My Experience With Islam
(An apostate’s testimony)
First Published on Jun 10, 2003
(Revised on November 20, 2006)
"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 myself 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', Prophet would recommend him/her to Allah for entry to paradise. I lost my father when I was just two & half years. So I'm not able to recall any personal memory with 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 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 Arab 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, bath and do toilets 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 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 a doubt in these stories, we were told, lacks Iman, 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 Prophet Muhammad in my mind, which was mixed with fear, respect and awes. 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 from Maulana and other orthodox Muslims. On one occasion, we were told, with mere raise of 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 the heaven after death (among them, first, would enter those, who have lived their lives as true Muslims). We were repeatedly told- among the Allah’s cursed people and serious enemies are the idol-worshippers (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 Prophet faced from such people during his life time. We were told- idle worshippers (Hindus), Nasara (Christians), and Jews are the enemies of Islam, and we should always keep distance from them. I remember, on more than one occasions, 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! only if I could convert just one of them to Islam! Sometimes I thought. We were warned repeatedly to be alert- so as never to commit Sheerk, 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. And since Hindus commit Sheerk, 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, even though their scriptures (New & Old Testament in Bible) once contained words from the Allah through authentic Prophets, whom 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 veils on 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! No body is going to like her. This is what constituted my childhood Islamic education. Needless to say, I took all such sayings and instructions in plain faith, and never doubted it for all the people in my world were Muslims at that time. I was quite pious myself. I said five times prayers and recited Quran almost on a daily basis. 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 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 question papers were not made by our own school teachers, rather, by a group of teachers of the local Thana (police station), same set of question papers were sent to different schools, of which some had Hindu students. Therefore, the question paper on Religion Study had two different sections. First half was on Islam and second half was on Hindu Religion. During exam, once we were handed over question papers, the first thing we, the Muslim students, would do was crossing out questions on Hindu Religion. We crossed out the Hindu section such a way that almost nothing would be readable thereafter. We did so this because we thought, even looking at questions on Hindu Religion was a great sin!
Later in life, after being doubtful about Maulana’s teaching, I tried to learn the basis of such parochial and dogmatic views, and I found my answer in Quran itself. I will come to that later.
In 1990, I finished my secondary education (SSC), left my village and went to Dhaka, the capital city, to pursue higher secondary (HSC) education. There I stayed 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 previously unknown to me, nevertheless, nothing happened in my life to reevaluate my Islamic beliefs. For example, now I 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, Quran is Allah’s words and Prophet Muhammad is Allah’s true messenger. Another important concept that was repeatedly installed into our mind by Maulana and all the Muslims I knew was sentiment of Muslim Umma, 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 (Doa) 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! Whole prayer revolved around the benefits of Muslim brotherhood. Yet cracks in my Islamic beliefs didn't start to appear until I went to India for higher studies.
My Stay in India (1993 to 1998)--Beginning of Skepticism: Staying in India for five long years is one of the most significant events in my life. It was in India when I experienced my first love, memory of which I cherish to date. Often, the name ‘India’ gives me feelings of nostalgia, more than the word ‘Bangladesh’- my own country. I met quite a few very decent, liberal and caring people; we became good friends and are so till now. Again, it was in India, for the first time in life, 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 language; yet it is a single country! My acquaintance with such amazing diversity of people and their culture in India played an important role in later development of humanist philosophy in my mind. Of my five years of stay, I spent first three years 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 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 we came to India. We, the five Bangladeshi students (three Hindus, two Muslims), rented a house in an area which was within the 2-3 kilometers distance from our college. One day afternoon, after the college, I was roaming on my motorbike with my roommate on the backseat. We were simply watching the residences, shops, people in the neighborhood and thinking how they were different than what we saw back home. I saw a girl on the roof of a house, near by the Hindu temple, located just a two blocks down the road from our house. I don’t know why, I got off my motorbike, kept staring at the girl for quite sometime and was not feeling to turn my eyes away at all. She was not any beauty queen or the kind of heroin we see in popular Hindi films. She was just a plain girl in plain attire and was looking at us with her friend standing next to her. Yet I seem 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 in my mind, often appearing in dreams. I gave her the nick 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 got it all by heart- time she would go to school at, her returning time from the school, and the time when 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 in 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- I was from Bangladesh. Instead, I said, I was from West Bengal, a province of India, where people speak same language as people do in Bangladesh. After a month, I disclosed my real identity and said, I am 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 did she withdrew herself from the relation? Is it because once she learned I was a Muslim from Bangladesh, she didn’t see much hopes in our relation? Although she was not an orthodox girl herself, her parents were and so was her society. Later, when I told my brother and mother about this incident, I was rebuked for being so close with 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, and that too, so passionately? Why did I feel so much for her when there were so many other girls elsewhere? Why couldn’t my religion stop me? Is then what people say right, meaning- love is blind and doesn’t care about the boundaries of race, religion and country? So only rational explanation I came 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 both are humans with emotions. It's not love but the religion which must be artificial, I thought. Unlike my affiliation with religion where many people influenced me, no one induced me to love Roja. It just happened because we bothl are humans.
For couples of week, I couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I felt, my life had no meaning. I was quite shocked over a long period of time. So many things kept popping up in my mind. I studied human anatomy, physiology in my B.Sc class. Aren’t they (human body and physiology) same throughout whole human race? Is the physiology of a Hindu different from that of a Muslim? Doesn’t it mean, we all are from the same origin, be it God or whatsoever? Why does it matter, if some people call the creator Allah and others call Bhagwan, or God? Is the religion man made then? Rudimentary signs of skepticism started developing in my mind. However, I still didn’t start to scrutinize my religion. In the meantime, while in college, I made some very great friends and many of them happened to be Hindu Brahmins (others were non-Brahmin Hindus). We became very intimate. Often I would go to their houses and spend time. Some of my friends’ mothers reminded me very much of my own mother left in Bangladesh. Their love and affections toward their son and his friend (me) , every day concerns, asking repeatedly for God’s favor for the well being of their children, etc were just like those of a Bangladeshi mother. I will give one example. After purchasing a new motorbike, my land lady wouldn't let me ride it second time without ensuring that I’ve first sought Goddess' blessing for a safe ride! She performed a small puja (a Hindu ritual) on my new motorcycle. I sought an answer to the question: why did she ask me to perform a puja when she knew- I was a Muslim & didn’t believe in such thing? Only explanation was: she loves me just like her own son and doesn’t want me to be deprived of God's/Goddess’ blessing. She did- what she believed is the best for me. I realized- beyond the layers of religions and customs, she too is a mother, just like my own. From a close distance, I observed many Hindu customs and rituals. But in a lot of ways, south Indian Hindu customs and traditions were different than those we saw among 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, left Bangalore for Mysore, which is some 135 Kms away from Bangalore. There also I made quite a few very good friends. When we finished first year of our Master’s program (1996-1997), our class went on a month long all India trip. That was very recreational and educative. For a month, teachers, boys and girls were together. We ate together, slept together and had chats, fun together. Previously, I went on a short trip while I was in Bangalore. To date, some of my best friends are from India. My acquaintance and practical experiences with Indian friends made me realize- there are good people in every religion and culture. It gave rise to certain questions in my mind. My own experience came in clear contradictions with what I often heard about Hindus & their religion back home. I asked myself, are the views of many Muslims about Hindus right? I remember having being warned by my mother, prior to my every departure 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 know 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 forbids, say, if I hear, 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 such questions. All these I am saying not to imply that all the Hindu people I met in India are equally great and all the Muslim people I know in Bangladesh are bad! Not at all! Even at that time, I clearly realized- no where people are purely homogenous in their characteristics. I did encounter a few Hindu fanatics too in India. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help asking myself: why do I belong to a religion whose teachings contradict with real life experience? I would not elaborate more about my experiences in India except that it was during last three years (1995 to 1998) of my stay in India, when I started being skeptical about Islam. It was a powerful but a silent storm within my mind. I sought explanations for some of the contradictions about religions I faced 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 came back 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 there are others who also don’t take religious teachings in plain faith. Aroj Ali’s books were interesting, provocative but his style was more like Socrates— not to draw any ultimate conclusion about a topic himself but to leave the readers’ with a question in mind. It was like a ‘compare and contrast’ approach. He would question and discuss validity of many Islamic theories, rituals alongside their rationalistic explanations. I believe this was a brilliant style 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, according to Quran, Allah is said to be the kindest and the most just!
Another humanist and rationalistic iconoclast of the time was late Professor Ahmed Shariff of Dhaka University, Bangladesh. I must admit, I was heavily influenced by his writings, which univocally emphasized reason over blind faith. Not so surprising, in Bangladesh he was declared a ‘Murtad’ (nonbeliever and an enemy of Islam) by the Mullas (Muslim clergies). Like Aroj Ali, Professor Shariff also donated his dead body for Medical research through will prior to his death. After Prof. Shariff died in 1999, I collected books by him, read them, and also I read articles on him written by others. One thing struck my mind very much: even those who disagreed with his opinion on religion admitted - Prof. Shariff led a thoroughly honest life. I couldn’t help asking myself a question: Prof. Shariff, beyond doubt, was an atheist; yet he was an honest man. Doesn’t it imply- one can lead a decent & honest life without sticking to religion? I kept thinking about the issue for several days. If there was an afterlife as Islam & other religions say, Shariff, for sure, 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 omnibolent? Is it just because Shariff didn’t lead a life according to Allah’s prescription? I didn’t find any satisfactory answer. Another rationalistic writer who influenced me heavily was Prabir Ghosh of Calcutta, India. His wekk 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 late Prof. Humayun Azad, author Taslima Nasrin. By then, Taslima Nasrin was an internationally well-known feminist writer. It should be mentioned that, like Professor Shariff, Mullas declared Taslima as well a ‘Murtad’ and issued fatwa (ruling based on Islamic laws) against her (still there is a big bounty for her head). I started losing faith in Islam. At home, often I was rebuked for not saying prayers by my mother and brothers. My mother at that time commented, “I made a great mistake by permitting you to go to India! Now I understand what 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 of same age. I had discussed with him many philosophical issues. We discussed together 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 human mind, etc. As for the Islam, we both concluded, Quran is a modified extension of Old Testament. Thus I spent my time in Bangladesh after retuning from India. I left Bangladesh for 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 student visa (F-1) and joined Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, to do Ph.D. studies 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 apart from my own. Interestingly, I didn’t at all experience what is known as ‘cultural shock.' Probably, the liberal philosophical outlook that developed in my mind over past years was a reason. Often on the campus I saw boys and girls in their late teenage or early 20s walk, roam together and kissed each other in public. Though at times I felt miserable at 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, religion hardly matter in their friendship or romantic relation (except for a few isolated cases). Sometimes I wished I met my Roja in 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 opened up before me. I got absorbed into surfing websites that contained articles which I was looking forward 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 internet search engine, I re-discovered CSCICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormals). It may be mentioned, in Bangladesh I read about CSICOP and their activities in Probhir Gosh’s book. After visiting the CSICOP, I came to know about the Council for Secular Humanism-CSH (www.secularhumanism.org), probably the largest organization of humanists, atheists, and agnostics in North America. Joy abounded in me when I discovered- I’m not alone and there are so many people in the world who think in similar direction about organized religions and their futileness! I contacted CSH to inform- I’m a humanist and I do share their principles and views. They responded with greetings, told me 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 Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society–ISIS (www.secularislam.org). At 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 Quran. I found answers to many of my questions over there. I read history of the compilation of Quran written by Ibne Warraq, a Muslim apostate and a scholar by any definition; contradictions and ambiguities in Quranic verses written by Syed Kamran Mirza Besides, 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 is 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:
“Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.”
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, late Narayan Gupta and Dr. Shabbir Ahmed, Aparthib Zaman. Avijit and I 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 Mullas reacted to our sharp criticisms of Islam. Often we received hate mails from Mullas. While most of those 'hate-mails' were from Bangladeshi Muslims, others were from Islamic fanatics outside Bangladesh. The Mullas were enraged by our effort to demystify Islam. Sometimes, I wrote articles using my real name (Jahed Ahmed), other time I used pseudonym such as Satya Sondhani (truth seeker), Ray. J. Akash.
To facilitate the communication among us, the likeminded freethinkers, we created a yahoo groups named as 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 apart. Ali Sina's personal website at the time was known as golshan.com and the name by which his website is known now i.e. Faith Freedom Internationa (FFI) was initially proposed as Faith Freedom Foundation (FFF) by all members in Voops with an aim of 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 Ibne Warraq (the founder of ISIS) through an introduction by Jamal Hasan. In August 2001, at personal level I faced a disastrous problem of academic origin. I was dismissed from graduate school. Of curse, it didn’t happen overnight. Due to my obsession with internet for days and nights my overall GPA (Grade Point Average) went below standard 3.0 and I was placed on probation during Spring 2001. However, when I was about to make up GPA and get rid of probation, some deeply involved emotional incident at a personal level 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, save it for a later time except for if I lied about my disbelief in God, religion on that particular occasion, I would not have needed to pay the big price I had to. Probably things would have been different and on my side. 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 even 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 world Muslims, emphasizing the root of religious intolerance, hatred and how it is rooted in Quran and Hadeeth. Ibn Warraq and Ali Sina worked on the draft of the statement while we all gave in our inputs. Taslima Nasrin also a signatory with us. A copy of our statement could be viewed at
I left Colorado and came to Michigan by the end of September, 2001. In November (or, may be December), 2001, Ibne Warraq of ISIS invited me at a conference of ex-Muslims at the Center for Free Inquiry, 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 good number of fellow freethinkers from Muslim populated countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Iran. Also I had an opportunity to talk face-to-face with prominent secular humanist philosopher, Prof. 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 became 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 Maulana as a child has had a deep impact on my mind in a later life. One might argue- Maulana was an ignorant person and his teaching was erroneous. One might say, real Islam is totally different from what Maulana taught me. However, I would certainly disagree with them for by now, I’ve read Quran and Hadeeth myself, and I do think, what Maulana taught me significantly exist in Muslims’ Holy Scripture Quran and Hadith 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 beginnings 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 Muslim population, who take words of Quran for granted without ever realizing the need to apply any rationale. They, mistakenly, believe- Islam is all about peace (interestingly, US President George W. Bush also seems to believe so), Muhammad is the greatest human of all times; again, without ever realizing the need to scrutinize his life with a rational and impartial mind. Of course, I agree, unlike Islamic terrorists, mainstream Muslims don’t commit atrocities to 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 hadeeth 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 (Land of Muslims) and Dar-el-Harb (Land of War –where non Muslims live). I don’t know if a Hindu divides the 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- Muslims do. Muslims believe, it is only Islam that can guarantee peace and prosperity for the mankind. Thus, in accordance with Quranic instruction, it is the holy duty of every pious Muslim to conquer the non-Muslim 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 tells us to: "not to make friendship with Jews and Christians" (Q. 5:51), fight them "until they pay the Jizya (a penalty tax for the non-Muslims living under Islamic rules) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued" (Q. 9:29). "kill the disbelievers wherever we find them" (Q.2:191), "murder them and treat them harshly" (Q. 9:123), "fight and slay the Pagans, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem" (Q. 9:5).
Quran says that all those who disbelieve in Islam go to hell (Q. 5:10), they are najis (filthy, untouchable, impure) (Q. 9:28), and orders us to fight the unbelievers until no other religion except Islam is left (Q.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 (Q. 9:23), (Q. 3:28).
It says that the "non-believers will go to hell and will drink boiling water" (Q. 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" (Q. 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" (Q. 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)" (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" (Q. 25:68). For those who "believe not in Allah and His Messenger, He has prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire!" (Q. 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." (Q. 69:30-37)
The holy Prophet prescribes fighting for us and tells us that "it is good for us even if we dislike it" (Q.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" (Q.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" (Q.8:12). and "to strike terror into (the hearts of the enemies" (Q.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" (Q.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" (Q. 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 (Q. 9:111). In Paradise he will "wed us with Houris (celestial virgins) pure beautiful ones" (Q. 56:54), and unite us with large-eyed beautiful ones while we recline on our thrones set in lines (Q. 56:20). There we are promised to eat and drink pleasantly for what we did (56:19). And have sex with "boys like hidden pearls" (Q. 56:24) and "youth never altering in age like scattered pearls" (Q. 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" (Q. 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) (Q. 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 (Q. 4:34). It advises men to take a green branch and beat their wives, because a green branch is more flexible and hurts more. (Q. 38:44). It teaches that women will go to hell if they are disobedient to their husbands (66:10). It maintains that men have an advantage over the women (Q. 2:228). It not only denies the women's equal rights, it decrees that their witness is not admissible in the courts of law (Q. 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 (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 Khadiza, Mohammed’s first wife, died, Muhammed was 49 years, and between 51st and 63rd (age he died) year of his life, he married at least 11 times! Among his wives is, 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 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- common sense, compassion and reasons. I love to dream- 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- 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 minds of educated Muslims throughout the world. I aspire to revive the lost trends of ‘Golden Age of Islam’ (9th century to 13th century), which was marked by traditions of Muslim rationalists called Mutazillatese. Inspired by the Greek learning, and adhering to rational inquiry, Muslim world flourished remarkably in Astronomy, Medicine, Mathematics, Arts and philosophy. Some great thinkers of golden age are- astronomer Al Sufi, Al Biruni (born in 973), physician Ibne Sina (born in 981), physicist Al-Haytham (born in 965). However, this trend didn’t last. With the change of social-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 very optimistic, since the people who love truth, reason and freedom—however small or big in number—always existed in the human history. There is absolutely no reason to think- they are all gone by now.
Some selected comments on the article:
Dan McCoy, USA at orkut.com :
Hello Jahed, It's a real pleasure to meet you. Your essay "My Experience with Islam" is a beautiful, inspiring piece of writing.
Nargis Natarajan at sulekha.com:One of THE BEST blogs I have read!
Pavan Pamidimarri at sulekha.com:
Your blog was very touching. It is easily the best piece I've read on Sulekha in some time. I applaud you for your intellectual integrity in growing out of the beliefs you were brought up with, and just plain honesty in writing about your growth. As a south Indian who spent his college days in Bengal, I can relate to your experience in an odd way. I was struck by the notion of a kafir-nastik forum; it is certainly a fascinating take on the notion of Hindu-Muslim friendship :).
I think you would make a great addition to the people at Sulekha Coffeehouse, so if you have time to kill, consider participating.
Thanks for an excellent read.
B S Keshav at sulekha.comDear Jahed,This is an amazing piece of writing. The clarity of thought and depth of feeling, not to mention the scholarship in your chosen subject is remarkable.Wish you all the best in your endeavour; it is indeed a noble one.Keshav
Rudra at sulekha.com
It was inspiring to read the account of your experiences as a "mainstream Moslem" and the kind of intellectual dilemma you had to face. I'm very happy for the fact that you have managed to win back your Intellect and yourself from the clutches of mindless fanaticism. Any religion when adhered to without intellectual discrimination, meditation and humility will only cause grief.
I pray for the day when religions stop proclaiming "My way is the Only way"...
mehulkamdar at sulekha.com
Jahed,Good to see you here, my friend and thanks for posting your most famous article here.Just a minor point here - every religion has shown an exclusivist approach down history and every religion's followers, the fanatics in particular, have shown themselves capable of barbarous behaviour. Islam is not the only faith to display these very negative traits. After a head start in medical and surgical techniques in India, orthodox Hinduism put an end to surgery because it was considered wrong for the top Brahmin caste to perform surgeries for several reasons. In what was, perhaps, the first case in the world of an advanced civilization becoming little more than a perpetual colony for invaders of every hue, India became an intellectually bankrupt nation for centuries until the revival of modern thought, an Indian Renaissance so to say, when the British finally came in to the region and took it over using some of the most devious means that any of India's conquerors had employed. Sadly, the South Asian region these days is becoming another morass with competing religious groups fighting over religious pettiness instead of using the very real human and intellectual capital in the region to catapult it into the top civilization in the world once more after some 1000 plus years of lagging behind the rest of the world.
lone_crusader comments: on Dec 28 2006 7:52PM
I had read your other article in the morning and commented on that and had bookmarked this one to read at leisure (as it was lengthy).
Am speechless. Dont know what to say or write. Never have I read such an honest essay about one's life and beliefs. Yes your Roja and you would have definitely been united had you been in the U.S. About the concepts of Islam, whatever I have read in your blog has left me disgusted (not your writing but the truth about the religion)...what with the prayers of burning in hell for Hindus and world split into Muslim regions and war regions. GROSS!
Keep writing! You write with passion and sincerity and it shows. Good luck with your endeavours.
sujatha sukumaran at sulekha.com
That was straight from the heart and very courageous to pen it ! Just like you, I hope and pray that religion will be used to unite and not divide people.
RJoshi06 at sulekha.comThanks for sharing your experience. An honest and emotional blog.Wish you the best.R Joshi
Bijaya Ghosh at sulekha.com
It needs real courage to analyze ones past--but you did it. yours is really a passionate and honest blogs. Reading that one thing was clear. you are a thinker and thinkers can afford to frame their religion. --In your case it is humanism. But not every ordinary soul afford to reach that level. They like to belong to a group and feel superior against another-- to have an identity. They also seek spiritual protection. Religion had survived through centuries because of this inner yearning. I salute an atheist but cannot be one. I too seek that invisible protection whenever feel emotionally threatened. So I think religion will stay, as long as people like us live. But there is a need to depoliticize it. Unfortunately Islam has become a weapon in hand of male chauvinist Mullahs and Dictators.There is a need to work from within, rather than leaving the religion and attacking it blatantly--- thereby alienating the masses. "We wrote articles on a regular basis. It was interesting to see how crazily Mullah reacted to our sharp criticisms of Islam. Often we received hate mails from Mullahs." Yes, mullahs react and that gives writers a high. But they are people beyond repair. It is more important is to stay with community and change from inside. The way Iswar Chandra vidyasagar fought Sati from inside. the Hindu society by intelligent use of religious scripts. The real change comes only through that.
swarajya at sulekha.com
My dear Jahed Ahmed,
Your article , although lengthy,was thoroughly engrossing. I salute you for your masterly work which has been quite revealing .Only a person with conviction can be so fearless and frank..Religions may have many weak areas , as most of them had the origin more than 2000 years, but it is for the follo wers to practice taking the best part . I am fully convinced that a man following Sathya(Truth), Dharma(Righteousness) ,Shanthi (Peace), Prema( Love) and Ahimsa( Non violence) need not have any religion . He must understand the brotherhood of man and fatherhood of God.He must be selfless in serving others . Service to humanity is service to God.His universal prayer should be " Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu".
May your experience enlighten others and bring love and mutual respect among religions.
pk Jadayu at sulekha.com
[quote] I love to dream- 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- humans, inhabitants of the planet earth Superiority of any particular religion or culture over another wouldn’t prevail [/quote] Yes we can. Have been doing so for ages now. When ever i come out of the dream and look around, what do i see ...... Things that would send you back to the dreamworld. Nothing good happens here, friend. We are destined to be in the dream world and dream for good things - and eke out our life.
It was a brave one. May be for you it was a long journey. The article was long but since it comes from the depth of your hearts it was engrossing except for the last part after you were dropped from your college.
vaibhavkjsce at sulekha.com
awesome blog.....the kind of mental turmoil you felt during your stay in india is the kind that evry individual who has been taught to accept beliefs blindly feels when he/she encounters it colliding with common sense..me for one am a jain but fail to understand many of the beliefs,the reasons for their existence. For eg why do we fast?? Anyway, very nice blog.
Sp^wn at orkut.com:
The first thing I read was your autobiographical essay, "My Experience With Islam (An apostate’s testimony)". It was truly inspiring. People like you renew my faith in humanity. I've bookmarked your articles page. I'm sure they're all as stimulating as the first one. @ everyone reading this:I **highly recommend** you read this article:
Awesome piece of writing, Jahed. It gave me an unprecedented look at the muslim theist psyche. Thank you very much.
From the http://www.thefreethinker.tk/:
Congrats Jahed Ahmed for this wonderful article. Believers of institutional religion often portrays rationalists and humanists as negative character , someone who lack moral and ethical value. Jahed Ahmed with his sound intellect tells us how a rationalist humanist will have a strong sense of ethics and moral values.
He didn't became a non believer of institutional religion overnight. It was a long process of research and quest for the truth and that attracted me the most in this article. Rationalist unlike the believer of institutional religion are never fanatic. Rationalist are benevolent enough to accept the truth. They always believes in scientific proof and logical reasoning. Rationalist always accept or discard something only after careful research and questioning. Hats off to Jahed Ahmed like a true rationalist he had a quest for the truth and only then he became a disbeliever of institutional religion.
Jahed Ahmed , about the article something is obscure to me. You told us how you fall in love with a girl in Bangalore 'Roja' a name given by you. It was 'love at first sight' . Don't you think love is a relation made up by friendship, trust and mutual respect? And to have that there should ideological match...and for the most important requirement is to know the person.
Wish to know your stand on that..
Arif, Dhaka, Bangladesh:
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