Debating with a French Muslim convert
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27-02-2013, 04:15 AM (This post was last modified: 27-02-2013 04:51 AM by Thanh.)
Debating with a French Muslim convert
A thorough description of the context is necessary to avoid any false assumptions and misunderstandings:

I work in airport security in the suburbs of Paris. In my country, the national transportation department (Ministère des Transports) pays for private agencies to handle checkpoints, companies that are tested, examined and very often have to pay fines to law enforcement AND to the bureaucrats that pays the salaries of every service provider on airport grounds. There are - more or less - thorough background checks done for every employee that carry a security badge and, depending on the public visibility of the worker. The agencies reserve the right to ask said person to look "clean" in regards with professional behavior, presentation and morality.

Facial hair is restricted when interacting with the public, clients, or management personnel. Unless, the action of having said facial hair is justified by one's personal religious views.

Now here's the actual story for this topic:

I work with a majority of Muslims, and in my team there are quite a few French individuals who have converted to Islam at one point in their lives. The one I will talk about now, let's call him Bob, is around 35 years old, married with 2 daughters, grew up in a difficult neighborhood and never graduated from high school (called "collège" here). Bob is an all around nice guy with an amazing capacity for absorbing information and analyzing facts. He has spent many years studying religion, in his words "to find the truth" with a capital T, and his main occupation - besides working at the airport - is Islam. He is what we call a "pacifist" but here's the problem: Bob has a very large stache-less beard, and is trying very hard, with everything he does, to stay true to the teachings of the holy books.

The first time I started working with Bob, I noticed the looks given to him by the personnel and passengers (40+ year old males Europeans ). Being a thirty-year old female, I'm not used to seeing my male coworkers getting attention, especially when it's scornful and disgusted like what I've seen for Bob.

Moving on to the conversations Rolleyes

Bob is, despite himself, a proselytizer. He preaches to his Muslim brothers and encourages them to be more righteous and to follow the Sunnah. Other, non-Muslim, coworkers also get to participate in moral/religious discussions with him. Another person in my team has recently converted to Islam, and there's no wonder why and how he got to that point.

Anyway, it wasn't long before Bob confided to me about the weird looks and the various warnings given to him by authority figures and management. He had to fight for his right to keep his beard, and to profess his religion (praying during work hours... there's a chapel for that purpose). The thing is, he's unable to be in a conversation that doesn't end up with him talking about Allah and what people should or shouldn't do in order to go to heaven.

When he was fully aware of my perspective in terms of spirituality (the impossibility for me to believe in any God, heaven or hell), that's when the exchanges got interesting. Not because of the arguments themselves, but I came to realize that we just didn't speak the same language. His definition of some words was twisted and got us to disagree while we were on the same page.

"atheism": for Bob, and by extension for most Muslims that attend his mosque, an "atheist" refers to nothing other than an individual with no values, no morals, a derelict attitude towards life and living in the present without a single care for consequences.

"reason": as in the opposite of "irrationality". Bob said something along these lines: "Reason has done a lot of damage to Islam, it has drawn the people to twist and corrupt the sacred teachings and to eventually go overboard with their interpretation of the Qur'an. Because of reason, they gave any meaning they wanted to the words of God in order to justify their bad behaviors." What I got from that is the mixing of rationality with rationalization.

"evidence" (or "preuve" in French): this word pops up quite often when he tells me about the discussions he has with other, not-so-scholarly, Muslims who try to pull out Quranic teachings out of their asses. "Where is your evidence?" he would ask them, instead of saying "Where did you read this? Show me the scriptures!" Consequently, he also uses that word when referring to actual, physical evidence of prophecies and so-called "official" scientific confirmations of the miracles told in the Qur'an. This was an opportunity for me to confront him with the fact that Islamic researchers had gone through great lengths and hired reputable scientists to give the Qur'an a modern, scientific approach that would validate the ancient texts in the eyes of a skeptical audience. I made Bob aware of the Islamic instrumentalization of the non-theistic scientific community, the same way that extremist Muslims instrumentalized their own religion for terror. He looked genuinely shocked to hear that.

We could have gone even further by saying that he was twisting the French language to serve the purpose of giving himself more credit and entitled respect than he ought to have, but going down that road isn't my style. After I clarified and redefined those words, we were able to communicate more efficiently and straighten our misunderstandings.

Then came the moment when he felt comfortable enough to question my atheism, to understand why I wasn't religious. I want the record to reflect that at no point did I feel threatened by his religious and moral questioning because I've looked up on Islam in the past. So my view of religion was clear for him: regardless of the existence of a god when something is written down and tells a story, it comes from a mortal. And when something is so big, touches so many people on a deep emotional level, when it affects their morality and behavior, it represents a dominating power that can and will be used against them. What kind of god does that? There is no need for the belief in god if you know what you're doing and why. Also, having to find evidence for something presumably omnipotent that wants people to believe in it, why isn't it making it easier for its followers by just revealing itself?

Bob tried to justify the mysteries with self-introspection, inner conflict (jihad) and the process of spiritually elevating one's self. He then asked me what I thought about heaven and hell, the concept of infinity and eternal life. He also asked me what I believed happened after we die.

What can an atheist reply to these questions? It was simple to me and he was perplexed when I told him about the actual dimension of our star system, the Milky Way galaxy and how many stars it contains, the distances that separate us from the nearest star, the billions of other galaxies in the universe... and the universe itself. I managed to make it sound as mind-boggingly vertiginous as I could, and told him that this feeling I had when thinking of the mathematics of it all, that feeling was my definition of infinity and the eternal. And it has nothing to do with a religious experience; I am able to sense the greater things in nature because I accept them as they are, I've come to understand them through extended studying and when it was too much to take, I took the time to adjust to the new information. Science and the scientific reasoning can trigger feelings down to the core of a living and breathing person. I couldn't stress that enough. The amazement of nature and its "miracles" is not solely reserved to religions, it belongs first and foremost to science and our natural capacity to observe and understand what we see.

Then I moved on to the invisible, the not-yet understood and the phenomenons that we could not yet grasp. Things we classify as supernatural because of the intellectual shock they induce and our inability to adjust to them. Unidentified materials, energies, living creatures and forces beyond our imagination. Bob was reassured, because I'd appeared to him as a narrow-minded scientific geek. However, he asked me to keep a window open to the existence of god.

That's when I just smiled and nodded. It was clear to me that, for reasons of pride, intellectual frustration or even religious bigotry, Bob wasn't having a good time listening to my "atheistic teachings." He did seem humbled by what I knew and being able to grasp so much without having to quote any books or any prophet.

Days had passed and on the next occasion to talk I bluntly came up with this opening: "Bob, I value your insights and enjoy our conversations, but you need to know that at some point, we'll have to disagree and there's nothing either of us could do about it." That day I openly confronted his behavior as a coworker and the way he had to direct every conversation to his own beliefs. The reasons for that were obvious to me: he didn't know much else and religious studies were sucking up all of his curiosity for the rest of the real world. The downside to that was that he was dragging other people with him. I kept the thought of our recently-converted coworker in my mind and asked Bob what he'd think if I wanted to join him in his religious adventure. When asked, he said that I wouldn't need to convert to Islam if I wanted to follow its teachings (I'm quite the reserved, well-behaved, humble individual to being with), and that I would only need to accept Allah in my life and to worship him if I wanted to go to heaven after I die...

My memory is especially good today so here's a transcript:

Me: "So what if I did everything right during all of my life, no sins, just selfless acts and kindness EXCEPT believing in Allah... would I still burn in hell?"

Bob: "Yes, you would. Unless, just before you die, you suddenly come to realize that He exists and you would need to repent for your past ignorance."

"What about children who don't believe in God?" I asked. "Would Allah burn children?"

Bob: "...Yes."

Me: "What kind of god is that?"

His reaction: Blink


I have to confess to one thing: if I hadn't stumbled upon the Youtube channel of Phil Hellenes, that wonderful clip called "Science saved my soul", works of Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and this forum, I would have never found the courage or felt brave enough to handle myself through an entire shift with Bob. The undeserved respect - and fear - that Muslims feel entitled to, I erased it from my outside behavior and whatever politeness and caution I exercised with Bob was only in regard to him as another human being.

Now, I may not be as militant as I wish I was. There's no denying that working with airport security, among people that I'm tasked to watch out for (anyone carrying a badge is a potential threat), so the fear is there. I have to be careful for myself and my family. BUT, and I learned this from Bob, is that if I can help some people get their heads out of their asses, no matter how long it takes, how complicated and potentially risky it looks... it's my duty as an "enlightened" individual to spread the knowledge and not keep my wisdom for myself alone.

Angel
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27-02-2013, 04:26 AM
RE: Debating with a French Muslim convert
http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/forum/...k+a+muslim

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein Certified Ancient Astronaut Theorist and Levitating yogi, CAAT-LY.
Yeah, for verily I say unto thee, and this we know : Jebus no likey that which doth tickle thee unto thy nether regions.

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27-02-2013, 06:45 AM
RE: Debating with a French Muslim convert
Awesome post. Thanks.

Long, but well worth reading.

I work amongst mainly Muslims but they are what I call Mocktail Muslims and have never ever proselytized.

In a way, I envy you for having that kind of conversation.


I was wondering, half way through, if you had seen Science Saved My Soul. It truly is a masterpiece.

Recently I have been checking his channel in anticipation... somehow I feel there must be another new treat coming soon. At least, I hope so.

For those who may not have seen it yet. Please do...




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27-02-2013, 07:36 AM (This post was last modified: 27-02-2013 03:34 PM by Thanh.)
RE: Debating with a French Muslim convert
(27-02-2013 06:45 AM)DLJ Wrote:  Awesome post. Thanks.

Long, but well worth reading.

I work amongst mainly Muslims but they are what I call Mocktail Muslims and have never ever proselytized.

In a way, I envy you for having that kind of conversation.


I was wondering, half way through, if you had seen Science Saved My Soul. It truly is a masterpiece.

Recently I have been checking his channel in anticipation... somehow I feel there must be another new treat coming soon. At least, I hope so.

For those who may not have seen it yet. Please do...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6w2M50_X...Q&index=10
Thanks!

"Dust that sings" is actually the video that got to me the most, even though "Science saved my soul" is saved on my phone and I watch it every once in a while when I feel a little sad... Whatever Phil posts is worth the watch. I heard him talk on the Thinking Atheist radio podcast and was amazed at his responses to the young theists callers. He taught me not to take theists seriously.


These conversations started 2 months ago and now that I'm taking a short break from work it's easier to lay it down and think things over. The other converted coworker is actually a close friend and we don't talk about religion at all. Why? It's just too "fresh" for him and I know he's not really serious about Islam. Wouldn't say he's a Mocktail Muslim but he's definitely searching for his own identity...

I just wish he had met me before he met Bob Rolleyes
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