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. 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
Today the 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:
Iranian 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.
Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses, was
stabbed to death in July 1991.
Ettore Caprioli, Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, was attacked with a
knife in the same year, but survived
Aziz 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
They cornered him in a hotel and set it on fire,
killing 37 people, but Nesin, an elderly man in his late 70s, escaped.
William Nygaard, Norwegian translator and publisher of Rushdie’s book. Nygaard
was shot four times in the back in 1993 by an Islamic extremist.
world-famous 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 Muslim clerics.
An Egyptian 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 world.
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 Western nation.
Nasr Abu Zaid
Egyptian 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 Islamic fanatics.
Islamic 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.
Popular 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 two weeks.
Dr. Younis 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 Ali)
a 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.”
Egyptian 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.
Tahmineh 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.
Khalid 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
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.
Mahmoud Muhammed Talal, Islamic reformer, Sudan
Talal wrote 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.
The above 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?
If an 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?