Interview – Nathan Harris

Nathan is perhaps the most rationale person I’ve known on Facebook. Its always a pleasure talking to him, we both have similar interest in the history of religion and have shared a lot of information with each other in  past.

I’m sure you’ll love this interview of Nathan as this is nothing short of a classic in my opinion …

Interview of Nathan Harris

Q.1: Nathan, can you please introduce yourself to the readers. a little intro of yourself will do.
Sure – I’m Nathan Harris, an ex-muslim. I’ve completed my degree in Biology and I’m still interested in studying Islamic theology despite my loss of faith – and needless to say I’m critical of it.

Q.2: Without wasting too much time, lets jump directly to the topics related to Islam. As you said you are critical of this religion, is it just Islam you’re critical of or is it the Religion in general and particularly Abrahamic Faiths that you’ve problem with ?
I’m equally critical of all Abrahamic faith. I reject all religious dogmas, but Abrahamic dogma is the one I have serious problems with – it is inherently sexist, violent and homophobic and has been hindering the progress of science and humanity since it’s advent, probably.

So as a humanist and feminist – I do have serious problems with Abrahamic faiths. Although I always try to keep my criticisms rational and balanced.

Q.3: There is a common argument that mankind can not keep a balance between good and bad without the teachings of an organized religion. Why would you do good things if there is no fear of a God. Whats your take on this argument ?
Well, I have to say that’s an often regurgitated argument, which we know is demonstrable untrue. Millions of secular humanists around the globe and millions of religious fundamentalists have clearly shown that this is not the case. Our morality has evolved over time and the last thing I’d rely on for morality is Abrahamic dogma. Except the very few good parts, it’s among the vilest idea ever conceived by man. I agree with Weinberg on this one:

“With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” – which pretty much is the case. “Moderates” might cherry pick and choose the good parts of their scripture (because their moral outlook is influenced by secular morality) – however what about fundamentalists who do atrocious acts in the name of religion?

Are you going to convince the Salafis and Wahabbis that their interpretations are wrong? Well good luck with that – if anything the fundamentalists are more ‘true’ to their faith in my opinion.

As for the issue of godless morality based on humanism, I’ve written a blog post here on that topic: http://www.rationalhub.com/blogs/musings/2012/06/22/a-few-thoughts-on-morality/

Q.4: Lately, there seems to be a rise in the way Islam is being discussed on internet by the people who are against it. Prophet Muhammad’s personal life and specially his marriages etc are openly discussed on Facebook forums etc. What do you think about Prophet Muhammad ?
Well that’s an extremely vast topic. I certainly don’t jump on the “Mo was a pedo” bandwagon” – Child marriage was a norm back then and Mo perhaps went along with it. He did some good things, for instance – he did improve the status of slaves and women which was, in some tribes, pretty horrible at his time. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in acknowledging that.

However, whatever good things he did was overshadowed by his other atrocious preachings, and the problem is when people thinks him as a role model for humanity. We’ve come way past from the times where people owned slaves, women were treated like property and homosexuals and people who have consensual sex are flogged/sentenced to death.

You can’t simply accept the moral outlook of a warlord/megalomaniac who owned slaves, practiced child marriage, and was homophobic and sexist. You can’t claim he’s a prophet and ask me to appreciate the good stuff he did at the time and ignore the dark chapters of his life.

Q.5: Muslims often take pride that Women were buried alive before the Islam came to Arabia. Do you think its a claim for real ? If that was the case how come there were so many women around for Muslims to get married and how come Bibi Khadijah was a rich a business-woman with immense wealth and power ?
Yes, I often cite that example (along with a few others in Seerah) to show that how that’s an immensely biased assertion. Of course, some tribes might have treated women crappily, that doesn’t mean in the whole world women were treated like crap until Islam came along.

If so there should be many more Khadijah’s who owned businesses or such in post Islamic Arabia – clearly that’s not the case. What Islam did was bring a standardized ruling – which benefited some, and were detrimental to others. So it’s sort of a grey area I would say.

As for infanticide, I recall reading somewhere that it was practiced in some tribes when they were out of options during famine etc. which again is a grey area, however regardless I would certainly consider it as a positive aspect of Islam, historically speaking.

Q.6: I know that you’re running a Facebook Forum specially meant to address the Theory of Evolution (since you’re a Biologist yourself).
Whats your experience on dealing with Theists on the topic of Evolution and specially the human evolution. Are they pain to deal with ?
Yes, mostly. Theists who are evolution denialists has already made their mind up – and the obvious stupidity and ignorance makes things worse. Evolutionary biology is an extremely vast field, and there are a lot of highly debated (and interesting) areas in evo biology.

So when these people, who hardly has any comprehension of the very basics of theory of evolution, quote mines scientists and copy pastes topics like Punctuated Equilibrium or Evo Devo from creationist websites without any prior knowledge, it’s essentially implausible to give any coherent response. Like attempting to give a lecture on quantum gravity to a flat earther. To quote Hawking – “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” I try to address their contentions within my limits, but often it’s futile for the above reasons.

Q.7: Do you think that the Social Media is playing an important role to raise awareness about the Religion ?
Of course. Although it also spreads a lot of bullshit and misinformation – for people who are open to reason, it’s helpful in raising awareness of religion. Internet is indeed the place where religions come to die. I guess a lot of people who have been part of the Debating Islam group, among others, have left faith after joining the group – the discussion over there did in effect raise their awareness about religion.

Q.8: There seems to be a power game going on too. Politicians tell us that Islam is the religion of Peace but when we hear activists they tell us exactly the opposite. Who should a common man / woman listen to ?
This is another extremely tricky area – we’re often presented with the (false) dichotomy of being either an Islamophobe or a pro Islam ally. That’s mostly because most of the vocal critics of Islam are indeed the bigots with an agenda – or it’s most pro Islamic liberals – save for a few like Maryam Namazie and few youtube vloggers (Rationalizer, Klingschor, CaptainDisguise, Hassan et al).

So what I would recommend is not to take anyone’s word for granted. Do your research without any bias, use your critical thinking and reasoning skills. And please don’t side with bigots like EDL, or extremely biased “critics” like Robert Spencer – they have their own agendas behind criticizing Islam. Muslims do really face issues like racism and we should also recognize that fact and make sure that we differentiate between criticizing Islam and hatred towards Muslims. I would also recommend watching the above vloggers to get a balanced view with regards to Islam.

Q.9: Mullah or a Fundamentalist is often blamed for spreading the hatred even by the relatively moderate followers of their own religion. Do you think its fair ? isnt it the case that the Mullahs are just going their job and trying to tell the followers what is exactly there in the scriptures ?
I believe it’s a case of cognitive dissonance. I’m not sure how they would prove that their interpretation is “true” and fundamentalist interpretation isn’t. If anything, I feel fundamentalists are more “true” to their religion. Some Mullah’s seriously don’t have any knowledge on Islam, but same is not the case with people who runs Islam Q&A etc. They have studied Islam a lot and their views are mostly based on scripture and scholarly consensus.

Same with, lets say, Tafsirs of prominent scholars. Of course, ‘moderates’ might say that they’re all wrong – but what makes you think you’re right? Am I to believe that all Islamic scholars who are well versed in Arabic were wrong all along, but a random ‘moderate’ – who’s hardly well versed in Arabic got got his interpretation right?

Which is why I said fundamentalists have a better case than ‘moderates’ here.

Q.10: What message will you give to the Moderate / Liberal Muslims ?
Well, first of all – I must say that I don’t consider homophobic, misogynistic bigots as “moderates”. Just because they don’t support killing apostates doesn’t make them moderates. By moderates/liberals – I mean those like Quranists who are humanists and pro LGBT rights.

I would always recommend ditching religious dogma – you could still easily be a pantheist or deist. That said, I have also seen the torturous process that ex Muslims go through by losing their faith – they are shunned by their family members and community itself – even online they are bullied and get death threats (although these keyboard jihadists are usually asshats who just type crap because they’ve got an internet connection and a PC).

So I understand why it’s hard to leave the faith, but for precisely that reason I don’t promote such movements either. Liberal version of Islam always make it hard to address fundamentalism, in my opinion – however I do appreciate what they do and am sympathetic towards such movements.

Excellent Nathan. This gotta be the best I’ve done so far, is there anything you would like to add yourself even if I havent asked as a question.

Thanks, Oh nothing in specific: I’d like to thank everyone for reading. Do your own research, be skeptical and rational. Also for those who are struggling to lose their faith, I’d recommend reading Sagan and Feynman. They many not be overly critical of religion, but their works on science and skepticism is an excellent place to start in nurturing your skepticism.

5 thoughts on “Interview – Nathan Harris

  1. “Abrahamic dogma is the one I have serious problems with – it is inherently sexist, violent and homophobic”

    Like a mental eunuch, your interviewee, has equated all 3 Abrahamic faiths in one breath. You can never put Islam on the same level as Judaism and Christianity. In the Qur’an ALLAH (Subhana wa taa’la) explicitly states to “fight those who fight you”

    “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors. (The Noble Quran, 2:190)“ unlike the Bible, where GOD is calling for the mass murder of the innocent. I openly challenge you to show one verse that demands the killing of innocent disbelievers, is violent or bar

    Terms like sexist and homophobic imply that Islam’s position on women issues and homosexuality, is motivated by emotion, rather than “reason”. Since your interviewee make this claim, the responsibility is also on him prove it, until then it is him who is motivated by emotions.

    “and has been hindering the progress of science and humanity since it’s advent, probably.”

    Actually Islam encourages it. Islam supports observation of this world and carrying out systematic studies.

    045.003 Verily in the heavens and the earth, are Signs for those who believe.

    045.004 And in the creation of yourselves and the fact that animals are scattered (through the earth), are Signs for those of assured Faith.

    045.005 And in the alternation of Night and Day, and the fact that Allah sends down Sustenance from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the change of the winds,- are Signs for those that are wise.

  2. /Are you going to convince the Salafis and Wahabbis that their interpretations are wrong? Well good luck with that – if anything the fundamentalists are more ‘true’ to their faith in my opinion.//

    lol for that. shia folks are dying since 1400 years, they guy seems to be ignoring the reality in fact.

    //Well that’s an extremely vast topic. I certainly don’t jump on the “Mo was a pedo” bandwagon” – Child marriage was a norm back then and Mo perhaps went along with it. He did some good things, for instance – he did improve the status of slaves and women which was, in some tribes, pretty horrible at his time. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in acknowledging that.//

    i would certainly give him a cookie for that.

    //We’ve come way past from the times where people owned slaves, women were treated like property and homosexuals and people who have consensual sex are flogged/sentenced to death.//

    what does ‘we’ here supposed to mean. clearly the people in Afghanistan, saudi and iran are not over it yet.

    //You can’t simply accept the moral outlook of a warlord/megalomaniac who owned slaves, practiced child marriage, and was homophobic and sexist. You can’t claim he’s a prophet and ask me to appreciate the good stuff he did at the time and ignore the dark chapters of his life.//

    there is nothing wrong with accepting moral outlook of someone and the bad things the post mentioned are just lies.
    consider it this way:
    the problem is when some folks take a certain personality as a moral guide and believe that he did some bad things e.g. killing etc…
    if one take the personality as a moral guide and believe that he avoided killing and was against it. then there is noting wrong, in fact it is rather a correct and easy thing to guide humanity.

    another possibility that folks rather tend to ignore is the invention of lies about the prophet, which begin during the empowerment of the omaya creed. omaya were enemies of so there is a greater chance that they would invent stuff which are to be against islam and prophet.

    //Evolutionary biology is an extremely vast field, and there are a lot of highly debated (and interesting) areas in evo biology.//

    if it is debatable it is not a fact. i take it the guy do not realize it yet.

    //I guess a lot of people who have been part of the Debating Islam group, among others, have left faith after joining the group – the discussion over there did in effect raise their awareness about religion.//

    seriously i was been here for a while (past) and now again… nothing so far is happening. just lots of things here are at worst, just it is good to give a head ache. [soo many people coming around to wipe their personal anger]

    //That’s mostly because most of the vocal critics of Islam are indeed the bigots with an agenda//

    i like this part.

    //If anything, I feel fundamentalists are more “true” to their religion. //

    what one feel is irrelevant to the truth but is not to the reality.

    //Same with, lets say, Tafsirs of prominent scholars. Of course, ‘moderates’ might say that they’re all wrong – but what makes you think you’re right? //

    for shia folks it is obviously the words of infalalble imams, for others nothing very concrete just like for the fundamentals and exmuslim for :the interpretations are correct..

    //Am I to believe that all Islamic scholars who are well versed in Arabic were wrong all along, but a random ‘moderate’ – who’s hardly well versed in Arabic got got his interpretation right?//

    you are not to believe that, but similar to those who do not believe have their choice.
    beliefs make personalities, truth have very little to do in making of a personality.

    //Which is why I said fundamentalists have a better case than ‘moderates’ here.//

    seriously nathan asked a question and based his conclusion on it. if he do not know the answer then one might as welll say that this is an argument form ignorance.

  3. //Like a mental eunuch, your interviewee, has equated all 3 Abrahamic faiths in one breath. You can never put Islam on the same level as Judaism and Christianity. In the Qur’an ALLAH (Subhana wa taa’la) explicitly states to “fight those who fight you”
    “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors. (The Noble Quran, 2:190)“ unlike the Bible, where GOD is calling for the mass murder of the innocent. I openly challenge you to show one verse that demands the killing of innocent disbelievers, is violent or bar//

    9:29 Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture –

    [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.

    Sahih Muslim, Book 019, Number 4366
    ———————————————————
    It has been narrated by ‘Umar b. al-Khattab that he heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say: I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim.

    Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 39, Number 531
    ————————————————————————–
    Narrated Ibn ‘Umar:
    Umar expelled the Jews and the Christians from Hijaz. When Allah’s Apostle had conquered Khaibar, he wanted to expel the Jews from it as its land became the property of Allah, His Apostle, and the Muslims. Allah’s Apostle

    intended to expel the Jews but they requested him to let them stay there on the condition that they would do the labor and get half of the fruits. Allah’s Apostle told them, “We will let you stay on thus condition, as long as we wish.”

    So, they (i.e. Jews) kept on living there until ‘Umar forced them to go towards Taima’ and Ariha’.

    Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 288
    —————————————————————————-
    Narrated Said bin Jubair:
    Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Thursday! What (great thing) took place on Thursday!” Then he started weeping till his tears wetted the gravels of the ground . Then he said, “On Thursday the illness of Allah’s Apostle was aggravated and he said,

    “Fetch me writing materials so that I may have something written to you after which you will never go astray.” The people (present there) differed in this matter and people should not differ before a prophet. They said, “Allah’s Apostle

    is seriously sick.’ The Prophet said, “Let me alone, as the state in which I am now, is better than what you are calling me for.” The Prophet on his death-bed, gave three orders saying, “Expel the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula,

    respect and give gifts to the foreign delegates as you have seen me dealing with them.” I forgot the third (order)” (Ya’qub bin Muhammad said, “I asked Al-Mughira bin ‘Abdur-Rahman about the Arabian Peninsula and he said, ‘It

    comprises Mecca, Medina, Al-Yama-ma and Yemen.” Ya’qub added, “And Al-Arj, the beginning of Tihama.”)

    Sahih Bukhari Book#2 Hadith#24
    ————————————————
    Ibn ‘Umar(may Allah be pleased with him and his father) who said that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but

    Allah, to establish the Salah (Prayer) and to perform Zakah (almsgiving), so if they do that, then they save their lives and property from me except legally, and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah.

    Sahih Bukhari Book#8 Hadith#387
    —————————————-
    Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.’ And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qibla and slaughter as we

    slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them except legally and their reckoning will be with Allah.”

    Sahih Bukhari Book#52 Hadith#196
    ——————————————
    Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah ‘s Apostle said, ” I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,’ and whoever says, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,’ his life and

    property will be saved by me except for Islamic law, and his accounts will be with Allah, (either to punish him or to forgive him.)”

    Sahih Muslim Book#1 Hadith#30
    ————————————–
    It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah, and He who professed it was guaranteed the

    protection of his property and life on my behalf except for the right affairs rest with Allah.

    Sahih Muslim Book#1 Hadith#34
    ————————————–
    It Is narrated on the authority of Abu Malik: I heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say: He who professed that there is no god but Allah and made a denial of everything which the people worship beside Allah, his

    property and blood became inviolable, an their affairs rest with Allah.

    [Narrated by Tirmidhi and Ahmad]
    And the Prophet said:
    “Do you desire a word which will subdue the Arabs and will
    cause the non-Arabs to pay the Jizyah to you?”
    They said: “What is it?” He said:
    “None has the right to be worshipped except Allah”.

    [Bukhari]
    And Al-Mugheerah said to Kisra’s representative: “Our Prophet has
    ordered us to fight you until you worship Allah or pay the Jizyah.”

    He remained for thirteen years warning the people,
    without fighting and he was commanded to patiently persevere.
    Then it was permitted for him to migrate to Al-Madinah and then it
    was permitted for him to fight. After that, he was commanded to
    fight those who fought him Then Allah commanded him to make
    war on the polytheists until all and every kind of worship was for Allah Alone”
    [Zaad Al-Maad]

    [No compulsion in religion]
    http://islamqa.com/en/ref/34770/
    http://alifta.net/Fatawa/FatawaChapters.aspx?View=Page&PageID=4777&PageNo=1&BookID=14

    [Sword]
    http://islamqa.com/en/ref/43087/sword
    http://islamqa.com/en/ref/27180/buddhists
    http://alifta.net/Fatawa/FatawaChapters.aspx?View=Page&PageID=189&PageNo=1&BookID=14

    for those who understand urdu….here is dr israr ahmed’s video

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