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Why I Left Islam: My Passage From Faith to Enlightenment

I was born to a religious family. From my mother's side I have a few relatives who are Ayatollahs. Although my grandfather was a skeptic, in the family where I grew up religion has been the pivot around which our lives revolved. My parents were not very 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 the "real 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 fifteen years old. He was a fanatical Muslim who was much concerned about the filth [Islamic jurisprudence]. It determines the way a Muslim should pray, fast, run his public and private life, do business, clean himself, use the toilet, and even copulate. I argued that this has nothing to do with the real Islam, that it is a concoction of the mullahs and that too much attention to fiqh diminishes the relevance of the real Islam, which is a religion to unite man with his creator.

I believe that I was lucky to have open-minded parents who encouraged me to think critically. They tried to instill in me the love of God and his messenger, yet upheld humanistic values like equality of rights between men and women and love for all humankind irrespective of their faiths. In a sense, this is how most modern Iranian families were. In fact, the majority of Muslims who have some education believe that Islam is a humanistic religion that respects human rights that elevates women and protects their status. Most Muslims still believe that Islam means "peace."

I expended my early youth in this sweet dream: advocating the "real Islam" as I thought it should be and criticizing the mullahs and their deviations from the real teachings of Islam. I idealized an Islam conforming to my own humanistic values. Of course, my imaginary Islam was a beautiful religion. It was a religion of equality and of peace. It was a religion that encouraged its followers to go after knowledge and be inquisitive. It was a religion that was in harmony with science and reason. I thought science got its inspiration from this religion. The Islam that I believed in was a religion that sowed the seeds of the modern science, which eventually bore its fruits in the West and made modern discoveries and inventions possible. Islam, I used to believe, was the real cause of the modern civilization. The reason the Muslims were living in such miserable state of ignorance in comparison to the un-Islamic West was all the fault of the self-centered mullahs and the religious leaders who, for their own personal gain and dominance, had misinterpreted the real teachings of Islam.

Muslims honestly believe that the great Western civilization has its roots in Islam. They recall great 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 0.74% of a second. Zakaria Razi can very well be regarded as one of the first founders of empirical medicine who based his knowledge on research and experimentation. Ali Sina's monumental encyclopedia of medicine was taught in European universities for centuries. There are so many more great luminaries with "Islamic names" who have been the pioneers of modern science when Europe was languishing in the medieval era or the Dark Ages. Like all Muslims, I used to believe that all these great men were Muslims, that they had been inspired by the wealth of hidden knowledge that is in the Koran, and that if the Muslims today could regain the original purity of Islam, the long lost glorious days of Islam would return and the Muslims would lead the advancement of the world civilization once again.

Yet the reality was harsher than dreams. Iran was a Muslim country but it was also a corrupt country. The chance of getting to university was slim. Only one in ten applicants could get to university and 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. The regime of the shah was a repressive regime and freedom of thought was suppressed. People feared each other as each person could turn out to be a secret agent of the dreaded Sazamane Etelaat Va Amniate Kechrar (SAVAK; Iranian secret police). I was always outspoken and hardly had any "tact" to keep my mouth shut when my life was in danger. The level of education in Iran was not ideal. Universities were underfunded, as the shah preferred building a powerful military force and becoming the gendarme of the Middle East to building the infrastructure of the country and investing in education. Because of all these factors, my father thought I would be better off if I left Iran and continued my education somewhere else.

We considered America and Europe but my father, acting upon the advice of a few of his friends, thought another Islamic country would be better for a sixteen-year-old boy. We were told that the West is too lax in morality, that its people are perverts, that the beaches are full of nudes, that they drink and have licentious lifestyles and all that could represent a danger to a young man. So I was sent to Pakistan instead. Pakistan, being an Islamic country, was safe. People were religious and therefore moral.

This, of course, proved to be untrue. I found people there to be as immoral and corrupt as Iranians. Yes, they were very religious. Yes, they did not eat pork and I saw no one consuming alcohol in public, but I noticed they had dirty minds, they lied, they were hypocrites, and they were cruel to the women and, above all, filled with hatred for the Indians. I did not find them better than Iranians in any way. They were religious, but not moral.

In college I did not take Urdu (the national language of Pakistan, much influenced by Persian); instead I took Pakistani culture to complete my A-level FSc (fellow of science). I learned about the reasons for the partition (of India) and for the first time about Muhammad All Jinnah. He was presented as a very 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 Jinnah as an arrogant and ambitious man who was responsible for breaking up a mighty nation and causing millions of deaths. I did not see difference of religion enough reason to break up a country. The very word Pakistan seemed to be an insult to the Indians. They called themselves pak, or "clean" to distinguish themselves from the Indians, who were najis ("unclean"). The irony is that 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 my discussions with my friends I failed to convince anyone of the "real Islam." I condemned their bigotry and fanaticism, while they disapproved of me for my westernized and un-Islamic views. I recall when I spoke about the hijab ("the veil"), arguing that this has nothing to do with woman's chastity, I was accused of preferring to see women's underwear. When I spoke of women's rights and their freedom I was asked whether I enjoyed watching my wife making love to another man.

I decided to go to Italy for my university studies. I concluded that there was nothing I could learn in an atmosphere filled with bigotry and stupidity. In Italy people drank wine and ate pork. But I found they were more hospitable, more friendly, and less hypocritical. I noticed people were willing to help without expecting something in return. I met an elderly couple who were very hospitable to me. They called me on Sundays to have dinner with them and not stay home alone. They did not want anything from me, they just wanted to have someone to give their love. I was almost a son to them. Only those who have come to a new country, who do not know anyone and cannot speak even the language, can appreciate how much the help and the hospitality of a local is worth.

Their house was sparkling clean and the floor was marble and always shiny. This was quite in contrast with my idea of Westerners. Although my family was very open toward other people, my religion had taught me that the non-Muslims are najis (IX.28) and one should not take them as friends. I had a pocket copy of the Koran that I still have and used to read from it often. The verses were underlined with a Parsi translation. I came across this verse:

O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as awliya' (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but awliya' to one another.... (V.51)

I had difficulty understanding the wisdom of such verses. I wondered why I should not befriend this wonderful elderly couple who apparently had no other motive in showing me their hospitality than just making me feel at home. I thought they were "real Muslims" and tried to raise the subject of religion, hoping they would see the truth of Islam and embrace it. But they were not interested and politely changed the subject. I don't think I was ever stupid enough to believe that all nonbelievers will go to hell. I suppose I read this in the Koran before, but never wanted to think about it. I simply shrugged it off or wanted to close my eyes, not wishing to see it. Of course, I knew that God would be pleased if someone recognized his messenger, but I never thought he would actually be that cruel to burn someone in hell for eternity, even if that person is the author of good deeds, just because he was not a Muslim. I read the following warning:

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). (111.85)

Yet I paid little heed and tried to convince myself that the meaning has something else than what it appeared to be. At that moment it was not a subject that I was ready to handle, so I did not think about it.

I hung around with my Muslim friends and noticed that when it was convenient for them they lived a very immoral life. Most of them found girlfriends and slept with them. That was very un-Islamic, but 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 girls, and therefore were used by them just for sex. This attitude was not general. Those men who were less religious were more respectful and sincere toward their girlfriends, and some even loved them and wanted to marry them; but, paradoxically, those who were more religious were less faithful toward their girlfriends. But I had such high esteem for religion in my mind that it was hard for me to relate the immoral and callous behavior of the Muslims to what was being taught in Islam. I always thought that the true Islam was what was right. If something was immoral, unethical, dishonest, or cruel, it could not be Islam. Years later I realized that the truth is completely the reverse. I found many verses that were disturbing and made me rethink my whole opinion of Islam.

The funny thing was that the same very people who lived, according to me, unethically and immorally were the ones who called themselves Muslims, said their prayers, fasted, and were the first to defend Islam if anyone raised a question about it. They were the ones who would lose their tempers and enter into fights if someone dared say a word against Islam.

Once I met a young Iranian man at the university restaurant. I sat next to him and became his friend. Later I introduced him to two other Muslim friends of mine. We were all of the same age, but he was an erudite young man full of virtue and wisdom. All of us were captivated by his charm and his high moral values. We used to wait for him and sit next to him during the lunch hour, as we always learned something from him. We used to eat a lot of spaghetti and risotto and were craving for a good Persian ghorme sabzi and chelow. Our friend said that his mother had sent him some dried vegetables and invited us to go to his house the next Sunday for lunch. We found his apartment very clean, unlike the houses of other guys. He had made us the delicious ghorme sabzi that we ate with a lot of gusto and then we sat back chatting and sipping our tea. It was then that among his books we found some Baha'i books. When we inquired, he said that he was a Baha'i. Of course that did not bother me at all, but my two friends on the way back said that they do not wish to continue their friendship with him any more. I was surprised and asked, Why? They said that being a Baha'i makes him a najis person and had they known that he was a Baha'i, they would not have befriended him. I was puzzled and asked why they thought he was najis if we all were complementing him on his cleanliness and had never seen any impropriety from him. We all agreed that he was morally superior to the Muslims we knew, so why this sudden change of attitude? Their response was very disturbing. They said that the name itself had something in it that made them dislike this religion. Then they asked me whether I knew why everyone disliked the Baha'is. I told them I didn't know, because I didn't dislike anyone. But 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 had come to know this close, and in fact he was an exemplary man. So I wanted to know the reason for their dislike. There was no particular reason, they said. It's just they knew that they should not like the Baha'is.

I am happy that I did not continue my friendship with these two idiots, yet I learned how prejudice is formed and operates.

Later I realized that this prejudice and hatred that Muslims harbor in their hearts against almost all non-Muslims is not the result of any misinterpretation of the teachings of the Koran but because the Koran teaches hate and prejudice. There are many verses in the Koran that call believers to hate nonbelievers, to fight with them, to call them najis, to subdue and humiliate them, to chop off their heads and other limbs, to crucify them kill them wherever they find them.

I left religion on the back burner for several years. Not that my views about religion had changed or I didn't consider myself religious anymore, I just had so much to do that I had less and less time to expend on religion. I simply lived the way I thought I was supposed to live according to my understanding of how a good Muslim should live. Meanwhile I learned more about democracy, human rights, and other values, like equality of rights between men and women, and I liked them.

The Islamic revolution of Iran was a curse to my country. I was not there to see it firsthand, but what I heard about it was nauseating. The mullahs tried to impose a reign of terror that they called "Islamic." Lives became cheap. They executed the Iranians by hundreds. Anyone who disagreed with them was sent to jail, executed, or murdered. Young girls were killed, but before killing them they raped them because, according to the Muslims, this would impede God sending them to Paradise. Minorities became fair game. Many of them were executed for no other reason than belonging to another religion. Baha'is especially suffered the most, for they were regarded as apostates. I followed the news from abroad and I was shocked to see my people had stooped to such depths of barbarity.

Someone told me that he knew Khomeini prior to his rise to power. He said that once he saw Khomeini trying to kick a fly out of his room with a flyswatter. This person asked Khomeini why he didn't kill it, to which Khomeini responded that the fly is a creature of God and should not be killed. I wondered what made this man, who would not hurt a fly, murder so many people so heartlessly. He murdered thousands of Iranians. He massacred thousands of Iraqi prisoners of war. How could he do that? The Islamic regime in Iran started torturing people, beating them, stoning women accused of adultery, and made of Iran a giant prison and a huge torture chamber. Is that what Islam was all about? Then came along the Taliban in Afghanistan, who even surpassed the Iranian mullahs in cruelty. Yet all the time I tried to convince myself that this is not the "real Islam."

On one occasion Khomeini made a speech in which he called upon the Iranians to kill the enemies of Islam. He condemned those Muslims who would pay attention only to the few verses of the Koran that speak about tolerance. He called those who wanted to present Islam as a religion of peace hypocrites, and told everyone that Allah had ordered Muslims to be harsh with the enemies of Islam and that forgiveness was un-Islamic. He asked why we always talked about a few verses of the Koran that mention forgiveness and tolerance and neglected the entire Koran that tells you to be harsh with the infidels and the "hypocrites." This is a widely published speech and is available on the Internet.' Some Iranians accepted what he told them, and their bigotry and hate increased. The crimes perpetrated by the revolutionary guards and the basijis (a military force created to maintain Islamic rule in Iran) are so heinous that is unbelievable that a human being can commit such cruelties to another human being. At the same time, many Iranians continued to believe that what Khomeini said was not the real Islam.

One day I decided that it was time to deepen my knowledge of Islam and read the Koran from cover to cover to find out the real Islam on my own. I found an Arabic copy of the Koran with an English translation. Before that I had read the Koran, but only bits and pieces of it. This time I started to read all of it. I read a verse in Arabic, then I read the English translation moving back to Arabic, and did not go to the next verse unless I was satisfied that I had understood it in Arabic completely.

It didn't take me long before I came upon verses that I found hard to accept. One of the first verses that I found puzzling was this one:

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. (IV.48)

I found it hard to accept that Gandhi would be burned in hell forever with no hope of redemption because he was a polytheist, while a Muslim rapist and mass murderer could hope to receive Allah's forgiveness. This raised a disturbing question: Why is Allah so desperate to be known as the only God? Why should he even care whether anyone knows him and praises him or not? I learned about the size of this universe. Light, which travels at a speed of three hundred thousand kilometers per second, takes 20 billion years to reach us from the galaxies that are at the edges of the universe. How many galaxies are there? How many stars are there in these galaxies? How many planets are there in this universe? The thought of that was mind-boggling. If Allah is the creator of this vast universe, why would he be so concerned about being known as the only god by a bunch of apes living in a small planet down the Milky Way?

Now that I lived in the West, had many Western friends who were kind to me, who liked me, who had opened their hearts and their homes to me and accepted me as their friend; it was really hard to accept that Allah wanted me not to take them for friends.

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. (111.28)

Wasn't Allah the creator of the unbelievers? Wasn't he their god, too? Why should he be so unkind to them? Wasn't it better if the Muslims befriended the unbelievers and taught them Islam by setting a good example? By keeping ourselves aloof and distant from the unbelievers, the gap of misunderstanding would never be bridged. How in the world would they learn about Islam if we did not associate with them? The answer to this question came in a very disconcerting verse: Allah's order was to "slay them wherever ye catch them" (11:191).

I thought of my own friends, remembered their kindness and their love for me, and wondered how in the world a true god could ask anyone to kill another human being just because he did not believe in a religion? That seemed absurd, yet this concept was repeated so often in the Koran that obviously there was no doubt about it. In one verse Allah tells his prophet: "0 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" (VIII.65). Why should Allah send a messenger to make war? Shouldn't God teach us to love each other and be tolerant toward each other's befiefs? And if really Allah was so concerned about making people believe in him to the extent that he would kill them if they disbelieved, why would he ask us to do his dirty work and why would he not kill them himself? Are we supposed to be Allah's hitmen or mercenaries?

Although I knew of jihad and never questioned it before, I found it hard to accept that God would have recourse to such violent measures to impose himself 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. (VIII. 12)

It seemed that Allah was not satisfied with just killing the unbelievers. He enjoyed torturing them before killing them. Smiting people's heads from above their necks and chopping their fingertips were very cruel acts. Would God really give such orders? The following 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!" (XXII. 19-22)

How could the creator of this universe be so petty as described in these verses? These verses of the Koran shocked me. I was shocked to learn how Allah ordered the killing of people, how he would torture them eternally in such a horrible way for no reason but disbelief.

I was shocked to learn that the Koran tells Muslims to kill the disbelievers wherever they find them (I1.191), to murder them and treat them harshly (IX. 123), slay them (IX.5), fight with them (VIII.65), to humiliate them and impose on them a penalty tax even if they are Christians and Jews (IX.29). I was shocked when I learned that the Koran takes away the freedom of belief from all humanity, and says clearly that no other religion except Islam is accepted (III. 85). 1 was shocked to learn that Allah would relegate those who disbelieve in the Koran to hell (V.10) and calls them najis (filthy, untouchable, impure) (IX.28). I was shocked to learn that Allah orders the Muslims to fight the unbelievers until no other religion except Islam is left (11. 193). I was shocked when I learned that the Koran says that the nonbelievers will go to hell and will drink boiling water (XIV. 17), that it asks the Muslims to slay or crucify or cut the hands and the feet of the unbelievers, that they be expelled from the land with disgrace and that "they shall have a great punishment in the world hereafter" (V.33). I was shocked when I learned that the Koran says: "As for the disbelievers, 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" (XXII.21). I was shocked when I learned that the Koran prohibits a Muslim to befriend an unbeliever even if that unbeliever is the father or the brother of that Muslim (IX.23, 111.28). I was shocked to learn that the Koran asks the Muslim to "strive against the unbelievers with great endeavor" (XXV.52), and be stem with them because they belong to hell (LXVI.9). I was shocked to learn that the holy Prophet demanded his followers to "strike off the heads of the disbelievers," then, after making a "wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives" and enslave them (XLVII.4). I was shocked to learn that the book of Allah says that women are inferior to men and their husbands have the right to scourge them if they are found disobedient (IV.34), and that women will go to hell if they are disobedient to their husbands (LXVI.10). I was shocked to learn that the Koran maintains that men have an advantage over the women (11.228); that it not only denies women equal right to their inheritance (IV.11-12), but it also regards them as imbeciles and decrees that their testimony is not admissible in the court (11.282). This means that a woman who is raped cannot accuse her rapist unless she can produce a male witness. Muhammad allowed Muslim men to marry up to four wives and gave them license to sleep with their slave maids and as many "captive" women as they may have (IV.3). I was shocked to learn that the Prophet himself did just that and raped his female prisoners of war. That is why any time a Muslim army subdues another nation, they call them kafir and allow themselves to rape their women. Pakistani soldiers raped up to 250,000 Bengali women in 1971, after they had massacred 3 million unarmed civilians when their religious leader decreed that Bangladeshis were un-Islamic. This is why the prison guards in Islamic regime of Iran rape the women and then kill them after calling them apostates and the enemies of Allah.

After reading the Koran I was overtaken by a great depression. It was hard to accept all that. At first I started denying and seeking esoteric meanings to the apparent verses of the Koran. But it wasn't possible. The weight of the proof was too big. I found out that Khomeini was right, that the Taliban believe in the real Islam, that what I used to think of Islam was not the real Islam at all. I found out that Islam teaches nothing but hate, that the whole message of Islam is to believe in a deity without any proof, a deity who despises reason, who loves killing innocent people, who is expert in torture, who is ruthless, and who does not know elementary scientific facts about the universe that he allegedly created. This was hard to swallow, and I did not want to accept what I came to learn.

The passage from belief to freethinking and enlightenment has its stages. The first stage is shock, followed by denial. If one can overcome the denial one goes through confusion, guilt, dismay, anger, and finally enlightenment. The majority of Muslims are trapped in denial. They are unable or unwilling to admit that the Koran is a hoax. They desperately try to explain the unexplainable, to find miracles in it, and are not ashamed to bend all the rules of logic to prove that the Koran is right. Each time they are exposed to a shocking statement in the Koran or a shameful act performed by Muhammad, they retreat in denial. This is what I was doing. Denial is a safe place. It is the comfort zone. In denial you are not going to be hurt, everything is okay; everything is fine.

Truth is extremely painful, especially if one has been accustomed to lies all one's life. It is like telling someone that his father is a murderer, a rapist, or a criminal. This might be true, yet the child who adores his father will not be able to accept it. The shock is so great that the first thing he will do is deny it. He will call you a liar and he will hate you for hurting him. He will curse you, hold you as his enemy, and may even discharge his anger at you by physically attacking you.

This is the stage of denial. It is a defense mechanism. If pain is too big, denial will take that pain away. If a mother is informed that her child has died in an accident, the first thing she will do is to deny it. People who have lost a loved one often believe that this is all a bad dream and that when they wake up everything will be okay. But unfortunately, facts are stubborn and they will not go away. One can live in denial for a while, but he must accept the truth sooner or later.

Muslims are cocooned in lies. Because speaking against Islam is a crime punishable by death, no one dares tell the truth. Those who do tell the truth do not go far; they are silenced very quickly. So how would you know the truth if all you hear is lies? On the one hand, the Koran claims to be a miracle and challenges everyone to produce a Surah like it. On the other hand, it instructs its followers to kill anyone who dares criticize it. In such an atmosphere of insincerity and deceit, truth will never be known.

The fact of coming face-to-face with the truth and realizing that all we believed were lies is excruciatingly painful. The only mechanism and the natural way to deal with it is denial. Denial takes away the pain. Denial is soothing. Denial is bliss. But denial is hiding one's head in the sand. One cannot stay in denial forever. Sooner or later we have to face the truth and deal with it.

A great majority of Muslims live in denial. Those who don't are the fundamentalists who are so brainwashed that they actually think killing is good, bombing is holy, stoning is a divine mandate, beating wives is prescribed by God, hating the unbelievers is what God has told them to do, and so on. Apart from this group, which, unfortunately, constitutes the majority of the ignorant masses (see Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.), those Muslims who have come in contact with the humanistic values of the civilized world and like it either know nothing of the ugly truth of Islam or they deny it.

I do not think this group of Muslims will ever see the truth if they are kept cocooned in lies. All they have heard so far is the lie that Islam is good and that if only Muslims practiced the true Islam the world would become a paradise; that it is all the fault of the Muslims who do not practice the real Islam. This is a lie. Most Muslims are extremely good people. They are kind, generous, caring, hospitable, wonderful human beings. What is wrong is Islam. Those Muslims who do bad things are those who follow Islam. Islam rears the criminal instinct of the people. The more a person is Islamist, the more bloodthirsty, hate mongering, and zombielike she or he becomes. What made Khomeini, a man who would literally not hurt a fly, become one of the most despicable murderers of history was his belief in Islam. He believed that Islam is true and that to maintain that truth he was entitled to do what the Prophet of Islam did: kill the unbelievers and massacre the enemies of the true religion of Allah. Winwood Reade said, "A sincerely religious man is often an exceedingly bad man. Khomeini proved this to be a truism.

Later, when I started to study the hadith, I leaned many more horrible facts that I had never heard before. I learned, for example, that my beloved Prophet used to send assassins to terrorize his opponents in the middle of night, telling them to lie and act deceitfully if necessary. I learned that he ordered the murder of a 120-year-old man whose only crime was to recite a lyric ridiculing the Prophet. Another one of his victims was a poetess, mother of five small children, whose crime was also to compose poetry condemning Muhammad for murdering that old man. The assassin entered the house of this woman and pierced his sword in her chest while she was asleep with her baby nursing on her side. And the next day the messenger of Allah praised the assassin.

I wanted to deny what I was reading. I wanted to believe that the real meaning of what is in the Koran is something else. But I could not. I had read the whole thing and could no longer fool myself, saying that these inhumane verses were taken out of the context. What context? The Koran is a book without a context. Verses are jammed together haphazardly, often lacking any coherence. Yet the whole Koran is full of verses that teach the killing of the unbelievers and tell how Allah will torture them after they die. There are very few lessons on morality, on justice, on honesty, or on love. The only message the entire book conveys is to believe in Allah, and to achieve this, it coaxes people with celestial rewards of unlimited sex with fair houris in Paradise and coerces them with the threat of blazing fires of hell. This is the context of the Koran. That is it. When the Koran speaks of righteousness, it does not really mean righteousness as we intend it, but it means belief in Allah. Good actions are irrelevant; belief in Allah is the ultimate purpose of a person's life and of the entire creation.

After reading the Koran, my perspective of reality was jolted. I found myself standing face-to-face with the truth and I was scared to look at it. This was not what I was expecting to see. I had no one to blame, to curse and call a liar. I had found all those absurdities of the Koran and the inhumanities of its author by reading the Koran itself. And I was shocked. Eventually this shock made me come to my senses and face the truth. Unfortunately, this is a very painful process and I do not believe there is an easy way. The followers of Muhammad must see the naked truth and they must be shocked. We cannot keep sugarcoating the truth. The truth is bitter and it must be swallowed; only then the process of enlightenment starts.

But because every person's sensitivity is different, what shocks one person may not shock another. Even as a man, I was shocked when I read that Muhammad instructed his followers to beat their wives and called women "deficient in intelligence" (IV34). Yet I have came to know many Muslim women who have no difficulty accepting these derogatory statements uttered by their prophet. Not that they like to be beaten, agree that they are deficient in intelligence, or believe that the majority of the inhabitants of the hell are women, as the Prophet used to say, but they simply block out that information. They read it, but it doesn't sink in. They are in denial. The denial acts as a shield that covers them, that protects them, that saves them from facing the pain of shock and disillusionment. Once that shield is up, nothing can bring it down. It is no use to repeat to them the same things over and over. At this point they must be attacked from other directions. They must be bombarded with other shocking teachings of the Koran. They may have a weak spot for one of them, and one of those stupid teachings may shock them. That is all they need: a good shock. Shocks are painful, but sometimes they can be lifesavers. Shocks are used by doctors to bring back to life, clinically dead patients.

For the first time, the Internet has changed the balance of power. Now the brutal force of guns, bombs, prisons, and death squads are helpless and the pen is almighty. For the first time Muslims cannot stop the truth by killing its messenger. Now a great number of them are coming in contact with the truth, and they feel helpless. They want to silence this voice but they cannot. They want to kill the messenger but they cannot. They try to ban the sites exposing their cherished beliefs; sometimes they succeed momentarily, but most of the time they don't. (Tripod was forced to shut down my site, now I have it hosted in two places.)3 So the old way of killing the apostates, burning their books, and silencing them by terror does not work. Also, they cannot stop people from reading. So a great number of Muslims who never knew the truth about Islam are becoming shocked after they learn the truth for the first time.

Last year I met a lady on the Internet (Yahoo! clubs) who called herself Khadija an-Niqab. She had a Web site with her picture completely covered in a black veil and the story of how she had become a Muslim. She was very active and used to advise everyone not to read my writings. But when she read the story of Safiyah, an article I wrote about Muhammad's rape of a Jewish woman (after he had killed her father and husband, he tried to force himself on her on the same day) she was shocked. She asked for an explanation from other Muslims, who could not answer her. Then the door was open; she kept writing to me and asking questions. Finally she passed through the other stages that exist between the blind faith and enlightenment very quickly, and wrote a thank you letter for opening her eyes and withdrew from the Yahoo! Islamic clubs altogether.

I believe when people learn about the unholy lifestyle of the Prophet and the absurdities of the Koran, they will be shocked. At first they will deny, but when they recover from denial, they will be on their way to enlightenment. Our job is to expose Islam; to write the truth about Muhammad's unholy life, his shameful deeds, and his stupid assertions; and bombard the Muslims with facts. These people read what you write, they become angry with you, curse you, insult you, and tell you that after reading your articles their faith in Islam is strengthened. But that is when you know that you have sown the seed of doubt in their mind. They say all this to you because they are shocked. Now they have entered the stage of denial. The seed of doubt is planted and it will wait for the first chance to germinate. In some people it takes years, but given the chance it will eventually germinate.

Doubt is the greatest gift we can give to each other. It is the gift of enlightenment. Doubt will set us free, advance knowledge, and unravel the mysteries of this universe, but faith will keep us ignorant.

One of the hurdles we have to overcome is the hurdle of tradition and false values imposed on us by thousands of years of religious upbringing. The world still values faith and considers doubt something evil. People talk of men of faith with respect and disdain men of little faith. We are screwed up in our values. The word faith means belief without evidence; gullibility also means belief without evidence. There is no glory in faithfulness. Faithfulness means gullibility, credulity, susceptibility, and being easy to fleece. How can one be proud of such qualities?

Doubt, on the other hand, means the reverse of the above. It means being capable of thinking independently, being capable of questioning and being skeptical. We owe our science and our modern civilization to men and women who doubted, not to those who believed. Those who doubted were the pioneers, they were the leaders of thought, they were philosophers, inventors, and discoverers; but those who believed lived and died as followers and gave little or no contribution to the advancement of science and human understanding.

Those who read my articles and are hurt by what I tell them about the Koran are lucky. They have me to blame. They can hate me, curse me, and direct all their anger toward me. But when I read the Koran and learned about its content, I could not blame anyone. So after going through the stages of shock and denial, I was confused and started to blame myself. I hated myself for thinking, for doubting, and for finding fault with what I regarded to be the words of God.

Just like all the other Muslims I was exposed to many lies, absurdities, and inhumanities inherent in Islam, but had accepted all that. I was brought up as a religious person. I believed in whatever I was told. These lies had been given to me in small doses, gradually, since my childhood. I was never given an alternative to compare. It is like vaccination. I was immune to the truth. But when I started to read the Koran seriously from cover to cover and understood what this book had to say, I felt nauseated facing all those lies at once. I had heard all these lies before and had accepted them. It was as if my rational thinking was numbed. I had become insensitive to the absurdities of the Koran. When I found something that did not make sense I automatically overlooked it and said to myself that one has to look at the "big picture." The big picture, however was nowhere to be found except in my own mind. I had made a picture of Islam in my mind that was perfect. So all those absurdities did not bother me because I did not pay attention to them. But when I read the whole Koran I discovered a different picture very different from the picture I had made of it in my mind. The new picture of Islam emerging from the pages of the Koran was a violent, intolerant, irrational, arrogant picture that was a far cry from my mental picture that depicted Islam as a religion of peace, equality, and tolerance.

My first reaction, of course, was denial. That was the easiest thing to do. I had to deny in order to keep my sanity. But for how long could I keep denying when the truth was out like the sun right in front of me? I was reading the Koran in Arabic so I could not say it is the question of the bad translation. I used different translations to compare and make sure I did not misunderstand anything. I realized many translations in English are not entirely reliable. The poor translators had tried very hard to hide the inhumanity and the violence of the Koran by twisting the words and adding their own words, sometimes in parentheses, to soften its harsh tone. When you read the Koran in Arabic and understand it, it is much more shocking than its English translations.

After reading the Koran and coming out of denial, I went through a period of depression. It was as if my whole world had fallen apart. I felt as if the floor on which I was standing was no longer there and I was falling into a bottomless pit. If I say that was like being in hell I am not exaggerating. I was confused and I did not know where to turn. My faith was shaken and my world had crumbled. I could no longer deny what I was reading. But I could not accept the possibility that this was all a huge lie. "How could it be?" I kept asking myself. "How could it be that so many people died for this religion for nothing? How could it be that so many people have not seen the truth and I see it? How could it be that great sears and saints like Maulana Jalaleddin Rumi did not see that Muhammad was an impostor and that Koran is a hoax and I see it?" It was then that I entered into another stage, and that was guilt.

The guilt lasted for many months. I hated myself for having these thoughts. I thought, God is testing my faith. I felt ashamed. I spoke with learned people I trusted, people who were not only knowledgable but also were wise and spiritual. I heard very little that could quench the burning fire that I had within me. One of these learned men told me not to read the Koran for a while. He told me to pray and read only books that strengthen my faith. I did that, but it did not help. The thoughts about the absurd, sometimes ruthless, sometimes ridiculous verses of the Koran kept throbbing in my head. Each time I looked at my bookshelf and saw that book, I felt pain. I took the Koran and hid it behind the other books. I thought if I did not think about it for a while, my thoughts would go away and I would regain my faith once again. But they didn't go away. I denied as much as I could, until I could no more. I was shocked and it was painful.

Then I went through the stage of confusion and bewilderment, pleading for help, and no one could help. Now I was in a deep state of guilt, ashamed of my thoughts and hating myself for having such thoughts. This sense of guilt was accompanied by a profound sense of loss and sadness. I am naturally a positive thinker. I see the good side of everything. I always think tomorrow is going to be better than today. I am not the kind of person who gets depressed easily. But this feeling of loss was overwhelming. I still recall that weight on my heart. I thought God had forsaken me and I did not know why. I did not remember hurting anyone ever. I had gone out of my way to help anyone who had crossed my way and asked me for help. I stopped eating meat because I did not want to destroy a life just to satisfy my taste buds, although the smell and the taste of a good steak drive me crazy. So why did God want to punish me in this way? Why did he not answer my prayers? Why had he abandoned me to myself and to these thoughts for which I find no answers?

This period of guilt lasted too long. One day I decided, enough is enough. I told myself that it was not my fault. I was not going to carry this guilt forever for thinking about things that make no sense to me. If God gave me a brain, it is because he wants me to use it. If what I perceive as right and wrong is completely twisted, then it is not my fault. He tells me killing is bad, and I know it is bad because I would not like to be killed, so why does his messenger kill so many innocent people and ask his followers to kill those who disbelieve? If rape is bad, and I know that it is bad because I do not want it to happen to people I love, why did Allah's prophet rape his captives of war? If imposition of religion is bad, and I know that it is bad because I do not like another person forcing religion on me that I don't want to accept, then why did the Prophet eulogize the jihad and exhort his followers to kill the unbelievers, take their booty, and sell their women and children as spoils of war? If God tells me something is good, and I know that it is good because it feels good to me, then why did his prophet do the reverse of that thing?

It was then that I felt liberated from guilt and entered the next stage, which is dismay, disillusionment, or cynicism. I felt sorry for all the religious people, and especially for all the Muslims who still believed in these foolish teachings. I felt sorry for all those who lost their lives in the name of these false doctrines. I felt sorry for all the women in virtually all the Islamic countries, who suffer all sorts of abuses and are so subdued that they do not even know they are being abused.

Then I became angry. I became angry for having believed in those lies for so many years; angry that I was for wasting so many years of my life chasing a wild goose. I was angry at my culture for it had betrayed me. I was angry at my parents for teaching me a lie. I was angry at my self for not thinking before, for believing in lies, for trusting an impostor. I was angry with God for letting me down, for not intervening and stopping the lies that were being disseminated in his name.

By then I knew that Muhammad was no messenger of God but a charlatan, a demagogue whose only intention was to beguile people and satisfy his own narcissistic ambitions. I knew that all those childish stories of a hell with scorching fire and a heaven with rivers of wine, honey, and milk, full of orgies, were the figments of the sick, wild, insecure, and bullying mind of a man in desperate need to dominate, destroy, and affirm his own authority.

But I could not be angry with my parents, for they did their best and taught me what they thought was the best. I could not be angry with my community, society, or culture because they, too, were just as misinformed as my parents and myself. When I looked carefully, I saw everyone as a victim. There are a billion victims who, in turn, have become victimizers. How I could blame the Muslims if they did not know what Islam stands for and honestly, though erroneously, believe that it is a religion of peace?

What about Muhammad? Should I be angry with him for lying, deceiving, and misleading people? How could I be angry with a corpse? Muhammad was a sick man who was not in control. He grew up as an orphan and had five foster parents before he reached the age of eight. As soon as he came to be attached to someone, he was snatched away and given to someone else. This must have been hard on him and was detrimental to his emotional health. As a child deprived of love and a sense of belonging, he grew up with deep feelings of fear and a lack of self-confidence. He tried to make up for it by becoming a narcissist. A narcissist is a person who has not received enough love in his childhood, who is incapable of loving, but instead craves attention, respect, and recognition. He sees his own worth in the way others view him. Without that recognition he is nobody. He is manipulative and a pathetic liar.

Narcissists have grandiose dreams. They want to conquer the world and dominate everybody. Only in these megalomaniac reveries do they find their narcissistic supply.

Famous narcissists include Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse-tung. Narcissists can be very intelligent, but they are emotional wrecks. They are capable of thinking but incapable of feeling. They set themselves extremely high goals. Their goals always have to do with domination, power, and respect. They are the CEOs of big companies. They are cool, aloof, arbitrary, inflexible, and even ruthless. As Carl Jung put it, a narcissist "may be polite, amiable, and kind, but one is constantly aware of a certain uneasiness betraying an ulterior motive-the disarming of an opponent, who must at all costs be pacified and placated lest he prove himself a nuisance."4

A narcissist is nobody if he is neglected. Narcissists often seek alibis to impose their control over their unwary victims. For Hitler it was Nazism, for Mussolini it was fascism, and for Muhammad it was religion or monotheism. These are just tools in their quest for power. Instead of promoting themselves, they can promote these ideologies, causes, or religions, while presenting themselves as the only authority on and representative of these causes. Allah was Muhammad's own alter ego. He could wield control over everyone's life and death by telling them: This is what God has ordained.

Dr. Sam Vaknin, a psychologist specializing in narcissism, explains:

Everyone is a narcissist, to varying degrees. Narcissism is a healthy phenomenon. It helps survival. The difference between healthy and pathological narcissism is, indeed, in measure. Pathological narcissism and its extreme form, NPD (Narcissistic Pathological Disorder), are characterized by extreme lack of empathy. The narcissist regards and treats other people as objects to be exploited. He uses them to obtain narcissistic supply. He believes that he is entitled to special treatment because he harbours these grandiose fantasies about himself. The narcissist is not self-aware. His cognition and emotions are distorted.'

The above perfectly describes Muhammad. Muhammad was a ruthless man with no human feelings. At first he molded his religion to appease the Jews and attract them, but when he realized that they are not going to accept him and would not become tools in his dreams of domination, he eliminated all of them. He massacred all the men of Banu Quraiza and Kheibar and banished every other Jew and Christian from Arabia. Surely if God wanted to destroy these people he did not need the help of his messenger.

So I found there was no reason to be angry at an emotionally sick man who was long dead. Muhammad was himself a victim of the stupid culture of his people, of the apathy and ignorance of his mother, who, instead of keeping him in the first years of his life when he needed her love most, entrusted him to a Bedouin woman to raise him.

Muhammad was a man with profound emotional scars. Vaknin says that a narcissist "lies to himself and to others, projecting "untouchability," emotional immunity and invincibility.... For a narcissist everything is bigger than life. If he is polite, then he is aggressively so. His promises outlandish, his criticism violent and ominous, his generosity inane."6 Isn't this the image that the Prophet projected of himself?

I could not criticize or blame the ignorant Arabs of the seventh century for not being able to discern that Muhammad was sick and not a prophet, that his outlandish promises, his impressive reveries of conquering and subduing the great nations, when he was just a pauper, were caused by his pathological emotional complications and not due to a divine power. How could I blame those stupid Arabs for falling prey to a man like Muhammad when only in the last century, millions of Germans fell prey to the charisma of another narcissist who, also like Muhammad, gave them big promises of total domination, who was as ruthless as him, as manipulative as him, and as ambitious as him?

When I looked with care, I saw there is not a single person I could find to be angry with. I realized we are all victims and victimizers at the same time. The only culprit is ignorance. It is our ignorance that makes us believe in charlatans and their lies. It is because of ignorance that we let these impostors inseminate hate in us in the name of false deities, ideologies, or religions. It is our ignorance that does not allow us to see our oneness and hinders us from understanding that we are members of one body of humanity related to each other and interdependent with each other.

It was then that my anger gave way to a profound feeling of empathy, compassion, and love. I made a promise to myself to fight this ignorance that divides the human race. We paid dearly for our disunity. The disunity in the human race is caused by ignorance and the ignorance is the result of false beliefs and pernicious ideologies often concocted by emotionally unhealthy individuals for selfserving purposes.

Ideologies separate us. Religions cause disunity, hate, and antagonism. Humanity needs no ideology or any religion. As members of the human race, we need no ideology, cause, or religion to be united; but to be disunited, to fight and kill each other, we need to have an excuse, an ideology, a cause, or a religionsomething for which we are willing to kill.

The process of going from faith to enlightenment is an arduous and painful one. Faith is the state of being confirmed in ignorance. We stay in that state of blissful oblivion until we are shocked and forced out of it. The natural and the first reaction to shock is denial. Denial acts like a shield. It buffers the pain and protects us from the agony of going out of our comfort zone. The comfort zone is where we feel at ease, where we find everything familiar, where we don't have to take new challenges or face the unknown. It is our cocoon. But growth doesn't take place in the comfort zone. In order to go forward and to evolve, we need to get out of our comfort zone. We won't get out of our comfort zone unless we are shocked. It is also natural to buffer the pain of the shock with denial. At that moment we need another shock, and we may decide to shield ourselves again with another denial. The more a person is exposed to facts and the more he is shocked, the more he tries to shield himself with denial. But denials do not eliminate the facts. They just shield us momentarily. When we are exposed to all the facts, we find ourselves unable to keep denying. That is when one of those facts will hit us and we are shocked. Suddenly, we find ourselves unable to keep our defenses up and all the denials come down. We can no longer keep hiding our heads in the sand, pretending that everything is okay. The first shock was a domino effect and we find ourselves being hit from all directions with facts that, up until now, we had kept at bay by denying them. Suddenly all those absurdities we had accepted and even defended do not seem logical anymore, and we are unable to accept them.

It is then that we are driven into the painful stage of confusion. The old beliefs seem unreasonable, foolish, and unacceptable. yet we have nothing to cling to. This stage, I believe, is the most dreadful stage in the passage from faith to enlightenment. In this stage we have lost our faith, but we have found no enlightenment. We are basically standing nowhere, experiencing a free fall. We ask for help, but all we get is the rehashing of some nonsense cliche. It seems that those who try to help us have no clue of what they are talking about, yet they are so convinced about it. They believe in what they don't know. The arguments they present are not logical at all. They expect us to believe without questioning. They bring the example of the faith of others, but the intensity of the faith of other people does not prove the truth of what they believe in.

This confusion eventually gives way to guilt. We feel guilty for thinking. We feel guilty for doubting, for questioning, for not understanding. We think it is our fault if the absurdities mentioned in our holy book make no sense to us. We think that God has abandoned us or that he is testing our faith. In this stage we are torn between our emotions and our intellect. Emotions are not rational, but they are extremely powerful. We want to go back, we desperately want to believe, but we simply can't. We have committed the sin of thinking. We have eaten the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. We have angered our imaginary god. We are cast out of the paradise of ignorance. Now we find ourselves naked, ashamed, overtaken by guilt and with no way to return.

Then we enter the stage of anger. One day we decide that it is not our fault at all if all the mumbo jumbo taught to us in the name of the religion and truth make no sense. We decide to rebel. If the religions are stupid, it is not our fault. If they make no sense, why should we feel guilty? If they are from God certainly they should be logical and reasonable. If they are not reasonable, then perhaps they are not from God. Perhaps they are false doctrines. The fact that a billion people believe in something does not make that thing true. How many of those billion people actually sat down and questioned their beliefs? How many of them can answer our questions? How many of them are allowed to question without fearing persecution? Maybe all of them are in denial. There was a time when everyone thought that Earth was flat. Did this unanimous consensus make any difference to the shape of Earth? At this stage we become angry at ourselves and at everything else. We realize how much of your precious lives we lost believing in so many lies. That is when we enter the next stage, which is dismay.

In this stage we are overtaken by sadness. We ponder upon time lost. We think of so many people who believed in this nonsense and foolishly sacrificed everything for it, including their lives. How many millions of lives were sacrificed at the altar of these false religions? How many people voluntarily faced death and, in the case of Islam, how many people took the lives of other innocent people with a completely clear conscience? The pages of history are written with the blood of people who were killed in the name of Yahweh, Allah, and other gods. All for nothing! All for a lie!

But then we realize that we are the lucky ones for having made it this far, and that there are billions of others who are still trying to shield themselves with denial and not venture out of their comfort zone. There are billions of believers who are cocooned in lies and desperately try to stay there. At this stage, when we are completely free from faith, guilt, and anger, we are ready for understanding the ultimate truth and unravelling the mysteries of life. We are ready to be enlightened. The enlightenment comes when we realize that the truth is in love and in our relationship with our fellow human beings, not in a religion or a cult. Truth is a pathless land.

NOTES

2. Winwood Reade, The Martyrdom of Man (London, 1948), p. 428.

3. main.faithfreedom.org

4. Carl Jung, Collected Works (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), vol. 6.

5. Sam Vaknin, Malignant Self-Love-Narcissism Revisited (Skopje, 1999).

6. Ibid.

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