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Letter from Ibrahim Lawson, head of Islamia School

Here is an email from Ibrahim Lawson, head of an Islamic school, whom I quoted below in Is Religion Dangerous?

I am v. grateful to Mr Lawson for permission to post the letter here for discussion. Seems to me Ibrahim Lawson is right - this is exactly the sort of discussion we should now all be having with each other: Muslims, those of other faiths, atheists, etc.

Sadly, such discussions don't happen very often, so this is a real opportunity.

Contributors will, I'm sure, respond temperately and graciously. I hope we get a range of views.

Mr Lawson writes...

Dear Stephen, I came across this today:

If you're not worried about what's going on in some religious schools, you should be. Here's a brief excerpt from a Radio 4 interview with Ibrahim Lawson, head of an Islamic school:

IL: [t]he essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.
ER: You use the word "inculcate": dies that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?
IL: I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really…
ER: Does that mean that Islam is a given and is never challenged?
IL: That’s right…

One of the key safeguards religious schools need to have in place is a critical culture. My own view is schools like Ibrahim Lawson's should no longer be tolerated, let alone be state funded.

I don’t usually respond to items in the media about Islam and Islamic schools because it doesn’t seem that there is any room for reasonable dialogue in that context – people have made their minds up already and are not really there for the purposes of any genuine communication. However, I see that you are a philosopher and that therefore perhaps not as bigoted as your remarks about not tolerating my school any longer might suggest. So I thought I would email you (as your blog invites me to do) to see if I am really as much of a threat to society as you imply.

I remember this interview quite well because at the time I really couldn’t see what the big objection was to what I experienced every day at my school. I was living in a Pakistani community and knew everyone quite well. No one I knew was what might be called extremist in the ordinary sense of the word. It was simply that, as Muslims, they wanted to bring their children up as Muslims and they wanted there to be a school where, in addition to the normal national curriculum, their children would learn about Islam. Moreover, they wanted there to be an ‘Islamic ethos’, meaning that it would be a place where people spoke positively about Islam throughout the day, the prayers were done, the Qur’an recited, etc. In that way, the school would resemble the rest of the children’s lives – at home and at the mosque and out in the community.

In fact, the school was a very friendly place: the teachers and pupils were often related through their extended families or through networks of friendship; it was very much a community school, like being a part of a big family if you like. Can you see why people would want their children to go to a school like that? Why would anyone object to a community who had shared values, history and culture having their ‘own’ school?

Were we building a dodgy nuclear power station?

Frankly, I really don’t see that. None of the children or parents would have considered themselves for a minute to be the enemies of British society or any of its other members. All had normal British aspirations for their children – to get good exam results, go to university, get a good job and a mortgage etc. They just wanted to be Muslims, and their children, as well. And I think that is where the real objection lies.

It is slightly absurd to imagine what approach we should have taken to teaching about Islam to these Muslim children if the objection is to us telling them that Islam is true. The reason we offer to Muslim children for accepting the truth of Islam is that this is what Allah wants us to believe, what he has written in the Qur’an, and also what the prophet Muhammad wants us to believe – him being the messenger of Allah. Are we really supposed to then say, “But you shouldn’t believe that just because we say so; you should make your own minds up”? That is not what Islam teaches. In Islam, there is no question about the existence of god, the validity of the Qur’an or the veracity of the prophet. Nor, given that, is there a sensible choice about being Muslim. It would be self-contradictory to teach Islam to children as a matter of choice based on personal opinion.

Given that this would be ridiculous in practice, I suppose you would prefer that we did not have Islamic schools. Then the children would be being told at home and at the mosque that Islam was true – objectively – but, at school, that the truth of Islam was merely a matter of opinion. However, Muslim parents, believing Islam to be true, do not want their children being told this; they believe that it is essential for the spiritual health of their children that they know Islam to be true without any possibility of doubt – because that is what Islam teaches.

So I think your real objection is to Islam itself. It is not just schools like mine that should no longer be tolerated, but beliefs like mine.

Do you think that Islam is a danger in principle to British society? Either way, this is perhaps where the discussion should focus, if that would be of any interest to you.


Ibrahim Lawson


Joe Otten said…
And yet state-funded schools are agents of the state.

If the state tells some children that religion X is certainly true, and tells other children otherwise, it is knowingly lying to at least one group of children.

Without prejudging the truth of Islam I don't want my taxes spent on deliberate lies. And therefore all questions of faith must be left to parents, and not taught in schools.
Post-Islamist said…
I don't think it's as simple as that. A muslim, tax paying parent might take exactly the same position in saying that it is a lie that Islam is a lie and that the state is wrong to tell children that Islam is a matter of personal opinion. That is in fact why some muslim parents want their child to go to an Islamic school. The point is that there is no neutral position for the state and its agents to take.

The interesting question is: can we see a way for the state to defend the rights of its citizens to hold differing and conflicting views?
Anonymous said…
I do not intend this post to be offensive but I'm sure that is how Mr. Lawson would take it. That said, let me be explicit.

I object to the Islamic faith entirely.

The reason being exactly that which Mr. Lawson points out in his letter. There is no room for doubt. Islamic culture is stuck in an intellectual dark age. Any group of people who base their morality on the teachings of a man ,who would in the modern western world be condemned as a peadophile, and allow no room for doubt are the vitims of brainwashing.

I would like to know if Mr. Lawson would like it taught to his children that it is ok for a grown man to have sex with a nine year old. While this may seem like slander, Muhammad did marry his best friends nine year old daughter or do I have that wrong?
Unknown said…
The caring nature of the school Mr Lawson describes is not in question. In that respect it may be an excellent school. But that isn't sufficient.

"That is not what Islam teaches. In Islam, there is no question about the existence of god, the validity of the Qur’an or the veracity of the prophet."

How then, does Mr Lawson explain the different interpretations put on the Qur’an, from the apparently mild communal aspects promoted at his school, to the extremely violent interpretations promoted by many fundamentalist? Is it the case that the Qur’an states that apostates should be killed,? If so, as someone who doesn't question the correctness of the Qur’an, does he believe that, and teach that to his children? Even if he doesn't there are plenty of Muslims who do believe that, and teach it.

Mr Lawson goes on to say, "Nor, given that, is there a sensible choice about being Muslim. It would be self-contradictory to teach Islam to children as a matter of choice based on personal opinion."

It would be reasonable to say, "This is how you think critically...(teach critical thinking)..." Then, in separate lesson "This is Islam..." You wouldn't need to combine them the way Mr Lawson suggests (though I don't see why you shouldn't, but that in itself illustrates how ridiculous are absolute faith systems.) I think he'd find before long that the pupils themselves would begin to question Islam. And I think this is at the heart of his objection to teaching critical thinking in his school.

If it must be all or nothing, if Mr Lawson and other Muslim leaders do in fact say, "If we cannot teach Islam in this way, without teaching critical thinking ... (as described by Mr Lawson) ... then we cannot have a Muslim school." then so be it. There should be no compromise on this issue. Children should not be indoctrinated in this way.

Note that this doesn't prevent parents teaching their children about Islam, but then the children will be bringing home their own critical questioning to their parents, and again Islam will be under threat. And so it should be, as should any system of belief, even atheism.

It's one thing to believe something personally about the origins of the universe, and humankind and its place in the universe. It's quite another thing to dictate that message to children (or to anyone else). The difficulty for Islam is that it must capture the minds of children and indoctrinate them if it is to have a chance to promote and maintain itself.

If Mr Lawson holds such strong views on this issue, would he also like to state his position on Islam in more general terms. He is so committed to Islam, does he think he should be able to indoctrinate adults? Does he think Britain should become an Islamic state? This would appear to follow from his statements about the truth of Islam: if Islam is so absolutely true, and if the Qu'ran is to be followed faithfully, then this does follow, doesn't it?

"So I think your real objection is to Islam itself. It is not just schools like mine that should no longer be tolerated, but beliefs like mine." - In the form you describe it, that's right, it shouldn't be tolerated.

"Do you think that Islam is a danger in principle to British society?" - Again, in the form described by Mr Lawson, it is dangerous.

A form of Islam that would be acceptable is one that would tolerate critical questioning, and teach critical questioning to its children; that would allow people who lost their faith to leave the faith without pressure; would respect the equality of both sexes in all matters; and so on. Of course, Mr Lawson might then say that that isn't Islam. What a pity it isn't.
Post-Islamist said…
Anonymous wrote: “I do not intend this post to be offensive but I’m sure that is how Mr. Lawson would take it…”. Would it not be better to leave personal accusations out of discussions such as this? Whether someone is offended or not is not the issue as long as arguments are put fairly. That said, ‘anonymous’ has exaggerated the point that I took Lawson to be making: there is plenty of room for doubt in Islam, as I understand it, just certain basic facts that are held to be foundational – Allah, the Koran and the Prophet. Even so, I doubt you would be able to find any muslim past or present who would claim to be in no doubt about his or her own personal understanding of these things. Muslim history is full of inquiring minds. On the other hand, is ‘anonymous’ in no doubt about his/her own beliefs? If so, then on what basis? If not, then s/he should be prepared to admit that muslims might be right.

The ad hominem argument is fallacious and does not support the argument for brainwashing.

Finally, Lawson can answer for himself about his own personal preferences, but I believe that the marriage to Aisha was consumated only after she became an adult.
Scott said…
Personally my problem isn't with Islam. I don't believe Stephen Law's comments were against Islam, in fact much of the discussion in the previous topics has taken place on the subject of Christian faith.

The problem here is religious
schools in general. Not all faith schools are guilty of removing reason, but the vast majority are.

I am just as worried over a Catholic who lives blindly by the Bible as by a Muslim who lives by the word of the Qur’an.

A true faith would draw believers to it whether they are brought up in a faith school or not.

Philosophers generally get angry when they see reason being denied, especially to the young. But we cannot afford to be seen as part of the unreasonable mob, so I beg you please don't turn this into an Anti-Islam rant, this is a much bigger problem that one religion.
Use the virtues that philosophy gives us to solve this problem, no good will come from belittling religious beliefs or from refusing to see them as a valid viewpoint, albeit based upon belief.

I would like to ask Mr. Lawson if he could answer the following metaphorical situation.

2 schools exist next to each other;

A)Has a excellent reputation for education. It is mixed faith school, and teaches Religious Education which looks at several different faiths.

b)Has a good solid religious background (in your case Islam) however the teaching isn't the best, in fact its average on a good day. It doesn't have subjects like Religious Education, it teaches solely from the religions holy text ( in this The Qur'an.)

Which school do you send your child?

I'd agree with Ron Murphy, if any schools teaching cannot be run in conjunction with critical thinking, there should be large doubts about the sincerity that the school claims to educate.

I know this is a long post, but my final point is that it is worth remembering that a lot of the conclusions to Arguments For or Against God depend on which side of the faith line you started. (The believer sees design etc etc)

I'm not saying it's pointless, but it may not produce the large amount of "converts" some people seem to be hoping for.
Anonymous said…
In reply to Ron Murphy,

I believe that the Qur’an is the word of Allah. But I also believe that it is we who have to understand and apply these words, and this is where the issue of exegesis, of which there is a long tradition in Islamic scholarship, arises.

Regarding the specific issue of apostasy, there is no reference to and ‘death penalty’ in the Qur’an, only a punishment after death.

What I probably did teach my children was that there are textual bases for the execution of an apostate but that this was something of only theoretical significance in our present context. But I cannot remember the topic ever coming up.

There are perhaps many (?) muslims in the world today who promote violent interpretations of Islamic law (even though, I suspect they are in a tiny minority) but I don’t think it is necessary to agree with them.

In fact, in my school we did a lot of critical thinking – I remember getting a lot of mileage out of ‘Harry Stotlemeier’s Discovery’ – and even philosophy, including much of what is in the RE. GCSE and A Level syllabuses. It was taught according to the age of the children concerned – so we didn’t critically review the classical arguments for belief in the existence of god until key stage 4.

(I wonder if I couldn’t put in a plea for a ban on emotive language such as ‘ridiculous’ by the way. I don’t see that it adds to communication.)

Anyway, I am all in favour of questioning Islam, as long as it is done responsibly – that is by someone in full possession of the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary; in other words, by someone who has been educated to be able to question Islam, rather than by someone who has neither the knowledge’ skills nor attitudes necessary and can only then make a bad job of it.

So I plead not guilty to the charge of indoctrination as constructed by Ron Murphy at least. I support critical questioning, but I think it cannot be applied universally to all articles of faith without resulting in nihilism at best or solipsism of the kind we see all too prevalent in today’s society: “I am the only thing that really matters. My opinions are the only ones that count.” Muslim parents do not want their children being taught this – at least the ones who have seen through the impossibility inherent in such statements as ‘any system of belief must be under threat’ (to re-phrase Mr Murphy slightly). Unfortunately there are probably few who have had the education to be able to do so, and that is why we have Islam to fall back on – not everyone has to be a philosopher or a theologian.

It is true that, left to him or herself, a human being would not arrive at a belief system such as Islam – revelation is needed, and, following that, education. Children need to be told something about themselves and their world surely – that’s the parents’ job in my view. Who would leave the formation of their children’s worldview to chance? And why not be honest about what you believe? I am sure Ron tells his children all sorts of things that he personally believes and thinks that they should too.

As for my position on Islam in more general terms: I would like to be able to persuade adults to become Muslims, but that is a very difficult thing to do in my experience since most of the people you meet do not have the education necessary for them to be able to understand or appreciate what you are talking about. Religious language has lost most of its sense for most people nowadays. That’s partly why I have decided to contribute to any discussion that might develop on this blog – I need to try to understand where non-Muslims are coming from and how it might be to get through to them in any meaningful way. This is something I have been avoiding for many years but I think it is something that really needs to be done now.

So yes, I think Britain should become a part of the Muslim Ummah (I don’t like the expression ‘Islamic state’), but I can’t see how that is going to happen at the moment. And perhaps that is a shocking admission, I don’t know. But Islam teaches us that we are already all muslims in a generic sense, it is the natural condition of the human being, it’s just that some of us don’t realise it and most of us don’t understand what that means.

So I understand that Mr Murphy and many others see Islam as something of a threat (‘in the form that I describe it’), but I don’t think it is and I am often taken aback by the virulence with which what to me is a profound and peaceful way of life is attacked.

Finally, I will try to restrain myself from ironic attacks on other contributors to this blog with whom I happen to disagree, if others would agree to do likewise. Mr Murphy’s final paragraph is a rather crude swipe based on a broad range of criticisms of Islam, some only hinted at, which makes me feel a little uncomfortable.
Anonymous said…
'by someone who has been educated to be able to question Islam'

As determined by who? Muslims?

This begins to lead you into the trap of the Courtier's Reply. That only those who can criticise are those with sufficient in depth knowledge of the nuances, despite the fundaments having no basis.

'that is a very difficult thing to do in my experience since most of the people you meet do not have the education necessary for them to be able to understand or appreciate what you are talking about. Religious language has lost most of its sense for most people nowadays.'
only strikes me as more of the same fallacious reasoning.

It's in fact the very kind of logic that worries us.
Unknown said…
Mr Lawson, thank you for the response. If I might respond in turn; and apologies to Stephen for hijacking his blog.

Where you begin, "I believe..." - I think you'll find the point in this paragraph one that is contended regularly by critics, of theism generally but focusing on Islam for now. There are claims, such as your own, that the Qu'ran is the word of Allah. In your letter you said that making your own mind up about Islam isn't what Islam teaches. But then you say the Qu'ran is open to interpretation, all be it by experts through exegesis. So, to what extent is interpretation permitted? What little of the Qu'ran I've read, in English, seems particularly vague and open to pretty much any type of interpretation. This doesn't seem to fit with the notion of the Qu'ran containing any 'truth' - unless the 'truth' is whatever some Imam says it is. It appears to be a system where some self appointed elite is responsible for interpreting some ancient text and dictating how everyone else should behave. From the history of the Catholic church it's pretty clear that its a type of system wide open to abuse. And on what basis would someone accept that some ancient text contains any 'truth', simply because some current spiritual leaders say so. It's perfectly reasonable for anyone to question, criticise, and even ridicule any source of knowledge that makes such great claims on such flimsy grounds. And this approach should apply to science, politics, philosophy and religion - only by opening any system of knowledge to such attack and demanding that it defends itself with reason can it achieve any form of respect. I don't wish to be disrespectful to you personally, but I can't have any respect for a system that is so dogmatic that it insists its children become followers.

"Regarding the specific issue of apostasy, there is no reference to and ‘death penalty’ in the Qur’an, only a punishment after death." - I appreciate that this may well be the case. I've read some passages that are supposed to refer to this, without finding any explicit call for the death penalty in this world, but again I always find these passages to be vague. But then, on the basis of exegesis, and interpreting this vagueness, isn't that precisely the avenue left open for extremists to impart that interpretation - the death penalty in this world? If that's not the case and if it is the case that no Imam is suggesting the death penalty for apostasy, then the message isn't getting through to many of those who you later refer to in these terms: "who has neither the knowledge’ skills nor attitudes necessary and can only then make a bad job of it". I feel this type of elitist exclusion is what leads to the baying mob mentality in the 'uneducated' followers - they belive they are not worthy of thinking for themselves and are therefore vulnerable to the persuasions of the local crackpot. I'm not a professional philosopher, and nor am I an expert on religion, but I don't think that prevents me from giving my opinion without fear of condemnation. In fact, my inclusion, and of anyone else, is actively encouraged by professionals such as Stephen Law.

Your paragraph containing, "There are ...promote violent interpretations...I suspect they are in a tiny minority" - It only takes a minority to have a dramatic impact, both in violent acts and in the incitement of others. The point here is that the ability of an extreme minority to influence a gullible majority is all the easier when the foundation of absolute faith has been laid. You next mention how your school did employ critical thinking, and that may be so. But critical thinking and questioning of the Islam isn't a fundamental part of the system. Faith in Allah comes first and foremost, with the Qu'ran as the message, as you said, and with interpretations provided by an elite. Unless you explicitly say something like "We believe this..., but it's criticisms are this..., go away, think about it, criticise it, without any fear of condemnation, ..." then you're not applying that critical thinking, your using it under false pretenses, or in a limited way, such as "God said..., and though we can't question his word, what did he mean in this social situation? Oh, by the way, he really did say that, so let's not dispute whether he did or not, or whether he even exists in order to say it."

If I want to attack the scientific elite I can. Is all that is required is that I study the subject, and provide sufficiently reasoned argument and evidence to support my challenge, and if it's convincing enough it will be accepted. This is how a patent clerk changed the face of physics at the turn of the last century. But somehow I can't see that happening with a religion. To have the elite of Islam take my opinions seriously I have to actually believe in that faith, and then become educated according to its current teachings to the appropriate standard, and I still must agree with the current elite. Once I'm a member of the elite I might be able to make some minor alternative interpretation, locally. But, again, it's all so vague that I'm unlikely to convince anyone to deviate significantly - I'd be told that it is the word of god, and who am I to dispute it. Science, politics and philosophy evolve in some very significant ways. But religion, particularly Catholicism and Islam, only ever appear to vary according to some local custom. Even in rare cases where some new religious sect breaks away from the main body, it always results in permanent schisms. I don't know of any religious schisms that have later rejoined (correct me if I'm wrong). Schisms occur in science, but they are usually short lived - until the evidence one way or the other is insurmountable. Politics appears to be a half-way house, where political parties almost become an issue of faith. But generally, the principles of critical thinking can and must be applied to science and philosophy, and in principle to politics, to a degree that religions would not tolerate.

"So I plead not guilty to the charge of indoctrination as constructed by Ron Murphy at least. I support critical questioning..." - I was pretty sure that your point of view, as laid down in the interview or letter, was what I reconstructed. If it isn't it doesn't matter, your own words are sufficient.

You criticise the point of view that, "I am the only thing that really matters. My opinions are the only ones that count." - I agree that point of view isn't very commendable. But I don't think its one promoted by any of the 'humanist' critics of religious faith. This is nearer the mark, "I matter just as much as anyone else, and my opinion is just as relevant as anyone else's, allowing for differences in the expertise, but without undue deference, particularly on matters of the existence or non-existence of a god for which there is zero evidence either way."

Nihilism is an interesting one. Just as atheists may struggle accepting religious faith, so I think theists struggle accepting some atheistic principles and confuse them with nihilism. Nihilism has some negative overtones, but if you take as a part of the definition "Human existence is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value," then that seems perfectly reasonable. Any meaning, purpose or value is entirely derived from the 'human condition'. I don't think the rejection of faith necessitates the other meanings attributed to nihilism, such as "the denial of all real existence, the rejection of established laws." In fact some, such as "the annihilation of the self, the use of terrorism and assassination," are components of extreme religious fundamentalism and martyrdom.

Solipsism in its purest form appears a little empty for me. As a exercise in epistemology its an interesting theoretical point, but life would be pretty boring or insane if you tried to live by it. And again, I don't think the absence of faith implies solipsism at all.

So I think critical reasoning can be applied to everything, without any need for faith, and without resort to nihilism or solipsism. And that's not to say critical thinking is the only way one should think. Wild imagination, emotion, or even the experiences that religious believers might call revelation, awe and wonder, the love of the arts, love itself, can all be experienced with or without applying critical thinking. Sometimes the simple experience is all.

But when it comes down to trying to establish the origins of the universe and life, and how we as humans should conduct ourselves with respect to each other and other forms of life, faith has no place. Only critical reasoning and thinking and the examination of our world and relationships will get us anywhere. Eternal contemplation about an afterlife, or about some entity that might welcome us there depending on how we behave now, is a worst prospect than either nihilism of solipsism. There are plenty of wonders in this real universe in which we live. My view is that religion consists of fairy stories, and there's no evidence to the contary.

"It is true that, left to him or herself, a human being would not arrive at a belief system such as Islam – revelation is needed..." I have no experience of revelation in that sense. Have all Muslims experienced revelation? If not, on what basis do they believe? If revelation does occur why is it that revelation of Islam appears only, or mostly to Muslims within already Muslim families, or to Christians within Christian families, and so on? Doesn't faith require revelation? Without revelation how is the beief genuinely held? How can you say that indoctrinated children believe, when they have been force fed and have not experienced revelation? Since revelation is such a personal experience what really distinguishes it from delusional experiences?

At this point I'd like to ask your opinion on the basis on which exegesis occurs. Does it rely on revelation or critical thinking? If revelation, how can you be sure that these revelations are not delusions, or more sinisterly, bogus and self serving? If they rely on critical thinking, why can this not be applied to the very core faith itself? The very term 'faith' appears to deny any use of critical thinking. And what's the difference between what you call faith, and what I would call blind faith - the unwarranted belief in something for which there is no evidence. I'm prepared to employ blind faith in support of my football team, but never in the determination of anything as serious as my belief system.

I'd also like to make my position clear in response to, "I am sure Ron tells his children all sorts of things that he personally believes and thinks that they should too." Yes, but I can assure you I always insisted they question. The only belief system I 'indoctrinated' them into was to question all belief systems, including my own, and to be particularly skeptical about any 'indoctrination' process. As an early lesson, tell your children that the only word left out of the English dictionary is the word 'gullible', insist that they check, and when they find it insist they read out its meaning. In the same vain some atheist question the morality of letting children believe is Santa Clause. Personally I think they learn a valuable lesson when they realise he isn't real.

On your more general position, "As for my position on Islam in more general terms: I would like to be able to persuade adults to become Muslims, but that is a very difficult thing to do in my experience since most of the people you meet do not have the education necessary for them to be able to understand or appreciate what you are talking about." - I'm astonished you can't see the implications of this when you are quite happy to drum it into children. And again the elitist closed view that assumes it's something difficult about the religion that's preventing the conversion and not the rational disbelief in an archaic system of faith.

"Religious language has lost most of its sense for most people nowadays." - I think thats because most people can see through it.

"So yes, I think Britain should become a part of the Muslim Ummah (I don’t like the expression ‘Islamic state’)" - by Islamic state I mean a theocracy, which if I'm not mistaken is what a Muslim Ummah would be, is it not?

You want to understand the atheist/humanist objection to Islam, or to any theocracy. It's precisely the point of view that Islam is the one true way and that the goal is to make Britain, and presumably any other state, a Muslim Ummah, or Islamic state, that is so horrific. It is such an extreme point of view, which if it occurred would ultimately lead to totalitarian undemocratic government ruled by a theocracy, with women as second class citizens, and extremely repressive moral laws, depending of course which elitist leader was interpreting the Qu'ran at the time.

You might argue that liberal democracy is also a belief system that is attempting to impose its will on the world. This has appeared all the more the case while the democratic governments of the USA and the UK have been under leaderships with strong religious views, and a "I know I'm right" attitude that is coloured by their religious beliefs. Some would argue that this is occurring because of the failure to uphold democratic principles, rather than because of them.

The principle that I and many others adhere to is that there should be a complete separation of state and religion, while allowing the free expression of any religious views that don't impose an undo burden on those who do not believe, and don't coerce non-believers into believing. As you said, you think no-one would come to Islam automatically, and by that I assume you mean children too. The strict religious upbringing, and in your terms, indoctrination, that you impart on children amounts to excessive coercion. Some humanists have raised the question of whether religious indoctrination amounts to a form of child abuse. Personally I think it does.

At the end of my previous post I said what form of Islam I would find acceptable, but also that I thought you wouldn't call it Islam. Though a little sarcastic, I was sincere when I said it was a pity it isn't as I described. I feel that in some of your response you wanted to stress the good natured aspects of Islam. I accept that those aspects of Islam are lived by many very genuine and caring Muslims. I do not have an issue with this form. But you've made it clear that Islam isn't only that.

I am not anti-religious. I would wish to defend the right of anyone to follow a religion as much as my right not to. My main criticism of most religions is that they do not inherently return the curtesy - it is often given as a fait accompli. I'm sure there are sufficiently pious people who would, if they could, impose their religions on everyone. Two things have prevented them: the very nature of religion itself - the slightest schisms have lead to equally dogmatic opposing religions that have so far prevented any one imposing its system on the world; and, thankfully, the Enlightenment occurred, and is still ongoing.
anticant said…
"Do you think that Islam is a danger in principle to British society?"

Having read this post and all the comments, as well as a great deal of other material over the past few years, my answer is a reluctant "Yes".

This is only reinforced by the illogical nature of the ring-fenced 'heads we win tails you lose' arguments deployed by Mr Lawson.
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry, but I could not read Mr. Lawson's response past this staggering bit if disingenuous nonsense: "There are perhaps many (?) muslims in the world today who promote violent interpretations of Islamic law (even though, I suspect they are in a tiny minority)"

I'm not sure how to respond to such mendacity with temperance or graciousness. I cannot help but point out the fundamental dishonesty in this statement, and I'm not sure it is possible to confront lies with honesty in a "gracious" fashion, whatever that might mean.

First, surely Mr. Lawson is not unaware that there are whole countries that live under quite violent interpretations of Islamic law, where various forms of torture and execution are common punishments for "crimes." I place the word in scare quotes out of respect for people like the poor young woman who was sentenced to 40 lashes in Saudi Arabia just a week or two ago because she was the victim of a gang rape. Rather than being an aberration, hers is but the most recent of many well-publicized examples (which of course are only a fraction of the total number of cases) of the horrors of sharia as practiced in many countries and communities. Countries enforcing very traditional and brutal forms of sharia can only excluded from the category of "violent interpretations of Islamic law" by some truly extraordinary mental gymnastics that are beyond me, although perhaps not beyond Mr. Lawson.

Aside from the actual force of law as exercised by the state, individuals seemingly show their support for "violent interpretations of Islamic law" on a weekly or at least monthly basis somewhere in the world. Whether by rioting in the streets in response to the manufactured Danish cartoon controversy a few months back, or in support of the latest fatwa against a writer or critic such as the protests against Taslima Nasreen last week in India, or who knows what next week, wide swathes of the Muslim world seem to show their support for violent interpretations of Islamic with appalling regularity. Perhaps Mr. Lawson has some other, very idiosyncratic interpretation of the words "tiny minority" in mind.

Mr. Lawson pretends to be reasonable, but either (1) he is operating with extraordinary blinders to the real attitudes and activities of his co-religionists, or (2) he is yet another apologist who tosses aside his own religion's admonitions against falsehood whenever it suits what he considers the 'higher purpose' of defending the faith.

At the risk of seeming intemperate in my sarcasm: It is good to see that Christians and Muslims share so much common ground.
anticant said…
Were the thousands of angry Muslims rioting in Khartoum this week calling for the death of Gillian Gibbons a 'tiny minority'?

Attempting rational arguments with the likes of Mr Lawson is like swimming through treacle.

If his is the level of 'truthfulness' [=mendacity] taught in Islamic schools they should be shut down immediately, and certainly ought not to receive a single penny of taxpayers' money.
Anonymous said…
Many Athiest have expressed exasperation at the fact religions are afforded an undue level of respect. Mr. Lawson may object to terms such as 'ridiculous' but what word is someone supposed to use when something IS ridiculous.

Religion is a socially acceptable form of madness. I think that belief in fastasy should be discouraged wherever it is encountered. If a child was absolutely convinced that the book the lord of the rings was an historic account and not a work of fiction, is it ok for them to harbour that belief so long as it does no harm to anyone else. I would argue that it does harm at least to the child who believes it.

Religions are quite simply lies or, at the very least, all but one of them are.

Why should lies be respected or tolerated especially when they are obressive and often brutal.

While the Koran may not mention death for apostates, I'm fairly sure the hadith does. The koran, the bible, the talmud..etc etc are just books. Nothing more. Faith is just gullibility. Nothing more.
Bob Churchill said…
Lawson confuses two issues: we should not conflate the genuinely Islamophobic resopnse in which all Muslim schools in particular are suspected of extremism, with the response which merely objects to teaching religion as fact in general.

That "None of the children or parents would have considered themselves for a minute to be the enemies of British society or any of its other members" can be taken as a given. As Lawson says, the "real objection" lies in something more mundane: it is about using tax-payers money to teach distinct metaphysical doctrines to children in general. It's not about not wanting to teach Muslim children to be Muslim children, or Christian children to be Christian children; it's about not wanting the state to condone the very idea that there should be "Muslim children" and "Christian children" at all.

Lawson says: "Are we really supposed to then say, “But you shouldn’t believe that just because we say so; you should make your own minds up”? That is not what Islam teaches."

That may be so, but it is what collectively-funded, state-run schools should teach. Otherwise the state is effectively inculcating one group of children into one faith, and others into another faith. That kind of ideological division of children, perpetrated by the state, is based on nothing but the inhertied desires of parents (at best) or (at worst) the random religious affiliation of a local school which has no relation at all to the desire of parents who end up forced to send their children there.

"It would be self-contradictory to teach Islam to children as a matter of choice based on personal opinion."

I have no respect for this view. You may believe that free and open enquiry contradicts a self-declared mandate for the certain truth of a religion, but it contradicts known facts of how humans can and do acquire their opinions, and known facts about the transmission of error from one generation to the next, to assume that children are best educated by being forcibly indoctrinated into the beliefs of their parents.
Bodwyn Wook said…
For a certainty, this outward ever-indeterminate rowing & exchange of usually mis-understood signals, in different 'languages', between our momentarily-separate physical bodies /is/ a dead end; and, for a fact, this momentary physical state of existence is a temporary condition. Let us not be over-hasty, therefore, to extinguish /wonder/ for the sake of categorically-inadequate two-valued 'reasoning', 'abd al-'Abru
Post-Islamist said…
Tachyglossus: only people who know how to play chess can be relied on for a good game of chess. People who don’t know much about Islam or the Muslims and don’t understand religion or their own beliefs about rationality can’t be relied upon for an interesting conversation about this. Unfortunately, it tends to be just this kind of person who takes it on themselves to write to national newspapers, phone up radio talkshows or cruise the blogosphere for targets. I can understand why Lawson may not want to engage in such diversions.
Post-Islamist said…
Anticant... thousands of demonstrators, out of a planetary population of over a billion? what is your definition of a tiny minority?
Unknown said…
I wonder if Tachyglossus was the type of kid that learnt to play chess with the generous help of skilled players, and then refused to play with and teach your class mates because they were beneath him?

We had someone like that at my school, and we had a name for him: 'The little s#|t!'

Well, I'm afraid people like him, if they don't learn, become big s#|ts, and refuse to join in debates like this, simply because the quality of debate from some of us amateurs isn't up to scratch.

Thankfully, there are professionals who want to encourage debate, and to spread the use of critical thinking, and possibly teach us amateurs something in the process. I for one appreciate Stephen Law's blog for that very reason.

Perhaps, in the age of the blog, specialists of all sorts should consider the blogosphere as a place where thay can give something back to the community - a charitable service for an hour or so a week, where they dish out their pearls of wisdom, answer any serious questions and arguments, and perhaps even put up with and simply ignore any unwanted abuse.

Note that Stephen doesn't have too much trouble on his blog from some of the pointless name calling you see on some other blogs. He politely requests a reasonable standard of behaviour, and despite the occasional outburst, and a healthy dose of sarcasm here and there, generally gets it.
Unknown said…
Ooops! Spoke too soon. Stephen just pulled a comment from a later posting. There's always one isn't there.
Anonymous said…
Ron, just a thought. I hope you don't think that I am the kind of big s**t that won't play with the little twits because I am too good for them. I love to play with little twits (typical school teacher) but I don't have to win every time just because I can. I think life is like an apprenticeship, you learn about it on the job in full view of the whole process, but much of which you don't understand at first. Etc etc, I don't have to spell it out. I just wouldn't let the little twits near the dangerous machinery until they're ready
Unknown said…
Mr Lawson,

No, I wasn't implying that first point about yourself. My comment was meant at a dig to those 'superior' bloggers who belittle others for attempting to understand and join in the debate on the basis that the 'inferior' bloggers aren't up to scratch. When it comes from 'superior' bloggers who clearly do have a good grasp of philosophy and should know better it seems like a blatent abuse of the ad hominem falicy.

That's not to be confused with my opinions about the exclusive self-serving elitism in Islam where the word of some cleric is relied upon for the interpretation of the word of god Obviously, assuming one first accepts that god exists, and then that the holy book, in this case the Qu'ran, is in fact the word of god.
Anonymous said…
Mr Murphy, Muslims do not just take the word of any old self-appointed cleric - we are not that stupid
Stephen Law said…
Hi A Muslim

What about any old self-appointed prophet?

Or do select which prophet you listen to carefully? If so, on what basis?

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