Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Hossain Salahuddin, a poet, essayist and an ex-Muslim who is the author of several books. He is the editor of the magazine Maverick, which promotes literature, freethinking and rationalism.
FP: Hossain Salahuddin, welcome to FrontPage interview.
HS: Thanks very much for having me. It’s a real pleasure to be here.
FP: Tell us about your childhood and your upbringing within Islam.
HS: I was born in 1984, into a Muslim family in Bangladesh . My family was rather orthodox and they made sure I learn the Quran properly even before they enrolled me in a school. I had a home tutor Mullah, who taught me reciting Quran in Arabic- and I was actually good at it. I remember completing the whole Arabic Quran three times before I turned 12 without even understanding a word of it. If I try to remember, I can feel that it was pretty suffocating with all sorts of do’s and don’t. You can’t do this, you can’t do that, and there was that constant reminder- “You are a Muslim, you should act like one.”
So, yeah, my childhood was not something that I am really proud of. There were all sorts of religious restraints around my neck and that actually affected my relationship with my family members. But, I should say I was still a believer back then; only there was a slight discomfort in me with the practicing form of Islam. I admit that I had a rather troubled childhood but I didn’t turn into a rebel just yet.
FP: What caused your second thought and your ultimate abandoning of Islam?
HS: Well, when I was around 13 or 14, I developed a great interest in creative writing, especially in poetry and I started to spend a lot of time reading books and writing poetry. I remember borrowing up to ten books at a time and reading them in a row. History, Science, Philosophy, Religion, Literature name it, all sorts of books. It was a fascinating time I can tell you that. I guess I was mentally a bit matured than my actual age, and I really cherish that part of my life as a period of illumination.
I think books taught me to think and judge things rationally, to escape from the world of prejudice and irrational beliefs. Books were my true liberator, it’s the best companion I ever had. But, it wasn’t always fun. My family didn’t take it lightly as they were noticing some change in me and also my teachers at school. In fact it was the teachers who gave me all sorts of trouble. Unfortunately, most of my teachers were very orthodox Muslims and they didn’t like my writings. They even banned my writings from the school magazine which really upset me given that I was probably the only student who could write creative things. And they were constantly reminding me that Islam doesn’t approve poetry, music, painting, mixing with non-Muslims or reading texts of other religion and it really confused me.
There was only one way to find out: by reading Quran and Hadith in my mother tongue. I read the Quran over and over again and couldn’t believe what I was reading. I started to mark the questionable verses and wrote comments beside them. I wondered, are these versus full of hate being spread and preached everyday in all corners of my town? I was completely dumbstruck. Initially, I thought it was the translation that was to be blamed. But I collected many different translations of the Quran and very reputed Islamic scholars translated some of them. You can say I was really shocked and I spent almost two years of my year 9 and 10 searching for answers.
At year 10, my first book of poems was published and by year 11, I was convinced that Islam itself was a very violent belief. By reading Quran or any other Islamic text in your mother tongue, there can be two effects on you: you could either turn into a violent, brainwashed Muslim ready to eliminate anything that opposes you, or you could abandon Islam altogether and become a free man. I choose the former path and at a very young age.
FP: Did you face the threat of violence for leaving Islam? Are you still in danger today?
HS: Well, leaving Islam was not an instant decision; it was rather a gradual process. I think by the time I reached 12, I consciously abandoned Islam altogether. And some of my closest friends knew about my views on Islam. I think some of them were really shocked. So, leaving Islam was a private matter at the beginning, I didn’t share it with lot of people initially.
Obviously there was the fear of making a majority of Muslims upset. So, what I did was, I started to question a lot to spread my message. I learned it from the life of Socrates, that’s what he used to do, and it can be very effective sometimes. I started to question Islamic beliefs and traditions in a lot in my writing and that put me in trouble. Although I had some like-minded friends and we used to call ourselves Freethinkers, I made some nasty enemies as well and I was aware that they were watching my every step. But, you know I was young and careless—so I kept going.
Finally, the waiting game was over and they physically attacked me one night- I was very lucky to escape only with some sharp cuts and bruises. After that incident I slowed down a bit, stopped going outside and tried to concentrate on writing at home. I think it was in 2002, when an Islamist organization published a book and declared me a Nastik-Murtad or “Apostate-Infidel”. So, I didn’t really have to declare leaving Islam publicly, they did the honor for me.
After that I decided to leave the country and in 2003 I came to Australia as a student. And if you are asking whether I am still in danger today, well all I can say is that I never underestimate their reach. It’s not just me, anyone who is non-Muslim, or a born-Muslim who doesn’t care about Islam much -- anyone who is different from them is in danger today and it’s the sad reality.
FP: What are your thoughts on Arab imperialism and Islamic colonialism? And how does a non-Arab convert’s mind work in this context?
HS: What always struck me the most was that Islam is another form of Arab colonialism in disguise. In South-east Asia you will see people constantly cry about the British Colonialism and how they are still a victim of it. However, no one ever talks about the Arab colonialism which is very active in every single non-Arab Muslim country. Islam is in its origin an Arab religion, and it is not a religion of conscience, private belief or spirituality; it is very political and imperial. Its holy places are in Arab lands, its sacred language is Arabic, and its historical figures are all native Arab. So what happens to a non-Arab convert’s mind is very interesting.
A convert starts to dislike his own culture as non-Islamic and he becomes fascinated by the Arab influence and wants to be a part of the Arab story; ironically, he starts to praise the Arab Warrior who conquered his land. And to do that the first thing he does is to turn away from everything that is ethnically his and he lives in a world of fundamentalist fantasy to purify his non-Islamic culture.
You can see this neurosis and nihilism in the mindset of converts and you can say it is an incurable mental disease which has been affecting them and disturbing the societies for thousands of years. Arab colonialism is both political and cultural and I think it is the longest surviving form of colonialism. You see it is now a fashion to blame European Imperialism and colonialism, west and Israel in general - for every ill in this planet; Muslims are never ashamed to join this blame game. But, when it comes to Arab imperialism or Islamic colonialism, Muslims feel proud and they admire the warriors who once came from the Arab world and conquered their forefathers’ land.
This way, Islamic colonialism and Arab imperialism together have conquered and destroyed many advanced and ancient civilizations and brought catastrophic changes in the cultures of the conquered lands. You can say Arabs were the most successful imperialists of all time, because the faithful converts love to be conquered by the legendary “Holy Warriors” of the “ Holy land ” – it is some sort of salvation for the converts.
FP: Your interpretation of Islam’s holy war?
HS: Islam has always been associated with political expansion and that’s where Jihad or holy war comes into affect. Quran and Hadith repeatedly say that nothing is greater, so far as goodness goes, than Jihad in the name of Allah. Some apologists will try to tell you that Islam is a religion of peace, Jihad is allegorical, and it does not mean violence etc. But the bloody history of Islam tells us a very different story. And the Quran is actually supposed to be taken literally. Muhammad repeatedly said that the Quran is not poetry or allegory; it is the clear voice of Allah himself so that everyone can understand and take it seriously; it is actually blasphemous even to think the Quran as an allegory.
In Hadith, the collection of traditions, Muhammad asked his followers to stop any un-Islamic practice by force many times. As a religion, Islam has a long tradition of deep rooted hatred towards unbelievers. In the Quran, Allah repeatedly commanded Muslims to engage in Holy war and promised unlimited reward in the afterlife if one becomes a martyr in the war for the glory of Allah.
If you ask a Turkish Sufi Dervish who does that beautiful swirling dance, you won’t get the literal picture of Islam. You will rather get a pleasant humanitarian view of the Mystic Sufi philosophy. But, unfortunately, Mainstream Islam considers Sufis heretics and they were regularly persecuted by orthodox Muslims throughout history.
To find out the true meaning of Jihad, you have to look at the life of Muhammad, his companions and the later rulers and thinkers of Islam. You will get an extremely violent picture. Even Muhammad’s immediate successors used the term Jihad to refer to the conquest of new territory, so I don’t see much scope for misunderstanding here.
No matter what apologists try to tell you about the meaning of Jihad, to most Muslims it simply means Expansion of Allah’s Kingdom in the command of Allah himself. If they die in the pursuit they are a martyr or Sahid, someone who is guaranteed by Allah to go to heaven straightway without facing the trial in the judgment day.
Islamic scholars like Taqi al din ibn Taymiyyah, Mohammad ibn abdul Wahhab, Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Mawdudi, Hasan al Turabi have a lot to answer for in this matter. Modern Jihadists frequently cite these scholars as their source of inspiration. They argued that Muslims are in a cosmic battle against the force of darkness. These forces of darkness should not be tolerated, and although Allah is ultimately responsible for the destruction of darkness, Muslims are required to fight it. That’s why as of today no famous Muslim cleric or Muslim country condemned terrorism. You see, almost everything of the western way of life contradicts Islamic belief - the West automatically becomes the target, hence, Islamic scholars divided the whole world into two different spheres: Islamic World or Land of Peace and Un-Islamic World or Land of warfare.
FP: So Islamic terrorists are not misinterpreting Islam?
HS: No, terrorists are not misinterpreting Islam; in fact they are interpreting Islam very correctly. Theologically, it is a Muslim’s holy duty to fight until the whole world turns to one Allah because there can not be any other God. Allah is pretty autocratic among the Gods and he doesn’t like to co-exist with any other deity. It sounds funny but its true; how many Muslim countries practice democracy? Liberalism, individual privacy and freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of belief - all of this and any other component of modernity you can think of directly contradicts Islamic belief.
No matter what apologists say, “Islam” and “freedom” are two opposite words with opposite meanings. You see, unlike Christianity and Buddhism Islam is not a personal religion; Islam is very practical, social, highly political, and unspiritual and its goal is to win the world empire. Islam penetrates even very personal aspects of human life and dictates. Islamic law or Sharia is considered divine legislation and it dictates every single aspects of human life, from using toothpicks to how to perform sex; from slaughtering animals to what verse you should recite when you are in a toilet etc. Anything you can think of.
FP: What are your views on Muhammad and his worshippers?
HS: To me, Muhammad is undoubtedly one of the most influential characters of human history in the sense that billions of Muslims are still ready to die for him, and it is unique given the extent of his influence. However, one of Muhammad’s few likable characteristics was that he never claimed himself to be perfect although billions of Muslims think so today.
I think Muhammad was always aware of his human shortcomings and he did everything to ensure that he is not worshipped instead of God. But, to Muslims Muhammad is sinless, the most perfect and greatest man who ever lived in this planet, and he is even the greatest of all prophets. Every Muslim worships Muhammad, knowingly or unknowingly and reacts with unprecedented violence if he is defamed by a cartoonist or a novelists or anyone in that matter.
However, if you follow Muhammad biography recorded by famous Muslim scholars such as Bukhari, Ibn Ishaq, Al tabari you will find many incidences of Muhammad being far from a perfect, sinless man. His cruelty towards Jews, Meccan Pagans and his rivals is well recorded by Muslim historians. He massacred three entire Jewish tribes - Banu Nadir, Banu Qurayaza and Banu Qaynuqa; killed the prince of Khaibar and made his wife captive to his tent: there are numerous examples; you just have to read the Muslim biographers in any translation you wish.
Apologists of Islam will try to justify these actions with there hollow logics; but if you are a prophet you should have a better moral outlook than the average human. Muhammad married 12 or 13 times -- which contradicts his own preaching of a maximum four marriages, but what I find most disturbing is, Muhammad married his closest friend Abubakkar’s 6 year old daughter Ayesha. Now if you do that in a modern civilized world, you will be disgraced as a pedophile and spend the rest of your life in prison.
In another disturbing incident, Muhammad was attracted to his adopted son’s wife Zayanab and later even married her. As a leader, he failed to announce his successor which led to the bloody Shia-Sunni division in Islam and you see the second, third and fourth Caliphs of Islam all were assassinated as a result of this power struggle. These are just a few of the incidents of a very eventful life of a very influential man. But, as far as I am concerned, Muhammad was no saint. No doubt he is extremely influential, but I don’t see a perfect-sinless man in him as Muslims try to idolize.
FP: Let’s talk a bit more about Islam as a totalitarian belief system – as you discussed earlier.
HS: As I said earlier, Islam is in a cosmic battle against the un-Islamic world. I think - apart from the mystical Sufi sects, who are mostly branded as heretics by mainstream Muslims - the rest of the Islamic world and its belief systems are undoubtedly totalitarian in nature.
You see, followers of no other religion try to create international associations of nation-states that are based on religion. Only Muslims do and they call it ummah or followers of Muhammad, very similar with socialists and communist revolutionaries.
In personal label, Islam tries to penetrate every phase of life; the sole purpose of Sharia law is to control religious, social and political life of mankind in all of its aspects. Jihad and Sharia are two ultimate tools of Islam’s control mechanism. Muhammad’s life reflects the very nature of a totalitarian system. There was no separation of church and state; not just a prophet Muhammad performed as a statesman, lawmaker, judge, community leader and in many other roles.
So, you can clearly see the beginning was totalitarian in nature. Muslims are required to follow the Quran, the Hadith (deeds and words of Muhammad) and the verdict of Islamic scholars in case the answer is not found in the scriptures. Interestingly, while all other law is human and constantly evolving, Sharia is divine and immutable - human intelligence cannot criticize it, it must be accepted without any doubts and questions.
So, you can see a very tightly controlled society here without any hope of individual freedom. Sharia contains all sorts of crazy principles, such as, intolerance towards pagans and Jews, inequality between man and woman, religious, social and financial restrictions for non-Muslims citizens, acceptance of slavery and polygamy, barbaric punishments like chopping hands and feats from opposite sides to pulling out eyes and beheading -- all sorts of things.
These laws were handed down over a thousand year ago and they didn’t evolve since then. Clearly Sharia is out of touch and not compatible in our twenty-first century. In the last thousand years we have progressed a lot, but the Islamic law and its worldview is stuck in the medieval desert, for generations Muslims are stuck with it as well and they need rescue. No surprise, there is hardly any intellectual progress in Muslim societies. How can there be progress if they regard the Quran as eternal truth and the final solution for all the problems? Progress requires change, Islam is unchangeable. This is why Islam is not just a religion, it is a totalitarian belief system and Muslims are the first victims of it -- but very few of them realize that.
FP: How about those Muslim reformers who are trying to bring Islam into the democratic and modern world? Is there any hope for their efforts? If they asked you for help, what advice would you give them?
HS: Look, I don’t think you can be a Muslim and a reformer at the same time; it’s a paradox and contradictory in terms. Islam forbids reformation, and Muslims feel proud boasting that unlike the Bible, the Quran didn’t go through different editions and versions; it is pure, holy and untouched.
Muhammad insisted throughout his life that the Quran is the literal word of God - the truth once and for all, that’s it. So how can you bring reformation and remain a true Muslim? That’s a puzzling contradiction and I think it is misleading too. These reformers will keep telling you that Islam is the religion of peace and real Islam doesn’t approve the actions of the Talibans, Islam has nothing to do with Jihadists etc. You will eventually get tired of that. This denial is pathetic, you don’t have to go that far to see if real Islam has anything to do with these barbaric acts or not. Just read the Quran, Hadith, Sharia - Islamic texts and they are everywhere. That’s why it is so important to permit debate and criticism about Islam across the globe. Honest and sharp intellectual engagement is very crucial to create a democratic and modern nation.
FP: What advice would you advise to those who want to save western civilization? How best can we fight our enemy in the total war?
HS: London , New York , Sydney - all these big cities have one thing in common: most Muslims go there to improve their economic condition - big cities are like beauty queens- used by all and loved by none.
Most Muslims have already made it very clear that they have no intention of being assimilated into the host society; instead they are repeatedly asking to implement Sharia Law in Canada , UK , and Australia -- as if it is up to the host society to change instead.
To a Muslim mind, Islam is a universal religion and he hopes some day the whole of humanity will embrace Islam. So, there is an element of expansion mentality in them, because Islam is not limited to home and personal relationship. To Muslims, Islam is a complete code of life and society must adhere to that code. So, you see, the world view of Islam is very totalitarian and you have to fight it intellectually, not just militarily. It is also a war of ideologies, we must not forget.
Unfortunately, some western societies continue to turn a blind eye when there is a Muslim-on-Muslim violence: such as, teenagers forced by migrant parents to follow Islamic codes. Some western societies are too politically correct to take any action when a freethinker is attacked for his unbelief, scared of losing the popular Muslim vote or political support. I believe that the West must always adhere to its secular principles and take prompt actions when there is violence against women or somebody is forced to follow Islamic codes. This will send a very clear message to Islamists and potential jihadists. There are an increasing number of Islamic schools in western countries, this is another way to brainwash children at a very early age and isolate them from the mainstream society by implying that We are Muslims, they are Christians; we are different. They eat pig, we don’t; we are different, by forcing girls to wear hijab sends a clear message: we are sacred, they are not, and they are whorelike.
So, it is very dangerous to turn a blind eye in such incidences in the name of promoting multiculturalism. Respect for other cultures, other values is important and a crucial component of secularism and democracy; but, if these other values are here to destroy our own civilization and modernity - then we have fight them vigorously- with reason, argument, criticism, legal and military means if it turns into violence- so that our values of civilization are protected.
Religious belief is fine; but the practices, literal submission to scriptures; religious institutions should not be tolerated. By saying that, a Muslim should have absolute freedom to his personal religion; but if he jumps up and demands the death penalty of a writer or preaches hatred in a community he should be disciplined accordingly by law.
As I said, the West must adhere to its secular principle and defend its democratic right and freedom at all costs and politicians should stop being too politically correct and they should be unapologetic when it comes to defending the core values of civilization.
However, we should remember it is not necessarily a battle between the west and Islam -- as some like to portray it to fulfill there own agenda. As I said before, Jihadists divide the whole world into two spheres - Islamic world and un-Islamic world. I won’t do that. To me, it is the ultimate battle between those who value freedom, peace and humanity and those who do not, and we must triumph at all cost for the sake of our own existence.
FP: Hossain Salahuddin, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview. Thank you for your bravery and your fight for freedom and truth.
HS: It’s an honor. Thanks.