Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the state of irreligion in Ireland now?
Kareem Muhssin: Well, the influence of the Catholic Church has waned rapidly in recent decades. Lifting the ban on contraception in 1980, legalising divorce in 1996 (despite Mother Teresa’s best efforts), legislating for same-sex marriage in 2015 – none of these would be possible if the Catholic Church were as powerful as it once was, though abortion does remain a criminal offence under Irish law.
Now, of course, the Catholic Church will gloat over census figures indicating that most Irish people still identify as Catholic. They know full well, however, that this is in a very lapsed sense. Most Irish Catholics don’t go to mass, but merely retain some semblance of belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and/or vague attachment to Catholic values. Census figures do not reflect the real collapse of Catholic belief in Ireland. Indeed, I don’t know a single person of my generation who firmly believes in the Trinity or the Resurrection.
Undoubtedly, this decline is due in large part to the horrific revelations of child sexual abuse. This, combined with other horror stories such as the Magdalene Laundries and the Tuam babies, has created a general sense of distrust in the Church, previously seen as a guiding force in Irish society. Inevitably, this distrust has extended to its doctrines: for it is our beliefs that dictate how we behave.
I would love to grant equal weight to the rise of scientific thinking in Irish society, but that would be wishful thinking. Giving up religion does not necessarily mean embracing a secular view of the universe: a great many Irish people are now content to identify as ‘spiritual’, believing in an undefined Higher Power. Neither does it necessarily mean abandoning dogma: I know plenty of irreligious youths who spout all manner of sanctimonious nonsense about “straight white males” and “alternative medicine”.
Thus, while the Catholic Church may be on the way out – their last vestige is their stake in public schools and hospitals – the battle for Irish minds is well and truly on. As ex-Muslims, we have a responsibility to ensure that this spiritual void isn’t filled by Islam. Thus, we take to social media and blogging to engage with ordinary, decent people on the moral and factual absurdities of the faith.
Jacobsen: How does the public see Islam?
Muhssin: Without suggesting that Muslims are a race, it is important to note that Ireland is a very ethnically homogeneous country. The first real influx of Muslims into Ireland happened as a result of the Balkans conflict, in the mid-90s. Thus, it is only recently that Islam has become part of everyday Irish discourse.
I worry that Irish people are too welcoming in their attitudes to Islam. Undoubtedly, if a terrorist attack were to happen here, there would be many who insist that “we must have done something to deserve it”. While this tendency is hardly exclusive to the Irish, given how notorious we are for our hospitality, I fear that it could be especially prevalent.
This mind virus has plagued successive governments in Ireland, who have turned a blind eye to homegrown extremism for the past ten years. In February 2007, when I was seventeen, I attended a youth camp in the Wicklow mountains. The point of this camp was to identify potential jihadist recruits: they had us dig graves for ourselves, which we would climb into to “get a feel for death”. We were ordered to march across sub-zero ponds, reaching up to our waists, barefoot on jagged rocks. We were made to climb up a mountain in the pitch black of night and to find our own way back.
This camp, and many others like it since, was organised in part by the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI), informally known as the Clonskeagh Mosque. The mosque is the largest one in Ireland and essentially functions as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, the Imam of the mosque, Hussein Halawa, is a senior figure in the organisation. Halawa answers to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chair of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), who has openly described the Holocaust as “God’s punishment upon the Jews”.
We made a video about the mosque, which is pinned to the top of our Twitter page. We would urge your readers to view it, along with our blog posts for a more in-depth analysis of the Islamist threat in Ireland. The Clonskeagh Mosque is just the tip of the iceberg.
Through lobbying and direct action, we hope to shift public opinion and government policy against the creeping menace of Wahhabism. We want to restore the confidence needed for ordinary Irish people to discuss these issues without the fear of being called racist or ‘Islamophobic’ – an Orwellian term designed to render Islam immune from criticism, by implying that any such criticism is inherently irrational. It is manifestly not.
Jacobsen: How does the Muslim community view the irreligious, in your experience?
Muhssin: In my experience, Muslims are unparalleled in their intolerance for disbelief. Even in Ireland, a liberal democracy, our members have to remain anonymous. I am less cautious about using my real name, but it’s still a major risk. I look at the example of Nissar Hussain, a British ex-Muslim and father of six, who was attacked with a pickaxe in northern England. Even now, his Muslim neighbours intimidate him by simulating beheading in their front gardens.
Many of our Pakistani members fled to Ireland after having attempts made on their lives. Indeed, the suffering of atheists in Pakistan is at an all-time high: the mere charge of blasphemy is often sufficient for lynch mobs to spill blood. The perpetrators of these extra-judicial killings are rarely ever brought to justice. On the contrary, prominent online activists against the blasphemy laws have been detained – including the blogger Ayaz Nizami, vice-president of Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan, who joins the list of over 1,300 accused from 1987 to 2014.
All of this is to be expected, of course, given how clear-cut the scriptures are on how apostates are to be treated. The Qur’an says in no uncertain terms that “whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him” (3:85). The hadith literature, too, abounds with exhortations to kill disbelievers. It is universally accepted among Muslims – with the possible exception of esoteric Sufi sects – that the penalty for apostasy is death. It is an inescapable part of the faith, not least because it was easier for Muhammad to assassinate his critics than to refute them.
Jacobsen: How did evolution disprove Islam for you?
Muhssin: When I was a believer, the idea of God as creator was at the core of my faith: because of course, if God didn’t create the world, then what exactly did he do?
For the longest time, I resisted learning how evolution actually worked. I had emotional reasons to keep my faith, so I would just read the creationist material, such as that of Harun Yahya. (It was only after renouncing Islam that I discovered Yahya’s books are all plagiarised from Intelligent Design groups in America.)
I became religious, you see, out of a desire to make friends. I didn’t get along very well with my classmates in De La Salle, so I went looking for company in all the wrong places. I eventually settled on the faith of my upbringing, which I had hitherto only paid lip service to.
That all changed when I came to college. I found myself surrounded by genuine, wonderful people, who did not require religion to behave ethically. That was a real eye-opener, causing my emotional reasons to vanish. As they did, bit by bit, I became more accepting of evolution – accelerated to no small degree by my decision to study genetics.
As I did, I found myself redefining God’s role in nature, from creator to intervener, then from intervener to ‘inspiration’. Eventually, I reached a stage whereby God had no place at all; he had become a mere shadow, totally removed from the mighty figure of Abrahamic lore. At that point, thankfully, I was honest enough to give up the ghost. That was the beginning of my apostasy, which has since extended to the particulars of Islamic doctrine.
I honestly think that if Muslims understood evolution, if they were humble enough to jettison human exceptionalism, their situation – and ours – would be so much better. Sadly, the Muslim world appears to be moving backwards in this regard: Erdogan has moved to ban the teaching of evolution in Turkish schools, being the philistine fascist that he is.
Jacobsen: What are your next steps for irreligious activism, for equality, now?
Muhssin: Our primary function will always be to provide moral and material support to other ex-Muslims, particularly that resident in Ireland. Beyond that, yes, we want to normalise apostasy from Islam. We want to create such a shift in public consciousness that, if an ex-Muslim is ever threatened by some Wahhabi fanatic, his fellow Irishman will not hesitate to defend him. We aim to cultivate a strict intolerance among Irish people for the evils of Wahhabism and Islam itself, from the subjugation of women to the burning of literature, from the cruelty of halal slaughter to the barbarity of shari’a courts.
At the moment, our main means of doing that is via Twitter, our website and interviews such as this. As we become more recognised, however, we do expect to host public talks and seminars in conjunction with other secular groups, such as Atheist Ireland. I believe there is a moral duty to do this: for if ex-Muslims don’t speak about the Islamic threat, then given the cowardice of the Left on the issue, it will inevitably fall to the Right to do so. We have no desire for that to happen, for what we hope are obvious reasons.
In talking about equality, we would be remiss not to mention the plight of ex-Muslims in Direct Provision. Under Irish law, asylum seekers are forced to subsist on a weekly pittance while their cases are considered – often for years at a time. Many of our members are languishing on €19.50 a week, while Muslim preachers who advocate shari’a law are allowed to claim benefits. The Irish State is in thrall to multiculturalism: thus, since ex-Muslims belie the notion of a moderate Islam, our asylum claims are put off for as long as possible. We deplore this and would urge the reader to check out our article on the subject.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Kareem.
Muhssin: It was a pleasure, thanks for giving me the chance. I look forward to future exchanges with Canadian Atheist and its affiliates.