Letters: Can Islam be reconciled with reason?

These letters appear in the 23rd January issue of The Independent

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It was cheering to read the article by Ziauddin Sardar on reason in Islam (22 January). It is what we’ve all been waiting for, and I hope he does not get into any trouble for speaking common sense.

The fatal flaw in all religion is that if one says there can be no argument on matters of faith, what  do you say to someone  who declares, for example, that their religion is  killing babies?

In view of recent events there is hardly now the need for such an extreme example. The point is, if the religious card is always trumps, anyone can play trumps, and the result is a horrible mess. A secular operating system is therefore essential and all matters of faith should be subject to the same scrutiny.

At the same time I am intrigued as to why the convinced proponents of secularism as an end in itself seem so charmingly confident that their system will be humane. I can’t see any examples. The result of abolishing religion in Communist Russia in the 20th century rather fails  to inspire.

To the extent that our system here is already secular in a humane way does draw to a great extent on Christian tradition and, equally, on the Enlightenment. The scientists who took on the might of religious bigotry in those times were not only brave but did a tremendous amount of hard thinking. A fusion took place from which we all still benefit.

Mary Nolze

Tunbridge Wells, Kent


Maybe I could add to Ziauddin Sardar’s appeal for the restoration of reason to Islam by pointing out that in England in the 17th century Islam was sometimes seen as a more reasonable religion than Christianity, on account of having no Trinity, which even the faithful considered inaccessible to reason.

In the same century a notable Islamic tale came to prominence, which stressed the power of reason, and the importance of observation, description and practical learning.

It was translated into Latin by the Edward Pocockes (father and son) in 1671, and gained three English translations within 40 years. Its title was Hayy ibn Yaqzan (the living one, son of the vigilant); the author was Ibn Tufayl, of Andalusia, writing some time in the 12th century. 

One of its English translators summed up its aim thus: “To shew how human capacity, unassisted by any external help,  may, by due application, attain the knowledge of natural things.”

Christopher Walker

London SW18


Malala Yousafzai’s remark “you can shoot my body but you cannot shoot my dreams” applies also to the Muslim extremists who shot her. Repression alone cannot end an ideology. If we want to counter “jihadism” we need to know its origins, its motivation, and its beliefs.

Modern Salafism – the claim to return to the beliefs and practices at the birth of Islam – grew out of the extreme form of salafism preached by ‘Abd al Wahab and accepted by the House of Saud in 1744.

In 1932, after defeating other Arab princedoms, Ibn Saud created the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with Wahabism as the religion of the cradle of Islam and its holy places. This had provided a religious ideology for resisting European imperialism – Tsarist in Chechnya in the late 18th century and in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in the late 19th.

Promoted worldwide by Saudi Arabia among imams and madrassas, Wahabism has become an important element in Islam which has been exploited by Muslim opponents of “Western” culture and incursions into “Muslim countries”.

To counter “jihadism” we must see it through the eyes of the extremists and study their beliefs – for example, which Suras of the Koran and which hadiths they quote. For this we need the help of both “moderate” (non-Wahabist) clerics  and religiously well-informed laity.

John Pedler

Sarlat,  France


Chilcot: no more delays

Confirmation that the Chilcot report is virtually certain to be delayed beyond the general election is another body-blow for the families of British servicemen and women killed or maimed in Iraq.

But it also represents a scandalous betrayal of democracy and the electorate’s right to know before casting its vote in May, and hammers yet another nail into the coffin of the public’s confidence in politics and politicians.

It is now imperative that backbenchers of principle and backbone, on all sides of the House, press ahead with their debate on the Chilcot delay next week, and that a select committee presses ahead with grilling Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood over his role in this painfully protracted process.

If nothing else, the Chilcot saga should trigger a review of future public inquiries with the flawed obligation to allow those who face criticism to receive advance notice and gift them the opportunity to mount delaying challenges to the inquiry’s verdict. After all, the rest of Britain’s judicial system only entitles those in the dock to appeal after the verdict and not before.

Paul Connew

St Albans, Hertfordshire

How the super-rich threaten democracy

Paul Sloane (letter, 21 January) is wrong when he says that the super-rich are no threat to democracy.

I have lost count in my 67 years of the right-wing coups that have ousted popular left-wing governments (such as that of Allende in Chile) because the rich were going to have to share a bit more of their wealth with the rest of their country’s population.

And what about those countries with TTIP-type arrangements with the US? Multinationals are suing or threatening to sue democratically elected governments such as Australia and New Zealand for daring to carry out their manifesto promises to put cigarettes in plain packaging. Or US health insurance companies suing democratic Poland and Slovenia for having the temerity to want to reverse some of the privatisation of their health systems.

Capitalism is no longer working in the interests of society. More and more of us are asking questions about a system that causes so much poverty; that distorts human behaviour in the name of profit. Wealth is not infinite – the more the rich take the less there is for the rest of us.

Mike Jenkins

Bromley, Kent


Paul Sloane cites the example of Bill Gates as one of the super-rich who has brought benefits to humanity. There have always been people like him, such as Cadbury. But there have also been the Fred Goodwins.

The overall picture is hardly one of a world full of rich people like Gates, with the average being more skewed to the greedy who have little concept of their responsibility to society.

Ian K Watson



Modest celebrations of yesteryear

Celia Ryan’s letter (22 January) about children’s birthday parties with pass-the-parcel and no booking required makes me wonder whether the quaintly named village of Draycott in the Clay is a modern-day Shangri-La where the young boys and girls leave their secondary schools with a handshake or a kiss and are not obliged to buy or hire an evening gown or a dress suit for a prom.

Similarly, is this a place where young men about to be married have their stag night in a local pub with their mates the night before the ceremony, while the bride-to-be just stays at home trying on her wedding dress, rather than organising weekend events in Cardiff, Cracow or Istanbul months before the wedding; and where the ceremony is at the local church or register office and the do is a knees-up at the village hall?

John Orton


Disastrous loss of our polytechnics

I am the proud possessor of a CNAA degree in modern languages, which I studied at Leeds Polytechnic. The standard of tuition and the required level of attendance were much higher than at many a university language faculty. I used my language skills throughout my working career, in various kinds of job, and now I am retired I use them in language coaching.

The abolition of the polytechnics for the sake of sheer educational snobbery (letter, 22 January) was a disaster from which this country has not yet recovered.

Glynne Williams

London E17


What a splendid letter from Professor T J Simpson (21 January), neatly summing up the current management style in UK universities, where the “consultation” process takes place after the decision-making process. 

I particularly liked his phrase “pro-VC sidekicks”. Couldn’t have summed them up better!

Dr N C Bird

School of Medicine

University of Sheffield

Sedate approach to Slipknot concert

“Simmy Richman heads for the mosh pit”, says the sub-headline to your review of Slipknot (22 January). “I take my seat...,” reports Simmy. That’s a seriously middle-class mosh pit, then.

Gerard Bell

Sunninghill, Berkshire