Atheist professor Richard Dawkins has sparked a storm of controversy online for suggesting a Muslim journalist should not have had an opinion piece published, claiming his Islamic beliefs in a winged horse mean he is not "a serious journalist".

The comment was directed at Mehdi Hasan, political director of The Huffington Post UK, who was challenged by Dawkins in an interview last year to admit he believed the Prophet Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse.

The piece was published in December 2012 but Dawkins only tweeted his response this Sunday, saying:


Richard Dawkins
Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist

He went on to say: "Would you take seriously a man who believes in fairies at the bottom of his garden?

"You'd ridicule palpably absurd beliefs of any other kind. Why make an exception for religion?"

Dawkins' was immediately criticised on Twitter by many prominent politicians and journalists, including Labour MP Tom Watson and journalist Owen Jones.


tom_watson
You really are an gratuitously unpleasant man.


Owen Jones
If atheism means being bigoted about Muslims or wanting to drive people of faith from public life, then I am not an atheist.


David Schneider
the big test would be whether, in an emergency, would turn away a religious plumber/electrician from his home.

Hasan, who still writes a fortnightly column for the New Statesman, challenged Dawkins to clarify his position.


Mehdi Hasan
thanks Richard. Now, can you pls clarify, should NS stop publishing me because of my Islamic religious beliefs? Yes or no?

Others echoed Hasan's feelings.


shereen a
Islamaphobia made to look 'rational' thanks to So what proffesion are us muslims allowed to have?


Stephen Pollard
is saying New Statesman shouldn't print because he is Muslim. How is that better than when it comes from BNP?


Ali Abunimah
Does believe that any Christian who believes in the Resurrection cannot be a journalist?

Dawkins said he was not suggesting religious Muslims could not be journalists, or indeed followers of any other religion.

The academic said it was the printing of the "winged horse" belief that he objected to, not the employment of Muslim journalists.


Richard Dawkins
Oh for goodness sake, I didn't say Muslims can't be journalists. I questioned the credibility of a man who believes in winged horses.


Richard Dawkins
Not a free-speech issue. Of course New Statesman is free to print Mehdi Hasan's winged horse. I question not his right but their judgment


But others said it was correct of Dawkins to question how a lack of rationality in one area might affect the work of a religious journalist, who believes in miracles, from whatever religion.


James Pounder
Hasan's journalism may be coherent, however should be read with more and care in light of winged horse belief.


Stephen Williams
i.e. if you think 2+2=5, u shouldn't be accountant, no? Not bigoted to say so.


Arthur Hayward
We should ask if we would respect the views of a journalist who believed in the tooth fairey? What diffetence?;

It is not the first time Dawkins has courted controversy with his comments on Islam.

In 2011 he compared burqas to bin bags and said he is filled with "visceral revulsion" when he sees Muslim women a veil.