The Case Study of Nahed Metwaly and the False Dignity of Victimhood

As I was preparing for this week’s khutbah, I was struck by how many issues I could choose to focus on. There are so many incidents and events unfolding, so many occurrences that, in direct and indirect ways, are relevant to Muslims. When confronted by so many grand issues that drown the consciousness and overwhelm the intellect, I often escape to micro-level events, for these help us to unpack and unravel the much larger events that surround us in the world. 


This week, what caught my attention is something that perhaps only a segment of the Egyptian population would be aware of. But it is revealing in so many ways. It deserves pause and reflection for what it tells us about the many grand issues that confront us in the world. Thirty years ago, an Egyptian woman, Nahed Metwaly, was granted asylum in the Netherlands. Nahed Metwaly was born and raised a Muslim in Egypt. Her father worked as a police officer in the Egyptian state. The Egyptian state is plagued with injustices and oppression, and one can only imagine what a police officer serving that oppressive state might become involved with. Nevertheless, according to her testimony, she would wake up at dawn to the voice of her father reciting the Qur'an.


Nahed Metwaly did not grow up as a practicing Muslim. She only considered herself a Muslim because her family is Muslim, and she believed her loyalties were with Islam because that is what she was raised with. She worked initially as a teacher and then as a school administrator. As a school administrator, for reasons that perhaps she herself does not understand, she was intolerant of Christian students. She was intolerant of students who were not Muslim, although she herself was not a practicing Muslim. By her own testimony, she would sometimes discriminate against Christian students and make their lives difficult for no reason other than the lack of generosity in her own soul. Eventually, Nahed Metwaly fell gravely ill, and it was at this time that she was visited by a vision. In this vision, according to her own testimony, she saw what she described as a beautiful human being with blue eyes, a White complexion, and hair that leaned toward a blondish color. In this vision, this beautiful man told Metwaly to come to him. Nahed Metwaly believed that what she saw in this vision was Jesus Christ. Jesus had manifested to her.


Because of this vision, Nahed Metwaly converted to Christianity. At the time, she was the mother of four children, and her conversion threw the entire family into turbulence. She also claimed that she was being persecuted by the Egyptian state. Who knows? The Egyptian state persecutes anyone who shows any type of independence of thought or conscience. Whether Muslim or Christian, it hardly seems to matter. In many ways, the Egyptian state is an equal opportunity persecutor. But as so happens with so many Christians in the Muslim world who complain of persecution, whether fairly or not, she found the arms of Western countries open to her. This is unlike the many Muslims who are persecuted for their Muslim beliefs. It is unlike Muslims who diligently work to transition their nations to a democracy but do so from an Islamic foundation. Many of these Muslims perish in prisons and never have the slightest chance of getting asylum.


Ever since the age of colonialism, despite all the West's ideological jargon about secularism, the West has appointed itself as the caretaker and the de facto sovereign over Christians in Muslim lands. We see it in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, or Egypt. So Nahed Metwaly was granted asylum in the Netherlands, and the next thing we know is that she became a regular star in numerous videos, shows, and media outlets. Her role was that of someone who would come on forums simply to trash Islam. She became a full-time, professional Islamophobe. She trashed the Qur'an, the Prophet, Islamic values, and Islamic culture. She was everywhere. This former Muslim would speak about people who remained Muslim as if they were some inferior race doomed, by the very genes of Islam, to being backward, ignorant, and irrational.


What transpired recently is that, after 30 years of bashing Islam, Nahed Metwaly, now in her 80s, has converted back to Islam. She has posted a number of videos apologizing to Muslims for mocking, insulting, and slandering them for so many years. Of course, as soon as she announced her reversion to Islam, there came a flood of slanderous material by Christian evangelists and fanatics about how Nahed Metwaly is mentally ill, unstable, and insane. They even went as far as enlisting her youngest daughter, who is with her in the Netherlands and at this point a married woman with her own children, to defame her mother, saying, "My mother has lost her mind. She is crazy. It is because of her mental instability that she has returned to Islam.”


But a number of things caught my attention and warrant reflection. Now that Nahed Metwaly is speaking about her experience after converting to Christianity, we discover something that is so pervasive in our modern world. We discover that the very same nations that insist that we live in a post-religious world, that preach to the world that religion no longer matters to them, all opened their doors to Nahed Metwaly. Put bluntly, it becomes clear, by Nahed Metwaly's own testimony, that once she announced that she had converted to Christianity, she had little obstacle obtaining visas from any country she wished. Nahed Metwaly testifies as to how, after converting to Christianity and leaving Egypt, she was able to travel all around the world. She never had any difficulty in getting a visa to the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, or any country in South America, Africa, or Asia. She stepped into a world in which access is not a problem.


Second, in this same world that is ostensibly secular and post-religious, Nahed Metwaly had a dizzying list of dignitaries and government officials who met with her, greeted her, and welcomed her. She converted to Christianity and, suddenly, she was flying all over the world meeting figures that one only reads about in news reports. 


Third, we learn from Nahed Metwaly's own testimony that for 30 years, if she so desired, she could be busy every day of the week. She was booked solid. She was invited by churches, student organizations, think tanks, and dozens of organizations from all over the post-religious secular world. For 30 years, all she did at these events was bash Islam and testify to the beautiful vision of Jesus, nothing more. It never got old. It never got boring or redundant. For 30 years, she would fly from one place to the other, give interviews, meet dignitaries, and give the same lectures over and over on television and radio shows.


Fourth, since converting to Christianity, she never held a paying job. Her full-time job became an Islam basher. She made tons of money from royalties, and she was paid for appearing in these interviews and lectures as a professional Islam basher. She never had to hold a job, seek employment, or receive social welfare. She was taken care of financially to the point that, even in old age today, money is not a problem. She has enough saved to be taken care of for the rest of her life. This is from money earned from being a professional Islam basher.


Fifth, one of the most astounding things is that some 20 books appeared with Nahed Metwaly's name on them. I remember one of these books well. It had a learned air to it. It was published in France and translated into seven languages. The book was about pre-Islamic poetry and the Qur'an, and it argued that the similarities between the Qur'an and pre-Islamic poetry are overwhelming and undeniable, so the Qur'an, in its proper historical literary setting, is nothing exceptional at all. In fact, according to this book, the Qur'an plagiarized pre-Islamic poetry. The book was devastating to read because it had hundreds of footnotes, and, as I said, had the air of great learning. I even found that the family of one of my graduate students had the misfortune of encountering this book and, as a result, lost faith in their religion. They told him, "The book is irrefutable. Don't you see? It is very obvious." The only problem with this book is that much of what it called “pre-Islamic poetry” is fabricated and invented, but one needs a great deal of learning to know this. Even some of what the book claims to be Qur'anic passages are fabricated. 


This is just one of the books attributed to Nahed Metwaly. Now, after returning to Islam, she tells the world that out of the 20 books, she only wrote one or two. One is a short booklet, and the other is a book in which she talks about her vision of Jesus. Other books were written by groups with which she was in contact. They said to her, "We will give you money if you allow us to publish this book in your name, because we want the credibility of someone who used to be a Muslim, who people would believe has enough Arabic expertise to be the author of the book." Apparently, Nahed Metwaly’s Christian ethics did not forbid her from doing so, and she accepted the money and agreed to have the books published in her name. 


So, after 30 years, Nahed Metwaly's conscience finally wakes up. Why? Because she feels that she is nearing death, and she is scared. Here is the real doozy. When she got scared, she read the Bible for the first time. When she read the Bible for the first time, she realized that it cannot be the truth. She realized it is mythology, not religion. She has many valid and intellectual points as to what she found so troubling in the Bible. She herself knew that much of the stuff she parroted about the Prophet and the Qur'an was false. She knew it was false, she knew where she was going after she dies, so she said, "God, please forgive me. Please forgive my entire past." She came out in a number of videos apologizing to Muslims, confessing her sins, and saying, "I know that through my lies and fabrications many Muslims were misled away from their faith. I am sorry. I want you to know that they were lies and fabrications." The same world that welcomed Nahed Metwaly 30 years ago and opened doors for her all over the world is now waging war against her, describing her as insane and mentally unstable. But I listened very carefully to this so-called mentally unstable woman. Some of the points she makes as to why, when she read the Bible, she realized this cannot be true are points that even surprised me.


For instance, one of the chapters of the Bible is called Acts. Acts has a narrative that includes when Jesus is supposedly crucified, dies, is resurrected, comes after resurrection, meets with his disciples, and leaves with his disciples his final will and testament. In fact, there is a meeting after resurrection between Jesus and his apostles, including James, and what Jesus tells the apostles is a cornerstone of the theology of priesthood in Christianity. But one of the points that Nahed Metwaly makes is that in Acts, after the resurrection, when the disciples of Jesus received his last will and testament, there is nothing about the crucifixion, nothing about Jesus being the son of God, or, indeed, about the resurrection itself. The will and testament is as follows: "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God" (Acts 15 verse 19). Gentiles are non-Jews, so it says that we should not make it difficult for non-Jews who want to believe in Christ. "Instead, we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the Law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."


So, the last will and testament of Jesus to his disciples as to what they should teach the Gentiles includes not worshiping idols, not eating strangled animals, not consuming blood, and that is it. Nahed Metwaly then says, "Lo and behold, this is exactly what the Qur'an says. This is the Law of Moses, the Law of Muhammad, and the Law of Jesus. How could it be that what the disciples are told is at the heart and core of what the Gentiles must learn is this, and there is nothing about the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, or of what emerges long after Jesus died?" Nahed Metwaly also points out that after Jesus died, for 30 years, nothing emerged about the crucifixion of Jesus or the resurrection of Jesus. For 30 years, according to Christian history, the disciples of Jesus were silent about anything to do with the supposed divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, or the crucifixion itself. Indeed, we see throughout the Bible that Jesus is always teaching that worship is due to his Father, that the Father is greater than himself, and that the Father knows and he does not know.


This does not sound like the musings of an insane person. But what catches one’s attention is something verified by what I have experienced. Many of those people who either convert to Christianity or who follow the Christian faith have never read the Bible. All they know about the Bible are excerpts, what their churches cut out of the Bible and give to them. But it would be quite remiss if we did not notice the final point. Nahed Metwaly experienced a vision while she was a mother of four living in Egypt, unhappy in her marriage, a person of ill temper and ill humor, an intolerant person, and an unhappy person. She then fell ill, and she thought, "This is it. This is my entire miserable life." The vision she had was of a very attractive man, a non-Mediterranean looking man, a non-Palestinian looking man, a non-Jewish looking man, but a blue-eyed White man. The blue-eyed White man picks her, makes her feel very special, and tells her, "Come to me." Nahed Metwaly now says that this vision was from Satan. Back then, the happiness and hubris she felt was enough to sustain her for 30 years of bashing the religion of Islam.


Pause and think about our world. We are always told that we live in a post-religious world. Really? We are told that we live in societies committed to secularism that are neutral toward religious creeds. Are they? Look at this most fascinating narrative. Look at how the colonial links with the racial, links with gender issues, links with empowerment and dis-empowerment. Reflect and think how a person who had not even read the Bible managed to mislead scores of Muslims away from the religion and fill them with doubt. For me, the most important lesson is more mundane. It is so obvious to the point that it is nearly embarrassing. In fact, it is irritating. Yes, all types of countries gave Nahed Metwaly visas. Yes, Nahed Metwaly was invited by organizations and met governors, mayors, congressmen, and senators. Yes, Nahed Metwaly was given institutional and legal asylum, and that required an act of state. But think about what really sustained Nahed Metwaly for 30 years. Think about what enabled Nahed Metwaly to put her name on 20 books. What funded Nahed Metwaly for 30 years? What enabled Nahed Metwaly to have financial security to this very day? What funded the research, writing, publication, and distribution of these books? What funded the hundreds of television programs that Nahed Metwaly appeared on, and the hundreds of journals and publications that interviewed Nahed Metwaly? It was all private money.


We can have a debate as to whether they are truly devout. We can debate whether they understand what it means to be religious. But it was purportedly devout Christians and Zionists who thought Nahed Metwaly served their agenda. They had a vested interest in proselytizing and converting Muslims, and they were going to convert them even if through lies and fabrications. To serve the cause they believed in, they donated thousands upon thousands of dollars. There are television stations that broadcast anti-Islamic content, 24 hours a day, that are funded by private money. All the royalties, fees, and honorariums, some as heavy as $20,000 per lecture, come from the private money of devout Christians and Jews who believe in their cause. This money is now doing a good job of maligning Nahed Metwaly in rumors of insanity and craziness. They invented a medical record of mental instability and psychological illnesses. Money can buy even that. 


Nahed Metwaly knows that, sadly, the best of Muslims are the poorest of Muslims. She knows that the truth of the matter is that Christians, Jews, and Hindus are generous people, but Muslims are not. Muslims are stingy people. Although God has told us explicitly in the Qur’an that our money is a trust from God, the very same people who are supposedly literalists, who will raise hell because a woman is not wearing a hijab, will come to a verse like this and, suddenly, are not literalists anymore. Suddenly, they say things along the lines of, "Ah, we have to understand it in context. We have to understand the purpose. We have to look at the deeper meaning." It reeks of hypocrisy and ineptitude.


A story like Nahed Metwaly's testifies loudly as to why we Muslims are where we are. I have to admit that I have nothing but disdain for wealthy Muslims. Time and again, when I encounter wealthy Muslims, I find them to be paragons of shirk. They are paragons of what it means to worship idols, but the “idols” are within the self. They think of themselves as mini gods, and what makes them mini gods is their money. Money that they are not generous with. Money they spend only with strings attached, strings that lead to self-aggrandizement and self-promotion. They must be recognized as true authorities in the world, or they will not extend even the little money that they do extend.


I want to be clear about this. Think of just one of the books published under Nahed Metwaly's name. Think of how many people you need to hire to put together a book like this. You cannot have doctors or lawyers doing it in their free time. You need to hire people who are full-time committed to writing fabrications about Islam, and who are so good at their job that their fabrications appear like truth. If they make small grammar mistakes, if they conjugate in the wrong way, it is not good enough. Think of how much money it takes to publish. Think of the type of financial network necessary to tell Nahed Metwaly, "Come put your name on this so we can publish and distribute it.” Think of the money spent on all of the planes Nahed Metwaly used. Imagine how much fuel was consumed flying Nahed Metwaly all over the world. Who paid for this fuel? Who paid for her food? Who paid for her residence? Who paid for her kids' education? Who paid for everything? Who makes Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, and Nonie Darwish wealthy? Why are we the way we are?


Time and again, I tried to sufficiently flatter wealthy Muslims to get them to do what God obligates them to do. Time and again, I discovered that wealthy Muslims want their money to earn them uninterrupted praise and aggrandizement. All money should lead to the elevation of themselves. If they see that this is not going to happen, you know the result. God tells us to reflect upon the stories that surround us every day. Not to look at them as entertainment, but as lessons and insights into the nature of the world we live in. As an academic reaching the end of my days on this earth, it saddens me to admit that a Nahed Metwaly, in her days of Islamophobia, is a million times more effective than a Khaled Abou El Fadl at his very height. There is a network of support that makes the Islamophobic Nahed Metwaly so effective, while there is a complete lack of support, making Khaled Abou El Fadl so ineffective. 


As I stated, there is so much news that it is hard to decide what to focus on, but what often draws me are these micro-events that are like the little break in the curtain allowing a ray of sunlight to enter the room. In this focused ray of sunlight, one can see the dust particles flying in the air. It is then apparent just how dusty the place is. It is often these micro-stories that tell us so much.


One such story comes from my own alma mater, a most distinguished school, Princeton University. At Princeton, there is a fairly young academic professor, Professor Satyel Larson, who posted a syllabus for a course she is about to teach. Princeton University is a school that teaches students critical thought and analytical thinking, a school dedicated to the study of decolonization, the post-colonial world, and what it means to live in a post-colonial world. For her course, among the texts that she assigned is, of course, Edward Said's Orientalism, Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth, the brilliant book called Colonial Trauma by Karima Lazali, and a book that has received enormous attention in the academic world because of its dazzling brilliance, called The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability by Jasbir Puar. Puar's book talks about how the state can use the disabling of the body as part of a communicative structure for domination and control. In her book, Puar focuses on how the Israeli state intentionally created a generation of maimed Palestinian people to send a very effective psychological message of the futility of resistance to occupation: their broken bodies are part of their broken world, and unless they fully submit to their oppressors, they have no prayer of ever mending their bodies.


What is amazing is that Zionist organizations, including the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton on the Princeton campus, raised hell against Professor Satyel Larson, demanding that Princeton University ban the book by Jasbir Puar. In fact, they had two demands. One demand is that the provost cancel Satyel Larson's class altogether and not allow her to teach this class. If not, then, at a minimum, the demand was that Satyel Larson would be ordered to not teach this book, The Right to Maim. A petition was signed by some 250 people, mostly academics, supporting Professor Satyel Larson and her right to teach whatever texts she deems appropriate. In fact, a prominent Jewish organization at Princeton, and a couple of hundred undergraduate and graduate Jewish students at Princeton, signed a letter supporting Professor Satyel Larson and supporting her right to teach whatever she deems appropriate. As far as I know, the controversy is still ongoing.


I will tell you what happens in the academic world. Whether this professor is forced to remove this book is really a small part of the game. What is a big part of the game is that they have sent a message to Princeton and to all esteemed universities around the United States and, indeed, in Canada and Europe. The message is that this professor, Satyel Larson, is problematic. "If you are going to appoint this professor to important committee appointments, if you are going to put this professor in any position of authority and influence, you better think twice, because this is a marked professor." Second, they have sent a message to graduate students, "Think again before you pursue your graduate studies with this professor, because a recommendation from this professor may be hurtful in the job market." Moreover, a message has been sent to all types of students that this professor engages in intellectual wizardry, not real academic analysis. That this is someone to be on guard with, someone to avoid, and someone not to take classes with because they play magic with analysis and thought. They might corrupt your thinking and destroy your ability to become mobile and effective in a capitalist society.


Even more, a message has been sent throughout the United States: "If you are a professor preparing a course and think of assigning The Right to Maim, you better think very carefully. Maybe a place like Princeton will support this professor, but think about whether your school can afford such a principled position. If you assign this book and you get into trouble, are you sure that your school will actually support your right?” I do not need to point out, for the millionth time, the absolute hypocrisy that these are the very same people who say that Muslims do not understand freedom of speech and do not have “liberal values" because they have a problem with The Satanic Verses and Salman Rushdie. 


But I have a deeper and more serious point. In her class, Professor Satyel Larson is teaching a mode of thinking, a mode of analysis that interrogates power. By assigning books by Edward Said, Fanon, and Karima Lazali, Larson is teaching students how to think very critically about hegemony, power, and how our modern world structurally and culturally institutionalizes the mechanics of oppression. She is teaching students to expose the institutions of power and oppression. The irony of all ironies is that at the same time that some Zionist organizations want to erase such academics off the face of the earth, who shares with them this same agenda? The same right wingers who try to ban critical studies and critical thought. The same White establishment that says the rule of law means respecting hierarchy and existing power structures, and that we must accept our position in this hierarchy. “If you want to change your position in this hierarchy, then you must play by the rules. Albeit, we are the ones that set these rules.” The existing power structure sets the rules. The world that people like Jasbir Puar are challenging is a world in which the colonial masters, the White masters, and the capitalist masters have drawn the rules of the game. Per these rules, they always come out on top. If you want a part of the prize, you have to play by their rules.


At the same time, who else supports them? Yes, it is our Muslim brethren at places like Zaytuna who tell us that respecting and living by this hierarchy means respecting the rule of law and living in dignity. Who tell us that dignity requires us to put aside critical thought and Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, Karima Lazali, and Jasbir Puar. They tell us to put aside this whole world that teaches us to question and challenge power. Instead, they tell us that what God wants and what dignity mandates is that we accept our position in life. If our position in life is that of an oppressed minority, an oppressed non-White, then the problem is our false consciousness, because we are not really oppressed. That is just a narrative of victimization, and narratives of victimization are contrary to dignity.


Who gets the financial support in the world we live in? It is the folks who tell you there is dignity in accepting oppression. It is those people who find donors supporting them. Meanwhile, the Muslims who tell you there is no dignity in living an oppressed life, no dignity in an unjust law, and no dignity in a rule of law that masks the rule of racism and oppressors do not have Muslim donors supporting them. There is so much to talk about, and so many events that I could have dealt with, but we will have to stop here for today. Perhaps in another khutbah, I will deal with these issues.

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