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

Published: February 19, 2015

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.

  • Mehdi

    Now everybody should know why Saudia Arabia enjoys such great stone age intellectualism :) These sort of sheikhs has brought Islam to disrepute.Recommend

  • J S

    Unfortunately when I was young I was not welcome (madrassa) due to the fact that we were being taught that the moon generates its own light. (This was prior to any lunar landings, whatever difference that makes) I argued against this misinformation and was sent out for disrupting the lesson and defaming Quranic teachings. I believe that before one assumes the title of “cleric” they must forsake all common knowledge and reason. Faith should not be necessitated by adherence to fairy tales.Recommend

  • hadi

    There are few moments when you feel lucky to be born in Pakistan. This frankly, is one of those moments. Recommend

  • 2Paisa (Khi)

    Massive overreaction about this…one man’s opinion does not bring the islamic or even saudi arabia world into disrepute. There are ‘scholarly Christians’ in the West who still believe in the same thing or that earth is 6000 years old!Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Why oh why? Only the ” holy ” kingdom of Saudi Arabia can allow this guy to teach. I think his parents knew of his great intellect and aptly named him.Recommend

  • Adeel.Jawaid

    Mullahs should get their own bearings fixed before debating science.Recommend

  • Muhammed Waqar Younis

    Intelligence only comes where it is needed, not ridiculed….Recommend

  • Parvez

    With over 40,000 madrassas dotted all over Pakistan, no one has as yet charged forward to defend their mentor…….now that’s a good sign.
    Possibly the Saudi’s are one step ahead and the good cleric may be their answer to Jay Leno.Recommend

  • Abul hassan

    More funny side:Most of the people laughing at him, actually doesn’t know correctly, how he is wrong!Recommend

  • Khurram Awan

    Very well written, Sakina! Very witty.Recommend

  • speed test

    all miracles are like this- twisted with multiple meaningsRecommend

  • Cameron Folk

    No.. of course not, but another cleric says the woman that drive should like to be raped and to stop this saudi arabia should ‘import’ woman foreign to drive… Probably so they can raped woman that are not Saudis ???. Like misery, stupidity dont like to be aloneRecommend

  • Mehdi

    Saudi culture is hinged on stone age mentality, so is your inclination. You are correct in saying that ‘scholarly Christians’ in the West who still believe in the same thing or that earth is 6000 years old. But they don’t preach people to hate others who don’t subscribe to their world view or proclaim religious edict to kill innocent non-christian. Its supporter of SA like you has brought Islam into disrepute.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    At least he is thinking himself instead of just believing in what scientists say. I am sure no one would have thought about the question he is raising and most of them can’t answer that question. The question is if helicopter hovers in air why doesn’t it move with respect to earth, if earth is moving.
    The answer to the above question is that atmosphere is itself spinning. And it also has to do with the concept of inertia. It is little hard to grasp moving earth when we go into detail especially for one who has no background in science.
    Most people believe in scientists just as a status symbol. Scientists claim that we ‘evolved’ from a bacteria and no one questions them because then they will be called ignorants. On the contrary they complain about fairy tails in religions when they have more fairy tails in science.Recommend

  • Salma

    No one would have thought? wow. what an ingenuous argument. Every child of 7-8 years advances such arguments. And they learn quickly too.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    You need to understand origin of word “religion.” It is a Roman word , invented in their court for a specific purpose of dividing people of western Mideast and using the new convert among the Jews and other natives of western Mideast to continue their misrule/enslavement, in IV century, long after death of Jesus/Yeshu whom Romans had persecuted. The crooks, criminals and cowards among Jews were enticed by Romans with darbari promotion, share of loot and plunder of the natives. Religion, the thought virus of Romans mutated and took more deadly forms such as Islam, Slavery, Racism, Colonialism, extreme capitalism and even communism. In 60s even a Christian Bishop, Desmond Tutu used to say: “Arab or/and Anglo (white man) came to our land with a book in hand. he asked to close our eyes for a prayer from his book. We out of respect for the guest closed our eyes. When he finished his mambo-jumbo in alien tongue, and we opened our eyes, we found that he (Arab/Anglo) had our land and we had his book… our yong and dear ones were being shipped to distant slave bazars of Macca, Rome and Americas.”

    This artificial construct called religion creates artificial countries like Pakistan. Religion cannot be equated to native’s spirituality or Dharma (natural law to live harmoniously with nature which includes other human beings). Religion by design has One Prophet – Jesus, MohMad, Marx, One Khilafa/Pope/Politburo Chief, One book – Bible, koran, Das Capita, one sacred language – Latin/English, Arabic, Russian, and one superior race – Mideastern/white, Arab.

    Secularism is also a concept which is a derivative of this artificial deadly concept called religion. It came about when “white man” who was originally was a Pagan (Civil) and was Romanized/Brutalized by religion, went on attacking, looting and plundering natives of distant lands in the name of religion, the elite did not want to share the looted wealth which “white man” sent, with the religious clergy. Thus secularism came about for sole purpose of keeping one set of crooks and criminals ie organized Religious clergy away from the pile of loot of natives. Finally crooks and criminals also fight among themselves. for us natives of subcontinent it is good that religious criminals/crooks fight with equally bad crooks and criminals fight with secularists. hope they fight it out in distant lands and not in our land. I wish they fight and bomb each other to their hearts content after reaching mars.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    He can do his duties as an Islamic scholar. One can be as good a human being with or without knowing about celestial mechanics.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    Bibi! Which argument are you talking about?Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    The knowledge of The Supreme Being has been in every human culture since the beginning of mankind. It’s only now that west has ‘found out’ that man created God.
    I warn you about believing that everything came by chance. Just look at you. It’s just like if a computer was given consciousness, and it started wondering did somebody made me or did I came by chance. If God did not exist you and I wouldn’t be talking. Remember the time when you will repent on your disbelief. There are enough signs in nature and ourselves to have faith.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Islamic scholar? how can he do his duties as an islamic scholar thinking that the sun revolves around the earth? please share. He will only poison the minds of his students or become the laughing stockRecommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Chance is mere word. God is also Abrahamic word which was hijacked by AbraHaramis to enslave the natives of the world. This God was used as a dog to hunt natives of the world to brutalize/convert them, kill them and to loot them – be them Pagans of Europe who became Christians, Africans, Americans and AfPak nativesRecommend

  • Dawd

    Both their views were rebuked both inside Saudi Arabia and out of it. Imagine if I portrayed ‘Donald Trump’ as a prominent American politician and implied this is the view of all American politicians. Actually that wouldn’t fly as people generally have a deep and nuanced understanding of American culture.
    Saudi Arabia is a similar place, their ulema have differing views (if you know Arabic I’d recommend you watch their TV shows/ newspapers). And realise one sheikh talking about an aspect which he is not a specialist in does not represent everyoneRecommend

  • Dawd

    Would it shock you to know an islamic scholar may not have a strong grasp of physics, or a physicist about psychology. Here he spoke about a topic he didn’t know about. The video circulating doesnt show the context of the speech. But knowledge of gravitational inertia is not a criteria to be an aliimRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Context? Who needs context when faced with this blatant ignorance. No. Not ignorance. . He knows that something is proven beyond a shadow of doubt and still rejects it.
    Strong grasp of physics? When did fundamental and universal truths become so hard? The sun is bright. The earth revolves around it and the moon around the earth. These are not hard concepts. Any teacher who does not know these is an idiot and should be banned.
    Did you say “aaalim” ? How will he teach the Quran and hadith while being so ignorant? Where will be find an explanation of the verses which say that earth moves and is not stationary. No sir. He cannot be any sort of “aalim” while being so jahil.
    Lastly. My dear friend don’t you think it time that this sycophantic attitude towards these so called mullahs should end? How long will people like you let them destroy children? Will you let your children go to such idiots?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Donald Trump does not reject universal truths. If any politician in the USA or any other country for that matter, is ignorant and suicidal enough to make such a moronic stupid ludicrous ridiculous nonsensical and utterly inane comment then he is lambasted by everyone. And to be frank I have not seen this kind of blatant asininity and brainlessness from any politician in the USA.
    There is a difference between having contrasting political views and rejecting universal truths.
    Lastly. Why are you defending this ignorant imbecile and his ilk? Why are you defending an ignorant state stepped in idiocy? To be frank you should be shaming him along with the rest of the worldRecommend

  • Dawd

    I’m not defending him, just saying his statement has been refuted by people in his own society, as well as else where. So saying that this previously unknown sheikh represents something more than his own personal view is wrong. Of course people deny ‘universal truths’ in other societies… we have atheists who do just that.Recommend

  • Dawd

    Like I said a largely unknown scholar, raised above his position by viral videos, and commentators thinking he is more than he isRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    has been stripped of his “aalim” ship yet? or is he still teaching? has he been banned from teaching or not?Recommend

  • Dawd

    I don’t know, why don’t you find out where he teaches and get back to me.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    To my knowledge there had been no news of his being stripped of his status. I just checked. There is no statement for the ksa officials saying that they have dealt with the ignorant “alum sahib” so at the present your surmise about his being dealt with appears to be wrongRecommend

  • Dawd
  • Alp Arslan

    Because he still has knowledge about Quran and Islamic tradition and Islamic jurisprudence. So he can issue verdict and offer guidance in these spiritual issues. Still we say that this is his personal opinion and utterly wrong.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    What knowledge of the Quran? The Quran says that the planets are moving and not stationary. I already said that these points of the holy Quran cannot be explained by someone as ignorant as Mr bandar.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    Motion of earth is not a topic of Quran. All are deductions which can be driven by personal bias. Muslims believed in geocentric theory before heliocentric theory was proposed. And when motion of earth was proved we had no problem reconciling it with words of Allah. Study of nature is a field of God given intellect and open to question. Quran is intended for guidance of mankind not to teach natural phenomenon.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    Guidance and arbitration of divine commands is a different aspect of knowledge. One may be a scholar of astronomy and not scholar of religion and vice versa.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    The Quran clearly states that the planets are in motion. But you say that muslims “believed in geocentric theory “. So please give me at least ten examples of prominent muslims living before the heliocentric model was presented who said that they believed in the geocentric model. They don’t have to be scientific examples just any prominent muslim will do. Let’s see how many you can come up with. And do take care not to include Ahmad Raza Khan and Ibn e baz, they both lived in the last century and their rejection of heliocentric model is the same as this guy rejecting it.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    but “one” may NOT be a religious scholar and hold stupid and idiotic views about the planets. That makes “one” an idiot. and the people who defend that “one” put a huge question mark on their intellectual capabilities as well.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    You will know soon who is right. Harami is a term popularized by God believing people. There is no concept of bastard in your philosophy. But even you are influenced by Godly teachings. Look at your societies in the west based on your philosophy, most are bastards. Look at the brutalities of secularism and the irrelegion in the 20th century. Marxism, Nazism , communism, colonialism, capitalism all brain children of irreligion.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    I don’t defend his view about earth. It really IS stupid. But I can understand why he is adopting a stupid viewpoint about planets. It renders any of his opinions about astronomy or other technical field unreliable (including the exegesis of verses of Quran related to astronomy). The point I am perhaps failing to convey (which has put a HUGE question mark on my capabilities :P) is that fiqh is a different technical field. . One needs faith and fiqh knowledge for that. Astronomy is irrelevant there. It’s quite like a judge who may not know about astronomy but he knows law. As a Muslim I can’t disrespect a Muslim cleric just because of his belief which is irrelevant to our faith(Which puts ? on my faith).
    Secondly enemies of Islam make a huge issue of that. I am sick of that which prompted me to write these comments. They should know that voices of geocentricism are extremely isolated in Muslims and most Muslim scholars are content with astronomical updates. So here an isolated video is not a very good excuse for making fun of Islam and Muslims.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    Actually idea of heliocentrism is on record even before Plato etc. Aristarchus of Samos had presented the idea as early as 3rd century BC but there was no evidence. But after Plato’s theory got popular, It is widely known that whole world including Muslims believed before Copernicus time that earth doesn’t move that’s why Copernican idea was so radical. Some Muslim scholars of the golden age considered motion of earth but they returned to static earth. I don’t think examples are needed.

    You are right that motion of planets is mentioned in Quran but no one knew before copernicus that earth was also a planet.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    As a Muslim I can’t disrespect a Muslim cleric just because of his belief which is irrelevant to our faith. His views are deeply significant. Fiqh knowledge is very much based on the science of astronomy, times of Salat, the dates of month in festivals like eid and the times of fasting are all connected to astronomy. So basically out of the five pillars. He can not give any valuable knowledge about Three. Usually 2/5 is considered a fail in many examinations.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I DO THINK examples are needed. Just give me ten Islamic scholars who are on record with this. Lets see how many you can come up with.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    What nonsense? I ask you give one scholar’s name who knew about the fact that earth is revolving?Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    Again you didn’t understand me. Times of salat, month, hajj, eid do not depend on map of the solar system. These things are extremely simple and even geocentricists have no problem with that. Muslims did these things absolutely rightly with geocentric paradigm. Times of salat, directions were well known to Muslims even before Copernicus. But yes physics of these things were not known.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    they r children of Armed Legions / AbraHaramism… Romans created Xian Armed Legion enticing crooks, criminals among natives by court positions, shareof loot & plunder of natives. MohMadBedouini perfected this Roman technique of enticement & dividing the natives… Persia became MohMadden in mere 40 yrs by enacting a law that only MohMaddens can own property (wife & children included) .. some native Zorastrians ran away to India where they prospered.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    YES and I asked you to give one scholars name who says that it is NOT revolving.
    The burden of PROOF lies upon you, because it is YOU who is claiming that they said earth is the centre and the sun revolving around it. So please give me only 5 scholars who say that the arth is not revolvingRecommend

  • Yousuf Godir

    Only very recent I read the Sheikh al-Khaibari’s manifestation, and I think you hardly believe by telling you that I had written similar work in 1997. Plainly, I do not see any reason to hold up the earth’s rotation on its axis any more, my work is underway. Whether the sheikh was wrong or not, do we understand that some scientific phenomenon became a religion dogma for scientist, and hence rationality fades away? For example, Big Bang, gravitation, heliocentric seem to me not holding their feet on the ground, yet scientist consider it immune.Recommend