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.
Jacobsen: When 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.