Conversation with Tarek Fatah, the renowned Islamic Scholar

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Tarek Fatah, the renowned Islamic Scholar who is an Indian born in Pakistan. Photo: Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Please let us know a bit about your personal background…

Tarek Fatah: I was born in Karachi, which is now Pakistan. It used to be the capital of the part of British India. I grew up there. I went to a Catholic School. I went to college over there. I went to prison over there. I got thrown out from Pakistan television in 1979.

It was a charge of sedition or treason, but formally “sedition.” I spent about 10 years in Saudi Arabia doing advertising. I have spent 30 years now in Canada, living one day at a time, watching things go down the drain.

Jacobsen: Over those 30 years, in reflection, based on the phrase, “Going down the drain,” can you unpack that for us, please?

Tarek Fatah: When I came here in 1987, you had leaders like Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark, the Quebec Separatists, the BQ. Everything was discussed was political in nature, whether the Oka Crisis or otherwise. 

It was about ideas across social, political, and economic issues. Mr. Broadbent from Oshawa had one aspect. Mr. Mulroney had a different one. Mr. Clark had a different one. The British Columbians had a viewpoint. Over the last 30 years, it has descended into a very low standard of leadership, where ethnic vote banks have risen.

There always used to be. The Orange Order would determine who ran Toronto. The Catholics must live North of a certain street in Toronto [Laughing]. I used to get bashed by the Orange Order. The Jews got beaten up in a very famous place, a park in Toronto.

All that aside, most were small. It came down to the idea of this as a battle of ideas. All the concepts settled down into a balance, then came the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, the ideas do not matter anymore. 

The background matters more, “I am proud to be from Latvia.” What does that mean?!

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Tarek Fatah: Everyone is proud to be a Lithuanian. How does it matter between Bolivian, and an Ecuadorian, or an Indian and a Pakistani? But the crafty manner, the dumbest of political activists manipulated the nominated system of the political party candidates.

To be very honest, a white person cannot get nominated from any part of Mississauga or Brampton. White people do not have tribes anymore. So, the Sikhs can get anyone elected, even anyone as right-wing as Jagmeet Singh.

By “right-wing,” his thinks in terms of religion. It means he is medieval rather than right-wing and can pose as a left-wing activist. He can afford to say, “Who said what to whom about white supremacy?” 

Now, it is the latest. He can become the leader of the NDP. In 1988, can you imagine Broadbent stepping down and being replaced by Jagmeet Singh or Brian Mulroney being replaced by Mr. Scheer who has no personality?

Or the Conservative Party leader who has become a leader in Brampton. You simply must have props with you, to look more exotic. People like me are like circus animals. We need to stand behind politicians. You are younger than me.

You would not know that there was never a time to stand behind politicians as props and not look someone in the face and cheering him. That is the norm today! You have been selected to sit or stand at the back of the person speaking without watching their face and getting enamoured. That is dumb! – Capital D.

That’s where we are today. The mayor of the City of Toronto does not know about the major issue of the Saudi woman landing in her city. He does not know which vote bank to get. It is hilarious.

You can do the Oka Crisis today. You would not know who to deal with. It is like the pipeline. The band councils think it is fine. Then you find out about the other issue o the heritage treaties. No one is interested in factual issues.

It is how you cajole how you were born. The disgrace has been that ideas went away for my DNA. It means a person cannot speak, cannot have ideas. We have dropped that way in 30 years before my eyes. 

I ran for politics on the NDP ticket. I voted NDP most of my life. I cannot imagine voting for someone who thinks hair is the most important thing to them in a turban. I cannot say that. What I would be, anti-Sikh?

A high percentage of the Sikhs do not wear turbans. Similarly, I cannot be taken as a Muslim because I am not ugly enough to be considered Muslim so far. To be a Muslim, I must have a beard, no moustaches. 

The moment I do that. I will have MPs standing next to me. I can put on a guttural accent. We cannot even stand up and say that a burqa is a disgrace on the face of women. We cannot say that. I can say that. Nobody else can say that.

The layers of the burqa. Someone asked me if it was a choice. I said, “Next time some drug addict walks into a train. You say, ‘Oh, he made a choice. It is a democracy!'” When someone wants to commit suicide, back in Toronto, they made a choice. 

A person who disguises a persona, not showing their face, is being tolerated. Because otherwise, you would be called a racist. Nobody wants to be a racist. This is what we are facing as crises.

Jacobsen: If we are looking at the growth of arguments dependent on identity, something that someone was not merited with; they were born with it. It is congenital rather than acquired in this sense. 

With this, it makes conversations more difficult, more fraught, and, in the phrase, as if one is ‘walking on eggshells.’ How does this prevent, as you are noting and getting at, more serious political conversations and social dialogues?

Tarek Fatah: We are at war. There is a world war ongoing between international Islamism and secular liberal Western democracy. Effectively, the enemy, which is essentially The Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, or ISIS, there are 50 different bodies that are enemy Muslims within our countries.

They can shut us down. It has become the story. A Muslim woman who is a young student refused to go to the prom but is perfectly happy to become the wife of the jihadis under ISIS. The places like Tunisia have tens of thousands of pregnant women coming back after willingly, accepting, that rape by jihadis as an act of worship.

It is half of a million dead in Syria. They cannot seem to figure out that what we own today has been inherited by those who worked in the far North over 200-300 years ago. They would lay down their workers who did not have central heating.

When people say, “I pay my taxes.” Those assets were invested by people who did not have running water. I lived in a neighbourhood called Cabbagetown in Toronto. It is not a joke there. People over there literally grow cabbages in their front yards.

That is what their food was, Irish, and others. Other than getting beat up by the Orange Order. They made food to make liberal democracy what it is today, especially after the Second World War. The idea of individual liberty got embedded in the United Nations 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is core to civilization. It is the crystallization of Britain, France, and the United States. Even after Osama Bin Laden comes in a burqa, we say, “Who could that be behind it? Is it a bank robber?” You cannot say it. But that guy wears a leather jacket and rides a motorbike. 

Therefore, we better take him down. That is how stupid we are. To sum, we are going downhill. Unless, we recognize the idea that our enemies are in philosophy in a way. The fighting of Nazis before fighting the Nazis. 

As with the First World War, how many millions died? We still have not learned. We keep going back to the same thing. 17 times a day, Jews are cursed in Muslim prayer. Every mosque.

It is the opening prayer of Islam. Surah Al-Fatiha, “The path of those on whom You have bestowed your grace, not (the way) of those who have earned Your anger, nor of those who went astray.” [Not the one used, I had trouble finding it, and hearing it properly.]

It is the opening thing. Now, if the mullahs say, ‘We denounce the hadiths.” It becomes a different story. Then it becomes, “Well, the short and straight path,” but not the path of the murderer, of the pedophile, of the smuggler. Right?

But when you publicly say one thing when the microphone is on, then someone asks. You say, “Brother, it is the Jews.” Every Muslim knows that this is going on. On Fridays, we literally pray to Allah to give Muslims the better treatment over the kafirun. That is, you, the kafir.

Nobody is coming to speak out against it, and saying, “Don’t spread hate. We will not finance you with taxpayer money.” The cooperation of the government is funding a situation. There are the issues of anti-Semitism in the 1930s. They would rather have that conversation.

We are focusing on the Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays, and so on. Everyone wearing the same hat. The gladiators who are coming home, the BBQ. People are laughing at us. There is nobody in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, who believes 9/11 happened. 

There is nobody. I can tell you 90% of Canadian Muslims, in my community, who openly say, “5,000 Jews didn’t die.” As soon as you ask them, “Do you condemn it?” They say, “Yes, it is very bad.” They say one thing in one context and another thing in another context.

The leaders, no one believes anyone unless they are a Saudi style or other dress. They see this as the Islam way. Most of what is Islam has no relation to any Islamic ideology. There were Muslims before the Quran was written. 

There were Muslims who did things before fasting, praying, and the like. How did they become Muslims? The Quran is not a chronological order in which it was revealed. But we shall make you memorize it. It makes it hard to learn. The mullah says, “You do not have read the book in Arabic.” 

Because many have memorized it. We can not go back. Because the people who have memorized it will fail the test.

Jacobsen: Right [Laughing].

Tarek Fatah:​ They have memorized it in an order, which is incorrect. Something fundamental to Islam is no priest class. There is nothing between yourself and the divine. The Pope, the priest, the rabbi, the mullah, this was an attraction; you were free.

The some said, “The Christians have a good thing going. They have a Dome.” This is how this came. There was no Dome in Islam. It was the Eastern Orthodox. The Sikhs took it, too. It is an Eastern Orthodox Church replica from Damascus.

What I am saying, it is historically accurate, but, from the Islamic point of view, blasphemy. To save ourselves from blasphemy, we have been becoming dumber and dumber, day by day.

Jacobsen: By which you mean, more historically illiterate in its development and history.

Tarek Fatah:​ I have never met an illiterate radical Muslim. 80% of Muslims still cannot read or write. You will never find a terrorist who cannot read or write. It means all jihadis and others come from the educated class.

When Malala says, “Give me a book, give me a book,” nothing!​ The moment you read the book; you become crazy because you have enemies. You realize, “Th computer, I have nothing to with it. The light, no! The chair, no!” There is no contribution to our community to any invention in the last 200 years.

What do we have? We have the 8th century to look up to. So, should we move forward or put the car in reverse gear? Then we complain. Gear number one should be forward. The Sun does not set in a rule of mud. 

It is not fair. I have seen it. Why would I believe in scholars who believe the world was flat? Can some imam ride a bicycle in the 8th century or 9th century? I can; therefore, I am better than him. Just because he had a guttural accent and a long name, a name that never ends. 

Who is he? There are 17 diverse types of the same guy. Tell that to a Pakistani, they will say, “Tarek is lying.” Why? Because that person has the imam telling them. Because Islam came to ordinary men from the priests.

Islam’s last verse – it is very interesting – or the last words of the revelation are “I have completed the faith for you.” The Arabs said, “No, no, no.” 100% of the text has been written after supposedly God said, “Today, I have finished everything.” 

By the way, what I am discussing with you, there is no place on Earth that this can be discussed. 

​Jacobsen: Any thoughts on the larger conversation around a single secular public-school system?

Tarek Fatah:​ It must be. When you started with the Catholic school system, it began some of the vote banks. Then the Indians and the others started their own. Thank goodness for Father [did not get name], who is in his 90s. 

He helped us. I did not know that. We learned that there was a subject about character building. We learned how a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew lived together. They are no longer in Pakistan. We learned what was geography, history, mathematics, geometry, trigonometry, and, also, we had character building, where ethics and morals were taught to us.

We were supposed to write about character. We had a thing about doing one good deed a day. It did not matter what. My patrol leader was Catholic. The real victims were the Muslims who were willing to become American aid and tanks, and money, to become the foot soldiers of the United States.

Because the Serbs did not want to fight the Soviets after Vietnam. With Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan have been ruined now, Iran with Khomeini, The Americans got in there. It is not as if Khomeini was with the USSR. 

The Americans overthrew the elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. He was socialist. It was people sitting in the House of Representatives [Laughing]. If we do not wake up, we might survive – secular democracy and liberalism, and ethics in government by humanity rather than ordered by the divine.

We can get religion as a moral compass. We can get our guidance. I am not going to get guidance necessarily. I am not a copy. I do not think God wanted me to tell people what to do in their backyard, “No pig rolls there!”

​Jacobsen: How do we shift this conversation from where, typically, someone’s own religion is seen as universal into a situation in which humanity is seen as the universal and religion is seen as a flavour – so to speak – or the particulars of that universal?

Tarek Fatah:​ You cannot change this overnight. Muslims will be 2 billion soon. Most Muslim imams think that the more Muslims there are the better. 1 billion was not enough. So, they want 2 billion [Laughing]. The only way to do this is to separate religion and state public policy and public life. 

You cannot respect someone for being stupid. He has a right. She has a right to be an idiot. You are not asking anyone to take away that right. But to fund it?! You give tax breaks to someone who is cursing Jews. Do you see this?

Can you imagine someone having a memorial for Hitler? India has memorials for Muslim invaders that destroyed their cities! I am visiting India very soon. The holiest place in India is the confluence of three rivers.

Every 12 years when Jupiter and Earth are in line; there is a festival. I have calculated that this could be my last time to visit it, as I am 70. I will 82 next time. I better visit this place now. The holiest place in Hinduism. Guess its name?

Allahabad [Laughing], they put “Allah” right in the name. 

Over here, the invaders came here, took over the holiest city, named it after their God, and then said, “Anyone who changes it is against India.” Give me another example of it. So, it only stems when people either lose self-respect, which I think many Canadians are losing.

They are losing self-respect. They are embarrassed. They do not know what their parents left for them. They did not get it by working hard. Your parents’ generation is responsible for the Charter or the UN Declaration and the concept of individual liberty and the concept of the man and the woman, the respect for the child, the court system that says that you are innocent until proven guilty. 

These are new things. It used to be that you are guilty until you are proven innocent. We, as a civilization, turned this around. We are tolerating a king that killed Turkey. We are calling him a reformer. A murder takes place in a sovereign country.

As soon as Trump got in, he is only a one-term president. What is going to do? It is for the businesses. This is the level at which we have sunk to here. Kudos to our prime minister, I am not much of a liker of the Liberals. But Trudeau gave a kick and stood up; it hurt the Saudis. I salute him for it.

There is one woman. Chrystia Freeland said, “I am getting this girl, giving her citizenship, and making sure that she has full protection. This is Canada.”

​Jacobsen: When we look at the literalists in every tradition or the fundamentalists in the secular and in the ideologies, most of the violent offenders, of those literalist fundamentalist interpreters of a faith, which is not necessarily an interpretation, are men.

Why are men more often attracted to these kinds of interpretations – so to speak – or these ideologies?

Tarek Fatah:​ Men and women are very different, constructed in very different ways. I just bought a book on it. The thought processes are different. The entire biologies are different. Women create people. We create a mess. They are supposed to clean it up.

Therefore, you do not have as many female warriors. They are in the business of nurturing. I am strictly speaking of the biology and the neuroscience. They are wired differently; the female brain is different. You also must understand that the mobility issues for women were being locked up.

A woman could not go about a month’s travel without a problem. On a horse, probably, she had to sit cross-legged. A major development in women’s independence was the pill; I think it was the pad. I think the mobility was it. The lessened restrictedness at that time and now. Where do you go now?

There was nothing to do. This was in the 20th century. They could not do anything. Women were dependent on men. So, men have dominated and exploited and made sure that the woman does not come up. Therefore, you have polygamy, but you do not have polygyny to the same extent.

There are some places. This needs to be studied more. I am not an expert. But the main impediment in Muslim development has been, even in the Christians in this sense, polygamy, multiple wives and this means multiple heirs to the throne and multiple wars over it.

Europe, you must understand; one wife, one prince, two brothers or three brothers maximum, right? In the European empires, there were the issues of 200 princes fighting it out. I am giving you context at that level. Women, how are they subjugated? It is primarily for this reason. It will take a few hundred years for things to change.

Because this is how a gene pool happened and changed, and how certain traits were passed onto men, how we think of our sons, how we think of our daughters, and so on. Why do men go into body building? The odd woman will go to work in wrestling.

The most educated and enlightened woman still wear heels. [Laughing] Women, we saw what happened at 9/11. There were hundreds of thousands of heels left over there. The men ran and then women had to throw their stilettoes and others down, so they ran barefoot. They were impeded in running and escaping.

It is a story ongoing of dependency. It will, it will, come to a balance. In many ways, religion, the moment it goes into being a moral compass, will allow women to be free. Imagine Indian women who love to wear black shrouds voluntarily, all their lives; all their lives. That is a great challenge.

If the world cannot stand up and ban the burqa, then they are cowards.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Tarek.

Tarek Fatah: Thank you! Take care.

*This Interview has been abridged.*

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