Muslim Secularists of Kuwait. Ahmad al-Sarraf

November 24, 2009


The third of our secularists from Kuwait is the liberal journalist, Ahmad [Ahmed] al-Sarraf. In two outspoken interviews he gave in March and April 2009, he spelled out his ideas defending secularism [Memri Dispatch: Nos 2306 and 2373]. He deplored the role of Iran in the Middle East, and in any case, he rejected the very notion of "a religious scholar as a head of state. This is unacceptable….. I have nothing against religion or religious thought. I am against the practice of those who like to act as God’s representative on Earth. They tell me how to drink, how to get married, how to enter the house, how to enter the bathroom, how to have sex, and how to get dressed. The continuous interference in my life is what I oppose."

The influence of religion has reached unacceptable levels, and as a result not only have the rights of minorities suffered, Shiites have turned against Sunnis: "There are innumerable fatwas issued by Shiites, accusing Sunnis of apostasy, and among Sunnis, accusing Shiites of apostasy. And this is only among ourselves. But once we reach the Buddhists and the Hindus – this is a whole different story altogether. It’s a complete disaster. More than 63% of the population of Kuwait are not Kuwaitis. It  has become normal for people in Kuwait to act arrogantly toward others. The fact that you have rights which others do not enjoy has become a norm. As a liberal, I do not accept this. I have lived in England and in America, and I never felt, for a single day, that they had any advantage over me, even though it was me who was working for them. So why should I make the Lebanese, Palestinians, or Egyptians, who come to work for me, feel that I am better than them?"

As for religion, "We need to distance religion from our lives. All the constitutions in the world are based on man-made law. Religion is the relation between you and your Lord, your Creator, which pertains to personal matters in life – marriage, death, divorce, and so on. We Muslims criticize the Christians for having a formidable hierarchy in the clergy – starting with the Pope, in the case of Catholicism, or the other denominations, and including a large class of clergyman. We are becoming the same, I’m sad to say. We are getting to the point where we have a hierarchy of muftis. A child, who has just graduated from the shari’a department and who hasn’t even grown a beard yet, issues fatwas, accusing people of apostasy, or excommunicating people. On what grounds?"

To those critics who label him a "radical liberal", and accuse him of being "anti-religious", Ahmad al-Sarraf replies,"I believe in secularism… which strives to separate state and religion. [And] I regard religion in a positive light. We [Kuwaitis] are the ones who are harming the religion by pressing it into the service of personal and partisan interests… Secularism is a goal for which every state [should] strive, and the difference between [secularism] and liberalism is not great. Liberalism means believing in the right of others to [freely] choose their religion, creed, lifestyle, etc., and to live according [to their beliefs] – whereas secularism has a more prominent political aspect of separating state and religion. In a secular state, all citizens… are equal in the eyes of the law, be they Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or Muslims. [This is not the case] in all [Arab] states today. Take Egypt, for example… When Christians wish to build a church [there]… the law imposes various constraints and does not allow them to do so. In Egypt today, it is impossible to establish any religious entity without the consent of the government. [Even] renovating or maintaining a church without the government’s approval is against the law. In Kuwait, the situation is similar or even worse, and in Saudi Arabia it is certainly worse. To wit, when the Bohra Shi’ites wished to build a mosque [in Kuwait]… the parliament and government intervened and prohibited it… even though the Bohra Shi’ites are Muslims… Unless we separate religion and state, and treat all citizens equally and without discrimination, we will continue to be backward in terms of granting the most basic citizen rights."