One small step for Sheikh al-Khaibari, one giant leap for mankind

Published: February 19, 2015
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A video is going around on the internet in which a Saudi cleric explains that, in his opinion, the Earth is stationary (yes stationary) and does not spin on its axis.

A video is going around on the internet in which a Saudi cleric explains that, in his opinion, the Earth is stationary (yes stationary) and does not spin on its axis. If a plane stops still in the air, China would be coming towards Earth, says cleric . PHOTO: ALARABIYA NEWS

Once upon a time, far away, long ago…

These are the words with which I was tempted to begin today, before I was told off by a friend for being overly cynical and unable to look at the bright side, the silver lining, the beautiful butterflies that the caterpillars currently infesting my lemon trees will one day become, etcetera.

For her sake, I will take optimism by the hand today and see how far the yellow brick road goes. My quest today is to make sense of the latest in absurdity that the glorious Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia has to offer.

For those of you who have been too busy mourning the Pakistan versus India debacle, you may have missed a video doing rounds on the internet in which a Saudi cleric explains that, in his opinion, the Earth is stationary (yes stationary) and does not spin on its axis.

Yes, I know that the description for the video says ‘does not rotate around the Sun’ and while the distinction may not appear to be important, allow me to explain why this video is a great leap forward for the literati in Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari’s country.

As far as the video is concerned, the good Sheikh bases his views not on established scientific fact, but his own observational skills, a practice that has not been in vogue for the better part of the last 500 years. He explains that if the earth were spinning, then a plane attempting to fly from Sharjah to China would either:

a) Only need to be suspended motionless in space to reach its destination, or

b) Never reach its destination at all

And because we all know that jumbo jets can generally be relied upon to go wherever their pilots might point them and do not fly into space at a tangent to the ground, therefore the Earth does not spin.

Ignoring some of the smaller flaws in al-Khaibari’s theory (such as the lack of any acknowledgement of gravity) this video provides important insight into the progress being made in his country.

Firstly, it is a relief to see that Saudi clerics are thinking of something other than women. What women can and cannot do, should and should not do, the different ways in which they may endanger their reproductive systems, the vegetables they must not handle, the things they must not say, they places they must not be seen in. The list is endless. One can now hope that, what with the infinity of space, it will be some time before women once again become the central topic of discussion.

Secondly, the idea that hopping indefinitely on one spot and not moving either forwards or backwards can only mean that that the Earth does not spin appears to come from watching the movie ‘Gravity’. Obviously al-Khaibari saw the movie, equated an entire planet with a small spaceship, suffered from an existential crisis, and thought that if the Earth really did spin then the slightest imbalance, the merest slip of the foot, might result in him flying off the planet and dying like George Clooney. And since this has not happened, he could only assume that spinning, whatever physics might have him believe, is not part of the equation. So by using logic similar to his own, I’ve been able to take a wild leap in the dark and prove that the illegal cable and pirated DVD industry is alive and well in Saudi Arabia, and there might even be a few stores selling actual music.

Thirdly, whatever the cleric might have said before or after the video was shot, he did not (mercifully) attempt to prove his point using Holy Scriptures. This is an important step forward. It shows a slight predilection for using logic to reach a conclusion that can only be good news in a country that flogs bloggers and blogs floggers. I mean if one cleric decides to use his own, rather limited, understanding to reach a conclusion, surely there are smarter, more literate people to be found who will use their brains to reach better conclusions about more important subjects.

Fourthly, the articles accompanying the video state that a student asked al-Khaibari the initial question about the earth’s movements before the video started. Judging by the video’s poor quality, it wouldn’t stretch the point to suppose that the learned subject was not aware that he was being filmed. He must have, at some point in the past, much to his ‘students’ amusement, shared his rather peculiar views on the order of the solar system, prompting his pupils to deliberately ask such leading questions and film his replies for the entertainment of us all. We can deduce that the people filming him were aware of both the rotation of the Earth around the Sun and of the spinning of our planet on its axis, while having a good laugh.

The clerics and the ‘religious scholars’ who act as Saudi Arabia’s information ministry are not, therefore, the only facet of the Saudi people. There is every reason to believe in the existence of education, sense and humour, and we can only hope that it will one day triumph over whatever it is that Sheikh al-Khaibari represents.

Until then we can continue to look forward to more KSAisms courtesy of the Saudi clergy and religious police. Unless of course they realise that camera phones are about as common as dirt, and start to actually do some research before holding forth on such weighty matters as relative motion and the Solar System.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy this video filmed by TSOphotography:

Sakina Hassan

Sakina Hassan

The author is currently studying for an Mphil degree at the Centre of Excellence in Solid State Physics.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.