Zero/One God

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I.

The High Council
Next Jerusalem
The Emirate in the Outer Planets
Muharram 5, 1569 A.H.

“Ahmad ibn Tufayl,” the leftmost Qadi announced, rather unnecessarily, given that Ahmad was the only man standing. “This Council has concluded its review of your case, and finds you guilty.”
Ahmad swallowed, but he did not flinch. Though he felt the tightness of his tunic, the weight of the robe he’d worn over it, the sweat leaking down his armpits, he refused to show weakness.
The centermost Qadi, the one he’d thought would be the most sympathetic, was the most damning. “Your publication of the article in question introduces doubt and confusion into the public, undermining the Emirate’s security even as it empowers those most opposed to our rule. Do you understand the seriousness of your crime?”
What Ahmad said next would be broadcast to cities, bases, outposts and ships across the system. He had rehearsed this moment every night in his cell. “I stand by my conclusion,” he said. “My scientific credentials are known, by you and by my peers. There must be a universe in which Jesus is not the Messiah, just as there must be a universe in which there is no Messiah—”
He was cut off by a loud electronic ping. “We propose a sentence of fifteen years,” the Qadi continued, looking down at him sternly, “which sentence may be reduced by repentance. Do you have anything to say to this committee that may affect our judgment?”
“Perhaps for each universe, there is a different truth.”
The Qadi grimaced. “This is your defense?”
Only part of it, Ahmad knew. “There must be, your honor, a universe in which I did not publish this article.”
The Qadi all but yelled. “There is only one possibility: yes or no.”
Despite himself, Ahmad winced. Maybe they were punishing him not because his argument challenged their worldview, but because they really did not understand. He pitied them their ignorance. So Ahmad straightened himself, pressed the creases in his robe, and spoke in the loudest voice he could muster. “There must be, your honors, a universe in which I was not punished.” He smiled. “What if this is that universe?”

II.

Ministry of Science and Ideology
October Sky-City
Trans-Jovian Soviet Socialist Republic
November 16, 223 of the 10th Comintern

“Akhmad Galilovic.” Called, like the prisoner he was, shackled before an immense wooden rotunda. “With the authority delegated to the Ministry by the Party and the People, we decree a rehabilitative process in Charon Oblast, with the duration of the sentence to be determined.”
Akhmad swallowed. He felt his stomach churn. He was sure his skin was flushed, but he refused to give them any greater satisfaction. Than this. For he stood before them with the truth on his side.
“The sermon in question,” the Chief Minister announced, reminding the observers of the weight of his crime, “was neither approved by the relevant Oblast, nor did it conform to the scientific and rational principles which the Party advances.” There he paused. He turned to the other ministers, and returned his gaze to Akhmad. “Is there any contrition?”
Akhmad did not know what to say. Like any citizen, he had pledged himself to the Party and the People. But he had also been trained to preach, counsel, pastor. He was a different kind of minister--his service to the state was realized by his service to the faithful. “I've been asked to reconcile competing concerns. The scientific principles upon which our Union depends, or my religious commitments. But, in my sermon, I merely noted that the multiple worlds theory must be subordinated to my belief that the Prophet is the best of all creation. There cannot be a universe in which he is not the Prophet, for all universes are included within creation.
“There may be multiple universes, but not an infinite number.”
This did not please the committee. “There is only one possibility—yes, there are multiple worlds, or no, there are not. It is scientifically agreed upon that all decision points result in the creation of new universes. You are in violation of rational principles, for which reason we have determined your guilt. All that is to determine is whether you express any contrition, which will be considered during the sentencing period.”
“I do not believe the punishment is appropriate,” Akhmad countered, surprising himself with his own audacity. “There is no universe in which my sermon is not true, and therefore, because the strength of the Union, the Party, and the Workers depends upon scientific truth, to punish me would be to contravene the very principles upon which the sovereignty of the workers rests.” He smiled, despite himself. If he was going to die, better with pride. “To argue for the relativity of truth is a bourgeois heresy.”

About the Author: 
Haroon Moghul is the author of three books including, most recently, a memoir (How To Be A Muslim: An American Story). He's a Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, and hard at work at his next project, a science fiction trilogy.