Anwar Shaikh: The Autobiography of an Apostate

 On Saturday 21st October, 1995, there appeared the following headlines in a daily newspaper, the Daily Sadaqat, in Lahore, Pakistan:

"All Pakistani clergy demand extradition of the accursed renegade Anwar Shaikh from Britain to hang him publicly."

"A renegade must be murdered -- this is a fundamental rule of the Islamic Law -- Anwar Shaikh must be called back, some lover of the Prophet is bound to kill him. America [sic] protects every insulter of the Prophet."

"If he (Anwar Shaikh) is not eliminated, more Rushdies will appear. He is an apostate for denying heaven, hell, revelation, Koran, Prophet and angels. The Muslims of the world are ready to behead the accursed renegade to defend the magnificence of their Prophet."

Those of us who feared that the shadow of the Rushdie Affair would fall on all subsequent attempts to criticise this most criticisable of all religions were pleasantly surprised not to say astonished to find that someone had openly dared to take a stand against religious fascism in the form of Islam. Anwar Shaikh, in three books published at his own expense since February 1989, the date of the infamous fatwa on Rushdie, denounces Islam in uncompromising terms: Eternity, Faith & Deception, and Islam, The Arab National Movement.

I first came across Shaikh’s name on the Net, where I also obtqined his address. I wrote to him immediately, thinking that, at last, I had found a kindred spirit -- an ex-Muslim willing to criticise his former religion. I was not disappointed. I met him a month later in his spacious and very comfortable house in the suburbs of Cardiff. Anwar is a large, affable man of great warmth, humour, and obvious defiance and courage. Now nearing seventy, he has health worries: he has had seven bypass operations, and rarely leaves his home. He not only showed me his home-made wine -- "Do you like wine? Ah, good, good, then you are a true humanist" -- but insisted that I take away a whole flagon of several litres with me back to London on the train. He spends much of his time writing: not only diatribes against Islam but beautiful poetry in Urdu, which he publishes in his own journal Liberty.

Anwar Shaikh worries about the secular future of Britain. As he said in an interview in 1995, "...Britain is my home and unless you do something about Muslim fundamentalism there is going to be a huge fifth column in our midst. England must wake up. You [the British] spent hundreds of years getting Christian fundamentalism out of this country. Don’t let fundamentalism come back."

Anwar Shaith has a personal story to tell, to confess, to expiate, that is fascinating, horrifying, tragic, and uplifting all at once. It would be a pity to reveal it all straightaway; instead I shall let Anwar Shaikh unravel it slowly in his own words, recorded during an interview on May 14th, 1997.

  • --  Ibn Warraq
  •  

    Early Life

    I was born on the first day of June, 1928, in a village near the city of Gujrat (in present day Pakistan). That day happened to be the day of Hajj (or Pilgrimage) as well. My family considered this a good omen since the Hajj is one of the most sacred ceremonies of Islam, and so they called me Hajji Muhammad. That was the first name I was given, but as it happened I was also born circumcised, and this was seen as an even greater, more august omen, and accordingly they changed my name from Hajji Muhammad to Muhammad Anwar. Anwar means radiant. This is what prompted them to give me a sound Islamic education. They thought I was destined to be a stalwart of Islam.

    I was born and brought up breathing Islam. My mother was not only deeply religious but also a scholar of Islam. She could recite at least half of the Koran from memory. She did all she could to teach me what she knew. My paternal grandfather was also very scholarly and religious, and on top of that the younger brother of my grandfather was a professional Muslim priest, a mullah. So I was under his care as well.

    They, however, did not teach me Arabic grammar. I only started learning Arabic in sixth form, and my Arabic teacher happened to be, more or less, our next door neighbour. I matriculated in 1946, loving Islam all the while. During that period I made myself familiar with the works of Hadith, the Islamic Traditions, collected by such revered scholars as Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majja, and others. I was also lucky enough to come across many books on Arab culture and history, and the famous commentary on the Koran by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

      Lahore, 1947, Independence & The Partition

    I regret to say that 1947 was the darkest period of my life. We were told that murdering the non-Muslims, seducing their wives, burning their properties, was an act of Jihad, that is Holy War. And Jihad is the most sacred duty of a Muslim because it guarantees him a safe passage to paradise where no fewer than 72 houris, that is the most beautiful virgins, and pearl-like boys wait for him. Such a reward is a great temptation!

    It was during the first week of August, 1947, when l was an accounts clerk in the railway office in Lahore that I saw a train pull in from the East Punjab. That was full of mutilated bodies of Muslims, men, women, and children. It had a terrific, horrendous effect on me. When I went home I prayed to the Lord asking Him not to forget my share of houris & boys. Now this is true. I actually prayed and then I took up a club, and a long knife and I went out in search of non-Muslims. Those days were remembered for the curfew orders and everybody seemed terrified of everybody else. I found two men, Sikhs, father and son, the father was perhaps not more than 50, perhaps younger, and his young son. I killed both of them. Next day I did not go to work, I felt nauseated but I wanted to kill some more non-Muslims. I encountered another Sikh at Darabi Road & I killed him too. Often memories of those terrible days haunt my mind, I feel ashamed, and many a times have I shed tears of remorse. If it had not been for my fanaticism, engendered by the Islamic traditions those people might have been alive even today. And I might not have felt the guilt which I still do.

    Who told me that the act of Jihad, the act of killing non-Muslims was good? Well, if you read the Koran, you will find that in a certain sura God says that he has bought the lives of the Muslims in return for the rewards of Paradise. They kill non-Muslims and get killed in this war-effort, & the reward for these Muslims is paradise & paradise is a huge garden inhabited by the most beautiful virgins, who live in palaces, & there are countless pretty pearl-like boys to serve them as well.

      Skepticism and Doubts

    When and how my scepticism about Islam began is a very strange episode. I was in Rawalpindi in the north of Pakistan, and I must have been 25 or 26 at the time. One day I was reading the Koran, which I had already read many times, of course, it was sura 49, called the Apartments. The first verse says, "Believers, do not behave presumptuously in the presence of God and His Apostle. Have fear of God: God hears all and knows all. Believers, do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor shout aloud when speaking to him as you do to one another.... Those who speak softly in the presence of God’s apostle are the men whose hearts God has tested for piety." It is supposed to be Allah telling the faithful to behave well in front of the Prophet. All of a sudden something struck me like lightening. I said why is it really for Allah to tell people to show reverence to Muhammad. Can’t Muhammad tell the people these things himself? God was acting as a servant to Muhammad. This seems such a banal observation, but this is how my mind reacted to that: I came to the conclusion, all of a sudden, that it was Muhammad himself who was telling the people how to bow before him in the name of Allah, as though it were a command from Allah. By now, I felt that this veil of ignorance had been lifted from my mind.

    I was no longer willing to study the Koran, through faith. I started reading it critically and rationally, and as I went through it, I realised the Koran did not appeal to me anymore the way it used to do, the way it had for the last 25 years. It is at that time I started thinking about the nature of prophethood itself. As I read the Koran again, it appeared to me that prophethood is the ratchet with which someone raises himself above the status of God. It is not only that he wants to be worshipped & obeyed by ordinary people but he even wants to be greater than God. If you read the Koranic sura 33, verse 56, you will see it says "verily, God and His Angels pray for the prophet." In every other religion, it is man who worships God, but here God appears to be worshipping man.

    The moment I started reading the Koran critically, it looked entirely another book to me. Now in the Koran there is a sura called "Women" (sura 4), verse 82 says that if the Koran was not a book from God, it would contain many contradictions or inconsistencies. So I subjected the Koran to its own definition. And I found that all the important points had been contradicted by the Koran itself. I have written a book called "Faith & Deception" which demonstrates all these contradictions of the Koran. So you see when you read something rationally instead of blindly as most of the faithful do, then the same verses, the same words, will have different meanings. That is how I went away from Islam gradually, simply by reading the Koran itself.

      Cardiff

    I did not divulge my doubts to anyone, considering it a personal affair. Between 1947 and 1956 I started a small grocery business, when that failed I obtained a diploma and became a fully qualified teacher, and even served for a short time as a headmaster of a high school. In 1956, I decided to leave for Britain, and by chance ended up in Cardiff. My first three years in Cardiff were really tough, since I arrived with only £25 in my pocket. I was too proud to go on Social Security -- I had to find a job before I ran out of money. I became a bus conductor, and kept the job for three years. I saved money, bought property and became a mini-landlord, and I gradually increased the number of houses and I branched out into the construction industry. I became a property developer. I did this business for at least 25 years & I did it successfully. But just at the moment I had the chance of becoming very rich I decided to give it up because I wanted to do some writing.

    I retired some 20 years before my time. I am glad that I have provided for my pension. I do not regret my decision, there comes a moment when you have to judge whether to do something really constructive, worthwhile and creative or to make more money. I chose to do something constructive.

    I used to subscribe to the Freethinker, and at the time I thought of myself not as a humanist but as a freethinker, that is someone who is not bound by any superstition, he says what he thinks, at the same time he respects the opinions of others. It is strange to say that I was impressed by the humanistic approach of the Rg Veda, which happens to be the sacred book of the Hindus. I was really struck by the fact that the Rg Veda says that their God Indra is the God of all mankind, he is the lover of all mankind. It was something unusual for me to learn that, having been brought up in the Islamic tradition which teaches hatred of non-Muslims. I, from my own experience, came to realise that mankind is one large family, & the purpose of man’s life is to look after his fellow beings, to improve the lot of the people, no matter where they are. So it is my own experience which eventually made me a humanist. My passion is humanity, the welfare and advancement of humanity.

      Islam: The Arab National Movement

    The deeper study of the Koran, Hadith, and Arab history led me to believe that Islam had been cleverly devised on the principle of divide and rule. And its purpose is to enable the Arabs to dominate the rest of the world. I have no doubt the Prophet wanted to raise himself to the same status as Allah. Muhammad loved Arabia & its culture, and his one desire was to create a strong, conquering Arab nation that believed in him and propagated his name. This could only be achieved by imperial dominance. For this purpose he took several steps; first, he divided humanity into two perpetually warring groups. He called his own followers the Hizbullah, the Party Of God. Those who did not follow him were called Hizbushaitan, the Party of Satan. (You will find this truth in Sura lviii.) They are perpetually at war, and eventually the Party of God will emerge victorious. Muhammad, to make the Muslims dominant, and since at that time mainly Arabs were Muslims, to make the Arabs dominant, laid down that government belongs only to the Quraish, that is the Prophet’s own tribe. No non-Arab can ever head a truly Muslim government. This is the reason in the 800 year long history of Spain, all the Muslim rulers belonged to the Quraish tribe, the tribe of Muhammad. The same is true of Arab government itself: for five to seven hundred years the rulers came from the Umayyad & Abbasid dynasty. They all belonged to the Quraish tribe, the tribe of Muhammad.

    The device and philosophy of dividing mankind into two perpetually warring groups, reminiscent of Karl Marx’s perpetual class conflict, is dangerous, it is based on blind faith, and far more destructive than fascism, since it advocates the annihilation of all non-Muslims. Indeed it sees this extermination of non-Muslims as the greatest virtue which guarantees paradise. Islam was created by the Prophet to impose Arab values on non-Arabs. To make sure that the non-Arab Muslims acknowledge the Arabs as their intellectual masters, the Prophet made Mecca the center of Islamic reverence, in such a way that it became an integral part of the Muslim faith. The Prophet made the Kaaba, the cube-like shrine at Mecca THE central Arab shrine, as the House of Allah, and asserted that Allah Himself had ordered Adam, the progenitor of mankind, to build this house for Him. Now the beauty of it is that the Kaaba is also the qibla -- that is the direction of worship. That means every Muslim, wherever he lives, India, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, should prostrate himself in the direction of Arabia, to bend in reverence towards it. Not only that, a Muslim grave must be dug in such a way that the body when buried faces the Kaaba, that is Mecca. So sacred is Mecca, that nobody must defecate facing this city.

    Again, every Muslim no matter where he lives must make a pilgrimage to Mecca provided he has the means to do so. This is a pre-Islamic custom of Arabia which the Prophet incorporated into Islam, to bring it all the economic benefits that a person can dream of. You must have read about a month ago during the Pilgrimage 3 million Muslims went to Mecca. Assuming every Muslim spends £2000 to £3000, which they are bound to, you can calculate the income from this ceremony alone. The people in Pakistan and India are known to sell their houses, their land -- they auction the lot to raise money to go on pilgrimage.

    Again, Allah speaks Arabic, the Koran is also in Arabic which is a difficult language to learn. All Muslims must speak Arabic to earn Allah's blessings -- see how Allah favours Arabia. In fact, this is the most effective device to impose Arabian culture on non-Arab Muslims.

    This is what prompted me to write, Islam: The Arab National Movement, to waken all nations of the world to the dangers that lie ahead in the age of atom bombs.

      Faith and Deception

    Faith & Deception is a book I wrote to take up the challenge thrown down by the Koran itself. The Koran claims that if it was not a book from God it would be full of inconsistencies. Now , I went through the Koran and all its major precepts and noted them down. I show that each principle is contradicted as you go through the Koran.

      Islam & Sexuality

    This book, yet to be published, deals with the Muslim belief that a prophet is a completely innocent & infallible person. In Sura 48 verse one and two, Allah addresses Muhammad saying "May I forgive your sins of the past & any sins you may commit in the future." It surely nullifies this belief that a prophet is innocent & infallible, because if the Prophet had committed sins in the past and he was likely to commit them in the future, you cannot call him infallible.

    In this book, I examine the lives of half a dozen prophets -- and my account is based on the Bible and the Koran. I have illustrated the life of the Prophet with reference to sexuality, Koranic law and history. This book contains some hair-raising episodes which are fully documented from the books of Islamic Traditions, the Hadith, the Koran, and Arab History. I have been reluctant to publish this book so far, it is preserved in the vaults of the bank. I think this book should be published by a society -- it is not the job of one person publishing it and getting stabbed and nobody caring about the book. If it were published by a society, then, I know, whether I am here or not, the mission would go on just the same. I honestly and sincerely believe that the contents of this book belong to the people throughout the world, because it will break the backbone of religion.

      The Status of Women Under Islam

    The present low status of women in the Islamic World is all due to Islamic Law, and the Koranic attitude. I discuss these matters in Islam & Sexuality. The truth is that in Islam a woman is no more than a sexual toy. A man is free to play with her, and then divorce her at will. She is considered an unreliable witness in a court of law. Her brother is entitled to twice as much inheritance than she is. A man can have four wives at the same time, a man is legally entitled to beat her if she annoys him. She must be available for sexual intercourse whenever required. She must observe purdah (that is cover her face), and must stay in the house, she must not join any social function. This is the reason why Islam has not produced one great woman in all the countries where the Muslims live. Benazir Bhutto, and Tansu Ciller of Turkey are actually the marks of rebellion against Islam. Islam is not a rational religion because it has repressed Women’s rights for centuries.

    The source of mischief is the Sharia, and the lack of a separation of religion and state. Making religion a part of the state is the true source of trouble -- economic and social conflict. It is since Europeans have separated religion and state, and have stopped making laws in the name of Christ, that they have learnt to be free and claim their human rights. Until such time as this happens in the world of Islam, these countries are not going to have human rights at all. However, the truth is there is a very quiet revolution going on in these countries -- they pay lip service to Islam but they are relying on the secular laws. They make their own laws in their own legislative assemblies but they give it a tinge of Islam but I do not think they can do it for very long. By the end of the next century this Islamic magic will have vanished. All will try to be rational, instead of doing things in the name of God.

      Humanism

    I am a liberal humanist. I believe in the unity and dignity of man who has the right to believe what he likes. He has no right to impose his beliefs on others. Faith must be a strictly personal affair. Believing in god or no god is immaterial, what matters is human dignity, human freedom and human welfare. A man loving atheist is a thousand times better human than a theist who hates his fellow beings, on the grounds of religious bigotry. A true humanist is free from the restraints of race, colour & creed, he believes in human rights, civil liberties, & democratic principles.

     In an interview with Tariq Ali in the Observer in October, 1995, Anwar said: "Whatever happens now, I will die confident in my humanist and rational beliefs and, if my writings have weaned even a few dozen people away from religious hatred and fanaticism, I feel I will have partially redeemed myself, even though nothing, nothing can bring my three victims back to life." Asked by another journalist if he expected to die violently, Anwar replied, "I want to die honourably."


    Anwar Shaikh has published four books at his own expense, and they are available from The Principality Publishers, P. O. Box 918, Cardiff, Great Britain, CF2 4YP:

    Islam: The Arab National Movement, 5 pounds

    Eternity £13

    Faith & Deception £12

    Taxation & Liberty £20