Features

A woman's turn

"A woman's turn" Continued...

Issue: "Ghost streets," Feb. 27, 2010

Sultan notes that some Muslims, aware of this history, "are justifying Muhammad's acts because you can find similar acts in different religions"-but she states that "Muhammad, it is written in the Quran, has to be the role model for every Muslim. His acts are applicable now and acceptable now." She says she is asked, "Why do you say Islam cannot be reformed? Look in the Middle Ages-they were able to go back and reform Christianity.'" Her response: "They reformed Christians but not Christianity. When they went back to the life of Jesus they were able to reform their behavior, because Jesus was very peaceful. But the problem with Islam: If you go back to the life of Muhammad you're going to get Osama bin Laden. How can you reform it?"

Sultan hasn't always felt the freedom to make her case as strongly as she now does. Sept. 11, 2001, was a turning point for her as well as for millions of others. Before that she feared bringing financial ruin to her family, as one Muslim organization had threatened to take her to court for insulting Islam: "They knew they were going to lose, but financially they could destroy you. I was afraid. I backed off a little bit. I softened my message a little. But after Sept. 11, I said, 'Enough is enough. Let them take me to court.' After Sept. 11 I was free to say whatever."

And Muslim antagonists have responded with whatever. Sultan says imams have reacted with threats to her internet writings and to three of her books published in Arabic. After one appearance on Al Jazeera, she recalls, the station apologized to the Arab world for letting her insult Islam, and "a well-known Egyptian imam who lives in Qatar said clearly this woman left Islam and now is attacking it." That charge is serious: "Once you leave Islam you have to be killed. It is the duty to kill whoever leaves Islam without a question. So I consider it a fatwa."

Although the negative emails-mostly from men, who have greater access to the internet-still come, Sultan says she is getting more positive email: "They are opening their mind to the truth. I believe in the power of repetition. I repeat over and over and over, trying to penetrate their minds." She gets letters from people telling her they have converted to Christianity and are hiding it out of fear: "People tell me we have 1.3 billion Muslims. . . . I believe more Muslims are leaving Islam than people becoming Muslim."

Sultan's critique of Islam puts her in a complicated position: "In the Arab world, Islam has become our identity. It has taken over our culture. We can't distinguish between Arab culture and Islamic culture. . . . It's written in my language. It's my history." But she's hopeful: "I see the change taking place. When it comes to my Arab readers, I am very optimistic. When it comes to the West, I am less optimistic. It's harder for me to penetrate the American mind than the Arabic."

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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