“What I was not prepared for was the tsunami of just hate and pushback and disdain that would come from people I thought were my people: people that believed in enlightenment values, Western values, and liberal values.”
Yasmine Mohammed released her memoir Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam on September 25th. The book documents her life, having been raised in “a fundamentalist Islamic household” to her being pressured into a marriage with a member of Al-Qaeda to her decision to leave Islam and begin speaking out against the treatment of women under the religion, both in Muslim-majority countries and in the West. Ms. Mohammed has become a frequent commentator on Islam’s relationship with the West, particularly in Canada where she lives and works. In this interview, Ms. Mohammed joins Merion West‘s Erich Prince to discuss the pushback she has received from both fundamentalist Muslims and, in almost equal share, those who identify with the Western left, how the text of the Quran (such as passage 4:34) states that men are in charge of women and can strike them, and the murder of Canadian teenager Aqsa Parvez for removing her hijab. This is part one of two of their conversation.
Yasmine, glad to speak with you. I just finished your book and look forward to discussing it with you. Perhaps we should start, first, with the newsletter I received from you indicating that Amazon is flagging your book’s content as too controversial for its advertising program.
Yes—which is funny because what book isn’t controversial? I mean, how did they make that determination? How boring would the book be if there were no controversy in it? So it is upsetting to me to be deemed “too controversial” for Amazon to advertise my book—as if I’m saying something so hateful and so beyond what should be allowed [to be said] in civilized discourse. And that’s why I brought up the fact that they show Mein Kampf on their website. I don’t know what lines they’re drawing and how they determine what is too controversial for them and what isn’t.
This in line with a point you bring up in your book, when you make mention of the fact that certain individuals—such as Sam Harris—who have been critical of Islam, have received a lot of pushback. Do you see what’s happening to you with Amazon also in that context?
Oh, absolutely. I knew what I was getting myself into. As you read in my book—in the prologue when I talk about standing at the precipice of a cliff looking at this water—I’m thinking: I know what’s in that water. I just risked my life and my daughter’s life to get out of that water and to get myself onto dry land. So I knew that wading into this would be difficult, but I always assumed that the difficulty would be coming from conservative or fundamentalist Muslims. I was always prepared for that, and I knew that was going to happen; I understood that that came with the territory. The same people that were threatening Sam Harris with death were going to threaten me with death. And I understood all that.
What I was not prepared for was the tsunami of just hate and pushback and disdain that would come from people I thought were my people: people that believed in enlightenment values, Western values, and liberal values. When I was a Muslim, I was taught all of these very far right things, such as that LGBT people are sinners that should be killed. Things that are way more far-right, than anything that is heard in America.
And I know you mentioned in your book that a lot of people who have walked your path away from Islam have found a sort of a camaraderie with many LGBT people—in the sense of both of you perhaps having lived in a household where you felt like you weren’t fully accepted, either for coming out as gay or for coming out as a critic of Islam.
Yes, so we come out of those conservative households, and we think that we’re coming into the light: we’re walking out of the darkness into the light. And then we get there and find that the light is turning around and basically denouncing you—not wanting you as part of them. And so it feels like a betrayal. So it doesn’t [bother me as much] when I get fundamentalist Muslims hating me and giving me death threats or whatever because, of course, I expected that. But when I get that kind of vitriol from the Left, it really feels like a sucker punch.
So one of the most concerning or unsettling aspects of the book for me was when you’re talking about this idea of, “the sexual exploitation of children unfortunately being sanctioned by Islam.” You talk about Muhammad marrying a six-year-old girl, Aisha. And also you cite startling statistics about the rates of child abuse in the Middle East. And I have here a 2019 study discussing the relative prevalence of violence against adolescents in the Arab world, compared to other parts of the world. Could you talk a little bit more about this idea of this child sexual exploitation?
First of all, it’s not just the Arab world, unfortunately. It’s the Muslim world in general. So you’ll see the same sort of statistics in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other Muslim countries that are not Arab. And the one thread that connects all of these countries is that people are told that this man [Muhammad], who is the best examples for humanity married a six-year-old. So what happens in some countries— like in Iran—is that when they were trying to change the marriage age, it was thrown out of court because they said, “Well no, if we changed that then that would be anti-Islam.”
So we cannot make it that a girl needs to be thirteen—or whatever they are looking to change it to—to consent to marriage. We can’t raise the age because if our prophet married a six-year-old, then who are we to deem something that he did as unacceptable and change the laws that our prophet created. So because of that, it fossilizes these societies into this 1,400-year-old mindset, and it makes it so difficult for them to progress, like other societies that don’t have Sharia in their laws.
All over the world, girls are married too young, even in the United States [when it comes] to some fundamentalist groups. But the difference is the laws here [in the West] don’t support that, and the society doesn’t support it. So we view it here as a problem that needs to be identified and fixed. But when you’re in a society that is governed by Sharia law, then that progress is just not going to happen—unless people separate mosque and state. And you mentioned Sam Harris. So he made the comparison where he was talking about there’s a cult within the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, where each man had like five wives, including young girls. But the FBI went in there and broke down the doors and saved these children. They took the girls into the system and put the men in jail. They protected the little girls. But then we talk about the same little girls in Afghanistan—or the same little girls in any other country that is not a Western country. All of the sudden people want to turn a blind eye and say “Well, no, it’s different.” Well, how is it different? How are these little blonde girls in America different than these little brown haired girls in Afghanistan? They’re not.
So from where I sit—and to your point—I was surprised to read this 2012 piece in The Guardian by Myriam Francois Cerrah, where she writes, “What the records are clear on is that Mohammad and Aisha had a long and egalitarian relationship which set the standard for reciprocity, tenderness and respect enjoined by the Quran.” Furthermore, the author cites the fact that Mohammed and his wife drank from the same cup as, “indicative of a deep connection, which belies any misrepresentation of their relationship” and later goes on to suggest that their marriage is “an affirmation of female autonomy.”
Yes—so The Guardian publishes this same kind of drivel. If it were coming from a fundamentalist Christian Church—absolutely not. They would never publish it and would find it completely abhorrent.
So you also cite this point in the Quran 4:34 about it being acceptable to beat “arrogant or disobedient wives” and…
Not even if they are arrogant or disobedient—just if you fear that they might become arrogant or disobedient, beat them.
So it’s not even that the wives are displaying the behavior—just that they might be perceived to have that potential?
Correct. Anybody who is literate can Google the Quran in their language, and they can read it. They don’t need to listen to me. They don’t need to listen to anybody else. They can read it themselves.
But part of the problem here is that—well, there are a few problems—but number one: only 15% of Muslims speak Arabic. And of that 15%, there is a very, very high illiteracy rate. So let’s just say it’s a nominal amount of Muslims that actually speak Arabic as their first language. The majority of Muslims do not. And many of them also have issues with literacy in these countries, as well. But even those that are able to read it, they are not reading translations of the Quran because that is not what is valued in Islamic tradition. What is valued is to memorize the Quran. So the idea was [guard against] if the nonbelievers try to change our religion—or not just necessarily the nonbelievers but the not so good believers: Muslims that are not Muslim enough.
But the reason why the Quran has been valued is the hafiz. So that means somebody who has memorized; it’s not somebody who learns, understands, questions, or discusses. No, it is simply regurgitation. And the reason why that is valued is because they say if the papers get damaged or ruined or burned or whatever, the Quran is in the mind. It is in the minds of millions and millions of Muslim children. And so that’s why it’s very, very important for kids to memorize the Quran from very young ages. And you can Google this: YouTube videos galore of children from Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, everywhere—even here in Canada, the United States, France, where kids are being forced to [memorize the Quran]. And so that is what’s valued:memorizing it.
But most often, the overwhelming majority of Muslims—if they read the Quran—their reading it in Arabic, and they have no idea what it’s saying. It’s like Italian opera. It’s just sounds that they’re hearing, and quite often they say things like, “Oh, this is so poetic and beautiful.” I’m like: “You’re talking about people being tortured.” They don’t know what they’re saying. So to them, it’s just a melodic sound. But to people that understand Arabic, it is jarring how violent it is.
Another thing I wanted to add is that there are quite a few different translators that have translated the Quran into English. And the older translators were more honest in that they would use the word “Beat,” but—in the newer translations—they whitewash the words of the Quran quite often, especially for areas like 4:34 that are contentious. So they choose different vocabulary so that it does not sound quite as harsh as it does in Arabic.
You mentioned, just a moment ago, Canada and France. One of the main ideas in your book is that those folks, who are practicing strict interpretations of Islam—when they come to Western countries—they bring these interpretations with them. These ideas don’t stay in the countries they are coming from. You cited a young girl, Aqsa Parvez, for example. She was a sixteen-year-old girl in Canada who was killed by her father and brother for refusing to wear a hijab. This was in Canada. Obviously, one of the most striking sections in your book is when you describe your stepfather beating you on your feet for failing to recite certain prayers correctly. And that was in Canada—not in Egypt.
Exactly. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone because—even if you or I were to move to Cuba—we’re not going to somehow all of the sudden become Communist. You don’t change who you are (and what your values) are just because your geographical location changes.
I think that part of the problem is that when we are vetting immigrants, we’re vetting them for the wrong reasons. We’re asking the wrong questions, and, in my opinion, there are more than enough people in the Muslim world that would love to live under liberty, freedom, and equality. They would be willing to do whatever it takes to come and live in the United States or Canada or anywhere in the West—where they get to have freedom of thought. But we’re not looking for those people. We’re not vetting for those people.
So what ends up happening is we’re making decisions based on different factors. And, unfortunately, quite often, the people that we’re bringing in don’t share our values. We didn’t vet them before they came here, so we didn’t understand that they have completely different values than we do. It’s kind of ridiculous for us to expect that once they come and join our country, that their values are going to change; they won’t change. We have to be bringing in people that already share our values—or that are already open to changing the structure or the societies that they grew up in. People make the mistake of thinking, “Oh, you left Pakistan to come to Canada, so why would you want to bring that kind of authoritarian stuff with you?” It’s like, “Well, they didn’t leave Pakistan because they didn’t like the religion or the government there. They left because there are economic opportunities here, or there’s better education for their kids, or it’s just that the United States is a more attractive place to live than Afghanistan. So we just have to be more careful when we’re inviting people into our countries.
Editor’s note: Part two of this interview will be released on Wednesday, November 27th.