Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the status of religion in Iraq?
Karrar Al Asfoor: Religion controls every aspect of life in Iraq, from the simple cashier in a small shop to the largest governmental organization to my house, to the children playing in the streets, to the cafe talks, whatever you do there you will be in touch with religion.
Iraq is considered one of the most important Shia majority countries with Najaf and Karbala cities that are considered to be the holiest Shia cities. The whole calendar is filled with religious festivals that take place in every part of the country.
Jacobsen: How much political and legal power does religion enforce in Iraq?
Asfoor: Taking into consideration that the government is run by religious organizations and Islamic parties with religious militias who have much more power than the security forces, and people needing a fatwa from the grand mufti for everything; I would say that religion is the dominant political power in the country.
Jacobsen: You co-founded an organization with Nacer Ameri. What is the organization? Why co-found it? What is its title, mission, and purpose?
Asfoor: First, let me clarify that it is not yet an officially registered organization, it is an Idea in its early phases. It is much like a social fraternity with goals to bring the European atheist community to work together with the ex-Muslim community for a secular world. Its name is United Atheists of Europe.
It is clear that we rely on unifying the efforts of atheists across the European continent but are not limited to this, because the world has become a small village and whatever happens in one part of the world would affect other parts.
We will use the space of possible freedom here and have that to make an impact in the Islamic world. In terms of “missions,” we have two generally. The first one is to protect secularism in Europe, which faces the risk of Islamism. The second is to have the effective means to empower atheists in the Islamic world pushing things into secularism there.
And as mentioned earlier, our purpose is a secular world, but that is not achievable at the moment because there are political agendas controlling our world. They have the resources and the larger media outlets.
We only have our brains so we need to face them smartly with an innovative workaround, inspired by the Illuminati, which existed during the enlightenment era. Nacer and I started this social fraternity.
Jacobsen: How does religion in Europe represent a better version with more moderation, tolerance, diversity, and real secularism?
Asfoor: During my stay in Europe until now, religion has never intervened with my freedom or personal choices. For example, I could be arrested if drink alcohol in some cities in Iraq compared to over the counter alcohol bottles here in Europe.
That’s a huge difference, and here I feel more comfortable with the idea that my head will still be connected to my body if I criticize religion.
Jacobsen: Does Islam permit secularism in a fundamentalist reading or interpretation of the scripture?
Asfoor: There is no secularism in Islam or other religions. Religions are based on the divine command theory of ethics while secularism is based on the rational ethical theories (like Utilitarianism). They are totally different axiological worldviews, despite the fact some interpretations permit secularism and some reformers actually advocate for it ignoring the huge contradictions between the original scripture and the new interpretation.
But taking in consideration that people vary in their thinking, psychological elements, and social field factors, I think interpretations and reformers hold a key role in the social transformation and our existence (we ex-Muslim atheists) is so much important to them while the opposite is true.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Karrar.
Asfoor: I am honored to participate in this interview with you, thanks a lot Scott.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.