In the following contribution, I would like to share my feelings and experience as a 38-year-old individual in a muslim society. I was born and raised in Algeria. I studied at the Algerian school between 1964 and 1983. Before 38, I only left Algeria 3 times, as an adult, for a short stay (20 to 25 days) in Paris, visiting relatives. However, I never felt that I belonged to a muslim community. In fact, the first 18 years of my life have been in an environment that is very much like a secular environment. Until now, in Kabylia, the family, the school, the society are not squared off or governed by religious thought. Islam, as a socio-political system, does not work there.
I would rather say that it works “idle”. It has no power over either the individual or the society as a whole. It is lived “from the end of the mind”, as if to buy peace … I have the impression that the Kabyle people, in a collective reflex of self-defense, for a security reason, implicitly delegate some people, most of them old people without religious power over the youngest, to practice Islam in an astonishing euphoria; and give the impression of having abdicated.
For fear of collective reprisals, the Kabyle people here and there display signs of Islam very visible from the outside: empty mosques, sacrifice of sheep without bigotry, approximate Ramadan, introduction of a number of religious terms in the Kabyle language as inchallah, hamdoullah … The practice of rites is approximate, in an approximate Arabic language as to satisfy only a deal passed a very long time ago; a deal whose collective memory no longer has any memory. Otherwise, most young and old feel like a duty of disrespect towards Islam and the Koran. The Koran is called “aquran”, literally in Kabyle “the hard, the rigid” or “aqerru aquran” which means “the hard head or the stubborn”. The taunt and the joke are very common in public: deformation of ayat (already twisted!), introduction of vulgar words in the Koran, profanity in the remarks with respect to Islam etc.
Young people are incorrigible as their imagination is fertile. When they are blamed for it, they say, “does not it rhyme well? It’s the same style! “. Freedom of tone and expression when talking about religion is almost a national Kabyle sport. It is at most ingenuous to invent new expressions and parables to qualify Islam. This irreverence sometimes irritates the elderly and families of marabout origin, but it never goes to stigma or violence. Sometimes, when blasphemies call themselves a bit high, the old men are stealthily glancing to the left and right to make sure that the young offenders have not been heard by a giant ear that would reveal it.
Still children, we suspected the old men of knowing things they hid from us. I learned later that this ear is not that of Allah, but that of an even more hideous monster: the winner of a millennium ago. In recent years, Kabyle more or less Islamist, Arabisants, children of immigrants who grew up in Algiers, have returned massively in Kabylia, fleeing the repression of the regime. Not knowing the Kabyle society, they are disappointed by the lack of eagerness of people to serve the religion of Allah. Believing nevertheless resolutely home, they try to “educate” Kabyle and teach them the “good” practice of “their” religion. They meet, however, only mockery and rabble.
In a social environment like this, a whole host of different opinions rub shoulders and express themselves. It is not surprising that it is in Kabylia that we find the greatest concentration of atheists, communists, democrats, liberals, “westernized”, freethinkers, socialists, trade unionists, agnostics, poets, francophones, Berberist activists, while the Kabyle represent barely a sixth of the Algerian population.
In fact, I have never felt muslim. I did primary school, secondary school and high school in Kabylie. I had never left Kabylie before going to university in an Arab city. This is where my troubles with the muslim religion began. In academia, there was still the freedom, albeit limited, to bring the contradiction to Islamist militants, taking the precaution of not allowing the tone too high. There were skirmishes on occasion, but we were still far from the killings. Red lists were displayed in the campus mosque, intimidations, shows of knives and some cants quickly settled by the police.
They were commonplace. In town, it was another pair of sleeves. There was interest in melting into the mass and conforming to the habits, customs and bigot language. Fortunately I did not have the disadvantage of the physical! I was therefore evolving in this society, being perceived by my kind fellow citizens as a muslim. In their head, I can only be a practicing muslim, who would speak the same language and throw the same flowers to this beautiful religion which they took pride in. Seeing me very quickly that religion held all the place in the life of the city, I refrained from revealing my opinions at the souk, in the cafes, at the hairdresser, at friends’, on the bus … Suicidal behavior was not my forte. So I had direct access to muslim popular thought, in the almost original language of Islam. As long as I did not speak kabylian, I had plenty of time to witness all sorts of “treats” about Jews, Christians, Kabyles and Westerners in general. The unanimity was de rigueur: The Westerners stink the pig. The Christians are falsifiers of holy books. In every Jew there is an evil demon. The Kabyles are traitors, disguised kuffars to be wary of. Women, all women, are evil. Muslims will go alone to the Paradise of Allah but the most deserving (understand the most zealous), will be on the upper floors. Everybody else will burn in flames described with great details. At first it made me uncomfortable, but little by little curiosity pushed me to ask the question: But where do they find all this?
The Koran, of course!
This is what everyone in this city has in common. I had to read and reread the entire Koran in the text. The pot with roses was there! A real mine of “pearls”! I immediately compared this book to a huge reservoir of orange juice from which millions of straws leave. Every muslim has the leisure to suck and stuff himself at will.
Every child who is born finds his straw already prepared and ready for use. It is the one who sucks the most juice! It must do a lot of good! From the height of my twenties, I fell in awe at this well-oiled machine that made replicas without failing with a single one! A real factory with standard parts. Me who wanted to become an engineer, and I was very proud to have found how it worked, much like the four-year-old who built the ingenious system he found in his Kinder egg Surprise. I understood everything! But questions still puzzled me: Why were they also trying to quarrel with the pig and the good wine? What was the relationship between the proteins and the incantations recited by directing the head of the slaughtered beast to the kaaba? The purpose of my contribution is not to tell my troubles in details, but especially to testify the lessons I learned.
I have no bitterness, hatred, or resentment. On the contrary, I wish to pay tribute to my parents, my proffesor and my family (Kabyle, French, Belgian, Russian, German …) for keeping me from Islam,for giving me a Cartesian, just and rational education and to have given me the intellectual tools in 3 different languages to use my free will and develop my own analyzes of social, religious and scientific phenomena. This has been the case for hundreds of thousands of children of my generation. I am grateful to my family, to the Kabyle society, and to my secular professors for giving me the intellectual means to neutralize the teaching – I should say an attempt at religious indoctrination – that was generously given by Egyptian professors to all children in Kabylie and elsewhere in Algeria. I do not speak for other Algerian children because I am not sure that their parents have disapproved of this teaching. I am convinced that Islam is a matter of culture, education and its practice a case of social pressure combined with conditioning at a young age. Muslims who claim that they have freely chosen to be muslims only say so when their conscious freedom of choice is discussed by a non-muslim.
Otherwise, their conditioning is pushed to the point of living their Islamity as a personal identity, or even an ethnicity. I have repeated several times the following scenario in front of muslim comrades: give me a baby of any ethnic group, of parents who are followers of any religion. Give me the material means to give him an education alone. I will do what you want: an atheist, a muslim, a christian, a taoiste or even a Jew. And regardless of the religion that I would have chosen, I can also make an assassin, a humanist, a chicken thief, an ecologist a highwayman, a notorious drug dealer. Of course, ethics, to which I adhere, would not allow such an experiment. But it is perfectly theoretically possible. Paradoxically, my interlocutors always agree with me. They even laugh at me saying that this is obvious. I deduce then that their Islam has nothing to do with their moral and physical person and that they are muslims only because their family and their society have educated them in this sense. Adults, they can choose to continue to stay muslim or not. I ask them if they have ever considered this possibility. They all answer no. I tell them that it is because they have not been faced with the possibility of making a choice, and that they have only to choose between Islam and Islam. Their “monotonous” education has disabled them and deliberately retracted, if not fought, all the other possibilities. And there they do not agree with me anymore. They claim that they are muslims by choice, that they feel very comfortable, happy to be muslims and that it would never occur to them to think about questioning their faith in the Qur’an.
There was a time in Algeria where this kind of discussion was still possible in some places. I do not advise freethinkers to provoke this kind of dialogue today. Muslims are convinced that laymen and atheists never read religious texts. They think that laymen and atheists are reluctant to read them and that they despise these texts as a person would despise another person. In the minds of muslims, the Qur’an is a living person who speaks and has a soul. A living, magical, powerful entity that lives in them, but still needs protection. Thus, for them, atheists are at first glance “haters” who “hate muslims” because they are believers. It is impossible to discuss Islam and the Koran with a muslim without him involving his own person, and, little by little, all muslims. The slightest criticism of the Koran is felt as a personal attack. Muslims are convinced that their religion is part of their individual personality that they are born with, as one would be born with red hair or with blue eyes. Criticizing Islam is therefore experienced as a criticism of their physical person. It is not fortuitous if most muslims treat racists as people who are critical of Islam. This attitude is part of the notion of “martyrdom”. Believers are ready to shield their human person to protect their religion. They sacrifice their physical and moral integrity to what they believe to be RACISM. This integrity, they roll it themselves in the mud by redirecting on it all the criticisms addressed to Islam by their interlocutor. Many muslims believe that atheists are only because they have not deigned to read the Qur’an. What the Muslims do not know is that many atheists have become so by reading the Qur’an. For a muslim, anyone who reads the “holy” book must be immediately subjugated and converted to Islam without have no other choice.
They give arguments in the form of suras to support the Quran itself. Thus, to support a surah, they quote another surah. This is the example of this student who, to demonstrate that two theorems are simultaneously true, uses the first, not yet demonstrated, to demonstrate the second, then the second to demonstrate the first. A verse can not prove that another verse is of divine essence, because an atheist challenges all ayat. Yet this is what Muslims do in all the discussions I had with them. It must be said that the discussions conducted in Arabic, are much more funny. If their opponent enters the game and also quotes ayat, the Muslims tell him he can not read, that he can not interpret. They even mean that as an atheist he does not have to refer to the Quran. On the one hand, they claim that Islam is a universal religion, on the other hand they deny anyone the right to do what he wants with “his part” of Islam. In this way, the atheist is forced to think that the Qur’an is only for people who are already Muslim. When the interlocutor pins the Qur’an through uncorrupted, unmistakable verses, Muslims become impatient, irritated, and end up tinkering with a parry to protect the offending verse, instead of seriously reconsidering it in the light of Modern human values. They say then that it is necessary to put the verses in their historical and social context of the Koreichite period. I tell them that’s exactly what I’m trying to get them to do. Assuming that it is Allah who speaks in the Quran, these verses are addressed to particular people, on a particular date, in a particular place in a particular context. Why then do you, men of the twentieth century, living thousands of kilometers from Mecca, in another historical and social context, do you feel concerned by these verses? They answer me that the Qur’an is universal, valid, applicable everywhere and at any time! My arms fall down and I invite all the gang to have a tea at the Café des Amis, and talk about the good weather. Rain is scarce under this portion of Allah’s heaven. Another conviction is the unique and inimitable character of the Qur’anic texts. In fact, the Koran is indeed inimitable, because it is forbidden to imitate it. It must therefore be memorized to a maximum of faithful so that even the possible imitations oral are immediately detected. And, of course, also so that it acts instantly, at any time, on the behavior of the individual. “O you, Believers! Do you further believe that your unbelieving descendants will be considered get it memorized? In the Garden of Allah, there is no intercession. In this, your Lord is widely preaching. Verses like this one, I can write five a day, during my coffee break, in Arabic, rhythms and rhymes. Directly in French without rhymes or rhythm, I can easily write a hundred, on different themes. Besides, this one does not exist in the Koran. I just invented it just ten seconds ago. 99% of Muslims will not notice that aya does not exist in the Koran. Presented in Arabic, rhythmed, rhymed, breathless, this verse would deceive any muslim. A literate muslim who does not know the Koran good, would be obliged to verify its veracity by searching the Book. Otherwise, he would not notice anything, especially if I adopt a serious, severe and collected mine.
My Maghrebian physics helping, and sprinkling my verse with a bismi Allah arrahmane errahim “and a” sadaqa Allhou al aadhim “, I would fool any bigot. Why is that? Introduce a handful of US dollars to a French university city-dweller who has traveled a lot. Let’s first glide a 25-cent coin in Canadian currency from the US coins. By counting the small money, there is a very good chance that the individual realizes that there is an intruding coin in the pile, because he had to spend American money or simply because he knows all the coins of the American currency. Now let’s take the same handful of pieces and present it to an average Frenchman, say a small village in Coreze. By counting the coins, it is quite possible that he will count the 25-cent Canadian coin with the 25-cent US coins. In the same way, a Muslim who knows the Koran well or who has learned it will realize that my verse is false. Not that this verse contains anything in itself which indicates that it is false, but because the Muslim in question will not remember having met such a verse throughout his life, neither in his reading, nor in his mechanical recitation nor listening to another recite the Qur’an. When I tell a Muslim comrade that we have just talked for an hour about a verse that I myself invented, he gets angry with me, demonizes me and accuses me of having abused his ignorance of the Quran. I tell him that this is exactly what the Qur’an does: It is abusing his ignorance. And not to spoil the friendship, I change the subject. A Kabyle proverb says: you will not manage to straighten a dry reed that has grown crooked, you will break it.
*Marabout: The sect that came from Morocco in the 16th century to infiltrate Islam in the Kabyle country refractory to monotheism