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Letter to Ali A Rizvi

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Ali A. Rizvi, author of The Atheist Muslim (forthcoming from St. Martins), and man with a sense of humor, shared the following:

Letter to Ali:

How do you manage to look at your Muslim family, knowing your (sic) supporting men that want to strip away Muslim human rights and the dignity of your family, stop Islamic immigration (As highlighted in Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation) and other things. You think religion is inherently evil? Fine. But Islam isn’t unique in it’s teachings on this subject in any way.

Ali Hanging with the Fundamentalists

Maajid Nawaz at least acknowledges that, (sic) there is a religious component, but also political.

You wonder why Kashif ‘Mr. Banana‘ Chaudhry gets on your ass so much? This is why.”

Ali’s Response: 

The only people who actually wanted to take away my Muslim family’s rights or mine were the governments of Muslim majority countries, as well as the societies within them. Secular society is the only system that gives both Muslims and apostates the rights they deserve.

As for the false religion-politics dichotomy: the Abrahamic religions are inherently political. Holding masses of billions to archaic codes of belief and behavior, and manipulating them with promises of eternal reward or horrific torture – is inherently political – and fascist.

I don’t judge Islam by the acts of a few, whether it’s people like you and Reza Aslan, or ISIS and Al Qaeda. I judge it by the one thing that is common to all of them – the Quran. And I assume its writer actually meant the words he wrote. If everything has 20 different interpretations, the writer is either grossly inarticulate or grossly incompetent. I don’t buy the idea that distortions of words and sentences to mean the opposite of what they say is a form of ‘interpretation’. If you’re interpreting ‘beat your wife‘ to mean ‘women are equal to men’ – you lose credibility.”

Written by Caleb Powell

August 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm

An Ex-Muslim Is Granted Residency: Guest Post by Alishba Zarmeen

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In recent weeks, a string of slayings in Karachi and beyond has presented a grim picture for minorities in Sunni-dominated Pakistan, as well as for Pakistani human rights activists and others who speak out against injustices.” – Saher Baloch – “Pakistani Activists Risk Death” LA Times

Guest post by Alishba Zarmeen

I am still feeling very surreal about the fact that I am finally safe. I finally have a home. I won’t have to worry about having to go back to a place where either a lynch mob or the legislation, both full of religious and nationalistic lunacy, are out to get anyone who does not think the same way as the herd. I finally have a country to call my own which has promised to protect my human rights and freedom, and where violence is taboo instead of being a norm. I can finally live and breathe democracy instead of hiding away from corrupt politicians and sell-out Islamists. I am finally able to have an apartment lease with my name on it and wake up next to the love of my life every morning and not worry about what if I have to return to an Islamic hellhole of a country. I can establish my own business, continue higher education at little to no cost of my own (to be fair, I owe Davis United World College Scholars Program my life).

In the last two days, I was asked twice if I am from Canada, and I almost teared up both the times when the word “yes” came out of my mouth. One of those people asked where I am originally from and I was the kind of joy I have never felt before when I said, “I was born in Pakistan and I’ve lived all over but Canada is home.”

I don’t think that this sense of feeling safe can ever be put in to words. That I can live my life the way I want, love whoever I want, wear shorts or a saree and have no one ask any questions, eat all the crispy bacon and tikka in the world, identify as an atheist openly on any form, pick up tampons from the grocery store and even male cashiers don’t care, no one worrying about my marital or religious status, dance however long I want, have the luxury of availing paid maternity leave, have free healthcare – plus so much more – and I no longer have to worry about all of it being taken away from me or being left stranded in a crisis and not have a government that worries about how their people are doing at home and abroad.

And before anyone says something stupid, yes, Canada is not perfect but it is more close to perfection than most other places in the world.

I am going to have to get used to this feeling of knowing that I am now as safe in this world as anyone possibly can be. But I don’t think I want this feeling to ever sink in because I do not want to forget that there are many out there who may not ever know what it feels like to be accepted by a society and a country and be *allowed* to experience love, freedom, friendship, and happiness.

Written by Caleb Powell

June 27, 2015 at 10:34 am

Tahera Ahmad: Drama Queen or Victim?

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Tahera Ahmad ExTrib

Drama Queen?  From the dust up over Ms. Tahera Ahmad and the Diet Coke, there’s a compelling case that she overreacted and may be more drama queen than victim. And she will lose all credibility if she pursues a lawsuit. But does that matter or excuse bigotry? I write at the Express Tribune:

“If you have been following the ‘Tahera Ahmad and the Diet Coke’ saga, you know that a United Airlines flight attendant refused to serve a Muslim Chaplain, Ms Ahmad, on the grounds that the can could be used as a weapon, a disagreement followed, and a fellow passenger made profane comments aimed at her religious identity… more here”

Tahera Ahmad and the curious case of Islamophobia – The Nation PK
It’s just a can of soda – Dawn
My name is Tahera and I need Coke! – The Nation PK

Written by Caleb Powell

June 14, 2015 at 9:07 am

Posted in Express Tribune, Islam

The Suffering of Ilaf Esuf: Is America Halal enough for this Berkeley journalist?

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“Now the only halal thing I can have is a fish fillet sandwich from McDonald’s, and if people are already questioning the contents of their meat, imagine what’s in the fish.”Ilaf Esuf, The Daily Californian

Berkeley Takes a Stand:  UC Berkeley, the same UC Berkeley that protested Bill Maher, and whose student newspaper censored student Shanzeh Khurram’s article on her apostasy, has finally stood up for something, by damn. More halal food! See The Daily Californian’s editorial “Thawing the Pot,” by immigrant Ilaf Esuf.

Ilaf Eluf speaks: “I will meet the United States halfway, so long as it meets my Sri Lankan side halfway.”

And: “I am not ungrateful, and I am not impatient. I am simply confused.”

Entitlement:  When I lived in the UAE there was no pork, alcohol was limited, and during Ramadan I couldn’t get a falafel at the faculty cafeteria. I survived. To expect your new home to accommodate you, when you are free to “bring your own light to the darkness,” reeks. Ms. Eluf, you need to understand supply and demand.

Editorial:  As far as the editors at The Daily Californian, I’m not really sure what they’re thinking. Let’s hope they and other universities do not send Stepford Students into the world.

Update:  U of Cal supports the right to be anti-Semitic, “UC rejects anti-Semitism legislation


Written by Caleb Powell

June 9, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Why an apostate’s essay, “On Leaving Islam,” was censored at Berkeley

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On Leaving Islam II

“This opinion blog has been retracted because of personal safety concerns.” Kimberly Veklerov, editor-in-chief, The Daily Californian

The following essay,”On leaving Islam,” by a Berkeley student, was censored. At first, I thought the reason was from domestic pressure, and I wrote, “Apostates are being killed and threatened for speaking out, highlighting her words and others like her protects them from future oppression and bigotry. We cannot self-censor. The more that speak, the more that will speak.”

My rush to judgment:  After correspondence with the author, who will return to visit Pakistan, I understand why the post was taken down. After the Bill Maher flap, and other PC issues at Cal, I jumped to a conclusion. Here’s the essay that a Pakistani woman, even in America, could not write:

On Leaving Islam

If someone had told me six years ago that I would leave Islam and end up an atheist, I would never have believed him. Kimberly VeklerovI was born and raised as a Muslim. I grew up in a Muslim country — Pakistan — surrounded by other Muslims who were convinced that their religion was the one true religion. My family, in particular, followed moderate Sunni Islam, which is a more liberal approach based on the “Sunnah,” or Prophet’s teachings. That was the path I set out on. But now, as a Muslim apostate and atheist, my journey couldn’t have led me any further from what I once knew to be true.

Until I was 14, I simply accepted everything I’d been told about Islam. I was taught that being born into a Muslim family is a blessing and is the greatest gift that Allah can bestow upon someone. I initially thought the Sunni path I followed was the one true path, just like my Shia, Bori and Ismaili friends adhered to the teachings of the sects their families followed. I noticed how everyone around me claimed to have a monopoly on the truth, which made me question who was actually right. I started to view Islam — and religion in general — as something dogmatic, irrational, unscientific and, most of all, completely sexist.

A feminist since age 10, it’s always been hard for me to reconcile my feminism with my faith. Even though the Pakistani society in which I grew up was sexist, my family has always been very progressive. As a result, I never accepted the male superiority and traditional gender roles that were part of my society. For most of my teen years, I felt torn apart by my contradictory beliefs. On one hand, I was a radical feminist who supported gay rights. But on the other hand, I was a practicing Muslim whose religion was clearly homophobic and placed men above women.

At that point, I still believed in an all-knowing God, and I felt that if I learned more about Islam, I would be able to understand why it stated the things it did. I read the Quran with translation and countless books on Islamic jurisprudence. I started taking classes at Zaynab Academy and Al-Huda, two traditional Islamic organizations. The Islam they preached was not the liberal, fluid Islam of my parents: Instead, it followed the Quran very rigidly. While the moderate Muslims I knew never encouraged hijab or gender segregation, these institutions differed in their views. I started to follow a more ritualistic Islam, going as far as giving up listening to music and wearing the hijab.

Stifled by orthodox Islam, I decided to turn to a more liberal approach. I embraced Sufism, which is the mystical side of Islam, and began to see God as an entity of love. Feminist scholars, such as Amina Wadud and Leila Ahmed, gave me a glimmer of hope that Islam and feminism could be compatible, although I later found their arguments very selective. On the other extreme, I read writers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, another ex-Muslim atheist, whose harsh criticism of Islam was not always justified.

After trying to understand Islam through a plurality of perspectives — orthodox, feminist, Sufi and liberal approaches — I decided to leave Islam, but by that point, I had realized that I didn’t need to look at things as black and white. I could leave Islam without dismissing it or labeling it as wrong.

Going through all of these versions of Islam has enabled me to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the religion. Islam is no monolith, and with more than 1.5 billion followers, it’s impossible to refer to Islam as a single entity. There are Muslim women who cover every inch of their bodies except for their eyes, and there are also Muslim women who wear short skirts. With so much variation amongst Muslims, it’s hard to determine who really gets to speak for Islam.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, Islam is still extremely misrepresented and shrouded with stereotypes. I want to address these stereotypes and portray Islam in all its diversity. I’ve experienced the religion firsthand and have also viewed it as an objective bystander. I probably spend more time thinking about God than most religious people; despite my skepticism, I’ve always yearned for a spiritual connection. I want to share what I’ve learned about Islam over the years. I plan to defend it and give credit where it’s due — Islam, after all, gave women the right to work and own property back in the seventh century — and I also plan to ruthlessly point out areas that need reform (yes, Islam does allow men to have four wives and sex slaves).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Islam, it’s that my former religion, just like any other ideology, has its flaws. Religion should not be immune to criticism. It’s important to have an honest dialogue about religion and identify what can be improved — and that’s exactly what I plan to do. Related:  “Ex-Muslim:  My parents don’t want me to ‘burn in hell'” – BBC

Written by Caleb Powell

June 8, 2015 at 6:32 am

Sarah Haider’s “Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique”

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Sarah Haider, above, articulates the dialectics between not only Islamists and the West, but within liberals who fail to use one standard for religion. A great speech. May she be invited to universities and public forums all over America.

Bigot Deepa Kumar uses “Native Informants” to describe ex-Muslims

Apostasy:  The choice to leave religion. Those who persecute apostasy violate human rights. Hatred of apostates is similar to misogyny, racism, genocide (religious, ethnic, or national), and hatred of homosexuals. Such countries, cultures, and individuals must be challenged. Thanks to Sarah Haider for her courage to tackle one of the most pressing moral issues of our day.


2:20:  “Ex-Muslims, arguably more than any other group are deeply familiar with the problems entrenched within Muslim communities and inherent in Islamic scriptures. As most of us happen to be both people of color and first or second generation immigrants, we are doubly affected, both by hatred and violence from Muslims, but also bigotry and xenophobia from the broader American public.”

2:50:  “I always expected feeling unwelcome from Muslim audiences, but I didn’t anticipate an equal amount of hostility from my allies on the left. For example, when I first published a piece fact checking Reza Aslan (Patheos – Reza Aslan Is Wrong About Islam and This Is Why)…on his dismissal of female genital mutilation as only an African problem, not a Muslim one. I got many response from people unhappy with what I wrote, almost all of whom questioned my motives rather than addressing my claim. To my surprise, most of my critics were not Muslim, rather, they identified as liberals…Now remember, I published a fact check. It seems to me it would be easy to verify my claims:  fact check the fact check.”

4:01:  “Atheists and secularists can feel secure in the knowledge that their allies on the liberal left will stand with them when their target is the far-right Christians….But when the same scrutiny is applied to Islam you find that, inexplicably, some people on the left begin to align themselves with the Islamic religious right.”

7:02:    “Dean Obeidallah, who is a comedian and author and a liberal Muslim, attempted to defend the Muslim countries by pointing out errors (CNN – Bill Maher’s Muslim Problem) in the statistics Maher used. Let me quote his piece on CNN. He says, ‘a 2013 Pew poll actually found only 64% of Egyptians supported this.’ By ‘this’ he means the death penalty, ‘still alarmingly high, but not 90%….while only 13 Muslim nations have penalties for apostasy, while 34 do not.”

8:34:  “Why is my life worth less?”


Written by Caleb Powell

May 28, 2015 at 10:37 pm

Guest Post by Moin Rahman: “First they came for the Night Clubs”

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This is a guest post by Moin Rahman:

To all my friends who are “moderate” believers/practitoners of their religions and faiths, specially in South Asian countries (India/Pakistan) and rest of the world, including the US. This with a hat tip to the protestant pastor, Martin Niemöller, whose words from his time in Nazi Germany that I repurpose here.

“First they came for the Night Clubs, and I did not speak out–
Because I didn’t frequent night clubs.

Then they came for the Liquor Shops, and I did not speak out–
Because I was a teetotaler.

Then they came for the supposed blasphemous books, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not interested in critical literature.

Then they came for the rap music, and I did not speak out–
Because I always listened to devotional songs.

Then they came for the minorities, and I did not speak out–
Because I belonged to the majority community.

Then they came for the hijab / mangala sutra non-wearers, and I did not speak out–
Because out of “personal” beliefs, not peer pressure, I always wore one.

Then they came for me–because I wanted to be a literate, independent woman, and proud of my womanhood — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Moin Rahman is a cognitive scientist and aspires to be a citizen of the world. In personal life, he uses science to understand the physical world, stoic philosophy to live the well examined, virtuous life, Eastern meditative practice to nourish his mind and and Greco-Roman athletics to condition his body.

Written by Caleb Powell

May 16, 2015 at 11:47 am

Posted in Islam, Religion

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