Category Archives: Muslim

Muslim secularists

“Our organization has a two-pronged goal. The first is as a think tank with a specific mission to “separate mosque and state” in the Islamic consciousness and to try to do that through a constant engagement of Muslims in the war of ideas between political Islam – Islamism — and western secular democracy. Americans and Muslims need to realize that this is a Muslim problem that needs a Muslim solution.”

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2010/09/08/8-questions-with-dr-zuhdi-jasser-of-the-american-islamic-forum-for-democracy/print/#ixzz0zYBlTeVZ

Raising children in a religion – abuse or stability?

Next up to take on Richard Dawkins is the Guardian’s Anne Karpf. She begins:

If Richard Dawkins had his way, a fair number of you and, as it happens, me, would be had up for child abuse. According to him, that’s what religious indoctrination of children by their parents is. And if you can sue for the long-term mental damage caused by physical abuse, he argues, why shouldn’t you sue for the damage caused by mental child abuse?

If you accept Dawkins’s characterisation of religion, you’d probably agree. Religious parents, to him, are Mr Dogma and Mrs Bigot: they terrify their kids with tales of eternal hell, fire and damnation, when – that is – they’re not carrying out female circumcision or coercing them into forced marriages. Flat-earthers the lot, they’re brainwashers, fanatically opposed to science and rationality.

Isn’t it curious that we tolerate the stereotyping of religion in a way we’d never abide with race, religion [sic] or gender? I certainly don’t recognise myself in this caricature.

Hmmm in fact Karpf is the one doing the misprepresenation here. Continue reading

Black History Month – Ali Abd al-Raziq

Ali Abdel Raziq (1888-1966) was an Egyptian Islamic scholar and sharia judge. 

An early modernist he was chiefly concerned with the role and nature of the caliphate in Muslim society.

His main work is called “Islam and the Foundations of Governance” (Al-Islam Wa Usul Al-Hukm) and was first published in 1925. Due to its controversial standpoints regarding the necessity of the caliphate and religious government, the book triggered an intellectual and political battle in Egypt.

He concludes that since there was no basis for the caliphate in either the Qur’an or in the Hadith there may not be anything un-Islamic about not having it either (but nor is there anything un-Islamic about having a caliphate). In essence he claims that the Muslims may agree on any kind of government, be it religious or worldly, as long as it serves the interest and common welfare of their society.  

Ali Abd al-Raziq went a bit further than this, however, and recounting the horrors of the caliphate, among other things, also argued that religion should not be involved in government or politics. It is exactly this separation that is supposed to protect the religion from political misuse and to enforce morals.

He thus adopted what was essentially a secular approach to politics – there might not be a problem with religious values forming the backdrop to political debate, but he opposed the use of religion as the sole determining factor in political decisions. He was thus a defender of the separation of mosque and state for Islamic nations, a fact which earned him a great deal of opposition from traditionalist scholars and jurists.

From Wikipedia (I know!) and About.com

Interview with a Kuwaiti atheist

Kuwait FlagMideast Youth has an interview with a Kuwaiti atheist, Sara Sultan.

The interview is conducted by a Muslim on the basis that “Young atheists in the Arab world are extremely frowned upon and thus hardly ever given a voice, and if we really want to represent all kinds of people then we should include the voices of those we disagree with as well. ”

Likewise, Sara’s reason for being inteviewed is her belief that she has a right to express her opinions and has no fear from doing so. “People try to bully us into believing things… into being part of a “larger mass.” They kick us into buying anything from political opinions to religious beliefs. I refuse to be a product of such attempts at misleading us. They can call me what they want, at the end of the day I’m just an independent woman with a firm opinion.”

She distinguishes between Ex-Muslims and Aran atheists:

Those who dislike Islam are often agnostic, not atheist. Few convert to other religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and the Baha’i Faith. Arab atheists should not be lumped with other ex-Muslim Arabs who embrace other religions. We do not have anything in common, especially not contempt for Islam. I turned my back on religion because the lengthy study of religions and their respective histories is what made me realize that atheism is the only right path for me. It has nothing to do with Islam itself or me being a former Muslim Kuwaiti. I would have arrived to the same conclusion if I was a former member of any other faith.”

She retains a level of respect and recognises some of the good individuals within religion:

“I try my best not to generalise when it comes to religious groups. All religions are diverse and have worldwide followers that interpret religious texts in very different ways. People are responsible for their own behavior. I know many Muslims who are extremely religious and yet they are very open minded and understanding as to why some of us reject religion in and of itself. Why should I disrespect these good people by ignoring they exist and complaining that only mullah extremists are the appropriate representatives of Islam? Where I live, many young Muslims are actively rising against religious extremism and are trying to represent what is good about their faith. I appreciate their struggles, I don’t ever discourage them by claiming that they’d only be right or successful if they reject Islam altogether and embrace a new philosophy. It’s not in my place to do that.”

And although  she thinks they are “completely misled and wrong” she does not impose her views on others: “That would be a very hypocritical thing for me to do since I’m the way I am mostly because I am anti-collectivism and I hate people who bully others into believing certain things or forcing them to live life a certain way. Like I said earlier, people are responsible for their own behavior and how they choose to live their life is none of my business just like my personal beliefs is none of theirs. The only thing I would encourage others to do is to think for themselves, to be free thinkers no matter how strict their societies are, to have educated and well-thought out opinions. It’s okay if that means you have to stand out from the crowd. And if some people independently chose their faith and strongly believe in it, all power to them. It’s still admirable and respectful as long as they don’t shove their beliefs in our faces and make us suffer the unnecessary consequences when we refuse to buy into their myths.”

Different beliefs are united but unheard in calling for fair and equal education

Simon BarrowEkklesia’s Simon Barrow writes in Comment is Free that Gordon Brown was right to use biblical language at the Labour Part conference against those employing religious rhetoric to oppose diversity and equality in family policy.

He goes on to argue thast “a similar pluralist case now needs to be made in relation to faith schools – where the government’s desire to ease its finance problems and promote social cohesion is misguidedly colluding with the wishes of some leaders of faith communities (not least the Anglican and Catholic churches) who are looking for a new role and new credibility in their battle against long-term decline and public indifference.

At the moment, the case against the selection, segregation, employment restrictions and discrimination wrapped up within the pro-faith schools agenda is being heard as an essentially “anti-religious” one. The exclusive tenor of some secular groups is not helping with this, given the sensitivities involved. Continue reading

Is fundamentalism a revolt against secularism?

Interviewed  in the current edition of Islamica, famed theologian Karen Armstrong is asked “What has made Fundamentalism, seemingly, so predominant today?” She answers 

“The militant piety that we call “fundamentalism” erupted in every single major world faith in the course of the twentieth century. There is fundamentalist Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, as well as fundamentalist Islam. Of the three monotheistic religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-Islam was the last to develop a fundamentalist strain during the 1960s. Fundamentalism represents a revolt against secular modern society, which separates religion and politics. Wherever a Western secularist government is established, a religious counterculturalist protest movement rises up alongside it in conscious rejection. Continue reading

Religion and politics don’t mix says Muslim

Firas Ahmad, deputy editor of Islamica Magazine warns of the dangers of mixing religion and politics. He recounts how  the evangelical political lobbying group Moral Majority were so concerned with the perceived immorality and secularisation of liberal America that they aligned themselves with right-wing politics and in the process founder Jerry Falwell “did more to diminish the dignity of belief than he achieved in limiting the sinfulness of modern life.”

Jerry Fallwell and Ronald ReaganWhen the previously unreligious Ronald Reagan stood against, believing evangelical Christian, Jimmy Carter in the presidential electionsm it was only when “Reagan guaranteed Falwell his full support against abortion, the future president rediscovered his religious roots and Falwell tasted the spoils of his first major political victory.”

The damage that this does to the moral voice of religion is “apparent in a poignant scene from the recent documentary, “Jesus Camp.” In it, an enthusiastic 12-year-old boy, steeped in evangelical ideology, rejects global warming as liberal nonsense. There is no reason for Christianity to take an ideological stand against protecting the environment. However, there is every reason for politicized Christianity, allied with Republican interests, to reject global warming on behalf of large oil companies. Religion is never more meaningless than when it becomes the pawn of political or economic ambition.” Continue reading

Ramadan for humanists?

MosqueRamadan Mubarak!

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. This month is considered important by Muslims for a number of reasons. They believe:

1) The Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during this month

Because of this, and Muslims attempt to recite as much of the Qur’an as they can during the month. Most mosques will recite one thirtieth of the Qur’an each night during the Taraweeh prayers.

2) The gates of Heaven are open
3) The gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained up in Hell

Muslims believe that their good actions bring a greater reward during this month than at any other time of year, because this month has been blessed by Allah. They also believe that it is easier to do good in this month because the devils have been chained in Hell, and so can’t tempt believers. This doesn’t mean that Muslims will not behave badly, but that any evil that they do comes from within themselves, without additional encouragement from Satan.

But even without the religious elements Ramadan are still inspiring occasions that non-religious people could learn from. Continue reading

2006 poll of USA and European countries reveals Britain is tolerant, not very religious but also not very secular

Belief Graph

An old poll from December 2006 I’ve just come across conduced by Harris Poll and the Financial Times into the religious views and beliefs  in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the USA. Key results for the UK (sample size 2090):

  • Ony 35% believe in any form of God or any type of supreme being (only France was lower with 27%)
  • 35% are agnostic and 17% atheist
  • 7% Not sure; the largest percentage of all the countries
  • 39% do not share the same religious beliefs as either of their parents; the largest percentage of all countries and the only country for which this is higher than those saying they have the same religious beliefs as both of their parents. Suggesting a strong generational shedding of belief.
  • 70% people believe in the separation if church and state (although that isn’t defined) the lowest of all the countries. It is probably worth noting the different charcteristics of the different churches in question. It could be that Britain’s rather laid back churches are less intrusive as much as British people being less secular on principle.
  • 56% people thought religion should be taught in state schools, 29% saying no. Only Italy was more in favour of religious teaching and less opposed.
  • Only 23% thought the EU was predominantly Christian club – the lowest of the European countries and a testament ot the UK’s multifaith credentials?
  • Only 10% would object to their child marrying someone of a different faith and 73% would not. France and Spain indicated a slightly higher level of tolerance, both with 7% and 74 respectively
  • Worryingly the UK matched France with 39% believing that Islamic veils should be banned in all public places (higher than the other countries polled) but at 48% were ahead of France and Spain in feeling that children should be allowed to wear a religious sign or article of clothing at school which is representative of their beliefs. Taken together these suggest a particular anti-Muslim dimension to British secular thought.

28% Britons believe in God but only 17% Britons think religion is beneficial

The Sunday Times reports that 42% of 2,200 people taking part in a poll carried out by YouGov considered religion had a harmful effect. 17% thought the influence of religion was beneficial.

16% of those polled called themselves atheists; 28% believed in God; 26% believed in “something” but were not sure what; and 9% regarded themselves as agnostics.

43% said they never prayed, 31% hardly prayed, and 10% prayed every night.

When we asked which of the main religions was ‘most effective’ in getting its message across, 32% said Christianity and 10% cited Islam.

Amir Khan’s Angry Young Men- perpetuating stereotypes?

Amir Khan's Angry Young MenDid you watch the first episode of Amir Khan’s Angry Young Men last night on Channel 4? “Over four intensive weeks, Amir and his team take six young men with a history of violent and criminal behaviour, and use the discipline of boxing to try to channel their aggression and turn their lives around.”

“Amir Khan also introduces the men to the values of his family and faith, to give them a sense of right and wrong. It’s an opportunity none of them can afford to miss. The police, courts and anger management classes have all failed to keep the six youths away from fighting. This is their last chance to get off the track that leads to prison or death on the streets.” [Watch the trailer]

The religious element is introduced by having some of the ‘angry young men’ talk about their disdain for religion and then contrasting this with Khan’s quiet, polite, supportive experience of religion and a faith-based youth worker and a local priest who are on his team.

In itself this dimension of the rehabilitation is fine – it’s part of who Khan the mentor is and if it works in sorting them out great: they will “try out different churches in Bolton, as well as learning about Islam from Amir Khan. They may not to pursue this when they go home but it helps them to think about their future and the values they want to embrace when their four weeks of intensive training finish.”

But although the Channel website does state that the men “come from a variety of religious traditions” the way this element is set up it perpetuates sterotypes of the degenerate, binge drinking, nihilistic, unreligious youth set against those of the pious, family-orientated, hard working Muslim. Of course the latter stereotype is better than the extremist Muslim sterotype but it a stereotype nonetheless.

To be fair, one of the angry young men is a Muslim and his presence as a (teetotal) violent, swearing figure certainly breaks the media’s saint/ sinner sterotypes (Skins’ Anwar comes to mind as another – also from Channel 4), but so far the narrative is a generally hackneyed one. Then again what can I expect from a reality TV show? I’ll keep  watching though as the narrative and participants could well develop in positive ways.

Egypt’s religious advisor says Muslims can choose own religion – or maybe not!

Grand Mufti Ali GomaaABC News reported that Egypt’s official religious advisor has ruled that Muslims are free to change their faith as it is a matter between an individual and God, in a move which could have far-reaching implications for the country’s Christians.

“The essential question before us is can a person who is Muslim choose a religion other than Islam? The answer is yes, they can,” Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said in a posting on a Washington Post-Newsweek forum picked up by the Egyptian press.

“The act of abandoning one’s religion is a sin punishable by God on the Day of Judgement. If the case in question is one of merely rejecting faith, then there is no worldly punishment,” he wrote.

In most Muslim countries, Muslims who convert to another religion are considered apostates and can be subject to capital punishment.

Mr Gomaa warned however that if the conversions undermine the “foundations of society” then it must be dealt with by the judicial system, without elaborating.

Attempts by Muslims in Egypt to convert to other religions have been hindered by the state’s refusal to recognise the change in official documents and in some cases have led to arrests and imprisonment.

Ammendment

As Bob points (see comments) Gomaa has denied in a statement that he had said a Muslim can give up his faith without punishment.

“What I actually said is that Islam prohibits a Muslim from changing his religion and that apostasy is a crime, which must be punished,”

The alleged fatwa coincides with an uproar over the case of 12 Egyptians who converted to Islam from Christianity and now want to re-embrace Christianity.

“There is a campaign by secularists to distort the image of Dr Ali Goma’a,” a senior official in Al Azhar told Gulf News.

 “He cannot deny punishment in this life for the apostate,” said Mustafa Al Chaka of the Islamic Research Centre.

 Whether this was a U-turn in the face of public pressure or the original report was an example of over-eagerness to find agreeable voices (both seem likely) remains to be seen.

Humanist Jews stand by Muslim victims of hate crime

The arson-attacked houseIn Sarasota County, Florida, authorities are investigating an arson that destroyed a Muslim family’s home as a hate crime.

The blaze happened on July 6. The Sejfovics, who moved from Bosnia in 2001, were out of town on holday and returned to find their home completely destroyed and spray-painted with anti-Muslim graffiti.

Several agencies, including the FBI, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are investigating the fire.

Members of the Unitarian-Universalist Church – the church that sponsored the family in 2001 – are standing by the family and vetting correspondence and phone calls. Others who have offfered theire suppport are a local rabbi and a Humanist Jewish Congregation, a couple of American-Islamist Groups, as well as many, many outraged individuals. Condolences and a reward have been offered; a fund is in the process of being set up.

Europe’s Christian Comeback

Phillip JenkinsPhilip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University and author of God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis writes in Foreign Policy Magazine that “Alarmist pundits prophesy that a secular Europe risks being overcome by its fast-growing Muslim population. Yet for all we hear about Islam, Europe remains a stronger Christian fortress than people realize.

The West is awash with fear of the Islamization of Europe. The rise of Islam, many warn, could transform the continent into “Eurabia,” a term popularized by Harvard historian Niall Ferguson and other pundits. “A youthful Muslim society to the south and east of the Mediterranean is poised to colonize—the term is not too strong—a senescent Europe,” Ferguson has predicted. Such grim prophecies may sell books, but they ignore reality. For all we hear about Islam, Europe remains a stronger Christian fortress than people realize. What’s more, it is showing little sign of giving ground to Islam or any other faith for that matter. Continue reading

Study shows religious freedom for others benefits us all

The Hudson Institute recently released the initial findings of the Center’s forthcoming book, Religious Freedom in the World 2007. This survey describes and analyzes 100 countries, especially those where religious freedom is most violated. It ranks them comparatively, includes scores and charts of freedom, details world trends, correlates religious freedom with measures of economic freedom, social wellbeing, civil liberties, and political rights, and features essays by experts explaining relevant issues. Continue reading

We are barbarians. They hate us. Right?

Union flagMartin Bright wrote in the News Statesman last month about the Government’s engagement with Muslims in its response to extremism. What caught my eye was a response online from ‘Iftikhar’ which states that:

“Drugs, crime, incivility, bing drinking, teenage pregnancies, anti-social behaviour and institutional reacism [sic] are common part of life in modern Britain. Muslims do not want their children to become integrated into such barbarity.

Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models. The need to be well versed in English language to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. They also need to be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry.

A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/She does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brits.”

This echoes views revealed in a January report by the Policy Exchange showing that younger Muslims feel a profound unease with the culture of the West.  It is also something found in John Sniderman’s research that I blogged about yesterday : We found that views typically held by otherwise tolerant Dutch people – that Muslims treated women badly and were too authoritarian with their children – were counterbalanced by Muslim attitudes towards the Dutch,” says Sniderman. “Muslims believed the Dutch were disrespectful towards women and failed to discipline their children properly. So this wasn’t about prejudices held by religious fanatics on both sides; it was a genuine conflict of values between two communities. It was the focus on these differences, through the pursuit of multiculturalism, that tipped the balance towards prejudice in some cases.”

There appear to be three types of moral conflict in play:

1) The real: “Drugs, crime, incivility, bing drinking, teenage pregnancies, anti-social behaviour and institutional racism” may all be real issues for the UK to tackle. It may be that we need new ideas, new values to address them. As a humanist I feel quiet comfortable to draw on religious ethical traditions  – just as humanism emerged in a Christian context there is nothing to say it cannot evolve within a multi-faith context.  So we might look to the Islamic (but also Confucian) emphasis on responsibilities to balance our current emphasis on individual rights. (And maybe those of us with one mere language do need to go back to school or get left behind globally). Humanism’s strength is that has no dogma, no fixed creed and so can adapt in this way.

2) The imagined. We can’t escape the fact that the UK is one of the worst places to be a child in the developed world, for example, but it may be that in some areas we are being judged unfairly by some people. Is there good comparative data to assess Western states with for example Muslim states today? Or with Islamic states of the past? I don’t think there is so it’s hard to make assesments even about specific issues like drug use let alone attempt to weigh up societies in their entirety. Of course in this void of data it is easy to weigh one another up unfairly with mere rhetoric.

3) The fundamental: These are the issues about which there may be no disagreement about their existence, only whether they are good or bad. As such there is no negotiation and imposition must follow. Homosexuality is one of the most contentious examples (although some very religious states will flatly deny that it exists at all) but there are others.

How do we deal with this? Is it really irreconcilable? A clash of civilisations? Maybe a scuff. Two principles seem important to follow to to put this in perspective. The first is to be clear about what is actually irreconcilable by addressing types one and two which may reveal the clash to be much smaller than first thought.

The second principal is to remind ourselves that amongst any group there is a diversity of opinion. Not all Muslims think homosexuality is harram, just as not all British people love the tea and the Royal Family. This again shrinks the problem area to a less terrifying size.

It does not remove it altogether but if we are to impose a set of values (like equality) on people who do not hold them (which surely any state must do) – be it religious homophobes, working class racists or selfish rich people – we can do so knowing they are actually not so numerous and that there are also gay believers,  working class anti-facists and rich philanthropists that are to be encouraged and championed.

Research reveals deep divisions within ‘tolerant’ Netherlands

Paul SnidermanJohn Grace interviews Paul Sniderman in the Guardian today about his research with Louk Hagendoorn When Ways of Life Collide which found that deep divisions between locals and Muslim immigrants existed much earlier than anyone had previously suspected in the tolerant, democratic Netherlands.

“There was this feeling,” Sniderman says, “that because the Dutch government was so openly committed to pursuing a policy of multiculturalism, and because there had been no trouble between Muslims and the Dutch, then that policy must be working.

“Yet we discovered something quite different. While any society will always have its fair share of bigots, we also found that governmental multiculturalism made the problem worse. By arguing that all groups in society should be allowed to live according to their own beliefs and customs, they were encouraging people to see themselves as different from one another. And not just a little bit different, but fundamentally different. So it fostered a them-and-us attitude to politics.”

At one level, this is all very obvious. The more value you attach to questions of identity, the more reaction you are likely to get, with the result that people who don’t normally care very much about ideas of national identity can be provoked into extreme attitudes. But there are ironies and nuances at work. For one thing, Dutch policies of multiculturalism had their origins in racism rather than liberalism: the idea that minorities should maintain their traditions stemmed from the belief that their presence would be only temporary and that sooner or later they would be going “back home”. So the idea that multiculturalism might backfire shouldn’t be quite as shocking as it seems.

But what also emerges from this study is the thinness of the line between difference and prejudice. “We found that views typically held by otherwise tolerant Dutch people – that Muslims treated women badly and were too authoritarian with their children – were counterbalanced by Muslim attitudes towards the Dutch,” says Sniderman. “Muslims believed the Dutch were disrespectful towards women and failed to discipline their children properly. So this wasn’t about prejudices held by religious fanatics on both sides; it was a genuine conflict of values between two communities. It was the focus on these differences, through the pursuit of multiculturalism, that tipped the balance towards prejudice in some cases.”

Muslim scholars must come forward with an understanding of a “Land of Co-existence”

Hassan ButtIn the wake of heighened security across the UK, ex-Islamic extremist Hassan Butt writes in the Observer that “foundation of extremist reasoning rests upon a dualistic model of the world. Many Muslims may or may not agree with secularism but at the moment, formal Islamic theology, unlike Christian theology, does not allow for the separation of state and religion. There is no ‘rendering unto Caesar’ in Islamic theology because state and religion are considered to be one and the same. The centuries-old reasoning of Islamic jurists also extends to the world stage where the rules of interaction between Dar ul-Islam (the Land of Islam) and Dar ul-Kufr (the Land of Unbelief) have been set down to cover almost every matter of trade, peace and war.

What radicals and extremists do is to take these premises two steps further. Their first step has been to reason that since there is no Islamic state in existence, the whole world must be Dar ul-Kufr. Step two: since Islam must declare war on unbelief, they have declared war upon the whole world. Many of my former peers, myself included, were taught by Pakistani and British radical preachers that this reclassification of the globe as a Land of War (Dar ul-Harb) allows any Muslim to destroy the sanctity of the five rights that every human is granted under Islam: life, wealth, land, mind and belief. In Dar ul-Harb, anything goes, including the treachery and cowardice of attacking civilians.”

He argues that a “reasoning that has struck me and a number of other people who have recently left radical Islamic networks as a far more potent argument [which] involves stepping out of this dogmatic paradigm and recognising the reality of the world: Muslims don’t actually live in the bipolar world of the Middle Ages any more.

The fact is that Muslims in Britain are citizens of this country. We are no longer migrants in a Land of Unbelief. For my generation, we were born here, raised here, schooled here, we work here and we’ll stay here. But more than that, on a historically unprecedented scale, Muslims in Britain have been allowed to assert their religious identity through clothing, the construction of mosques, the building of cemeteries and equal rights in law.

…If our country is going to take on radicals and violent extremists, Muslim scholars must go back to the books and come forward with a refashioned set of rules and a revised understanding of the rights and responsibilities of Muslims whose homes and souls are firmly planted in what I’d like to term the Land of Co-existence. And when this new theological territory is opened up, Western Muslims will be able to liberate themselves from defunct models of the world, rewrite the rules of interaction and perhaps we will discover that the concept of killing in the name of Islam is no more than an anachronism.”

Doesn’t this suggest then that for secularism to succeed  in the UK it requires theological justification as well as traditional non-religious arguments?

Ignore Islam, ‘ex-Muslims’ urge

Mosque  roofDominic Casciani reports for the BBC that “A group saying it represents large numbers of “ex-Muslims” is urging policy-makers to ignore the faith. Campaigner Maryam Namazie said 25 founding members were being named at the body’s Westminster launch, representing people scared to speak. The Council of ex-Muslims believes it represents the views of a majority of secular-minded Muslims in Europe….”

Interview with Arab Atheist

UAE FlagMiddle East Youth website contains an interview with Adel Jalal, a 23 year old business student in Abu Dhabi:

Q: Hi Adel. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: Yes. I’m Adel, a student from the UAE. I love everything about classical Arabic music and I’m addicted to Arabic literature.

Q: Interesting introduction, but I must ask, why do you stress the love of Arab culture so much?
A: I don’t hesitate to describe myself as atheist, but when you describe yourself as such here tell me the first thing that comes to your mind? Probably brainwashed, Satan worshiper, traitor.

Q: True, but that doesn’t really answer the question. Why do you boast about your love of Arab culture, specifically? I noticed that when we first discussed this, you said that you’re an atheist shortly before you tried to convince me that you’re not anti-Arab. Explain to me why you feel the need to do that?
A: Because non-Muslim Arabs are left out. We feel like we have no real space in society, especially in any intellectual field. When I say I’m atheist, people always tell me that I have become traitor. A sell-out. Someone who doesn’t know what it truly means to be “Arab.” Why? Because Arab means Muslim and Muslim means Arab? What does personal religious views have to do with my culture, my past, my identity? An Arab, this is something I am. This is something I take much pride in. Why do people attach my personal opinions to who I am, to my nationality? Does being Arab mean being intellectually identical to every other Arab out there?

Q: Hey, who’s the one asking the questions?! Kidding. I’m very interested in what you’re saying, especially about the left out part, in fact I previously interviewed an Arab Jew who stated just that. It’s a shame really when people aren’t accepting of differences, be it political or religious. So tell me, were you born a Muslim?
A: Yes and raised a Muslim. To be honest this is what drove me against religions.

Q: What do you mean?
A: I mean that religion is everything to a person. Especially when you strictly practice it, it quickly consumes everything you have. If you don’t honestly believe in any religion then you shouldn’t identify yourself as a believer of any religion.

Q: So your choice of being a Muslim has much to do with socialization rather than Islam itself?
A: Precisely. I have a problem with any existing religion that people are forced into. In any normal society there should be a choice, and whatever that choice is, it needs to be respected.

Q: What about Islam? When people learn that you are an ex-Muslim, do they ever imply that you’re anti-Muslim too?
A: Yes even though the connection for me isn’t really there. For a lot of ex-Muslims you will see that they have a major problem with Islam itself most likely due to the societies they live in. My reasons aren’t Islam, in fact I have a bigger problem with Christianity than Islam, and I have no problem with being in a Muslim culture and living around Muslims or being a part of a Muslim family. But I have a problem when someone is offended with my decision of not being a Muslim, and in the Arab world this is a huge problem as I’m sure you know.

Q: Yes, my problem is with Islam being enforced upon people who don’t really accept it but don’t have the balls to say “I don’t want this religion and I don’t respect it.”
A: Exactly and this is what our youth faces today, fear. If they say it they are damned to Hell by not only their families and friends but by society as a whole.

Q: Look at the case of Kareem Amer for example.
A: Yes it’s indeed a very discouraging example of the risks we face if we publicly state anything our society disagrees with.

Q: And that’s exactly why a group of us Muslims are fighting for Kareem despite what he said about Islam … and his main supporters represent Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, and Morocco, so it’s Muslims from all over the Arab world fighting for Kareem. It doesn’t mean we agree with him, it just means that we need to allow these ideas to be stated without people facing harsh consequences, especially a prison sentence!
A: I agree but it’s going to take years for anyone to be really convinced of that. Remember that most Muslims think it’s their duty to silence or kill these types of people; “Kafirs.”

Q: Most Muslims? Come on.
A: Okay, a lot of them.

Q: This is a new generation going through all kinds of experiences… this is the best time ever to start fighting for not only our rights but the rights of others within our communities. Minorities in Arab countries go through a lot and it’s unacceptable. We should be the ones condemning this injustice.
A: Arab Baha’is, now this is a minority that I truly feel for. You know the Baha’i faith is considered a “bullshit religion” here. Most people don’t know what it really is, so throughout the region they lack the most basic rights because people consider them infidels. I think their case in certain countries are worse than that of Jews or Christians.

Q: What do you think about that?
A: I think anyone who attacks others for being different aren’t confident enough to deal with intellectual and religious challenges.

Q: What’s the difference being “careless” and “atheist?” I meet so many people who call themselves atheist when they really mean that they don’t subscribe to any other religion.
A: Yes, for the past two years I used to describe myself as agnostic until I realized that I strongly disbelieve in the existence of any God as there is no real evidence, which is what led me to become an atheist. Religions are all mythical. This is the argument that usually offends others… but I don’t have anything against their views! I’m just saying what I believe and people here go crazy about it.

Q: Yes the problem with us Muslims is that many of us are very emotionally attached… so weird. I’m over-defensive but not obsessively so. My arguments are also entirely emotional and not factual which is really retarded.
A: As long as you respect different people I have no problem with anything you choose to believe in. This level of respect and tolerance isn’t found with ease in our societies.

Q: A lot of Muslims all over the Muslim world would literally kill anyone who disagrees and then they expect progress. In my opinion this isn’t really Islam. By the way, what do you think about Koranic (real) Islam and political Islam?
A: No offense but the fact that there are so many types of Islam only proves that it’s not a real religion but rather one created simply for the sake of social control.

Q: It’s actually very hard to disagree with that when you consider countries like Iran, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, et al, where socio-political instability is being justified as “this is what Islam wants.”
A: It’s a very sad case.

Q: Seriously I don’t get that. There are so many things here being constantly dismissed when religious leaders convince people that this is the Islam that they were born and raised to follow. If they dislike anything about you, what you’re wearing, or what your opinions are, they immediately blame you for being an infidel. And don’t even get me started on justifications of rape.
A: I know, it’s like I can see your hair and I’m very tempted to rape you. Islam gives me that right, it told you to wear a hijab and you didn’t! Now I can rape you and Allah will understand. Heh.

Q: Actually, this is an existing mentality. You find this argument all over. Is it really our fault when men claim they can’t control their raging desires to have sex with any woman who shows her face or hell, even HANDS?
A: My girlfriend is Japanese and she tells me that this same idea exists in their culture too, which is also very male dominant. Of course this is with Geishas, not with hijab. As you know Geishas paint their faces white, and if a man sees a trace of her real skin color, this is considered very tempting! I was surprised when she told me. Whenever we discuss these things it’s really amazing how many similarities we have.

Q: Which goes to show how culture and society aren’t entirely representative of religion.
A: The problem with us is that censorship created a different culture. Even if the government gives you rights to practice any religion freely you will still find trouble fitting in especially if you’re an insider. Like I said with me being an Arab, I feel like I lost 99% of my identity because I’m not Muslim. I know the situation is different in Lebanon and Jordan where non-Muslim Arabs are accepted but with me in the Gulf it’s really different.

Q: Yes Bahrain is the same way. There are many atheists and agnostics here, in Saudi Arabia, in Kuwait, and the Iranians I meet are almost never attached to religion. Many do describe themselves as atheists too as they are strongly against all forms of religion especially if it’s enforced upon them. This is what drives people away from Islam – nobody likes to be forced to believe anything.
A: You will be surprised as to how many people are like me here and feel the way I do but don’t feel comfortable enough sharing these ideas.

Q: And you share them quite comfortably, you even quickly agreed to do this interview, why?
A: To show everyone that Arabs aren’t really what most people say we are especially with regards to our youth. Atheism, converts, apostasy, these are all considered big taboos that’s why we don’t talk about it. People fail to understand us and who we really are when we fail to discuss these things publicly and securely. Everyone thinks we’re so oppressed and that we easily fall for religion or that we are comfortable with our societal and cultural restrictions, but we are so diverse here. Arabs should never be defined as Muslims. We’re all different and fellow Arabs need to learn how to respect this difference instead of trying to make everyone else think the way they do.

Q: Do you find Islam to be a problem that leads to our societal restrictions?
A: Well, a lot of religious Muslims are decent and understand the importance of living in a free and tolerant society. I know that Islam is not our problem. Politics is our weakness and Islam is just an excuse that many of our governments successfully get away with.

Q: Finally, do you consider yourself typical, as in an average young Arab with these types of views?
A: I’m average in every other way except maybe mentally. Well, kind of. A lot of young Arabs like me don’t follow the path of Islam. We only think it’s not average because people don’t talk about it, but it’s so average.

Q: By “don’t follow the path of Islam” you mean they drink alcohol, eat pork, have premarital sex, and do the opposite of what the Koran asks for right?
A: Haha yes.

Q: Hey I’m Bahraini, trust me I know what you mean.
A: It’s ironic isn’t it?

Q: I would say hypocritical, but only if these people still claim to be Muslims… which many do. But if you do all that without subscribing to this religion then why not? Go ahead. And agreeing with you, this lifestyle shouldn’t make anyone less of an Arab. It shouldn’t have anything to do with being an Arab.
A: I actually refuse to drink, have sex before marriage, or eat pork, even if I am not a Muslim anymore. I think it is part of me growing up. But these are decisions that I personally made and am very comfortable with.

Read original interview and comments here