Profiles in Quackery II
The Case of Osama Abdallah

"The purpose of the article was to make a point about the gullibility of Muslims when rumors supposedly favorable to Islam are circulated, and, I would say, he succeeded in his purpose to some degree. I'm not approving it, only noting the fact."
-AbdulraHman Lomax

The quote above from Daniel Abdur-RaHman Lomax was part of a usenet discussion from May of 2000 with regard to the claim that the Qur'an is coded into our DNA. That claim was originally put forth by the Freethought Mecca, precisely with the intent alluded to by akhoona Abdur-RaHman. The goal was to show how uncritically proponents of the scientific-hermeneutic approach to the Qur'an absorb claims about "scientific miracles" in their holy writ. One might say, with a bit of a smirk, that it was an attempt to put forth an article that would be to "Qur'anic Science" what the Sokal Hoax was to the abuse of science by Continental Philosophers (though obviously on a much smaller scale).

Unfortunately (or fortunately if, like us, you can find a source of comedic relief in such claims), it did not make too many Muslims rethink their approach to finding post-hoc scientific miracles in their sacred texts. One Muslim who continues to unflinchingly embrace such forms of exegesis happens to be the Web Master of one of the most popular Islamic sites on the net: Osama Abdallah of Answering Christianity.

Osama Abdallah's apologetics are riddled with problems, and many of them have been pointed out. Severe problems with his defenses of Islamic veracity have included his misquoting of the Encyclopaedia Judaica with regard to the Qur'anic claim that the Jews recognize Ezra as the son of G-d, and his contradictory maps in attempting to prove that Paran is the same place as Makkah. One of the most glaring examples (as well as one that is relevant to so-called "Islamic Science") is his proclamation that a hadith that claimed that the human body had 360 joints was miraculously accurate.

The examples continue to pile up. The most recent one being found in Osama's rebuttal to an article by his fellow Muslim and apparent arch-nemesis, Shahid bin Waheed, on the topic of the earth and iron. This is not being brought up to be deliberately abusive towards Osama, but this serves as yet another exhibition of a rather glaring problem with his research.

This latest example is with regard to Soorat at-Talaq 65:12, the relevant portion of which says the following of God:

khalaqa sab'a samaawaat(in)

He created seven heavens

Osama tries to correlate these seven heavens with the seven layers of our atmosphere, and stands back amazed at the apparent scientific accuracy of the Qur'an. To support this case, Osama calls to witness the same claim as found in the email of some anonymous woman who is allegedly not a Muslim. The first problem with such methodology is the obvious leap in logic. Just because some alleged non-Muslim says the seven heavens alluded to in the Qur'an can be correlated with the seven layers of our atmosphere, does not mean the author of the Qur'an actually intended the allusion to the seven heavens to actually be a reference to such.

Despite this point, we assume Osama Abdallah and his supporters will not be swayed. They may even argue that the correlation would not have fit so well had that not been the intention of the author. With that we would simply add that the exegesis being employed by Osama exhibits a rather glaring ignorance of the Qur'an, as such exegesis leads to an obvious error. At this point we are not positively asserting that the Qur'an actually is in error in this instance ("seven heavens" seems too ambiguous to determine its truth value), but we are stating that if Osama's exegesis is true, then the Qur'an winds up being in obvious error.

Note that if the seven heavens refer to the seven layers of the atmosphere, then the lowest heaven would have to be identical with the lowest layer of the atmosphere. In other words, as-Samaa'a ad-Dunyaa would have to be identical with the troposphere. But the Qur'an on more than one occasion says that stars are in the lowest heaven, the most glaring example being Soorat as-Saaffat 37:6, which reads as follows:

zayanaa as-Samaa'a ad-Dunyaa bizeenat(in), al-kawaakibi

We adorned the lowest heaven with beauty - the stars/planets

The Arabic kawaakib is the plural of kawkab (), which is identical in spelling (KWKB) and meaning to the Hebrew kokav (). Kawaakib is best translated "stars", but could possibly even be rendered as "planets" (or simply "celestial bodies"). So, if Osama's exegesis is correct, as-Samaa ad-Dunyaa is the troposphere, and the Qur'an states that stars (or even planets!) are in the troposphere (i.e. the lowest layer of the atmosphere), which is false! Muslims are left with only two choices: either (1) admit that the exegesis employed by Osama is false, or (2) admit that the Qur'an is in error. It would seem the safer (and more theologically sound) position for Muslims would be to simply reject Osama's exegesis.

However, this error with regard to interpreting the Qur'anic reference to "seven heavens" is not the main focus of the present article. There is a reason this is being presented as the second installment of "Profiles in Quackery," and that is because Osama's site inadvertently plays host to another hoax. Here we are referring to the claim that 'Jewish' scientists have confirmed Islam's claim that Adam was 90 feet tall.

This is an article that is entirely false, derived purely from the imaginations of the writers here at the Freethought Mecca. We put it out on the net years ago to repeat the above-mentioned experiment, and Osama's site picked it up. The goal was to see how many Muslims would uncritically accept this claim as true, with the intention of writing about the results at a later date.

Interestingly, just as Jochen Katz headed the opposition in discussions about the veracity of the "Qur'an in your DNA" claim, Mr. Katz dedicated a major article to the effort to show that this claim was false as well. Katz was even so bold as to positively assert that the article was a hoax, and while such a charge could have potentially blown up in his face, in this case he was absolutely right!

When we first found out that Osama had accepted this ridiculous claim as true, we originally planned on writing an article that explained point for point where the obvious errors were. However, Mr. Katz' article was so thorough in explaining why the relevant claims are false that there is no need for us to repeat them here. We will simply confirm a few of Jochen's conclusions:
  1. No such person as "Dr. Shlomi Lesser" exists; rather that name was pulled out of thin air.
  2. There is no such journal as Ha-Mada Ha-Yisraeli B'Angleet V'Ivreet; rather that is a figment of our imagination.
  3. There is no Hofesh V'Mada Society; rather that too was concocted in our heads.
Rabbi Dovid Brown, however, does exist (and he has, ironically, written a book that takes the scientific-hermeneutic approach to the Rabbinic Jewish corpora). Nonetheless, a man as familiar with Jewish beliefs as Rabbi Brown would never be so foolish as to claim that Jewish traditions do not claim Adam was a giant (as Mr. Katz' article correctly points out, Rabbi Brown even quotes such traditions in his book!).

If the erroneous nature of the claims are so blatant (note that in May of 2003, Shibli Zaman, who is himself a proponent of certain instances of the scientific-hermeneutic approach, wrote a usenet article that proclaimed this instance to be "nonsense"), why, then, did Osama Abdallah (and a bunch of other Muslims on the net) accept it as true without giving it any serious thought? The possible answers to such questions may tell us about the psychology behind such behavior.

First, note that we deliberately picked Jewish/Israeli scientists as the ones who would accidentally trip over this alleged scientific miracle. We knew that this would tap directly into a belief held sincerely and deeply by many Muslims that 'the Jews' (or at least their leaders) know that Islam is true, but try to claim the opposite for financial reasons, out of pure obstinacy, or due to an animosity towards the truth. We also know that Osama is easily given over to certain anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (exempli gratia: his claim that 'the Jews' were behind 9-11 and various other hateful articles found on his site), so we would not be surprised if this was one of the factors behind him being duped by the hoax (in fact, we suspect that it was a major factor!).

A more important factor is an obvious desire to find confirmation that Islam is the truth via science. So in this claim Osama and others found something which, at a psychological level, was very satisfying on two fronts. First, it employed the support of Western science for demonstrating the veracity of Islam, and second, it did so by noting that Jewish/Israeli scientists were the ones who accidentally uncovered this truth. Such a combination ensures a hit that is so successful that many Muslim proponents of the scientific-hermeneutic approach feel no need to actually check if any of these claims are actually true.

While the learning experience for Osama and others who have believed this claim should have began with the advent of Jochen Katz' aforementioned article, Mr. Abdallah was unrepentant, and did not sway the least in his support for this position. The problem is mainly due to the fact that Osama does not seem to understand what will suffice as scientific proof. For example, in response to Jochen Katz, Osama wrote the following in a post to his message board from May 15th, 2004:
[Y]ou might think that you have won the argument over the "Adam was 90 feet tall" article, which I don't see how you think you won it, since the brother who sent me the article provided scientific proofs that supported his claim, but know well, that I am coming back to you.
The chief problem is that there were no "scientific proofs" in the article (there were only false claims and fabricated citations), nor does Osama make any attempt to point to one. The fact that he sincerely believed there were "scientific proofs" in the article helps us further understand why he so willingly accepted it as true. But we wanted to give Osama a chance, so on March 16th, one FTMeccan directed the following comments to Mr. Abdallah in a post to Osama's message board:
I've read your article, and I've read Jochen's response, and it seems he raises a number of objections against the alleged "scientific proofs" cited in your article. I think that you're digging yourself into a hole here Osama, and you should be careful what you say. The [...] 90-foot-tall Adam article [...] seem[s] to corroborate the position that you aren't very serious about researching the claims you find to be supportive of Islam. Back on January 20th, I wrote the following in this message board:
    However, what the article says about you is something many already suspected. I'm not saying this to be abusive, but rather because this is simply what the evidence bares out: you don't do very serious research & you blindly accept as true that which appears to confirm Islam. You don't think critically about the articles that allegedly prove Islam true before putting them up - you accept them as true simply because they seem to be in favor of Islam.
Yet you seem to continue to assume these polemics reflect reality. If you don't be more careful with what you say, and be more critical with what you accept as true, the position that you're a bad researcher who will accept almost any pro-Islamic polemic as true will come off as indisputably accurate to others. If I were you, I'd concede to Jochen on this point, distance myself from the "Jewish scientists prove Adam was 90 feet tall" polemic, and in the future be more critical when scrutinizing claims put up on my site.
These comments were written by someone who had full knowledge of the fact that (a) this claim was a hoax, and (b) the FTMecca would put out an article admitting such. The intention was to give Osama a way out - a chance to save a little face. However, such comments did not budge Osama in the least, and on the same day (March 16th, 2004), he wrote the following to Mr. Katz in another post:
My rebuttal to your response about my "Adam was 90 feet tall article" will be posted insha'Allah when I make my phone call to Hebrew University and speak to Dr. Shlomi Lesser and confirm the article with him.
Well, we let more than a month pass, waiting to see if Osama would actually make such a call and report back. As of the time of this writing, Osama has remained silent about the outcome of such a call (or if he even attempted to make the call!), and the article is still on Osama's site. Either Osama never bothered to make the call (because he simply assumed the article was true and that an evil "missionary" like Jochen Katz could never be right), or he attempted to make the call, but was unable to find the non-existent Shlomi Lesser, and gave up, assuming the article was true nonetheless.

Interestingly, when a fabricated image of a giant skeleton [1, 2] was posted to Osama's message board on April Fools day, Mr. Abdallah broke his silence on the issue to state that he feels "[t]he picture looks very real." To his credit, Osama requested more information, but when other Muslim posters on Osama's forum explained why the image should be considered a hoax, Mr. Abdallah returned to his position of silence.

Should Osama Abdallah be offended by the fact that we knowingly put false information about Islam and science on the net which he came to accept as true? We don't think so (though we believe that he will be offended). Rather, Osama should take this as a learning experience. Since Osama's site is one of the more popular web pages dedicated to establishing the veracity of Islam, we actually want him to develop better research skills and a more critical eye. We here at the Freethought Mecca are on a sincere search for truth, so we want out opponents to put forth the best arguments possible. Regardless, we want this to serve as yet another example of just how problematic the methodology employed in the scientific-hermeneutic approach can be. But will the proponents of this approach actually meditate on this lesson?

For further reading/entertainment:
  1. Ali Sina's op-ed article Lying For a Good Cause goes into more detail regarding the fabricated picture of a giant skeleton that was alluded to above.

  2. Readers may wish to consider a thread initiated by a Muslim in the newsgroup alt.atheism with regard to the subject of the 90-foot-tall Adam hoax.

  3. Shibli Zaman & Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi have written an article, titled Were Men Really 60 Cubits Tall?, which attempts to give what they feel is the proper Muslim exegesis upon the relevant hadith.

  4. In response to Zaman & Juferi, Jochen Katz has written another article which attempts to call both their exegesis and the relevant hadith itself into doubt.

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