Monday, 1 September 2008

ZAGHLOOL AL-NAJJAR – A 21ST CENTURY DERVISH

I do not know what to make of statements like, “On the authority of Saad that he said; "I once got sick, and the Prophet (r) came to visit me. He (r) put his hand on my chest, till I felt its coolness on my heart. Then the Prophet (r) said; 'You have a cardiac ailment. Send for Al Harith Bin Kalda from Thoqaif, as he is a man who gives medical treatment.'"”, or that conjunctivitis should be treated by diet and rest, or that vomiting should be encouraged unless it is becoming a risk to breathing, or that epilepsy is due to spiritual possession. I will make no further comment.

This ‘medicine’ is dead, sterile, and quite disgusting. And it is an insult to humanity to use it, and an insult to the intelligence of mankind to advocate it. Listening to the highly respected geologist Zaghlool Al-Najjar justify the following hadith (as if the truthfulness of the Message rested on the wings of a fly), “If a housefly falls into the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink), for one of the wings has a disease and the other has the cure for the disease” [Sahih al-Bukhari vol 4:537] makes me want to cry. Why is such intelligence being wasted? Also, Najjar claims he is only relying on established science in his books, and correlating only established fact with the ‘Sunnah’. Why does he not reference his works? Surely he understands that science is not based on authority – or maybe his long contact with ‘authority’ has made him forget this basic principle of science. Does he not realize that science is only science if its results can be replicted many hundreds of times afterward, and the results established in good journals, not directed by the whims of their author or editor. Najjar fails miserably in this regard.

But of course, he has an answer to all those who try to convince him of his unscientific approach, which I regard as professional treason – he is using his stance as a world-famous geologist to propagate his own beliefs. He feels the West would not replicate these findings, and would not fund research into it, because they are opposed to Islam – they wouldn’t want to show Islam to be true, as if submission to God rested on the wings of a fly. Is this not madness itself. I quote Najjar[1] fully below, without any further comment.

“This Hadith means that the fly carries on one of its wings a disease, and on the other a cure from the same disease. When a fly falls into a container (of food or drink), it puts forward the wing carrying the microbe, as a self-defense. Imam Ibn Hajar said in his commentary on the hadith that one of the scholars observed that the fly protects itself with its left wing, so it can be deduced that it carries the cure or the antidote on the right wing. So if the fly is immersed in whatever it falls on, the antidote will destroy the venom or the microbe with the will of Allah. Some people are not pleased with the idea of immersing a fly in one's food or drink. However, this can be only applied in cases of emergency. When, for example, someone is in a desert, having only little water or drink. Such a person has no choice but to do as the Prophet recommended. Otherwise, he will die from thirst or infection. If someone disdains eating that food or drink, he does not have to do so, but he does not have the right to disclaim the authenticity of the hadith. The hadith is strongly authentic, as it is narrated by Imam al-Bukhari.

Flies are very common on earth. They are almost 87000 species. It has been scientifically proved that they feed on garbage and waste organic matter of the vast numbers of bacteria, viruses and other various microbes and germs.

Bacteria are very small living organisms. They live in billions in one gram of agricultural land and in millions in one drop of saliva. The effect of bacteria on the biological life on earth is unlimited, without it no crops could grow, and without crops there would be no life for man and animals on earth. Most of the bacteria are harmless, but some cause several diseases.

Viruses are, in fact, nucleic acids (either DNA or RNA). Allah the Almighty gave them the ability to enclose themselves by a protein coat, to form separate units called the "virion". The virus particle or the "virion" has the ability to invade living cells (host cell), inciting them to produce more viruses or destroying the tissues of this host cell. That is why viruses are responsible for many diseases, which affect plants, animals and man.

There is a type of virus, which infects, bacteria cells, known as "Bacteriophage." The killing type of these viruses is known as "Virulent Bacteriophage", while the non-killing type is known as "Temperate Bacteriophage". It is of the Divine Ability of Allah, Glorified be He, to create everything in this universe in pairs, so that, it is only Allah, Who is the One, Who has no partner. Thus, Allah created male and female, day and night, positive and negative, as He created the bacteria and the "Bacteriophage." It is only Allah, Who is the One, Who has no partner.

Allah, the Almighty, gave the fly the ability to carry the germ on one wing and its antidote on the other. Otherwise the fly species would have perished by now, exposed to all these germs. However, they still exist in more than 87000 species.

The fly carries the viruses of many diseases, which are consequently transferred to man's food, drink and body. Of these viral diseases are common flu, measles, mumps, chickenpox, warts, yellow fever, infectious liver diseases, some cases of paralysis, some types of cancer, and some chronic diseases of the central nervous system including multiple sclerosis.

Viruses also cause many diseases, which effect cattle, sheep and birds. Some of these diseases are encephalitis, aphthous fever (foot and mouth diseases) and duck plague, which could be transferred to man through the infected animal. Some crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, bananas and sugarcane can also be destroyed by viral infections.

"The virulent Bacteriophage" kills the bacterial cell that it invades in a very short time. While the "Temperate Bacteriophage" keeps the bacterial cell that it invades alive. It acquires a kind of immunity against the same virus or produce similar viruses. This explains why the fly carries pathogen on one wing and its antidote on the other.

A group of Muslim researchers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia carried several experiments on containers of water, honey and different juices. They exposed them to the flies. Then they immersed some flies in some of these containers. The microscopic examination showed that the liquids in which no flies were immersed were full of bacteria and viruses, while the others where the flies were totally immersed had none.

It was discovered that there are antidotes for pathogens, and that there are various types of bacteria and "Bacteriophages", only in the last decades of the 20th century.

The Prophet alluded to these 1400 years ago, when humans knew almost nothing of the facts of modern science. But given this type of information with such accuracy, that one wing carries the antidote to the pathogen carried by the other, could only be of the Divine Revelation taught to the Prophet”

Najjar is also the first person to put a medical and scientific cloak on many aspects of traditional Islam that were never previously regarded as such. But he, as he says, “feels obliged to do so since the Western world only speaks the language of science now, and we need to address them with science to spread the message of Islam to them”. He seems to forget that the West that he is talking about here is the same West that brought forth the great skeptics, most importantly David Hume, who demolished the opinion that science can be a route to ultimate truth, which essentially is what religion stands for.

Focusing on the ‘medical’ aspect only, for example, we see Najjar’s madness on fire when he is commenting on the miraculous aspect of the tradition, "Five practices are characteristics of the fitrah: circumcision, shaving the pubic hairs, cutting the mustaches short, clipping the nails and plucking the hair of the armpits." (Reported in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.)

Beginning with circumcision, he says “extensive research proved the medical benefits of circumcision, showing that uncircumcised males are more vulnerable to veneral diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, and also to penile cancer which is the most painful”, as if to say, get circumcised lest you commit adultery – that way you will not suffer as much. I hasten to add that circumcision remains a controversial topic among andrologists; unbiased sources say that:

“The American Medical Association stated in 1999: "Virtually all current policy statements from specialty societies and medical organizations do not recommend routine neonatal circumcision, and support the provision of accurate and unbiased information to parents to inform their choice." The British Medical Association, states “there is significant disagreement about whether circumcision is overall a beneficial, neutral or harmful procedure. At present, the medical literature on the health, including sexual health, implications of circumcision is contradictory, and often subject to claims of bias in research.” Cost-benefit analyses have varied. Some found a small net benefit of circumcision, some found a small net decrement, and one found that the benefits and risks balanced each other out and suggested that the decision could "most reasonably be made on nonmedical factors."

I remind him too of the low incidence of penile cancer, “Penile cancer is very rare in Europe and North America, occurring in about one in 100,000 men in the latter. It accounts for 0.2% of cancers and 0.1% of deaths from cancer amongst males in the United States.”. And these are incidences in largely uncircumcised men.

He moves on to talk about the benefits of circumcision, saying that this “circumcision of the husband protects his wife from this type of infections, which may lead to cancer of the uterus that is widely spread among prostitutes”. This is the first time I hear that infection is a risk factor for uterine (endometrial) cancer; the risk factors I know are:

Obesity
Nulliparity
Late menopause
PCOS
Unopposed oestrogen therapy
Tamoxifen
Diabetes
Personal or family history of breast or colon cancer

I presume the geologist is referring to cervical cancer, which carries the risk factor of ‘promiscuity’ – but circumcision cannot be defended on this basis. Firstly, the evidence for circumcision (which is not mentioned once in the Quran) is, as we just saw, pretty inconclusive. Secondly, one cannot use this way of argument to defend ‘a good thing’ – which I presume is Najjar’s opinion of circumcision, as a way of attenuating the harms of sin.

Following this, Najjar makes the sweeping statement, “Physicians noticed that uncircumcised men are more vulnerable to reproductive system diseases than others”; this, and I say this as a medical doctor, is not true. Not once have we learnt this, or heard it from the urologists who look after ‘male reproductive organs’.

He then proceeds to talk about female circumcision:

“Regarding female circumcision, it is also a way of following the Sunnah of the Prophet. It is also more dignified for her, as this is a very sensitive part of her body. If there is an extraordinary elongation of the prepuce (foreskin) it may lead to her being sexually excited repeatedly, especially before marriage. This may also displease her husband or make sexual intercourse difficult after marriage”.

Is there anything more ridiculous than that? Is it not an insult to God, the creator to say that it is more dignified for the woman for woman to not have her external female genitalia or any part thereof, than it is to have them? Are they not attributing a fault in the Creation, He who says, “No fault wilt thou see in the creation of the Most Gracious. And turn thy vision upon it once more: canst thou see any flaw. Yea, turn thy vision again and yet again, and every time thy vision will fall back upon thee, dazzled and defeated” (67:3-4).

When they hear of criticisms of such practices, like the following one by Christopher Hitchens they become very defensive:

“Across a wide swath of animist and Muslim Africa, young girls are subjected to the hell of circumcision and infibulations, which involves the slicing off of the labia and the clitoris, often with a sharp stone, and then the stitching up of the vaginal opening with strong twine, not to be removed until it is broken by male force on the bridal night. Compassion and biology allow for a small aperture to be left, meanwhile, for the passage of menstrual blood. The resulting stench, pain, humiliation, and misery exceed anything that can be easily imagined, and inevitably result in infection, sterility, shame, and the death of many women and babies in childbirth. No society would tolerate such an insult to its womanhood and therefore to its survival if the foul practice was not holy and sanctified.”

This is how one scholar put it, "It is clear that Islamic law supports both male and female circumcision. Just because mistakes are sometimes made in the way in which it is carried out does not mean that the procedure is wrong in itself." How merciful.

Is it not madness to hear that, in 1994, Egyptian Mufti Sheikh Jad Al-Hâqq issued a fatwa stating, "Circumcision is mandatory for men and for women. If the people of any village decide to abandon it, the village imam must fight against them as if they had abandoned the call to prayer”, that another Egyptian scholar saysEven prominent gynaecologists such as Dr Munir Fawzi of the department of gynaecology at Cairo University “came out in favour of the procedure, saying: "Female circumcision is entrenched in Islamic life and teaching."”

What we have here is a deep irrationality, an opposition to World Health Organisation guidelines, a pathetic reverence to ancient ideas that are grounded in nothing but tradition, and a deep contempt for women, and an emphasis on patriarchy. I have said nothing about the practice being opposed to historical practice of the Prophet and his companions, something emphasized by Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, among others, in his book, ‘The Clash of Civilisations – An Islamic View’, who remarked:

“There are other inherited practices that are quite harmful physically as well as spiritually. For example, the pharaonic circumcision of females (genital mutilation) as practiced in East Africa, the Sudan, and Egypt among Muslims and non-Muslim tribes of that region is another example of inherited un-Islamic practices. It is harmful to women in that infections from it can lead to sterility and even death. And even under hospital supervision, it robs the woman of some if not all of her right to enjoy a basic part of her marriage. Furthermore, under the feminist attack, some women reject Islam under the mistaken impression that it condones this form of oppressive disfigurement of women”.

Martin Fido, a fellow at Oxford Univeristy when he writes, “Female circumcision…might well have struck the Prophet as absurd or indecent… the spread of Islam to Africa brought Muslims in contact with several several tribes who practiced various forms of genital mutilation, including labia stretching, male circumcision and clitoridectomy. Since Jewsih influence already proposed male circumcision as a religious rite, some Muslims enthusiastically adopted the female “equivalent”, which was carried out at puberty in some 30 countries, often without anaesthetics.”

On hearing things like this, can anyone blame an atheist like Christopher Hitchens to say that religion is, “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience”.

He further adds, “The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile. A modern believer can say and even believe that his faith is quite compatible with science and medicine, but the awkward fact will always be that both things have a tendency to break religion's monopoly, and have often been fiercely resisted for that reason.”

I certainly cannot argue with Hitchens over this; he is speaking the truth. But this irrationality does not stop here. Najjar proceeds to talk about the benefits of the beard, the shaving of which (as well as trimming the moustache) is regarded by many as a compulsory act, or at least a virtuous one. He quotes the hadith reported by Ibn Umar that the Prophet said, “Trim the moustache and let your beard grow”, as well as another narrations, such as “Act differently to the polytheists; let your beards grow and shave your moustache” and “Act differently to the Magians; shave your moustache and let your beards grow” (as if God were concerned were to judge us according to our external appearance, neglecting the fact that He says, “Allah will not take you to task for that which is unintentional in your oaths. But He will take you to task for that which your hearts have garnered. Allah is Forgiving, Clement” (2:225)).

It is all about acting different, and being different; is it a surprise then that Muslims these days are being treated differently, segregared against, opposed, attacked and ridiculed – in many cases it is the indirect outcome of their own wishes. Of course, all such things are wrong, but we need to at least blame ourselves a bit for the current chaos afflicting Muslims.

In any case Najjar proceeds to say, “It is obvious from these narrations that letting the beard grow is obligatory and so is trimming the moustache. Being under the nose and above the mouth, exposed to their various secretions, makes it easy for the moustache to be contaminated with these secretions in addition to remnants of food and drink. It is then difficult to keep it perfectly clean which may lead to the growth of germs and bacteria and may result in a bad smell originating from the person, or may even cause diseases”. Even a first year medical student can respond to this. Which textbooks of dermatology and microbiology has our wonderful geologist consulted in the course of saying this? Furthermore, which school of trichology has he attended? Why does he not reference these sweeping statements? Najjar cannot accuse others of being unscientific, or accuse others of writing ‘empty works’, as he recently did on a television programme, picking up a valuable book of the great and rational linguist Abdel Saboor Shahin saying, “This book has no scientific or religious value”, before he looks into his own works, which are sometimes based on the most ridicilous suggestions, a prostitution of science for his own agenda.

Najjar’s ideas are dangerous, but I have not qualms about his intentions – he seems like an honest man. But he is guilty here not only of treason, but also of misinformation. He is guilty of what Stephen Hawking described, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”. Here is a geologist abusing the entire world of science and medicine to suit his ‘religious’ goals. It is corruption of the highest kind.
[1] I would love to see Najjar and others who believe this ‘hadith’ dip one side of a fly in his food and redip the other afterward. He would never do it, and I don’t know how he thinks the prophet (PBUH) could even consider us to do that; we do not observe flies in slow motion, and there is no way that we would know which wing is which!

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