That’s my boy, Isma’il


“That’s my boy, Isma’il,” I whisper to the stranger beside me. I know he’s not listening to my son’s first public reading of the Qur’an. He’s waiting for his son’s turn. The way he’s been fidgeting less and less as the young readers followed one another onto the big red cushion with the gold edge and complicated tassels, it’s clear that it’ll be his son soon, possibly next. Without looking at him, I know that he’s studying his kid. Pouring all his adult hopes and anxieties and pride into that small body. I know this because I’ve just been doing it. He already knows Isma’il is my boy. He might’ve noticed my chest swell and then not go down, not for an unnaturally long time. At a time like this, what is time, anyway? I hope he noticed my tear. A man must cry at a time like this.

Ameen,” my boy’s voice, high-pitched and pure, delights those gathered in the mosque in their finest.

Masha-Allah!” come the exclamations of admiration. It kind of dropped out the side of my neighbour’s mouth when his lips parted—

My son looks up from the Qur’an perched open on its cross-legged stand straight into my eyes, without searching. He’d crossed his legs on the cushion before the imam, the mu’alim and the visiting sheikh fully focussed on the task at hand. Not as much as a glance to pick out his dad from the crowd before him. Yet when he was done, one precise tilt of the head and our eyes locked. I could’ve exploded.

“I’m very sorry sir, but I have to ask you to confirm the identity of the deceased,” says the detective.

“That’s my boy, Isma’il,” I whisper to the stranger inside me. I know he’s not listening to what’s being said about my son. How he had started turning. The way he’d been wisecracking less and less as the young readers followed one another onto the silence of certainty. How can you tell your son not to read the Qur’an so much, when you started out praising him for reading it more? Without looking at him, I know that he’s studying his kid on the big red cushion with the gold edge and complicated tassels. All my adult hopes and anxieties and pride are now neatly gathered into a head and a left foot. I know this because I’m still looking at it. I already knew it was Isma’il, my boy. But the stranger inside me will never know, because he isn’t looking, not really. He might’ve noticed my chest cave in and then not expand, not for an unnaturally long time. At a time like this, what is time, anyway? I hope he noticed my tear. A man must cry at a time like this.

Open Letter to Peaceful Muslims


Before I start, I should like to disclose that I am an atheist, and that I have been so for almost forty years. But I have been a Muslim long enough that you might just allow me to approach you in this way. I am not writing to you as an atheist, but as someone deeply concerned with our safety and security, and with the set of values that have arisen in the world that allows for all people to share this world peacefully, without anyone feeling any need to kill anybody. I believe we share these values. The greeting at the head of this letter is intended for you and is sincerely meant. For me to have invoked the name of Allah in place of that greeting to you would have been insincere.

No doubt you are aware of the arguments back and forth over the Islamic credentials of the terrorists and the Islamic approval or otherwise of their actions. Daily, we witness the pain of peaceful Muslims who do not recognise the Islam of the terrorists in the Islam they practise. There can be no question that they are a different category of Muslim to the Muslims they so deeply distress and offend. It cannot be denied that the Qur’an is as holy and revered to the terrorists as it is to you. No one can deny that the terrorists draw their inspiration directly from the Qur’an. It cannot be denied that the Qur’an says exactly what the terrorists say it says. It cannot be denied that the terrorists admire and revere the Prophet Muhammad as much as you do. And no on can deny that they live as close as they can to the Prophet’s example.

No doubt you worry about your own children suddenly one day turning up on your television screen having perpetrated some unspeakable act in the name of Islam. I’m not sure whether people who have never been Muslim quite appreciate just what it takes for a Muslim parent to report sudden changes in their child’s personality and behaviour to the authorities, after all, you’ve brought them up to be good Muslims. Now they may be suggesting that they are better Muslims than you are, and you cannot even turn to the Qur’an to prove them wrong, for they may already be using that very Qur’an to prove you wrong. I hope you have not lost children in this way.

It hurts. Of course it hurts. It hurt my parents when I left religion. How the pain will ease, I do not know. I cannot consult my parents for they are no longer there to be consulted. My life after that truly had nothing to do with Islam, but my parents didn’t have to suffer the child they love turning into a mass murderer. They could continue to love their child, and continue to love Islam. If your child is now amongst the terrorists, the burden on you will be so much greater than it was on my parents. The love you have for your child comes into direct confrontation with your love for the Islam you know. That has to be the worst.

If no child of yours is inclined to confront you with the actual words of the Qur’an and the ahadith, then facing up to the fact that the Islam you love and have always known is different to the Islam of the Qur’an is not quite as traumatic an experience as it would be if it were your own child demonstrating it to you right in your face. But whichever way you look at this, pain is unavoidable.

But not all pain. The pain of the tens of thousands of victims of Muslim terrorism (191 killed, 228 injured in the seven days from 10 September to 16 September alone) can be reduced, if not entirely eliminated. Please let me explain.

For reasons related to their own peculiar histories, deals they may have done with international and global Islamic interests, and an unfounded, possibly insulting, fear of turning you into a terrorist, the authorities fighting terrorism have tied their own hands behind their backs. They are not investigating the source of the terrorism, or taking actions that will in any way actually stop terrorism. They start looking only when someone undertakes his first questionable journey, by which time, as you well know, it is way too late. We know that the first sign is the personality change. This is pretty hard to fake. The authorities ignore this, thereby making both the loss of our children and the loss of the lives they will take, inevitable. Of course, the Islam you practise does, indeed, have nothing to do with it, but not so the Islam of the terrorist, the Islam of the Qur’an. It is the Islam of the Qur’an that your young child is exposed to in the madrassa. This you know.

I am not asking you to denounce either Islam or the Qur’an. All I am asking are two things: please stop saying that the terrorists are not Islamic, because they take their inspiration directly from the holy book of Islam. Even if you will not hear or see those passages, they pay full attention and lap it up eagerly. Saying they are not Islamic makes it more difficult for the authorities to say they are Islamic, and to investigate and prosecute effectively. Your painful honesty here will help reduce much pain elsewhere, possibly even in your own family. I would also like to ask you to consider this: would your children be any less Muslim growing up simply under the guidance of your good example? What do they gain from going to madrassa that outweighs the values so receptive to terrorism, that they learn there? Would you consider not sending your children to madrassa, or withdrawing them from there, if you knew how much less receptive they would be to the terrorist recruiters? By doing this, the chances are that you will not lose your children to terrorism, and so many future lives may be saved as well.

This is all I ask. I ask not as an atheist, but as a human being. Thank you for taking the time to read all this.

Arcane religious bust-ups

I’ve just read this interesting story of an almighty slanging match between one faction of a faction of a faction of Islam against another faction of a faction of a faction of Islam. This is serious stuff, make no mistake. To the creator of the universe, this is everything.

I witnessed something like this in my childhood, perhaps not on quite so grand a scale. It involved only about thirty men and lasted only for about twenty minutes, rather than centuries. A new mosque was under construction in the neighbourhood where I grew up. It was built with funds collected from the community. The building was usable but far from finished. So it was used, with scaffolding, trailing wires, untiled walls, unscreeded floors, part of the roof not yet watertight, etc. A meeting was held in the mosque after prayers one night. The project had run out of money and there was no more to be had (it was before the oil-boom of the 70s, thank God!). The architect wasn’t prepared to do any more work until his last bill had been settled. However, a new architect had been found who was willing to complete the project free of charge. Alhamdulillah, you might say. Well, here’s the thing. The architect who’d quit was Muslim. The architect who was willing to take over and complete the job for free was Christian. You see the problem. Within seconds the meeting descended into a full-on brawl right there in front of the mihrab. Some guy jumped up and called an adhan. He got right to the end of the final la-illaha-illallah before it simmered down. A few years later, the mosque was, indeed, completed. Pretty good, considering. No deaths. Perhaps that’s where the idea arose that Islam is a religion of peace.

Is Kerala the next Bangladesh?

Under the glare of the spotlight, the Indian government recently curtailed Islamic hate preacher Zakir Naik, and quite rightly so. But is it possible that the lush southern state of Kerala is descending into a much worse nightmare than Zakir Naik? Arun draws our attention to death threats issued by Kerala ISIS sympathisers to ex-Muslim atheist E A Jabbar. Our very own Taslima Nasreen reports on death threats she’d received from ISIS sympathisers in Kerala.

I’m echoing Arun’s call that we highlight these threats and gross attempts at intimidation, and support their victims. The Bangladeshi state did not (and still does not) have the will to deal with Islamic terrorism. How will the Indian state deal with the threat to human life and its own territorial integrity in Kerala? I suspect that India may not suffer the paralysis of conscience that so bedevils Western efforts to properly deal with this problem.

On the perils of artistic self-ghettoisation

[Someone has kindly pointed out to me that I have misunderstood the quotation from Toni Morrison. This changes too much of the post for simple tweaking. I’m therefore preparing a new post on “cultural appropriation”, still based around Lionel Shriver’s timely and important Brisbane speech. The comments on the original post are retained.]

ISIS did not make this up

My views on Islam derive from scrutiny of Islam. I do not seek support by appeal to authority. So when I share this eyewitness piece, it is neither to harness an authoritative voice to my case, nor to seek security in numbers. I’m sharing this to make the point that while there are many non-Muslims who hate Muslims and know nothing about Islam, and there are non-Muslims who love Islam and are distinctly dishonest about that religion, in general, it is non-Muslims who can be relied upon to be honest about Islam. Here are some of the connections Sister Hatune Dugan refers to:

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (9:29)

The Yazidis, alas, are not deemed “People of the Book”, so do not qualify for the privilege of dhimmitude. Therefore,

“O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee” (33:50)

“But enjoy what ye took in war, lawful and good” (8:69)

“And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion is all for Allah” (8:39)

ISIS did not make this up. These words are in every Muslim’s Qur’an.

“Islamophobia is real” says Huffington post. Does that include Muslims killing Muslims?

According to the Huffington Post, as of August 2016, there have been 261 “Islamophobic incidents” in the US this year. The Religion of Peace website keeps track of actual violence perpetrated by Muslim terrorists. Of the 1612 actual acts of violence perpetrated by Muslim terrorists worldwide from the start of 2016 to the end of August, 1570 were against Muslims, almost all of them fatal.

Just to be clear, the 261 “Islamophobic incidents” the Huffington Post reports include expressing anti-Muslim sentiments (speeches, tweets, etc.), running meetings, conferences, etc., speculations, vandalism, threats, accusations, and so forth. This is not to deny that hate crimes are being perpetrated against Muslims around the world, including the US, but as I’ve suggested in my last few posts, there’s a distinct air of desperation creeping into Islamopologia these days.

Schizophrenic anti-terrorism: Heracles, we need you.

There’s been some welcome, though long overdue, news of late: Anjem Choudary packed away (anything less than solitary confinement will be counter-productive; any dietary or other concessions will embolden him — he himself is contemptuous of all human rights, so afford him none); Abu Muhammad al-Adnani killed; Zakir Naik and his outfit in a tightening noose; restrictions on the movements of foreign imams; etc. All measures against such persons are to be welcomed. But the Qur’an is churning them out from the madrassas by their thousands each and every day — battery not provided.

At the same time, there’s been a spike in the number of Muslim charm offensives, especially in the US. Everywhere “experts” and “authentic spokespersons” are breaking their splendid isolation from kufaar contamination to show a public increasingly impatient with governments and media denials of Islam’s role in terrorism, how nice Islam is, if only they’d be less “Islamophobic”. These, of course, are the people whose tender feelings those governments and media are so very concerned not to offend. Why? Because we might drive them into the arms of the terrorists (are we not insulting our Muslim fellow citizens by ascribing such fickleness to their peaceful convictions? If they’re going to obey the Qur’an*, i.e., turn terrorist, they’ll do so regardless of how far backwards we bend over). These peaceful citizens, without any malicious intention at all and genuinely believing that they’re doing a good thing, through sending their children to madrassa, instil in them the same text that the Choudarys, the Adnanis, and the Naiks adhere to, no deviation whatsoever, and are then shocked when they learn that their good son has shown up in Syria raping and murdering, or their daughter has gone there to breed martyrs.

So the peaceful Muslims shift the problem to the terrorists and their recruiters, denying that the latter have anything to do with Islam, and governments make themselves believe they’re dealing with the problem by taking out the ones damaging the good name of Islam. And in the meantime, the peaceful Muslims’ children in the madrassas are being readied for those recruiters coming up behind the Choudarys, the Adnanis, and the Naiks of this world. At least Heracles quickly realised that the Hydra simply grows new heads for each one he cuts off, and immediately changed his strategy to finally defeat the monster that had been specially bred to kill him. Does our seeming reluctance to defend the rights and freedoms built on our Greek heritage extend also to forgetting the lessons of that heritage?

* Another argument advanced for the terrorists having nothing to do with Islam is that they are not pious. By that criterion, precious few Muslims would be linked to Islam. Islamic piousness militates so comprehensively against basic human nature that for anyone to be a Muslim and have a practical life in the real world, they necessarily must deviate from the Qur’an and the sunnah. As for the piousness or otherwise of the terrorists, that is hardly the point. They are fulfilling those scriptural requirements other Muslims ignore. While Islam has the Qur’an, it will always inspire terrorism, periods of peaceful coexistence with others notwithstanding. Its 1400-year track record speaks for itself.


September, September, so much to remember

In 2002, the 11th day of September took its place as one of the great and tragic commemorations of our time. “9/11” became our collective cultural reference, and to the civilised world, our common anger and pain. 77 years ago, in 1939, it was the 30th day of September that served for great and tragic commemorations. “Peace for our Time”, our collective cultural reference after Neville Chamberlain proudly boasted of having secured Adolf Hitler’s signature that he will cease his aggression in Europe. “This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine,” declared a satisfied Chamberlain. By the time the first anniversary of “Peace for our Time” came to be commemorated, Hitler’s troops were thirty days into World War II.

By Ministry of Information official photographer - This is photograph D 2239 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain,

The month of September makes it hard for parallels not to be drawn, and I wonder which Western leader it will be, who will disembark from an aircraft and proudly wave a piece of paper bearing their signature and that of the King of Saudi Arabia, or the Supreme Leader of Iran, or even the “Caliph” of some murderous outfit, and tell us that he (or she) has secured “Peace for our Time”.neville_chamberlain_by_william_orpen_-_1929

Where do you go to prove the Qur’an is about love and compassion? Why, to Jesus, of course

Forced into the glaring light of critical scrutiny, the Qur’an is no longer shielded behind Muslim reluctance to submit it to such scrutiny. As more non-Muslims are bypassing the Muslim “experts” to read the Qur’an for themselves, general ignorance of and fantasy about its contents are becoming a thing of the past. So many critical minds are now trained on the Muslim Holy Book, and so much is being publicly discussed and shared, that Muslim apologists increasingly find themselves on the back foot. Critics are quoting the exact words of the Qur’an right back at them. Muslims are losing control of what is authoritatively said about their scripture in the public domain. As it is, they do not yet see what an enormous blessing this is to them.

Those who still want to salvage the reputation of this thoroughly disreputable tome have an impossible PR job on their hands. The desperation of this salvage operation, and the bankruptcy of the scripture being defended, were amply illustrated by Hameed Naseem’s  appeal to Jesus Christ, and his quoting of the Bible, in his attempt to prove that the Qur’an is about love and compassion, rather than violence, brutality and mass murder. Thus does he press Matthew 5:17 into service, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law of the prophets: I am not come to destroy them, but to fulfil them.”

But, obviously, a quote from the Bible alone would be a devastating own goal. There has to be something in the Qur’an to show that the Qur’an about love and compassion. So Naseem takes a shot: “The Holy Quran has more than 200 verses encouraging Muslims to strive toward such levels of love and compassion,” and then quotes one of those 200+ verses (presumably the most irrefutable one, given the desperate situation), “Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed,” (16:90). Good, no? Except that what Naseem fails to point out is that this verse, and all others in which Allah commands Muslims to have justice, love, compassion, and the like, are expressly intended towards Muslims exclusively. Towards everyone else, he commands — you guessed it — hatred, cruelty, mutilation and death.

Let’s take a closer look at those, “more than 200 verses encouraging Muslims to strive toward such levels of love and compassion.” Removing all the supplications and prayers from the count (man’s words, not God’s), the actual number of verses in the Qur’an that mention the word “love” is ninety-three (note that this number includes a great deal of repetition):

Allah spells out whom he does not love (24)

Allah spells out whom he does love (18)

Allah rebukes the believers for loving one thing or another (19)

Allah bestows romantic, fraternal or amiable love (4)

Allah claims he can even make you love your enemy (1)

Allah commands Muslims to love him (13)

The remainder (14) are verses in which the word “love” appears in the quoted words of third parties, in descriptions of love between third parties, or in a context other than an exhortation to love.

As for verses containing the word “compassion”, here the Qur’an fares a little better. Of the nine verses in which the word “compassion” is mentioned, Chapter 90: verses 11-17 get closest to the Biblical sense of compassion and might’ve served Naseem’s purposes better, or should I say, less poorly. Like all Qur’anic exhortations to do good, this one ends with a threat of severe punishment for failure to comply. However, if you are compassionate, it would be because Allah placed compassion in your heart. One verse exhorts the believers to “make yourself submissively gentle to them [your parents] with compassion,” while another commands them to, “be maintainers of justice, [and] bearers of witness of Allah’s sake, though it may be against your own …parents… Allah is nearer to them both [maintainers of justice, [and] bearers of witness of Allah’s sake] in compassion,” and the submissively, gentle and compassionate child must now turn against its own parents to gain the compassion of Allah. The rest of the “compassion” verses are commands to not show compassion, or to guard against compassion.

But Naseem has a clincher:

The opening chapter of the Quran — which summarizes the entire holy book — introduces God (Allah) as having the supreme attributes of Al-Rahman and Al-Rahim. Al-Rahman means the God of extreme compassion who, out of his immense love, gives everything his creation needs without being asked and without any discrimination. Al-Rahim means the God of mercy, who rewards any effort that is made by his creatures bountifully. Both of these attributes emanate from the fountainhead of unfathomable love.

  1. “which summarizes the entire holy book.” It does nothing of the kind. It is a prayer that the reader says to Allah. Strictly speaking, it is not even part of the Qur’an. The Qur’an (as in God’s supposed word) begins with, “This is the book of which there is no doubt,” (2:1).
  2. “gives everything his creation needs without being asked and without any discrimination.” It is not even that he only gives to Muslims and denies to all others, he only gives to Muslim men, and denies to all others.
  3. unfathomable love,” that cannot be substantiated by a single verse?

But the bankruptcy is complete when Naseem finds it necessary to fudge supplication and verse.

Every chapter of the Quran starts with this enchanting verse. Every Muslim starts every act — whether mundane or spiritual — by remembering the compassionate and ever-merciful God. This chapter also refers to the compassionate God as the Lord of all the peoples, not just Muslims. Practicing Muslims recite this chapter in their five daily prayers at least 20 times. This short chapter comprised of only seven verses is sufficient to convince a seeker of truth that Islam introduces man to a God, who loves all the peoples of the world without discrimination.

  1. The “enchanting verse” in question is the supplication, “In the name of Allah, the most beneficent, the most merciful.” It is not a verse. It is not Allah’s word to Muslims. It is not, strictly speaking, even part of the Qur’an. It is what Muslims say before they start reading what Allah had supposedly said.
  2. What Naseem is doing here is to populate the entire Qur’an with the exact same supplication in which Muslims praise Allah as beneficent and merciful, as a surrogate verse to prove Allah’s beneficence and compassion. It is like a tyrant proving his popularity by stuffing a stadium with a commandeered crowd.

Going by the Qur’an alone, there is no question in my mind that were Allah to be submitted to psychiatric evaluation, he would immediately be sectioned to a secure unit. I just hope that the barrel Naseem is scraping so hard used to at least hold something halal.