'Cultural Christian' Richard Dawkins claims Islam's holy books promote 'active hostility' to women

'Cultural Christian' Richard Dawkins claims Islam's holy books promote 'active hostility' to women
Atheist Richard Dawkins told a British radio station he is a 'cultural Christian' and that Islam's holy books promote an 'active hostility to women'.
4 min read
02 April, 2024
Richard Dawkins is a well-known atheist and biologist [Don Arnold/Getty-archive]

Atheist and biologist Richard Dawkins has sparked criticism after claiming Christianity is a "fundamentally decent religion" in a way Islam "is not".

Dawkins, the author of the book The God Delusion, told British radio station LBC he is a "cultural Christian" and that he was "slightly horrified to hear that Ramadan is being promoted instead" of the Christian festival Easter.

This refers to the lights marking the Muslim fasting month that have been displayed in central London.

Dawkins also criticised Islamic scripture.

"There's an active hostility to women which is promoted, I think, by the holy books of Islam," he said.

"I'm not talking about individual Muslims, who of course are quite, quite different. But the doctrines of Islam, the hadiths and the Quran, [are] fundamentally hostile to women, hostile to gays.

"I find that I like to live in a culturally Christian country, although I do not believe a single word of the Christian faith."

He later called the beliefs held by Christians "nonsense".

Mehdi Hasan, CEO and editor-in-chief of the new media platform Zeteo, hit back in his own appearance on LBC, saying he had been "sparring" with Dawkins for more than a decade.

He said he believed there would have been a "much bigger backlash" if Dawkins had said on radio that Christianity is decent, but Judaism is not.

"We have normalised bigotry towards Islam in a way that we haven't against other faith communities," Hasan said.

Rizwaan Sabir, a senior lecturer in criminology at Liverpool John Moores University, responded to a clip from the Dawkins interview posted on X, formerly Twitter, by LBC.

"Turns out the anti-religion dude isn't anti-religion. He's just anti-Muslim," he wrote.

Jeet Heer, national affairs correspondent at US magazine The Nation, took aim at "New Atheism", a movement with which Dawkins is associated.

"From the moment 'New Atheism' started, my position was that it wasn't a serious philosophic critique of theism (which already exists) but a branding exercise to pretend Islamophobia had intellectual heft," he said.

"I'm grateful to Richard Dawkins for confirming this."

Miqdaad Versi, a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, responded to the same LBC post as Sabir and Heer.

"This confected outrage over lights on one road during Ramadan (which happens to coincide with Easter this year) is the latest in a long series of 'Muslims taking over' stories," Versi wrote.

"It is an Islamophobic trope whipped up by racists.

"Hate must not win."

Dawkins did not explain in his interview how Ramadan was allegedly being promoted instead of Easter, but LBC's post on X framed his comments as concerning lights being hung on Oxford Street, an iconic road in London, instead of Easter lights.

Hasan, the Zeteo CEO, cast doubt on the concept of Easter lights.

"I know there are Christmas lights. I don't know what Easter lights are," he said.

"This is a bit of a fake row. This is a private endeavour. It's not from the government. It's not from Mayor [Sadiq] Khan. It's not from the GLA [Greater London Authority]."

Live Story

Hasan also hit back at Dawkins' claim that Islam is hostile towards women and gay people.

"Making a sweeping claim about billions of people is the definition of bigotry," Hasan said.

He added that he agreed with Dawkins that Christianity is a fundamentally decent religion but said all faiths have their extremists, criticising Christian nationalist politicians in the US over the issue of abortion and the Christian church's treatment of gay communities in Africa.

Dawkins had said during his LBC interview that Christianity is "not great" about the treatment of women, adding that it has "had its problems with female vicars and female bishops".

Asked about reproductive rights being reversed in Republican states in the US, he replied: "Well, you didn't ask me about… Christianity in America. That's a different matter entirely."

Live Story

The interviewer said she was sure there were some fundamentalist Christians in the UK as well, though added that they were not as public.

"In so far as fundamentalist Christians oppose evolution and think that the world… [was] created 6,000 years ago… that is pernicious nonsense, of course," Dawkins said.

He took issue with the UK's King Charles III being "rather sympathetic towards Islam" when he was Prince of Wales, before becoming Britain's monarch.

"In so far as Christianity can be seen as a bulwark against Islam, I think it's a very good thing," Dawkins said.

He added that in Africa, where there are both Christian and Muslim missionaries, he is "on team Christian side".