EuropeNews December 21 2011
Interview with Kamal Fahmi, director of Set My People Free (10th of December 2011, Stockholm).
What is the purpose of today’s event?
Today, actually is the international day of human rights. This is one of the reasons we chose this day, and the second one also, that it is that we give the Nobel prize, so there is a lot of media attention, and what we want to bring the attention of the people to is the apostasy law in Islam, which not many people know about. Islam is a one way religion. If you are a Muslim you can not change your belief. And this is very sad that this is happening in the 21st century.
What is the reason for the difficulties that Muslims who left Islam face?
That people don’t have freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, and this freedom is guaranteed by article 18 in the universal declaration of human rights. But 1.3 billion Muslims, they don’t have this right. They are not able to change their belief. If they change, they face torture, they face imprisonment they can lose their job, they can even lose their own life.
Can you describe or point out incidences which took place?
The number of people have died for the sake of just changing their belief. Al-Mutif in Saudi Arabia has been imprisoned since he was 16, today he is 35 years old, so he has been over 18 years in prison. Not because he commited a crime, not because he stole money, not because he killed somebody, it is mainly because he is a Ismaili Muslim, not Sunni Muslim, and this is not right. Jamaa Ait Bakim in Morocco has spent more than 6 years in prison, again because he’s only changed from Islam to Christianity, and he still has 9 years to serve in prison. This is unbelievable. Mehdi Dibaj has been killed in Iran after the Islamic revolution, they put him in prison for 10 years and after that he was killed. They even sentenced him to death in prison.
Today pastor Youssef Nadarkhani in Iran, he has been imprisoned since 2009 and he’s under the death sentence now, waiting to be executed in prison. Mainly because he changed from Islam to Christianity. And this is not happening in one country. This is all over the Muslim world, even in Jordan you are not allowed to change your religion, where you think it is more a liberal country. Malaysia, Lina Joy is in hiding because she converted to Christianity, she’s under death sentence, she tried to change her belief in a court, they didn’t allow her. And now there is a fatwa to kill her, and so it’s story after story. In Somalia this year at least more than maybe around 10 had been killed since the beginning of this year because they changed their faith and
so it is a sad situation.
Did you know somebody who experience difficulties and the limitation of freedom in Swedish society because of leaving Islam? What kind of?
You know of course Sweden, the law protects you because most of the European laws give freedom of religion and conscience and belief, but the problem is from the communities, they still carry with them this teaching of that you are not allowedto leave Islam. Just recently here in Sweden, one of the imams, after hearing some Somalis converted to Christianity, he said that the convert should be killed. And he said it even in the Swedish radio, and nothing happened to this guy.
No qonsequences? Nothing happened?
Nothing happened! And then when they looked for him, nobody knew where he is, and they denied that he said that. No consequences for this, unfortunately.
There was a Pakistani girl who converted to Christianity from Islam in Germany, she went to the police, asking the German police for protection, because she converted, the police said to her “why don’t you remain a Muslim?” So it’s unfortunate.
Article 18 is very clear, it says that we have freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, and this freedom includes that you have the right to change your belief or religion and that you even have the freedom to practice your religion, but this right does not exist in many Muslim countries, I can just name them from now:
Morocco, Tunisia for a while and it has changed in the last 3 to 4 years but still people are under threat. Egypt, you cannot change your religion if you are a Muslim, in the identity card you cannot change it, but if you are a Christian or any other religion, you can change to Islam it on the same day.
And then the consequence of not changing, that you can not bring your children in your faith, the faith you have, you are under death threat, you may lose your job, you may be tortured, you may be imprisoned, then I have the example of Nagla Al Imam or Farag Foda. He was shot in his house at 7 o’clock in the morning, mainly because, he’s a Muslim, but he was quite secular. He was shot in his house, and this was before September 11. Nagib Mahfouz, the one who won the Nobel prize, again, because he was accused of blasphemy. He was stabbed, fortunately he was not killed and later he was able to get the Nobel prize. So there is a lot of cases.
You have Pakistan, horrible place, if you say that “I don’t believe in Mohammed” or “I think he is a false prophet”, you commit blasphemy against Islam, you are sentenced to death. Two people, who were fighting against blasphemy law in Pakistan, were shot. Salman Taseer the governor of Punjab, Shahbaz Bhatti, (former Minister for Minorities), he was also shot, and, it is just impossible. There’s a woman now in prison mainly because she’s accused of blasphemy. And the people demand her death.
Saudi Arabia, another bad example. Jordan, you cannot, it is illegal to convert. Syria is similar, in a way it was socialist, but still, converts had problems, they have to be low key and most probably now, if it becomes more Islamic, it is completely difficult. Quite a number of converts in Iraq were killed and there it is also difficult and impossible for converts to exist. In Kurdistan a number of them were shot, and Afghanistan’s very bad, you don’t have the right to convert, you’re either imprisoned or you should be executed. Even in the parliament of Afghanistan they said the convert should be killed, and this happened last year.
What was the situation?
In the parliament, mainly because there were some clips about converts from Islam to Christianity in Afghanistan, some of the parliamentary said converts should be executed. So they invaded the houses of converted Muslims, they tortured them, some of them had to run to India, two key men, leaders, were put in prison, they demand their execution after some pressure from outside. One of them had to leave the country and go to Italy.
I mean, he wants to live in his country as a Christian, he should have the freedom to do that, but he had, they sent him out, other one decided to stay, but he has to be in hiding because he can be killed by anybody, and if he’s killed, the person who killed him, normally, he will get not get a punishment, because he’s applying Sharia.
You can see what is happening in Nigeria for example, the attacks towards Christians and I mean even if you have a convert you have an incredible problem. If you are just working among Muslims, to tell them about other faiths, you are in trouble. Most of these countries it is illegal to propagate any other belief. So that, that is not right.
What do you stand for and what you would like to communicate by your organisation?
I mean I am not against Islam if you want to become a Muslim you are free, but you should not force people to follow something they don’t want. People should have the freedom to believe whatever. If they want to be atheist, they should have the freedom to be atheist, if they want to follow Christ, they should have freedom to follow Christ. Freedom is very important I feel freedom brings accountability.
And I think one of the things which is in attack today in Europe is freedom of speech, because when you don’t have freedom to say what you think. You should have the right to express yourself. And if I said something wrong, you can take me to court. But you cannot say that I cannot say my opinion about things. We should have the freedom to speak out. And I think freedom of speech is very key. And I think it is one of the most important values we should have and we should keep, freedom, and you then are responsible how you use your freedom.
Did you or the members of your organisation be in danger; or experienced harassment, pressure and difficulties from the Muslim society in Sweden because of leaving Islam or activity you do? Can you give examples of difficulties?
I have not faced a direct. I mean when we go on the street like yesterday somebody said I am crazy, somebody said “why this?”, he said “I am proud to be a Muslim, I am a Muslim”. But I was not speaking about that I mainly speaking people should have freedom to change. And last year when we did it on the street, some people came and said “no, you are not allowed to do this even here”.
But I mean it is legal, you have the right to do it here. So we have the law behind us. I think, if they trace you there, it will be illegal. I may be deported because of course I am a foreigner there. I have been in Sudan, now recently at Egypt, but I have not really faced, most probably because they don’t know that I am the person behind this.
We are new and I think we are still small, and in a way what we are asking for is nothing wrong, we are asking freedom what we are saying now that you should give and this is logical, for everybody knows. You cannot force somebody to believe in anything. And so people should have the freedom, and I think bringing the truth out is very important. But I think it is very hard to go against that, the truth will always win at the end. It may take time but at the end it wins. And so it is important to say the truth but also it is very important to do it in love. Because, if we take the road of violence, we are not different than from the violent people. But we have to speak out, this is the first thing, create awareness.
How you would like to building awareness within Swedish society? In which way do you think can it be fulfilled? What is your idea?
We are thinking, we are more, we are influenced very much by Martin Luther King, it was a civil rights movement. One of the things he did is protest. I mean still we are starting to create awareness, writing articles, having interviews like this, maybe trying to get into the TV. But wherever there is an opportunity to speak about it, we go out and give pamphlets. So create awareness and then the second stage is to lobby, through the law, through advocacy, and already the other groups are doing that.
We have some groups in the Middle East, who have supported some court cases in Egypt so that the Muslims can change their faith in the identity card; they have not succeeded until now. And even sometimes the lawyer himself was beaten up and this people who are asking for the change, they are in hiding, they had to leave now, there is one who is now in France, the other one is in hiding in Egypt. He couldn’t leave because he couldn’t get his passport.
They say because he didn’t do his military service, but it was mainly he is a convert. Nejla Al Amam, the one she was beaten up, before the revolution, before the spring uprising, she couldn’t leave the country. I don’t know now if she is still there or she left. There is a guy now, who just called me recently who also came here as a refugee, also he is a convert, but he is waiting to get his asylum.
Have you already received any support from any public institution or the goverment?
We work with other human rights groups, but I think the ones who are really interested in this are mostly Christian human right groups. I just met a lady from the Amnesty International here, and I wanted to speak with her, she didn’t even give me time to speak with her. I just left her the brochures. Because I think people are sensitive always when it comes to religion, it is not the issues they fight for. They fight for human rights, they may fight for homosexuals, but when it comes to freedom of religion, people think that it is an individual thing, this is not an issue that you fight for, I don’t know.
It is always sensitive when it comes to these things and what happened with the caricatureist. I think this is, and issues like this make people a little bit cautious. I think freedom of speech and to say your opinion about different things, even if you don’t believe in it or agree on it, or saying this is stupid, you have the right to think that. You cannot force people to have the same opinion about different subjects. And I think freedom of speech is very important in Europe today and we have to protect it. I mean if you insult somebody, then there is the possibility you go to the court, you don’t go and blow them up, and so on.
We need to speak out and I think people should accept criticism. I feel freedom is precious key and freedom of belief, freedom of thought and conscience are very key. And when you attack this, you nearly attack everything. It’s very basic individual human right, and it is for a community, because, and many times people think, because you are the majority, then you should decide everything for everybody, but actually you should protect the right of the minorities, and this is what democracy is all about, that everybody had a chance to live equally and peacefully with others.
I think the thing is to speak out and say this is wrong and at the same way they dealt with apartheid in South Africa they should deal with this issue, because it is worse than apartheid. Why did people attack communism? Because it was a one party system, and when you have an Islamic Sharia, it becomes a one party system. Anybody else is second class and then when you don’t give people freedom to leave the party or the belief you have or the ideology you have, this is wrong, because people should be free to choose; the way they want to live, the way they want to bring their children up, and one of the reasons Youssef is arrested now and waiting for the death sentence is because he did not want his children to take Islamic school.
And he couldn’t and then when he complained about this, then they, because he is a convert and his father is a Muslim, they put him in jail. According to the law he should be executed, so he was sentenced to death. He appealed, because he said he was not really a Muslim, even if he is a Muslim, he should have the right to change, he said he never had been a practicing Muslim, which is true, but still even if he was a practicing Muslim and decide to leave Islam, he should have the freedom to change his faith. You cannot force him. And this is a problem. And 1.3 billion people they are facing the same problem Youssef is facing.
Do you see the possibility of intergrating the Muslim society in Sweden? In yor opinion is it possible to reform Islam?
No, I think, there is Hindus in Sweden, there is Buddhism in Sweden, they have no problem, because they don’t force their ideology on.
When you go and try to force this on other people, that is a problem. When you force it in values of discrimination against humans, this is a problem, so I think if you want to apply jihad, this will not fit with the values of Europe. Jihad it is a way, you are trying to force something on somebody else.
Did you hear Ayaan Hirsi from Somalia speaking? She had a very good speech about tolerance and the circumcision of women for example. This is against the values, honor killing is against the values of human beings, you cannot kill somebody, and you cannot apply it here, so of course there is a conflict, if you want to go against the values of the international or the universal declaration of human rights, you will not be able to integrate in Europe, and that does not mean the European system is wrong. Why do people from other countries come to Europe? Because they feel they are secure, they are free and they can get their rights through the court.
But when you have somebody like Mugabe or a dictator like Bashir in Sudan, or like Ghaddafi in Libya, you cannot, or like this leadership no Ahmadinejad in Iran, you are not secure because you are not free, and so if you are coming here, you have to accept the values of freedom, equality and justice. And if you don’t accept this of course you will not fit into this society.
When you force your women to be second class, this doesn’t work. When you think anybody else or any other religion is not equal to you and your religion, this is a problem. And I think the situation now is: how can we live together, with different kind of values which will not contradict with the declaration of human rights. I think if we live according to that, we are in a better shape. So the issue here is, are we willing to put a priority for these values or not. And here people maybe will have some difficulty, and imagine how many years Europe has fought for equality between men and women.
And then you don’t give the same opportunity for women today. They don’t play sports in school because you say they are not allowed to be with boys in the same place and other issues like this. If you don’t want to eat pork, it’s no problem, this is your business, but to force your own children and not to give them the same opportunity as other children have, then that is a problem. When you teach them hate and discrimination against others, then there is a problem.
You are free to express yourself, you are free to practice, but you cannot infringe on others. But then the basic values that Ayaan Hirsi spoke about in her interview, she says she’s not tolerant towards jihad, she’s not tolerant towards anti-conversion laws, which is apostasy law in Islam, she is not tolerant towards honour killing, the circumcision of women, and she is right.
So for me, I think the basic thing I am working for is really the freedom, of thought and conscience and religion and belief. There are so many issues you can handle, but this is the main point. And I think this is a good beginning because if the person has the freedom to change and leave Islam, then you are not going to use jihad. Because you are not going to use violence to convert people or kill people. So that is the problem I have. People should be free to leave, they should be free to say their opinion, and that is key. Actually faith has to come from the heart as I said before.
And now what is happening: like terrorising people and attacking an Art College in Tunisia and keeping the principal of the school hostage in his office and threatening the students, this is not right: these are the Salafists. Sometimes even if the law, and of course you don’t have the law always standing with you, then you’re even facing a greater problem, and then trying to blow up this paper place in Paris and burn the printing press and so on.
This is wrong. Whatever they say, you cannot force things on people like this. Even you said, why should I be killed because I am saying people should be free…to change their belief. I am not against you, if you want to follow this, follow it, but don’t force people to follow it. They should have the freedom to say “no, I don’t want to follow this religion”. If I want to be an Atheist, you kill me for that? This is not right at all.
Can you briefly describe the situation of the organisation you founded. How many members does it count and what you did before and what are your future plans?
We started more as a network, somebody proposed the name. I met in Yemen a man and his wife and we had a bible study together. And after he said “I want you to speak with my son tomorrow”. And the next day I met him, because he said that he is trying to encourage his son to take Islamic school, just as a subject to pass, and when I saw the kid the next day, he was 13 years old, very smart, very handsome, I said I would not like my girls to go through this. His father is a believer, a Christian, he should have the freedom to choose, but he cannot do that.
If they (the authorities) discover the son, the father is a believer or the son is a Christian, they will face a lot of problems, and then I discovered that the father had become a Christian when he was 19, and even the grandfather was a believer before his son. So this is three generations, and they cannot live the way they want…they don’t have the freedom and the freedom to practice. I thought “this is happening today, in the 21st century?, in a time when people complain when in Sweden people say there should be no minarets, while there you have people who get tortured and imprisoned. And then the whole thing started, thinking about all these people, there are so many:
Mahmoud Muhamad Tahaj, killed in Sudan at the age of 76. Mehdi Dibaj was killed in Iran. And we felt we have to do something about this, and then we just started as a network. I have made friends all over the world through the years , because I actually worked in the Middle East for a long time. I worked in development, but I felt development without justice does not work.
You need to work for human rights and justice and equality and freedom, then we started with facebook, we started with a petition and then we thought of protest, and then last year we did three protests, one in Sydney, one in Bern, Sydney was 600 people, in Bern it was 2500 and then one in Stockholm, which was more about 15, we walked like 30 kilometres, and of course in April we presented this letter to the general secretary of the Arab league, asking for freedom of thought and conscience.
What was the answer?
No answer, but I think it had an influence on him, at that time, his name is Amar Musa and he has changed his attitude more, but we hope to give the letter to the new one also. I sent the same letter to different ambassadors of different Arab countries in Cairo, but no response. But we hope in the future that we can send a delegation to speak with the governments, get some parliamentary from Europe, like bishops and pastors and delegates from different countries, to go and meet them.
Did you contact the ambassadors here in Stockholm?
No, not yet, we didn’t do anything, of course we have a campaign now for Yousef Nadarkhani, who is in Iran, and we are sending letters to the Iranian embassy, we did that. One of the things we thought maybe to do today is to go to the Iranian embassy, but we can do that any other day. So that will be one thing we can do in the future, to go to different embassies and just protest against this. But the most important thing is to send a delegation and speak with the governments, the officials. It is important to face people with the truth. And I think truth brings light and freedom also. But many times people don’t like to hear the truth.
In the future we are going openly. I mean we are not against anybody, we are mainly for the sake of the laws we don’t have the freedom. We would like people to have freedom to choose. So our future hope is we will send even delegations to the governments, speak with western governments to put some pressure so this will change.
Posted December 21st, 2011 by hrc