Organisers behind a British conference on Islam and evolution say they nearly had to cancel the event after receiving a torrent of opposition from Muslim students at one of the country’s top scientific universities, The Independent has leanred.
The Deen Institute, a Muslim debating forum which promotes critical thinking, had hoped to hold a conference entitled “Have Muslims misunderstood evolution?” early next year. Among the speakers invited to attend included Muslim scientists, imams who have promoted the compatibility of Islam and evolution as well as those who preach a form of Islamic creationism.
The initial plan was to hold the event next month at Imperial College London, one of the country’s foremost universities for scientific exploration and debate, in cooperation with the local Islamic student society. But the Deen Institute said it was forced to pull out when it became clear that opposition to the event from supporters of creationism began mounting. It is now being held without input from any Muslim student society at Logan Hall, a conference centre owned by the University of London.
“We eventually had to give up of getting any support from student societies because it was seen as simply too controversial,” Adam Deen, co-founder of the institute, told The Independent. Deen, who describes himself as a “conservative Muslim” who encourages critical thinking, said he was surprised to receive such opposition at a place of scientific study, particularly as he had made sure to invite all sides of the debate including those who preach creationism. . . he said. “It’s almost like there’s an intellectual mafia movement who won’t allow any freedom of thought.”
Usman Siddiqui, president of Imperial’s Islamic student society, insisted that they were unable to co-host the event for “logistical reasons” rather than ideological ones. “I did not say that Imperial ISoc have no qualms with the event - it's just that we did not reach the stage where we were to make that decision,” he said. “They wanted to use Imperial as a venue, it didn't work out, and now they have a new venue.”
However it is clear that opposition to the event has been increasing ever since the Deen Institute began publicising it. One source involved with preparations said: “As soon as it went live I was inundated with complaints. It’s sad because student societies should be desperate to host this kind of debate.”
Mohammad Ali Harrath, the founder of the highly influential Islam Channel, wrote (on the Facebook page) : “This debate is a big mistake. It is shifting debate to make it a Muslim issue rather than an issue between atheists and creationists.” Another commenter, Zeshan Sasjid, added: “Evolution is not Islamic. Prophet Adam did not have parents. A Muslim can’t believe that Prophet Adam.”
The row is informative because it illustrates some of the controversies currently occupying the Muslim world about the compatibility of science and whether critical thinking is being closed down by more literalist schools of thought. Muslims believe the Qur’an is the indisputable word of God and therefore any scientific discovery which risks proving something within their holy book as incorrect is highly controversial, particularly among the more literalist schools of thought. For example, most Muslim scholars have long accepted scientifically proven cosmology but even up until his death in 1999, Sheikh Ibn Baaz, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, continued to insist that the Sun revolved around the Earth based on his interpretation of Islamic texts.
Two Muslim scientists, American biologists Ehab Abouheif and Fatimah Jackson, will also speak alongside Usama Hasan, a British imam who preaches the commonly held scientific view that man is descended from ape-like forebears.
Hasan’s inclusion is particularly controversial because he enraged Muslim literalists in his own mosque in Leyton, east London, when he began preaching about evolution and criticised literalists for having a “children's madrasa-level understanding” of science compared to their Islamic forebears who once used to lead the world in such fields. The arguments eventually became so intense he was eventually forced out by hardliners.
Dr Abouheif explained why he felt it was important to begin challenging literal creationists. “There’s a lot at stake here because it’s well beyond evolution,” he said. “If it’s not about the evidence, if you reject science, if you reject evolution as a science and you’re not willing to listen to evidence, then that means that for all of science, when it comes into contact with sociological, political conflicts, then you won’t believe it either. What got me out of my seat, my lab chair … is my want of the Muslim world to become innovators and to share in being leaders. In technology and innovation, and share in production. And not just be consumers.”
But does he not realise that innovation, bida, is a sin?
But in the east of London, beside the Olympic Park, runs a new dividing line between two local authorities – neighbouring councils with completely different approaches to what may be the defining issue of this quarter-century, as the state versus the free market was in the last. The issue is race and national identity.
On the eastern, Olympic Stadium side of the line is Newham, officially Britain’s least white borough. According to the 2011 Census results published this week, just 16.7 per cent of Newham residents defined themselves as white British. Almost a quarter of all Newham households have no one who speaks English as their first language. The new arrivals are not just Pakistanis, and Caribbeans, or people from the old British Empire. They’re from everywhere now – from the Congo, Latin America, Kazakhstan, places with no historic links to Britain at all.
Yet in Forest Gate, which is more than 90 per cent non-white, a giant Union Jack flutters above the streets. Ethnic-language newspapers have been removed from all the local libraries. The council says it no longer funds any group that serves only one race or faith. (eg the megamosque)
Sir Robin Wales, the directly elected Labour mayor of Newham. “We really value diversity, but what we’ve said is that we are part of one English, or British, society. The people who have come here want the benefits of British society. Public funds should go to bring people together, not drive them apart.” Newham is opening a language lab to teach its residents English. Anyone can have English classes for £1 a lesson. “If you can’t speak English, you’re not going to work,” says Wales. “You can’t be part of this society.”
In what may be a unique programme, every Year Five child in Newham gets free music lessons at school and a free musical instrument – which they can keep if they finish the course. The instruments available are the trumpet, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, flute, guitar or keyboard – essentially Western instruments – and the music they learn is predominantly Western.
Alan Craig was until recently a Newham councillor for the Christian People’s Alliance, and leader of the opposition in the borough. “I give Robin Wales no credit for anything, as you know,” he says. “But I think he does mean it [about integration]. My concern is not with the council. They keep doing the right stuff. My concern as a resident is the rapid growth of very traditional Islam. More and more women are wearing the full veil. I simply can’t buy non-halal meat here any more, I have to go to one of the supermarkets.”
Across the border, in the borough of Tower Hamlets, the demographics are fairly similar, and so are the problems. But the approach is completely different. The mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has close links with an Islamic extremist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, based at the large East London Mosque, which believes in turning Europe into a sharia state. He was deselected by the Labour Party for these links and was elected mayor as an independent, on a tiny turnout, with the heavy assistance of the IFE.
Mr Rahman’s ruling council cabinet is 100 per cent Bengali, in a borough where Bengalis make up only about a third of the population. While Newham will not fund projects aimed at just one community, Tower Hamlets pours enormous sums into Bengali-only drugs projects, arts projects, youth projects and lunch clubs – many of them run by front organisations of the IFE. Other groups are funded too, though less generously, but again more often in racial and faith silos than on any kind of general, community-wide basis.
While Newham pays for recent immigrants to learn English, Tower Hamlets, incredibly, pays enormous sums for British-born children, who have grown up speaking English, to learn Bengali. Since his election two years ago, Mr Rahman has sought to “Islamicise” Tower Hamlets, clamping down on strip clubs and a gay pub. And he has just launched a “community faith buildings support scheme” to pour further millions into religious organisations – substantially, though not exclusively, mosques.
Robin Wales, like many other Labour people, will not deal with Rahman and admits that what he sees across the border has helped spur his policy in Newham. “You look at the community faith buildings grants and you ask yourself, what’s going on?” he says. “Lutfur is following policies that will not benefit anyone in the future. I’m extremely worried that you create an enclave, and whenever you have segregation it is an unmitigated disaster.”
Last month came perhaps the most important litmus test yet for the council’s approach. A fundamentalist Islamic sect, Tablighi Jamaat, sought planning permission for a hugely controversial “megamosque,” with space for more than 12,000 worshippers, on a site in West Ham. It could have become the Newham equivalent of the IFE’s East London Mosque, in Tower Hamlets.
Can an architect design a beautiful building by luck or accident, and if he does so, is it enough to redeem his life’s work? There is no doubt that Oscar Niemeyer, who has died at the venerable age of 104, built several beautiful buildings, the best of them (of all that I know) the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, the seat of the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations. It was not his fault that his original conception, which included the palace’s setting, was comprehensively ruined by the addition of a banal office block behind it, built to accommodate additional bureaucrats. And to mold concrete into beautiful forms, as Niemeyer did in this building, depriving it of its usual inhuman quality, took imagination and ability. Indeed, it is a feat that I’ve not seen equaled or even approached elsewhere.
An author has a right to be judged by his best book, but does an architect have the right to be judged by his best building? The cases are not analogous, for while bad books can be ignored, bad buildings cannot, and Niemeyer built many of them. An artist whose work obtrudes itself on the public cannot be judged by the same criteria as one whose work is easily avoided.
Among the terrible buildings Niemeyer built are the Edificio California in São Paulo and the National Theatre in Brasilia, the former worthy of a Soviet provincial capital and the latter more like a giant nuclear fallout shelter than like a resort of entertainment or culture. That Niemeyer was a man of talent, as his best work proves, only makes his considerable contribution to ugliness all the more unfortunate.
His greatest monument was Brasilia, where one can see his most elegant and ugliest work, the latter combining banality and brutality. The city was a joint enterprise of Niemeyer and the urbanist Lucio Costa; Costa planned the city, Niemeyer built the buildings. The overall effect is, in my opinion, inhuman (though it is only fair to mention that people who have spent their lives there love it), and the inhumanity was connected with their ideology.
As is well-known, Niemeyer was a Communist for most of his adult life and never recanted. Even at its best, his architecture lacks human warmth. The Palácio da Alvorada, the seat of the Brazilian president, is elegant in form, but no one who didn’t already know its function would dream that it was a residence. It would be suited to that purpose if man had the coldly streamlined form of the praying mantis. Niemeyer’s creations would be perfect if only no one had to live in them; people spoil them so. Attempts to humanize the interiors of his architectural forms are unavailing and look tawdry. An upholstered sofa in this setting serves the same function as a child’s teddy bear in a threatening or incomprehensible world: it is something to hang on to in an emotionally cold environment.
Niemeyer was by all accounts a charming man, and he never used his fame or position to accumulate a fortune, as he could easily have done. He was disinterested. Like many architects of the twentieth century, he built for humanity; as for men, he knew them not.
In December 2011, the National Defense University’s Deputy VP for Academic Affairs, Dr. Brenda Roth, officially confirmed in writing to the Pentagon that all course materials at the National Defense University were vetted and approved by the University and its military command. This official confirmation covered the content and outside guest speakers used in its course entitled Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism.
Nevertheless, four months later General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disregarding Dr. Roth’s official report, publicly excoriated and fired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Matthew Dooley, an instructor involved with the course, on grounds that the course was offensive to Islam and unprofessional; he also ordered LTC Dooley’s career–ending negative Officer Evaluation Report.
In the newly revealed official communication written on December 2, 2011, Dr. Roth informed the Pentagon that “The curriculum is vetted through College-level curriculum committees or academic review committees which ensure students receive a senior-level professional education (vice training) in national security strategy.”
According to Dr. Roth,“The College Dean of Faculty and Academic Programs reviews and vets proposed speakers for their subject matter expertise and academic and teaching credibility. The Commandants[Generals] have the final review of recommended speakers and issues invitations to those he approves.”
Dr. Roth’s official report was written in response to a Pentagon inquiry about the vetting process and use of outside lecturers to avoid Muslim criticism of federal agencies that present an offensive view of Islam.
The course on Islamic Radicalism was first established in 2004. The external guest speakers used in the elective were all approved under the watch of Brigadier General Marvin Smoot, USAF, in 2009-2010, well before Dooley’s arrival. LTC Dooley began as an instructor of the Radical Islam course in 2011. He received the highest officer evaluations for his effectiveness as an instructor that included a recommendation that he be promoted and given a command as soon as possible.
Brigadier General Marvin Smoot, USAF, was the commandant of the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) when the various guest speakers "critical of Islam" were vetted. Moreover, in 2011 General Smoot gave LTC Dooley an outstanding Officer Evaluation Report for his performance as an instructor. General Smoot’s replacement as JFSC commandant, Major General Joseph Ward, also thought highly of LTC Dooley, but nonetheless followed orders and wrote a negative evaluation.
Two Republican Congressmen, Representatives Duncan Hunter of California and Thomas Rooney of Florida questioned the severity of Dooley’s punishment. Army Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, responding on behalf of General Dempsey, still blamed LTC Dooley for poor judgment but admitted “that there were institutional failures in oversight and judgment.” Those institutional failures, therefore, must rest on the doorstep of the generals in charge of the institution, not on an instructor who received multiple accolades from his superiors for the great job he was doing.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, the public interest law firm representing LTC Dooley, commented, “Any fair-minded person would conclude that Matt Dooley was thrown under the bus to protect the generals who had institutional responsibilities over the course. I believe the Pentagon wanted to curry favor with the White House and the Muslim community, which demanded that all training materials offensive to Islam be purged and the trainers who use them punished. The fact remains that the course and guest lecturers for which LTC Dooley was publicly ridiculed and punished were all approved by senior leaders long before he ever became an instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC).”
A Rabbi Consoles the Grieving Parents who lost Their Son in The Sandy Hook School Attack
Rabbi Shaul Praver Noah Pozner
Congregation Adath Israel Sandy Hook School
Newtown, Connecticut Shooting Victim
Earlier today, an interfaith service was held at Congregation Adath Israel in Newtown, Connecticut. One of the members of this Conservative synagogue, the Pozner family lost their six year old son Noah in the mindless mass murder attack that occurred yesterday morning at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The spiritual leader of Adath Israel Synagogue is someone we know well as a mensch (decent human being), Rabbi Shaul Praver. We had often shared worship services at his country synagogue in northern Fairfield County. Newtown with its signature giant American flag pole was a landmark on our shunpike trips from our home in Fairfield, Connecticut to the inns of Washington and Lake Waramaug in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut.
Rabbi Shaul Praver is a friend from our days as a resident of Fairfield, Connecticut before our retirement to Florida. We had gotten to know his wife and children at annual Chanukah celebrations and other events. We had worked together on a number of interview programs on his public access channel TV program Rabbi Rock produced at a cable TV facility in Newtown. Rabbi Praver has a neshumeh (soul) reflected in his liturgical and popular music and his derash (commentary). We commend him for his consolation and assistance to the grieving parents of the late Noah Pozner family, members of Congregation Adath Israel. Noah's twin sister survived the murderous attack by the lone shooter who shot and killed the 26 innocent children and heroic adult staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The JTA published a story about Rabbi Praver ministering to the bereft Pozner family, “Jewish 6-year-old youngest of Newtown shooting victims”. The story illustrates the thoughtful counsel and devotion of Rabbi Praver to the spiritual needs of the Pozner family with their heartbreaking loss. Young Noah will be laid to rest on Sunday when President Obama will pay a visit to Newtown to attend an interfaith service and meet with the grieving parents who lost children in this tragic episode that has shocked the nation.
First grade student Noah Pozner, the youngest of the victims murdered on Friday had just turned 6 years old Nov. 20; he will be laid to rest on Sunday.
Israeli news site Ynet.com reported that Pozner's twin sister is also a student at Sandy Hook but survived the shooting.
Rabbi Shaul Praver of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown told NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon that he spent Friday -- which he termed "the day from Hell" -- consoling Pozner's mother, who is a member of the synagogue.
"I told the mother that was grieving that I personally believe in the eternity of the soul, and I believe that she will see her son again," Praver said. "Other than that theological comment, the rest of it was getting her to think about taking a breath and not trying to plan the rest of her life out right now, because she says, 'What am I going to do without my baby?'"
Praver was among the clergy, social workers and psychologists who arrived at a firehouse near the school where many of the victims and their families congregated after the shooting. On Saturday morning, Adath Israel held a community prayer service.
In response to the question of why such tragedies happen, Praver replied: "I don't know the answer to that. I never try to present a theological answer to that. I think what's more important is to have compassion, humanity and hold someone's hand and hug them and cry with them."
Praver, who ended his NPR interview with a plea for listeners to pray for the families affected, also said that another friend of the congregation was killed.
The family and loved ones of the children and adults, murdered in unspeakable senseless ways by this disturbed young man, deserve all our deepest thoughts and prayers of compassion to get through this intense period of grieving. This nation stands in solidarity with them at this time and for days to come.