Dinesh D'Souza: Guys, I'm really happy to welcome to the podcast Daniel Pipes. Dan is an historian. He's a former official in the U.S. departments of State and the Defense Department. And he's been a professor. He's taught at the University of Chicago, he's taught at Harvard, U.S. Naval War College. And he also runs an organization called the Middle East Forum.
Now, Dan wrote an article, I believe originally in a magazine called The National Interest about a worldwide movement of Muslims converting to Christianity. An extremely, I think, fascinating topic. I wanted to have Dan come on and talk about it.
Dan, welcome to the podcast. Of course, we know each other going back several years and you were one of the experts and sources that I interviewed for my first film, the 2016: Obama's America.
I find this article extremely fascinating. So let me start by just asking you what got you interested in this topic of Muslims, in a sense, leaving their faith and becoming Christians?
Daniel Pipes: Well, thank you for the kind of introduction, Dinesh. I'd always considered Muslims leaving Islam to be a marginal topic of no larger significance beyond the individuals involved. And then gradually over the past years, I became aware that it's bigger than that. There's something going on.
And there are really two aspects to it. One is Muslims becoming atheists and the other is Muslims converting to other religions, mostly Christianity. And I now see this as a significant phenomenon, both for those involved and also a challenge to Islam, such as Islam has never faced.
D'Souza: Let's begin by talking about the historical reluctance that Muslims have had to leave Islam. You mentioned in your article the obvious factor that Islam is intolerant of defectors. That Islam, in a sense, makes it an apostasy to leave the faith. And that's because you're not just rejecting the beliefs of Islam, you're leaving the Islamic community, which is seen as a form of treason.
But I would add to that the fact that Islam as a faith, it seems today, still has some of the force of its original revelation. In other words, that you've got Muslims, or at least many of them appear to be really true believers. And would you agree that these are the two factors? The hold of the religion and the intolerance toward people leaving? And second, the devoutness of so many Muslims that makes it a surprise when a Muslim does, you may say, escape the fold?
Muslim intolerance of apostasy "goes back to the origins of Islam."
Pipes: I'd agree. I think the former, the intolerance, goes back to the origins of Islam, which was a somewhat tribal religion. And so the Muslims were a tribe unto themselves. And therefore, to leave the Muslim tribe was in effect to become a traitor. And this sense of betrayal continues fourteen centuries later, when it is far from being a tribal religion in any way anymore.
The most notorious example was in 1989 when the Ayatollah Khomeini invoked an edict against the author Salman Rushdie, saying that he was an apostate and had to be killed. This created a worldwide debate about Islam and apostasy and leaving Islam. That was dramatic.
In most cases, it's not so dramatic. You mentioned your movie 2016 on Barack Obama. He is clearly the best-known apostate from Islam to Christianity. In my mind, there is no doubt whatsoever. He was born and raised a Muslim. And in his twenties, in a somewhat murky circumstance, he left Islam and became a Christian. But he's by far not the only one.
Another prominent example would be Carlos Menem, the president of Argentina [1989-1999], who likewise left Islam and became a Christian. And there are plenty of others around the world. They tend to do it quietly because it's just difficult.
D'Souza: You mentioned, Dan, the Muslims, who, in a sense, not only leave Islam, but leave all religion and become atheist. I can think for example, of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for example, who wrote the book Infidel, as someone who essentially said, "I've had it not just with Islam, but I've had it with religion in general."
And I'm assuming that for those guys, for many of those guys, Rushdie another good example, it's the push factor that has made them into atheists. In other words, they see things about Islam that are vicious, that are murderous. They see ISIS, they see Al-Qaeda and they go, "You know what? If this is the face of religion, I want nothing to do with it." Would you say that that is probably the strongest explanation for why you have Muslims who essentially have had it with religion altogether?
Pipes: Right. There's a distinction between the Muslims who become atheists, who are rejecting religion as such – it's a completely negative response – and those become Christian, or for that matter Buddhist or Jewish or Hindu. They are rejecting only Islam, not religion as such.
Most apostates who leave Islam entirely become atheists.
Most apostates who leave this religion entirely become atheist. A smaller number become members of another religious community and in particular, Christianity, where it's a mix of push and pull, where the attraction, in particular, of Jesus figures largely. It's not just negative. It's also positive.
D'Souza: Let's turn to that subject for a moment and go into it a little bit more. What struck me about your article is that you are mining a fairly wide range of sources, and you are also mining incidents that are occurring not in one particular place, where you could say, "Well, this is due to Iran, or this is due to Iraq." You've got incidents that are occurring in Indonesia. They're occurring in the Middle East. They're occurring in Africa, even in Sub-Saharan Africa. Not to mention [among] Muslims who are in the West. And describe the remarkable phenomenon of Muslims who see dreams and visions of Jesus. Say a word about that. How did you find out about that? And what do you make of it?
Pipes: Well, you're right. There is a large literature. All I did in my brief article is to skim the tops of it. There's a vast literature. There are many, many ex-Muslims who describe their process out of Islam. Many moving ones. There are books, plenty of books, plenty of books in English on the subject, both in the West and in the Muslim-majority countries. So it's not hard to find. It's just a matter of paying attention to it, of saying, "Oh. This is a significant phenomenon."
In terms of the figure of Jesus, it tends to be a somewhat dreamlike – he often appears to Muslims in dreams. He's often clad white. It's not a specific thing. It's an apparition. And they're drawn to him. They want to learn more. They want to take the Bible seriously.
Muslim converts to Christianity "see something that they're missing in their own religion."
As you probably know, in Islam, the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible are seen as outdated books. Yes, they have truth in them, but they're outdated. The Qur'an came and replaced [them]. Muslims don't need to look at the Bible. It's outdated. It's like looking at last year's catalog. It has no importance anymore.
But these Muslims who are attracted to Christianity and say, "Oh, maybe there's something in the Bible. Let me take a look at it. Maybe it's not outdated." They go and listen or they read, or they watch these days. And they are impressed. They see something that they're missing in their own religion.
D'Souza: ... Dan, you described figures, and it's hard to come by reliable data, but these are big numbers in the millions. In one estimate, 10 million. You quote a guy in Libya basically saying that there are millions annually who make this transition –
Pipes: Six million.
D'Souza: Yeah. Six million away from Islam. Let's start. You mentioned very provocatively Barack Obama. And I think when you were talking about his Muslim upbringing, you weren't so much referring to his father, Barack Obama, Sr., who I took to be, yes, born a Muslim, but largely an atheist. I think you were referring to Lolo Soetoro, the man that his mom married in Indonesia, where Obama goes to a school where he's instructed in Islam, there's Islam in the house, he's in an Islamic environment. And of course, Indonesia is even today the largest Islamic country in the world.
Pipes: Well, I was referring to both. In Islamic law, a child of a Muslim father is a Muslim. So in that sense, he is a Muslim. And then, as you correctly point out, he went to Indonesia with his mother who married a Muslim man. And he went to school and was registered as a Muslim that went to mosque and was in a Muslim environment. He proudly recited the Muslim call to prayer for a journalist some years ago before he became president.
So he grew up in a Muslim environment and then he decided to switch over and become a Christian. Now, because he doesn't quite acknowledge this – he has indicated it from time to time, but he doesn't forthrightly acknowledge it – we don't know why and how it happened, or even when. But we do know it happened. There's no doubt.
D'Souza: It's not a topic he covers in Dreams from My Father in any depth at all. If anything, he passes sort of slyly over it.
Pipes: He alludes to it a number of times there and elsewhere, in both of his autobiographies. And in many, many interviews, he refers to it. But the striking thing is that he is inconsistent. And that's what happens when you're not telling the truth, when you're eliding around the truth, you say different things at different times.
Obama "was born and raised Muslim." The media "hates this fact and hides it."
I've actually documented this. There's no consistent story. What is clear is he was born and raised Muslim, and that the pro-Obama press hates this fact and hides it, to the point where I – the premier documenter of this important fact about the would-be and then president, now ex-president, of the United States – get hooted and cat-called because I mention it. And so there were absurdities. This is craziness. And yet, it's right there. A fact in front of your face.
D'Souza: Let's talk about this guy Michael Stollwerk, who is some sort of a vicar at the cathedral in Frankfurt. I'm now quoting him. He says, "I stood at the exit, still vested, bidding the worshipers goodbye when a veiled woman approached me." He says, "I fumbled through the slit in my robe for my wallet, thinking she's a beggar. 'No, no,' she said, 'I only have a question. Are you the imam here?'" And he goes, "Well, I guess in a way, I'm the imam. I'm the pastor." And then she goes on to say, 'Well, you're the right man. God commanded me in a dream to go to the big church on the market square and ask the imam for the truth."
And this was a Muslim essentially asking to be initiated into Christianity. And you have a number of episodes that are like this. ... Talk about the larger message of Christianity and why it's appealing to someone who's raised in the maybe more severe precincts of Islam.
Pipes: Well, the testimony that comes most often is that in Christianity, God is a God of love. And in Islam, he is not. They're missing that. They're seeking that. And they find that in Christianity.
D'Souza: You point out that as Islam has radicalized over the past several decades and given rise to groups like ISIS, or even, you mentioned Mohamed Morsi. Mohamed Morsi was the Muslim brotherhood leader who became, at least for a time, the prime minister of Egypt. And you quote the phrase which caused me to chuckle a little bit, you wrote that Morsi is "the great evangelist." And I think what you meant is that this guy turned off so many Muslims by his fanaticism, that they were like, "I'm out of here."
Pipes: Yeah. Your first point was how Islam doesn't allow anyone to leave. And your second point was how there's so many devoted Muslims. And I'd say not just Muslims, but Islamists, that is Muslims who want to return to the medieval era and also to make Islam into a modern "ism," a modern ideology. Take medieval Islam and make it a modern ideology. That's Islamism. And Morsi is an Islamist, or was (he's since died). And Islamists are the ones who are repulsing so many Muslims.
Now, the Muslim Brotherhood is bad, but when you get to ISIS, Taliban, Shabab and the most extreme versions, then you really have fear and loathing on the part of ordinary Muslims who are basically saying, "If that's Islam, I don't want it."
The most dramatic case is, perhaps in Iran, where the Islamists have been in power for over four decades and the mosques are largely empty. And surveys and other reliable information suggest that a significant majority of Iranians are rejecting Islam, are not wanting to hear about it. They're saying, "I don't like what the government is purveying" or "I don't think I'm a Muslim."
Now, a small number, not that small, but maybe one percent, two percent have converted to Christianity, but many more are irreligious. There's a great body of irreligious Iranians, as a result of 40 years of Islamism.
D'Souza: You conclude the article by saying that these Muslims who do become Christian, life isn't all that easy for them because in many ways, they're cut off from their family, they're cut off from their community. They have to maintain secrecy, in some cases live a double life. Or they don't maintain secrecy and they become ostracized.
And then you say, interestingly, that even those who emigrate to non-Muslim-majority countries, in other words to Western countries, for example, they often get harangued even there, so that there's no escape from the torment that comes from exiting the Islamic fold.
Pipes: Exactly. It is a trial, no matter where you are. The only way out in the long term is by strength of numbers. As the number of ex-Muslims – whether atheists or Christians or anything else – grows, especially in the West, there is a certain protection. There's a certain legitimacy. There's a certain inevitability. So I think that's happening. It's now less difficult.
If you take someone, for example, like the pseudonymous Ibn Warraq, who wrote a book 25 years ago called Why I Am Not a Muslim. He did it under a false name, Ibn Warraq. It's not his real name. He was scared. This was just a few years after the Rushdie affair. And it was very scary circumstance back then. Right now, 25 years on, he's more relaxed. It's not so dangerous as it was then.
D'Souza: Dan, this is a fascinating topic and I really found this article very provocative. I talked about it on the podcast several weeks ago and there was a lot of interest in it, so I'm delighted to have you come and discuss it further. I really appreciate it. Love to have you back, maybe to talk about some of the strategic issues. Thank you, Dan. Really appreciate it.
Pipes: I look forward to it. Thank you, Dinesh.