My life has become mine after having been the shared property of the one I used to call “My Lord,” who shared my life and who snatched from me my productive years. I used to spend them with Him and for Him, putting myself in His hands. Now I had become free and liberated after having been a slave and a serf. Oh, my grief over the toil and sweat of my life that His Sublimeness has stolen from me! It has deprived me of my youth, and would have taken what remains of my latter years if I hadn’t come to my senses. I appointed Him as trustee and mandator over me, over my own free will and free choice, so He bequeathed me nothing but foolishness, nonsense, and idiocy, until I almost lost my reason and good sense to the blade of folly. And I would have lost my senses if it hadn’t been that I managed to gather my determination, firm my resolution, and stand up to the test and come through it.
Thus, for the first time, I had made up my mind to leave captivity and experience freedom. I had made up my mind to dissolve the contract of trusteeship, the contract of ignominy that I had signed with my Lord. I was born free, but I had allowed myself to become a slave. But after today, I shall not allow anyone to enslave me again. Daylight has risen.
I shall not ask of God anything from today. That is, if there really is a God and if it isn’t just merely talking to yourself, and asking yourself, and praying to yourself. In this case, prayer is simply an inner conversation and chit-chat with one’s ego. Oh, how long I spent prattling to myself, thinking it kindled the light of transcendental truth, when all it did was anaesthetise my mind and dull my wit! It weakened my ambition and blinded my insight. It made me like a child, and robbed me of my lifeblood and the flowering of my life. It loaded me with farfetched expectations and aroused foolish aspirations. It undermined my self-belief and self-reliance, and seduced me into relying on the Lord of the Universe. Those days have gone. The gloom has been lifted and cleared. My consciousness has returned to me. I have come out of my coma!
My task in this book is to tear away the curtains and reveal the secrets, and expose that which was guarded in order to arrive at the hidden pearl. It is a sincere call to put an end to one stage and start a new stage. To end the stage of sleep and oblivion and begin the stage of awakening, realization, and understanding. After that, everything will be easier.
I am keenly aware that, with this book, I am playing with fire. So be it! For if the fire doesn’t burn the impurities, we will never get pure gold. It’s true that cauterisation should be the last resort, but what can I do, even though I realise that I, myself, may be the first to be burnt by it? But if you want to be a man, you must confront danger. That shall be my slogan for life. For if it wasn’t for the burning candle shedding light for others, then, by God, there would be no light. That is what it can do—nay, that is its mission. It is my hope and privilege to be that candle.
People’s souls are almost brimming over. Hearts are full to the tipping point. Horizons are being suppressed, and pens silenced. Fresh breaths are trapped and stuttering. Slips of the tongue are to be found in every place. The mouths have water in them.28 Can that which has water in its mouth speak? If you want to alleviate the misery and grief and remove the calamity and anguish, then come join me in climbing over the walls that keep us locked in, and keep away from the guards.
Read what is not written in the writings of Ta Ha Hussein. Read the suppressed, or what is written between the lines in his book, Pre-Islamic Poetry, for example. You will be surprised! Likewise, read Zaki Naguib Mahmoud and Ismai’l Mazhar in their early writings, before they returned to the cattle enclosure when they approached old age, fearing what might await them after death. Likewise, read Abdel Rahman Badawi in his first books. You will find that which will surprise you even more. Even this giant of Arabic literature began to lose his powers in the latter period of his life. We are all the same when it comes to fear; it is a human weakness.
The energy of the people is tensed for the starting pistol; minds are craned and all set to go. Everyone is fully ready for action. But they are waiting for a spark. They are all frightened of lighting that spark because of the torrent it will unleash upon them. Perhaps fate has chosen that this book will be that spark. What will be will be. I say clearly, without any pride, that you will not find in Arabic, throughout its history—including in the Abbasid period, which witnessed some bold rejection of religion—a book like this book in respect of its explicit, clear, unambiguous, and earnest telling it as it is without equivocation, twisting, hypocrisy, or lies.
You will also not find any personal slander, libel, or any reference to the private lives of the people who I refer to. Nor will I stoop to the level of some critics of Islam, who throw about abuse, slander, and attack Muslims personally, for slander and personal attacks are not the characteristics of sincere scholars. Going into the private lives of people in order to hunt around for mud to sling at them as a way of dismissing them while avoiding what they say is a major abuse to them, and a violation of that which should not be violated. Ideas are only defeated with better ones: “As for the foam, it vanishes, cast off; but as for that which benefits the people, it remains on the earth. Thus does Allah present examples.” (29)
I know full well that this may cost me my life. But I have tasted life, both its sweetness and its bitterness. Nay, its bitterness more than its sweetness, and I am prepared to face my fate. I want to say what I have to say before I go. As for what will be after that, let it be. That will be my fate. He whose fate is laid out must walk that path. I am not the first person who has been betrayed by ignorance and reactionaryism, and I also won’t be the last.
After the publication of this book, there may be an angry storm of knee-jerk reactions, intolerance, slander, and accusations, with a limit and without limit. A volcano may erupt, but at the same time, there will be some who will defend the book, and who will challenge the ignorant attacks, injustice, and dishonesty. They will call for an objective analysis and a sober, scholarly approach. Between these will be those groups with vested interests, middlemen, and those who have a stake in the status-quo. They will incite the tyrants and the religious clerics and all those who fish in troubled waters.
Thus, the door will open to everyone who knocks. The authorities, of course, side with the angry masses and fundamentalists. The freethinkers are rounded up and made examples of. Those with vested interests support efforts to eradicate and assassinate by instigating and inciting the khateebs of mosques, the simple-minded, and those of good-intentions (not to mention those with bad intentions) in the name of defending the religion and faith.
I am certain that, in our countries, more than half of those who oppose this book will be illiterate, and will not have read it. If they have read it, they have not understood it—that is, if they were able to come across a copy of it. The governments will ban it straightaway, unless one of the bookshops manages to hide a few copies to sell secretly. But, if it gains attention, the masses will not be satisfied with simply banning it—no, they will demand it be burnt publicly, and to spill the blood of its author, if he still lives and has not been thrown into prison.
In this case, the Western media would not stand idly by, but would condemn the intolerance and repression of freedoms and human rights violations. Many will slander Arabs and Muslims, and denounce the forces of backwardness and ignorance. The wicked and simple-minded will grab this opportunity to accuse the author of being a Zionist agent.
The possibility of all of that does not bother me. The only important thing, in my opinion, is that I am true to myself and that I say what I must say, even if I am on the edge of the abyss. I hope I can push the door open a little, for if it is opened, it won’t be shut again. It is only natural that the agitators will agitate, the revolutionaries will revolt, and the hunters will increase and proclaim doom and destruction and cataclysmic events.
The shock will be huge in a country that is sleeping and impassive in its error, wandering astray. It is not used to shocks.
Most people are not able to look at the light of truth. But this light and the succession of shocks are the only way to reinvent ourselves and renew ourselves, and enter the age of enlightenment. If we don’t, then we will remain in darkness.
29 Surah Ar-Ra’d (13:17)