The words stung me like a jolt of electricity: "Muhammad was a child rapist." As if the slur were not sufficient, the speaker then insinuated my Islamic faith was filth. "I am 'clean' of Islam," she sneered to her Toronto audience. As far as hate speech goes, the shoe was suddenly on the other foot.
For years, radical Islamists have cited freedom of speech to defend their attacks on Christians, Jews, Hindus and liberal non-observant Muslims. A hateful tone is never far from the surface — although great care is taken to couch this cancer in ambiguity and double-speak. Take for instance the Toronto imam caught on videotape praying to Allah for the "defeat of the kufaar," a thinly disguised reference to Christians and Jews.
As a Muslim, I learned very early in life to walk in my adversaries' shoes to feel their pain. This is why I have not shied away from calling a spade a spade and outing the segregationist hate mongers within my community, an effort that has paid dividends in the slow decline of overt anti-Semitism and Hindu-hatred in the public religious discourse of Western Muslims.
But last week, it was not a Muslim cleric whose speech traumatized me; it was the words of an ex-Muslim.