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Muslim Health, Privilege and PseudoScience

In Uncategorized on April 18, 2015 by tinfoilturban

Bismillah iRahmen iRaheem

Asalaamu Alaykum Wa Rahmetuallhi Wa Baraketahu 🙂

A few years ago I travelled with my wife to visit her family in Bangladesh. It was a great trip, we travelled out to the small village where her Dadi lived, and stayed there for a few days. While not physically far from Dhaka, the village was very isolated, hard to get to. There was power occasionally, and the last few years (according to my wife) the place had changed dramatically. No more did one need to heat up water for a bath over a fire! I was most likely the first white person to visit the village in recorded memory.

It was an amazing experience, praying fajr in a full masjid in the fields, making wudhu from a well. It invoked all the kinds of idealistic primitivist Orientalist instincts I have in me.

But there was this boy, who lived near the Mosque. He had a very very severe form of polio, and was both immobile and almost in constant pain. It was the first close contact I’d had with polio outside of books and it was very confronting.

The reason it was my first contact with polio is because it has been eradicated in Australia, and indeed much of the world. Poliomyelitis, ‘Infantile paralysis’ is spread by the poliovirus, and warded against by a cheap, easily produced vaccine.

The eradication of polio in much of the world sits alongside other similar successes. Smallpox, once a feared and deadly disease, responsible for decimating entire continents, now exists only in labs. Many other deadly diseases, if not eradicated, are heading that way.

This eradication is the result of targeted campaigns by health organisations, and has ultimately saved millions from a gruesome and horrid death.

This eradication was not the product of the spread of Islam. It was not the product of ‘traditional medicine’ of any kind. It was the product of dedicated work by scientists, building upon centuries of work in the study of health and disease.

Yet in Muslim communities around the Western world, we find people (always untrained in Medicine) telling us that health needs to be wrested from the grip of the assumption that disease and health is the product of biology. Instead we are told that human health is the product of ‘imbalances’, of the ‘spiritual life’ of a person.

Now lets examine that for a moment shall we? Really pull apart the logical conclusions of that kind of thinking.

Well.. the first one is clearly that that kid writhing in pain on an earthen floor in Bangladesh was sick because of his own ‘spiritual imbalances’. Which I feel like is sufficiently ridiculous an assumption to have the entire thing rejected out of hand. If disease is a product of an interaction between the biological and spiritual, then why is infant mortality so high? After all a baby is with the fitrah!

Another logical conclusion is that a spread of ‘spiritual health’ should result in a concurrent spread of physical health. Do we see that?

No. The spread of beneficial health outcomes has not been shown by anyone to at all be related to the spread of Islam, for example. Did the spread of Islam lead to the eradication of Polio? Nope. A significant increase in life expectancy? Nope. Lowered infant mortality? Nope.

No. What does those things is the spread of scientific medicine and increases in wealth in a particular country. Were these assumptions to be correct, they would be bore out by reality, by a world where Sufis never get cancer and a dhikr regimen is sufficient to eradicate infectious disease.

Except that is not the world we live in. It is only in a world so comparatively free of rampant death and disease where one could imagine the above to be the case.

That is ultimately what I’m talking about here. The peddlers of such pseudo-science rest upon the privilege of the developed world. They rest upon the successes of real medicine. Their contempt for it is only maintainable by its very success! Such beliefs can be maintained in a world without real medicine, or in a world built on real medicine’s successes… but not in a world between the two.

Consider deeply the logical conclusions of such belief systems. Look at the history of the world, the history of disease, and ask yourself these questions. Think about a belief system that imagines disease to be a product of spiritual malaise, and what that says about a Muslim world with worse health outcomes than countries where atheism is the fastest growing ‘religion’. Think about what that belief system says about a kid with Polio. Then reconsider following such a deeply immoral way of understanding the world.

NB: This goes fall all other non-scientific approaches to health, whose track record is non-existent. From ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ invented by the Communist regime in a response to a lack of money for health, to aromatherapy and homoeopathy. Alchemy never created gold from lead, and believing that diseases were about smell never stopped the plague.

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‘Bearers of witness to Truth for the sake of Allah’

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2014 by tinfoilturban

Bismillah iRahmen iRaheem

Asalaamu Alaykum Wa Rahmetuallhi Wa Baraketahu

Since my most recent blog post commenting on the fog of war surrounding the conflict in Anbar province, the situation in the media and online has got increasingly worse. More and more fake stories have spread through both social and mainstream media.

From the miraculous coup of an interview between Sydney’s 3AW radio with Omar the Chechen (they not only got in contact with a man who has never spoken to Western media before, they also apparently taught him English overnight!) to the story of tIS burying children alive in Mosul (using pictures of children buried by Assad’s barrel bombs), much of the truth of the situation was obscured by clouds of bad research and propaganda.

What I’m looking to discuss is what we can take from this, beyond the startling reality that militant Islamists are apparently far better at correcting false stories than veteran Western journalists (as was shown by the flurry to correct a photoshopped image of tIS fighters near a dam in Iraq).

What I’ve taken from this situation is how important it is to challenge falsehood wherever it is found, including within our own causes.

There seems a reluctance amongst many of our brothers and sisters to correct the propaganda directed at tIS for fear of being taken as a Dawlah sympathiser. Posts regarding the ‘mistakes’ in coverage are often accompanied with a caveat ‘but I don’t support them, just so you know’.

I strongly believe that we should not feel the need to do any such thing. As Allah says in the Qur’an, An-Nisaa Verse 135:

Believers! Be upholders of justice, and bearers of witness to Truth for the sake of Allah, even though it may be against yourselves or against your parents and kinsmen, or the rich or the poor, for Allah is more concerned with their well-being than you are. Do not, then, follow your own desires lest you keep away from justice. If you twist or turn away from (the Truth), know that Allah is well aware of all that you do.

With the usual caveat of my lack of authority in tafsir aside, I think that what is remarkable about this verse is its relevance to this discussion. The ayaat asserts the universality not just of ‘justice’ but also ‘truth’. It is, amongst other things, a clarion call for the assertion of truth wherever it is found, regardless of who that truth benefits.

The desire to correct these falsehoods does not imply any support for tIS, but rather it can illustrate a desire to carry out God’s command in the verse above.

Futhermore, this ayaat instils in me something of the fear that we should have when spreading such things, and the diligence that should accompany it.

A Shaykh once accounted to me the joy that one can get from turning simple daily things into acts of worship. He spoke about how one could, merely eating a piece of watermelon, do so with the intention of the emulation of the Messenger of Allah (sullAllahu alayhi wasalaam) and in turn make the simple act of taking sustenance into something that brings one closer to God.

Spending a few minutes checking a story, with the intention of fulfilling the above surah, may well have the same effect. The desire to confirm truth, to counter falsehood, with the intention that it is for God, has the potential to benefit any of us greatly, insha’Allah.

Learning and teaching that, to me, is of far more benefit than any point by point rebuttal of this source or that story, though as an aside, in confirming the truth or falsehood of these things google image search is your friend.

I make dua that truth becomes clear from falsehood and we are all given provision and means in the struggle to distinguish between the two.

I pray this finds you all in the best of health and iman.

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High ideals, even, and low methods.

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2013 by tinfoilturban

Asalaamu Alaykum Wa Rahmetullah,

Short one today. Thought I’d share a quote that I keep coming back to. I read a lot of fantasy novels and, like it or not, they end up colouring the lens through which I see the world. This quote, from Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country is a big part of that.

‘Evil turned out not to be a grand thing. Not sneering Emperors with their world-conquering designs. Not cackling demons plotting in the darkness beyond the world. It was small men with their small acts and their small reasons. It was selfishness and carelessness and waste. It was bad luck, incompetence, and stupidity. It was violence divorced from conscience or consequence. It was high ideals, even, and low methods.’

A more substantial post is on its way insha’Allah. I want to talk about actual conspiracies, confirmed ones, and how they differ from conspiracy theories.

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Tinfoil Turbans in the Closet

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2013 by tinfoilturban Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Bismillah iRahmen iRaheem

Asalaamu Alaykum Wa Rahmetullahi Wa Baraketahu

Like a Turkish Imam, Turban tucked away behind the minbar and brought out for salat, some Tinfoil Turbanators keep their headgear well hidden.

They will go to great lengths to hide the extent that they believe, and so will veil their assertions as questions or shield them with analogy. This Tinfoil Turbanist will always avoid coming out and saying what they actually believe.

Maybe this is some attempt at staying hidden from the space lizards, maybe it is a fear of being questioned, who knows? What we do know is that it can be very frustrating to deal with such people, so I will offer what I have learnt doing so.

Clarification is your friend. Ask questions, often. It could be you who is mistaken, maybe they aren’t what they appear at first sight, the only way to know is to ask questions, lots of them. If they avoid answering, get frustrated with you or straight out go on the offensive, it is a good sign that peeking out from that baseball cap is a bit of tinfoil.

Don’t lose your cool. If they maintain the tactic of ‘just asking questions’, when it is clear that there are assertions being made, ask questions to, and do it calmly. Take the lead, show them where their ‘questions’ go. Usually the ‘just asking’ is a ruse to avoid being pinned down on a specific point. Don’t indulge them, it is like trying to grab an oiled pig! Instead let them do the talking, then, once an actual claim has been made, swoop onto it.

Let it go. Sometimes they will avoid the above, and continue to keep it vague, maybe throwing in some ad hominem. If that happens, let it go! There will be another day, and if nothing else it will have made it clear how wishy washy the whole thing is. This is especially sound advice if they bust out the box of personal attacks, questioning your motives, your intelligence etcetera. If this happens, you will either lose your adab, or they will make a fool of themselves. Neither is a good outcome. Walk away.

Eyes on the Prize. Your goal is getting at some kind of truth, remember that. The reason that such people can be such a cause of annoyance is because they keep what they view as the truth close to their chest. This shouldn’t phase you. Know that all the obfuscation, the ad hominem, only brings them further away from making a sound argument. Grin, bear it, and keep your eyes on the prize.

And, as always, Allah knows best.

Another quick one this evening, trying to keep them short, conceptual and sweet. I hope you are all well and I’ll be back soon insha’Allah

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Muslim Science, Muslim Primitivism

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2013 by tinfoilturban Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Bismillah iRahmen iRaheem

Asalaamu Alaykum Wa Rahmetullahi Wa Baraketahu

Many Muslims live every day with a contradiction that I have no doubt would baffle them were it to be reflected on. There are two conflicting but coexisting themes within the community around science. The first is that we invented it, and the second is that it is against us. Islamic Awareness Week stalls and Facebook reposts abound with descriptions of the contributions of Muslim scientists. If they were to be collated, it could be concluded that we invented pretty much everything, from maths to physics to the easy bake oven.

The focus of this, with a few Late Ottoman exceptions, is the idea of a Muslim ‘golden age’, where, in places like Cordoba and Harun Rashid’s ‘Bait al-Hikma’ (House of Wisdom), intellectual giants pushed the borders of human knowledge in the name of Prophetic commands. From a historical perspective, this concept certainly reflects something of a reality; however we were not alone in this pursuit. Muslim polymaths slotted into a long tradition of knowledge and intellectual enquiry. They, as Newton describes it, ‘stood on the shoulders of giants’.

This does not diminish their achievements, but it places a stumbling block for the other, contradictory strain that I mentioned. Namely that for many within the community, once the work of this intellectual endeavour began to diminish, what occurred after diminished in value with it. Thus the advances in understandings that were an effective continuation of Muslims are viewed with suspicion.

The second strain is the spread of pseudo-scientific posts, about everything from medicine to ‘natural fallacy’ food discussions. We cannot simultaneously exalt the scientific achievements of the Muslims of that time, and at the same time ignore the science that is their legacy.

To do their legacy the honour it deserves, we must continue it. If all true knowledge is our lost property, we are fools if we wallow in ‘Golden Age’ narratives that endorse the assumption of the stagnation of our societies.

There is no ‘Western Science’ and ‘Eastern Science’… there is just science. We endorse every single stereotype of us when we exalt simplistic anti-science narratives of the ‘mystical east’ with its own medicine and understandings of the world. We do not believe reality works like that.

And Allah knows Best.

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The Collective Work of Scholarship

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2013 by tinfoilturban Tagged: , , , , ,

Bismillah iRahmen iRaheem

Asalaamu Alaykum Wa Rahmetullahi Wa Baraketahu

😀

So I felt the need to kind of elaborate the point in the previous post, specifically about the value of the collective work of scholarship. It is something I have been thinking about lately as my house is littered with academic articles and the clattering of my wife’s keyboard.

I am the son of academics, my mother and father both were and are historians. I have spent my life studying on and off, and my wife is something of an intellectual giant. So when I talk about this I guess I am relatively self interested. However I also speak from experience.

‘No man is an island’ goes the saying, similarly no academic is without a citation index! Scholarship, in any discipline, is a scattered but ultimately collective labour. This is something that I am only really now beginning to appreciate.

It is a given in Islamic scholarship, something emphasised in the chains of transmission, in the madahib, the colossal schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The compilation and authentication of the hadeeth, like the schools of law, was a collective work.

Similarly the great work of the sciences mimics this form, consciously and unconsciously (the modern sciences came from religious and philosophical academies and schools after all). A giant web of academics stretches across the globe, arguing, critiquing, confirming and testing knowledge. This vast, if flawed web, is devoted in no small part to knowledge.

This is the reason that when an individual not tapped into that work, not trained or related in any real way (except maybe in dissent) believes themselves to fundamentally know better, it seems ridiculous to those part of that work. I may seem very establishment minded in this respect, but I really feel that the way to express dissent is simple: tap into that network, get educated and be heard.

Someone who apparently has access to truths missed by the mainstream of such scholarship yet refuses to tap into it, to be tested by it and contribute, must be suspect to me. I remember reading an interesting historical hypothesis, it was contained in the book 1421: the Year China Discovered the World. In the book the author talks about how he has not been blinded by the academic eye, which is far too concerned with pre established assumptions, whereas his untrained eye sees truth clear.

It seems on the surface a persuasive assertion, but what it amounted to was a desire to be exempt from criticism. More than any qualifications, what defines an academic is peer review. I know history, and the narratives around history, and the historians who write it, the idea of historians as antiquarians wearing blinders could not be further from the truth.

History, like any other discipline is rather full of conflict, ideas are batted around the arena, and succeed through their evidences and the virtue of their arguments. Scholarship is a living thing, and evolves with time, through that tempering. Some ideas become widely accepted through this process, others remain hotly contested.

Now the idea that an individual has some special insight by having ideas that are not tested, not critiqued, strikes me as a particular type of delusion. Some would assert that academia is a way that people’s independence is neutered by the establishment. To those people I ask politely that they submit themselves to peer review and then get back to me.

Academia has its flaws, and collective scholarship makes mistakes. It is a system and there is always a danger that a flaw becomes part of the system. However the way to address these flaws is with knowledge. In many ways one can’t escape scholarship if one asserts any position on any discipline. What differs is the level of involvement, the accountability, the tapping into that collective work.

I feel like those who are unwilling to tap into that are necessarily afraid of critique… failing that they must have some aversion to a contribution to their field. If one has discovered some truth, the way to see it come to light is to bring it into the eyes of the world, integrate it into scholarship. 1421 was enough work for a PHD, that his claims on investigation were pretty suspect would seem to show why he did not seek one out.

And Allah Knows Best.

Note: I wrote this some time ago but because it was so repetitive of other points I’d made previously, I didn’t publish it. Figured I wrote it so I might as well publish it 🙂