The Apostate Prophet – Humanist Society
By Robert Bernstein
Ridvan Aydemir is the "Apostate Prophet" and the most recent speaker to the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara. Following is my report on his presentation.
Ridvan Aydemir began his talk to the Humanist Society explaining some of his life story. He was born in Germany to parents who were religious Muslims from Turkey. They are still very religious.
Germany was quite welcoming then. Turks have a problematic situation in Germany. They were originally supposed to be guest workers, but they turned into permanent guests!
Germany was more free and offered more opportunities than Turkey. Turks are very nationalist and proud. But they had to admit that Germany was a better place to live!
Ridvan was supposed to have an identity in Turkish culture which is collectivist. He was supposed to be loyal to that. His parents were proud Turks and proud Muslims. They expected the same from him.
He said that Islam is not like Christianity, Judaism or other religions. It is an identity as if it is a nation. If you leave Islam you are seen as a traitor. You are expected to lose everything. Even your life.
The Muslim holy book, the Quran, does not explicitly say that the penalty for leaving Islam (being an apostate) is death. However, this had been a part of classical Islamic law. In addition to the Quran is an oral commentary called the Hadith. The Hadith is a part of the teaching of Islam.
The Hadith makes a number of statements that call for the death penalty for one who leaves Islam.
In addition, over twenty Muslim-majority countries make "apostasy" a crime punishable by death. While few are actually prosecuted under these laws, the threat is very real. Furthermore, far more cases are enforced by vigilante lynching before the law steps in.
Turks in Germany lived with an identity crisis. Ridvan liked the German culture. How they acted and thought. What he learned in school. They value understanding each other and being equal to each other.
At home he was told non-Muslims were "disbelievers" and not to be trusted. Especially the Jews. Don't try to learn from their culture. "We might have to fight them some day."
It was a strange dilemma for him to live this way. The Jews were an especially sensitive topic at Muslim religious gatherings.
The Hadith talks of the end times. Ridvan says Mohammad claimed that the last day would not come until you kill the Jews.
The Jews will fight us and we will fight them. Even the rocks and the trees will reveal them. Except for one tree that is really a Jew. We will have to fight the disbelieving, treacherous Christians as well.
He was maybe in second grade when this was taught to him. He found it scary and creepy. Just minutes after hearing this he had to face his mostly Christian classmates and teacher.
His father talked of "Germans" in a degrading, dehumanizing way, meaning all non-Muslims.
He often heard claims that the Germans were racist against them. He rarely heard actual racist comments from the Germans. But he often heard racism from his own people.
Then came 9-11. Those in his community said the Americans deserved it. They should have seen it coming. He doesn't understand how he lived that way.
In 2006 he had to move to Turkey because his parents decided for the family. They were Sufis. They are usually considered to be the peaceful, tolerant sect of Islam. Who are mystics and not literalist.
Ridvan found it difficult to live in Turkey. He liked the people in Germany.
He tried to get into politics. He even tried revolutionary Communism. That was a mistake and it did not work out. He hoped it would change things.
In Germany people were treated equally. In Turkey women were treated as inferior. He was talking to a girlfriend of one of his best friends. He showed her the Quran where it gave permission for a man to beat a woman if you fear arrogance from her.
She seemed very modern. But she felt it would be OK for her future husband to strike her if he thought she was doing wrong.
He asked if the reverse is true? Is it OK for her to "correct" him? She was silent.
Many people think Turkey used to be secular, but he said that is not really true. It is true that it is not as deep into Muslim fundamentalism as some other Muslim cultures.
Some women can go to the beach in some places. Movies and music can be un-Islamic. Turkey can appear liberal in the tourist areas. But if you go deeper into where most people live it is not so secular and free.
Former leader Attaturk tried to make Turkey secular, but that was never achieved. And the past 20 years have brought an Islamist government to power. Revealing the true face that was there all along, said Ridvan.
Turkish president Erdogan said future youth must be religious and must not seek hope in the "immoral west". He insulted atheists as potential terrorists.
Turkey should have a promising future. Young people see the West on the Internet and like the freedom and happiness they see. And it is a reality just a few hours' drive away.
Ridvan faces lawsuits in Turkey for speaking against Islam. But this is mild compared to what he might have faced in the past. In the 1990s a Turkish man came out as an atheist and was quickly killed. Ridvan would be in constant trouble if he were in Turkey. But people do speak out despite the harassment.
He described a woman in Pakistan who was on death row for 8 years just for being accused of being an atheist. She managed to escape to Canada. Meanwhile critics of Islam are accused of Islamophobia for mild criticism.
"Jurassic Park" actor Jeff Goldblum commented on Islam being anti-gay and he came under major attack on social media. In 2014 Sam Harris and Ben Affleck were on the Bill Maher program Real Time. Affleck called Maher and Harris "racist" for criticizing Islam.
But Muslims talk in terrible ways about non-Muslims. When he left Islam, one of his best friends who he had known for five years said, "I would like to cut off your head and throw it into Taksim Square" which is the biggest public square in Turkey.
Westerners value tolerance. But how can we be tolerant of intolerance? Muslims are treated as an oppressed minority who should not be criticized. But we would condemn people in our own group who held such terrible views of gays or women.
Yasmine Mohammed is an ex-Muslim who lives in Canada. She talks of the irony of "white privilege". She says if we want our own culture to be improved, why can't we ask that Muslim culture be improved? Good intentions can get in the way of progress.
Ridvan regularly receives messages from Muslims around the world who feel they cannot speak up. They thank him for speaking up.
At this point Ridvan took questions from the Zoom audience.
One guest was calling in from the Muslim nation of Bangladesh. He affirmed that it is difficult to speak out in his country. They hate Hindus and want to restore the Caliphate. He was grateful for what Ridvan is doing.
One person asked if Islam had any positive influence in history. Ridvan acknowledged that it united some cultures that had been disorganized. But he is sure history would have been better if the unity came in another way.
Others wanted to know about groups he supports. He named: Ex-Muslims of North America, Atheist Alliance International and Association of Atheism in Turkey, which is a new development to be allowed.
A guest identified as "Umut" said he was an ex-Muslim. But he became a Christian. Ridvan asserted that he is an atheist but he is OK if others want to have their beliefs.
Umut went on to proselytize for Christianity. He said his Polish wife got him into being Catholic. Humanist President Judy Flattery pushed back a bit saying "Been there, done that" in reference to her own Polish-American Catholic upbringing.
Ridvan also pushed back, saying that when he was a religious Muslim he felt that Islam had deep truths that spoke to him personally. It is easy to be fooled.
Ridvan agreed that Islam is better in the US than in other countries. And this leads Americans to have a distorted view of how Islam is in other countries. "It is the most un-Islamic Islam in the world!"
He thinks in the long run Islam will decline. Maybe faster than Christianity. Ex-Muslims are more outspoken than ex-Christians.
He invited people to support his YouTube channel "Apostate Prophet".