Bahraini intellectual Dhiyaa Al-Musawi called to "reform religious notions, and to lower the levels of the [ideological] cholesterol that is clogging our veins," saying that ideologically, "we, in the Arab world, are where the West was in the Middle Ages." Interviewed by the Saudi Khalijiyya TV, Al-Musawi called for secularism, saying that "people have presented secularism as a time bomb, a bogeyman," but that "like in the West, we must sanctify personal liberties." The interview aired on April 23
Interviewer: Why did you stop wearing the religious cloak?
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: Because I felt it was limiting me. Some people would say: How come a man wearing a turban goes to the mall? How come a man with a turban listens to music or wears fashionable clothes? Yes, I remember this from our previous interview. I realized that the point of wearing the turban is completely misunderstood.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: Religion is not against beauty. Religion is not against creativity, not against women, and not against life. The problem is that they have got it into people's heads that religion is tantamount to solitary confinement, and that people must cocoon themselves within a certain religion or denomination. They try to hijack Paradise, and to make it the monopoly of this religion or that denomination. I, on the other hand, believe in the paradise of Man. So I have reached the conviction that if these are the restrictions... Nothing is more beautiful than the freedom of Man. [The poet] Adonis said: "The worst prison has no walls." You don't really need to live in a prison cell. Culture and ideology can be the worst prison cells confining a human being.
Interviewer: Do you support the separation of religion and state?
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: Of course. Why do we want to separate religion from politics? If you give a certain religion or denomination control over the state's laws, where will the Christians go? Or the Jews? Or even Muslims of other denominations?
Interviewer: They can live as minorities.
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: Yes, they can live as persecuted minorities, and be considered citizens of the fourth or fifth degree, and we will experience the same problems that existed in the West in the Middle Ages. On the ideological level, we, in the Arab world, are where the West was in the Middle Ages. We have clerics whom we worship like idols, and they decide for us how we should think in the field of mathematics, in nuclear science, in psychology... As I've said before, the cleric is like a tomato. You find him in every dish.
Interviewer: You can't do without it.
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: Right, he's one of the basic ingredients. We have been hijacked in the name of religion. Religion is very simple. It calls for beauty, for love, for humanity - that's it.
Interviewer: I'm sure you don't like tomatoes...
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: Philosophy calls to deconstruct reality and then reconstruct it. We in the Arab world need to deconstruct this culture. We suffer from cultural gangrene. We need to amputate this culture and to build a new culture in its wake.
Religion is a personal relationship between the individual and his Lord.
Interviewer: What about all the practices...
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: They must be subject to the civil law in each and every country. That is why I call for secularism in the Arab world. I say this loud and clear: Secularism is the solution. People have presented secularism as a time bomb, a bogeyman.
They have said that secularism means prostitution, religious permissiveness, spiritual bankruptcy... No. We are talking about secularism on the state level - about separating religion from the state. What this means is that there is a law that governs relations between people. As for your relations with your Lord, you have mosques and other places of worship, where you can perform rites.
The most secular places will be Mosul and Iran. They will turn to secularism. I hope that they don't go all the way to atheism, as a reaction to the collapse of their ideal. This has historical precedents. France with all the churches, and Rome, and Italy... They have reached a kind of atheism because of the collapse of the ideal. If you tell people that Islam, or any other religion, calls for killing, slaughtering, bombing, and so on, there is bound to be a reaction when they find that this is not true.
This is why we call for reforms. It is not the religion that calls for the culture of death. We call for religion to be filtered. We need a cultural bulldozer that will smash the causes of extremism in the Arab world and elsewhere. We need to reform religious notions, and to lower the levels of the [ideological] cholesterol that is clogging our veins. They have turned our religion into a frightening bogeyman. The words "Allah Akbar" should bring serenity to our hearts, but when people hear a cry of "Allah Akbar!", they immediately think that someone is killing someone.
I call for a cultural revolution in the Arab world led by the philosophers.
Interviewer: There were Arab revolutions. Everybody took to the streets...
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: This was a revolution of political Islam. It was not a civil revolution. It was a political revolution overwhelmed by ideology: The Muslim Brotherhood, the Al-Wefaq movement, the Houthis... You did not want the [Arab] regimes, which - despite all that was bad about them - allowed a modicum of liberalism and change, and then you get a cleric and make him my president and my guide?! That's all we need - more guides. The world is full of guides who are destroying it. They tell you that this is exactly like the French Revolution. The French Revolution and other revolutions in Europe were staged against the clerics. They laid the philosophical foundation for the separation of church and state.
More than one million people were killed in the so-called "Arab Spring," over 800 trillion or billion dollars were lost, there are more than 14 million refugees, not to mention the lost infrastructure, the widows, the orphans, the shattered dreams... What kind of spring brings such catastrophes?
Interviewer: It has turned into a blood-soaked spring...
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: Right, and why? For one reason: There was no... We are in need of a cultural revolution.
People are still arguing whether this was an Arab "Spring," or there were "others" responsible for it, whether someone conceived this... [They say] that countries in Europe and in the region strive to spread disasters and crises in the Arab world, in order to squeeze some more oil out of it...
Interviewer: Even if there was a conspiracy, the destruction was caused by Arabs.
Dhiyaa Al-Musawi: That's because the Arab mentality is still based on violence.
Liberalism is about your personal relationship with God. It's about turning your country into a homeland for everybody, and about your relationship with God. It is about separating government from religious notions, and about having personal liberties. This is something that I hold sacred. Every human being has his own private garden, where he can practice his own beliefs, and nobody has the right to spy on others from behind the door. Therefore, I do not believe in the theory of "commanding good and forbidding evil," in the form of the religious police of the Islamic movements in the Arab world. The "commanding good and forbidding evil" is determined by law. You cannot tell people what to wear, how to cut their hair, what music not to listen to. You are not a god, and nor were you sent by God. In the words of [the late Syrian poet] Muhammad Al-Maghout: "Our problem is not with God, but with people who purport to be His successors." Therefore, personal liberties for women and for men must be held sacred. No one can show up, issue a fatwa, impose limitations upon another person, and decide how he should live. Like in the West, we must sanctify personal liberties, so that nobody can interfere in what you wear, eat, or think, as long as this does not run counter to the law of the state.