic, but because the drug namely IsoTab contained a large amount of an anti-bacterial ingredient which triggered an unknown disease in heart patients who consumed it. The finding, pointing to the presence of an unusual amount of the anti-bacterial was made in a British laboratory and not through an unexplained revelation.
One major problem with believing in something without evidence and reasoning is that there is no way left to judge whether one’s belief is based on truth or not. Hence, in order to support one’s belief one tends to be emotional and refers the matter to an unquestioned authority and not evidence. Believing in something supernatural is interesting, emotionally fulfilling and convenient.
On the other hand thinking logically is difficult while thinking scientifically is even harder, when you also have to support your assumptions with hard evidence. Moreover science has a dynamic character, whereas religious tenets and holy text is extremely resistant to alteration in an ever-changing world, where you are constantly subjected to a new set of values. Secondly, religious postulates are not falsifiable. Hence if every phenomenon is attributable to god then it cannot be falsified and hence is not testable. Moreover, no advancement in medicine, engineering and metrology, etc, would have been possible if god does everything. There had been no culture and no modern age.
Another big difference between science and religion is that in science if facts do not support the theory, the theory is modified. But in religion if the facts do not support the religious tenets, the facts are discarded right away. I recall one of my class fellows; while working on his PhD thesis obtained data which showed that there was no difference in the anxiety level of those you regularly say their prayers and those who do not. This fact was discomforting to him as he was a very religious man. So he manipulated the data to support his assumption; that those with religious inclination had, on the average, a low level of anxiety.
In our society it is almost unacceptable to question what the parents say as they raised us. To challenge what the written word says is equally despised, as right from early childhood we are taught to respect the written text, for it comes from some authority. To defy what the teacher says is also not approved, as it tantamount to disrespect .The most uttered word in our classrooms is ‘silence’. Hence in a culture where traditionalism and religiosity has deep roots, it is extremely difficult to see natural phenomena in a scientific perspective.
Science and reason are self-correcting whereas adherence to a blind faith often leads one to inaccuracies and erroneous judgments. Dan Barker says that “If faith is a valid tool of knowledge, then anything can be true 'by faith,' and therefore nothing is true. If the only reason you can accept a claim is by faith, then you are admitting that the claim does not stand on its own merits.”
Religious faith is the anti-thesis of rational thought and hence has no place in the modern world.
Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), American politician and orator once said, “When I became convinced that the Universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, of the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust.”
Waseem Altaf is a social activist.