I was born into a moderately religious family. On my mother’s side I have a few relatives who are Ayatollahs. Although my grandfather (whom I never met) was somewhat a freethinker, we were believers. My parents were not fond of the mullahs. In fact, we did not have much to do with our more fundamentalist relatives. We liked to think of ourselves as believing in “true Islam,” not the one taught and practiced by the mullahs.
I recall discussing religion with the husband of one of my aunts when I was about 15 years old. He was a fanatical Muslim who was very concerned about the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). It prescribes the way Muslims should pray, fast, run their public and private lives, do business, clean themselves, use the toilet, how to urinate, and defacate and copulate. I argued these have nothing to do with the true Islam. I thought these things were fabricated by mullahs, and that excessive attention to fiqh diminishes the value of the pure message of Islam, which I believed is to unite man with his creator. This view is mostly inspired by Sufism. Many Iranians, thanks to Rumi’s poems, are to a great degree Sufi in their outlook.
Of course Sufism is not really peaceful. It is however more mystical than the real Islam that is utterly this worldly and unspiritual. However, it can be quite misleading.
In my early youth I noticed discrimination and cruelties against the members of religious minorities in Iran. This was more noticeable in provincial towns where the mullahs had a better grip over the gullible population.
Due to my father’s work we spent a few years in small towns out of the capital. One day our teacher announced that he would take the class swimming. A simple thing like that was a great treat to us, living in a third world country. We were excited and looked forward to it. In the class there were a couple of kids who were Baha’i and Jew. On the day we were ready to go swimming, out teacher told them they cannot come. He said they are not allowed to swim in the same pool with Muslims. I cannot forget those kids’ disappointment as they left school with tears in their eyes, subdued and heartbroken. At that age, maybe nine or ten, I could not make sense of things and was saddened by this injustice. I thought it was the kid’s fault for not being Muslims.
I believe I was lucky for having open-minded parents who encouraged me to think critically. They tried to instill in me the love of God and his messengers, yet upheld humanistic values like equality of rights between men and women, and love for all humankind. Now I know they did not know anything about the real Islam. In a sense, this was how most educated Iranian families were. In fact, the majority of Muslims believe Islam is a humanistic religion that respects human rights, elevates the status of women and protects their rights. Most Muslims believe that Islam means peace. Needless to say, few of them have read the Quran.
I spent my early youth in this idyllic paradise of ignorance, advocating the “true Islam” as I thought it should be, and criticizing the mullahs and their deviations from the real Islam. I idealized an Islam that conformed to my own humanistic values. My imaginary Islam was a beautiful religion. It was a religion of equality and peace. It was a religion that encouraged its followers to go after knowledge and to be inquisitive. It was a religion that was in harmony with science and reason. In fact, I was led to believe that the science got its inspiration from Islam, which eventually bore its fruit in the West and made modern discoveries and inventions possible. Islam, hence, was the real cause of modern civilization. The reason Muslims were living in such a miserable state of ignorance, I thought, was all the fault of the self-centered mullahs and religious leaders who for their own personal gain had misinterpreted the Islam. This is really how all Muslims think. They are unwilling to find any fault with Islam. They blame themselves and everyone else for everything that is wrong with their religion.
Muslims believe that the western civilization has its roots in Islam. They recall Middle Eastern scientific minds whose contributions to science have been crucial in the birth of modern science.
Omar Khayyam was a great mathematician who calculated the length of the year with a precision of .74% of a second. Zakaria Razi can very well be regarded as one of the first founders of empirical science who based his knowledge on research and experimentation. Avicenna’s monumental encyclopedia of medicine was taught in European universities for centuries. There are more great luminaries, who have “Islamic names,” who were the pioneers of modern science when Europe was languishing in the medieval Dark Ages. Like all Muslims, I believed all these great men were Muslims and that they were inspired by the hidden knowledge in the Quran; and that if today’s Muslims could regain the original purity of Islam, the long lost glorious days of Islam will return and Muslims will lead the world civilization once again.
Iran was a Muslim country, but it was also a corrupt country. The chance of getting into a good university was slim. Only one in ten applicants could get into the university. Often they were forced to choose subjects that they did not want to study because they could not get enough points for the subjects of their choice. Students with the right connections got the seats.
The standard of education in Iran was not ideal. Universities were under-funded, as the Shah preferred building a powerful military might to become the gendarme of the Middle East rather than build the infrastructure of the country and invest in people’s education. He was naturally distrustful of intellectuals. These were reasons why my father thought I would be better off to leave Iran to continue my education elsewhere.
We considered America and Europe, but my father, acting upon the counsel of a few of his religious friends, thought another Islamic country would be better for a 16 year old boy. We were told that in the west, morality is lax, the beaches are full of nudes, and they drink and have licentious lifestyles, all of which being harmful to a young man. So I was sent to Pakistan instead, where people were religious and moral. A friend of the family told us that Pakistan is just like England, except that it is cheaper.
This, of course, proved to be untrue. I found Pakistanis to be as immoral and corrupt as Iranians, if not more. Yes they were very religious. They did not eat pork and I saw no one consuming alcohol in public, but they lied, were hypocrites, were cruel to women, and above all, were filled with hatred of Indians. They were not moral at all. They were religious but not ethical.
In college, instead of taking Urdu I took Pakistani Culture to complete my A level FSc (Fellow of Science). I learned the reason for Pakistan’s partition from India and for the first time heard about Muhammad Ali Jinah, the man Pakistanis call Qaid-e A’zam, the great leader. He was presented as an intelligent man, the Father of the Nation, while Gandhi was spoken of in a derogatory way. Even then, I could not but side with Gandhi and condemn Jinah as an arrogant, ambitious man who was the culprit for breaking up a country and causing millions of deaths. You could say I always had a mind of my own and was a maverick in my thinking. No matter what I was taught, I always came to my own conclusion.
I did not see differences of religion as a valid reason for breaking up a country. The very word Pakistan was an insult to Indians. They called themselves pak (clean) to distinguish themselves from the Indians who were najis (unclean). Ironically, I never saw a people dirtier than the Pakistanis, both physically and mentally. It was disappointing to see another Islamic nation in such intellectual and moral bankruptcy.
In discussions with my friends I failed to convince them of the “true Islam.” I condemned their bigotry and fanaticism while they disapproved of me for my un-Islamic views. It took me many years and a lot of study to realize they were right about Islam and I was the ignorant one.
I reported all this to my father and decided to go to Italy for my university studies. In Italy people drink wine and eat pork, but I found them more hospitable, friendlier, and less hypocritical than Muslims. I noticed people were willing to help without expecting something in return. I met a lovely elderly couple, who invited me to have lunch with them on Sundays so I would not have to stay home alone. They did not want anything from me. They just wanted someone to love. I was almost a grandson to them. Only someone who has been a stranger in a new country can appreciate the value of the help and hospitality of the locals.
Their house was sparklingly clean with shiny marble floor. This contradicted what I had been told about non-Muslims. According to Islam the unbelievers are filthy and one should not befriend them. (Q.9:28) The Quran says, “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as awliya’ (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but awliya’ to one another…Q.5: 51
I had difficulty understanding the “wisdom” of such a verse. I wondered why I should not befriend these wonderful people who had no ulterior motive in showing me their hospitality than just making me feel at home. I thought they were “true Muslims” and I tried to raise the subject of religion hoping they would see the truth of Islam and embrace it. They were not interested and politely changed the subject. I was not stupid enough at any time in my life to believe that all non-believers will go to hell for not being Muslim. I read this in the Quran before but never wanted to think about it. I simply brushed it off or ignored it. Of course, I knew that God would be pleased if someone recognized his messenger but never thought he would actually be so cruel to burn people for eternity, just because they were not Muslim. But the Quran was clear:
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,
Despite that I paid little heed and tried to convince myself that the meaning of this verse and those similar to it is something other than what they appears to be. At that moment this was not a subject that I was ready to handle. So I did not think about it. Most Muslims live in this state of denial.
I hung around with my Muslim friends and noticed that most of them lived a very immoral life of double standards. Most of them found girlfriends and slept with them. That was very un-Islamic, or so I thought at that time. What bothered me most was the fact that they did not value these girls as real human beings who deserved respect. These girls were not Muslim and therefore were used and treated as object. This attitude was not general. Those who made less show of their religiosity were more respectful and sincere towards their western girlfriends and some even loved them and wanted to marry them. Paradoxically, those who were more religious were less faithful and more hypocritical.
In my mind the true Islam was whatever was right. If I thought something was immoral, unethical, dishonest or cruel, I thought it is un-Islamic. And vice versa, anything that was good, I attributed to Islam. This is how most Muslims think of Islam, but that is not Islam. At that time I was unable to see that Muslims are bad because of Islam.
Those who were more devout were more immoral. The ones who defended Islam more vehemently were the ones who led impious lives. They would lose their temper and start a fight if someone said a word against Islam.
Once I befriended a young Iranian man at the university restaurant and introduced him to two other Muslim friends of mine. We were all about the same age. He was erudite, virtuous and wise. We used to wait for him and sit next to him during lunch hour, and we always learned something from him. We used to eat a lot of spaghetti and risotto and craved a good Persian ghorme sabzi and chelow. Our friend said his mother had sent him some dried vegetables and invited us to his house the next Sunday for lunch. We found his two-room apartment clean. He made us a delicious ghorme sabzi which we ate with gusto and then sat back chatting and sipping tea. It was then that we noticed his Baha’i books. When we asked about them, he said he was a Baha’i.
On the way home my two friends said they did not wish to continue their friendship with him. I was surprised and asked why. They said that being a Baha’i makes him najis and had they known he was a Baha’i, they would not have befriended him. I was puzzled and enquired why they thought he was najis if we all were complementing him on his cleanliness. We all agreed he was a morally superior man than the Muslims we knew, so why this sudden change of heart? They said the name itself had something in it that made them dislike this religion. They asked me if I knew why everyone disliked the Baha’is. I told them I didn’t know why others don’t like the Baha’is. Baha means glory. Nothing wrong with that! And that I liked everyone. I asked them since they disliked the Baha’is, perhaps they should explain their reasons. They did not know why! This man was the first Baha’i they knew this well, and he was an exemplary man. I wanted to know the reason for their dislike. There was no particular reason, they said. It’s just they know that Baha’is are bad.
I am happy I did not continue my friendship with these two bigots. From them I learned how prejudice is formed and operates. Later I realized that the prejudice and the hatred that Muslims harbor against almost all non-Muslims is because the Quran instills them in their minds.
Those who go to the mosques and listen to the sermons of the mullahs are affected. There are many verses in the Quran that call the believers to hate the non-believers, fight them, subdue them, humiliate them, chop off their heads and limbs, crucify them, and kill them wherever they find them.
I left the religion on the backburner for several years. My faith had not been diminished, but I had so much to do that I did not have time for religion. Meanwhile, I learned about democracy, human rights, equality, freedom of speech and other things that made the western world become what it is. I liked what I learned. Did I pray? Whenever, I could, but not regularly. After all, I was living and working in a Western country and did not want to look too different.
One day, I decided that it was time for me to deepen my knowledge of Islam and read the Quran from cover to cover. I found an Arabic copy of the Quran with an English translation and used also my own Persian translation. Previously, I read only bits and pieces of the Quran. This time I read all of it. I would read a verse in Arabic; then I’d read its English and Persian translations; then read again the Arabic verse, and did not read the next verse until I understood the Arabic.
It didn’t take long before I came upon verses I found hard to accept. One of these verses was, “Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgiveth anything else, to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin Most heinous indeed.” 4:48
I found it hard to believe that Gandhi would burn in hell forever because he was a polytheist with no hope of redemption, whereas Muslim murderer could hope to receive Allah’s forgiveness. This raised the question, why is Allah so desperate to be known as the only god? If there are no other gods but him, what is the fuss? Why should he even care whether anyone knows him and praises him or not?
That sounded quite petty. Let us say a husband is jealous and says to his wife if you look at other men I will beat you. Now that is quite pathetic. But let us say the couple lives in an island where there are no men except the husband. Wouldn’t it be insane if the husband express jealousy for men who do not exist? If there is no other god but Allah why is he so paranoid? Allah did not seem to be quite a stable god. The Islamic shihadah, there is no god but Allah, started to sound silly. If Allah knows there is no other god but him why is he so obsessed about it?
I learned about the size of this universe. Light that travels at a speed of 300,000 kilometers per second takes 40 billion years to reach us from galaxies that are at the edges of the visible universe. The visible universe could be a speck in comparison to the actual size of the universe. How many trillions of galaxies are out there? Each one of these galaxies contains hundreds of billions of stars? Each star has a dozen of planets. The universe is so big. Why is Allah so concerned about whether he is worshipped by insignificant creatures on this tiny planet?
Now that I had lived in the West, had many western friends who had opened their hearts and homes to me, and accepted me as their friend, it was hard to accept that Allah did not want me to befriend them. “Let not the believers Take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah (Q3:28). Isn’t Allah the creator of the unbelievers too? Isn’t he the god of everybody? Why he should be so unkind to his own creation? Wouldn’t it be better if Muslims befriended the unbelievers and taught them Islam by good examples? By keeping ourselves aloof and distant from others, the gap of misunderstandings will never be bridged. How in the world will the unbelievers learn about Islam if we don’t associate with them? These were the questions I kept asking myself. At the same time I was reading verses such as “slay them wherever ye catch them.” (Q 2:191) That sounded mad. Am I wiser that Allah? Sure it looked like it. Slay them wherever you find them is stupid, no matter who says it. Are these the words of God or are they falsely attributed to him? That was a question kept popping up in my mind as I read the Quran.
I thought of my own friends, remembering their kindnesses and love for me, and wondered how in the world a true god would ask anyone to kill another human being just because he does not believe. Yet this concept was repeated so often in the Quran that there was no doubt about it. In verse 8:65, Allah tells his prophet, “O Prophet! rouse the Believers to the fight. If there are twenty amongst you, patient and persevering, they will vanquish two hundred: if a hundred, they will vanquish a thousand of the Unbelievers.”
I wondered why Allah would send a messenger to make war. Shouldn’t God teach us to love each other and be tolerant of one another? If Allah were so concerned about being worshipped to the extent that he would kill them and burn them if they don’t believe, why would he not kill them himself? Why does he ask us to do his dirty work? Are we Allah’s henchmen and gangsters?
Although I knew of Jihad and never thought about its implication, I found it hard to accept that God would resort to imposing such violent measures on people. What was more shocking was the cruelty of Allah in dealing with the unbelievers:
“I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.” 8:12
It seemed that Allah was not just satisfied with killing the unbelievers; he enjoyed torturing them before killing them. But at the same time he was incapable of inflicting any harm on anyone and relied on Muslims to do his dirty work for him. Smiting people’s heads from above their necks and chopping their fingertips? Are these divine attributes? Would God really give such orders? And yet the worst is what he promised to do with the unbelievers in the other world:
These two antagonists dispute with each other about their Lord: But those who deny (their Lord),- for them will be cut out a garment of Fire: over their heads will be poured out boiling water. With it will be scalded what is within their bodies, as well as (their) skins. In addition there will be maces of iron (to punish) them. Every time they wish to get away therefrom, from anguish, they will be forced back therein, and (it will be said), “Taste ye the Penalty of Burning!” 22:19-22
How could the creator of this universe be so cruel? I was shocked to learn that the Quran tells Muslims to:
- kill unbelievers wherever they find them (Q.2:191),
- humiliate them and impose on them a penalty tax if they are Christians or Jews, (Q.9:29)
- expel them from the land in disgrace. And as if this were not enough, “they shall have a great punishment in world hereafter” (Q.5:34),
- kill their own family in the battles of Badr and Uhud and asks Muslims to “strive against the unbelievers with great endeavor” (Q.25:52),
- be stern with them because they belong to hell (Q.66:9), etc, etc.
How can any sensible person remain unmoved when reading the Quran that says: “strike off the heads of the unbelievers” then after a “wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives” (Q.47:4).
I was also did not like it when I learned the Quran denies the freedom of belief for all and clearly states that Islam is the only acceptable religion (Q.3:85). It sounded petty to for the creator of the world to burn people for disbelief (Q.5:11), call them najis (filthy, untouchable, impure) (Q.9:28) and say they will be forced to drink boiling water (Q.14:17).
But there is no end to Allah’s sadism. He promises, “As for the unbelievers, for them garments of fire shall be cut and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water whereby whatever is in their bowls and skin shall be dissolved and they will be punished with hooked iron rods” (Q.22:9).
As I read more, I came to see that everything wrong with Islam is because of the Quran. The vicious mullahs that foam their mouths and spew hate are not misguided. They are good Muslims doing what Muhammad told them to do. It was I who was ignorant.
The book of Allah says women are inferior to men and their husbands have the right to beat them (Q.4:34); the women will go to hell if they are disobedient to their husbands (Q.66:10); that men are superior to women (Q.2:228) and women don’t have equal right to their inheritance (Q.4:11-12). According to the Quran women are imbeciles whose testimony alone cannot be admissible in court (Q.2:282). A woman who is raped cannot accuse her rapist unless she can produce a male witness, which of course is a joke. Rapists don’t rape in the presence of witnesses. But the most shocking verse is where Allah allows Muslims to rape women captured in wars even if they are married (Q.4:24 and 4:3).
When I read the biography of Muhammad I learned that he raped the prettiest women he captured in his raids on the same day he killed their husbands. This is why anytime a Muslim army subdues another nation, they called them kafir and raped their women. Pakistani soldiers raped up to 250,000 Bengali women in 1971 and massacred 3,000,000 unarmed civilians when their religious leader decreed that Bangladeshis are un-Islamic. This is why the prison guards in the Islamic regime of Iran rape the women before killing. They are accused of being apostates and the enemies of Allah for opposing the regime. That is exactly what Muhammad did. Anyone who opposed him was deemed as opposing God and his blood was halal.
The whole Quran is full of verses that teach killing of unbelievers and how Allah would torture them after they die. There are no lessons on morality, justice, honesty, or love in that book. The only message of the Quran is to believe in Allah and his messenger. The Quran coaxes people with celestial rewards of unlimited sex with fair whores in paradise and threatens with blazing fires of hell those who disbelieve.
When the Quran speaks of righteousness, it does not mean righteousness in the sense that we know it. Righteousness means doing what Muhammad said and did, which was far from being righteous.
A Muslim can be a killer and yet be a righteous person. Good actions in the sense that we generally understand them are secondary. In fact they are unimportant altogether. The belief in Allah and his messenger are the ultimate purpose of a person’s life.
After reading the Quran I became greatly depressed. This book is evil and I had a hard time to believe in so much evilness. I am naturally moved by love. Violence is repulsive to me. At first I denied my understanding of what I was reading and searched for esoteric meanings to these evil verses of the Quran that constituted most of it. My efforts were in vain. There was no misunderstanding! The Quran was overwhelmingly inhumane. It also contained a lot of scientific heresies and absurdities, but they were not what impacted most. It was the sheer violence of this book that really shook the foundation of my belief.
Using both English and Persian translations as my guide, I also noticed that the English translation is not accurate. The translator had tried his best to hide the harshness and asininity of the Quran, twisting the meaning of the words and inserting his own sugarcoated explanations in parenthesis. I checked other English translations and all of them are deceptively soft and sugary. Obviously the translators were aware that their work will be read by non-Muslims and did their best to deceive them. The Persian translator of the Quran did not seem to be bound by such constraints and has retained is pristine evilness.