Asad Noor, human rights activist, former Muslim, and counter-Islamist fled his native Bangladesh due to death threats for his statements about the Quran and Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Now in hiding, Noor spoke to a September 8th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) in an interview with Dexter Van Zile, managing editor of the Middle East Forum's (MEF) Focus on Western Islamism (FWI), assisted by Ahnaf Kalam, an MEF staffer and translator. Noor spoke about the intimidation and defamation campaign against him by Islamists, who called for his death. The following is a summary of Noor's comments:
Death threats against Noor, begun in South Asia, are now being made by Islamists in Europe and North America. Following his warnings about a Bangladeshi hate preacher hostile to Jews, gays, and free speech who was hosted at a recent conference in Philadelphia by the Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), MUNA released a video vilifying Noor. The video is part of the intimidation Islamists are employing to keep the pressure on Noor as he enters his second year in hiding.
Educated in Bangladesh's madrassas, Noor came to his own understanding about "errors" in the Quran. As he summarizes his views: "I have seen peaceful followers of Islam as well, but the Islamist who believes their religious book, so-called command killing, and do hate non-Muslims in order to prove superiority in their society are what bothers me." Noor's criticism made him a target and motivated Bangladeshi Islamists in France and England, who post videos by Islamist hate preachers on social media exhorting their followers to track Noor down and kill him for blasphemy.
In an FWI article published in June 2023, Noor exposed an Islamist hate preacher, Anayetullah Abbasi, who entered the UK in that month. In response, Abbasi encouraged his followers to hunt down and kill Noor, yet he has suffered no legal consequences.
Noor raises the alarm in the West that Islamist hate preachers who are allowed into Western countries exploit Western freedoms to ultimately destroy its foundational values of free speech. "They're not only threatening me, as I'm an atheist. They're targeting people who [are] open-minded. They're trying to establish their ideology, [their] belief [that] you cannot criticize any religion. Basically, they do not believe in freedom." Western authorities need to scrutinize whom they allow into their countries because the death threats against Noor epitomize the Islamist threats against any critic of Islam.
Although FWI's reporting about Noor's ordeal exposed the Islamist social media accounts and resulted in the removal of some of their videos and websites, Noor continues to receive hostile messages and death threats via email, even as the hunt to find him intensifies. Recently, an Islamic preacher in India posted a video purporting to know Noor's location, and warning that his followers know how to find Noor and will kill him.
Noor is grateful for messages of support from reformist Muslims who "try to reform those specific verses in their religious books" and who apologize to him on behalf of the many peaceful Muslims who are against Islamist hate preachers. To date, however, none has come out publicly to defend Noor in social or print media. Ahmadiyya Muslims, who openly reject harming critics of Islam and non-Muslims, have expressed their support for Noor.
Although Noor receives expressions of support, the psychological intimidation and physical threats persist. Noor believes Islamists are deluded, blindly obedient, and out of touch with reality. "I feel sorry for [the Islamists] because they think it is the command of their religion, but it is not." There are also so-called moderate Muslims in the West who hypocritically claim Islam is the "religion of peace" but remain silent when women are attacked and refuse to condemn other violent acts committed in the name of Islam. Even though Human Rights Watch has publicized information about Noor's persecution, none of the American or European Muslim organizations have come to his defense. Unfortunately, Sufi Muslims, who have a moderate image in the West, "are wearing a mask." Social media exposes them as extremists who can be radicalized when they perceive a threat to Islam.
Van Zile explained that Noor, while critical of Islam as a religion, takes pains to avoid offending people in the Muslim community. Noor's sole objection is to the Islamists who attempt to impose Sharia law and are using him as a pawn in "their war against so-called blasphemy." "These Islamists are the people who are creating a negative image of Islam as a religion." His goal is to change Bangladeshi society for people like himself and for other Bangladeshis who speak out against Islamists.
Noor hopes to gain support for those who risk their lives on behalf of "freedom of thought [and] freedom of religion." His message to Europe and America is the following: Safeguard civil society in order to protect it from the Islamists in your midst, who manipulate the freedom the West affords them with one goal: to destabilize Western societies by advancing Sharia blasphemy laws to subvert freedom of expression, free speech, and liberty in general.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.