A review of Wafa Sultan’s, “A God Who Hates,” St. Martin’s Press, 2009, 256 pp.
On Tuesday, October 13, 2009, an ominous interim decision was reached in the case of 17 year- old Sri Lankan native, and Christian “apostate” from Islam, Rifqa Bary. Rifqa fled her Ohio community—notably, the radicalized mosque she was compelled to attend, which revealed and condemned her apostasy. She sought refuge in Orlando, Florida, when Muhammad Bary, Rifqa’s father threatened to murder the young Muslim woman apostate—the consensus draconian punishment for “unrepentant” apostasy from Islam sanctioned by all major schools of Islamic jurisprudence, Sunni and Shiite alike, to this day. (For irrefragable examples, see these contemporary Sunni rulings by Al Azhar University, in Cairo, Egypt, the Mufti of Lebanon, and IslamonLine [here; here], website of the mainstream, immensely popular Muslim Brotherhood cleric, and Al Jazeera personality Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as well as this Shiite legal opinion published in Kayhan International, an official organ of the Islamic Republic of Iran).
Pending determination of her parent’s immigration status—extant public access documentary evidence revealed by investigative journalist par excellence Pamela Geller indicates they are illegal aliens—Florida judge Daniel Dawson has ordered that Rifqa Bary be returned to Ohio under the jurisdiction of an Ohio court.
It is a bitter irony that Tuesday, October 13, 2009 also marked the US release of Syrian-born psychiatrist Wafa Sultan’s book “A God Who Hates”—the vigorously argued jeremiad written by our era’s most courageous and insightful secular Muslim woman. Sultan is currently forced to lead a clandestine existence here in America, due to the repeated, ongoing death threats she receives for her own “apostasy,” including those “inspired” by a Yusuf al-Qaradawi appearance on Al-Jazeera television when he proclaimed, “…this woman had the audacity to affront all that is sacred—the entire Islamic nation, its past, its present, and its future. She had the audacity to affront the Prophet, the Koran, and Allah. She even said that Allah prattles in the Koran. She did not omit anything sacred.”
More than two decades before Wafa Sultan’s Al-Jazeera television debate with a Muslim cleric ignited an international firestorm, she traced her own transformative “intellectual shock” to reading two books by Saudi writer and freethinker Abdullah al-Qasimi, who fled his native country after being (predictably) condemned to death for “apostasy/blasphemy.” Regarding al-Qasimi’s criticism of Islam, Wafa Sultan observes that he,
…attacked Islam…in such a way as to make the closed mind stop and really think. He was an original and creative writer with an excellent command of Arabic. His style was enjoyable to read and easy to understand, and it led his readers almost imperceptibly to the point where they could not help but agree with him, at least privately. The fact that he was from Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, gave him another kind of authenticity.
She describes how al-Qasimi’s taboo writings were privately shared:
His books were not readily available, but we found a way to get copies and share them. I remember a young woman in her early twenties at the hospital where I worked once confessed to me secretly that she read Al-Qasimi’s works, and asked if she could borrow one of them from me. I wrapped the book in one of my dresses to conceal it and, as I gave it to her, made a great show of telling her she could wear the dress to her sister’s wedding on condition she return it afterwards.
Wafa also acknowledges her recurrent fear of revealing she had read al-Qasimi, “lest she should be accused of apostasy.” At that time, she states,
Like most Muslims today, I tried to interpret everything on the basis of a belief that I was frightened to see contradicted: I believed that people’s interpretation of Islam, rather than Islam itself, was responsible for the shortcomings of our Muslim countries.
Moreover, Wafa admits that her devoted husband was reassured by this mindset because,
…he had felt from the outset that my belief that it was Muslims rather than Islam that was at fault would perhaps help protect us from the potentially serious consequences of living in a society that did not permit its individual members to take the smallest step toward examining any of its taboos…
The riveting personal narrative of “A God Who Hates” makes plain that Wafa Sultan’s views have evolved, and she now posits that Islam itself is the bane of the global Muslim community, or “umma.” She argues compellingly that traditional, mainstream conceptions of the God of Islam, Allah, and his Apostle Muhammad, bear ultimate responsibility for the bellicose aggressiveness, intolerance, and misogyny that pervade Muslim societies. Indeed, the book’s central motif characterizes Islam’s Allah as the deceptively fierce ogre in an Arabian parable, raging from his mountaintop perch:
From where he sits, he raves and shrieks, filling people’s hearts with fear by threatening to gobble them up if they leave their homes or do any kind of work at all. The people terrorized by his shrieks, can live only by stealth. Only their survival instinct keeps them going. They steal out like mice in secret to gather enough to keep body and soul together. They live day by day, waiting impatiently for the moment of their death. The fear of this ogre has sapped their intellect and depleted their physical powers, reducing them to despair and hopelessness.
Muhammad, Allah’s Apostle, she notes unapologetically, “…was a warrior rather than a thinker.” Thus, she continues,
He left no moral legacy for his followers to build upon or use as a basis for the societies they founded. Nor did he leave them room outside the boundaries of this law in which they might have exercised their freedoms and perhaps, responding to the demands of time, have invented a moral code of their own. The most important traditions written and handed down about Muhammad concern his raids and what happened in the course of them. All his teachings stem from the realities of the world he lived in and are the indisputable product of it. If you read the biography of the Prophet from beginning to end you will find no trace of any kind of moral authority.
And in response to the query, “Why do they hate us?”—incessantly repeated by naïve, hapless Americans following the 9/11/01 carnage—Wafa Sultan provides these answers:
“Because Muslims hate their women, and any group who hates their women can’t love anyone else.”
People [then] ask, “But why do Muslims hate their women?”
And I reply, “Because their god does.”
Sultan further argues that the Koranic injunction (33:21) sanctioning Muhammad as the idealized model for all Muslims, eternally, amplifies Islam’s virulent misogyny:
The most terrifying…part…comes from the Prophet’s stories about his wives that create a trap every Muslim woman falls into: No man in my life can be better than his Prophet and I cannot be less obedient to him than his Prophet’s wives were to their husband. Men have internalized their Prophet, and women have internalized his wives.
She illustrates this closed circle of misogynistic humiliation that Muslim women even inflict, perversely, upon each other, with a wrenching anecdote about her “naming”—repeated throughout Wafa’s childhood by her mother to “amuse” local acquaintances:
My earliest memory of my mother is her story of how she chose my name. She laughed when she told me the story, but I always wondered if she was crying inside. She told me she was not very happy at my arrival, and neither was my father, needless to say. My paternal uncle’s wife had already had two boys before her. Under pressure from this calamity she was at a loss as to what name to give me. One morning my paternal uncle was passing by the veranda of our house when he saw my mother carrying me in her arms. He greeted her and asked: “Haven’t you chosen a name for her yet?” My mother replied: “Not yet. Do you have any suggestions?” My uncle said without hesitation: “Call her ‘Shit,’ it’s the only name she deserves.”
My mother told this story hundreds of times when I was within earshot. She would tell it jokingly to amuse her female friends from the neighborhood, unaware of how deeply she hurt me each time she said it. And do, to my tattoo [Note: Sultan operationally defines tattoo earlier as a congenital composite of “a person’s family values, principles, customs, and traditions.”], my mother added the name Shit at the behest of my uncle. Her own tattoo, however, handed down through the centuries dictated her treatment of me.
Another series of anecdotes characterize Wafa Sultan’s encounters with highly educated Muslim professionals. Such interactions reinforce the author’s contention about the profoundly deleterious impact of Islam’s unreformed, triumphantly asserted dogmas. Her erudite interlocutors’ reactions also confirm the view of the Saudi “apostate” author Wafa cites as her inspiration, al-Qasimi, who observed (in his, “Desert with No Precincts” [Arabic: Sahra Bila Ab’ad]) that Arab Muslim culture, “… does not appreciate criticism; they do not even know it… It is a plot, and treason against authenticity… [Arabs] consider their worst enemies those who try to correct their ideas and beliefs.” Two examples describing initially reasoned discussions about Allah’s named attribute “The Harmer”—both degenerating into vituperative accusations of Wafa Sultan’s “apostasy” and “blasphemy”—will suffice.
“The Harmer” is one of the attributes they have given to the God of Islam. Is it reasonable that God should cause harm? Yet this is an attribute which Muslims bestow on their god and take pride in, just as they take pride in describing him as “The Merciful” and “The Patient.” “The Subduer.” “The Compeller,” “The Imperious,” “The Humiliator,” “The Nourisher,” “The Bringer of Death,” “The Most High,” “The Avenger,” “The Protector”—all these are attributes they bestowed upon their ogre and subsequently internalized in an attempt to merge with their ideal.
Whenever I discuss the legitimacy and morality of these names with erudite Muslims I hear nothing but shouts and screams that within minutes turn the dialogue into a futile quarrel. They cannot confront the negativism of these attributes other than by a desperate attempt to justify them, but when they do this they make things worse. Muslims justify portraying God as The Harmer because they believe such a portrayal is necessary in order to strike fear into people’s hearts and prevent them from disobeying God’s commands. They say: “When a person believes in God’s ability to harm he will take care not to disobey him, so as to avoid being harmed by him.”
I once tried to find common ground on this very point with a Muslim reader from London, an Oxford University graduate with whom I conducted an extensive e-mail correspondence. She wrote to me on one occasion: “Can you deny that God is capable of causing harm? Could he not destroy the universe if he wanted to?” She continued: “What’s wrong with proclaiming his destructive powers? Isn’t this necessary in order to prevent people from crossing the line and disobeying his commands?” I replied: “A father has the ability to harm his child when he disobeys him, but does he do so? Is that the proper way to educate our children not to overstep the boundaries we set for them?” The Oxford graduate responded: “There is no comparison! The difference between God’s power and that of a human being is much greater than the difference between a father’s and a son’s.” I replied: “But shouldn’t God’s wisdom, mercy, and love far surpass the wisdom, mercy, and love of a father?” The exchange turned into a fruitless quarrel at the end of which I heard only the e-mailed shouts of the Oxford graduate as she described me as a misguided unbeliever and apostate deserving only of being put to death.”
…Arguing with Muslims becomes more complicated when they try to persuade you that their God is also merciful, patient, and forbearing. I asked a Muslim doctor who specializes in psychiatry: “How can you persuade your son that God is simultaneously merciful and vengeful? Doesn’t teaching this type of religious lesson contain a contradiction which splits the child’s personality and makes him feel more lost and confused?” He replied: “No. I teach him that God is merciful with believers and vengeful toward unbelievers. I don’t see any contradiction in this.” I asked again: “How do you teach your son to tell the difference between believers and unbelievers so that he’ll know with whom to be merciful and toward whom to be vengeful?” He said, beaming: “A believer is one who believes in God, his Prophet, and the Day of Judgment and so forth.” I inquired: “So when your son hijacks a civilian plane full of passengers, hurtles into a tower, and kills three thousand ‘unbelievers’ he won’t be doing anything outside the boundaries of what his God and ideal would do? Is that the way to distinguish between believers and unbelievers?” The conversation ended with shouts and screams and turned into a futile argument that led only to my being accused of blasphemy, apostasy, and sympathy for the enemies of God and his Prophet!”
Perhaps more disturbing are Wafa Sultan’s revelations about how the same irredentist attitudes permeate the US Muslim community. Her trenchant analysis of this phenomenon is unsparing in its criticism of the self-delusional behaviors of US religious and political leaders who wittingly or unwittingly promote irredentism in America.
Two salient examples Sultan provides illustrate these trends. Shortly after the murderous 9/11 jihad terrorist attacks, a Los Angeles Islamic center donated copies of “The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an” (which is merely Yusuf Ali’s annotated, mainstream English translation of the Koran) to the Los Angeles United School District. After an urgent meeting between local Jewish and Muslim leaders, however, Sultan notes,
…the books were withdrawn from the schools and returned to the Islamic center because some of the teachings they contained offended members of other religious denominations. The Los Angeles Times reported the story on February 12, 2002, in an article entitled, “New Version Will Replace Pulled Koran.”
The article mentions that Mr. Dafer Dakhil, head of the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, e-mailed a reaction to the Times, in which he wrote: “The purpose of our gift was to promote greater understanding of Islam and Muslims at a time when misconceptions and interest in Islam about Islam and Muslims are at a peak, and to provide educators, and students an opportunity to use Qur’an alongside the Bible and scriptures of other faiths.” Mr. Dakhil had already apologized as follows: “We didn’t mean to hurt the feelings or cause discomfort to members of other faiths.” Salam al-Maryati, spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, explained: “In the interest of good faith and goodwill and being sensitive to people’s concerns we agreed that the books should not be used.” According to the Los Angeles Times article, “Mr. Al-Maryati and other Muslims at the meeting agreed to work with school officials to find another version of the Quran as soon as possible.”
Wafa Sultan then poses these still unanswered queries:
Then, as now, I am filled with questions about what happened: What other version of the Koran, as soon as possible? How would Mr. Al-Maryati interpret for us in his new version the Koranic verse quoted above? (i.e., referring to 5:33, Yusuf Ali translation, “The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter”) Would he tell our children that this verse is no longer applicable in the present day? Ever since I have followed the news closely but I have never heard that Mr. Al-Maryati has managed to come up with a different version. Nor do I know how long he meant when he said “as soon as possible.” The article say the meeting took place behind closed doors. Why did the debate not take place publicly? Has Mr. Al-Maryati explained to all Muslims, both here and in Muslim countries, the actual reasons that version of the book was withdrawn from Los Angeles schools, and has he tried to have it removed from schools throughout the world? What is morally unacceptable in Los Angeles should be morally unacceptable elsewhere, even throughout the Middle East, as morality does not vary with time or place. Why did Mr. Al-Maryati withdraw the books from schools in Los Angeles while allowing others to distribute prizes to Muslim children who excelled at memorizing them at the Islamic school affiliated to the mosque in Anaheim?
She further notes, “This is not the only incident, unfortunately, of a Muslim saying one thing to an English speaking audience and something else entirely to an Arabic-speaking one.” Sultan asks additional questions, leading to her ominous conclusion:
Why do countries in the West allow Muslims who live among them to pretend to be moderates when they speak in Western languages, but don’t criticize them for radical Islamic views when they address the Muslim world in their native languages? This story is just the tip of an iceberg, which represents the increasing Islamization of the West and, especially, of the United States.
The final chapter of “A God Who Hates” includes Wafa Sultan’s devastating critique of remarks Colin Powell made during the latter phase of the 2008 US Presidential election campaign. Appearing on NBC television’s “Meet The Press,” Powell glibly asserted nothing would be wrong with Americans choosing a Muslim President. Wafa Sultan’s analysis of this comment exposes both the terribly dangerous flaws in Powell’s limited, naïve understanding of Islam, and how that ignorance is compounded by obligatory allegations of “anti-Muslim prejudice” (or “Islamophobia”), precluding any rational discussion of the very real threat mainstream Islamic doctrine poses.
I know that Mr. Powell, who lives by the American moral code on which he was nurtured, refuses to judge people on the basis of their religious affiliation, and that is his right. But he does not have the right to be ignorant or to disregard the fact that Islam is not just a religion: It is a political doctrine that imposes itself by force, and we have to subject to microscopic scrutiny any Muslim in America who ascends to the heights of this sensitive and supremely important post.
I would not want anyone to regard what I am saying as anti-Muslim prejudice. Muslims, like any other national group, can be either good or bad, and the best among them do not act in accordance with the teachings of their religion, either because they are not familiar with them, or because they have deliberately progressed beyond them; but to understand what it would mean for a Muslim to become President of the United States, one must search through Islamic history—the history of the Arabs, which is my own history—for a Muslim leader and look at his actions.
The first and most obvious Muslim leader we meet in our search is Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. Had Mr. Powell read the life of Muhammad, as it is recounted in the Arabic sources and as I learned it in my schooldays, he would fall down in a dead faint. In third grade at primary school I read with pride in our religious primer how Muhammad had beheaded 800 Jews from the Bani Quraiza tribe in one night, then taken their wives and children hostage, and spent the same night with the Jewish woman Safia, whose husband, father, and brother he had just killed. This is only a drop in the ocean of what was written about the crimes of Muhammad in the Arabic sources, but, unfortunately, Mr. Powell—it seems—has never troubled to familiarize himself with the most malicious enemy ever to have confronted him or threatened his safety. Once Americans understand that the Koran insists that Muhammad is the ideal that every Muslim male should imitate, they will realize that a Muslim candidate for the American presidency is a very serious matter.
She concludes with these truths that have yet to penetrate the uninformed, self-righteous hubris of American leaders like Colin Powell:
If America had used a small and insignificant proportion of what it spent on the war against terrorism to fund the translation of so far largely untranslated Islamic dogma and history from Arabic sources, it would have saved billions of dollars—let alone a great del of wasted time and spilled blood. America will never win the war until Americans read about Islam from Arab sources, word for word, without distortion or falsification. Reading this material will enable them to draw their own personal conclusions and help them to understand what kind of enemy they are facing. If Colin Powell becomes one of the people who reads the translated sources and sees the hate and violence they contain, he will bite his lip and say to himself: “I was ignorant of the true nature of my enemy, and this was my worst failing.”
Six years ago, Ibn Warraq, in his seminal study of apostasy from Islam, “Leaving Islam,” compared the ex-Muslim apostates of our era, to the ex-Communist writers whose work was compiled in Richard Crossman’s 1950, “The God That Failed.” Warraq wrote in 2003:
As Arthur Koestler said, “You hate our Cassandra cries and resent us as allies, but when all is said, we ex-Communists are the only people on your side who know what it is all about.” And as Richard Crossman wrote in his introduction to The God That Failed, “Silone [an ex-Communist] was joking when he said to Togliatti that the final battle would be between the Communists and the ex-Communists. But no one who has not wrestled with Communism as a philosophy and Communists as political opponents can really understand the values of Western democracy. The Devil once lived in Heaven, and those who have not met him are unlikely to recognize an angel when they see one.”
…[U]nless a reformed, tolerant, liberal kind of Islam emerges soon, perhaps the final battle will be between Islam and Western democracy. And these former Muslims, to echo Kestler’s words, on the side of Western democracy are the only ones who know what it’s all about, and we would do well to listen to their Cassandra cries.
Wafa Sultan’s “A God Who Hates” confirms the brilliance of Ibn Warraq’s recent analogy.
But the only relevant question remains unanswered, “Will we hear her Cassandra cries?”