Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Freethinkers in history: Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi



This is the first of what I hope to be a multipart subject of freethinkers in Islamic History.

What is the sort of stuff that is widely attributed to Islam these days? Close-minded, violent, non-tolerant, jihad etc. So called moderate Muslims have little or no voice or they simply choose not to raise their voices. Imagine how Islam would have been like in the 10th century. Imagine how hard it would have been for free thinkers to exist in those times. Well guess what? It appears it wasn't the case according to Abdel-Rahman Badawi, a free thinker from Eygypt, who details how Muslim philosophers and scholars put reason above tradition, evidence above blind belief. And some of them openly criticized Islam, the prophet and Quran. Surprised? So was I.


Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, a Persian Muslim, who lived during the 9th and 10th century, was a physician, alchemist and chemist, musician, philosopher and scholar. He is regarded as the "perhaps the greatest clinician of all times". He was the first to differentiate smallpox from measles. He discovered alcohol and kerosene. Described as the father of pediatrics and was a pioneer in neurosurgery and ophthalmology.

Razi also wrote three books on religion. “The Prophets' Fraudulent Tricks”, “The Stratagems of Those Who Claim to Be Prophets”, and “On the Refutation of Revealed Religions”. Imagine that! Just the title .... Imagine publishing something even close in these days. Sorry Salman Rushdie my man, your Satanic Verses is nothing compared to these.

He was critical of the idea of prophet hood.
"On what ground do you deem it necessary that God should single out certain individuals [by giving them prophecy], that he should set them up above other people, that he should appoint them to be the people's guides, and make people dependent upon them?"

Headline of today "War on Terror". Looking at the various disagreements between religions and the zeal of their followers he said
"there would be a universal disaster and they would perish in the mutual hostilities and fighting. Indeed, many people have perished in this way, as we can see."

Razi doesn't seem to belong to the 10th century. It seems like he is talking about our time, talking about us. You and me! and here is another one.

"If the people of this religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed"


He was a brilliant….. brilliant man. You can't imagine this coming from Muslims even today and this guy lived in medieval times.

Razi believed that people had been conned into believing by people in authority. He believed that this trickery had been continuous over time and as a result people got habituated to their religious denomination. After a while these lies and myths deluded the people so much that it came to the tone of “we head from so and so who was told by so and so ”.

He believed that the existence of a large variety of religions was, in itself, evidence that they were all manmade, saying, "Jesus claimed that he is the son of God, while Moses claimed that He had no son, and Muhammad claimed that Jesus was created like the rest of humanity" and "Mani and Zoroaster contradicted Moses, Jesus and Muhammad regarding the Eternal One, the coming into being of the world, and the reasons for the [existence of] good and evil"

In relation to the Hebrew's God asking of sacrifices, he said that
"This sounds like the words of the needy rather than of the Laudable Self-sufficient One."

On the Qur'an, Razi said:

"You claim that the evidentiary miracle is present and available, namely, the Koran. You say: "Whoever denies it, let him produce a similar one." Indeed, we shall produce a thousand similar, from the works of rhetoricians, eloquent speakers and valiant poets, which are more appropriately phrased and state the issues more succinctly. They convey the meaning better and their rhymed prose is in better meter. ... By God what you say astonishes us! You are talking about a work which recounts ancient myths, and which at the same time is full of contradictions and does not contain any useful information or explanation. Then you say: "Produce something like it?""

All those who claimed to be prophets, from the beginning of the human history, in Razis view, were at worst tortuous and devious and at best had psychological problems.

What do you think happened to this guy? Did he have to apply for asylum in another country? Did he have to remain in hiding? Was he jailed? Were fatwas issued for his head? Did some fanatic assassinate him? ... No. He remained in Iran. He was the Director of the Hospital in the city, a respected scientist, a teacher and a philanthropist. If you want to see more of Razi and other freethinkers in Islamic history then read Freethinkers of Medieval Islam: Ibn Al-Rawandi, Abu Bakr Al-Razi and Their Impact on Islamic Thought (Islamic Philosophy, Theology, and Science)

Next time I am going to dig into Rawandi’s thoughts. I have heard he was more open as compared to Razi and also had to suffer because of it.

7 comments:

Faraz said...

Inspiring words..

Nuwas Manto said...

Although I did know that Al-Razi was not in favor of Prophets and that he didnt believe in immortality.However,this article has increased my knowledge of him.
My question is: A person who doesnt believe in Muhammad, ridicules Quran, defies the notion of immortality,can he be called a Muslim? Was Al-Razi,known to be a Muslim? Wouldnt it be contradictory?

Also do you any means whereby one can get the book.Is it availabe underground in Pak or something?

MaxxSteelTheGOD said...

I wonder, how did Al Razi discover alcohol, when the ancient people of khemet were already using it over 5, 000 years ago ?

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Maaz said...

Debunking Al-Razi:
1. On the question of Prophet-Hood. They were chosen because of their great character(God knows best).
2. 2nd and 3rd points on War on Terror and not using rationality. These are red-herrings. In Quran, it is mentioned several places to use Rationality, so we aren't against it. (God knows best)
3. On God not being self-sufficient if he orders Humans to do some task. He orders it for our benefit. God's essence doesn't change at all, irrespective of how Humans to different activities. (God knows best)
4. About producing something like the Quran, Al-Razi probably didn't have an idea of what Quran was talking about. It tells about the unique literary and linguistic miracle of Quran! (God knows best)

Zia Ul Badr said...

Should God know best or I?

Maaz said...

Once it becomes certain to you, than you can also acknowlege that you know.
And many times, we muslims say Allah knows best anyways after any interprettation of Islamic teaching; not that we are not certain that its correct, but in humility to Allah.

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