A God Who Hates
By Wafa Sultan
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 Wafa Sultan
All rights reserved.
A God Who Hates
MOST MUSLIMS, IF not all of them, will condemn me to death when they read this book. They may not even read it. The title alone may push them to condemn me. That's how things are with them. They don't read, or, if they do, they don't take in what they read. They are much more interested in disagreement than in rapprochement and they are — first and foremost — supremely interested in inducing fear in others with whom they disagree. They may even threaten to condemn you just for reading this book because, in their cruelty, they have learned something about how to control others: Nothing tortures the human spirit more effectively than making someone a prisoner of her own fears. I am, though, no longer afraid. Why? Let me tell you a fable that might explain how I confronted my fears of speaking out against the radical mullahs of Islam.
There once was a strong and inquisitive young man who loved to travel. In his thirst for knowledge, he moved from place to place and traveled from town to town, drinking in wisdom and recording everything that happened to him.
Eventually, he came to a beautiful village slumbering at the foot of a mountain surrounded on all sides by green hills where gentle winds blew intermittently, delighting the mind and refreshing the heart. In this beautiful place, he was shocked to see that the inhabitants of this village were sad. They moved sluggishly, dragging their feet. To him they appeared no more than moving phantoms, without body or soul. The sight of these phantoms terrified him. He became determined to discover what made them so and set off to see a fabled wise man who lived alone, in a hut, cut off from the village and its inhabitants.
When he met the wise man, he asked what secret lay behind this great paradox. He asked why these people lived in a state of subjugation and dejection in a village where everything would seem to suggest that the people would be blessed with happiness and well-being. The sage came out of his hut and pointed toward the top of the mountain. "Look at that peak. An enormous ogre sits up there. From where he sits, he raves and shrieks, filling people's hearts with fear by threatening to gobble them up if they leave their homes or do any kind of work at all. The people, terrorized by his shrieks, can live only by stealth. Only their survival instinct keeps them going. They steal out like mice in secret to gather enough to keep body and soul together. They live day by day, waiting impatiently for the moment of their death. Their fear of this ogre has sapped their intellect and depleted their physical powers, reducing them to despair and hopelessness."
The young man thought for a while and said, "I'm going to the top of the mountain. I will talk to this ogre and ask what makes him threaten and frighten these people. I will ask him why he wants to prevent them from leading their lives in peace and safety."
"Go up to the top of the mountain? No sane person would risk his life by daring to meet the ogre. I implore you not to do it for the sake of your life, young man!" But the young man would not be dissuaded. He was determined to do what he believed had to be done. And so, with slow but sure steps, he started on his way to the peak.
When the young man reached the peak, the ogre did, indeed, seem large at first; however, what he found as he walked on astonished him. The closer he got, the smaller the ogre became. By the time he arrived he found that this great ogre who terrorized many was smaller than his littlest finger. The young man flattened his hand, held out his palm, and the tiny ogre jumped onto it.
"Who are you?" the young man asked.
"I am Fear," the ogre replied.
"Fear of what?" the young man asked.
"That depends on who you are. How each person sees me depends on how he imagines me. Some people fear illness, and they see me as disease. Others fear poverty, so they see me as poverty. Others fear authority, so they see authority in me. Some fear injustice, others fear wild beasts or storms, so that's how I appear to them. He who fears water sees me as a torrent, he who fears war perceives in me an army, ammunition, and suchlike."
"But why do they see you as bigger than you really are?"
"To each person I appear as big as his fear. And as long as they refuse to approach and confront me they will never know my true size."
I sometimes feel like that young man, a person who rebels against the wisdom of her time. I once lived in a village much like the one he discovered, for three decades. My love for it became an addiction from which I possessed neither the ability nor the desire to escape. The ogre, for a time, held me in his thrall, but no longer. Being enslaved to my own fears of the demon was a terrible time in my life, but I don't regret the experience. For me, all things happen for a reason and that experience only made me stronger. I was not born in that village in vain and I certainly did not leave it in vain. I left with a purpose not unlike that of the young man. I feel, on most days, that I must climb the mountain again and again with slow but sure steps and confront that ogre who, for me, is the horror of radical Islam. I do it to show the people of that village how small and cowardly he really is.
I have never in my life seen Muslims talk without disagreement. Perhaps I am alone in this, but I don't think so. If one says "Good morning," the other will reply, "But it's nighttime now." Their tendency to argumentativeness makes them defensive and their custom deems attack to be the best method of defense since it gives them the chance to shout and shriek. Shouting has become their hallmark and the main characteristic they use when they engage in conversation with someone whom they don't agree with. Without it they have no sense of their own worth or existence; without it they have no sense even of being alive.
They concoct reasons for disagreement and welcome it much more often than trying to bring different points of view closer together. Why? Disagreement and confusion keeps the ogre big and threatening, obscuring his true, puny nature. On top of shouting their way through a conversation, they have acquired the habit of shrieking, and they take pleasure in hearing their own shrieks. They believe that the louder they shriek, the more they prove they are right. Their conversation consists of shouting, their talk is a screech, and he who shouts loudest and screeches longest is, they believe, the strongest. They fabricate disagreements so as to give themselves an opportunity to shout. They seek contradiction so that they can scream.
I have often wondered how this shrieking and shouting began and have had to think back to the roots of Islam to understand it. If you were lost in the desert, unable to distinguish between north or south, your life threatened by hunger, thirst, and heat, and surrounded by sand dunes on all sides with no sign in sight of a human being who could rescue you — at that moment, a scream is all you have to convince yourself that you are still alive. You scream in the hope that a passerby will hear.
Many Arab history books tell us stories of the terror and desolation people suffered in the desert. The one I think best depicts this situation is the story of the Bedouin whose only son fell ill and lay on his sickbed dying of fever. His father, overwhelmed with paternal pangs of helplessness, went out into the night in search of a doctor. He lost his way in the depths of the desert and wandered along not knowing where his feet were leading him until, after an immeasurable length of time, he saw from afar a faint light. He ran toward it, only to discover that it was the campsite he had left, and that his son had already departed this life.
This story and others like it, which abound in Arab literature, give us some idea of the harshness of the environment in which Islam was born and thrived. It was an arid environment in which death from hunger or thirst was a constant threat, and the struggle with it was savage. Confronted with it, men could acquire no skills to combat it, and the scream remained the only way to overcome this unyielding threat. The ability to scream settled deep into the unconscious mind of the Bedouin as their most important survival skill. Islam canonized the Muslims' desert nature, and from that moment on they were unable to acquire new ways of communicating with others. But, I wonder, why does this shrieking and shouting persist?
When a person adopts a particular style of behavior, he observes the degree to which other people accept it. If they encourage him, or at least make no objection, he will continue. The way the world has retreated, and continues to retreat, in the face of the Muslims' screams and shouts, has played a major role in encouraging them to continue to behave the way they do. When others remain silent or worse, retreat, Muslims get the impression that they are right. Their shrieks no longer affect me, and I no longer hear them. If one of them wants to talk to me — and I have no doubt that a small minority of them is made up of rational people — they will discover that I am genuinely open to dialogue; however, not a single one yet has stepped up to have a rational dialogue with me that doesn't include shouting and shrieking.
For me, someone who comes into this world without bequeathing a legacy leaves it without having fulfilled her purpose. Through looking at my childhood in that village and my departure for America I have tried to figure out why I was put on this earth. Every person can bring about change, and every change makes a difference. The world is a picture, and each person influences it, is influenced by it, and finally leaves a fresh mark upon it to give it new form. Those who do good works while they are on this earth beautify the picture. Those who do bad works disfigure it. I hope I was put here to do good works and beautify the picture.
The struggle between good and evil continues as long as the world goes on. I believe that good has prevailed, for the most part, and that it will continue to do so. The belief that evil will overrun the world is not the product of the twenty-first century. It has persisted everywhere at all times despite the fact that nothing could be further from the truth. Though the belief that evil has prevailed is groundless, I can understand why some people believe it. Evil shrieks loudly while goodness clothes the world in silence. It's easier to see the bad than the good. It is goodness, I believe, which has swept the world ever since the moment it came into being. Goodness, though, must be protected because if it is ever defeated by evil, our world will cease to exist. The wisdom of the age we live in cautioned me against writing this book and warned me that I might have to pay with my life for doing so, but I am undaunted. My belief that good will ultimately triumph over evil has encouraged me to speak out.
After the 9/11 terrorist attack Americans asked themselves:
"Why do they hate us?"
My answer is: "Because Muslims hate their women, and any group who hates their women can't love anyone else."
People ask: "But why do Muslims hate their women?"
And I can only reply: "Because their God does."
Even men in my own family have caused sorrow in the lives of their women. How often have I dreamed of digging up my grandfather's bones so that I could bring him to trial for the misery he visited upon my grandmother? The times are too many to number. But I won't be able to exact vengeance for her, for Suha, for Samira, for Amal, for Fatima, or for the millions of other women living under the gaze of a hate-filled and vengeful god unless I expose what it is that really squats at the top of that mountain.
When a woman — oppressed to the very marrow of her bones, terrified by life in a village that confines her to a prison narrower than the eye of a needle — finally takes flight and escapes the clutches of its ogre, she finds herself and her three children alone and outcast in the streets of one of the largest cities in the world with only a hundred dollars in her pocket and a thousand years' worth of grief in her heart. This woman cannot speak the local language and she knows nothing of local customs and traditions. All she possesses is bitter experience whose depths cannot be plumbed without a great deal of courage. At one time, that woman was me.
When my feet touched the ground at the airport in Los Angeles, it was not just my family I was concerned for. I also worried about the people I left behind in my village. In Los Angeles, my first job was pumping gas at a gas station. On the very same day I started that job, I wrote my first article that dared to question and disagree with the shrieking mullahs and began to claw my way along two paths. The first was the path my family and I were traveling as we tried to earn enough to live and better ourselves. The other path I found myself on alone wound its way through the hills in my mind as I looked for a way to confront the ogre and free my family from his tyranny. What a difference there was between the two paths. The first was governed by law and morality and, however difficult, appeared possible. The other was ruled by the laws of the jungle, which can harm you, even in a civilized place like the United States.
Courage alone made me push forward along the mountain path with the same energy I devoted to making my way in a society that respected me, no matter what my weaknesses were. As a woman, the knowledge I now had access to because I was living in America satisfied my ravenous hunger to learn and released me from many of my fears and weaknesses. I was surrounded on all sides by books as I worked to better myself and my family. Books, so frequently denied to women in my culture, were the things that saved me. Once you arm yourself with books, you become ever more powerful — a bulldozer — and completing the journey, no matter how long and how difficult, never seems impossible.
After seventeen years in America, I've achieved the position I wanted in my new country. I've also become acquainted with a different God than the one I knew in my village. I can still see the woman who greeted me at the Los Angeles airport. So many years ago I set foot on American soil and this young woman, with a smile that still warms my heart, said, "Welcome to America!" No one had ever welcomed me anywhere before. The ogre, the old God I knew, had not only deprived me of my right to hear these words; he had also succeeded in convincing me that I was not worthy of possessing that right. America gave me back my right to live in a society that welcomed me, and showed me, for the first time, that I deserved that right.
I emerged from the Los Angeles airport that day with a new understanding that perhaps others have always known, but which I just understood because of the kindness of a woman I'd never met before: People in every society worship their own image. Is the kind woman who welcomed me to Los Angeles not the God she worships? How much I wanted to exchange my ogre for her welcoming God at that very minute! I understood then that the God suits the person just as the lock suits the key. If a society has a defect, both lock and key have to be repaired. Fixing one or the other alone will not do. In my village, as in the America where I now live, the person is the God she worships. She regards that God as her ideal. She strives both consciously and unconsciously to draw closer to her ideal until she becomes one with it.
The woman at the Los Angeles airport gave me hope that people can change. Before a human being can change, however, the God he worships must be remolded. When I think of the waste of human life we see around us, I am disgusted. I am horrified by the waste of life that is the young Muslim who blows himself up in the midst of a crowd of schoolchildren. He kills twenty-eight people and himself because he is entirely deluded by the lie, forced on him by his God, that the deaths of these children will buy him entry to paradise and his houris. Isn't that young man striving to identify with that ogre, that God who hates, squatting on the hilltop in that melancholy village? Does he not hope to control and influence others through fear? If we want to transform others like the unfortunate young Muslim suicide bomber into reasonable human beings and preserve our world, we first have to help them see their ogre clearly and show them how to exchange their God who hates for one who loves.
The Women of Islam
PEOPLE HAVE OFTEN asked me what turning point brought about the dramatic change which altered the course of my life. I believe my life really began in the third grade when I learned to read. From that point on, I developed an insatiable appetite for every book that came my way. By the time I got to the fourth grade, I was getting lost in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Gone with the Wind, and the mysteries by Agatha Christie. My teachers, family, and family friends were generous in their attention and treated me as if I was a gifted child because of my precocious reading habits. (Continues...)
Excerpted from A God Who Hates by Wafa Sultan. Copyright © 2009 Wafa Sultan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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