Imprisonment, Torture in Egypt: The Case of a Christian Convert

Bishoy Armia Boulous's Egyptian identity card

Bishoy Armia Boulous's Egyptian identity card

Raymond Ibrahim

According to attorney Karam Ghobrial (“Gabriel”), his client, Bishoy Armia Boulous, a Muslim convert to Christianity, remains illegally incarcerated and has “vowed to starve himself to death.”

Bishoy, more notoriously known as Mohammed Hegazy, is the first Egyptian ever to try legally to change his religious identity from Muslim to Christian on his official ID, prompting much shock and outrage in Muslim-majority Egypt.

Ghobrial further cited that Bishoy’s detention—in the execution room no less—is illegal, prompted solely by malicious charges against him, all of which stem from his original attempt to formally change his religious identity.

In the words of his lawyer: “Bishoy is imprisoned in the execution room in violation of the law.  Trumped up charges against him have not been proven and he is being treated even worse.  He has not seen the light [of day] since being released from Minya’s misdemeanor court.”

Bishoy was arrested in July 2014.  Then, the judge in Minya cited “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information” as the reason for sentencing the apostate, who in the weeks before was documenting political unrest in Egypt brought on by numerous Islamic attacks on Christians.   He was eventually released, but then immediately scooped up again by State Security acting on behalf of Cairo, now under the charge of insulting the Islamic faith.

Bishoy’s lawyer further said that “the [current] judge is behaving in a prejudiced manner in this case because Bishoy had public announced his conversion to Christianity.”  He stressed the “need for attention to this case, and escalating it, so everyone knows what this convert is being exposed to.”

Bishoy has been imprisoned for nearly six months, without any action being done in his case.  He is being held on charges of “contempt to the Islamic religion” and reportedly spreading “false news” about the existence of State Security “torture chambers” where Muslim converts to Christianity are detained and tortured.  Bishoy apparently refuses to recant this claim (quite possibly because he himself is now experiencing it first hand).

As lawyer Karam Ghobrial maintains, it is clear that the real reason his client is being tortured in prison—where he is being held illegally under ever morphing charges—has to do with what made Bishoy Armia, formerly Mohammed Hegazy, notorious in Egypt in the first place: his audacity not only to convert to Christianity, but to try formally to change his religious identity from Muslim to Christian on his ID card, prompting much enmity for him in Egypt.

In short, Bishoy is just another prisoner of conscience, just another born Muslim who wishes to be Christian—but whose actions have been deemed offensive to the state.  His story occurs with great frequency all around the Islamic world.  In nearby Iran, for example, Iranian-American Christian pastor Saeed Abedini—also seen as an apostate agitator—continues to rot in prison.


Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War in Christians (published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013). He is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum. Mr. Ibrahim's dual-background—born and raised in the U.S. by Egyptian parents —has provided him with unique advantages to understanding of the Western and Middle Eastern mindsets.

Defeating ISIS Means Challenging the Nihilist Ideology of Sharia

From a video made by the Islamic State showing the beheading of a group of Syrian pilots

From a video made by the Islamic State showing the beheading of a group of Syrian pilots

Ahmed Shebani

The threat that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and other Islamist terrorist organizations pose can only be understood in terms of their nihilist ideology that is bent on destroying current civilization.

This nihilism stems from the age-old ideology of the so-called implementation of the “Al-Shari’a,” which is a way of life that rejects everything but itself. It is futile to deal with this Islamist terrorist phenomenon without addressing this ideological problem of sharia law.

At the outset, it needs to be stated that sharia is a gross distortion of Islam, and it is not Islam itself as is commonly held.  It is based on the rulings of human Islamic scholars, denoted in the Quran as Ulu Al-Amr. Sharia is therefore a set of man-made laws that govern a specific society at a specific time. It is fallible and should be subject to change through consensus.

Sadly, most Muslims are not aware of these basic facts.

In the name of this sharia, religious establishments demand that the people obey these despotic laws as their “Islamic duty.” This travesty continues to this day in theocratic states like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

This abuse of Islam by the sharia cult is almost as old as Islam itself. It started with the establishment of hereditary monarchism by the Umayyad dynasty approximately 1,400 years ago.

The Ummayads used tyrannical laws they called “sharia” to stifle the democratic spirit of Islam and to turn it into a totalitarian religion so they could keep their hold on power indefinitely. They totally excluded the people from politics, thus depriving them of their liberties and political rights in the name of implementing sharia, falsely presenting it as the divine law of God.

The Quran grants people all their freedoms, while sharia comprehensively denies them such freedoms.

Diabolically, the religious establishment of the Umayyads and the consequent ruling dynasties asserted that sharia was religion itself, practically making the Quran redundant. Unsurprisingly, the proponents of sharia simply cannot tell the difference between freedom and tyranny, and between justice and oppression, for they have their concept of good and evil completely muddled by this false ideology.

It is time that we Muslims become aware of this sad fact in order to do something about it.

Clearly, what the Umayyads did to Islam is yet to be undone. We Muslims urgently need to go back to the Quran to sort out this ideological mess of sharia. Our salvation lies in the Quran and not in sharia and not anywhere else.

We need to liberate the mosque from the shackles of state power and revert to the teachings of the Quran.

We need independent judiciaries who base their judgments on civil law, enslaved neither to sharia nor to royal families and police states. 

We need to formulate an ideology of liberation strictly based on monotheism so that human determinations are no longer imbued with divine status. Only God is divine and infallible. This clear separation between the divine and the human is Quranic.

Politically speaking, this clear separation is called secularism. The adoption of secularism will enable us to do away with the theocracy of sharia so that we are all equal, in accordance with the message of the Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon him.

In a Muslim secularist state, the people, as represented by their democratically elected parliament, will be the source of legislation. This arrangement needs to be constitutionally enshrined.

The success of this campaign requires confronting the theocracies of Iran and Saudi Arabia. There can never be democracy, normalization and peace in the Middle East while these two vile regimes spread their theocratic poison among the young.

The Arab world is experiencing an ideological vacuum due to decades of vicious Islamist campaigns portraying democracy as apostasy. This has been staunchly supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist organizations.

This lack of a political vision threatens to derail the Arab Spring revolutions. The vision that Arabs must adopt is one of democratic secularism, understanding that democracy is impossible without secularism and its freedoms enhance the understanding and study of Islam.


Ahmed Shebani is the founder of the Democratic Party in Libya, the first political party created after the anti-Qaddafi revolution began and the only one that is actively calling for the establishment of secular democracy with international help and explicitly recognizes the state of Israel.

He was an anti-Qaddafi dissident in Misurata and founded the Libyan Freedom & Democracy Campaign that supported the revolution through Internet-based activism. He and his party calls on the Arab world to ban the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to national security.

You can read Shebani’s previous interview with the Clarion Project here.

The Pope's Openness to Dialogue With ISIS is Laudable But Flawed

St Peter's Square in the Vatican.

St Peter's Square in the Vatican.

Elliot Friedland

Pope Francis has said that he would be willing to engage in dialogue with the Islamic State. This is despite the fact that he himself may be a target of the notorious salafist al-Qaeda offshoot. He has spoken out forcefully in the past against the massacres of christians by the Islamic State and tentatively backed the US led coalition against the group, drawing the ire of jihadis.

He made the remarks to journalists while returning from Strasbourg, where he had just addresed the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. On being asked if it was possible to negotiate with Islamist terrorists he responded 'I never say 'all is lost', never. Maybe there can't be a dialogue but you can never shut a door."

This is even though ISIS have repeatedly threatened to conquer Rome and plant the black flag of their self-proclaimed Caliphate on top of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. That striking image even adorned issue four of the Islamic State magazine, Dabiq.

The Pontiff has swiftly gained a reputation for personal humility and relatability, eschewing the traditional pomp of the Vatican for a more down-to-earth papal style. This comment, coming from a religious leader of his stature could be taken as an expression of grace and virtue, displaying an openness that the Cathoic Church has not expressed for decades.

It is symptomatic, however, of a broader misconception pervading much of western society. The idea is that if the right negotiator came along, the right moment, a negotiation would be possible which would satiate the demands of jihadis and end the conflict.

The idea is dangerous.

It fundamentally misunderstands the nature of their worldview, namely that there can be no other system than Caliphate and the brutally enforced rule of sharia over the entire world. Denial of that simple truth is what enables Islamism to flourish. It enables misguided human rights activists and analysts alike to hang on to a sliver of hope that somehow this can all be resolved, thus enabling them to dodge the question entirely.

On this score arab countries are leagues ahead of the West. The United Arab Emirates has just declared a bevy of Islamist groups worldwide as terrorist organizations, including the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS). When asked why the UAE had listed these groups, the foreign relations minister said "We cannot accept incitment or [terror] funding when we look at some of these organizations. For many countries, the definition of terror is that you have to carry a weapon and terrorize people. For us, its far beyond that. We cannot tolerate even the smallest and tiniest amount of terrorism."

Egypt has just released the findings of a commission launched to investigate the crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood - concluding that Egypt must ban all parties that subscribe to political Islam. The report stated "the lesson we must learn from this experience is that political Islam forces must not be allowed to exercise politics in this country."

These countries have their own problems and like many countries, questionable human rights records. Yet they are able to have clarity on this issue since they are directly dealing with it on a daily basis. For them, leaving open the door to dialogue in defence of some vague idea of the sanctity of diplomacy would be foolish and potentially lethal.

Pope Francis has the luxury of encouraging peace and dialogue wherever he goes. He is, after all, the Pope. Yet when the idea that any problem can be talked over becomes mainstream, it brings with it the notion that there are no real differences in worldview, only different perspectives which can be worked through given enough time. Islamists do not think this way. They have a goal that they will relentlessly pursue and regard anyone outside of the group as an enemy to be defeated, a potential convert, or a tool to be used.

Because of these misguided ideas about possibilities that do not exist, individuals and organizations who should know better allow Islamists to grow more powerful.

The Long-Awaited Debate on Islamism is Here at Last

An Afghan pro-Taliban mob charges an international press convoy. (Photo: © Reuters)

An Afghan pro-Taliban mob charges an international press convoy. (Photo: © Reuters)

Elliot Friedland

A classic cartoon has been re-circulating on social media lately showing a lonely looking elephant sitting on a psychiatrist's couch. The elephant laments "sometimes, even if I stand in the middle of the room, no-one acknowledges me." Anjem Choudary must feel similarly disheartened as, despite his many proclamations, no-one seems to take his dreams of a Islamic caliphate seriously.

There are signs that perhaps this issue is finally entering mainstream public discourse. Bill Maher's now famous segment on Islam was the spark that ignited a trend. Some, like actor Ben Affleck, feel uncomfortable talking about the ideology behind Islamic extremism. Not so Jeffrey Tayler, who penned a recent article in Salon, highlighting the need to accurately identify ideology as the root cause of terrorism. Tayler blamed religion itself, stating boldly: "We will all be better off when we relegate religious texts to the 'fiction' section in our local bookstore."

It is not the intention of this blog to wade into the discussion about religion and faith in today's world. Nor will it make claims about subjects that the greatest minds in human history have been unable to agree upon. What is relevant is when religious extremism inspires a political ideology that seeks to impose itself by force on others.

We are talking about Islamism, not Islam.

This debate has been sorely needed for a long time. When a young Yazidi girl kidnapped by the Islamic State calls a Peshmerga fighter and begs for death, crying "I've been raped 30 times and it isn't even lunchtime" we need to talk about why this is happening. Even though the world went briefly hashtag crazy after hearing of the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, there was never any serious discussion about the sharia-based outlook behind the Islamist group.

219 girls remain in captivity, forced into 'marriages' and sold into sex-slavery. Beyond periodic outrage over specific incidents, the broader trend goes unacknowledged.

Many would rather not talk about what drives global Islamism, instead contenting themselves with vague condemnations of individual events or groups. In this vein, Reza Aslan has become the go-to scholar interviewed on media outlets seeking to explain and describe terrorism without mentioning the Islamist ideology. He does this by means of an obfuscating post-modernism, arguing that religion is "not so much a description of what a person believes…" But that's exactly the crux of the problem. The Jihadist followers of the self-styled Caliph Ibrahim of the Islamic State, the suited politicians of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt and the Wahhabist clerics of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia all share an unshakeable belief in the rightness of their cause and in the divine origins of the laws they enforce. Indeed, only such certainty of faith can give them the conviction to perpetrate the ruthless crimes that they do.

Aslan argues that "the abiding nature of scripture rests not so much in its truth claims as it does in its malleability, its ability to be molded and shaped into whatever form a worshiper requires." Much like Humpty Dumpty in Alice Through the Looking Glass, he seems to say "When I [they] use a word…it means just what I [they] choose it to mean."

One can imagine the gales of hysterical laughter such a statement would provoke in an ISIS barracks, presumably just before they decapitated poor Mr. Aslan on charges of heresy and mounted his head on a spike.

Is Mr. Aslan so jaded that he does not know how to handle someone who actually has beliefs?

Jeffrey Tayler's central point, which he aims squarely at Aslan is this: "No thinking person need feel pressured into condoning or excusing faith-based brutalities out of well-meaning but incorrect liberal sentiments." Clarion Project's latest film, Honor Diaries, charting the struggle of women's rights activists against the brutality of honor violence and female genital mutilation put it another way: 'culture is no excuse for abuse.'

The question of how political ideology, inspired by and adapted from extremist interpretations of religion leads to heinous human rights abuses is not an academic question. Refraining from bigotry is vital, especially in turbulent times when the temptation to resort to black and white binaries is that much greater. The focus of this much-overdue discussion must be on the extremist ideology fueling the jihadist rampage, not on all Muslims.

Yet the overarching imperative is to care about the human rights abuses being committed daily on the ground.

Jeffrey Tayler's article in Salon could not have come at better time. In grand wars over ideas it is ordinary people and disproportionately women, who always suffer the most. Iraq and Syria are in utter devastation. Saudi Arabia and Iran both languish under the iron-booted heel of brutal theocracies. Islamism is attempting to impose its supremacist ideology on Muslim communities in the West, trying to force Western legal systems to accommodate sharia and excuse honor violence and FGM on the grounds of 'cultural sensitivity.' 

It is refreshing and long overdue to finally see people acknowledging the elephant in the room.

A Muslim’s Case for Islamic Reform

Secular and religious Turkish women took to the streets to protest against Prime Minister Erdogan, who sparked outrage when he delivered two fiery speeches attacking abortion and Caesarean births as

Secular and religious Turkish women took to the streets to protest against Prime Minister Erdogan, who sparked outrage when he delivered two fiery speeches attacking abortion and Caesarean births as "secret" plots designed to stall Turkey's economic growth in May 2012. (Photo: @ Reuters)

Ahmed Vanya

Since the attacks of 9/11, there have been plenty of discussions about Islamic reform and a number of wide-ranging searches for reformers who are—or would be—leading such projects. There are those who say that Islam needs reform; those who say Islam does not need reform and those who say Islam cannot be reformed.

Among Muslims, there are those at one end of the spectrum that totally reject the idea of reform, whereas others in the middle desire a limited amount of reform and, on the other end of the spectrum, those who are calling for a total, open-ended, inside-and-out reform and reconstruction of Islamic theology and societies.

The idea of reform and renewal is not actually new in Islamic history, as there have been a number of reformist and revivalist movements throughout many Muslim societies. The important things for Muslims at this juncture in history is to figure out whether reform is necessary and, if so, what the reform’s goals must be and what mechanisms to use to make it happen.

The five pillars of Islam are essential to the faith, so there is no serious effort by any credible groups or persons to reform them. These basic pillars are not a threat to anyone. However, beyond these five pillars, there are a whole host of issues that must be carefully examined.


How Sharia Was Formed

We need to understand how Islamic law, or the Sharia, was formed and the role played by the interpretations of fallible people.

The limited comprehension of mortal human beings limits understandings of Islam and any interpretation of it. Historical Islam, as interpreted and understood by human beings, is not constant or infallible. It has evolved through every age and time based on the outlooks and mentalities of Muslims interpreting it.

Over a span of several hundred years after the passing away of the Prophet Mohammed, the Muslim scholars developed a set of principles known as the Sharia (The Way to Allah) and the Fiqh/Ahkams (understandings, commandments and laws).

The Sharia/Fiqh, as developed over the centuries, did not come directly from Allah, nor did it come from the unadulterated legacy of the Prophet Mohammed.

The Quran was progressively revealed to the Prophet Mohammed over almost 23 years and then compiled into its present form several decades after the passing away of the Prophet Mohammed.

In most cases, the Quran does not provide the background or context of the messages in sufficient detail. This was not a problem when the Prophet Mohammed was alive to explain it, but when he passed away without any contemporaneous notes left behind, the so-called “occasions of revelation (asbab-ul-nuzul)” were constructed over generations into the Sunna and Hadith.

The scholars worked for generations in writing commentaries and then commentaries on the commentaries, called the “tafsir.” In order to reconcile contradictory passages, the theory of abrogation (nasikh-wal-mansukh)—the canceling or superseding of one Quranic passage in favor of a newer passage—was invented, without prophetic or divine guidance.

Scholars in the first 300 years of Islam after the Prophet Mohammed’s death determined which records of the his sayings and conduct (the Sunnah) would make it into the books of Hadith, giving different accounts varying degrees of authenticity and reliability. This science of Hadith authentication (ilm-ar-rijal) concentrated on the piety and personal character of the narrators, and not the historical accuracy or logical consistency of the narrators’ reports.

No matter how meticulous and pious these scholars were, they were humans subjected to all the imperfections and limitations of being human beings. Plus, they worked in a highly charged political atmosphere, rife with sectarian conflicts between Muslims for power, wealth, glory and religious fanaticism.

This encouraged misinterpretation and altogether fabrication of hadith, both in terms of content and the chain of narrators. The hadith collection projects were neither done contemporaneously when the Prophet was alive, nor were sanctioned by the Prophet or his immediate successors, the so-called “Rightly Guided Caliphs.” The collections were approved by later generations based on the perceived need (darura) and the consensus (ijma) of the scholars of the time.

The sharia is the codified consensus of these human scholars. Therefore, sharia is man-made and fallible. And because traditional Islam is based on this sharia, it has absorbed a lot of the values of the times in which the sharia was formed. As a result, traditional Islam has rough edges intermingled with a great deal of ethical goodness and serene spirituality.

In forming the sharia, the jurists’ method was to follow the literal meaning of the clear-cut texts. Enormous effort has been spent in analyzing the lexical semantics and the linguistic morphology of the texts, at times employing casuistry and engaging in hair-splitting. This came at the expense of a historical-critical method marshalling a whole range of analytical methodologies to uncover deeper and fuller meanings.

These scholars categorized all human acts into one of five categories: obligatory, recommended, neutral, frowned upon and prohibited. It is important to note the ambitious goal of this sharia project: to categorize every human act—past, present and future—in order to be consistent with Allah’s will.

However, the creation of God is so immense that no human project can encompass His will fully and completely. It is true that the message of the Quran is valid for all times and places, but it mustn’t be interpreted literally by fallible human beings without having the full context available.

We have God-given reason (aql) so we can continuously work and use trial-and-error to get closer to the will of the creator. The accumulated experiences of human history must be incorporated into our understanding of the texts.

If God wanted us to follow blindly, then He would have given us an oracle or a search engine that would spell out all His detailed instructions for every question. Instead, He gave us ethical guidance in the form of the Quran and a brain.

One can see a similar phenomenon when looking at the history of Christianity. At the dawn of Christianity, the Christians were persecuted severely, but when they triumphed, they not only persecuted non-Christians but also got mired in internecine bloodletting for long periods of time.

Again, Christianity is not fundamentally a violent religion but with the attainment of power, combined with the values and mentalities of the Middle Ages, it got transformed from a peaceful and humble lamb to an intolerant, fire-breathing dragon inflicting many deaths and much destruction.


The History of Reform in Islam

There have been a number of revivalist and reformist movements, especially since the decline of the great Islamic empires, as permitted by the Islamic doctrine of ijtihad, or independent rethinking.

There are a number of reasons for the failure of these previous reformist movements.

First, the reform movements felt that adhering very closely to the literal meaning of texts kept them closest to the divine intent behind them. Instead of emphasizing the spiritual and ethical meanings, they focused on the letter of the texts.

Next, they overlooked the true nature of the sacred texts and presented their interpretations as foolproof and comprehensive. Also, the whole mental outlook and the ethos have been highly conservative and very suspicious of change and innovation.

Lastly, ignoring the continuous revelations to mankind provided from the arts, history and natural sciences resulted in stagnation and ossification and superficial interpretive changes, without transcending static interpretations.

The invention of the printing press and translation of the Bible into the vernacular languages made the Bible and its message more accessible to the masses and facilitated the reform of Christianity. In a parallel fashion, we now have the internet empowering Muslims worldwide to be better informed and ultimately take back their religion from the clutches of outdated dogmas.


Seven Essential Elements for Reform

My recommendations for a renewal (tajdid) and reform (islah) are as follows:

1. Acknowledge deep problems in classical Islamic thought.

These problems are an inevitable product of God’s message passing through imperfect human minds. We do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater by rejecting traditional Islam wholesale, but we should continuously work to improve our understandings.

2. Educate About the Formation of Sharia.

We must educate everyone about the sacred texts and how sharia was formed by humans interpreting them. We must make a solid case for avoiding literal interpretations and instead include all the relevant facts and analytical methodologies, textual and contextual and experiential.

3. Reform Traditional Sharia.

The first step is separating the religion from the state. The core of Islam—the five pillars—are not about political governance. Traditional Islamic scholars can be experts on matters of ritual and worship and they are free to voice their opinions, but they must not be allowed to issue edicts for everyone to comply with.

4. Promote and Protect Freedoms

We must acknowledge that medieval misinterpretations are responsible for issues like slavery and concubines; blasphemy and apostate laws and unfair discrimination against women, minorities and non-Muslims. These are not consistent with universal human rights and freedoms or the fundamental Quranic principles of justice (fairness) and mercy.

5. Accept the Equality of Humanity

Instead of demeaning and rejecting non-Muslims as kafirs or infidels, which are historically loaded terms, we must acknowledge the basic humanity and equality of everyone and accept that all of us, believers and non-believers, are all seekers of the Truth (Haqq) in our own way. This demeaning of non-Muslims must stop both in public and behind closed doors.

6. Hope and Patience

Be hopeful for a bright future for Islam, but do not expect quick changes. In fact, it might take generations. Therefore, assiduously cultivate the young but do not neglect the older believers.

7. Avoid False Reformists

There are many Muslim individuals and groups claiming they stand for reform and ijtihad, but if they do not embrace the above items, they are not for real reforms consistent with the universal values of justice and mercy.

Most of the leading Muslim organizations around the world, including in the United States, fall short in regards to the reform agenda. That is because they are basically stuck, running around in circles within the deformed and misguided man-made theology.

The leading Muslim groups in the U.S. defend this highly illiberal traditional sharia by using the freedoms of religion and speech. They are rightly worried about harsh rhetoric that puts all Muslims under a single dark cloud, but they are not willing to take the necessary steps of reforming the sharia.

These groups do not want to stand up to the Wahhabi/Salafis, the political Islamists like Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami and the Deobandi and the Tablighi groups, either because they are a part of them or are sympathetic to them.



Reforming traditional sharia is necessary and it is not apostasy. Doing so is in the best interest of Muslims and non-Muslims.

The U.S. government has been turning a blind eye to the problematic nature of pro-sharia American groups and the importance of Islamic reform. It is unconcerned as long as these groups are not directly involved with violence, but these groups contribute to the radicalization of Muslims because the traditional sharia they support is inimical to the basic concepts of the U.S. Constitution.

The events of the so-called “Arab Spring” that began in 2010 and turned into the “Arab Winter” have amply demonstrated that the reform of religious ideas among Muslims is essential. This Islamic reform must take place before successful and meaningful political reforms can happen that lead to vibrant, prosperous, truly democratic and just Muslim societies.

Ahmed Vanya is a Muslim-American activist and an electronics engineer in San Jose, California. He is a fellow with the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy.

Malala and the Conspiracy Theorists

Malala speaks at the UN a little more than a year after the shooting. (Photo: © Reuters)

Malala speaks at the UN a little more than a year after the shooting. (Photo: © Reuters)

Raheel Raza

Ever since Malala Yousafzai -- winner this month of the Nobel Peace Prize -- came on the scene in October 2012 in a shocking way, after being shot in the face by the Taliban at the age of 15, I have been watching the conspiracy theories unfold.

One of the highlights of The Girl Summit, hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron in the UK last July, was that Malala attended, along with her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. As a fellow Pakistani, I congratulated him on Malala's successes and for being the model father that every girl would want to have. He said thank you but acknowledged, sadly, that in Pakistan there is a lot of hostility against them.

This did not come as a surprise. Not everyone is proud of Malala. Sadly, Pakistan has not fully celebrated its Nobel laureates, and conspiracy theories still abound.

The first Nobel peace prize for a Pakistani was given to Mohammad Abdus Salam, a theoretical physicist, who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to electroweak unification. For this, he was alienated and rebuked in Pakistan because he belonged to the Ahmadiyya community. He was also called a spy. He eventually left Pakistan and died in the UK in 1996.

Malala -- at 17, an incandescent example of peace, hope, women's rights and the struggle for freedom -- for her bravery in standing up to the barbarians who call themselves Taliban ["students"], will, if she returns to Pakistan, likely be killed. She has been alienated from her homeland.

According to the conspiracy theorists, Malala's father is a CIA agent and arranged for the CIA to come and shoot her in the face. The rest is scripted by the "big bad West."

One blogger writes that Malala hates Pakistan's military. I believe it is the other way around. While Pakistan's military has lost three wars, this young girl stood up to the people who nearly destroyed her country. She essentially stole the thunder from the military, and the humiliation is hard for the military to digest.

Malala has never spoken ill of Pakistan in any of her public appearances or speeches.

The elite are jealous because they feel Malala got a free ride to the West, while they struggle to send their children abroad to study. They complain that there are other girls also fighting for justice. But how many of them have been shot and then continued to fight for justice?

Bureaucrats in Pakistan are disgruntled because the area that Malala comes from (Swat Valley) has slipped out of the hands of the government. To them, Malala represents success in the face of a failed state for which the bureaucrats are responsible.

The religious fundamentalists are incensed because Malala is a girl. Only that. A girl who has stood up to the establishment and said openly that she will fight not only for women's rights but, more importantly, for the right of girls to be educated. In a country where a huge chunk of the national budget and aid from foreign countries goes towards the military, Malala represents hope for the masses who are illiterate.

The Malala Fund has already helped thousands of girls, from Nigeria to Syrian refugees. The Global Partnership for Education, which works in low-income countries to ensure basic education for all, announced in June that a grant from the Malala Fund would support a first-ever youth delegation to a world education conference in Brussels. Malala has spoken of a special interest in the rights of children in developing countries.

Perhaps most of all, Malala announced that her mother has just learned to read and write. Malala is a charting a course from which our younger generations will only benefit.

I would so like to see the day that Malala would be welcomed back in Pakistan, with the whole country cheering. She deserves it.


Raheel Raza is an award-winning author, journalist, and filmmaker on the topics of jihad and sharia. She is president of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, and an activist for human rights, gender equality, and diversity. She is one of nine women's rights activists who took part in Clarion Project's film "Honor Diaries" which breaks the silence on honor violence against women.

Reprinted from with permission from the author

Exposing Islamism: Rage and Outrage

A Christian Pakistani man is beaten by police after the houses in his village were burned down by Islamists. (Photo:© Reuters)

A Christian Pakistani man is beaten by police after the houses in his village were burned down by Islamists. (Photo:© Reuters)

Dr. Qanta Ahmed

Ben Affleck’s fury and Bill Maher’s puzzlement in the now notorious TV segment made for a collision that perfectly captures America’s misunderstanding of Islamism, a totalitarian imposter of Islam. Impassioned, both men skidded headfirst onto the perilous battlefield where civil pluralistic Islam is pitted against Islamism. It’s a messy battle for non-Muslims and atheists alike, as the segment showed. But for Muslims caught in the crossfire, it’s a bloodbath.

Recently, I addressed the Hillel House at Rutgers University on human rights in the Islamist World — matters on which I have worked, as a physician and a Muslim woman, for many years. The Hillel House filled with a sea of youths from diverse backgrounds: Jewish men and women, Muslim men and women, many ethnicities, a uniquely American tapestry.

The students listened as I spoke of Riyadh, Malakand, Mingora, Karachi, and the many places in between; I described how Islamism legitimizes lethal intolerance of women and minorities of Muslim and other faiths, how Islamism eliminates democratic freedoms, and how it places anti-Semitism at the core of its theology.

I described the Pakistani teenager I met in Malakand — groomed as a Taliban suicide bomber — who had pulled back from the brink of self-detonation. I recounted the fears of Christian nurses at Karachi’s Ziauddin Hospital, whispering to me how they worried about fabricated charges of blasphemy, which is punishable by death in Pakistan. I quoted Father Edward Joseph, who spoke with me at Pakistan’s largest Catholic Diocese: “Just as Christ had his Cross to bear, so, too, do we,” he said, as we sadly studied the blast damage to the cathedral windows, scars of an Islamist bombing. Finally, I recounted my own experience as a Muslim woman in Saudi Arabia, and the burdens of state Wahhabiism as I had lived them.

With great anticipation, I invited questions. Leaping up, a Muslim man explained that his father had been executed by the Pakistani Taliban. The room was silent in sympathy when he launched into an angry diatribe ridiculing my depiction of Islamism. I shouldn’t be speaking of Islamists, he said. Why was I calling his father’s assassins “Islamists” when those Taliban terrorists were acting “outside of Islam”? Quickly he went onto discredit my identity as a Pakistani, labeling me an Islamophobe.

Other Muslims also told me that by speaking up about Muslims who are suffering in Islamist societies, I was intentionally stoking the Islamophobic climate on the Rutgers campus. One woman gestured to her hijab, her face flushed, shouting: “Who are you to talk about these victims, when you aren’t even visibly Muslim?” For good measure, she added that I was personally responsible for the post 9/11 escalation in the harassment of veiled Muslim women.

I was stunned.

All this occurred after I had detailed my own experiences as a victim of misogyny and gender apartheid and after I had discussed the body of work I’ve assembled by meeting Muslims and other victims of Islamist retribution around the world.

I had touched a nerve. Exposing Islamism is intensely threatening to its sympathizers. Islamism — an explicitly totalitarian transnational movement that politicizes and fictionalizes Islam so that it becomes a vehicle for oppression —hides beneath the veil of true Islam. Attempting to unveil it enrages many Muslims.

Islamophobes take little interest in nuance. As Muslims, we are 1.6 billion in number, in multiple denominations. Islam’s practitioners include over 180 nationalities (68 of them here in the United States). But despite the intense American focus on us since 9/11, our diabolical split is overlooked — not the Sunni–Shia divide but the gulf between Islamists and non-Islamists.

Liberals such as Ben Affleck similarly ignore nuance. Unable to distinguish between pluralistic Muslims and nonviolent Islamists, they mistakenly champion nonviolent Islamists as innocuous Muslims. In fact Islamists, even nonviolent ones, are diametrically opposed to the fundamental values of diversity and pluralism that pluralistic Muslims celebrate; nonviolent Islamists are a direct threat to the liberal secular democracy that enshrines humanism.

In all the fracas, anti-Islamist Muslims such as I, caught in the squeeze, are easily silenced. Just as Maher left anti-Islamist Muslims out of the dialogue, so, too, the Muslim students at Rutgers sought to exclude me. It was far more important to them to suffocate and shame me than to advocate in behalf of vulnerable fellow Muslims. In struggling to silence me, they revealed themselves as — at the very least — Islamist-sympathizers.

Their tactics – organized disruption, attacks meant to ridicule my appearance as un-Islamic and delegitimize my personal and ethnic identity — are strategies to evade engagement on the fundamental question of why Islamism is not Islam. This is how Islamism works, and this is how it is at work on the beleaguered American campus.

Concerns about the contraction of public space and free speech on American campuses are rising, whether those who are marginalized are Christians, as Princeton scholar Robert George recently discussed, or liberal secularists, or figures of controversy such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who provoked such outrage among Brandeis students and faculty that the university cancelled plans to award her an honorary degree. For Muslims who dare to step into the debates central to Islam today, the space for reasoned discourse is shrinking. We face derision and worse if we discuss jihadist ideologies and acts, Islamists’ war on secularism (such as the attack on polio programs in Pakistan or girls’ education in Nigeria), or the totalitarian ambitions of Islamists as revealed in the Arab Spring or in mere academic debate on American campuses.

Hillel director Andrew Getraer informed me that Rutgers was known for its “militant climate” and that the students who had disrupted my talk were Muslim members of SJP (Students for the Justice of Palestine). SJP has a track record of abusive and combative — even violent — public disruptions such as the one I experienced. SJP is an on-campus branch of the national Muslim Students Association. Its actions seem to warrant its identification as a radical student group. Trying to understand what happened, I corresponded with former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy. “Who were these students?” I asked him. He wrote:

The Muslim Student Association (MSA) was the foundation of the Brotherhood’s infrastructure in the U.S. in the 1960s. MSA now has about 600 chapters in the U.S. and Canada. Heavy-duty indoctrination programs groom students for Muslim Brotherhood membership. Several top terrorists got their start as leaders of U.S. MSA chapters. MSA considers itself the same organization as the Islamic Society of North America, even though ISNA started about 20 years later. (ISNA, of course, is the Brotherhood’s main umbrella organization in the U.S. and was proved in a 2007–08 trial to have played a big role in financing Hamas.)

His final remark captured my own unease: “I wish they were just students, but there is much more to it.”

Driving home late that night, I felt alone. Mine was the only vehicle on the road. In the steady rain, it was hard to see too far ahead — much like being an anti-Islamist Muslim, which is lonely work that leads me to I know not where. As my desolation deepened, the words of Hillel the Elder surfaced: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

And I knew, despite my distress, that I was compelled, through commitment to my conscience, to confront Islamism. I was reminded of what the Prophet Mohammed urged each Muslim to do: expose injustice. I knew the words well:

Whoever sees a wrong and is able to put it right with his hand, let him do so; if he can’t, then with his tongue; if he can’t, then in his heart, and that is the bare minimum of faith.

Soothing myself, I knew in my core that in exposing Islamism, I was doing just that. Consoled at last, in the company of prophets, into the dark, I drove on.


Dr. Qanta Ahmed has been a physician for 23 years and has practiced in the United Kingdom, the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She appeared in Clarion Project’s film, Honor Diaries as a subject expert. She is the author of In the Land of Invisible Women details her experience of living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and has been published internationally in 13 countries including in translation and is now in its twelfth edition. She is also a frequent op-ed contributor and speaker worldwide.

Reprinted from National Review Online with permission of the author.

How Radicals Become the New Moderates

Imam Shehryar and Farooq Khan's Stance on ISIS on the show Bilatakalluf with Tahir Gora (Episode 163)

Imam Shehryar and Farooq Khan's Stance on ISIS on the show Bilatakalluf with Tahir Gora (Episode 163)

Raheel Raza

The debate about "Moderate Muslims" has gone viral. From Bill Maher to Ali Rizvi in his Huffington Post article, it is trending.

As someone who used to call herself a moderate, I am now moving away from that terminology. One reason is a recent interview a cable TV talk show called Bilatakalluf.

On the program were two members of The North American Muslim Foundation (NAMF) -- Imam Shehryar and Farooq Khan -- and the discussion was about ISIS and being a Canadian Muslim. Below is a translation of some of the "quotable quotes":

  • "I honestly think the news about ISIS is extremely exaggerated – there are other interests fanning the flames -- we do not know if ISIS is Muslim or not, could be anyone."
  • "When we look at history and the way the West has lied, it is obvious... I refer to Iraq -- this drama has been done before, so the reports we are getting are not credible as they are coming from Western media, which has a track record of being No. # 1 liars -- once you tell a lie over and over again it becomes credible -- look at the Jihad/Sharia hype?"
  • "We must establish authenticity of the [beheading] TV clips -- it is a man wearing a niqab so how do we know whether he is a Mossad guy or ISIS?"
  • "I have heard reports that some people living under ISIS are peaceful -- at least the Sunni areas are better patrolled."
  • "Having a Caliphate is an integral part of faith. Every believing Muslim prays for a true Khalifah."

And on the topic of Canadians going for Jihad?

  • "There are one million Muslims in Canada... only 0.13% have "allegedly" joined ISIS, and they have gone for many reasons -- it is a hot issue with media -- 150 Jewish Zionists have gone to Gaza for a one-sided slaughter."
  • "Mossad had an integral part in creating Hamas. The PLO Al-Fatah meetings in 1960's were held in the house of a guy who was an Israeli agent -- a Jewish Zionist Israeli agent."
  • "There are vested interests -- 1.8 million Muslims cannot be digested by the powerbrokers so they aim to keep the area troubled -- the grand policy of the West is to have rivers of blood flowing -- they don't say it, but they are at war with the Muslims. The West will keep propping up proxy groups so that the violence does not end."

There is more, but suffice it to say that this was enough. Today, that is the voice of so-called moderate Islam. This cable program reaches over 100,000 homes across North America. These are the voices heard in Muslim homes, where they have credibility because they come from an Imam and his sidekick who are well dressed, well-spoken and articulate. In one short interview, the two speakers had ensured that: a Zionist conspiracy is in place; Western media are liars and cannot be trusted; ISIS is not really dangerous; the West is at war with Muslims, and that the killing must continue to adjust the world population.

Is there concern that most Muslims will believe what was said on this show? Yes. They live within the "Box of Islam," where the majority of Muslims hide today, to avoid facing reality. They are not interested in discussion or debate; they look upon the best years of Islam as during the early Caliphates. This boxed and packaged version of Islam was first branded by Iran's then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who wanted to export his revolution in the late 1970s. At that time, the branding was that of a fiery bearded Mullah with an extreme message.

Since then this brand of Islam has taken on a modern, moderate look; it is "the new normal." Today, it is being exported largely from Saudi Arabia on the wings of billions of petro-dollars in an unobtrusive packaging. Case in point: There is a version of the Quran that is given away free at Dundas Square in Toronto, where the opening prayer has been tampered with. The original ends with the words "keep us on the straight path and not the path of those who have gone astray." To the "Dundas" version have been added the words "like the Jews and Christians."

This brand of boxed and packaged Islam has been so cleverly and cunningly marketed through the mosque pulpits, print media and electronic media that most Muslims do not even know what has hit them. It is beamed directly into their homes and hearts; they are not encouraged to dissent. This point was made by the imam on the Bilatakalluf talk show: he said that Muslims should not speak out on Western media about sectarian issues or about violence within the faith. He went on to say that those Muslims who do speak out are liars desperately seeking the limelight. So most Muslims either stay silent or deflect the problems into conspiracy theories.

"Boxed" Muslims therefore now believe (among other issues) that anyone who does not toe their line of Islamist thinking is an infidel and will go to hell; anyone who leaves the faith by choice is an apostate (the punishment for which is death); homosexuals should be thrown off the highest cliff; Sharia law and jihad are benign; an authentic Muslim woman must wear a niqab or at least a hijab; every problem across the Muslim world is due to outside influences; adultery should be punished by 100 lashes, and that hanging and amputation of hands is justified.

Then there are those who have moved outside the box -- scholars, reformers and academics who, like me, are considered heretics but are still part of the faith. We do not accept the branded, "boxed" version of Islam that is trying to pass itself off as mainstream Islam.

We believe that there are many paths one can follow and that there really is "no compulsion in religion" (from the Quran); that all believers are equal; we accept that there is special mention of "people of the book" in the Quran that includes Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, whom we must respect.

Sharia law needs to be reformed and brought into the 21st century; we cannot live with archaic laws any longer. Armed jihad is no longer valid. The Quran asks women only for modesty, but the hijab has become a political symbol. The Quran does not speak about killing homosexuals but prohibits lust; and beheading, hanging and cutting off hands should be abolished along with slavery.

The author Ibn Warraq says that "moderate Muslims" do exist, but that he does not believe "Islam is moderate." He is also not optimistic about how quickly moderate Muslim theologians will be able to bring about a religious reformation that will be acceptable.

What does this make us who are genuinely moderate? Progressive, liberal or heretics? Whatever we are "branded," we will continue to speak out and light a fire under the feet of all of us: the reform needs to begin.


Raheel Raza is an award-winning author, journalist, and filmmaker on the topics of jihad and sharia. She is president of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, and an activist for human rights, gender equality, and diversity. She is one of nine women's rights activists who took part in Clarion Project's film "Honor Diaries" which breaks the silence on honor violence against women. article appeared originally on

People Must Stand Up for Liberal Values and Oppose Extremism

Bill Maher and Ben Affleck on the Bill Maher show.

Bill Maher and Ben Affleck on the Bill Maher show.

Elliot Friedland

“All I’m saying is that liberals need to stand up for liberal values.” When Bill Maher said this on his show he received heavy applause. But despite its innocuous beginning, the episode went on to open up a major controversy of our time, namely the phenomenon Islamic extremism and the pernicious rise of otherwise liberal people, in this case noted Hollywood actor Ben Affleck, downplaying the extent of it.

Affleck’s objection to Maher’s call to liberals to speak out against radical Islam was to view Maher’s criticisms as “an ugly thing to say.” At the time of writing the slaughter of 50,000 Kurds trapped in Kobane seems all but certain, while the Turkish army stands and watches only a few hundred metres away. This ugly fact has everything to do with the brutal, supremacist ideology of the Islamic State and the sympathetic currents in the global Islamic world that have allowed such an ideology to fester and become as powerful as it is now.

To refuse to condemn this ideology and dismiss its adherents as mere fringe cooks is ugly too.

This desire not to criticise groups, to not be seen or thought of as racist comes from a noble intention. Pretty much everyone (I hope) agrees that racism is a bad thing. 

That positive and liberal impulse cannot be allowed to let ignore abuse. That same desire caused the council officials, social workers and police in the UK town of Rotherham to overlook the sexual abuse of over 1,400 girls over the course of a decade by gangs of men from the Pakistani Muslim community.

They had a duty of care which they ignored. They ignored it because of their desire not to appear “islamophobic” combined with a toxic and patronising contempt for the plight of what they saw as the feckless and irresponsible working class.

Bill Maher’s fundamental point was a call to liberal principles: human rights, freedom of religion, women’s rights. These principles are for everyone. Upholding them does not mean you are criticizing other points of view or delegitimizing other cultures. It means you are standing up for what is right. Everything else he said was ancillary to that central point. Recognizing when a society, Muslim or not, has an institutionalized problem with human rights abuses because of an ideology is the duty of any true liberal.

A recent piece by analyst Christopher Ingram in the Washington Post argued that that the problem of Islamic extremism is more complicated than both Maher and Affleck allowed. Of course it is. They were discussing a complex geopolitical subject in a ten minute slot on a comedy show. But Ingram also missed the point.  

He analysed the figures from a recent Pew Poll across the Muslim world that attempted to take the global pulse of Muslim public opinion and argued that there is significant variation across the Muslim world. One example was in percentages of support for honor killings. 

He summarized thus: “In 14 of the 23 countries polled, at least half said honor killings for premarital sex were never justified when the accused is a woman.” That is an appalling statistic. Firstly it means that 9 countries polled have majority support for honor killings when the accused is a woman. It also means that the 14 countries Ingram is talking about still have significant minority support for honor killings. Our opposition to honor violence shouldn’t be so limp-wristed as to accept its rampant practice in countries as long as “at least half” say it is never justified.

Yet there are other metrics to consider that Ingram did not include. According to the PEW survey - “In countries across South Asia, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East-North Africa region most favor making sharia their country’s official legal code.”

This fact shows the seriousness of the problem. In the town where I grew up in England there was a martyrs memorial in the center of town, where three protestant bishops had been burned at the stake in the reign of Mary I for the heinous crime of not being Catholics. Having that memorial there is a stone reminder of the bigotries of a bygone age. More importantly it is a warning of the horror and cruelty that will surely follow from allowing violent, supremacist ideologies to take root. I’m sure Affleck would say it’s good that we’ve moved on in the West from burning people at the stake. So why is he so reluctant to identify the source of the ideology behind public crucifixions in Raqqa and the kidnapped schoolgirls of Boko Haram?

Instituting sharia as the law of the land includes instituting the hudud punishments, death for leaving Islam, cutting the hands off of thieves and death by stoning for adulterers. In Iraq 91% support the establishment of Sharia as the law of the land. Is it any wonder then that the Islamic State which is busy instituting exactly that has been able to seize and hold so much of the country?

Things should be debated on whether or not they are true, not whether or not they sound ugly. Wishing something doesn’t make it true. In order to regain the legitimacy they have lost, in order to truly stand up their values, those who regard themselves as liberals must identify the ideological source of the maelstrom currently tearing the Middle East apart.



'Ideas Are Much More Powerful Than Guns'

Elliot Friedland

"Ideas are much more powerful than guns" - Stalin

A 17-year old girl had her face blown off with a shotgun the other day. It doesn't really matter where, although it happens to have been Jordan. Her father was incensed at her choice of husband. He was not arrested.

He did it for his honor.

This Jordanian man did not hate his daughter. He just loved honor more. This is borne out by the man's next action, going hunting for her husband, driven mad with grief and blaming him for "making a killer out of him." Just as the English poet Richard Lovelace wrote in the early 1600s in To Lucasta, going to the Wars, "I could not love thee Dear, So much, Loved I not Honor more."

Understanding this is the key to understanding this issue. A person can believe, genuinely and utterly and totally, that honor is so important, that without it nothing else matters. Understand that a person can believe in honor to the extent he is willing to take a shotgun and spatter his daughter's brains all over his neighbor's kitchen.

It is not so very long ago that Western young men in frock coats shot each other at absurdly early hours of the morning because one thought the other had cheated at cards and the second refused to apologize. They weren't crazy. They weren't monsters.

They did it for their honor.

Ideas have power. Men have, in certain cultures, an idea that their self-worth -- their honor -- is bound up (among other things) in the sexual chastity, perceived or real, of "their" women. That there is a thing called honor, and it is something that must be protected whatever that cost.

Only by identifying the problem in this way can it be combatted. Appeals to outside standards will not be taken seriously. Mocking it as barbaric is as unhelpful as it is ignorant. After all, did Westerners not once kill for honor also?

If a man continues to believe that his honor and therefore his self-worth and the worth of his family is bound up in the sexual decisions made by his female relatives and that killing them is the only way to expunge the shame, then these killings will continue. Laws, incriminations, social exclusion -- nothing will halt these killings unless this root cause is addressed.

The process of stopping honor violence first and foremost involves acknowledging the problem for what it is: an idea. 


Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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