I have written of iERA, the Islamic Research and Education Academy. It is a theocratic propaganda group run by a man who claims that he was tasked with giving Da’wah by the mujahideen[*] and has defended holy war; preached the virtues of killing gays and beating women and spoken with such contempt for non-Muslims that he has admitted to being indifferent towards their deaths. It is not, in other words, a nice organisation.
It is, however, a successful one: preaching in Mosques and campuses across Britain and evangelising in places as far-flung as Canada and Burundi. Much of its work is carried by young and articulate lecturers, the most prominent of which is Hamza Andreas Tzortzis. He is listed on its website as being in charge of “research”, and speaks shrilly on the existence of God, the supposed failings of secularism and the glories of Islamic civilisation. One does not have to know that he has promoted Islamic law to connect these dots.
It was heartening to discover that sceptics have been challenging the factual basis of his teachings for some time now. Tzortzis is no scholar and, indeed, is unimpressive by the standards of propagandists. Some years ago he uploaded a critical review of The God Delusion. The blogger at Geoff’s Shorts observed that large portions of the critique were taken, with slight edits, from the writings of the Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Tzortsis updated the article: inserting a preface in which it was the piece was described as a “compilation of arguments from existing material” and adding a biography. This remains extremely unprofessional. He has not made it clear which parts are actually quotes, still less attributed them to their actual authors. At present I should be writing an essay for my degree, and if I used these standards I would deservedly fail. This, mind you, is a humanities course.
Tzortzis does not only fail to reference his sources, he fails to reproduce their contents accurately. A YouTuber named StopSpamming has analysed one of his speeches on the supposed wondrousness of Islam’s holy texts, in which he claimed that the concept of the presumption of innocence was “stolen from the Hadith”. (Some Muslim apologists attribute all this is good to the rise of their faith. It would not surprise me if someone, somewhere is claiming that Lionel Messi’s left foot was described in the sunnah.) By way of evidence, Tzortzis offered an anecdote…
King Louis 9th, he travelled to the East and met a monk. And this monk, he was researching into the Quran and the prophetic traditions. And there was a conversation between King Louis 9th and the monk. And the monk said if you want success implement justice like these people implement justice. And he quoted some lines that are exact copies of a hadith in Bukhari. And King Louis was inspired.
Tzortzis cited an article he called “On the probable influence of Islam on the presumption of innocence”. It is, in fact, called “On the Probable Influence of Islam on Western Public and International Law” but we shall let him off for that. It was a speech and he was ranting without notes. What we should not let him off for doing, however, is misrepresenting its contents.
The author, Marcel Boisard, does indeed assert that King Louis met a friar…
This Friar told him by way of teaching that he had read of the Bible and other good books talking of unbelieving Princes: he had found that Kingdoms (be they believing or unbelieving) were lost except by a lack of respect for the law. So it is, said the Friar, that the King I see here and who is to go to France, takes care to deal out a Fair Justice and a good law to his people. . . . The good King did not forget the teaching of the good Friar. . .
It is interesting that the saying of the Franciscan friar is even a hadith of the Prophet Muhammed, who is quoted by Al-Bokhari to have said: “The people before you were only lost because they used to apply the law on the weak and poor and leave the strong and the rich.”
According to Boisard, then, the words of the friar were not “direct copies” of a hadith but comparable to it, and neither referred to the presumption of innocence. This claim is simply one of his imagination. As StopSpamming says, Hamza Tzortzis “makes stuff up”.
It is bad enough to misrepresent your own sources. Tzortzis, in his role of head of research at iERA, has also misrepresented people whose work he is criticising. After Tom Holland’s film of the origins of Islam was broadcast the organisation released an angry critique that declared…
Holland claims that the city of Mecca is not mentioned in the Qur’an and therefore justifies his revisionist perspective. This is a complete fabrication. The Quran in the forty-eighth chapter clearly mentions the city of Mecca.
As Holland replied, he did not make this assertion. Indeed, he made a clear reference to “a single ambiguous mention in the Quran itself”. Ironies abound here. Firstly, it makes a mockery of iERA’s subsequent claim that Holland’s “fabrication” exposed him as “reckless, ill-informed and biased”. Their own recklessness exposes their own biases. Secondly, as was observed on The Jinn and Tonic Show, it cast a dubious light on their confidence in the Islamic oral tradition. If they could not accurately represent words they had heard on the previous day, they must surely remain sceptical of things people were claimed to have said decades previously.
What this multiplicity of errors demonstrates is that Tzortzis is not following the evidence to a conclusion that Allah exists and that Islamic law is righteous but that he is seeking evidence to justify his own presumptions. The hodgepodge of facts, factoids and falsifications that emerges from the process is then asserted with stridency to young people and laymen who are in no place to check them and whose doubts may be assuaged and biases confirmed. I applaud dissenters who shatter the foundation of fact claims atop which obnoxious values are promoted. They represent a challenge that Islamic literalism has deserved to face and are a credit to the principles of scepticism and free inquiry.
[*] Edited from “Taliban” after a correction.