Book Review: “The Divine Reality: God, Islam, & the Mirage of Atheism” by Hamza Tzortzis


Review by Hamdija Begovic


The Divine Reality: God, Islam & The Mirage Of Atheism

Author: Hamza Andreas Tzortzis

Publishing: December 2016. San Clemente, California: FB Publishing

ISBN-10: 0996545387

Format: Paperback, 322 pages

Generally, there are two ways to critically analyse a belief system: one is to tackle standard arguments countering them by engaging in refutations and counter-refutations – what I shall term the polemical method. The other approach is to focus on ‘unmasking’[1] a belief system which entails deconstructing and analysing the foundations upon which it is built. This method I will term the sociological one. Given my own background as a sociologist, my preference is predictably with the latter – when performed appropriately it routs an entire belief system in one fell swoop. For example, someone attacking Islam through the polemical method might complain that certain rules pertaining to gender interaction seem objectionable: “I don’t like that Muslim women dress modestly; it goes against my liberal values.” The sociological method would instead entail dismissing the entire structure of Islam by claiming, and trying to demonstrate, that it is no more than the product of a patriarchal society, thus ruling out divine origin.

Western liberals have often subjected Islam to such an approach[2], yet ironically the very same liberals do not take kindly to post-modernism as it turns the skeptical and questioning attitude back at the assumptions and superstitions of a secular liberal society, calling into question the very foundations upon which their own cherished beliefs are based. Militant atheists are quickly offended with the sociological approach as it questions their atheism as an expression of pure, unadulterated rationality. Edward Said’s approach to orientalism, inspired by Michel Foucault offers a shrewd method; Foucault addressed the relationship between knowledge and power (analysing the scientific community), and with the aspirations of the ‘new atheists’ to influence public policy and exert power there are strong reasons for using this method.

Given this way of looking at things, it strikes me that Hamza Tzortzis’s new book ‘The Divine Reality: God, Islam & The Mirage of Atheism’ will strongly resonate with Muslim polemicists. The arguments in the book are certainly worthy, but since atheism attracts people for social reasons rather than particular arguments, I’m not sure it will convince most atheists. That being said, this point should not detract from the overall value of Tzortzis’s work, as I shall attempt to explain.

The book might best be described as a collection of arguments for theism from a Muslim perspective, and as such, the polemical method forms the basis of the book. However, at certain junctures Tzortzis employs the sociological approach. For instance:

Human beings are not intellectual robots. An array of emotional, social, spiritual and psychological factors determines which worldview we adopt. Unravelling the vast number of variables that lead to certain decisions or beliefs is impossible. However, from my experience, atheism is not a strict intellectual decision born out of reason and science. On the contrary, atheism is deeply rooted in psychology…

His awareness of the sociological factor is also evidenced by his acknowledgement that atheism in China is entirely different to Western atheism, and as such should be analysed differently.

Having articulated my own preference, I must make clear that we should not neglect one approach in favor of the other. There is a vital need to evaluate common arguments and particular issues, and with the plethora of polemical atheist works that are bound to contain arguments that might bear upon young impressionable Muslims, Tzortzis has rendered both the faith and the community a service by writing this book. The arguments presented in it have been tried and tested in numerous debates and discussions with atheists – Tzortzis is a veteran of the British dawah scene – and it shows. The arguments that he selects have been sifted out through years of trial-and-error; tired, clichéd arguments are therefore left out, and familiar themes are presented through a fresh perspective. Possible atheist objections and counter-arguments are dutifully offered to the reader, only to be refuted.

Throughout sixteen chapters Tzortzis deals with issues, old and new. The old ones, such as the problem of evil or the fine-tuning of the universe, are neatly categorised and presented in straightforward accessible prose, which is no small feat in itself, but also tinged with a nice personal touch. For instance, the sections dealing with moral ontology are familiar enough, i.e. atheists who refer all truth claims back to empiricism have no intellectual foundations for believing in moral truths (and yet most of them do), but Tzortzis’s treatment of this issue offers us a charming turn of phrase: atheists who believe in moral truths, he tells us, are guilty of sentimentalism. In another place he throws in a nice little quip about the ‘science of the gaps.’ So, for those already familiar with the theism vs. atheism debate, Tzortzis’s fresh, cliché-free approach makes the book well worth a read.

The book also raised issues that were new to me, and I assume many others. A section in chapter three deals with ‘emergent materialism’, the idea that rationality in human beings can be explained as the sum total of random physical processes undergoing complex interactions. This is an interesting argument which Tzortzis goes on to tackle gracefully. Another issue is the argument from consciousness dealt with in chapter seven. Unfamiliar with these discussions the chapter proved particularly enlightening.

Unavoidably, there are some conclusions I might question, such as whether objective morality really proves the existence of God (see chapter nine). The discussion on moral ontology demonstrates the limitations of empiricism and exposes the inconsistency of the atheist, but I feel one should avoid over-extending the argument. There are also sections where I feel that Tzortzis could do more to bring home his points. For example, where he addresses rationality and physical processes through the example of computer programmes engaging in deductive reasoning, he stops short of the obvious retort that computers cannot be invoked by the atheist since they are created by rational beings.

However, any discussion about the merits of particular arguments and conclusions boils down to personal taste. I suspect that a certain variety of atheists will find Tzortzis’s penchant for analogies and parables a little unsophisticated, whereas others will find it instructive. This tells us that there is a certain amount of arbitrariness to the whole thing: one style of argumentation will appeal to some and deter others.

The book is one that I absolutely recommend, and having felt that it read like an insightful and instructive textbook it would certainly be well placed in Western Islamic schools and among Muslim university students – I certainly would have benefitted from reading it in my formative teenage and early university years. It serves as a valuable introduction to the theism vs. atheism debate for young Muslims who might only just have been exposed to atheist arguments. This doesn’t preclude others from reading and enjoying the work, most notably those engaged in the field of apologetics. One of the main strengths of the book is the up-to-date account of current trends within the theism vs. atheism debate and its references to recent research. Whilst this inevitably means that the work might prove a bit dated after a certain period of time, this is more or less unavoidable for a book on the topic. Here is hoping then that Tzortzis will continue his invaluable efforts and provide us with future updated editions.


[1] The term is borrowed from the German sociologist Karl Mannheim. “This is a turn of mind which does not seek to refute, negate, or call in doubt certain ideas, but rather to disintegrate them, and that in such a way that the whole world outlook of a social stratum becomes disintegrated at the same time. […] In unmasking ideologies, we seek to bring to light an unconscious process, not in order to annihilate the moral existence of persons making certain statements, but in order to destroy the social efficacy of certain ideas by unmasking the function they serve.” (From Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge)

[2] Recent examples include the works of Robert Hoyland and Stephen Shoemaker.

Courtesy of Islamicate (UK)

4 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Divine Reality: God, Islam, & the Mirage of Atheism” by Hamza Tzortzis

  1. “Unavoidably, there are some conclusions I might question, such as whether objective morality really proves the existence of God …….. one should avoid over-extending the argument. ”
    Exactly what I was thinking when i was studying philosophy in High School! Feels nice knowing someone else agrees. This book seems amazing, I hope to read it.

  2. What about this book review on Jonathan Brown’s book which has been shared by different scholars?
    Do you think you should post it here?
    Book Review of Jonathan Brown’s book “Misquoting Muhammed” (Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam)”
    By Abd al-Nur ibn Ahmed

    “Misquoting Muhammed” (Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) is a book by the Western academic Jonathan Brown that follows on from a series of books by him on aspects relating to hadith and the Noble Prophet (MHMD). Brown has done a great service to Muslims and non-Muslims by highlighting in an academic and easily understandable way, the importance of hadith to understand Islam and Muslims, given some explanations about what hadith science is, the various contributions made by hadith scholars, and presented some of the traditionalist and classical epistemological views in relation to hadith and hadith interpretation.
    In this book, Brown has done a good job in refuting the interpretations of the violent extremists in regards to hadiths and rightly encourages Muslims to ensure that they’re not quoting forged hadiths.
    He has also devoted a few pages to provide good refutations to the “Qur’an only” movement by arguing that the same methodology they use to reject hadiths, can be applied to reject the other Islamic sciences such as tafsir, linguistics (through which one knows what the Qur’anic words mean) because generally the Islamic sciences rely on the tradition of isnad. This would mean that the Qur’an could not be understood, and in fact would be liable to even more misinterpretations, if we abandon hadiths as a whole. He also discussed that hadiths and scholars actually provide crucial explanations to the Qur’an, such as limiting the cutting of hands when conditions of a minimum amount are fulfilled, or about how to actually pray.
    Despite the above benefits of the books, there are a number of other major errors, some of which are highlighted below. If one is sincere and unafraid of the truth, then the following read is of benefit:
    1) Attack on the Sahaba
    Brown has not applied academic rigour on his references on Sayyidina Mu’awiya, the one who was appointed by the Prophet (MHMD) as the writer of revelation. He said “Mu’awiya himself encouraged his followers to forge Hadiths” (p 22). When the book reviewer spoke to Brown directly on this (in his SOAS talk on 29/02/2016), he said that he had “no doubt about it, that Bukhari or Muslim mention that Muawiya encouraged cursing Ali and that it mentioned that Muawiya was a liar, which shows he was a dishonest man”. However none of these evidences are found in Bukhari or Muslim[1].
    As for his references in the “Misquoting” book about forgery, they are from Kitab al-Ahdath attributed to al-Mada’ini (d 235 AH) and al-Risala by Ahmad al-Miswari, the latter is definitely a Shia source (a sect that believes in cursing and hating Mu’awiya). Al-Mada’ini lived over 100 years after Mu’awiya and al-Miswari lived over 500 years after. Nevertheless no sound chain is known for their reports and Brown actually quoted from al-Miswari who apparently quotes from al-Mada’ini. Since al-Mada’ini’s work is extinct, Brown has completely relied on an extremely biased Shia source for the citation and there is no way to determine what al-Mada’ini actually said (Shias often misquote Sunni sources even when the works exist[2]). Even if al-Miswari actually quoted from Kitab al-Ahdath, we don’t know if the copy was the authentic copy of al-Mada’ini or was fabricated or tampered. It is also known that al-Mada’ini often cited reports without isnad. A report without isnad cannot be accepted in hadith science.

    Considering that it is well known that many reports against Mu’awiya were forged by Shias and Shias ritualistically curse him, appropriate scepticism by Brown should have been applied.

    On the other hand the report about Mu’awiya cursing Ali is actually without a sound chain[3] and is circulated amongst the Shia (in fact they generally have no chain/isnad).

    Shaykh Dr Gibril Haddad rightly mentioned “As for whatever transgression is attributed to Mu`awiya, Allah be well-pleased with him, the Prophet himself (upon him blessings and peace) declared that it is does not matter at all, since he said that those who fought at Badr and Hunayn are in Paradise, and Mu`awiya fought at Hunayn.”[4] On the other hand, various sahaba specifically praised Mu’awiya, such as Ibn Abbas calling him a faqih[5] whilst Bukhari, Muslim, Malik and many other leading Hadith masters included Mu’awiya as a narrator in their collections.

    The Prophet (MHMD) said: “None of you should come to me with anything (negative) about any of my Companions for I do not want to go out to you except with a clear heart.” [6]
    The Qur’an says “Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs is that which they earned, and yours is that which ye earn. And ye will not be asked of what they used to do.” (2:134)
    Based on the principles and sources that Brown uses to attack Mu’awiya, many of the other leading sahaba would be attacked (such as Sayyida A’isha, Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab), which suggests that Brown’s approach is not consistent. Malik[7] and Ibn Taymiyya[8] deemed it a punishable crime to believe that Mu’awiya was misguided or to curse him whilst Ahmed said that such people should be “abandoned”[9], which refutes Brown’s claim of following the Hanbali madhab (he also claimed to be “salafi” per an eye witness) .

    2) Women leading men in prayer
    Brown briefly gives the arguments of the Sunni scholars against women leading men in prayer (for fardh salats in public) and then provides detailed refutations of each of the Sunni arguments. Whilst he does not give his personal opinion, the reader is left in no doubt about what is the “correct opinion”.
    He defends the Hadith of Umm Waraqa as authentic despite many leading hadith scholars declaring it weak. Brown does not address the major weaknesses of this hadith, including its numerous divergent and contradictory versions, the unknown narrators, and the fact that the entire hadith goes through only one narrator Walid ibn Abdillah ibn Jumay (thus it is a purely solitary hadith which can’t stand against the weight of ijma and other stronger evidences and hadiths).

    Hakim said about this hadith “This is a strange practice. I do not know of a connected hadith on the subject besides this” and “It would have been better if Muslim did not transmit his (hadiths).”. Despite this, Brown claims that Hakim deemed the report authentic (another example of serial misquoting).

    Ibn Hibban further said about Walid “He was of those who were isolated (in their reports) from firm reporters (in narrating) what does not resemble the narration of trustworthy men. When that is excessive from him, adducing evidence from him is nullified.” Whilst al-Uqayli said in his book on weak narrators “There is inconsistency in his hadith.” Inconsistency is objective evidence of a narrator’s weakness and is objectively shown by the fact that this hadith has variant and divergent versions from Walid (such as some not mentioning Imamate or an Azan, or mixing up narrators).

    As for those from whom Walid narrates from, all of them are either unknown (in person or reliability). The accepted and soundest position in hadith scholarship is that the people who are unknown, are not deemed reliable in hadith. This, as well as the detailed analysis by Shu’ayb Arna’ut, concluded that the hadith of Umm Waraqa is weak and no evidence[10].

    If the hadith was authentic and some major scholars had allowed women leading men, then such a practice would have been done or known during the time of the Salaf, who were strict followers of the Prophet (MHMD). The fact that Hakim found the practice strange, indicates that he had never come across it. The non-existence of the practice is supported by the point that though Umm Waraqa lived in Medinah, yet none of the scholars of Madinah allowed women leading men (from the time of Malik or before).[11]

    The hadith also gives no unambiguous indication that men were led by a woman. In fact the only version that mentions gender, clearly states women being led by Umm Waraqa.

    Brown then tries to bolster his position by attributing the permissibility of women leading men (in any condition) to Tabari, Abu Thawri, Muzani and the Sufi Ibn Arabi. He further justified this by claiming that Tabari had a flourishing madhab and giving his credentials. However this only shows the inconsistent methodology of Brown because he does not quote Tabari’s tafsir’s interpretation on hitting women (his view won’t please feminists but does Brown deem them as valid followable views now too?) nor Tabari’s other odd and isolated views which no Muslim would accept. Furthermore there is no isnad for attributing the positions to Tabari or Abu Thawr, hence we can’t declare that there is any reasonable proof that they held this position or what their conditions were (e.g. that women can only lead in the home when the men are unqualified). A hadith specialist and academic should not rely on isnadless reports.

    As for Muzani, the latter said “The prayer of anyone praying behind someone in a state of major ritual impurity, a woman, an insane person, or a disbeliever is acceptably conveyed if he is unaware of his/her [the ’s] state.”[12] Zaid Shakir said “From this we can infer that the prayer of the follower in all of these scenarios is unacceptable if he knows of the ’s state. This would include his prayer behind a woman. As for the opinion that al-Muzani actually endorsed female prayer leadership, it has not reached us in any extant document.”[13]

    As for Ibn Arabi, he doesn’t quote the latter’s statement in the futuhat that women are deficient in the intellect and religion (see the section on whether it is obligatory for women to pray in congregation). Again this shows Brown being inconsistent in quoting and methodology. It is also known that many of Ibn Arabi’s works have been tampered with so we are not sure that Ibn Arabi actually held this position. In fact suggestions of tamperings are found on this issue because it is against Ibn Arabi’s methodology and the reasoning he gave for his position contradicts his other reasoning elsewhere in the text (where he is explicit that matters relating to the prayer have to be proven from the Prophet, otherwise they’re not allowed)[14]. The other point is that Ibn Arabi does not state that women can lead in any situation (as shown by the contextual analysis of the Arabic) . Due to the lack of transmission of his fiqh through living scholars and detailed manuals on fiqh, we don’t know what his conditions were for women leading.

    Based on the Prophet’s (MHMD) command to pray as he prayed, the hadiths on bid’a, other hadiths and the understanding of the Salaf, the actions of Salah have to be taken from the Prophet (MHMD). Since the permissibility of women’s Imamate of men is not proven, women’s Imamate is not allowed. Otherwise A’isha would not have prayed behind a male slave who had not memorised the Qur’an yet he prayed with a mushaf and she would have communicated the practice to the Ummah.[15]
    This discussion shows the wisdom of al-Awza’i who said: “The one who takes the odd opinions of the scholars leaves Islam.” Muslims should follow a principled and consistent approach when picking opinions from Muslim scholars.

    3) Scholarship
    The authentic hadith says “Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” [16] What is interesting to note is that it doesn’t call laymen inheritors nor the academics inheritors. Instead it is the qualified Islamic scholars that are meant. In the Hadith of Bukhari, the Prophet (MHMD) said “Allah does not take away knowledge by plucking it out of the hearts of people, but he takes it away by taking the souls of the `ulama until, when he doesn’t leave a single `alim, people take ignorant people as their leaders (ittakhadha al-nasa ru’usan juhhalan), who give fatwa and lead people astray without knowledge.” [17]

    When a non-alim (scholar) writes on complex Islamic matters, attacking scholars, scholarship and giving his own agendas and views, he is opposing the above hadiths and affectively telling people “follow me, a non-scholar, instead of the scholars”. To benefit the community, Brown should train under qualified scholars until they certify him as qualified.

    Interestingly Brown quotes (page 223) the maxim “we have been commanded to speak to people according to their minds’ abilities” and a related hadith.

    However he doesn’t apply the above rule or hadith to his writings, which will confuse many laymen who aren’t trained in the Islamic sciences and can’t detect his various misquotes. This is because he quotes the oddest opinions from various sects (with their detailed proofs) inside and outside Islam (such as Amina Wadud, Sidqi, Qutb, Abu Rayya, the Mu’tazila, the Shia) without consistently giving a fair or proper refutation.

    Neither did the Prophet (MHMD) nor the sahaba teach people odd/misguided opinions without refuting them. By opposing them in this, Brown has and will lead to the misguidance of other lay Muslims who don’t all have the skills to research the topic, critically analyse various claims and to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Muslims may also get the impression that this is not a divinely protected religion due to the many significant differences and sects, or that any opinion can be followed.

    By seeing the amount of variant views (with their detailed proofs) and sects that Brown mentions, one questions what is the intention of writing the book which is for the laymen (Muslims and non-Muslims) and sold in major bookstores? Ahmed ibn Hanbal prohibited kalam because it would lead to laymen being exposed to the arguments of the misguided[18].

    The saying of the Salaf is “Indeed this knowledge is religion, so look from whom you take your religion.” One should thus take knowledge from the qualified scholars who have the relevant ijazahs going to the Prophet in an unbroken chain, on that subject. The authentic hadith of the Holy Prophet (MHMD) states: “From every succeeding generation its upright folk shall carry this knowledge in turn. They shall repeal from it the distortions of the extremists (tahrif al-ghalin), the (mis)interpretations of the ignorant (ta’wil al-jahilin), and the pretenses of the liars (intihal al-mubtilin).” [19] and another mass-transmitted (mutawatir) hadith states “There shall not cease to be a group in my Community who shall overcome and stand for truth until the end of time.” This shows that the true Islam will be present in every generation (i.e. unbroken chain/isnad) and victorious. This condition only applies to the four Sunni madhabs, who are the rightly guided, which means that odd opinions found amongst other sects (whether new or those extinct) are to be rejected.

    Thus Ibn Rajab said “We have already alerted you to the reason for preventing this, which is that the schools of other than these [four] were not widely diffused, nor fully codified. At times views are ascribed to them which they never said, or their pronouncements are understood in ways they never intended. There is no [expert in] these schools to defend them or point out where such slips and errors lie – contrary to the case of the well-known madhhabs.”[20]

    By ignoring the wisdom of following scholars and non-scholars not speaking about complex Islamic matters to the public, the errors and consequences of this “Misquoting” book become apparent. This is also shown by its use of offensive language when describing Islamic sciences such as referring to hadith science with the words “cult of authenticity” (p 224).

    The distinguishing mark between a true Hadith scholar and an academic is that for the former, the Prophet (MHMD) is a living example to be followed in terms of his teachings and actions. This is why they are careful not to be stingy in regards to the Prophet (MHMD) and don’t neglect to send salutations (salawat) upon him, when his name is written. However the common academic act is to neglect this salawat in the name of materialism (whether it is the costs of pages or the blatantly false argument that attaching “MHMD” will distract the flow) and to address the Prophet (MHMD) as if the Prophet (MHMD) is the academic’s student.

    One will see the modern academics address their professors with greater respect and titles. This book mentions the name of the Prophet (MHMD) more than 450 times, yet salawat were only written twice. 100s of times it mentions the Prophet (MHMD) solely with his name, in contradiction to the Qur’an “Make not the calling of the messenger among you as your calling one of another…” (24:63), about which Sayyiduna Ibn `Abbas said: “They used to say, `O Muhammed(MHMD),’ or `O Abu Al-Qasim,’ but Allah forbade them to do that, as a sign of respect towards His Prophet , and told them to say, `O Prophet of Allah,’ `O Messenger of Allah.”'[21]

    4) Authenticity of hadiths
    Brown declares that mutawatir are only “at most a few dozen massively transmitted” (p 232) despite there being over 300 as compiled by the hadith master Ja’far al-Kattani[22].

    On sahih ahad (i.e. non-mutawatir) hadiths, Brown said they were “only ‘most probably’ the words of the Prophet” (p 232). The Ahlus Sunnah however believe that it is obligatory to believe[23] in sahih hadiths (especially those not clearly contradicting other sahih hadiths, irreconcilably) and al-Qari narrated the consensus of the sahaba on this (as also known by the fact that often the Prophet would only send one or a few sahaba to transmit the Qur’an to other tribes, who would be obligated to believe in it).

    Brown has wrongly conveyed the views of scholars about ahad hadiths and epistemology. The scholars either hold them to give absolute certain knowledge (yaqin, as was the view of Ibn Qayyim) or the compelling assumption of truth (al-dhann al-ghalib, as was the view of most Ash’aris). The latter is of various degrees and Ibn Hajar labelled the highest form of it as “iron-clad inductive knowledge”.

    The crucial point to bear in mind is that Islam requires four witnesses (i.e. ahad reports) for the hadd of zina. Thus sahih ahad reports give enough knowledge that they can be used in criminal law and capital punishments.

    5) Rants against karamat
    The belief in the possibility of karamat is a belief of the Ahlus Sunnah as stated in the Aqidah Tahawiyya and even by Ibn Taymiyya[24], who mentioned that they will continue until the Day of Judgement.

    Brown compares the miracles related to the Awliya (karamat) to myths mentioned amongst other religions (p 71-72, 229-230. He discusses the stories of karamat under the section and context of “Noble Lying”). The absurdity of such a comparison is known by the fact that karamat should be verified through proper isnads whereas the previous religions did not do that.

    He compares the stories of karamat to “noble lies”, quotes Buti’s mention of fabricated karamat stories about his father (p 261), rants against kashf authentication of hadiths and waking visions of the Prophet MHMD(p 226-227). This is despite the fact the Qur’an mentions karamat stories (e.g. Maryam, the man with the throne of Bilqis etc) and various authentic karamat are narrated from the sahaba and Salaf. That, combined with the people converting to Islam due to karamat, the need to disprove materialism and to strengthen the Iman of Muslims, are sufficient benefits in narrating authentic karamat stories.

    Whilst it is true that many karamat stories are forged, many are also authentic when looked through the eye of isnad. That is one reason why Tahawi mentioned “We believe in what we know of Karamat, the marvels of the awliya’ and in authentic stories about them from trustworthy sources. “ Such is the case with many karamat reported by Ibn Ata Illah about his teacher[25] and by al-Lamati about his teacher[26].

    No less a scholar than the hadith master al-Suyuti (who memorised over 200,000 hadiths) deduces the permissibility of waking visions of the Prophet based on the authentic hadith “Whoever saw me in his dream shall see me with his waking eyes and the devil cannot impersonate me”[27]. The hadith mentions no qualifications or restrictions about it being in the hereafter and the like. Suyuti also narrates an actual story of hadith authentication via kashf while Abd al-Aziz al-Dabbagh authenticated many hadiths through his kashf (despite him being Ummi, his gradings were confirmed by various hadith masters when analysing the isnad[28]) and Shah Waliullah Dihlawi discussed his father seeing the Prophet in a waking state[29].

    6) Attack on Syed Naquib al-Attas
    Brown accuses the famous Muslim philosopher al-Attas of “noble lying” (like the Buddhists and Greeks (p 218 – 221)) against the Prophet (MHMD) when he quoted a saying attributed to the Prophet (MHMD) from a book that “People are asleep, and when they die they awaken”. It is correct that this saying was actually said by Sayyiduna Ali (RA) and when a questioner challenged al-Attas, the latter said “Why should we not use this, when it is an important principle (asl) in our religion?”. Brown misinterpreted this to mean that al-Attas believed it is correct to attribute the hadith to the Prophet and thereby engage in a noble lie.

    However what al-Attas meant is that “the statement is true, regardless of who said it” and not that the questioner was wrong. In fact, Ibn Arabi, about whom Brown said “was no lackluster jurist and Hadith scholar” (p 190) and “declared him-self able to verify Hadiths that had no chains of transmission whatsoever on the basis of ‘unveiling (kashf)’” (p 226) attributed this hadith to the Prophet (MHMD)[30]

    The hadith on respecting elders is pertinent here. Despite the above accusations, Brown includes a picture of himself with al-Attas in the book.

    7) Weak hadiths
    In his chapter on “Lying about the Prophet of God”, Brown attacks the scholarly use of weak hadiths for admonitions and likens it to the Greek use of noble lies and Hollywood, even if the likes of Ahmad, Shawkani, Ibn Hajar, Bukhari and Ibn Taymiyya allowed it and the conditions were met (such as not being a forgery or very weak, using uncertain phrasing e.g. “It is said”, not being for law or aqidah, and falling under an established principle). Even Ibn Jawzi who Brown quotes a lot to support the idea of not using weak hadiths (p 261), uses weak hadiths in his hadith works to encourage good deeds.

    Since isnad was not the methodology of the Greeks but even weak hadiths quoted by scholars have isnads, the analogy is false. As weak hadiths should not have a liar in its chain and aren’t clearly false, it cannot be said that the Prophet (MHMD) didn’t say them. They could be true (it has a 50% chance per Hamza Yusuf) and can be used to encourage good actions if there is no harm. Respect for the Prophet (MHMD) means that we should consider things that he might have plausibly said. As Dr Gibril Haddad mentioned “The difference is clear between saying we are not forced to use weak narrators and saying that one cannot transmit anything from them”[31]

    Despite his rant against weak hadiths, he accepts the weak hadith of Umm Waraqah for law.

    8) Hadiths and reason
    Brown devotes 4 paragraphs (pages 69-70) for the view that deems the authentic hadith about a fly to be scientifically impossible and against reason. He then devotes a few lines in the middle of another paragraph (page 70) with a counter argument from Sunni scholars. This gives laymen readers the impression that “this authentic hadith is against reason and can be rejected”.

    This theme of how much space is given to both sides of the argument is either an indication of bias or recklessness. He also did not quote the many scientific studies done (by Muslims and non-Muslims) that prove that the hadith is true[32] although he briefly mentioned that flies had antibodies.

    9) Translating the Qur’an
    Brown translates the Qur’an in strange ways such as by saying “The power [yad] of Abu Lahab will perish” (p 91). However I couldn’t find yad meaning power in any of the linguistic tafsirs so it appears to be a ta’wil without any basis.

    10) Interest/usury (riba)
    Brown puts a fog over the ijma/consensus (per both the Sunnis and Shias) on the prohibition of riba by stating that the Qur’an forbids “excessive usury” (pages 30 and 111). Nowhere in the Qur’an is the word “excessive” mentioned in addition to riba e.g it says “Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden riba” (2:275). Although Brown earlier stated that the Qur’an forbids riba (“any kind of interest-bearing transaction”), by adding the mention of “excessive” later on, obscures the clear cut Qur’anic prohibition.

    Brown makes a mockery of the scholars that quote the hadith comparing riba to interest as clearly false because apparently incest is worse than riba. However this reasoning is clearly disproved because Allah Most High says “O those who believe, fear Allah and give up what still remains of the riba if you are believers. But if you do not, then listen to the declaration of war from Allah and His Messenger. And if you repent, yours is your principal. Neither you wrong, nor be wronged.” (2:278-279)”. Riba is thus such a grave sin that Allah declares war against it, whilst I am not aware that He says the same about incest in the Qur’an.

    As is known to those qualified in finance, riba is a method of economic oppression and enslavement that has caused large populations to be economically enslaved, led to financial crises, lost homes etc.
    Brown also claims about the hadith that it is “widely considered unreliable or even a blatant forgery by Muslim Hadith scholars”. However this has been narrated by 7 different sahaba with their collectivity giving it strength and making forgery implausible. Certain scholars also declared some of the chains authentic, leading to the overall hadith being authentic in meaning.[33]

    Brown later quotes strange opinions from colonial and post-colonial scholars permitting interest, such as on the reasoning that fiat money has no value. This opinion contradicts economics and finance and is an embarrassment to the people. It also contradicts the well known hadith “A time will certainly come to mankind when no one will remain except the consumer of riba (usury/interest), and if he does not consume it, some of its vapour will reach him”. Ibn Isa said: Some of its dust will reach him” (Abu Dawud). How can there be riba affecting everyone if the bank interest and modern financial transactions do not include interest? It is however interesting to note that the fatwas on the permissibility of interest primarily started during the colonial times.

    In conclusion, it is not wise to give academics an infallible status as they are much more likely to make serious errors. Although I have not highlighted the many other major errors in the book, this review highlights some of the major and basic errors in the work and the need for only qualified Muslim scholars to write about such complex and important Islam topics, rather than unqualified academics. For good scholarship by hadith scholars in English, one is recommended to read the works of Mustafa A’zami and Gibril Haddad (unless one is classically trained in the Islamic sciences).

    [1] Instead Jonathan seems to have misquoted the incident mentioned in
    [2] See example in and
    [3] Bidaya wa Nihaya by Ibn Kathir
    [5] Sahih Bukhari
    [6] Narrated by Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, and Ahmad. This is also supported by the Hadiths in the sahihayn about not cursing the sahaba such as “Do not insult my companions, for, by Allah, if any of you gave gold the extent of Mount Uhud in charity, you would not reach even a handful or even half a handful [of what they did]”.
    [7] Al-Shifa by Qadi Iyad
    [8] Majmu’ al-Fatawa by Ibn Taymiyya
    [9] Al-Sunnah by al-Khallal
    [10] A detailed analysis of the hadith is given by Zameelur Rahman in
    [11] Sunan of Bayhaqi. See his discussion on the evidences and the view of the seven jurists of Medinah.
    [12] Mukhtasar of Muzani
    [14] Futuhat al-Makkiyya, 1:435 of the Bulaq edition
    [15] Al-Muwatta of Malik
    [16] Related by Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Maja, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, and others. Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Zayla`i, Ibn Hajar, and others seemed it authentic.
    [17] Sahih Bukhari, Kitab al-Ilm
    [18] For more on this topic of kalam, see Ghazali’s Qawa’id al-Aqa’id
    [19] This hadith is narrated by at least 10 sahaba in various hadith collections such as Tabarani, Bayhaqi, Ibn Hibban and is analysed by Dr GF Haddad in Sunna Notes volume 1, pages 60-62. It is sahih per Imam Ahmed etc
    [20] Al-Radd ‘ala man Ittaba‘ah Ghayra’l-Madhahib al-Arba‘ah (Makkah: Dar al-‘Alam al-Fuwa’id, 1997), 33-4 from
    [21] Tafsir Ibn Kathir on 24:63,
    [22] In Nazm al-Mutanathir min al-Hadith al-Mutawatir, al-Alim al-Rabbani, by al-Sayyid Muhammed Jafar al-Idrisi al-Kattani (d. 1927)
    [23] Note that if there is proof of abrogation or other reasonable reasons given by the classical scholars, then the hadith is not acted upon
    [24] As stated in his Aqidah Wasitiyya
    “وَمِنْ أُصًولِ أَهْلِ السُّنَّةِ: التَّصْدِيقُ بِكَرَامَاتَ الأَوْلِيَاءِ وَمَا يُجْرِي اللهُ عَلَى أَيْدِيهِم مِّنْ خَوَارِقِ الْعَادَاتِ فِي أَنْوَاعِ الْعُلُومِ وَالْمُكَاشَفَاتِ وَأَنْوَاعِ الْقُدْرَةِ وَالتَّأْثِيرَات ، وَالمَاثُور عَنْ سَالِفِ الأُمَمِ فِي سُورَةِ الْكَهْفِ وَغَيْرِهَا، وَعَنْ صَدْرِ هَذِهِ الأُمَّةِ مِنَ الصَّحَابَةِ وَالتَّابِعِينَ وَسَائِرِ فِرق الأُمَّةِ، وَهِيَ مَوْجُودَةٌ فِيهَا إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ ۔

    [25] See the Lata’if al-Minan by Ibn Ata Illah where the miracles of his teacher Abul Abbas al-Mursi are reported
    [26] See the Ibriz by al-Lamati where the miracles of his teacher Abd al-Aziz al-Dabbagh are reported
    [27] Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and others from the Prophet
    [28] See many instances in the Ibriz by his close student al-Lamati
    [29] See his Anfas al-Arifin
    [30] As mentioned by William Chittick in The Sufi Path of Knowledge, page 120, referring to Futuhat al-Makkiyya by ibn Arabi in the chapter on dreams.
    [31] Sunna Notes volume 1, page 103. That chapter shows that the vast majority of hadith scholars allowed the narration of weak hadiths for other than law and aqidah.
    [32] Such as “Microbiological Studies on Fly Wings” by Rehab Atta, World Journal of Medical Sciences 11 (4): 486-489, 2014 or the article by Dr Gibril Haddad
    [33] Targhib of Mundhiri, volume 3, pages 6-8.

  3. Assalamo Alaium Brother, i had a question for you that i woudl liek to email or text you in private but i dont know how to do that. It is regardign an islamic sibject that i thought you might be able to guide me in. Can you please reach out to me or let me know how i can reach out to you please?
    JazakAllahu Khayran,

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