Saif Rahman: Open Minded Alternatives to Fundamentalism
Thu, February 11, 2016
Muslims at Friday prayers in the UK. (Photo: © Reuters)
He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Dialogue Coordinator Elliot Friedland about how he sees humanist and cultural Islam.
The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Clarion Project.
Clarion Project: How do you define being a Humanist and Cultural Muslim?
Saif Rahman: The term belongs to the two main groups I believe hold the key to long lasting Islamic reform. Humanist Muslims are those who believe in Islam from a humanist perspective; and cultural Muslims are people like me, ex-muslims who still retain certain cultural aspects of their former faith (such as celebrating Eid) but no longer believe in it spiritually.
Clarion: Your book is called 'The Islamist Delusion' why did you write about Islamism rather than just Islam?
Rahman: My book ‘The Islamist Delusion’ does cover Islam, but my primary aim was to destroy the potent myth of literal Islam. The title was inspired by Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion" where he debunked the God of the West.
As the focus here was the God of the East I had initially planned to call the book "The Allah Delusion". However I felt this was unfair as many Muslims, for example Sufis, do not believe in a literal understanding of the scriptures.
Also at the time I was in the early stages of the Humanist Cultural & Muslim Association and in discussions with the [British] Home Office and various think-tanks. I wasn't sure how people would react to such a strongly-titled book so I decided to go with the more accurate title, the Islamist Delusion.
Clarion: You run the popular Facebook group Humanist and Cultural Muslim Association. What is the goal of this group?
Rahman: It's a turbulent but fun group that's difficult to keep up with at times, we have 20,000 members with thousands of posts each day.
The goal is in keeping with the strategy of the Association; to seek progressive advancement for Islam by mobilizing those with an Islamic heritage but culture consistent with a humanist philosophy in life. We envision a world where we are all free to live on the basis of reason, experience and shared human values and our mission is to create an influential mass movement devoted to this end.
A growing malaise and disillusionment plagues the Muslim community at large; there is wide-scale disappointment over who actually represents and speaks for them. If our aim is to focus on those Muslims not yet infected by extremist thinking, it’s critical they are presented with an alternative that can still ground and fulfil their sense of belonging.
HCMA intends to plug this gap by offering a reliable, open-minded alternative and a community where like-minded, motivated and intelligent individuals dedicated to promoting free thinking and free speech can come together as a collective. Islamism relies upon resisting social change to preserve its antiquated culture.
This raison d’etre is manifest by its contempt for other lifestyles coupled by full-blown conspiracy theories to match. To weaken the fundamentalists' grip on fractioned Muslims we need to form deeper connections with the disparate, apathetic, non-fundamentalist mass in the Muslim spectrum by building an equal and opposite force, only then can the problem be automatically and sustainably addressed from within.
These plans will kick-start our initiatives and we expect this to springboard various initiatives in the future. In the medium term we intend to cement our positioning as an influential voice of reason.
In the long term we hope to become a consultative body for social policy in both Muslim, and non-Muslim countries, and an instrumental catalyst for change worldwide.
Clarion: In your book you compare cult members to Islamist jihadists. What are the advantages of this comparison in understanding and tackling terrorism?
Rahman: We need to steer away from dismissal rhetoric and fudgery like "They are just bad eggs" or "They are reacting to Western policies" because it obfuscates the truth and prevents us dealing with the real problem.
Similar to the cults of Jim Jones, the Moonies, Heaven’s Gate and Shoko Ashara, scientologists are asked to hand over their worldly possessions to the leader, abstain from sex, leave their jobs, friends and relatives behind in order to live austere lives and follow them.
David Koresh told his American cult following that women belonged to God; and since he was the Messiah, they belonged to him. He slept with the wives and teenage daughters of his followers, but prescribed celibacy for them. He ultimately caused the death of over 70 of his followers who fought to the end at his behest against the FBI.
The Sahaba (Muhammad's companions) were also asked for personal sacrifices during Islam’s early history. They were encouraged to ignore their non-Muslim kindred including their parents:
(Quran 9:23) O ye who believe! Choose not your fathers nor your brethren for friends if they take pleasure in disbelief rather than faith. Whoso of you taketh them for friends, such are wrong-doers.
Even their children….
(Quran 63:9) Let not your wealth nor your children distract you from remembrance of Allah. Those who do so, they are the losers.
And their wealth too..
(Quran 64:15) your children are only a temptation, whereas Allah with Him is an immense reward. (Quran 64:17) If ye lend unto Allah a goodly loan, He will double it for you.
In Jim Jones’s case, after killing a senator, he told his followers to commit mass suicide by drinking cyanide poison. 910 people died, including parents who told their children to drink it.
They were just a group of disenfranchised individuals before they met him. Excerpts from the infamous 'Jim Jones Tape', recorded in the final moments of believers who voluntarily drank poison and fed it to their children. A woman protests, but the crowd silences her and everyone expresses their readiness to die.
Whilst the transcript (widely available on the Internet) of the actual tape recording is shocking, it also reveals the nature of blind faith.
I believe zealous Muslims, moreover their suicidal counterparts, belong to the same phenomenon.