“I didn’t even know we had an Intelligence Agency”

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Yasmine Mohammed is an activist, author, and ex-Muslim living in British Columbia, Canada. Her story is an intriguing one, to say the least. She recounts the personal story in the book entitled From Al-Qaeda to Atheism. Here we talk about some of it. 

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You married an Al-Qaeda member and were contacted by the CSIS, Canadian secret service. When did you first find out about him? Was this an arranged or coerced marriage, or an egalitarian and consensual marriage?

Yasmine Mohammed: As is typical, this marriage was coerced/forced. ‘Love marriages’, as they’re termed, are looked down upon.  It means the couple was debaucherous enough to know each other prior to marriage. 

When my daughter was about a year old, my mother began to bleed profusely from her nose and mouth. I called 911 in hysterics. I thought she was going to die.

When the ambulance arrived to take her away, I grabbed my little girl and we rode in the ambulance with her.  It was my very first time in our entire marriage that I left the house without him by my side.

When we arrived at the hospital, as I sat in the waiting room, I was approached by a man and a woman. They explained that they were from CSIS- essentially, the Canadian CIA.

I didn’t even know we had an Intelligence Agency. They told me that the man I married, Essam Hafez Marzouk, was an Al Qaeda operative who worked closely with Osama Bin Laden.

In a pre-9/11 world, those words didn’t mean much to me. I knew he had been in Afghanistan before he came to Canada, so I suspected he had some ties to jihadis. Why else would an Egyptian teenager go to Afghanistan? But I had no idea of the extent of his involvement.

Jacobsen: What makes an equal partnership in a coupledom to you? How does this differ from your experience in that marriage?

Mohammed: I’m lucky enough to be married to a wonderful man today.  I’ve had previous relationships where I was told that I was pretty easy to please because I was over the moon if they didn’t abuse me! But I have come a long way. It was a slow process of rebuilding myself brick by brick.

The best part of that difficult process was that I could turn each brick over and over to make a conscious effort in deciding whether I wanted that brick included or not.  The new me was formed with values that I wanted to define me. It was a lot of ‘fake it ’til you make it’ in the beginning. 

One of the things I faked was that I deserved a decent, loving boyfriend, and I would not accept anything less. My husband, of ten years, is most definitely decent and loving. He is exceptionally kind and he is confident enough to allow me to define my needs in our relationship. 

If ever I feel that the partnership is unequal, I react as if I had touched something scalding-swiftly and loudly.  If I even sense a whiff of anything from my previous marriage, I’m very quick to respond. I will not ever be that woman again.

Jacobsen: You were in a traditionalist, fundamentalist framework developing into Islam and living in a similar marriage. What would characterize a more progressive or liberalized form of an Islamic upbringing?

Mohammed: That’s difficult for me to respond to as I did not have that experience. However, essentially, a more progressive Muslim is one who does not follow their religion closely. A more conservative Muslim does. There is no such thing as progressive Islam, there are only progressive Muslims. 

JacobsenWhen I talked to Haras Rafiq, the CEO of the Quilliam Foundation, I used the term “moderate” akin to “liberal” in the description of the general Muslim population who live regular lives, like most people. He corrected me.

He said to use the term, or suggested to use the word, “ordinary” in the place of “moderate.” I learned from him. I am glad he corrected me. Ordinary makes more sense than moderate, to me, e.g. ordinary atheist, ordinary Roman Catholic, ordinary Sunni Muslim, and so on.

Do you think precision in the descriptors is important in such an area of heated discussion?

Mohammed: Yes. I think precision is important. ‘Ordinary’ denotes that the type of person you are describing is the norm or the majority. And that is simply not true. If you refer to PEW research, you’ll find that so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims are very far from ordinary-in fact they are more of an anomaly.

The ordinary Muslim is incredibly conservative and would not even consider a ‘moderate’ Muslim to be a Muslim. Anyone who veers from conservative Islam is killed. Ahmadis, Sufis, any other moderate sects of Muslims are killed. Just recently in Egypt, close to 300 Sufis were killed as they prayed in their mosque.

Jacobsen: What are your projects ongoing or upcoming for 201?

Mohammed: My main focus is publishing my book From Al Qaeda to Atheism. As well, I’m working on my Free Hearts, Free Minds campaign which collects donations to pay for a life coach that will support ExMuslims from Muslim majority countries. 

In a lot of Muslim-majority countries, one could be killed for leaving Islam. As such, people who find themselves denouncing the faith must be very quiet about it. It is an incredibly difficult journey for anyone-but it is 100 times worse when you are in a society that could jail you and execute you for leaving the religion you were born into. 

I’ve also started working on a website that will connect ExMuslims in the Muslim world. The objective would be to seek a partner for a marriage of convenience.  If people are going to be coerced into marriages anyway, then at least I can help them to get into a marriage with someone they share values with. 

There are similar websites for the LGBT community, so I’m hoping to mimic their platforms.

Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

Mohammed: If you are facing honor violence, FGM, forced marriage or other forms of violence, please reach out to the AHA Foundation.

If you are in a Muslim majority country, you can contact me through my website and I will get you involved in my Free Hearts, Free Minds program that will match you up with an ex-Muslim life coach who will help you find your inner strength and will arm you with the tools you need to fight back.

If you are an ex-Muslim in North America, you can contact EXMNA.  Faith to Faithless in the UK. If you are a questioning Muslim, you can contact the group Muslimish in the US. There are many organizations and individuals that will support you if you reach out.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Yasmine.

Mohammed: My pleasure! 🙂

Image Credit: Yasmine Mohammed.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

6 thoughts on ““I didn’t even know we had an Intelligence Agency”

  1. a more progressive Muslim is one who does not follow their religion closely. A more conservative Muslim does. There is no such thing as progressive Islam, there are only progressive Muslims.

    Nailed it.

    Works for my background as well, there is no such thing as progressive Catholicism, there are only progressive Catholics.

    And really, a truly progressive Muslim, Catholic, (insert your cult here) is just someone who has discarded all the baggage of whatever wackjob belief system was inflicted on them in their formative years.

    • I don’t agree at all. All you’re doing is a classic “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

      If you’re talking about a specific church, like the Roman Catholic Church, then, sure, you can say that anyone who doesn’t follow the dogmas of that church isn’t a “true” member of that church. But that only works because there is a specific ruling body that sets out specific dogma. There is no such thing in Islam, not in any of its branches.

      When someone says something like “a progressive Muslim doesn’t follow their religion closely”, the obvious rebuttal is “says who?” Who is defining what their religion is? There is no Muslim Pope, so you can’t use the same trick you used for Catholicism. So who decides whether the version of Islam they’re following is “true” Islam or not? You, the atheist critic? That seems a stretch. The nastiest, most fundamentalist imams? Why them?

      There is no way to beat that fallacy. You can’t tell someone they’re doing Islam “wrong” because there is no objectively “right” way to do it. Even if you try some clever tactic like saying “‘true’ Islam is Islam the way Muhammad practised it”, that doesn’t work. Because the “progressive” Muslim can simply say something like that they are following Islam as Muhammad intended it, rather than how he actually lived it… and make some hand-wavey excuse about the atrocities Muhammad committed as simply products of the times. And they’re not “wrong” – not in any objective sense of the word – if you want to prove them wrong you would need to know what Muhammad (or God, in the logic of the believer) intended, and you can neither time travel nor read minds. Even if you point to some literal statement or command in the Quran, the believer can just shrug that off as metaphorical or come up with a convoluted explanation of why it doesn’t apply… and you can’t argue it because there’s no authority that decrees how it should be read. There’s just your opinion of what “true” Islam is, and the believer’s.

      • I think we are making too much work for ourselves here.

        I don’t think I need to know what the correct version of Islam/Christianity/etc is, if a believer says they are X then that’s good enough for me and in fact for me to claim otherwise is patronizing and condescending.

        It’s not for me to point out that certain beliefs are not part of cult X, for example the Republican congress critter Matt Gaetz who was confused about the difference between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth and goes on to say “I’m a Christian and I believe the Immaculate Conception was how Jesus was born” (and most likely he is not the Catholic flavour of Christian either), apparently also not knowing that the Immaculate Conception was something the Catholic Pope Pius IX pulled out of his backside in 1854. But I suspect that there are many things that man does not know.

        But the most interesting revelation here (and it’s not really much of a revelation) is that religion does not and indeed should not and in fact is incapable of reforming itself.

        It’s the adherents that will reform themselves, and they will do that by leaving their religion.

        So I don’t care what they actually believe and most of them don’t even know what they believe.

        So when Jorge Mario Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis) does his tour of South America defending his paedophile buddies, I say great, “progressive” Catholics (and I do not need to know what subset, although by this point it must be a very small subset, of Catholicism they adhere to to call them that) will leave in disgust and the remaining fanatics will tear the church apart in factional squabbling.

        I define “progressive” as that which furthers human well being, and progressive is diametrically opposed to relgious belief.

        I guess you could make the case that someone like Greta Vosper, the openly atheist United Church minister is reforming that religion but really she and her congregation are so far removed from whatever the United Church stands for that they have basically become a tax exempt social club and for all intents and purposes have left the United Church en mass.

        • Yes, that’s about where I sit, too: I don’t really care whether a believer’s beliefs are “justified” by some historical fact of the religion they identify with (for example, whether homophobia comes from the early days of Christianity or whether it’s a more recent development) or whether they’re in line with the dogma (if any) or the majority. If they believe it, they believe it, and that’s what matters.

          The only time I actually care about the basis of a person’s beliefs is when their actions or beliefs are out of line with that basis. For example, I don’t care whether prosperity gospel is a “true Christian thing” or not. But if prosperity gospel proponents are saying that the Jesus of the Bible is their inspiration, I can look at that source and see it’s plainly out of whack with prosperity gospel, and I can call out that hypocrisy. Put another way, either prosperity gospel is “true Christianity” or the teachings of Jesus as described in the Bible is “true Christianity” (or neither is, I suppose); I don’t give a flying fuck which really is, but I can and will point out that the two are utterly and irredeemably contradictory, and challenge people who push prosperity gospel (and more importantly, use it to justify taking money from vulnerable people) to justify the ideology they’re trying to push.

          I don’t see the sense in making the “progressives are doing the religion wrong” argument. It just seems silly to me on many levels. Aside from being a No True Scotsman fallacy, it also privileges the worst aspects of a religion. When you tell a progressive Muslim that they’ve got Islam wrong and the fundamentalists have got it right… no matter what reason you think you’re doing that for, you’re ultimately saying the fundamentalists are the better people, because at least their beliefs have integrity. Which is… idiotic; there’s no softer way to put it. I mean, even Mohammed’s own comments show the absurdity of the position: right after saying that progressive Muslims aren’t really Muslims, she ascribes that exact same thing to the intolerant fundamentalists! I don’t even know how that argument is supposed to help anyone in any case; if progressive Muslims actually took it seriously then they’d turn into fundamentalists… which helps who, exactly? Thankfully no one is really stupid enough to take the argument seriously, which only strengthens the question of why people use it.

          There are a lot of things to criticize progressive/liberal believers for – they often do cover for, justify, or explain away the more fundamentalist sects and beliefs, frequently choosing to align with the fundamentalists against nonbelievers rather than with nonbelievers against fundamentalists. But “criticizing” them for not being fundamentalist enough is an inane “tactic”. Comments like Mohammed’s above are not just wrong, and not just dumb, they’re dangerous. That kind of argument is used by the most vile, ignorant, and irrational of Islam “critics” – the straight-up bigots – who use it to justify painting all Muslims with a broad stroke brush as fundamentalist, regressive, and violent: it turns all Muslims into justifiable targets – either they’re actually intolerant fundamentalists or they’re just milquetoast intolerant fundamentalists, but still guilty of intolerant fundamentalism by association.

          • I don’t think that it’s Mohammed opinion that “progressive Muslims aren’t really Muslims”, what she said was “The ordinary Muslim is incredibly conservative and would not even consider a ‘moderate’ Muslim to be a Muslim” which as a statement of fact may or may not be correct but is not her take on progressive Muslims.

            So if you are going to describe her opinions as “idiotic”, “not just wrong, and not just dumb, they’re dangerous” you should be careful and actually understand what her opinions are.

          • I’m pretty sure I am being careful, and do understand – if not what she actually believes – at the very least what she literally said. Her comments were: However, essentially, a more progressive Muslim is one who does not follow their religion closely. … There is no such thing as progressive Islam, there are only progressive Muslims. She’s literally saying that progressive Muslims aren’t actually following Islam… which, by the definition of “Muslim” as “someone who follows Islam”, means they’re not actually Muslims. In the most generous interpretation, she’s saying they’re “Muslims, just not real Muslims”… which is how I worded it.

            Whether that’s what she actually believes is impossible to say… but it is quite literally what she said.

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