Joel Richardson's latest book, Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out, is sure to cause controversy. An expert in Jewish and Islamic theology, Richarson was compelled to write this book in the name of freedom and human rights. The book is a compilation of accounts from various former Muslims and their experiences with Islam.
What compelled you to write this book?
I actually have a memory from when I was in grade school and we were learning about slavery for the first time. I remember asking myself how so many people allowed such obviously inhuman atrocities to occur on their watch. What form of popular passivism must have come over the people? These questions were again stirred up and confirmed when I later learned about the Holocaust. I swore that if in my life there were any similar great evils against humanity I would not be among those who choose to self-delude myself and excuse what is taking place. I swore that I would stand up. With the present rise of Islam and the many human rights abuses and suppression of so many human freedoms that come with it, I felt compelled to stand in solidarity with these 23 brave former Muslims in their desire to share their stories.
How long it take you to write it? Did you have to do a lot of research? If yes, could you share with us some of these titles?
Most of the stories were already written. Creating the book for the editors was more a matter of compiling the proper variety and amount of stories and then writing the introductions and the conclusion, etc.
Considering your negative experiences with Islam, how do you keep your objectivity when writing such a book?
Whenever writing about such sensitive subjects, I take pains to be as fair as I can. However, I don’t claim to be objective. And I think that anyone who claims pure objectivity is probably either self-deluded or a liar. I also admit that I have a clear agenda. Which is simply is to expose the human rights and human freedom violations that are endemic within Islamic culture. I want people in the West to wake up and likewise make a stand for human rights and human freedoms.
But of course, I make every effort to be fair and as accurate as possible. I have been involved with Christian-Muslim interfaith dialogues for many years. I am thoroughly familiar with Islamic source texts, and the majority of the earliest and most classic Muslim writings, etc. I am very aware of the various distinctions between Orthodox Historical Islam and the various aberrations that exist both now and through history. I am also very well aware that to criticize Islam one is also going to personally offend a great number of people and the last thing that I would desire to create is one-sided propaganda.
There are many people who would consider your stand on Islam hateful propaganda. What would you say to these people?
This type of twisted accusation is common. And I wish people would take a minute to think through these types of things. If one hates a people then there is clearly a problem. But criticism of an ideology or a religion is not hate. Nor is Islam a race. There are Muslims from nearly every race, size, shape and color. So the accusation of hate is never leveled against a Christopher Hitchens or any other of the blossoming (anti-Christianity) writers. Why is the charge of hate only leveled against those who criticize Islam? If one were to criticize Communism, would one be thus hateful toward Russians? If one criticized American foreign policy, would one be hateful toward Americans? Of course not. And it is a perversion to claim that I hate Muslims. The opposite is true. There is a proverb in the Bible that says that, “One may trust the wounds of a friend, but it is the enemy that multiplies kisses.” The things I say, I say because I love Muslims and have the courage to speak out against that which is hurting them as a people. If I remained silent, it would be hateful to the brave individuals in the book, many who are living under a death sentence for leaving Islam.
Religions, both Islam and Christianity, have been the major cause of violence and wars throughout history. You can't overlook all the torture and unjust deaths committed by Christians during the Crusades and Reformation. What makes one religion better or worse than the other?
People love to point out all of the evils that have occurred in connection with religion in general throughout history. But they also often fail to point out that nearly every hospital and homeless shelter in their city is run by or was founded by a religious group. Organized religion certainly has its negative and its positives. But I personally tire of the old moral equivalent cliché’ that attempts to argue that because great evils that were carried out by Christians, one cannot commend Islam today. This is utter foolishness. One should condemn all of the above. Period.
However, as a Christian I will point out that there is a distinction between Christianity and Islam on this point. When Christianity was experiencing its darkest days, it was time when people had turned away from their Bibles. There was a reliance not on the book but rather on a magisterium that was out of control. With the reformation, people began to turn back to their Bibles and thus in time genuine “reformation” took place. But today the radicalization within Islam is occurring as Muslims are turning to their holy books, not away. Christianity is fundamentally a passive religion. Islam is fundamentally an active, often violent and imperialistic religion. The moral equivalent argument falls down when one actually compares the texts. There is no real comparison.
Fundamentalist believers of any religion will always go to extremes. Why did you think it necessary to attack Islam as a whole because of these fundamentalists?
See the above comments. Again, Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out is not first an attack against Islam. It is a defense of human rights and human freedoms. When a young women is stoned to death by her own family because she became pregnant and asked for permission to marry her beloved (see the story of Yagmur) then we should hear the phrase, “Where someone is not free, no one is free.” The West is at a very crucial time in its history. It needs to make some very important decisions: Which issues take a higher priority to us; tolerance, openness and multi-culturalism or human rights and human freedoms? Unfortunately, the endemic violation of the latter within Islam is forcing us to choose. For me, there is no question that as important as openness and tolerance are, there must be a limit. When human rights are violated, we must rise up. We must stand in solidarity with these very brave former Muslims. To not do so is to not only throw away the past fifty years of labor that has been poured into the civil rights movement but also the blood sweat and tears that were poured into the very founding of this country. This is an issue that both liberals and conservatives can fully agree on. If we fail to do so, it is because we no longer love or cherish human freedoms and human rights. This would be a tragedy of colossal proportions.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
I challenge you to stand in solidarity with and support the people that has shared their stories in this book. When one reads the news these days and finds a dark feeling coming over them, the question is often asked: What can I really do? The answer lies in doing the small things. When an opportunity such as Why We Left Islam comes along, we must take advantage of it and stand up across the boards to support it. When enough people stand their ground and call for genuine reform and refuse to submit to the intimidation of various anti-freedom forces, we truly can make a difference. We owe it to these 23 brave individuals. And we owe it to our children. This is a chance to stand for freedom and the most fundamental of human rights. We cannot fail to miss this opportunity.