Jahed Ahmed (former Muslim)
- 1 My Experience With Islam (An apostate’s testimony)
- 2 Birth and My Family
- 3 My Childhood/Adolescence Period (1973 to 1992) as a Pious Muslim Boy
- 4 My Stay in India (1993 to 1998)--Beginning of Skepticism
- 5 Back to Bangladesh (1998-2000)--My Faith Becomes Shaken
- 6 In USA- I Become a Humanist (July 2000 till present)
- 7 The Birth of Mukto-Mona
- 8 My Present Views About Islam and Questions I Didn’t Answer
- 9 Last Words- What's My Final Identity and Aim in Life?
My Experience With Islam (An apostate’s testimony)
"That which is most personal is most universal." - Henri Nouwen, Catholic Writer
"I am not a citizen of Greece or Athens; I am a citizen of the world." About twenty-five hundred years have passed since a Greek philosopher said so, and in the meantime, human civilizations have made magnificent progress. Our knowledge about the world and universe has increased by many folds; yet in our modern world, there are not many people who take pride in their first identity as a member of the mankind. Even to date, mankind is divided into so many factions under identities defined by race, religion, nationality, etc. Not so long ago, I also took pride in my first identity as a Muslim. It was Islam that defined my personal identity of who I am, my daily activities and my morals. It went as far as regulating from what kind of food I should eat to what kind people I should make friends with. How sad it is to realize- I've spent so many years of my life under an ideology which is authoritarian, gender-biased, dogmatic and highly provincial in its outlook toward humanity. I will provide solid basis for saying so about my ex-religion. But before that, let me give my personal background.
Birth and My Family
I was born in 1973 in a middle class Muslim family in Bangladesh. My parents had named me after Islam’s prophet Mohammed. My name, therefore, is Mohammed Jahed Ahmed. ‘Ahmed’ is also another name of Prophet Mohammed. It is a widely held belief among Muslims that, if a person is named after the prophet, in the "after life" on "the day of judgment", the prophet would recommend him/her to Allah for entry to paradise. I lost my father when I was just two & half years old. So I'm not able to recall any personal memories of him, but from what I heard from my mother, relatives and all the acquaintances of my father- he was a very benevolent & religious man. And so was my mother, who passed away a year ago. I've three elder brothers and one sister, who is the oldest. In terms of their positions in Islam, my mother, all my brothers and sister, possibly belong to ‘mainstream Muslims,' who are not only mistaken about their beliefs in Islam, but often are torn between the modernity on one side and a doctrine belonging to the 7th century Arabian peninsula on the other side. (All religions, more or less, are constraints to the spirit of freedom of inquiry and an independent conscience, yet here I'd limit myself to Islam only because of my background). I will save more comments about the ‘mainstream Muslims' for a later time.
My Childhood/Adolescence Period (1973 to 1992) as a Pious Muslim Boy
Up to the age of sixteen or seventeen, I spent time in my village. My childhood education started both in the school and mosque simultaneously. From the age of six, I started going to the government funded primary school in the village for primary education, and to the mosque in the neighborhood for Islamic education. I will mainly focus on Islamic education that I received in mosque from the Maulana (a Muslim priest, we called him 'hujoor'). My Islamic education consisted of lessons on reading, reciting and occasionally memorizing verses, suras, of the Quran. Besides, we were taught how to perform Islamic rituals like daily five time prayers, how to eat, bathe and use the toilet in an Islamic way; then fasting for a month in a year dictated by the Islamic calendar, performing Muslim funerals etc. A significant portion of our Islamic education consisted of listening to the fabricated and passionate stories of the Prophet Muhammad’s life and sayings (Hadeeth). We were reminded every now and then - Islam is the truest religion, there is no God but Allah, Prophet Muhammad is Allah’s last messenger, and the Quran is Allah’s message toward mankind through His messenger. We were often told about stories focusing supernatural abilities of Prophet Muhammad (e.g. Prophet Muhammad’s meeting with Allah during an event known as Miraj; stories about how Prophet received Allah’s instructions through angel Gabriel etc).
Any person even with slightest trace of doubt in these stories, we were told, lacks Imaan, which constitute first of the five main pillars of Islam. All the Maulanas and pious Muslims I knew thus created a kind of impression of the Prophet Muhammad in my mind, which was mixed with fear, respect and awe. Many considered it not only inappropriate, but also sinful to think of Muhammad as an ordinary human being. How could he be an ordinary person, who has shown so many supernatural activities (Mujejas)? – we heard this from the Maulana and other orthodox Muslims. On one occasion, we were told, with mere raise of the Prophet’s index finger, the whole moon broke into two pieces! ‘Still, non-believers didn’t have faith in him,’ said the Maulana. We were told, only Muslims shall enter heaven after death. Among them, first would enter those who have lived their lives as true Muslims. We were repeatedly told among Allah’s cursed people and serious enemies are the idol worshipers (Hindus), Nasara (Christians), and Jews. As we were being told, often the narration was supplemented by tales from the Prophet’s life - things he said about these groups of people, and the troubles the Prophet faced from such people during his life time. We were told that the idol worshipers (Hindus), Nasara (Christians), and Jews are the enemies of Islam, and we should always keep distance from them. I remember, on more than one occasion, we were punished by the Maulana for attending the Hindu village fair (Rat Jatra). I had yet to meet any Christian or Jew in person, and only occasionally saw some Hindus. But every time I saw them, I kept a safe distance. "Ah! If only I could convert just one of them to Islam!" I thought. We were warned repeatedly to be alert- so as never to commit Shirk, the gravest sin in Islam - which means equating Allah with any other entity.
Since Hindus believe in many gods/goddesses (polytheism), they are among the most dangerous sinners in the world, we were told. Since Hindus commit Shirk, unlike for Muslims, you cannot wish eternal peace for a Hindu; not so even upon his/her death. If we heard the death of a Muslim, we were taught to recite an Arabic prayer: "Inna Lillahi Oa Inna Ilahi Rajeon"; which is totally different from what we would recite upon hearing the death of a Hindu: "Fee nari jahannama khalidin"- wishing eternal hell fire!. As for Christians and Jews, we were told that even though their scriptures (New & Old Testament in the Bible) once contained words from the Allah through authentic Prophets, whom the Quran and Muhammed acknowledge, nevertheless, they (Christians and Jews) have deteriorated their scriptures, don’t have faith in Muhammad, and therefore, are not true believers! Girls were instructed to cover their body and put veils on heads, according to Islamic ways. I clearly remember having heard from Maulana on one occasion that, a woman who doesn’t cover her body and put a veil on her head, is like a peeled off banana sold in the open market. "If a peeled off banana is sold in the market, would you buy it?" asked the Maulana. "So is a woman without coverings! Nobody is going to like her."
This is what constituted my childhood Islamic education. Needless to say, I took all such sayings and instructions on full faith and never doubted them; for all the people in my world were Muslims at that time. I was quite pious myself. I said five prayers a day, and recited the Quran most days. Often I thanked Allah for having created me as a Muslim. I will give one more example to illustrate how Maulana’s teaching shaped my views about other religions. Starting from my third standard, we had a subject called Dharma Shikhsa ('Religion Study') in our school. For us, Religion Study meant Islamic studies since there were no Hindu students in our class. Since the question papers were not made by our own school teachers; rather by a group of teachers of the local Thana (police station), the same set of question papers were sent to different schools, some of which had Hindu students. Therefore, the question paper for our Religion Study had two different sections. The first half was on Islam, and second half was on Hindu religion. During the exam, once we were handed over question papers, the first thing the Muslim students would do was cross out the questions on the Hindu religion. We crossed out the Hindu section in such a way that almost nothing would be readable thereafter. We did this because we thought, even looking at questions on the Hindu religion was a great sin! Later in life, after being doubtful about the Maulana’s teaching, I tried to learn the basis of such parochial and dogmatic views, and I found my answer in the Quran itself. I will return to that later.
In 1990, I finished my secondary education (SSC), and left my village and went to Dhaka; the capital city, in order to pursue higher secondary (HSC) education. I stayed there for about two and half years, again as a faithful Muslim. Of course, shifting from a small village to the capital city was a remarkable event, and I learned a lot of new things that were previously unknown to me. Nevertheless, nothing happened in my life to cause me to reevaluate my Islamic beliefs. For example, now I have studied in a famous Christian Missionary College and met many Christian and Hindu teachers and students; however, I remained very much a ‘mainstream Muslim' with the typical basic beliefs such as- Islam is the truest religion in the world, The Quran is Allah’s word, and Prophet Muhammad is Allah’s true messenger. Another important concept that was repeatedly instilled into our mind by our Maulana and all the Muslims I knew, was sentiment for Muslim Ummah; which means all fellow Muslims are my brothers and sisters, and I must always pray for them. All the Islamic gatherings I attended would end up with a passionate prayer (Duah) and it was about the well-being of all Muslims in the world. I don’t recall even a single event that included prayer for any non-Muslims! The whole prayer revolved around the benefits of the Muslim brotherhood. Yet, cracks in my Islamic beliefs didn't start to appear until I went to India for my higher studies.
My Stay in India (1993 to 1998)--Beginning of Skepticism
Staying in India for five long years was one of the most significant events in my life. It was in India that I experienced my first love; the memory of which I cherish to this date. Often, the name ‘India’ gives me feelings of nostalgia, more than the word ‘Bangladesh’- which is my own country. I met quite a few very decent, liberal and caring people. We became good friends and we still are. Again, it was in India, for the first time in my life that I experienced and was taken aback by the anthropological, cultural and religious diversity of human beings. So many people of such a diverse nature, so many cultures, so many languages; yet it is a single country! My acquaintance with such amazing diversity in India played an important role in the later development of humanist philosophy in my mind. I spent 5 years in India, the first three in Bangalore, the capital city of Karanataka; a south Indian state, and next two years in Mysore, another well known and historic town in Karnataka state. I need to elaborate a bit about my first love as this experience is related to the later development of the skepticism in my mind.
It was while I was in Bangalore doing my first year of B.Sc course, I fell in love with a school going Hindu girl living in the neighborhood. I had a small motorbike and it was probably July, 1993. Just two months ago I arrived in India. We, the five Bangladeshi students (three Hindus, two Muslims), rented a house in an area which was within the 2-3 kilometers of our college. One afternoon after classes, I was riding my motorbike with my roommate on the back. We were touring the residences, shops and people in the neighborhood, and thinking how they were different than our experiences back home. I saw a girl on the roof of a house near the Hindu temple, which was located just two blocks down the road from our house. I don’t know why, but I got off my motorbike and kept staring at this girl for quite awhile, and did not want to turn my eyes away at all. She was not any beauty queen or the kind of heroine we see in the popular Hindi films. She was just a plain girl in plain attire and she was looking at us with her friend standing next to her. Yet I seemed to have lost myself in her plain beauty. I experienced what people call ‘love at the first sight’. This girl has been created just for me. I took delight in thinking so. For days and nights she was on my mind, often appearing in dreams. I gave her the nickname ROJA; after the title of a south Indian super hit film at that time, which was based on a romantic love story between a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy. I found out Roja was a student of ninth standard in the local school (Auden High School, Banashankari 1st Stage, Bangalore). Within a few days, I had memorized her schedule; the time she would go to school,what time she returned, and the time she would go to the temple in the evening, often with her friend. I followed her silently for two years without daring to talk to her.
At last one day after two years, I followed her to the school on a bus. With the courage of a close friend of mine who accompanied me to her school, I talked to her and liked it very much. She herself also appeared to be interested in me. A month went by. I didn’t let her know that I was from Bangladesh. Instead, I said I was from West Bengal; a province of India, where people speak the same language as people do in Bangladesh. After a month, I disclosed my real identity, and told her I was actually a Bangladeshi Muslim. After two weeks, she declined to continue relationship on the ground that an uncle of hers has seen her with me and informed her parents. It should be mentioned that her parents were south Indian Brahmins - known to be very orthodox among Indian Hindus. To date I wonder why she withdrew herself from the relationship? Is it because once she learned I was a Muslim from Bangladesh, she didn’t see much hope in the future of our relationship? Although she was not an orthodox girl herself, her parents were, and so was her culture. Later, when I told my mother and my brother about this incident, I was rebuked for being so close to a 'Hindu girl.' My first love ended painfully, leaving a big question in my mind: Why did it happen that I - despite being a Muslim - fell in love with a Hindu girl? Also, why so passionately? Why did I feel so much for her when there were so many other girls around? Why couldn’t my religion stop me? Is it true that people say "love is blind and doesn’t care about the boundaries of race, religion and country?" So the only rational explanation I could come up with was for a young boy of my age, falling in love with a young girl is very natural. There is nothing wrong with it since we are both humans with emotions. It's not love but the religion which must be artificial, I thought. Unlike my affiliation with religion where many people have influenced me, no one induced me to love Roja. It just happened because both of us are human.
For a couple of weeks, I couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I felt as if my life had no meaning. I was upset for a long time. So many things kept popping up in my mind. I studied human anatomy and physiology in my B.Sc class. Aren’t they (the human body and physiology) the same throughout the whole human race? Is the physiology of a Hindu different from that of a Muslim? Doesn’t it mean that we all have the same origin; be it God or whatever? Why does it matter if some people call the creator Allah and others call it Bhagwan or God? Is religion man-made then? Rudimentary signs of skepticism started developing in my mind. However, I didn’t start to scrutinize my religion at that time.
In the meantime while I was in college, I made some great friends, and many of them happened to be Hindu Brahmins (the others were non-Brahmin Hindus). We became very close. Often I would go to their houses and spend time with them. Some of my friends’ mothers reminded me very much of my own mother, who I left in Bangladesh. Their love and affections towards their son and his friend (me) every day concerned me; asking repeatedly for God’s favor for the well-being of their children, etc. These requests were just like those of a Bangladeshi mother. I will give one example: after purchasing a new motorbike, my landlady wouldn't let me ride it a second time without ensuring that I’ve first sought the Goddess' blessing for a safe ride! She performed a small puja (a Hindu ritual) on my new motorcycle. I sought an answer to that question: why did she ask me to perform a puja when she knew I was a Muslim, and didn’t believe in such things? The only explanation was that she loved me, as though I were her own son, and she didn't want me to be deprived of the God's/Goddess’ blessing. She did what she believed was the best for me. I realized that beyond the layers of religion and custom, she too is a mother; just like my own. I closely observed many Hindu customs and rituals. In a lot of ways, the south Indian Hindu customs and traditions were different than those we saw among the Bengali Hindus. I participated in many Hindu festivals and ceremonies. Even for me, Hindu events like Hooli (playing with colors), Dewali, became matters of great celebrations.
In August 1996, I finished my B.Sc degree, and left Bangalore for Mysore, which is some 135 Kilometers away from Bangalore. There, I also made quite a few very good friends. When I finished first year of my Master’s program (1996-1997), our class went on a month long 'all India' trip. That was very fun, but also educational. For a month, teachers, boys and girls were together. We ate together, slept together, had chats and fun together. Previously, I had gone on a short trip while I was in Bangalore. To date, some of my best friends are from India. My acquaintance and practical experience with Indian friends made me realize that there are good people in every religion and culture. It gave rise to certain questions in my mind. My own experiences had come in direct conflict with what I often heard about Hindus & their religion when I was back at home. I asked myself: are the views of many Muslims, regarding Hindus, right? I remember being warned by my mother prior to every return to India: “son, always remember that’s a land of Hindus! Always be cautious while dealing with Hindus. You're a Muslim boy all alone. They could kill you (given your argumentative nature).” Though I now know that it’s just a popular misconception, I wonder: does Islam itself hold a favorable view of Hindus and believers of other religions? I felt very helpless to recall my Maulana’s teachings: Muslims can wish peace only for Muslims. If a Hindu dies, the immediate reaction of a pious Muslim should be to wish him/her eternal hell fire! I don’t care so much about other Hindus as I do about those I’m close to. How could I wish hell fire? God forbid! Say, if I ever hear that Naganand, my dear friend, or Biswarup - a long time buddy of mine, has died? How could the truest religion in the world hold such a parochial and misanthropic view? Are not Hindus human beings too? Then, is it because religion is man made, and therefore could not succeed in overcoming typical human selfishness and chauvinism such as wishing and doing good to the members of one’s own community only (‘racial prejudice’)?
During the last two years of my stay in India, my mind remained preoccupied with all of these questions and more. I am saying this not to imply that all the Hindu people I had met in India were equally great, and all the Muslim people I know in Bangladesh are bad! Not at all! Even at that time, I clearly realized that nowhere are people are purely homogeneous in their characteristics. I did encounter a few Hindu fanatics while I was in India. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help asking myself: why do I belong to a religion whose teachings contradict my real life experience? I will not elaborate more about my experiences in India except to say that it was during the last three years (1995 - 1998) of my stay in India, that I started being skeptical about Islam. It was a powerful but a silent storm within my mind. I sought explanation for some of the contradictions about religions that I had realized in India, only at a later stage. In July, 1998, I finished my Master’s degree in Biotechnology with first class distinction and left India permanently.
Back to Bangladesh (1998-2000)--My Faith Becomes Shaken
I returned to Bangladesh and started preparing myself for graduate studies in the USA. From mid July 1998 to mid July 2000, I was in Bangladesh. At that time, I started collecting books on philosophy; mostly written in Bangla. I learned about rationalism, atheism, skepticism; and was particularly attracted by the writings of Aroj Ali Matubbor, a self–made Bangladeshi Philosopher with no academic training or background. I was happy to learn that there were others who, like me, did not take religious teachings on faith alone. Aroj Ali’s books were interesting and provocative, but his style was more like Socrates. He did not draw any ultimate conclusions about a topic himself, but left the readers’ with a question in mind. It was like a ‘compare and contrast’ approach. He would question and discuss the validity of many Islamic theories and rituals - along with their rationalistic explanations. I believe this was a brilliant approach used by the author in order to avoid attacks from the mullahs. For example: Aroj Ali asked: "is it possible for a single individual to be the kindest and the most just at the same time?" According to him, a person sticking to justice can’t always indulge in kindness; or the kindest person always cannot be the most just. But we know that according to Quran, Allah is said to be the kindest and the most just!
Another humanist and rationalistic iconoclast of the time was the late Professor Ahmed Shariff of Dhaka University in Bangladesh. I must admit that I was heavily influenced by his writings; which unequivocally emphasized reason over blind faith. Not so surprising really that in Bangladesh, he was declared a ‘Murtad’ (apostate and an enemy of Islam) by the Mullahs (Muslim clergies). Like Aroj Ali, Professor Shariff also donated his dead body for Medical research in his will prior to his death. After Prof. Shariff died in 1999, I collected his books and read them. Also, I read articles on him written by others. One thing struck my mind: even those who disagreed with his opinion on religion also admitted that Professor Shariff led a thoroughly honest life. I couldn’t help asking myself a question: Professor Shariff, beyond doubt was an atheist; yet he was an honest man. Doesn’t that imply that one can lead a decent & honest life without sticking to religion? I thought about that for several days. If there was an afterlife as Islam and other religions claim, then certainly Shariff would suffer the eternal hell fire. But would it be fair? I pondered. Why should an honest man be punished so severely by Allah the most merciful; the omnipotent? Is it simply because Shariff didn’t lead a life according to Allah’s prescription? I didn’t find a satisfactory answer.
Another rationalistic writer who influenced me heavily was Prabir Ghosh of Calcutta, India. His well known Bengali book, “Aloukik noy, Loukik” (“Natural, not supernatural”) is full of scientific and rationalistic explanations for many so-called miracles and supernatural phenomena. Other Bangladeshi writers whom I had read, and who were critical of Islamic ideology were: the late Professor Humayun Azad and author Taslima Nasrin. By the time I read her books, Taslima Nasrin was an internationally well-known feminist writer. It should be mentioned that like Professor Shariff, Mullahs declared Taslima a ‘Murtad’, and issued a fatwa (ruling based on Islamic laws) against her (there is still a big bounty for her head). As a result of my experience and my extensive reading, I began losing faith in Islam. At home I was often rebuked by my mother and brothers for not saying my prayers. My mother, at that time, commented: “I made a great mistake by permitting you to go to India! Now I see what the Hindus have done to you!” Fortunately, a nephew of mine was a Master’s degree student in Social Studies. At secondary school he was a classmate of mine and we are the same age. I had discussed many philosophical issues with him. We discussed Plato’s famous Republic; how Plato’s views had influenced later Christianity, how Aristotle, a long time student at Plato’s Academy, differed from his master through rationalistic explanation of nature and the human mind, etc. As for Islam, we both concluded that the Quran is a modified extension of the Old Testament. This is how I spent my time in Bangladesh after I returned from India. I left Bangladesh for the USA in July, 2000.
In USA- I Become a Humanist (July 2000 till present)
By the end of July 2000, I came to the USA on a student visa (F-1), and joined Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, in order to gain my Ph.D. in Cell & Molecular Biology. It was indeed a big transition in my life. A new culture, a new population, and a new country several thousand miles away from my birthplace. Interestingly, I found I did not experience a ‘culture shock.' It was most likely the liberal philosophical outlook that developed in my mind over past years. Often on the campus, I saw boys and girls in their late teens or early 20s walk together and kissing each other in public. Though at times I felt miserable for myself, I was impressed to notice the trend of American culture that, unlike back home, when a boy and a girl meet and like each other, race and religion hardly matter in their friendship or romantic relation (except for a few isolated cases). Sometimes I wished that I met my Roja in the USA instead of India! For the first time I had free access to Internet in my lab, departmental library and Morgan library on the campus. A new world had opened up before me. I got absorbed into surfing websites that contained articles which I was looking to read. Never before did I have a chance to read so many articles by so many great thinkers such as Spinoza, Voltaire, John Locke, Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Darwin, Thomas Pine and Jefferson.
With help of an Internet search engine, I re-discovered CSCICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormal). It may be mentioned, that in Bangladesh, I had read about CSICOP and their activities in Probhir Gosh’s book. After visiting the CSICOP website, I came to know about the Council for Secular Humanism-CSH, probably the largest organization of humanists, atheists and agnostics in North America. Joy abounded in me when I discovered that I’m not alone, and that there are so many people in the world who think similarly about organized religions and their futility! I contacted CSH to inform them that I’m a humanist and that I share their principles and views. They responded with greetings and told me that they have Taslima Nasrin as one of their fellows and provided me with a list of Internet links to other humanist organizations which are affiliated with them. Among them was the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society–ISIS. At the ISIS website, I found a good number of articles written by the learned scholars of Muslim origin, which debunked many popular myths associated with Islam, Muhammad and the Quran. I found answers to many of my questions there. I read about the history of the compilation of the Quran, which was written by Ibn Warraq; a Muslim apostate and a scholar by any definition, contradictions and ambiguities in Quranic verses written by Syed Kamran Mirza. I found it very interesting to learn about a wide range of freethinkers that swayed Islam and its history. One such freethinker of Muslim origin, was poet Al Ma’arri (973-1057); sometimes known as Eastern Lucretius. For Al-Ma'arri, religion is a "fable invented by the ancients," worthless except for those who exploit the credulous masses. Another well known skeptic of Muslim origin is Omar Khayam, also a great poet and mathematician, who said:
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
The Birth of Mukto-Mona
It was most probably Mr. Jamal Hasan, a Bangladeshii-American activist, who wrote to me personally with a request to join a popular Bangladeshi forum called NFB (News from Bangladeshi). He collected my address from the ISIS website. At the NFB site, I came across quite a few fellow-Bangladeshi freethinkers living abroad, who considered themselves as apostates. Only a handful of secularists and freethinkers fighting the large circle of mullahs amid great spirit and enthusiasm at that time ( second half of the year 2000) at NFB included: Syed Kamran Mirza, Jamal Hasan, fatemolla, Dr. Jaffor Ullah, the late Narayan Gupta and Dr. Shabbir Ahmed, Aparthib Zaman. Avijit and lastly myself. We were just new additions to the "kafir-nastik" group and I was the youngest member. We wrote articles on a regular basis. It was interesting to see how crazily the Mullahs reacted to our sharp criticisms of Islam. Often we received hate mails from the Mullahs. While most of those 'hate-mails' were from Bangladeshi Muslims, others were from Islamic fanatics outside of Bangladesh. The Mullahs were enraged by our effort to demystify Islam. Sometimes I wrote articles using my real name (Jahed Ahmed), other times I used pseudonym such as Satya Sondhani (truth seeker) and Ray. J. Akash.
To facilitate the communication among like-minded freethinkers, we created a Yahoo! group named VOOPS - Voice Of the Oppressed - which also included members such as: Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina & Taslima Nasrin. VOOPS didn't last long due to some ideological differences, and the group split up. Ali Sina's personal website at the time was known as golshan.com and the name by which his website is known now, Faith Freedom Internationa (FFI), was initially proposed as Faith Freedom Foundation (FFF) by all members in VOOPS, aimed at creating a common platform. Avijit Roy also created a Yahoo! group known as Mukto-Mona (meaning, 'a freethinker' in Bangla) which was later developed into a full website. We discussed critical issues concerning Islam & other religions on a regular basis. In particular, our focus was on how to devise an effective way to rationalize Islam & Muslim societies. We all agreed with the statement that is posted in Ibn Warraq’s ISIS website under goals and missions: ”…Islamic society has been held back by an unwillingness to subject its beliefs, laws and practices to critical examination, by a lack of respect for the rights of the individual, and by an unwillingness to tolerate alternative viewpoints or to engage in constructive dialogue.”
I came in contact (online) with Ibn Warraq, the founder of ISIS, through an introduction by Jamal Hasan. In August 2001, at a personal level, I faced a disastrous problem of academic origin. I was dismissed from graduate school. Of course it didn’t happen overnight. Due to my obsession with the Internet, my overall GPA (Grade Point Average) went below the standard 3.0 and I was placed on probation during Spring 2001. However when I was about to make up my GPA and get rid of the probation, a deeply emotional personal incident shattered all my plans. It was just two days before the final test in a subject in which I was doing very well, thus brightening the chances of getting rid of probation. I shall not narrate this particular incident here, except to say that if I lied about my disbelief in God and religion on that particular occasion, I would not have needed to pay such a big price. Yet I don’t have any regrets. Today I feel proud I didn’t act like an opportunist, but at that time it was really hard for me to handle everything with an cool head. Overwhelmed by stress, anger and stubbornness, I acted in an impulsive manner. I decided to skip the final test and instead requested the instructor to put an "incomplete" instead of an "F" grade on my transcript. Unfortunately, he didn't comply with my request - he didn’t have to though - and as a result, as per the rules of graduate program, I was dismissed from the grad school with an "F" on my record. I was still living on the campus apartment when 9/11 took place. Although profoundly shocked, we were not surprised by the atrocities of Islamic fanatics. Our group issued a statement addressing the worlds Muslims, emphasizing the root of religious intolerance, hatred and how it is rooted in Quran and ahadith. Ibn Warraq and Ali Sina worked on the draft of the statement while we all gave inputs. Taslima Nasrin also a signatory with us. A copy of our statement could be viewed here.
I left Colorado and relocated to Michigan by the end of September 2001. In November (or, may be December) 2001, Ibn Warraq of ISIS invited me to a conference of ex-Muslims at the Center for Free Inquiry in Amherst, Buffalo, New York. Austin Dacey - at that time the director of the Campus Freethought Alliance - contacted me on Warraq's behalf. It was a great event in my life. I met many fellow freethinkers from Muslim populated countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Iran. I also had an opportunity to talk face-to-face with prominent secular humanist philosopher Professor Paul Kurtz; many of whose writings I was already familiar with. He is the founder of CSICOP, as well as Council for Secular Humanism (CSH). I met Dr. Austin Dacey - now the director at the Center for Inquiry metro New York - and we have been friends ever since. The conference lasted for three days. I was allowed to present my personal views through a short speech. As a strategy to secularize Islamic societies, I emphasized on reforming the education system in Muslim countries so that Muslim children will have easy access to science-backed and secular education.
My Present Views About Islam and Questions I Didn’t Answer
Reading my testimony, one would see what I learned from the Maulana as a child has had a deep impact on my mind in later life. One might argue that the Maulana was an ignorant person and his teaching was erroneous. One might say, that real Islam is totally different from what that Maulana taught me. However I would certainly disagree with them for by now, I’ve read the Quran and ahadith myself, and I do think that what the Maulana taught me is actually contained in Muslims’ Holy Scriptures; the Quran and ahadith as well. I will soon quote verses from Quran to present my stand. Before that, I need to comment on popular views about Islam, or views of what we call ‘mainstream Muslims.' I mentioned in the beginning, that in terms of their views on Islam, my mother, brothers, and sister belong to ‘mainstream Muslims.' But who are these ‘mainstream Muslims'? They are the majority of the Muslim population, who take words of Quran for granted without ever realizing the need to apply any rationale. They, mistakenly, believe that Islam is all about peace. Interestingly, US President George W. Bush also seems to believe this. They also believe that Muhammad is the greatest human of all time; again, without ever realizing the need to scrutinize his life with a rational and impartial mind. Of course, I agree that unlike Islamic terrorists, the mainstream Muslims don’t commit atrocities on others. Most of them are peace-loving ordinary people who don't care much about politics. However they are the people who blame the Islamic terrorists for their actions, but never raise any question against verses of Holy Quran and ahadith which are supportive of extremism. Now I will give some proof of Quranic extremism.
First of all, Islam divides the world into two parts: Dar-el-Islam - the Land of Islam - and Dar-el-Harb - the Land of War - where non Muslims live. I don’t know if a Hindu divides mankind into Hindus and non-Hindus. I’m not certain if a Christian or a Jew believes in such sectarian views. But I’m sure that Muslims do. Muslims believe that it is only Islam that can guarantee peace and prosperity for all of mankind. Thus in accordance with Quranic instruction, it is the holy duty of every pious Muslim to conquer all of the non-Muslim's land and convert the non-Muslims into Islam. Now I will present an excerpt from our call to the world Muslims. It will show verses of Quran, which, by any standard, are inhuman, parochial and potentially dangerous:
Quran says that all those who disbelieve in Islam go to hell (Qur'an 5:10), they are najis (filthy, untouchable, impure) (Qur'an 9:28), and orders us to fight the unbelievers until no other religion except Islam is left (Qur'an 2:193). It prohibits a Muslim to befriend a non-believer even if that non-believer is the father or the brother of that Muslim (Qur'an 9:23),(Qur'an 3:28).
It says that the "non-believers will go to hell and will drink boiling water" (Qur'an 14:17). It asks the Muslims to "slay or crucify or cut the hands and feet of the unbelievers, that they be expelled from the land with disgrace and that they shall have great punishment in the world hereafter" (Qur'an 5:34). And tells us that "for them (the unbelievers) garments of fire shall be cut and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water whereby whatever is in their bowels and skin shall be dissolved and they will be punished with hooked iron rods" (Qur'an 22:19-22) and that they not only will have "disgrace in this life, on the Day of Judgment He shall make them taste the Penalty of burning (Fire)" (Qur'an 22:9).
Quran says that "those who invoke a God other than Allah not only should meet punishment in this world but the Penalty on the Day of Judgment will be doubled to them, and they will dwell therein in ignominy" (Qur'an 25:68). For those who "believe not in Allah and His Messenger, He has prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire!" (Qur'an 48:13).
As for him who does not believe in Islam the Prophet says that after he dies it will be announced with a "stern command": "Seize ye him, and bind ye him, And burn ye him in the Blazing Fire. Further, make him march in a chain, whereof the length is seventy cubits! This was he that would not believe in Allah Most High. And would not encourage the feeding of the indigent! So no friend hath he here this Day. Nor hath he any food except the corruption from the washing of wounds, Which none do eat but those in sin." (Qur'an 69:30-37)
The holy Prophet prescribes fighting for us and tells us that "it is good for us even if we dislike it" (Qur'an 2:216). Then he advises us to "strike off the heads of the disbelievers"; and after making a "wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives" (Qur'an 47:4). Our God has promised to "instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers" and has ordered us to "smite above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them" (Qur'an 8:12). and "to strike terror into (the hearts of the enemies" (Qur'an 8:60).
He has made the Jihad mandatory and warns us that "Unless we go forth, (for Jihad) He will punish us with a grievous penalty, and put others in our place" (Qur'an 9:39). Allah speaks to our Holy Prophet and says "O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be stern against them. Their abode is Hell,- an evil refuge indeed" (Qur'an 9:73).
He promises us that in the fight for His cause whether we slay or are slain we return to the garden of Paradise (Qur'an 9:111). In Paradise he will "wed us with Houris (celestial virgins) pure beautiful ones" (Qur'an 56:54), and unite us with large-eyed beautiful ones while we recline on our thrones set in lines (Qur'an 56:20). There we are promised to eat and drink pleasantly for what we did (Qur'an 56:19). And have sex with "boys like hidden pearls" (Qur'an 56:24) and "youth never altering in age like scattered pearls" (Qur'an 76:19)
As you see, Allah has promised all sorts of rewards, gluttony and unlimited sex to Muslim men who kill the unbelievers in his name, not forgetting even those with pedophilic inclinations. We will be admitted to Paradise where we shall find "goodly things, beautiful ones, pure ones confined to the pavilions that man has not touched them before nor jinni" (Qur'an 56:67-71).
In the West we enjoy freedom of belief but we are not supposed to give such freedom to anyone else because it is written "If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good) (Qur'an 3:85).As for women, the book of Allah says that they are inferior to men and their husbands have the right to scourge them if they are found disobedient (Qur'an 4:34). It advises men to take a green branch and beat their wives, because a green branch is more flexible and hurts more. (Qur'an 38:44). It teaches that women will go to hell if they are disobedient to their husbands (Qur'an 66:10). It maintains that men have an advantage over the women (Qur'an 2:228). It not only denies the women's equal rights, it decrees that their witness is not admissible in the courts of law (Qur'an 2:282). This means that a woman who is raped cannot accuse her rapist unless she can produce a male witness. Our Holy Prophet allows us to marry up to four wives and he licensed us to sleep with our slave maids and as many 'captive' women as we may have (Qur'an 4:3) even if those women are already married. He himself did just that…….”
My addition to the above; How could Quran be the words of God, the most benevolent, the kindest? Indeed, it's not. Muhammad was not any holy man. He married Ayesha, when she was just 6 years (had sex with her when she was 9). Isn’t it a case of child abuse? When Khadija, Mohammed’s first wife died, Muhammed was 49 years old. Between his 51st year and 63rd year - the age when he died - he married at least 11 times! Among his wives were: Zainab - who was initially Mohammad’s adopted-son Zayed’s wife. Do these examples justify the myth, that he was the greatest of all humans and God’s true messenger?
Last Words- What's My Final Identity and Aim in Life?
I was a Muslim, but I’m no more. Does it mean- I’ve no identity to live with? Of course, not. My identity, echoing the words of George Bernard Shaw, is as follows:
“I’m convinced that my life belongs to the whole community; and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can; for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I got to hold for a moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before turning it over to future generations.”
Like the Greek philosopher I quoted in the beginning, I’m a citizen of the world. I don’t need any divine guidance for living a responsible and a decent life. All I need are common sense, compassion and reason. I love to dream that there would come a time in our world when one person wouldn’t judge another person based on race, religion and ethnicity. Our first and last identity would be as humans; inhabitants of the planet Earth. Superiority of any particular religion or culture over another wouldn’t prevail. I’m sure I’m not alone in having such a dream. But I will do my part of the job. Through my writings I would like to stimulate the minds of educated Muslims throughout the world. I aspire to revive the lost trends of ‘the Golden Age of Islam’ (9th century to 13th century); which was marked by traditions of Muslim rationalists called Mutazillatese. Inspired by Greek learning, and adhering to rational inquiry, the Muslim world flourished remarkably in Astronomy, Medicine, Mathematics, Arts and Philosophy. Some great thinkers of the golden age were: astronomer Al Sufi, Al Biruni (born in 973), physician Ibne Sina (born in 981) and physicist Al-Haytham (born in 965). However this trend didn’t last. With the change of socio-political phenomena, fundamentalism rose and rationalist traditions submerged in the ocean of darkness; from which the Muslim world has yet to emerge. Yet I am optimistic. Since the people who love truth, reason and freedom, however small or large in number always existed in human history. There is absolutely no reason to think they are all gone now.