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Seven Muslim-born authors who criticized mainstream Islam

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Photo: www.patheos.com

By Nithin Sridhar

With the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the ever increasing foothold of global Islamic terrorism, serious questions are being raised about various fundamental tenets of Islamic theology, Sharia law, and present day practices in Muslim society.

Here is the list of seven Muslim-born controversial authors who have criticized Islam and Islamic society and some of whom have been branded as ‘blasphemous’ by Islamic groups.

Salman Rushdie. Photo: wamc.org
Salman Rushdie. Photo: wamc.org

1. Salman Rushdie: The British Indian Novelist who won the Booker Prize in 1981 for his book ‘Midnight’s Children’ landed himself in a great controversy when his book ‘The Satanic Verses’ was published in 1988. The book, among its plots and sub-plots, includes a legend about Prophet Mohammed, who supposedly uttered few verses that permitted worship of pre-Islamic Meccan goddess, but were later withdrawn by branding them to be a result of the Prophet being deceived by the Devil.

The reaction of the Muslim community to the book was huge, instantaneous, and soon turned violent. Muslims perceived the book as being highly offensive to Islam and took the book to imply that the author is branding the entire Quran as being words of Satan.

Islamic countries banned the book, bookstores were attacked in the US, and in 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of Rushdie for committing blasphemy. Following this, Rushdie was forced to go into hiding for a few years. Rushdie, who identifies himself as an atheist, calls for Muslim reformation and debate on Islam.

Taslima Nasreen. Photo: Huffington Post
Taslima Nasreen. Photo: Huffington Post

2. Taslima Nasreen: The Bangladeshi author was forced to flee her country in 1994 after she published her novel ‘Lajja’ about a Hindu family fighting against Muslim fundamentalism in 1993. The novel was considered anti-Islamic and was subsequently banned in Bangladesh. She suffered a number of physical attacks and death threats following the publication of Lajja, forcing her to flee the country. Nasreen identifies herself as an atheist and has severely criticized the rising fundamentalism and intolerance in Muslim society. She advocated secular humanism, freedom of expression, and gender equality.

After the recent Paris terror attacks, she had tweeted:

 

A few months ago she was relocated from India to the US following threats to her life.

Tarek Fatah. Photo: know.freelibrary.org
Tarek Fatah. Photo: know.freelibrary.org

3. Tarek Fatah: The Canadian author and broadcaster has written extensively on the issue of Islamic extremism, Islamic State, and Pakistan. He was born and brought up in Pakistan, but later relocated to Canada. He is a strong critic of Islamic radicalism but holds that it is the Sharia law and not Quran as such, which is to be blamed for much of the ‘poison’. In his book ‘Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State’, he argues how Muslims have been made to chase a mirage of Islamic State for the last thousand years and how Islamic State is not central to Islamic practice in the present context. Fatah has also faced many verbal attacks and death threats through Social Media.

4. Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The Somali-born Dutch-American activist is the author of the famous book- ‘Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now’. In her book, Ali explains why the reformation of Islam and Muslim society is the need of the hour and asserts that it is the only way to end the menace of terrorism, oppression of women and minorities, and sectarian strife. She has extensively recorded about her struggles with Islam and Muslim society in her book ‘The Caged Virgin: A Muslim Woman’s Cry for Reason’.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Photo: www.scrippscollege.edu
Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Photo: www.scrippscollege.edu

In 2004, Ali participated in the production of a short movie titled ‘Submission’ (the English translation of the term ‘Islam’) about the oppression of women in Islamic society and subsequently received death threats. Later that year, Theo van Gogh, Ali’s collaborator in the movie was assassinated by a Dutch Muslim.

Ali, who now identifies herself as an atheist, criticizes Islam over its treatment of women, homosexuals, and has criticized Prophet Mohammed on his character and personality traits. In the aftermath of recent Paris attacks, while criticizing the Muslim denial of the connection between ISIS and Islam, she had tweeted:

 

Ibn Warraq. Photo: Youtube
Ibn Warraq. Photo: Youtube

5. Ibn Warraq: The well-known critic of Islam and Quran, who is known only by his pen name, is an Indian-born Muslim, who was brought up in Pakistan after his family shifted there during partition. He currently lives and works from Europe and has authored nine books, including the well-known book- ‘Why I Am Not a Muslim’.

Apart from this, he has also written ‘The Origins of the Koran’, ‘The Quest for the Historical Muhammad’, and ‘What the Quran Really Says: Language, Text and Commentary’, among other things.

In his book, ‘Why I am Not a Muslim’, which was written in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair, Warraq criticizes Islamic theology, history, and culture. He asserts that Islamic tenets are incompatible with individual rights and liberties of secular democratic countries. Prior to 2007, he had refused to appear in public fearing for his safety, the same reason which caused him to write under a pseudo name ‘Ibn Warraq’. He is the founder of ‘Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society’ and along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, and Irshad Manji, he had released the St Petersburg Declaration urging governments across the world to reject Sharia law and fatwa systems.

Anwar Sheikh. Photo: aminmughalone.wordpress.com
Anwar Sheikh. Photo: aminmughalone.wordpress.com

6. Anwar Sheikh: The Pakistan-born British author and critic of Islam passed away in 2006. He wrote a large number of articles and books criticizing Islam, its theology, and history. In his most famous work, ‘Islam: The Arab Imperialism’, after analyzing the history of Islam and Arabia, he has concluded Islam is nothing more than a tool for imposing Arab Imperialism.

His other works include ‘Islam and the People of the Book’ and ‘Jihad and Civilization’, among many others. Sheikh was a staunch Jihadist who had killed two Sikhs during the Partition of India. At the age of 25, he became disillusioned with Islam and turned into its critique. Later, Sheikh converted into Hinduism and adopted the name Aniruddha Gyan Shikha.

Sheikh has extensively written critique about Prophet Mohammed, Sharia law, Jihad, and terrorism. In 1995, a fatwa was issued against him in Pakistan and many death sentences were handed out to him for abandoning Islam.

7. Ali Sina: The Iranian Ex-Muslim who currently lives in Canada and who writes under the pseudo name ‘Ali Sina’, is the founder of the website- Faith Freedom International (FFI), which describes itself as the “grassroots movement of ex-Muslims”. He is a thorough critic of Islamic doctrines, and he has debated with various Islamic scholars, including with the famous Pakistani scholars Javed A Ghamidi and Khalid Zaheer.

Banner of faithfreedom.org
Banner of faithfreedom.org

Sina asserts that Islam cannot be reformed since violence and contempt towards non-believers are central to Islamic doctrine and if Islam were to be really reformed, then much of its scriptures including Quran and historical accounts of Prophet Mohammed must be discarded. He further suggests in his book- ‘Understanding Muhammad: A Psychobiography of Allah’s Prophet’ that Prophet Mohammed was suffering from psychological disorders.

The FFI website has been subjected to hacking and DDOS attacks several times and Sina claims that he had received death threats as well.

Next Story

Taliban-Era Repressions May Return: Taliban’s Women Activists Fear The Day

Even without the Taliban in power in Herat, Khorsand says, many hard-fought gains for women since the collapse of the Taliban regime already are under threat.

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Fakhr al-Madares is one of 600 Islamist schools in the western Afghan province of Herat. Rights activist Khalida Khorsand laments the proliferation of unregistered religious schools in Herat teaching "radical Islam" to as many as 50,000 young people. RFERL

Khalida Khorsand, a 35-year-old rights activist from the western Afghan city of Herat, is skeptical about Taliban claims that it has dispensed with its strict rules against girls’ education and women working.

The militant Islamic group made the declaration in the midst of recent peace talks with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad aimed at bringing an end to the long U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

But Khorsand still remembers the notorious repressions under Taliban rule as a teenager in the western city of Herat when she risked the death penalty to study literature in a class disguised as a women’s sewing group.

“After nearly 18 years without the Taliban in power, we now see that the Taliban are coming back in Afghanistan and there haven’t been big changes for women’s lives — especially in rural areas,” says Khorsand, who has dedicated much of her life since 2001 to advancing women’s rights in western Afghanistan.

Even without the Taliban in power in Herat, Khorsand says, many hard-fought gains for women since the collapse of the Taliban regime already are under threat.

She attributes that situation to what she calls “a Taliban way of thinking” by many Afghans and a proliferation of unregistered religious schools in Herat teaching “radical Islam” to as many as 50,000 young people.

If the Taliban gets a role in the Afghan government as part of a peace deal, as Khorsand expects, she fears a floodgate will be opened for resurgent “radical Islamists” in Herat.

“I don’t know why this has been allowed to happen under the current government of Afghanistan since 2014,” Khorsand laments. “They are not paying attention to the rise of fundamentalists and radical groups in Herat.

“Now the city has become a safe haven for the radical groups that support the ideology of the Taliban,” Khorsand says. “The fundamentalist groups in Herat are very organized and have a lot of money. They take the young people into madrasahs and teach to them the principles of the Taliban, and they are having an enormous impact on the young generation.”

Those groups already have gained backing from municipal authorities for an unofficial ban on live musical performances in Herat and for a ban on celebrating Valentine’s Day — with both practices being declared “unIslamic.”

Khalida Khorsand
Khalida Khorsand. RFERL

In rural areas of Herat Province, where Khorsand worked for years to help women who are victims of domestic violence, Khorsand says she has seen disturbing signs of support for the punishments doled out by the Taliban under its strict enforcement of Islamic Shari’a law — amputating the hands of thieves, publicly flogging people for drinking alcohol, and stoning to death those who engage in adultery.

Students at Herat’s madrasahs deny being radical Islamists. But they also support a return to the prohibitions and punishments of the Taliban era.

“Allah says cut off the hands of a male thief and a female thief,” says Jan Agha Jami, a 21-year-old at the Fakhr al-Madares madrasah in Herat. “When men and women commit adultery, whip them if they are single. If they are married, they should be stoned, and the Koran’s rulings should be implemented in public.

“Music concerts are absurd because they are forbidden,” Jami tells RFE/RL. “Music is bad for the mind, memory, and even human psyche. When a girl performs in front of strangers, the whole society is corrupted.”

Reflecting on the growing popularity of such beliefs in Herat, Khorsand says “it makes no difference for women in Afghanistan if the Taliban exists or doesn’t exist.”

“The Taliban’s way of thinking about women is the way many people are thinking in Afghanistan,” she says. “A lot of Afghans have traditional ways of thinking and they believe the talk of the Taliban. Unfortunately, much of their way of thinking is against the rights of women.”

Move Forward, Step Back

To be sure, Khorsand says there have been important advances for Afghan women since 2001 — including language in the Afghan Constitution that enshrines the right to education and to work.

Women are members of parliament and can be seen on television, competing in sports, and performing in concerts in Kabul.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has refused to put a bill to a parliamentary vote that would prohibit violence against women — despite years of domestic and international focus on the legislation.

But the Afghan government since the collapse of the Taliban regime has included many conservative Islamists and former warlords whose attitudes about women are similar to the Taliban.

Sima Simar, the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, says the gains for women since 2001 can easily be overturned and have rarely been implemented in rural areas where most Afghans live.

The 2018 Women, Peace, and Security Index by Georgetown University and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo ranks Afghanistan as the second-worst place in the world to be a woman. Only Syria was ranked worse.

That study notes that only 16 percent of Afghanistan’s workforce is female and that half of all Afghan women have four years or less of education.

UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, says only half of school-aged Afghan girls now go to school, and that only one out of five girls under 15 are literate.

Nearly two out of three Afghan girls are married when they are teenagers or younger. On average, they are sent by their parents into arranged marriages between the ages of 15 and 16.

Most imprisoned Afghan women have been jailed for so-called “morality crimes,” such as leaving an abusive husband or demanding to marry a man of their own choosing.

A study issued in January by UN Women and the nongovernmental gender equality group Promundo found that 80 percent of Afghan women have experienced domestic physical violence.

That study found that only 15 percent of Afghan men think women should be allowed to work outside of their home after marriage, and that two-thirds of Afghan men think women already have too many rights in Afghanistan.

It is in this environment that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has refused to put a bill to a parliamentary vote that would prohibit violence against women — despite years of domestic and international focus on the legislation.

Ghani has appointed only five women to a 37-member council tasked with trying to pave the way for direct peace talks between his government and the Taliban at a time when the Taliban refuses to talk directly with the Kabul government.

Only 10 women were invited to be part of a 240-strong delegation for so-called “all-Afghan talks” with the Taliban, and even then, the first round of those talks was canceled over reported complaints by the Taliban over the composition of the delegation.

No Happy Ending

Khorsand was one of about 20 women who, under Taliban rule in Herat, regularly attended covert literature classes for girls and women at a place known as the Golden Needle sewing school.

The experiences of those young women were documented in a 2002 book by Sunday Times correspondent Christina Lamb called The Sewing Circles Of Herat.
The experiences of those young women were documented in a 2002 book by Sunday Times correspondent Christina Lamb called The Sewing Circles Of Herat. RFERL

Lamb tells RFE/RL that although women have fought bravely for their rights since the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001, many are now concerned that those gains will be lost as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration seeks a peace deal with the Taliban.

“Women are very unhappy because it seems as though in the rush to get out of Afghanistan, the Trump administration has prioritized only two things: that the Taliban renounce terrorism and that they stop attacking Americans and other NATO soldiers, and not that they respect the constitution and minorities and equal rights,” Lamb says.

“This has left women very exposed — which considering that women’s rights had been very much part of the initial reason for removing the Taliban, it’s very disappointing,” Lamb says.

“I’m sure that the Taliban will insist on having so