Khudayr Taher, a liberal Iraqi author now living in the U.S., is a regular commentator for the liberal Arab e-journal Elaph. In a series of articles published September 21-25, 2007, he described his transformation from an ardent Shi'ite sectarian in his native Karbala to a liberal devotee of Enlightenment values. Earlier, on September 11, he published "An Apology to America for the Crimes of the Arabs and Muslims," in which he called the U.S. "the prophet of liberty."
The following are excerpts from the series and from the September 11, 2007 article:
"My Journey from the Darkness of Sectarianism to the Light of Allah"
"When I was 15 and lived in fear of hellfire, I went to the mosque without any of my family telling me to, [simply] out of a desire to say my prayers. The pulpits of the husainiyas, which were scattered throughout my city, Karbala, spouted the sectarian [Shi'ite] religious culture that I thought was my salvation… back when I was devoted to my sectarian confession and bent on strengthening it through a religious culture that nourished in me the ostracizing of the other and strengthened the extremist tendency in my soul.
"My inner sectarian inclinations reached the point where they drove me to enroll in the hawza 'ilmiyya to study the religious sciences particular to the [Shi'ite] Ja'fari school. Like other naïve sectarians, I believed these sciences to be the epitome of truth…
"At every failure, frustration, or bad turn in life, I would console myself [by reminding myself] that I was a Shi'ite, and that I was following the right path that would lead me to salvation, bliss, and Paradise.
"I took part in the processions [in memory of] Husain [the son of 'Ali], in which people beat themselves and strike their heads with knives. I bought sectarian books and gave them to the Sunnis I knew, attempting to change their beliefs and convince them to become Shi'ites. I did this with feelings of happiness and joy and with peace of mind, thinking that I was doing a service to Islam by guiding people to the right path – that of embracing Shi'ism.
"…The foremost character trait of those who are religious, sectarian, nationalist, or partisan extremists is the blind following of their distorted beliefs and the attempt to spread them… Religious, sectarian, nationalist, and partisan wars are nothing but the expression of feelings of aggression that try to ostracize the other because of the delusive belief in having a monopoly on truth and faith.
"Regrettably, I cannot pin down the first spark that ignited [my] radical ideological transformation towards rationalism, enlightenment, and orienting [myself] uniquely to Allah in feelings of love and obedience. Accretions of criticism pile up in the mind and the spirit over time… without your noticing them…
"Thus, quietly and without my knowledge, a different person was growing within me… a person who was rational and enlightened, thanks to persistent reading of Arab and international fiction, existentialist philosophy, and psychology, and thanks to an interest in the arts in general, and music and cinema in particular…
"I then turned my attention to how the sects had emerged through the workings of social and cultural influences and tribal struggles in Islam's early origins… and the [subsequent] continuation of these struggles, and how they had gained sanctity, supported on each side by religious arguments, in order to grant legitimacy to their desire to seize power.
"The emergence of the Islamic sects, as in all other religions, is an expression of the culture of the time… and not of the truth of religion. They are not binding on anyone, because they did not emanate directly from Allah…"
"Allah's Justice and Mercy Encompass All Humanity," Except for the Terrorists, Wahhabis, and Khomeinists
"It is illogical to think that Allah, Who is just, would prefer one sect… and love only [those belonging to it], and bring them into the pleasures of Paradise while bringing the rest of humanity into hellfire. It is impossible that Allah's justice and mercy [would allow this]. Allah's justice and mercy encompass all humanity, all religions, and all countries, and no one has the right to claim a monopoly on truth and faith.
"[But] naturally, I exclude from Allah's mercy the terrorist movements and the criminal takfiri groups like the Wahhabis, [the followers of] Khomeini's [theory of] the rule of the jurisprudent… and all the Islamist [political] parties, [both] Shi'ite and Sunni… Theirs is ignominy in this world and punishment in the next world.
"I left the prison of sectarianism… and turned to the concept of Allah… as a philosophy and a belief that symbolizes beauty, justice, love, virtue, and the principle of human brotherhood for all, without differentiating between Sunnis, Shi'ites, Christians, Jews, or Buddhists…"
"My Transformation from the Islamization of Life to the Rationalization of Life"
"After I passed from the darkness of sectarianism to the light of Allah, I still lived in one of the worst prisons – the prison of 'the Islamization of life.' I was infatuated with bringing everything in life, in every detail, back to Islam, and I was in a constant search for the Islamic referent in every phenomenon and issue.
"The danger in this is that it demands of Islam that which is not within its jurisdiction. Religion is not supposed to offer an answer for everything and kill off the exertions of the intellect.
"For example, I went to the sheikh of the mosque where I prayed, and asked him what Islam's opinion was on inherited genes. I also searched in religious books [for information] on this subject – whereas this is a scientific subject that concerns biology, and religion has nothing to do with it.
"I was engrossed in books of Koranic exegesis, hadith, Islamic jurisprudence, fundamentals of the faith; I searched for Islamic answers to all of my general questions and tried to put together… an Islamic sociology, an Islamic psychology, and an Islamic philosophy.
"This continued up to that golden moment when I began my intellectual transformation, from delusions of Islamizing life to rationalizing life. This [moment] came when I left Iraq, in 1991, for Syria, where I lived in proximity to the Iraqi Shi'ite Islamist parties and their supporters…
"The sense of shock at the nature of the Islamist parties drove me to an imperceptible critical reevaluation – I was not aware that, though my readings and my questionings, I was moving towards shattering the delusions of Islamizing life and towards the lights of the intellect…
"The religiously impermissible innovation (bid'a) of Islamizing life is one of the greatest crimes of the clerics and the religious parties. It is an expression of the Islamists' dictatorial desire to imprison life in ideological jails… This is part of the clerics' satanic plan to control the minds and lives of human beings by claiming to have a monopoly on the truth, and by having an answer to every question…
"Allah created the intellect and gave it the role of invention… There is no contradiction at all between [the intellect] and religion. Islam is not supposed to offer answers for everything…"
"Because of the Crimes of Terrorism, I Almost Became a Non-Believer"
"After the crime of the 9/11 [attacks] in New York, I felt disgrace and shame at being a Muslim Arab, with this crime having been perpetrated in the name of my religion. I experienced a violent inner reaction towards Islam. [Only] the remnants of my fear of hellfire prevented me from rejecting all religion…
"Then came the liberation of Iraq by the intrepid American army, [and then came] the rule of the Islamic religious parties – Shi'ite and Sunni – and the advent of the ugly theft and smuggling of oil, and the Islamists' crimes of bombing and killing. [All this] deepened my intellectual and spiritual crisis and made me, as a religious Muslim, face a number of questions and doubts… and exploded in my soul more feelings of anger against everything Islamic.
"Although I still performed the ritual obligations of prayer, fasting, and so on, I never, to this day, recovered from the shock that 9/11 and the current crimes in Iraq caused me. I felt that a large psychological block had been raised between myself and religion… I cannot... read the Koran, and I have read no religious book [since 9/11]. When I see a Muslim cleric on the TV screen, I immediately start screaming and cursing him – and then I change the channel.
"My intent in mentioning these details is to clarify the degree to which the sects and ideologies have distorted the [Islamic] religion, the image of Allah, and all beautiful and noble principles and values…
"I want an Islam that will call for the principle of human brotherhood…
"What is happening now in all the sects and religions is that the majority of religious people worship denominations, not Allah. The majority of Shi'ites worship their sect, and not the one Allah, and likewise the majority of Sunnis worship their sect and not Allah. The majority of Muslims worship Islam, as a name that they consider an end and not a means to Allah, and the same can be said of the majority of Christians and Jews, who worship the names of their religions as ends in themselves, far removed from Allah…"
"I Feel Shame and Disgrace at 9/11"; "America Has Liberated Millions from Subjugation and Slavery"
In his September 11, 2007 article, Khudayr Taher wrote an apology to the United States and a paean to its history and culture. Following are excerpts:
"… As an Arab Muslim, I feel shame and disgrace at this crime [9/11] that befell the United States of America, which is considered the best country on the face of the planet in the service it has done to human civilization. It is America that gave humanity [many] inventions: the telephone, the airplane, cinema and television, electric light, the Internet, and thousands of other inventions and scientific and intellectual discoveries…
"And America is the prophet of liberty that has liberated millions of humans from subjugation and slavery. It brought down Nazism, Communism, and the Taliban and Saddam regimes.
"It is certain that the ignorant, the rabble, and the terrorists do not understand … that Allah has blessed the land of America and has graced it with all its resources – mines, oil, agriculture, land, and aquatic fauna… America is an earthly paradise… by the grace of Allah's blessings.
"The foolish and the criminal never manage to see the sunlight and the hidden good that shines out… One needs a clear conscience and a mind free of criminal mob slogans before one can see America's good, shining face…
"Any noble Arab Muslim should be ashamed and should apologize to the American people for this crime [i.e. 9/11]. America deserves great love and recognition for its goodness and grace towards humanity."