120 leading philosophers say ‘appalling’ Home Office humanism test ‘makes no sense’

25 January, 2018

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Over 120 leading philosophers have signed a joint letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd calling on the Home Office to reconsider its decision to deny asylum to a humanist after it was revealed that he was questioned on his knowledge of classical philosophy during an interview. Hamza bin Walayat, a Muslim apostate originally from Pakistan, was chastised for failing to name Plato and Aristotle as humanists, despite neither being so. Humanists UK, which provided evidence in support of Hamza’s claim, welcomed this intervention from the UK’s top philosophers, highlighting the Home Office’s profound and dangerous lack of understanding about humanism and non-religious beliefs, and the persecution faced by those who hold them.

The joint letter, coordinated by Dr Helen De Cruz and published in The Guardian, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Oxford Brookes University, has also been signed by Humanists UK patrons Professors A C Grayling, Simon Blackburn, and John Harris. It states that ‘the nomination of Plato and Aristotle as humanists has no scholarly basis’ and therefore ‘the Home Office’s claim that Plato and Aristotle could be considered precursor humanists makes no sense.’ Both Plato and Aristotle presented arguments in favour of a divine creator, whereas central to humanist thinking is the rejection of religious belief.

The letter also argues that it is unreasonable for someone who has not been educated in the West to be expected to know of the philosophy of figures such as Plato and Aristotle. And even then, a student educated in the UK would only encounter these philosophers only if they studied Philosophy or Religious Studies to an A-Level standard.

Hamza bin Walayat claims he has received death threats from members of his family and community in Pakistan because of his humanist beliefs and for his rejection of Islam, a crime which Pakistan punishes with the death penalty. He has a long-term British partner, and has made the UK his home since arriving in 2011.

Dr Helen De Cruz commented, ‘We felt compelled to write this letter because we found the Home Office’s use of this line of questioning to deny Mr Hamza bin Walayat asylum because he failed to name Plato and Aristotle as humanists appalling. Even in the UK, there are many people who self-identify as humanists and who have not had any education on Plato and Aristotle, and Plato and Aristotle aren’t humanist scholars. We hoped therefore, that a letter signed by philosophers – including experts on ancient philosophy and experts on humanism – would lend weight to any appeal against the Home Office’s decision.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The questions put to Hamza reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of humanism, its origins, and the persecution faced in certain parts of the world by those who hold humanist beliefs. This letter, signed by the nation’s leading experts in both humanist and classical philosophy, provides important evidence of this misunderstanding. We hope that this will not only help Hamza’s appeal, but also those humanists in the future who will look to the UK for sanctuary.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanists.uk or on 0781 55 89 636.

Read the full letter and list of signitories: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018-01-25-Full-Final-Philospoher-Letter-Home-Office.pdf

Read more about Humanists UK’s international campaigns: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/international-campaigns/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanists.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/