Intellectual Censorship in Islam: A Matter of
Life and Death
By Susan Stephan
Many seem to believe that The Satanic
Verses author Salman Rushdie
is the only
intellectual who has ever been persecuted for “insulting Islam.” But
the story does not begin – nor does it end – with Rushdie. Writers,
poets, intellectuals and free-thinkers have been suffering – and dying
-- for “insulting Islam” for more than 1400 years.
One of the
more famous victims was Mansur
Al-Hallaj was a 10th-Century Sufi (Islamic mystic) master,
famous today for being a mentor of popular Sufi poet Rumi. The specific
charge was uttering “I am the Eternal Truth.” (Only Allah can be
“The Eternal Truth” in Islam.) This was simply the logical outcome
of Al-Hallaj’s Sufi beliefs, which held that “God” is found in all
of us. It was, however, blasphemy according to the followers of Imam
Hanbal (founder of Sunni Islam’s most reactionary school of Islamic
law), who engineered Al-Hallaj’s persecution and eventual execution by
weapon is more likely to be a gun or a knife than a cross, but Imams and
mullahs and their collaborators are still killing or persecuting Al-Hallaj’s
modern-day heirs and getting away with it. Here are just a few of the
prominent victims from the last 20 years:
statesman and Islamic historian. Dashti was imprisoned and tortured to
death in Iran in the early 1980s for writing “23 Years,” a
“warts-and-all” biography of the Prophet of Islam.
translator of The Satanic Verses, was stabbed to death in July 1991.
Caprioli, Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, was attacked with a
knife in the same year, but survived
Nesin, Turkisk publisher and
writer, who had printed extracts of The Satanic Verses in a Turkish
newspaper, was attacked by a crazed religious mob in 1993
cornered him in a hotel and set it on fire, killing 37 people, but Nesin,
an elderly man in his late 70s, escaped.
Nygaard, Norwegian translator and publisher of Rushdie’s book. Nygaard
was shot four times in the back in 1993 by an Islamic extremist.
Egyptian author and Nobel Laureate. An elderly man in his 80s, Mafouz
narrowly escaped a knife attack in 1994, after Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahmame,
spiritual leader of the armed fundamentalist group al-Gama'a al
Islamiyya, issued a death fatwa on his head. His “crime”: writing a
book decades before that “insulted Islam.” Mafouz, physically and
mentally traumatized by the attack, no longer writes.
a Bangladeshi-born physician, poet and
author. In 1993 Nasrin, a self-declared apostate, was sentenced to death
by Muslim clerics for “insulting Islam.” That year 300,000 people
demonstrated in her native land, calling for the poet to be burned
alive. She escaped to the West, but still hides, her life blighted by a
price on her head and not one but two death fatwas issued by pious
writer and human rights defender. Foda was shot dead by militants from
an Islamic fundamentalist group after being branded as an apostate by
officials at Al-Azhar, the leading Islamic educational institute in the
a Kashmir-born man of letters, was
targeted with a death fatwa for writing books that explored the
imperialist nature of Islam. As a young man, Sheikh admitted to have
been a fundamentalist who murdered innocent non-Muslims in cold blood
during the partition of India in 1947. He now lives discreetly in a
Nasr Abu Zaid
Quranic scholar. Abu Zaid was convicted in Egypt of being an apostate
from Islam in 1995. He was involuntarily divorced from his wife of many
years for advancing the cause of textual criticism of the Quran. He
escaped to the West in fear of his life as a convicted apostate, where
he reunited with his wife, but remains a target for assassination from
reformer, an Egyptian immigrant to the USA. Khalifa was founder of a
controversial movement in Islam called the “Submitters”, who deny
the authenticity of many Islamic traditions. Declared an apostate in a
fatwa issued by 38 Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia, Khalifa was
murdered in 1990 in Tuscon, Arizona. Although the crime was never
solved, the prime suspects have been linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist
organization led by Osama Bin Laden.
Algerian song-writer, political activist for Algeria’s Berber people,
and singer, Lounes was murdered in 1998. The murder remains unsolved,
but the radical Islamic gang, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), is the main
suspect. The GIA had kidnapped Lounes in 1994 and held him hostage for
Shaikh a Pakistani physician and lecturer. Convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan
in 2001 for the “crime” of stating the Prophet of Islam’s parents
were not Muslim and the prophet was not circumsized. Sentenced to death
in August 2001, Shaikh at this writing (January 2002) languishes in jail
while his sentence is appealed.
Robert Hussein (Born Hussein Q’amber
Kuwaiti-born businessman. A former Shiite Muslim, Hussein was convicted
of apostasy by an Islamic court in his native land in 1996 for the
“crime” of converting to Christianity. He escaped to the West under
threat of death with assistance from Christian missionary groups and
published a book called “Apostate Son.”
feminist and author of many books. In 2001, El-Saddaawi narrowly escaped
conviction in her native land as an apostate. A conviction would have
forced El-Saddaawi to divorce her husband in recognition of Islamic law
that Muslims cannot remain married to apostates. Her “crime” was
stating that the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage had Pagan historical origins.
Once imprisoned for her outspoken feminist views, El-Saddawi
courageously remains in Egypt although clearly a target for
assassination from a radical Islamist.
Milni an acclaimed Iranian filmmaker. Arrested in August 2001 and charged by
Iran’s Islamic religious establishment with “waging war against
God”, Milni could be executed if found guilty of the charge. Her
“crime” was making a film that contained references to the miserable
conditions of women under the Islamic regime of Iran.
Duran, Moroccan/German academic and critic of Islamic extremism. In
2001, Duran, while teaching at the university level in the U.S., evoked
death threats from the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in
Jordan for writing a book called “Children Of Abraham: Explaining
Islam to Jews.” The death threat was the direct result of an
anti-Duran public realtions crusade engineered by the Washington,
DC-based Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/hentoff071001.asp.
Duran went into hiding as a result of the Jordanian edict. Curiously,
Islamic apologist Dr. John Esposito of Georgetown University’s
“Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding” gave the keynote speech
at CAIR’s annual fund-raising dinner only a few months after this
incident occurred, seemingly untroubled by CAIR’s role in soliciting
the murder of a fellow academic.
many books criticizing Sharia (Islamic law). He was convicted of
apostasy and creating “fitnah” (religious tourmoil) by an Islamic
court in Sudan and hanged for this “crime” in 1985.
is only a small representation the number of intellectuals, writers,
artists and reformers who have been systemically terrorized, imprisoned
and even assassinated by Islamic thought police on all continents, even
in the so-called “free” West. (As the Norwegian national William
Nygaard and the U.S.-resident Khalid Duran can undoubtedly confirm).
This “censorship by terrorism” not only shows the widespread lack of
intellectual maturity that is prevalent in the Islamic world today, but
also begs a more disturbing question: how accurate are of many of the
books and articles currently being published about Islam?
author or academic addressing the subject of Islam, whether in fact or
fiction, must continually look over his shoulder for the knife or gun of
a fanatic, it should not surprise us that many such works tread a very
thin line between truth and apologia. The bland books about Islam
authored by the likes of Karen Armstrong and John Esposito have never
elicited any death threats or fanatical attention; astute readers may
well ask themselves why?