Saturday, January 30, 2010


Did I mention that I'm doing some cat-sitting for some friends of mine? No, not the white cat who tried to get my soul, different cats.

My friends have three cats, with appropriate names:




Don't ask me how one stayed so thin, maybe the other two eat all the food before the third can get to it. At least these cats don't try to get my soul, they know me well enough by now to know that I don't have one.

But wait, there's another mystery . . .

Locals have for years told tales of an unknown fourth creature in the house, ever elusive, its true identity unknown. This dramatic photograph, taken by an amateur photographer, is purported to be the only evidence on film of this mysterious creature. Many scientists believe it is a case of mistaken identity with Chubbo, or an elaborate hoax, but locals and noted cryptozoologists studying the case refute this, saying that Chubbo is way too fat to move so quickly, and the beast is too small to be someone in a costume. Skeptics remain unconvinced. Nevertheless, the search continues and it is hoped that one day the world will have convincing evidence of the creature locals call "Qatsquatch".

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Skeptics in the Pub -- Friday, January 29

So having met another critical thinker in Doha, and he knows some other like-minded people, looks like it's time for...

The first get-together of critical thinkers in Doha!

Friday, January 29
Location: Library Bar, Ramada Hotel
Time: 7-ish

Nothing formal, just critical thinkers chatting over drinks. If anyone is interested feel free to come along!
(And if any Muslims are reading this and are interested in such events let me know, we will see about future ones being "Skeptics in the Cafe" so you can join us.)

I will also post this notice on the JREF forums on the odd chance someone in Doha peruses those boards. Stranger things have happened.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Scottish slang

Some friends of mine are on vacation for the next few weeks so I am popping by every day to check up on the house and make sure everything is okay. One of them is Scottish and on the coffee table they have a coasters with various Scottish words and their definitions. Being of British ancestry myself I decided to read through them all to see what ones I knew. Turns out I knew about half. See how you do:


Careful, you may think you know the definition of some of them but it turns out Scots may have a different meaning of the word, be sure to look them up afterwords.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


No, not me. I don't have any tattoos.

Following up on my statements regarding how Muslims do not necessarily follow all aspects of Scripture, nor interpret things exactly the same way, here is an interesting article regarding tattooing in Qatar. Apparently tattooing is banned here as it is haram (prohibited under Islam) but many do it anyway.

I was not sure why tattooing is banned so quick search came up with this.

Tattooing is not mentioned in the Qur’an, but I guess later scholars decided it was not a good thing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Some rubbish on the internet about Muslims can't be "Good Americans"

In the comments section of my previous blog post came a notification of an e-mail making the rounds regarding whether Muslims can be “Good Americans”. Let's take a look, shall we?


In light of the murders at Ft. Hood by a Muslim Officer (who had sworn to defend the people, our Constitution and the United States) this article becomes more timely and real than ever.

What does this have to do with being a Canadian when the first paragraph makes it quite clear this is about the United States? My guess, and this frequently happens with e-mails that circulate around, is that the original just said “Good American" and it reached the inbox of some Canadian who decided to tack on Canada as well. It becomes quite apparent when you read on that this has nothing to do with Canada or being Canadian.

Can a good Muslim be a good American or Canadian?

I sent that question to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years. The following is his reply:

Theologically - no. Because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia.

Right away we get to at least two problems.

1) That for someone to be a good American or Canadian they have to be theologically compatible with a specific viewpoint; and
2) That Allah is “the moon god of Arabia”

Anyone who spends just five minutes browsing through the Qur’an would quickly determine that Islam is an Abrahamic religion. Many of the stories and key people in the Bible are mentioned in the Qur’an (Adam, Abraham, Noah, David, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Job, Lot, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, they're all in there). Allah is the same as the God of the Bible and the Torah. Surah 3:45-3:47 should spell it out plainly enough if you want a reference.

This of course creates a conrundrum for the writer of this article. If Islam is an Abrahamic religion, and Allah = God, then it would be tough to state that it is theologically inconsistent with being a Good American (and let's be frank in case you didn't figure it out, the article equates being a Good American with being Christian). Because if Islam was incompatible than by that logic neither would Judaism, and any non-Abrahamic religion (Buddhism, Hinduism, native religions etc).

So what's the article writer’s solution to get around this problem? Declare it’s actually a moon god of Arabia, thus denying the religion its clear Abrahamic connection altogether.

At this point I strongly suspect that the original writer of this article is an Evangelical Christian living in America, and I highly doubt they have ever been to Saudi Arabia, but I'll discuss that later. Why do I suspect this? Because the “moon god” issue is sometimes touted around Christian websites as part of anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Sorry Christianity but you are not the ultimate arbiter as to who is and who isn't worshipping God. Fundamentalist Christians can claim the moon god connection until they are blue in the face, the actual followers of the religion, i.e. Muslims, all fully believe that they are worshipping the same God of the Bible and Torah, that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, and so on.

The recent controversy in Malaysia is an odd one as no other Islamic country has an issue with non-Muslims using the word Allah to refer to God. My understanding is that the Malaysian government is concerned that if Christians use Allah instead of God it could help convert Muslims to Christianity. Not sure how that would work, and a judge threw it out.

Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam.

this shows a complete ignorance of:
1) Islam;
2) countries where Islam is the majority religion; and
3) Medieval history of Europe and the Islamic world

The Qur’an does make distinctions between "People of the Book", the Abrahamic religions (Muslims, Jews, and Christians) and other religions. Islam definitely accepts Christianity and Judaism because, while perhaps “misguided” because they do not believe the Word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammed, they all do worship the same God. Christian and Jewish communities have lived amongst the Islamic world for 1400 years, and a Jewish or Christian woman can marry a Muslim man without needing to convert.

An Islamic scholar would probably have to chip in here but my layman understanding is that, in general, Islam takes the view that Jews and Christians were given the Word of God through various Prophets (Jesus, for example, is considered a Prophet of God). Because the scriptures were not written down immediately over time the sayings of those Prophets became corrupted by priests and other people in power, so that by the time they were written the scriptures were no longer the accurate revelations of God. (With the number of Gnostic texts out there I could see how this view could be supported.) Thus Islam concludes that Christians and Jews have been unfortunately misled by inaccurate scriptures, which was part of the reason why God revealed His Word to the Prophet Muhammed, to get worship "back on track" so to speak. Jews and Christians do not have to convert to Islam for they are still worshippers of God and ultimately God will judge them. The Qur’an has a lot in it about how someone's intentions and sincerity are important, Allah will forgive transgressions if people were honestly intending to do the right thing, so I guess Allah is perfectly willing to let Jews and Christians into heaven provided they lived a decent life had kept their religion because they truly believed Judaism/Christianity was a proper way to worship God.

The above interpretation is debatable I'm sure and like all religions there would be diverse opinion on the issue across the Islamic world. Some Surahs in the Qur'an probably support the view when some dispute it.

Anyway, to state that no other religion is accepted is false.

Now I am not implying that for the entire 1400 years Christians, Jews and Muslims all lived a happy peaceful coexistence. Depending on the region and at what point in history sometimes things were good and sometimes things were not. But as anyone who has studied Jewish history can tell you the same is true about Europe as well.

Other religions have also resided in the Islamic world and still remain to this day. There are many Zoroastrians in Persia, Druuze in the Levant Arab area, and let's not forget that large parts of India were once under the rule of the Muslim Mughul emperors, ruling over large numbers of Hindus, Buddhists & Sikhs.

Scripturally - no. Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran).

Okay so far this is three religious topics regarding how to be a "Good American" and it is getting ridiculous. Scriptural compatibility? What the heck does that even mean? Sounds even more ridiculous if you relate it to Canada. Isn't America all about separation of church and state? How can one be scripturally compatible with Canada?

The implication of this statement is clear -- a good American has to somehow be scripturally compatible. Hmmmm, wonder what scripture this might be referring to? I'll take a wild guess here that they are referring to the Bible. So I guess Buddhists can’t be good Americans either because of their allegiance to Buddha? What about Mormons, they have slightly different scripture? Sikhs? Wiccans? Atheists?

I'm not American and I have not done a lot of work on American history but my understanding is that many of the founding fathers were actually Deists (Thomas Jefferson & Benjamin Franklin for example), which is why there is a strong separation of church and state built into the founding documents of America. My understanding from attending JREF conventions is that many fundamentalist Christians are now trying to undermine that history in an attempt to erode the church/state separation, this statement about "Scriptural compatibility" seems to fall into this line of thinking. A topic far too big for this blog but I encourage anyone reading this, especially Americans, to investigate the history of church/state separation for themselves.

As for the Five Pillars people need to educate themselves a little bit on what they are before declaring that allegiance to them is somehow not becoming with being a good American, given the strong religious undertones of this article. (hint: one pillar is to worship no one other than God; another is to give to the poor)

Geographically - no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca , to which he turns in prayer five times a day.

This struck me as being analogous to saying Catholics can’t be good Americans because the Pope sits in the Vatican, but I digress.

Mecca is a city and as far as I know Muslims do not swear allegiance to it. One just needs to educate themselves a little as to why Muslims face Mecca when praying. This blog post is getting long, so instead I will direct you to this website which gives an explanation. Nothing to do with allegiance to Mecca.

This has nothing to do with a geographical “allegiance”, Muslims face Mecca to demonstrate their allegiance to God, not to a geographic place. Christians do not make pilgrimages to Bethlehem to demonstrate their allegiance to the town of Bethlehem.

Socially - no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews.

This is referring to Surah 5:51, which many have translated as stating Muslims can't take Jews and Christians as friends. Firstly not all agree with that translation (link has some detailed analysis), secondly this is a rehash of the fallacy that Muslims all obey every single thing in Scripture to the letter, exactly the same way, something we would never apply to Christianity. Would it surprise you to know I am friends with a number of Muslims? They don't seem to mind. Maybe Muslims are a lot like Christians and the vast majority of them do not follow every single thing in Scripture to the letter? You think?

Politically - no. Because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and Destruction of America, the great Satan.

Once again we have the fallacy that all Muslims practise their religion exactly the same way and have the exact same beliefs and prejudices, something I went on about in my blog post about the Swiss minaret controversy as well. And apparently the author of this article mistakenly believes that every single mullah is a rabid America-destroyer (which is odd since there are millions of Muslim Americans).

Yes there are mullahs who are openly hostile to America and Israel, they are the ones who get lots of press. I would not even say that such people were rare, they can certainly be found in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Palestine, Yemen, and Indonesia. But that does not represent the view of all of Islam, nor all mullahs. The problem is that "Mullah gives talk that does not mention America or Israel" doesn't make it into newspapers so peoples' perceptions can get skewed.

Domestically - no. Because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him.

Okay let's think for a second -- how would it even be possible for every man to marry four women?

A Muslim man is allowed to marry up to four women, it is not a requirement to marry four women (Surah 4:3), and the vast majority just marry one. In Islam you have to treat each wife equally so it is just not financially viable for most men to maintain multiple wives. Even then the Sultan of Brunei, one of the richest men in the world, has two wives, and the Sultan of Oman married once, divorced, and has never remarried.

I believe the beating women reference comes from surah 4:34. It does say that, but as the last of three options. One translation states:
The men are made responsible for the women, and GOD has endowed them with certain qualities, and made them the bread earners. The righteous women will cheerfully accept this arrangement, since it is GOD's commandment, and honor their husbands during their absence. If you experience rebellion from the women, you shall first talk to them, then (you may use negative incentives like) deserting them in bed, then you may (as a last alternative) beat them. If they obey you, you are not permitted to transgress against them. GOD is Most High, Supreme

Not really as harsh as it is made out to be, but yes it is there. I do question how this is somehow equated with not being a "Good American" since domestic violence is still a significant issue in the West, and slapping a woman was common in movies and TV until the 70s. Domestic violence did not become an issue of American Patriotism, women's rights groups and victims fought hard to bring the issue into the spotlight in the 70s and 80s.

Intellectually - no. Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.

But what about the Canadian Constitution? (*chuckle*) It's lines like this that make me wonder why someone would tack "Good Canadian" onto the article, did they even read it all the way through? I am quite sure the original author was just writing about Americans.

Ironically this section is about being "intellectual" yet what in the American Constitution is based on Biblical principles? No, seriously, help me out here.

Philosophically - no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

I already noted above that Islam does accept other religions and a quick Google will find plenty of Christian churches in Muslim countries. Qatar opened its first cathedral a few years ago. I will grant that religious freedom is definitely more restricted in places like Saudi Arabia and Taleban-controlled Afghanistan. Freedom of expression varies from country to country, I haven't heard much problems with Malaysia or Turkey, things are a bit tighter in Egypt, Gulf countries tighter still.

Looking at this list of 205 countries rated by media freedom the highest ranked majority Muslim nation is Mali at #57 (for comparison Greece is #56, Israel #59 and South Africa #63). Next is Turkey at #108 (Mexico is #107), Kuwait at 115, Lebanon at 116. All higher than Thailand (120), Singapore (145), Russia (170) and a number of former Soviet republics as well as some predominately Christian nations in Africa and South America. So the Islamic world is not great at media freedom but many other non-Muslim nations aren't any better.

As for the democracy jab look at Turkey, Malaysia, Lebanon, some states in India, and surprisingly, Palestine, where the West Bank voted in one party while Gaza elected another. Yes, some Islamic countries are monarchies, some are ruled by dictators, or they have elections but clearly one party has a stranglehold on power, but not all of the Islamic countries do, and some may have democracy at local or provincial levels. Democracy and Islam can coexist. To say that every Muslim government is either dictatoral or autocratic is wrong.

And was Christianity a big supporter of democracy? Most of the history of Christian Europe were monarchies with the Church also having a solid grip on power. Some attempts at democracy had to fight against the Church to become established (the French Revolution for example).

Spiritually - no. Because when we declare "one nation under God," the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran's 99 excellent names.

Let me see if I have this right -- you can't be a good American (or Canadian) unless your scripture refers to your God as "heavenly father"? Say what??

And the Christian God is loving and kind!? Looks like the author has conveniently forgotten most of the Old Testament, which does not portray God as particularly loving and kind (was it really necessary to wipe out almost all life in the Flood because people were sinful? How many children and babies were killed? And why kill all the bunny rabbits except two? I also recall the occasional city and tribe being wiped out by God. And did Lot's wife really deserve that? Did Egypt deserve plague after plague just because the Pharoh was a jerk?).

There are lists of the 99 names and yes, Allah is not called "love". So what? What does God being called Love (where in the Bible is that anyway?) have to do with being a Good American? And a quick flick through the index in my Qur'an shows frequent mention of Allah being things such as:

forgiving and merciful (for example 1:1, the very first line! but in numerous other places such as 2:192, 2:235, 3:89, 3:129, 4:23, 4:106, 4:110, 5:98 etc),
a healer (3:38),
that He loves the doers of good (2:195, 3:134, 3:148, 5:13, 5:93)
that He is with the doers of good (29:69)
He loves those who purify themselves (2:222, 9:108)
He loves those who act justly (5:42, 49:9, 60:8)
if you love Him, He will love you (3:31, 5:54)
he loves those who rely upon Him (3:159)

Don't get me wrong there are parts where He is not so happy -- frequent mention that disbelievers will earn His wrath in the afterlife, but then the Old Testament God wasn't a barrel of joy & love either.

Therefore after much study and deliberation....perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country.
They obviously cannot be both "good" Muslims and good Americans or Canadians.

After much STUDY! What studying?! Five minutes with a Qur'an dismisses many of the arguments, two minutes Googling dismisses most of the others. Anyone with half a brain about Canada could see the "Good Canadian" was just a tack-on, and I suspect some research into the history of the separation of church and state in America would undermine the not-so-hidden Christian undertone to being a "Good American". Oh, and the writer supposedly has lived in Saudi Arabia for 20 years, yet clearly does not know anything about the Qur'an? Uh-huh, right.

Call it what you's still the truth.

Truth? How about what this really is -- a pack of deliberate lies, fallacies, & deception mixed with denial and an inability to research the topic, with a pinch of hypocrisy. Had I mentioned the hypocrisy yet? This article loves to go on about how Islam cannot tolerate other religions, yet this article is chock-full of intolerance for other religions. It demands suspicion of an entire religious group, and the "Good American" criteria would exclude all other religions as well -- except Christianity of course.

If you find yourself intellectually in agreement with the above statements, perhaps you will share this with your friends. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future. The religious war is bigger than we know or understand!

If you find yourself "intellectually" buying into this drivel you checked your brain at the door long ago. I strongly advise you to take a course in critical thinking, or to start training yourself to do a bit of research on e-mail chains like this before getting all outraged and passing it on your friends.

Honestly, there are many problems in the Islamic world, but promoting nonsense like this is not going to help. Imagine if Gordon Brown went to Egypt to negotiate a treaty and people were protesting his visit, or the Egyptian Government was "suspicious" of him, because the Bible has a section in it about selling your daughters into slavery! Do you honestly think Mr Brown would take you seriously in any way? Do you think any real problems would be solved if people demanded that no other negotiations take place until this "daughter-slavery" problem was dealt with in the UK?

This is part of the problem the West has right now. So many Westerners do not understand Islam or the Islamic world and because of it they easily fall for a bunch of mistruths that turns attention away from the real issues and instead to red herrings like wondering if they can be a "Good Canadian".

This blog post gets both an "Islam" and "Critical Thinking" designation.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


Okay, let's chill out a bit about my health woes and get onto other topics.

I had not mentioned this interesting article in the local newspaper regarding Qatar's population, or more importantly:

1) the change in the population over the course of one month; and
2) the gender ratio

It provides a great example of how transient and fluid the population is here. A population of 1.6 million had a net increase of about 50,000 in one month! These are changes of population ranging from approximately 3% over the course of one month. For comparison that would be the equivalent of Canada gaining/losing 1 million people in a month. In fact the change is so significant I'm skeptical that the numbers are accurate and unfortunately the article does not say how the numbers were determined by the Government.

I also wish there was a breakdown in terms of business sector. Qatar has only one major city, Doha, which contains around 60 to 70% of the country's population, but I did not notice a significant change to traffic in the last couple of months that could not be explained by school closures for the holidays. A population increase/decrease of 3%+ should have created a significant change in traffic density (especially because recent news reports state that the number of cars on the road is increasing by 10,000 a month, though again I think that figure is just new cars and does not take into account all of the older cars taken off the road or sold to people who take them out of the country, so the actual growth figure is smaller). Because the traffic has not increased significantly I suspect that most of the increase is either labourers from South Asia or family members of workers already here.

As for the gender ratio the numbers speak for themselves and I have touched on this a few times in the past on my blog. Most jobs here are held by men -- primarily a combination of most employment being blue-collar jobs like construction, migrants from countries where men are expected to be the breadwinner of the family, and where many workers come from countries that do not encourage single ladies to leave their country to work on their own (many Asian and African countries are like this, the Philippines being a notable exception). Combine that with laws that require you to earn a minimum amount to be allowed to bring your family here and you have a population heavily skewed to men.

I'm not criticising the law requiring that you earn a minimum amount to bring your family over (I think the minimum was recently raised to QR 7000/month (~US$1900)). Qatar is an expensive country, more expensive than many Western nations, and if you do not earn a certain income there is no way you would be able to maintain a family here -- better that they stay back in their home country where things are much cheaper and have money sent to them. I'm not even sure how one would raise a family here on QR 7000 a month, it would be tough to find a shabby apartment for less than 5000. I've heard rumours of people renting three-bedroom apartments and an entire family lives in each bedroom! I do not know how common that is though, could be one of those rare things that the rumour mill has run with, but classified ads and notice boards at supermarkets usually advertise rooms for rent in apartments or villas.

Anyway, this demonstrates just how different Qatar is to a typical Western nation, especially the gender ratio.

(Still not sure about the accuracy of the statistics though, I wonder what the Government was using to determine them)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Nothing starts the New Year off right like...

An emergency root canal! *sigh*

Remember how I had to have all of my wisdom teeth out? Well the reason I had to have them removed (aside from the fact they were heavily impacted) was because a big cavity had formed where a wisdom tooth was impacting another tooth, and the dentist could not get at the cavity unless the wisdom tooth was removed. So after the wisdom teeth were removed and my mouth had a chance to heal the dentist filled the cavity. It was so deep the dentist said she could see the pulp. So she warned me there was a chance it would get inflamed in which case I would be in real pain, so she gave me her mobile number in case that happened.

After nine days suddenly my jaw started feeling more sore than usual. By Friday I was having the occasional throbbing pain that would last about 3 or 4 minutes, and remember I'm on prescription painkillers for my back. Now I've had a toothache before that required a root canal and I remember the pain well so I knew something was up. I called my dentist and she said to come in Saturday at 5 p.m. as she worked evening shift on Saturday (everything in Qatar is closed on Fridays). I figured okay I can hold out until then because I have the strong painkillers and the pain attacks were annoying but bearable.

By Saturday I was doing little but laying on the couch watching the clock waiting for the time when I could head to the dentist. The throbbing pain was now every 40 minutes or so and would last for around 10 minutes. It was getting agonising even with the painkillers and when an attack came there was little I could do except lay on the couch and close my eyes until the pain passed. I do not even want to know what it would have been like without the prescription painkillers.

Got to the dentist and had a root canal done. Aaaaaaaah, I felt so much better. It is amazing how just a few little nerves in a tooth can cause such trouble. At some points it felt like the right side of my face was being punched repeatedly.

Go back to the dentist again this week to get the root canal finished. After that that should be it for dental problems this year (I hope).