The (modern) age of ignorance

The (modern) age of ignorance

In Islamic scripture, the Age of Ignorance refers to the Arabic culture and life before the arrival of the Islamic Revelation. Not much seems to have changed 14 centuries later.

In a recent fatwa, or Islamic ruling, the Prime Ministry’s “pro-reform” Religious Affairs Directorate, the Diyanet, declared that tattoos were not permissible in Islam. “In the same way that they are harmful for health, they are prohibited by religion,” the ruling said.

According to the Diyanet, the tattoo practice dates back to the Age of Ignorance. But it’s not only tattoos. The Diyanet also ruled that Islam disapproved of men wearing earrings and other jewelry. But long hair or styling hair is permissible. I do not know if the Health Ministry keeps statistics on fatality rates due to tattoos, but fortunately there are some figures that tell us why the Age of Ignorance may not be totally over.

According to OECD indicators contained in the report “Health at a Glance 2013,” Turkey ranks 33rd in a list of 40 countries in life expectancy. The infant mortality rate in Turkey is the seventh worst; prevalence estimates on diabetes, 12th; and adult obesity, 14th. And with only 1.7 doctors per 1,000 people, Turkey ranks an embarrassing 35th, the same ranking it has in the number of medical graduates per 100,000 people. But Turkey boasts the world’s second biggest police force (475) per 100,000 people.

The good news for the men of the modern age of ignorance is that at 1.5 liters per capita, alcohol consumption Turkey is the third lowest consumer in a group of 40 countries. But the bad news for the prime minister, whose declared political ambition is to raise devout generations: alcohol consumption in Turkey in the 21 years to 2011 rose by 7 percent.

There is enough scientific and empirical evidence to suggest that Turkey’s poor health statistics are not a result of a few youths featuring tattoos, or because Turks are awful drunkards. In other words, Turks do not have a shorter life expectancy and more diabetes and obesity than most OECD countries because they drink more alcohol. Or they do not have too few doctors because young Turks prefer to busy themselves choosing tattoos instead of studying.

There are no international tattoo statistics, but OECD and World Health Organization figures substantiate longer life expectancy and fewer diseases in European countries where per capita alcohol consumption is five to 10 times more than in Turkey. This does not suggest alcohol consumption makes one healthier, but it does suggest that an annual 1.5 liters of annual alcohol consumption is not the root cause of “unhealthy Turkey.”

But we may blame the modern age of ignorance for Turkey’s maladies. Shortly before the presidential election in 2007, the then-parliamentary speaker, Bülent Arınç, now deputy prime minister, expressed his party’s desire to “elect a pious president” (not a competent and honest man).

Six years later, another deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdağ, raised the stakes when he expressed his hope to elect “an imam” as president (again, no mention of a competent and honest man). Apparently, a “pious” president does not satisfy the men who rule Turkey.

But who will they want to elect as president after an imam? A caliph? That would be too hard to reinstate even in the modern age of ignorance. And since there is no clergy in Islam, the choices are limited. I would nominate the head of the Diyanet who might wish to ban tattoos and reduce Turks’ exposure to diabetes and obesity, thus achieving a longer life expectancy.

Could it also be that tattoos are the cause of multi-digit deaths in the Muslim lands? Do the Shiite and Sunni jihadists who slaughter each other by the dozens each day sport tattoos? Or do they do so because they drink alcohol, or because they eat pork? After the Diyanet’s enlightening fatwa, I tend to blame the tattoos more than other evils.