Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats
LOS ANGELES, March 10, 2006 (New York Times) —
Three weeks ago, Dr. Wafa Sultan was a largely unknown Syrian-American psychiatrist living
outside Los Angeles, nursing a deep anger and despair about her fellow
Muslims. [Wikipedia and then a live YouTube debate in their native language but with english translation flowing on the screen, as of Sept. 2013]
Today, thanks to an unusually blunt and
provocative interview on Al Jazeera television on Feb. 21, she is an international sensation,
hailed as a fresh voice of reason by some, and by others as a heretic and infidel who
deserves to die.
In the interview, which has been viewed on the
Internet more than a million times and has reached the e-mail of hundreds of thousands around
the world, Dr. Sultan bitterly criticized the Muslim clerics, holy warriors and political
leaders who she believes have distorted the teachings of Muhammad and the Koran for 14
She said the world's Muslims, whom she compares
unfavorably with the Jews, have descended into a vortex of self-pity and
Dr. Sultan said the world was not witnessing a
clash of religions or cultures, but a battle between modernity and barbarism, a battle that
the forces of violent, reactionary Islam are destined to lose.
In response, clerics throughout the Muslim world
have condemned her, and her telephone answering machine has filled with dark threats. But
Islamic reformers have praised her for saying out loud, in Arabic and on the most widely seen
television network in the Arab world, what few Muslims dare to say even in
"I believe our people are hostages to our own
beliefs and teachings," she said in an interview this week in her home in a Los Angeles
Dr. Sultan, who is 47, wears a prim sweater and
skirt, with fleece-lined slippers and heavy stockings. Her eyes and hair are jet black and
her modest manner belies her intense words: "Knowledge has released me from this backward
thinking. Somebody has to help free the Muslim people from these wrong
Perhaps her most provocative words on Al Jazeera
were those comparing how the Jews and Muslims have reacted to adversity. Speaking of the
Holocaust, she said, "The Jews have come from the tragedy and forced the world to respect
them, with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not with their crying and
She went on, "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."
She concluded, "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."
Her views caught the ear of the American Jewish
Congress, which has invited her to speak in May at a conference in Israel. "We have been
discussing with her the importance of her message and trying to devise the right venue for
her to address Jewish leaders," said Neil B. Goldstein, executive director of the
She is probably more welcome in Tel Aviv than she
would be in Damascus. Shortly after the broadcast, clerics in Syria denounced her as an
infidel. One said she had done Islam more damage than the Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet
Muhammad, a wire service reported.
DR. SULTAN is "working on a book that — if it is
published — it's going to turn the Islamic world upside down."
"I have reached the point that doesn't allow any
U-turn. I have no choice. I am questioning every single teaching of our holy
The working title was, "The Escaped Prisoner: When
God Is a Monster"; but it changed and is HERE [read a few the hundreds of reviews]
Dr. Sultan grew up in a large traditional Muslim
family in Banias, Syria, a small city on the Mediterranean about a two-hour drive north of
Beirut, Lebanon. Her father was a grain trader and a devout Muslim, and she followed the faith's
strictures into adulthood.
But, she said, her life changed in 1979 when she
was a medical student at the University of Aleppo, in northern Syria. At that time, the
radical Muslim Brotherhood was using terrorism to try to undermine the government of
President Hafez al-Assad. Gunmen of the Muslim Brotherhood burst into a classroom at the
university and killed her professor as she watched, she said.
"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."
She and her husband, who now goes by the
Americanized name of David, laid plans to leave for the United States. Their visas finally
came in 1989, and the Sultans and their two children (they have since had a third) settled in
with friends in Cerritos, Calif., a prosperous bedroom community on the edge of Los Angeles
After a succession of jobs and struggles with
language, Dr. Sultan has completed her American medical licensing, with the exception of a
hospital residency program, which she hopes to do within a year. David operates an
automotive-smog-check station. They bought a home in the Los Angeles area and put their
children through local public schools. All are now American citizens.
BUT even as she settled into a comfortable
middle-class American life, Dr. Sultan's anger burned within. She took to writing, first for
herself, then for an Islamic reform Web site called Annaqed (The Critic), run by a Syrian expatriate in
An angry essay on that site by Dr. Sultan about
the Muslim Brotherhood caught the attention of Al Jazeera, which invited her to debate an
Algerian cleric on the air last July, 2005.
In the debate, she questioned the religious
teachings that prompt young people to commit suicide in the name of God. "Why does a young
Muslim man, in the prime of life, with a full life ahead, go and blow himself up?" she asked.
"In our countries, religion is the sole source of education and is the only spring from which
that terrorist drank until his thirst was quenched."
Her remarks set off debates around the globe and
her name began appearing in Arabic newspapers and Web sites. But her fame grew exponentially
when she appeared on Al Jazeera again on Feb. 21, 2006, an appearance that was translated and
widely distributed by the Middle East Media Research Institute, known as
Memri said the clip of her February appearance had
been viewed more than a million times.
"The clash we are witnessing around the world is
not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations," Dr. Sultan said. "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
She said she no longer practiced Islam. "I am a
secular human being," she said.
The other guest on the program, identified as an
Egyptian professor of religious studies, Dr. Ibrahim al-Khouli, asked, "Are you a heretic?"
He then said there was no point in rebuking or debating her, because she had blasphemed
against Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and the Koran.
Dr. Sultan said she took those words as a formal
fatwa, a religious condemnation. Since then, she said, she has received numerous death
threats on her answering machine and by e-mail.
One message said: "Oh, you are still alive? Wait
and see." She received an e-mail message the other day, in Arabic, that said, "If someone
were to kill you, it would be me."
Dr. Sultan said her mother, who still lives in
Syria, is afraid to contact her directly, speaking only through a sister who lives in Qatar.
She said she worried more about the safety of family members here and in Syria than she did
for her own.
"I have no fear," she said. "I believe in my
message. It is like a million-mile journey, and I believe I have walked the first and hardest
***give me your comments about this
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(posted 28 March 2006; addn 4 August 2015)