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Did some work today on unbelievers in medieval Islam, a.k.a. zendiqs, which translates to “Man, those are some titanium cojones you’ve got there.”

Abu Nuwas, a 9th century Persian poet, stars in my favorite zendiq story. An imam is reading from the Qur’an. When he gets to the line, “Oh, you infidels!”, Abu Nuwas yells out, “Here I am!”

Oh, that tears it. He’s dragged to the authorities by an angry mob. It’s assumed he’s a follower of Manichaeism, the crosstown rival. They give him the standard test, producing a portrait of the prophet Mani (founder of Manichaeism) and ordering him to spit on it.

I’ll do you one better, he thinks, then sticks his finger down his throat and vomits on the portrait.

Confused, the magistrates let him go, never realizing that he finds Mani and Muhammad equally silly.

(Hat tip to Jennifer Hecht for introducing me to that story in Doubt: A History.)


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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.