Should I Read a Polemic?

Mansur Qureshi

A few years ago when I was reading Richard Dawkins' much talked about and controversial book 'The God Delusion', an intelligent and educated young visitor from Pakistan asked me whether it was not dangerous to read such a book. I realised then that people give quite different and sometimes contrasting answers to the question: 'Should one read a polemic, particularly one written by an atheist?'

I did not think that it was dangerous for me to read the views expressed by one of the modern champions of atheism. I wanted to know what his arguments were so that I could think about them and hopefully counter them, at least in my own mind. In his preface he wrote: "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down. What presumptuous optimism!" and goes on to explain why "dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument." His optimism was indeed presumptuous as after a careful reading of the book I did not become an atheist. In fact it appeared to me that atheism was a sort of religion in itself to the likes of Dawkins with the same intolerant attitudes that he blames the major religions for propagating. He also uses the same intemperate language about religion which he accuses the religious zealots for using about atheism. However, many of his observations about some religious practices and attitudes are very apt and provide food for thought for the religious minded people.

I have reviewed 'The Black Girl in Search of God' elsewhere on these pages. It is tempting to dismiss the four or five pages in it dealing with 'the Arab' as the rant of an atheist (Shaw was an atheist in his early days but gave up atheism during his youth) or ramblings of someone ignorant of our religion and its history. But Shaw is said to have praised Islam and the prophet (pbuh) though not Muslims ('Islam is a wonderful religion but these bloody Muslims!' or words to that effect). How should we react when we read something derogatory about our religion or our prophet (pbuh)? We can emulate the example set by our prophet (pbuh). In his lifetime, abuse and insults were hurled at him and his religion quite often. He stayed calm, prayed for the perpetrators of these attacks and won them over by the exemplary way in which he led his life. I do not think that Shaw's comments are intended to demean our religion or our prophet (pbuh) but are genuine questions to which he has not found satisfactory answers. It is up to us to find answers to those questions for our own sake.

I am quite happy to read religious or political polemics as they provide food for thought and an opportunity to clarify my own views. However I can understand that some people will get upset on reading them or will have no desire to deliberate on difficult religious or political questions. It would be sensible for them to stay away from these contentious publications. It is a personal decision in the end and one should feel happy about it.
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