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Wafa Sultan – Rebel, Heretic or Outcast?

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Wafa Sultan has become The Muslim Who Spoke Out. That she rejects the label "Muslim,"  and has been daring to speak out for over two years is quite besides the point.

Albert Hirschman wrote that there are possible responses to organizational decay: Exit, Voice and Loyalty. We can either quit a system, or we can work from the inside for change, or simply soldier on like the horse Baxter in Animal Farm. It appears Dr. Wafa Sultan has chosen the first two options.

In her now famous debate with Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli on Al-Jazeera (aired on February 21, 2006), the Syrian-born psychologist kicked some serious ass. A sample excerpt:

The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete.

And later:

The Jews have come from the tragedy (of the Holocaust), and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not their crying and yelling. Humanity owes most of
the discoveries and science of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists. 15 million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge. We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church.
We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people. The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a Mosque, kill a Muslim, or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people, and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.


Admittedly, there’re a lot of this Alkhouli_4sort of stuff on Desicritics as well. The difference seems to be one of authenticity. That a Muslim woman would dare to go head-to-head with a senior and respected Muslim cleric in prime time struck a nerve. According to the Memri TV, the Al-Jazeera debate has been viewed more than a million times. Dr. Al-Khouli (image shown on right), who teaches at the famed  Al-Azhar university in Cairo, seems to be something of a regular on Al-Jazeera; he’s the reliably medieval voice on its Al-Itijah Al-Mu’akis (Opposite Directions) program. The dude didn’t know what hit him. At one point, the poor man was reduced to:

If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran…

He’d had plenty of forewarning. In July 2005, Dr. Sultan had knocked heads with Dr. Ahmad Bin Muhammed, an Algerian professor of politics, and in my view, even more provocative. She’s a contributor to the Annaqed, which is harshly critical of Islam and very pro-America. As a medical student in Syria, she’d been a witness to the murder of her professor in 1979 by the Muslim Brotherhood. As she told the New York Times:

They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, ‘God is great!’ " she said. "At that point, I lost my trust in their god and began to question all our teachings. It was the turning point of my life, and it has led me to this present point. I had to leave. I had to look for another god.

Wafa Sultan may be the least important character in the story. Most of her arguments are either flawed or themselves extreme; in particular, her assessment of Arabic contributions to science is incorrect. But the fact that Al-Jazeera has these debates, that the Islamic world seems to be in the process of a self-examination, that there are at least a million people who were willing to download the debate, and that it took about three weeks for the debate to become news-worthy in the Western media may be the truly interesting feature of the Wafa Sultan debate. But for now, as the poem says: may her tribe increase.

Cross-posted at: Desicritics.org

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About Anil Menon


    Sounds like a great debate, I wish Dr. Sultan all the best in the future. Unfortunately, she will probably soon have a fatwa released against her, and death threats as well.

  • Amazing

    You go girl!!!!! This woman is amazing, and I have to say she is the first person with balls since the Iraqi war started!!!! I pray, to whom I choose to pray to, that she is protected against all persons that will want to harm her because she has spoken her beliefs!

    If ANYONE is offended, well, all I can say is, the truth doesn’t hurt unless it ought to.

  • Wafa Sultan also was interviewed on Israel National Radio as well, recently.

    I hasve to agree with the author that the significant point here is that she has gone head to head with a major cleric on Al Jezeera, and that thousands are downloading the interview. She has given the lie to the day-in-day-out Jew-hatred spewed in much of the Arab media. She is forcing many Moslems to think – just what the Wahhabi cultists don’t want them to do.

    May G-d protect her from her enemies and grant her success in her endeavours.

  • gonzo marx


    for the Article and most especially for Wafa Sultan

    courage comes in many forms, and this Lady has exhibited many…

    she missed a Trick tho, all the Muslim world really needs is….

    more cowbell!

    nuff said?


  • I’d cross-posted this blog on desicritics.org. One of the commentators, bah, gave a great counter-critique of Wafa Sultan and Memri TV. It’s worth a look.

    (scroll down for user comments or search on page for “bah”)

  • ss

    Nice post Anil, and it was big of you to link to a basicly rational (if obviously very pissed off) counter arguement.
    I side with Wafa, mostly because her attack seems to start from a position of being against religion in general, and also seems to focus on the futility of the victim/revenge mentality.
    But whenever the result of any arguement looks this one sided, your nostrils should always twitch a little.

  • hello


  • She cannot be a Rebel or Outcast as she left Islam long ago.

    She is a Heretic, but then her views are not new, and we have heard them many times before.

    In fact she is no different from the lives of Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Those that make their fame and fortune from slandering Islam. Intrestingly, Wafa Sultan is writing a book at present.

    There is a saying, the non-believers will never accept you until you denounce your religion and become like them.

  • Dear Jamal , i think it’s more Muslims that won’t accept you until you become tham , rather than the un-belivers , the non-belivers (so called infidels in islam) , don’t really base people based on religion unfortountley that is what Islam does.

  • someguy


    The MEMRI debate was very much truncated, and the full debate had the scholar for the most part patronizing her, and not taking her seriously.

    Her arguments were just too childesh to take seriously, and the audiacity of her facile questioning for the most part seemed like trolling rather than engaging in debate.

    The showing for the scholar was hardly as bad as MEMRI makes it look…

  • gonzo

    debate CENSORED & edited by MEMRI TV. MEMRI is the abbreviation for Middle East Media Research Institute, a pro-Israel organization with headquarters in Washington DC and its Media Centre in Israel – “…
    a non-profit in Washington DC that specializes in translating and circulating mainly Arab-language materials, selected to display the Arab world in a poor light, to the advantage of Israel.”

    This may enlighten you about their organisation …….
    Fake Saddam Interview Put Out By MEMRI : SF Bay Area Indymedia

    “A knowledgeable US government official has informed “Iraq News” that the ‘remarkable’ interview with Saddam Hussein, published by MEMRI TV, is almost certainly a hoax.” Read More:

    Did you not wonder if it was a debate, why was Wafa Sultan doing all the gibber-gabbering? Where are the responses from the two (2) Muslim
    participants in the debate? Why were they not given the opportunity to have the same air-time to respond to this woman? The way the video clip
    was going on-and-off so many times, isn’t it obvious to you that the debate was one-sided and had been edited! Some debate!!!

    Wafa’s statements are a flagrant distortion of the truth. When it comes to terrorism Wafa is totally wrong in sugarcoating Jewish history. She
    fudges her claims here because Israeli authors Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev, Ilan Pappé and Benny Morris have written comprehensive and
    well-researched books about Israel’s history and the major role terrorism had in it

  • george D

    Wafa sultan : a cheap pro-israel WHORE: FULL ENGLISH TRANSCRIPT TRANSLATION AL- JAZEERA OF DEBATE here : Ehttp://aqoul.com/images/wafa_sultan.pdf

    UNLIKE THE EDITED & FAKE MEMRI TV show. MEMRI has published translated and heavily edited portions of the exchange. Since the full translation was made in an attempt to reduce any misinformation or ignorant postulation, and hope that the full transcript speaks accurately for itself.


    MISLEADING M.E.M.R.I. : obviously, we don’t know why the people @ m.e.m.r.i. chose to translate the term mulhidah (the term ibrahim al-khouly used to ask wafa sultan if she is one) as “heretic” and not “atheist”.
    the term for “apostate” (the punishment for which could be death) is murtadd/murtaddah. and it is highly unlikely that ibrahim al-khouly, being a professor @ al-azhar, mistakenly used the word mulhidah when ACTUALLY he wanted to say murtaddah.
    as for al-khouly’s answer – the m.e.m.r.i translation was almost right with the phrase “there is no point in rebuking you”, but the term ‘atb means “rebuke” in the sense of “censure, blame, reproof, reprimand” and here it is clear that his argument is: if you’re an atheist, then i cannot say anything if you curse islam, the prophet, the qur’an. he implies that atheists are outside islam and islam has no say over them. it’d be different if wafa sultan had self-identified as a believing muslim – in that case, insulting the religion, the prophet, the qur’an would be a different matter and he (ibrahim al-khouly) would have the right to censure/reprimand/rebuke her.
    in short, his answer is almost the EXACT OPPOSITE of a “death fatwa”.

  • ARI

    1. Two questions: Is it fair for MEMRI to disseminate such a biased perspective? And will all the websites i saw propagating the false-death-fatwa meme publish retractions? Or is it just ok for that false meme to pass into urban myth.

    Well, I doubt if fairness ever came into it. It is more about promotion of an agenda and making the most out of an oppurtunity. And RETRACTIONS? Are you serious? No self-respecting hysteria mongering ignoramus ever publishes a retraction, that would betray the whole raison d’etre. And no, it is certainly not bloody ok for the fatwa to pass into urban myth but half the blame lies with those who think in black and white and are thus receptive to MEMRI’s one sided presentation. People ultimately believe what they want to believe and turn a blind eye to what taxes their intellectual muscle (to plagiarise Sultan herself)

    2. The most interesting thing i read that Al-Khouly said was, “so, in order to become a progressive like you, muslims must become secular, must renounce our faith…”
    How many Christians and Jews here are prepared to renounce their faith to become progressives?
    That is not a rhetorical question. Transhumanism is soon going to force exactly that kind of choice for western religionists.

    Am not sure that being progressive and also Muslim are necessarily mutually exclusive as al-Khouly believed Sultan was implying although it is definitely harder as a Muslim to reconcile some of the more incompatible aspects of the faith with modernity (execution of apostates as exemplified by Afghanistan’s trial of a Muslim convert to Christianity).

    Re the deafening silence you are receiving I mot surprised in the slightest, nuanced thought and research are boring, not sexy and do not attract attention, drama queens don’t have debates, they have tantrums.

  • michelle

    not so fast wafa

    Anyone with a 3rd grade history lesson would have told you wafa was completely wrong. Proto-Zionist’s in Palestine and Europe have blown up anyone or anything that challenged the establishment of a Zionist safe haven. The Bask have had a long war with Spain (which is still alive and well), the Tamil tigers have had more suicide bombings than all other nations combined including the ones in occupied Palestine. The illegal occupation of Iraq and Vietnam by the United Hates of America are nothing compared to the massacres of Pawnee, Lakota, and 300 other Native American nations and cultures over a time span of 400 years. Oh and by the way I’ll stay away from the enslavement, rape, and killing of over one hundred million Africans just so you don’t say I am playing the race card. And let us not forget the most recent tragedy of all the war casualties of WWI and WWII. You racist ethnocentric xenophobes make me sick. Anyone who wants to preserve their way of life or practice their beliefs or culture is not a threat to you it is you who are a threat to them. The Anglo-Yiddish a.k.a. Ashkenazi and Anglo-Saxon war machines are well know for their long running campaigns and treaty breakings.

  • michelle
  • I read the uncensored and unedited translation of the interview on Al Jezeera.

    What I read was a man (Al Khouly) interrupting a woman and refusing to answer her questions. What I read was a man wasting Al Jezeera’s time with apparent irrelevancies, and with taqqiya (Islam may have preached no compulsion of religion but conquered Persia, Israel, Anatolia, Egypt and much of north Africa with a sword and scimitar).

    Wafa Sultan appeared a bit naive in her understanding of Jews and Judaism, but her Khouly was unbridled in his arrogance. This is not reading MRMRI’s censored version of the interview, but the one provided by Aqoul.

    Your milage may vary.

  • miriam

    I love her! A brave wonderful woman! xxxx

  • Ali

    Addressing Ruvy…

    Why should anyone take you seriously when you already have a viewpoint set in your mind. Islam was not spread by the sword, sure wars were fought using swords but people where given an option of reverting and being treated as equals or practicing their faith/lifestyles and paying the Jizya. That simple fact alone dispels the notion of Islamic expansion via the sword as the Muslims could have slaughtered all in their path much like the Crusaders did when they captured Jerusalem.

    Secondly, al-Khouly answered her questions, if that’s what you can call them, adequately. However, he may have strayed slightly off topic when he started talking about current Western policies. Its just that you won’t accept that maybe she was refuted; you will always remain deaf, dumb & blind whatever response a Muslim gives you or others like you.

  • Ashur

    Dr. Wafa Sultan, is a very courageous woman that was able to blast ISLAM and its nonsense teachings.
    The Middle East is under ISLAMIC occupation for almost 14 centuries, an occupation which extended to produce ROBOTS PEOPLE that just to act and obey , and don’t have any right to ask a very simple question.
    GOD bless Dr.WAFA SULTAN a faithful Syrian revolutionary woman which her action will liberate our people who are living in darkness of ISLAM, a religious of FEAR!

  • Araberber

    Wafa Sultan, denigres Islam as a religion that is taking over politic in the Muslim world. But in the other hand praises and bless Sionisme, which for her is Judaisme a religion of challenges. It makes no sens at all, attacking a religion for its political activites and blessing another one for the same political activities.

  • A true believer

    To all of the people out there:
    I have read and seen a lot of works, especially on talk shows and other videos that are posted on the Internet. I must say that Wafa Sultan is very wrong about Islam.
    She mentioned in some of her videos that Islam is a religion where God teaches Muslims to be violent and kill any non-believer. However, if one actually took the time and read the holy book, the Qur’an, OR even asked a well-educated Muslim, he/she would know that Islam is a religion of peace that does not wish to kill anyone, especially the believers of Christianity and Judaism, for they are the religions that also believe in one God. In fact, I thought that everyone should know that in order for a Muslim to be an ACTUAL believer they must FIRST believe in all the books of God. This includes the Torah(scriptures) and the Bible (the original books sent by God, not the ones that have been modified). This is because the Qur’an was the final book sent by God to Muhammad(S) and it was sent to guide the people back into the right path, just like God did to Prophet Moses(A) by sending the Torah to the people of Egypt and the same goes for Prophet Jesus(A) who was sent the Bible; a guidance to the people, so they could go the right path again. All these books, the Torah, Bible, and the Qur’an contain one MAIN message and that is: Believe in One God, and worship Him only.

    Dr. Sultan also said Islam is a religion that teaches nothing but fighting. This may be because of all the misinterpretations that have been said by the media, especially with the term Jihad. However, I advice you to look at this. This website may tell everyone the true meaning of Jihad and a few other truths about Islam, but for more precise and better knowledge about the greatness of the religion, Please ask a well-educated Muslim or look into the Qur’an.

    Another main issue that I have seen her talk about is the way girls are treated in Islam. All the stuff Dr. SUltan has been saying about the role of women in Islam is incorrect, I do not know where she has gotten the information, but it may be because a lot of Muslim nations treat the women very wrong, but because of the doings of the so-called Muslims, you CANNOT judge a religion. Again, if you go search inside the Qur’an, you would know that Islam is the religion that treats both men and women EQUALLY, only in different aspects. I hope everyone will read this, but please, as stated before ask a Muslim who is well-educated for more information.
    Also, if anyone would like to know why Islam permits four wives, please look at a video called: Deedat – Why a man can have four wives in islam ? (Ahmed)

    I am kindly asking everyone to look into the religion, correctly first.

    One thing that I am grateful for Islam is that God mentions in the Qur’an (for it is the last book revealed to humankind by Him), one should not say any harsh things about another religion. It is mentioned in the Qur’an that it is not right for someone to judge a religion by the actions of its followers or believers alone because there will always be good and bad believers of the religion. The right thing to do is to look at a religion by its revelation (the books sent by God through the prophets).

    For more information about Islam and the actual truths about it please look at a few videos by Dr. Zakir Naik (Please actually look at them and take them into account for the man is highly educated about ALL the books of God).

    Dr. Zakir Naik – Does God exist?
    Zakir Naik Public Talk
    Dr Zakir Naik – Terrorism and Jihad 1 of 2.avi