"Criticism of Islam is coming at them from every direction, putting Muslim clerics in a quagmire unable to honestly answer questions. Muslim scholars were never trained to answer questions critical of Islam or engage in hostile debate."
From an interview with Nonie Darwish, the co-founder of FormerMuslimsUnited.com and the author of Cruel and Usual Punishment:-
FP: Nonie Darwish, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today a bit about the Muslim voices for change that are increasing through the Islamic world. There is an unprecedented defiance taking place behind the Islamic Curtain.
Can you tell us what is transpiring?
Darwish: As you know, Jamie, I lived for 30 years in the cocoon of the Muslim world and I can see a huge change going on inside the Muslim world. More and more people are challenging the status quo.
After 9/11 and with constant recurring explosive Islamic terrorism, it has become harder for the Muslim establishment to keep the lid on Muslims questioning their system, religion and holy wars. Criticism of Islam is coming at them from every direction, putting Muslim clerics in a quagmire unable to honestly answer questions. Muslim scholars were never trained to answer questions critical of Islam or engage in hostile debate. But now, suddenly, they are challenged to the core like never before, not by Western critics, but by brave hosts of Arabic language shows from unidentified locations in the West and hosted by former Muslims and/or Egyptian Christian Copts.
Father Zakareya Botros rocks the Arab world with his show "Howard Al Hak" or "Honest Debate" when callers from various parts of the Muslim world call in renouncing Islam. Former Muslim turned Christian, Rachid Hmami, originally from Morocco, has a popular show "Fil Samim", or "from the core". Hmami, who is the son of a Muslim cleric, is eloquent, respectful with a calm and peaceful demeanor -- a characteristic in sharp contrast to the angry loud and cursing image of many Muslim clerics.
The Muslim leadership is suddenly under a lot of pressure to answer taboo questions rarely ever asked before; taboo topics such as questioning the validity of the Qur'an, the life and marriage of Mohammad, his violent wars and assassinations, the fact that there is no minimum age for marriage of women in Islam and about ridiculous Fatwas regarding breast feeding of adult males by Muslim women and Muhammad's urine as a cure. Muslim callers to these Arabic shows have proved beyond doubt how many Muslims have no clue as to what is written in their scriptures and religious laws.
Many Muslims are demanding answers from their religious leaders and for them to vigorously defend such criticism of Islam. However, not one Muslim cleric has answered the questions on people's minds. Their response is more yelling, threatening, hate speech, paranoid accusations and propaganda of misinformation. This led Hmami and Father Zakaria, for instance, to personally challenge Muslim leaders to a debate. A well-known Muslim cleric was exposed to have lied when he accepted the challenge to debate on TV, but privately, on recorded phone call with Hmami, the Muslim cleric was evasive, lied and declined the invitation to the debate, giving ridiculous excuses.
FP: Where do we stand with the apostate issue?
Darwish: For the first time in Egyptian Islamic history, a number of apostates have come out publicly demanding their right choose to leave Islam and practice Christianity. Their demand was legally rejected and fatwas of death issued against them. Maher al-Gohari, Mohammed Higazi, and prominent feminist attorney Naglaa Al Imam, are among a few courageous ones. From the number of callers to the shows who claim they left Islam, I believe the number of apostates inside the Muslim world to be significant but are mostly silent. The main power of Islam and its clerics lie in the Muslim death sentence for apostasy and blasphemy. A number of apostates living in the West have greatly impacted the Muslim world. Among those are Wafa Sultan, the Italian/Egyptian Magdi Allam who was baptized by the Pope, Ibn Warraq and myself, and many others such as several former graduates of the Islamic Al Azhar University living today in the West.
I have received a recently released Arabic poem claimed to have been written by Taha Hussein, the prominent Egyptian father of Arabic literature 1889-1973. The highly intellectual and well written poem is extremely critical of the God of Islam and admits the apostasy of its writer. Hussein was once prosecuted with the accusation of insulting Islam. Challenges to Islam are coming from intellectuals, artists and journalists across the Muslim world, such as the Egyptian Sayed El Qemany; they must walk a fine line lest they get accused of apostasy or blasphemy.
While this trend challenging Islam is significant when compared to recent history, we must caution from being over optimistic for a reformation in Islam since the new trend is still in its infancy and has not yet established itself legitimately to become part of the mainstream. The reaction to such a challenge is intense and often violently lashing out in the form of acts of threat and terror. Some Muslim people of influence have admitted recently that terrorism is a Muslim commandment. On January of 2006, a member of Egyptian Parliament, "Ragab Hilal Hamida', said from the floor of the Egyptian Parliament that "the Quran directly commands us to commit terrorism, so why are we afraid of it?"