Monday, February 28, 2011

Budget Glossary

Team ET simplifies the important Budget items for its readers in a five-part series. We have, however, departed from the usual way glossaries are presented, in alphabetical order, to a flow-type format wherein terms are explained as the reader would encounter them in the budget. Read on...

On the Budget day, the finance minister tables 10-12 documents. Of these, the main and most important document is the Annual Financial Statement.

Annual Financial Statement

Article 112 of the Constitution requires the government to present to Parliament a statement of estimated receipts and expenditure in respect of every financial year — April 1 to March 31. This statement is the annual financial statement.

The annual financial statement is usually a white 10-page document. It is divided into three parts, consolidated fund, contingency fund and public account. For each of these funds, the government has to present a statement of receipts and expenditure.

Consolidated Fund:

This is the most important of all government funds. All revenues raised by the government, money borrowed and receipts from loans given by the government flow into the consolidated fund of India. All government expenditure is made from this fund, except for exceptional items met from the Contingency Fund or the Public Account. Importantly, no money can be withdrawn from this fund without the Parliament’s approval.

Contingency Fund:

As the name suggests, any urgent or unforeseen expenditure is met from this fund. The Rs 500-crore fund is at the disposal of the President. Any expenditure incurred from this fund requires a subsequent approval from Parliament and the amount withdrawn is returned to the fund from the consolidated fund.

Public Account:

This fund is to account for flows for those transactions where the government is merely acting as a banker. For instance, provident funds, small savings and so on. These funds do not belong to the government. They have to be paid back at some time to their rightful owners. Because of this nature of the fund, expenditure from it are not required to be approved by the Parliament.

For each of these funds the government has to present a statement of receipts and expenditure. It is important to note that all money flowing into these funds is called receipts, the funds received, and not revenue. Revenue in budget context has a specific meaning.

The Constitution requires that the budget has to distinguish between receipts and expenditure on revenue account from other expenditure. So all receipts in, say consolidated fund, are split into Revenue Budget (revenue account) and Capital Budget (capital account), which includes non-revenue receipts and expenditure. For understanding these budgets — Revenue and Capital — it is important to understand revenue receipts, revenue expenditure, capital receipts and capital expenditure.

Revenue receipt/Expenditure:

All receipts and expenditure that in general do not entail sale or creation of assets are included under the revenue account. On the receipts side, taxes would be the most important revenue receipt. On the expenditure side, anything that does not result in creation of assets is treated as revenue expenditure. Salaries, subsidies and interest payments are good examples of revenue expenditure.

Capital receipt/Expenditure:

All receipts and expenditure that liquidate or create an asset would in general be under capital account. For instance, if the government sells shares (disinvests) in public sector companies, like it did in the case of Maruti, it is in effect selling an asset. The receipts from the sale would go under capital account. On the other hand, if the government gives someone a loan from which it expects to receive interest, that expenditure would go under the capital account.

In respect of all the funds the government has to prepare a revenue budget (detailing revenue receipts and revenue expenditure) and a capital budget (capital receipts and capital expenditure). Contingency fund is clearly not that important. Public account is important in that it gives a view of select savings and how they are being used, but not that relevant from a budget perspective. The consolidated fund is the key to the budget. We will take that up in the next part.

As mentioned in the first part, the government has to present a revenue budget (revenue account) and capital budget (capital account) for all the three funds. The revenue account of the consolidated fund is split into two parts, receipts and disbursements — simply, income and expenditure. Receipts are broadly tax revenue, non-tax revenue and grants-in-aid and contributions. The important tax revenue items are listed below.

Corporation Tax:

Tax on profits of companies.

Taxes on Income other than corporation tax:

Income tax paid by non-corporate assesses, individuals, for instance.

Fringe benefit tax (FBT):

The taxation of perquisites — or fringe benefits — provided by an employer to his employees, in addition to the cash salary or wages paid, is fringe benefit tax. It was introduced in Budget 2005-06. The government felt many companies were disguising perquisites such as club facilities as ordinary business expenses, which escaped taxation altogether. Employers have to now pay FBT on a percentage of the expense incurred on such perquisites.

Securities transaction tax (STT):

Sale of any asset (shares, property) results in loss or profit. Depending on the time the asset is held, such profits and losses are categorised as long-term or short-term capital gain/loss. In Budget 2004-05, the government abolished long-term capital gains tax on shares (tax on profits made on sale of shares held for more than a year) and replaced it with STT. It is a kind of turnover tax where the investor has to pay a small tax on the total consideration paid / received in a share transaction.

Banking cash transaction tax (BCTT):

Introduced in Budget 2005-06, BCTT is a small tax on cash withdrawal from bank exceeding a particular amount in a single day. The basic idea is to curb the black economy and generate a record of big cash transactions.


Taxes imposed on imports. While revenue is an important consideration, Customs duties may also be levied to protect the domestic industry or sector (agriculture, for one), in retaliation against measures by other countries.

Union Excise Duty:

Duties imposed on goods made in India.

Service Tax:
It is a tax on services rendered. Telephone bill, for instance, attracts a service tax.
While on taxes, let us take a look at an important classification: direct tax and indirect tax.

Direct Tax:

Traditionally, these are taxes where the burden of tax falls on the person on whom it is levied. These are largely taxes on income or wealth. Income tax (on corporates and individuals), FBT, STT and BCTT are direct taxes.

Indirect Tax:
In case of indirect taxes, the incidence of tax is usually not on the person who pays the tax. These are largely taxes on expenditure and include Customs, excise and service tax.

Indirect taxes are considered regressive, the burden on the rich and the poor is alike. That is why governments strive to raise a higher proportion of taxes through direct taxes. Moving on, we come to the next important receipt item in the revenue account, non-tax revenue.

Non-tax revenue:
The most important receipts under this head are interest payments (received on loans given by the government to states, railways and others) and dividends and profits received from public sector companies.

Various services provided by the government — police and defence, social and community services such as medical services, and economic services such as power and railways — also yield revenue for the government.

Though Railways are a separate department, all its receipts and expenditure are routed through the consolidated fund.

Grants-in-aid and contributions:

The third receipt item in the revenue account is relatively small grants-in-aid and contributions. These are in the nature of pure transfers to the government without any repayment obligation.

We now look at the disbursements section of the revenue account of the consolidated fund. It lists all the revenue expenditures of the government. These include expense incurred on organs of state such as Parliament, judiciary and elections. A substantial amount goes into administering fiscal services such as tax collection. The biggest item is interest payment on loans taken by the government. Defence and other services like police also get a sizeable share. Having looked at receipts and expenditure on revenue account we come to an important item, the difference between the two, the revenue deficit.

Revenue Deficit:

The excess of disbursements over receipts on revenue account is called revenue deficit. This is an important control indicator. All expenditure on revenue account should ideally be met from receipts on revenue account; the revenue deficit should be zero. In other words it is
difference between Revenue Expenditure and Revenue Receipts. When revenue disbursement exceeds receipts, the government would have to borrow.

Such borrowing is considered regressive as it is for consumption and not for creating assets. It results in a greater proportion of revenue receipts going towards interest payment and eventually, a debt trap. The FRBM Act, which we will take up later, requires the government to reduce fiscal deficit to zero by 2008-09.

Receipts in the capital account of the consolidated fund are grouped under three broad heads — public debt, recoveries of loans and advances, and miscellaneous receipts.

Public debt: Public debt receipts and public debt disbursals are borrowings and repayments during the year, respectively. The difference is the net accretion to the public debt. Public debt can be split into internal (money borrowed within the country) and external (funds borrowed from non-Indian sources). Internal debt comprises treasury bills, market stabilisation schemes, ways and means advance, and securities against small savings.

Treasury bills (T-bills): These are bonds (debt securities) with maturity of less than a year. These are issued to meet short-term mismatches in receipts and expenditure. Bonds of longer maturity are called dated securities.

Market stabilisation scheme: The scheme was launched in April 2004 to strengthen RBI’s ability to conduct exchange rate and monetary management. These securities are issued not to meet the government’s expenditure but to provide RBI with a stock of securities with which it can intervene in the market for managing liquidity.

Ways and means advance (WMA): One of RBI’s roles is to serve as banker to both central and state governments. In this capacity, RBI provides temporary support to tide over mismatches in their receipts and payments in the form of ways and means advances.

Securities against small savings: The government meets a small part of its loan requirement by appropriating small savings collection by issuing securities to the fund.

Miscellaneous receipts: These are receipts from disinvestment in public sector undertakings. Capital account receipts of the consolidated fund — public debt, recoveries of loans and advances, and miscellaneous receipts and revenue receipts are receipts of the consolidated fund.

We now take up the disbursements on capital account from the consolidated fund. The first part deals with capital expenditure incurred on general, social and economic services. Some of the biggest expenditure items under these heads are defence services, investment in agricultural financial institutions and capital to railways. The second part takes up the public debt (repayments of loans) and various loans by the government.

The consolidated fund has certain disbursements ‘charged’ to the fund. These are obligations that have to be met in any case and, therefore, do not have to be voted by the Lok Sabha. These include interest payments and certain expenditure such as emoluments of the President, salary and allowances of speaker, deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, and allowances and pensions of Supreme Court judges, Parliament and so on.

Budget at a glance: This is a snap shot of the budget for easy understanding. Nonetheless, it introduces some new concepts. While receipts are broken down into revenue and capital, unlike the consolidated fund, it shows the centre's net tax revenues. This is because a decent part of the gross tax revenue, as decided by the relevant Finance Commission, flows to the state governments. Budget at a glance also segments expenditure into plan and non-plan expenditure, instead of splitting into revenue and capital. Each of these is then split into revenue account and capital account. Before discussing plan and non-plan expenditure it is important to discuss the concept of the central plan.

Central plan: Central or annual plans are essentially Five Year Plans broken down into annual instalments. Through these plans, the government achieves the objectives of the Five Year Plans. The central plan’s funding is split almost evenly between government support (from the budget) and internal and extra budgetary resources of public enterprises. The government’s support to the central plan is called budget support. We will take up plan and non-plan expenditure in the next part.


The expenditure of the government can be classified into plan expenditure and non-plan expenditure.

Plan expenditure is an expenditure that the government plans to incur on a scheme to be implemented in a given year. For example, construction of national highways. This expenditure that was incurred for construction of national highways came in as a part of plan expenditure.

Non-plan expenditure is defined as expenditure committed by the expenditure. Interest payments, pensions, salaries, subsidies and maintenance expenditure are all non-plan expenditure.

Non-plan expenditure is generally an outcome of plan expenditure. For example, the national highways the government constructed need to be maintained. All the expenses going towards this is treated as non-plan expenditure.

Plan expenditure: This is essentially the budget support to the central plan and the central assistance to state and union territory plans. Like all budget heads, this is also split into revenue and capital components.

Non-plan expenditure: This is largely the revenue expenditure of the government. The biggest items of expenditure are interest payments, subsidies, salaries, defence and pension. The capital component of the non-plan expenditure is relatively small with the largest allocation going to defence. Defence expenditure is non-plan expenditure.

Fiscal Deficit:

When the government’s non-borrowed receipts fall short of its entire expenditure, it has to borrow money from the public to meet the shortfall. The excess of total expenditure over total non-borrowed receipts is called the fiscal deficit. In other words it is the difference between the Revenue Receipts and Total Expenditure.

Primary deficit:

The revenue expenditure includes interest payments on government’s earlier borrowings. The primary deficit is the fiscal deficit less interest payments. A shrinking primary deficit indicates progress towards fiscal health. The Budget document also mentions deficit as a percentage of GDP. This is to facilitate comparison and also get a proper perspective. Prudent fiscal management requires that government does not borrow to consume in the normal course.


Enacted in 2003, Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act require the elimination of revenue deficit by 2008-09. Hence, from 2008-09, the government will have to meet all its revenue expenditure from its revenue receipts. Any borrowing would only be to meet capital expenditure. The Act mandates a 3% limit on the fiscal deficit after 2008-09.

Resources transferred to the states:

A part of the Centre’s gross tax collection goes to state governments. In the Budget 2007-08, the states were to receive nearly 27% of the gross tax collections. The Centre also transfers funds to states by way of support to their plans. It also gives large grants to manage centrally-sponsored schemes. The government counts small savings transfers to state governments, which are in the nature of borrowings, as resources transferred to states.

Before March 31, 1999, the Centre used to borrow net accretions to small savings and lend them to the states. From April 1, 1999, states started receiving 75% of net small savings directly; the balance was invested in special government securities during 1999-2000 to 2001-2002. The sums received in the NSS fund on redemption of special securities are being reinvested in special G-secs. From April 2002, the entire net collection under small saving schemes in each state and UT are advanced to the concerned state/UT government as investment in its special securities. The expenditure and receipts Budget take up the respective heads in greater detail.

Value-Added Tax (VAT) and GST:

VAT helps avoid cascading of taxes as a product passes through different stages of production/value addition. The tax is based on the difference between the value of the output and inputs used to produce it. The aim is to tax a firm only for the value added by it to the inputs it is using for manufacturing its output and not the entire input cost. VAT brings in transparency to commodity taxation.

In this concluding part we take a look at some of the important terms that figure in the Budget


Bharat Nirman is the current UPA government’s ambitious programme for building infrastructure, especially in rural India. It has six components — irrigation, roads, water supply, housing, rural electrification and rural telecom connectivity. In each of these areas, the government has set targets that are to be achieved by the year 2009, within four years of its launch.


This is an additional levy on the basic tax liability. Governments resort to cess for meeting specific expenditure. For instance, both corporate and individual income is at present subject to an education cess of 2%. In the last Budget, the government had imposed another 1% cess — secondary and higher education cess on income tax — to finance secondary and higher education.


Countervailing duty is a tax imposed on imports, over and above the basic import duty. CVD is at par with the excise duty paid by the domestic manufacturers of similar goods. This ensures a levelplaying field between imported goods and locally-produced ones. An exemption from CVD places the domestic industry at disadvantage and over long run discourages investments in affected sectors.


This is a tax levied on exports. In most instances, the object is not revenue , but to discourage exports of certain items. In the last Budget, for instance , the government imposed an export duty of Rs 300 per metric tonne on export of iron ores and concentrates and Rs 2,000 per metric tonne on export of chrome ores and concentrates.


The proposals of government for levy of new taxes, modification of the existing tax structure or continuance of the existing tax structure beyond the period
approved by Parliament are submitted to Parliament through
this bill. It is the key document as
far as taxes are concerned.


Financial inclusion is universalising access to basic financial
services (to have a bank account , timely and adequate
credit) at an affordable cost. Exclusion from financial services
imposes costs on those excluded ; these are typically the disadvantaged and low-income group. Exclusion forces them into informal arrangements such as borrowing from local money lenders at high rates. Financial inclusion remains a serious issue in India. The government has proposed a no-frills account to provide cheap banking.


This tax on corporate profits was introduced in 1996-97 and has been modified since. If the tax payable by a company is less than 10% of its book profits, after availing of all eligible deductions , then 10% of book profits is the minimum tax payable. Book profits are profits calculated as per the Companies Act, while profits as per the Income-Tax Act could be significantly lower, thanks to various exemptions and depreciation.


A pass-through status helps avoid double taxation. Mutual funds, for instance , enjoy pass-through status. The income earned by the funds is tax free. Since mutual funds’ income is distributed to unitholders, who are in turn taxed on their income from such investments , any taxation of mutual funds would amount to double taxation. Essentially , it means the income is merely passing through the mutual funds and, therefore, should not be taxed. The government allows venture funds in some sectors pass-through status to encourage investments in start-ups .


The term subvention finds a mention in almost every Budget. It refers to a grant of money in aid or support, mostly by the government. In the Indian context, for instance, the government sometimes asks institutions to provide loans to farmers at below market rates. The loss is usually made good through subventions.


As the name suggests, this is an additional charge or tax. A surcharge of 10% on a tax rate of 30% effectively raises the combined tax burden to 33%. In the case of individuals earning a taxable salary of more than Rs 10 lakh a surcharge of 10% is levied on income in excess of Rs 10 lakh. Corporate income is levied a flat surcharge of 10% in the case of domestic companies and 2.5% for foreign companies. Companies with revenue less than Rs 1 crore do not have to pay this surcharge.

current account deficit : Occurs when a country's total imports of goods, services and transfers is greater than the country's total export of goods, services and transfers. This situation makes a country a net debtor to the rest of the world. A substantial current account deficit is not necessarily a bad thing for certain countries. Developing counties may run a current account deficit in the short term to increase local productivity and exports in the future.

Tahelka - Tarun Tejpal interview - a revealation

Tarun Tejpal, author and journalist, is 46 years, one of the most influential media and political landscape of India. He founded the information site, and the magazine of the same name, which are the best investigative tools of the Indian press. In 2001, Tehelka had revealed a corruption scandal brought down the defense minister, George Fernandes, and undermined the whole government. It had earned its founding three years of death threats, harassment, moral and economic.

Tarun Tejpal was also editor, he published twelve years ago the God of small things Arundhati Roy. In 2005, his magnificent novel Far from Chandigarh has been published in French by Buchet-Chastel. This week spell in France's second novel.

History of my assassins, who tells the story of a journalist threatened with death and especially that of its five potential assassins, Tejpal is a portrait of the impoverished country, violent and corrupt behind the Indian economic miracle. Great, warm and speed, he came to Paris to be our guest editor.

Q: Your previous novel, "Far from Chandigarh, spoke of love and desire. "History of my killers" is a novel of violence.
A: True. I think that basically, the violence is an emotion as powerful as love. These are probably the two most powerful emotions that may exist. This book describes all kinds of violence, emotional, physical, psychological. History speaks of my assassins underclass, it happens in India, but it could be in any country.

These killers, these five men were born the wrong side. Basically, prior to the victims, they have themselves been victims. There is a tendency in India in particular, to imagine that the sub-proletarians have no real emotional life rich and complex, they are just animals that eat and die. But everybody has a complex emotional life, assassins too. What I wanted to do here is to both capture and restore the dignity and complexity of these lives by going back to the childhood of each of the assassins. In childhood, we are all innocent.

It is also a reflection on power. This book is an exploration of power, including state power, which is huge. In my own life these last ten years, it became a dominant theme: the power, its fundamental lack of nobility, and his ruthlessness too. Again, this story could happen anywhere. Part of what happens to the narrator think of Kafka's Castle. In real life, the authority operates in a highly opaque, it is his nature, nothing is ever completely clear.

This novel is an exploration of power, and also violence. These themes are universal, but they are particularly important in India. So very strange, India has an image of tolerant and non-violent, but there is absolutely no truth in it: we are one of the most cruel and violent societies that exist in the world. We practice all kinds of violence: religious, gender, caste, household, their children and animals ...

But because of men like Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, we had the idea of a non-violent India. Yet if you look in history, there is no sign that she was not violent, however. In fact, curiously, why incredible thinkers and reformers like Buddha and Gandhi have emerged, it is precisely to counter this great violence.

Hindus themselves, and I'm Hindu, swap stories and imagine they have a non-violent religion, look, all their gods are armed!

This story tackles still two or three things about India that are accepted by the pub and some media. The "India Shining" for example, India's dazzling success, prosperous India ... In fact, the truth of India is that there are nearly 400 million people living with less' one dollar a day. This book goes against this stupid story of the "India Shining".

To me, a great and good novel must enter commonplaces accepted by all and question them, subvert. In Chandigarh, I worked on other things, love, desire, trying to subvert the cliches. The work of the novelist is not to embellish reality, but to subvert it, wondering what kind of things their raison d'etre.

A great and good story should also, to some extent, put you uncomfortable. Even as he makes you good, even if you warm up and reassure you, it should also force you to think and question your beliefs. They are not supposed to be sleeping, they are supposed to wake you up.

Q: How long have you think in power?
A: Long time but of course, these last ten years I have been deeply immersed in it because I was opposed to the state, and it allowed me to examine the nature of power. In a sense, people in my class in India are on the right side of power. In some ways, "we are" power. But it does not function as a demonic power that works in our favor.

In fact, only when it is opposed to power, they begin to measure it. In my case, because of Tehelka, I am opposed to power again and again, and it gave me a fabulous opportunity to see how it worked.

I believe deeply that the heart of any human endeavor, there is power. If you do not understand it, that either French or American or Indian, you do not understand how people shape society. Take the power to exercise, keep it the big thing. And for me, as a writer, is the most important issue. This is not to write the pretty prose, with nice characters. It is to understand the brutality of power. And that's what the great books. For me, the greatest book in the history of literature, the Mahabharata, well, the whole effort of this novel of a million words, is to understand what the power and how men should behave. What is good and what is evil.

In the novel, one of my characters says: "power is the engine. Sex and money are the lubricants of power. " But obviously, we all know. Including your president, including Berlusconi. For 5 000 years since the dawn of civilization, the power went hand in hand with the lubricant of money and sex, or pleasure.

Q: What is the role of journalism in a democracy?
A: I always said that, ideally, journalism should work for the public good. Democracy has three main structures: money, political power and media. Money and power are always together for the benefit of each other.

In modern democracies, journalism is supposed to be the joker in the back. In Tehelka, we believe that the work of a journalist is to control the power and money. This is not to attack them or destroy them, but be aware that power and money, because their metabolism is intrinsically coded in the excesses and abuses. This is true for all cultures and eras, since time immemorial. The journalist's job is to make sure they behave properly, they keep well. As such, the journalists were the votes and public representatives.

Q: A few months ago you wrote an open letter to Sonia Gandhi ( "Dear Sonia Gandhi, I beg you ..." Release, dated June 11). What do you think of her?
A: Despite me, year after year, I started to admire more and more. India is the country of the world's most difficult and most complex to administer: a democracy of 1.2 billion people, a mosaic of peoples and religions, the second largest Muslim community, 250 million dalits (untouchables ), 30 dominant languages, 500 dialects ... In these conditions, the risk of doing stupid things is extremely high. Well, it's remarkable this woman managed not to ridicule, to behave wisely and stay for the poor and destitute. I think all the people in power in India should be plenty of time for the poor because we are absolutely heartbreaking and so a country of poverty, the poverty level is alarming, we can feed our children, or give them education, they are hundreds of millions on the roads. And some speak of the "India Shining"! Sonia Gandhi, she understands what is fundamentally important. In a country like India, political power must remain engaged.

When I see the path it did, a young Italian girl arriving in India, through personal tragedy, the murder of his stepmother and her husband, fearing for her life and her children, when I see she managed to get where she is the most powerful politician in the subcontinent, is extraordinary. There must be an amazing strength of character behind it. And she has raised her children. Rahul Gandhi, 39, is very good. Consistently, he showed that he pushed for the poor. For me, India, the rich can take care of themselves, people in my class too, but the job of those in power is to take care of the destitute.

Q: How do you assess the state of India sixty years after independence?
A: It is a nation that is still evolving and remains a very difficult and complex. It has survived as an electoral democracy. Many promises have been kept, and many promises were not kept. There is still a very poor country. We had great successes and great failures. It is a unfinished project. The good news is we have not failed. The bad news is we did not succeed. Our greatest asset is the fact that the founding vision was spectacular. Men like Gandhi and Nehru were amazing. The founding vision was pure, it was exhilarating, especially when compared with the vision of other post-colonial countries, which have long since collapsed. The only difference between India and the rest of the postcolonial world, is the founding vision. And this vision of an India liberal, secular, democratic republic, committed to the poorest, we have much damaged, but it is still sudden. This is the original idea that has allowed us to survive.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Article by Muslim aethist in Mukto-Mona

My Experience With Islam - (An apostate’s testimony) - Jahed Ahmed E-mail:

"That which is most personal is most universal." - Henri Nouwen, Catholic Writer

"I am not a citizen of Greece or Athens; I am a citizen of the world." About twenty-five hundred years have passed since a Greek philosopher said so, and in the meantime, human civilizations have made magnificent progress. Our knowledge about the world and universe has increased by many folds; yet in our modern world, there are not many people who take pride in their first identity as a member of the mankind. Even to date, mankind is divided into so many factions under identities defined by race, religion, nationality, etc. Not so long ago, I myself also took pride in my first identity as a Muslim. It was Islam that defined my personal identity of who I am, my daily activities and my morals. It went as far as regulating from what kind of food I should eat to what kind people I should make friends with. How sad it is to realize- I've spent so many years of my life under an ideology which is authoritarian, gender-biased, dogmatic and highly provincial in its outlook toward humanity. I will provide solid basis for saying so about my ex-religion. But before that, let me give my personal background.

Birth and My Family: I was born in 1973 in a middle class Muslim family in Bangladesh. My parents had named me after Islam’s prophet Mohammed. My name, therefore, is Mohammed Jahed Ahmed. ‘Ahmed’ is also another name of Prophet Mohammed. It is a widely held belief among Muslims that, if a person is named after the prophet, in the 'after life' on 'the day of judgment', Prophet would recommend him/her to Allah for entry to paradise. I lost my father when I was just two & half years. So I'm not able to recall any personal memory with him, but from what I heard from my mother, relatives and all the acquaintances of my father- he was a very benevolent & religious man. And so was my mother who passed away a year ago. I've three elder brothers and one sister, who is oldest. In terms of their positions in Islam, my mother, all my brothers and sister, possibly belong to ‘mainstream Muslims,' who are not only mistaken about their beliefs in Islam, but often are torn between the modernity on one side and a doctrine belonging to the 7th century Arab peninsula on the other side. (All religions, more or less, are constraints to the spirit of freedom of inquiry and an independent conscience, yet here I'd limit myself to Islam only because of my background). I will save more comments about the ‘mainstream Muslims' for a later time.

My Childhood/Adolescence Period (1973 to 1992) as a Pious Muslim Boy: Up to the age of sixteen or seventeen, I spent time in my village. My childhood education started both in the school and mosque simultaneously. From the age of six, I started going to the government funded primary school in the village for primary education, and to the mosque in the neighborhood for Islamic education. I will mainly focus on Islamic education that I received in mosque from the Maulana (a Muslim priest, we called him 'hujoor'). My Islamic education consisted of lessons on reading, reciting and occasionally memorizing verses, suras, of the Quran. Besides, we were taught- how to perform Islamic rituals like daily five time prayers, how to eat, bath and do toilets in an Islamic way; then fasting for a month in a year dictated by the Islamic calendar, performing Muslim funerals etc. A significant portion of our Islamic education consisted of listening to the fabricated and passionate stories of the Prophet Muhammad’s life and sayings (Hadeeth). We were reminded every now and then - Islam is the truest religion, there is no God but Allah; Prophet Muhammad is Allah’s last messenger, and Quran is Allah’s message toward mankind through His messenger. We were often told about stories focusing supernatural abilities of Prophet Muhammad (e.g. Prophet Muhammad’s meeting with Allah during an event known as Miraj; stories about how Prophet received Allah’s instructions through angel Gabriel etc). Any person even with slightest trace of a doubt in these stories, we were told, lacks Iman, which constitute first of the five main pillars of Islam. All the Maulanas and pious Muslims I knew thus created a kind of impression of Prophet Muhammad in my mind, which was mixed with fear, respect and awes. Many considered it not only inappropriate, but also sinful to think of Muhammad as an ordinary human being. How could he be an ordinary person, who has shown so many supernatural activities (Mujejas)? – we heard from Maulana and other orthodox Muslims. On one occasion, we were told, with mere raise of Prophet’s index finger, the whole moon broke into two pieces! ‘Still, non-believers didn’t have faith in him,’ said the Maulana. We were told, only Muslims shall enter the heaven after death (among them, first, would enter those, who have lived their lives as true Muslims). We were repeatedly told- among the Allah’s cursed people and serious enemies are the idol-worshippers (Hindus), Nasara(Christians), and Jews. As we were being told, often the narration was supplemented by tales from the Prophet’s life; things he said about these groups of people, and the troubles Prophet faced from such people during his life time. We were told- idle worshippers (Hindus), Nasara (Christians), and Jews are the enemies of Islam, and we should always keep distance from them. I remember, on more than one occasions, we were punished by the Maulana for attending the Hindu village fair (Rat Jatra). I had yet to meet any Christian or Jew in person, and only occasionally saw some Hindus. But every time I saw them, I kept a safe distance. Ah! only if I could convert just one of them to Islam! Sometimes I thought. We were warned repeatedly to be alert- so as never to commitSheerk, the gravest sin in Islam, which means, equating Allah with any other entity. Since Hindus believe in many Gods/Goddesses (polytheism), they are among the most dangerous sinners in the world, we were told. And since Hindus commit Sheerk,unlike for Muslims, you cannot wish eternal peace for a Hindu, not so even upon his/her death. If we heard the death of a Muslim, we were taught to recite an Arabic prayer (Inna Lillahi Oa Inna Ilahi Rajeon), which is totally different from what we would recite upon hearing the death of a Hindu (Fee nari jahannama khalidin- wishing eternal hell fire!). As for Christians and Jews, we were told, even though their scriptures (New & Old Testament in Bible) once contained words from the Allah through authentic Prophets, whom Quran and Muhammed acknowledge; nevertheless, they (Christians and Jews) have deteriorated their scriptures, don’t have faith in Muhammad, and therefore, are not true believers! Girls were instructed to cover their body and put veils on heads, according to Islamic ways. I clearly remember having heard from Maulana on one occasion that, a woman who doesn’t cover her body and put veils on head, is like a peeled off banana sold in the open market. If a peeled off banana is sold in the market, would you buy it? asked theMaulana. So is a woman without coverings! No body is going to like her. This is what constituted my childhood Islamic education. Needless to say, I took all such sayings and instructions in plain faith, and never doubted it for all the people in my world were Muslims at that time. I was quite pious myself. I said five times prayers and recited Quran almost on a daily basis. Often I thanked Allah for having created me as a Muslim. I will give one more example to illustrate- how Maulana’s teaching shaped my views about other religions. Starting from third standard, we had a subject called Dharma Shikhsa ('Religion Study') in our school. For us, Religion Study meant Islamic studies since there were no Hindu students in our class. Since question papers were not made by our own school teachers, rather, by a group of teachers of the local Thana (police station), same set of question papers were sent to different schools, of which some had Hindu students. Therefore, the question paper on Religion Study had two different sections. First half was on Islam and second half was on Hindu Religion. During exam, once we were handed over question papers, the first thing we, the Muslim students, would do was crossing out questions on Hindu Religion. We crossed out the Hindu section such a way that almost nothing would be readable thereafter. We did so this because we thought, even looking at questions on Hindu Religion was a great sin! Later in life, after being doubtful aboutMaulana’s teaching, I tried to learn the basis of such parochial and dogmatic views, and I found my answer in Quran itself. I will come to that later.

In 1990, I finished my secondary education (SSC), left my village and went to Dhaka, the capital city, to pursue higher secondary (HSC) education. There I stayed for about two and half years, again as a faithful Muslim. Of course, shifting from a small village to the capital city was a remarkable event, and I learned a lot of new things previously unknown to me, nevertheless, nothing happened in my life to reevaluate my Islamic beliefs. For example, now I studied in a famous Christian Missionary College and met many Christian and Hindu teachers and students; however, I remained very much a ‘mainstream Muslim' with the typical basic beliefs such as- Islam is the truest religion in the world, Quran is Allah’s words and Prophet Muhammad is Allah’s true messenger. Another important concept that was repeatedly installed into our mind by Maulana and all the Muslims I knew was sentiment of Muslim Umma, which means all fellow Muslims are my brothers and sisters, and I must always pray for them. All the Islamic gatherings I attended would end up with a passionate prayer (Doa) and it was about the well being of all Muslims in the world. I don’t recall even a single event that included prayer for any non-Muslims! Whole prayer revolved around the benefits of Muslim brotherhood. Yet cracks in my Islamic beliefs didn't start to appear until I went to India for higher studies.

My Stay in India (1993 to 1998)--Beginning of Skepticism: Staying in India for five long years is one of the most significant events in my life. It was in India when I experienced my first love, memory of which I cherish to date. Often, the name ‘India’ gives me feelings of nostalgia, more than the word ‘Bangladesh’- my own country. I met quite a few very decent, liberal and caring people; we became good friends and are so till now. Again, it was in India, for the first time in life, I experienced and was taken aback by the anthropological, cultural and religious diversity of human beings. So many people of such a diverse nature, so many cultures, so many language; yet it is a single country! My acquaintance with such amazing diversity of people and their culture in India played an important role in later development of humanist philosophy in my mind. Of my five years of stay, I spent first three years in Bangalore, the capital city of Karanataka, a south Indian state, and next two years in Mysore, another well known and historic town in Karnataka state. I need to elaborate a bit about my first love as this experience is related to later development of the skepticism in my mind.

It was while I was in Bangalore doing my first year of B.Sc course, I fell in love with a school going Hindu girl living in the neighborhood. I had a small motorbike and it was probably July, 1993: just two months ago we came to India. We, the five Bangladeshi students (three Hindus, two Muslims), rented a house in an area which was within the 2-3 kilometers distance from our college. One day afternoon, after the college, I was roaming on my motorbike with my roommate on the backseat. We were simply watching the residences, shops, people in the neighborhood and thinking how they were different than what we saw back home. I saw a girl on the roof of a house, near by the Hindu temple, located just a two blocks down the road from our house. I don’t know why, I got off my motorbike, kept staring at the girl for quite sometime and was not feeling to turn my eyes away at all. She was not any beauty queen or the kind of heroin we see in popular Hindi films. She was just a plain girl in plain attire and was looking at us with her friend standing next to her. Yet I seem to have lost myself in her plain beauty. I experienced what people call ‘love at the first sight’. This girl has been created just for me. I took delight in thinking so. For days and nights she was in my mind, often appearing in dreams. I gave her the nick ROJA, after the title of a south Indian super hit film at that time, which was based on a romantic love story between a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy.I found out Roja was a student of ninth standard in the local school (Auden High School, Banashankari 1st Stage, Bangalore). Within a few days, I got it all by heart- time she would go to school at, her returning time from the school, and the time when she would go to the temple in the evening, often with her friend. I followed her silently for two years without daring to talk to her. At last one day after two years, I followed her to the school in a bus with the courage of a close friend of mine, who accompanied me to her school. I talked to her and liked it very much. She herself also appeared to be interested in me. A month went by, I didn’t let her know- I was from Bangladesh. Instead, I said, I was from West Bengal, a province of India, where people speak same language as people do in Bangladesh. After a month, I disclosed my real identity and said, I am a Bangladeshi Muslim. After two weeks, she declined to continue relationship on the ground that an uncle of hers has seen her with me and informed her parents. It should be mentioned that her parents were south Indian Brahmins--known to be very orthodox among Indian Hindus. To date I wonder, why did she withdrew herself from the relation? Is it because once she learned I was a Muslim from Bangladesh, she didn’t see much hopes in our relation? Although she was not an orthodox girl herself, her parents were and so was her society. Later, when I told my brother and mother about this incident, I was rebuked for being so close with a 'Hindu girl.' My first love ended painfully leaving a big question in my mind. Why did it happen that I--despite being a Muslim--fell in love with a Hindu girl, and that too, so passionately? Why did I feel so much for her when there were so many other girls elsewhere? Why couldn’t my religion stop me? Is then what people say right, meaning- love is blind and doesn’t care about the boundaries of race, religion and country? So only rational explanation I came up with was--for a young boy of my age, falling in love with a young girl is very natural, there is nothing wrong with it since we both are humans with emotions. It's not love but the religion which must be artificial, I thought. Unlike my affiliation with religion where many people influenced me, no one induced me to love Roja. It just happened because we bothl are humans.

For couples of week, I couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I felt, my life had no meaning. I was quite shocked over a long period of time. So many things kept popping up in my mind. I studied human anatomy, physiology in my B.Sc class. Aren’t they (human body and physiology) same throughout whole human race? Is the physiology of a Hindu different from that of a Muslim? Doesn’t it mean, we all are from the same origin, be it God or whatsoever? Why does it matter, if some people call the creator Allah and others call Bhagwan, or God? Is the religion man made then? Rudimentary signs of skepticism started developing in my mind. However, I still didn’t start to scrutinize my religion. In the meantime, while in college, I made some very great friends and many of them happened to be Hindu Brahmins (others were non-Brahmin Hindus). We became very intimate. Often I would go to their houses and spend time. Some of my friends’ mothers reminded me very much of my own mother left in Bangladesh. Their love and affections toward their son and his friend (me) , every day concerns, asking repeatedly for God’s favor for the well being of their children, etc were just like those of a Bangladeshi mother. I will give one example. After purchasing a new motorbike, my land lady wouldn't let me ride it second time without ensuring that I’ve first sought Goddess' blessing for a safe ride! She performed a small puja (a Hindu ritual) on my new motorcycle. I sought an answer to the question: why did she ask me to perform a pujawhen she knew- I was a Muslim & didn’t believe in such thing? Only explanation was: she loves me just like her own son and doesn’t want me to be deprived of God's/Goddess’ blessing. She did- what she believed is the best for me. I realized- beyond the layers of religions and customs, she too is a mother, just like my own. From a close distance, I observed many Hindu customs and rituals. But in a lot of ways, south Indian Hindu customs and traditions were different than those we saw among Bengali Hindus. I participated in many Hindu festivals and ceremonies. Even for me, Hindu events like Hooli (playing with colors), Dewali, became matters of great celebrations. In August 1996, I finished my B.Sc degree, left Bangalore for Mysore, which is some 135 Kms away from Bangalore. There also I made quite a few very good friends. When we finished first year of our Master’s program (1996-1997), our class went on a month long all India trip. That was very recreational and educative. For a month, teachers, boys and girls were together. We ate together, slept together and had chats, fun together. Previously, I went on a short trip while I was in Bangalore. To date, some of my best friends are from India. My acquaintance and practical experiences with Indian friends made me realize- there are good people in every religion and culture. It gave rise to certain questions in my mind. My own experience came in clear contradictions with what I often heard about Hindus & their religion back home. I asked myself, are the views of many Muslims about Hindus right? I remember having being warned by my mother, prior to my every departure to India: “son, always remember, that’s a land of Hindus! Always be cautious while dealing with Hindus. You're a Muslim boy all alone. They could kill you (given your argumentative nature). Though I know it’s just a popular misconception, I wonder, does Islam itself hold a favorable view of Hindus, and believers of other religions? I felt very helpless to recall my Maulana’s teachings: Muslims can wish peace only for Muslims. If a Hindu dies, the immediate reaction of a pious Muslim should be to wish him/her eternal hell fire! I don’t care so much about other Hindus as I do about those I’m close to. How could I wish hell fire, God forbids, say, if I hear, Naganand, my dear friend, or Biswarup, a long time buddy of mine, has died? How could the truest religion in the world hold such a parochial and misanthropic view? Are not Hindus human beings too? Then, is it because religion is man made, and therefore could not succeed in overcoming typical human selfishness and chauvinism such as wishing and doing good to the members of one’s own community only (‘racial prejudice’)? During the last two years of my stay in India, my mind remained preoccupied with all such questions. All these I am saying not to imply that all the Hindu people I met in India are equally great and all the Muslim people I know in Bangladesh are bad! Not at all! Even at that time, I clearly realized- no where people are purely homogenous in their characteristics. I did encounter a few Hindu fanatics too in India. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help asking myself: why do I belong to a religion whose teachings contradict with real life experience? I would not elaborate more about my experiences in India except that it was during last three years (1995 to 1998) of my stay in India, when I started being skeptical about Islam. It was a powerful but a silent storm within my mind. I sought explanations for some of the contradictions about religions I faced in India only at a later stage. In July, 1998, I finished my Master’s degree in Biotechnology with first class distinction and left India permanently.

Back to Bangladesh (1998-2000)--My Faith Becomes Shaken: I came back to Bangladesh and started preparing myself for graduate studies in the USA. From mid July 1998 to mid July 2000, I was in Bangladesh. At that time, I started collecting books on philosophy, mostly written in Bangla. I learned about rationalism, atheism, skepticism and was particularly attracted by the writings of Aroj Ali Matubbor, a self–made Bangladeshi Philosopher with no academic training or background. I was happy to learn there are others who also don’t take religious teachings in plain faith. Aroj Ali’s books were interesting, provocative but his style was more like Socrates— not to draw any ultimate conclusion about a topic himself but to leave the readers’ with a question in mind. It was like a ‘compare and contrast’ approach. He would question and discuss validity of many Islamic theories, rituals alongside their rationalistic explanations. I believe this was a brilliant style to avoid attacks from the mullahs. For example: Aroj Aliasked, is it possible for a single individual to be the kindest and the most just at the same time?According to him, a person sticking to justice can’t always indulge in kindness, or the kindest person always cannot be the most just. But we know, according to Quran, Allah is said to be the kindest and the most just!

Another humanist and rationalistic iconoclast of the time was late Professor Ahmed Shariff of Dhaka University, Bangladesh. I must admit, I was heavily influenced by his writings, which univocally emphasized reason over blind faith. Not so surprising, in Bangladesh he was declared a ‘Murtad’ (nonbeliever and an enemy of Islam) by the Mullas(Muslim clergies). Like Aroj Ali, Professor Shariff also donated his dead body for Medical research through will prior to his death. After Prof. Shariff died in 1999, I collected books by him, read them, and also I read articles on him written by others. One thing struck my mind very much: even those who disagreed with his opinion on religion admitted - Prof. Shariff led a thoroughly honest life. I couldn’t help asking myself a question: Prof. Shariff, beyond doubt, was an atheist; yet he was an honest man. Doesn’t it imply- one can lead a decent & honest life without sticking to religion? I kept thinking about the issue for several days. If there was an afterlife as Islam & other religions say, Shariff, for sure, would suffer the eternal hell fire, but would it be fair? I pondered. Why should an honest man be punished so severely by Allah the most merciful, the omnibolent? Is it just because Shariff didn’t lead a life according to Allah’s prescription? I didn’t find any satisfactory answer. Another rationalistic writer who influenced me heavily was Prabir Ghosh of Calcutta, India. His wekk known Bengali book, “Aloukik noy, Loukik” (“Natural, not supernatural”) is full of scientific and rationalistic explanations for many so-called miracles and supernatural phenomena. Other Bangladeshi writers whom I had read, and who were critical of Islamic ideology were late Prof. Humayun Azad, author Taslima Nasrin. By then, Taslima Nasrin was an internationally well-known feminist writer. It should be mentioned that, like Professor Shariff, Mullas declared Taslima as well a ‘Murtad’ and issued fatwa (ruling based on Islamic laws) against her (still there is a big bounty for her head). I started losing faith in Islam. At home, often I was rebuked for not saying prayers by my mother and brothers. My mother at that time commented, “I made a great mistake by permitting you to go to India! Now I understand what Hindus have done to you!” Fortunately, a nephew of mine was a Master’s degree student in Social Studies. At secondary school, he was a classmate of mine and we are of same age. I had discussed with him many philosophical issues. We discussed together Plato’s famous Republic, how Plato’s views had influenced later Christianity, how Aristotle, a long time student at Plato’s Academy, differed from his master through rationalistic explanation of nature and human mind, etc. As for the Islam, we both concluded, Quran is a modified extension of Old Testament. Thus I spent my time in Bangladesh after retuning from India. I left Bangladesh for USA in July, 2000.

In USA- I Become a Humanist (July 2000 till present): By the end of July 2000, I came to the USA on student visa (F-1) and joined Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, to do Ph.D. studies in Cell & Molecular Biology. It was indeed a big transition in my life. A new culture, a new population and a new country several thousand miles apart from my own. Interestingly, I didn’t at all experience what is known as ‘cultural shock.' Probably, the liberal philosophical outlook that developed in my mind over past years was a reason. Often on the campus I saw boys and girls in their late teenage or early 20s walk, roam together and kissed each other in public. Though at times I felt miserable at myself, I was impressed to notice the trend of American culture that unlike back home, when a boy and a girl meet and like each other; race, religion hardly matter in their friendship or romantic relation (except for a few isolated cases). Sometimes I wished I met my Roja in USA, instead of India! For the first time I had free access to internet, in my lab, departmental library and Morgan library on the campus. A new world opened up before me. I got absorbed into surfing websites that contained articles which I was looking forward to read. Never before did I have a chance to read so many articles by so many great thinkers such as Spinoza, Voltaire, John Locke, Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Darwin, Thomas Pine, and Jefferson.

With help of internet search engine, I re-discovered CSCICOP (Committee for theScientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormals). It may be mentioned, in Bangladesh I read about CSICOP and their activities in Probhir Gosh’s book. After visiting the CSICOP, I came to know about the Council for Secular Humanism-CSH (, probably the largest organization of humanists, atheists, and agnostics in North America. Joy abounded in me when I discovered- I’m not alone and there are so many people in the world who think in similar direction about organized religions and their futileness! I contacted CSH to inform- I’m a humanist and I do share their principles and views. They responded with greetings, told me they have Taslima Nasrin as one of their fellows and provided me with a list of internet links to other humanist organizations which are affiliated with them. Among them was Institute for the Secularization of Islamic SocietyISIS( At ISIS website, I found a good number of articles written by the learned scholars of Muslim origin which debunked many popular myths associated with Islam, Muhammad and Quran. I found answers to many of my questions over there. I read history of the compilation of Quran written by Ibne Warraq, a Muslim apostate and a scholar by any definition; contradictions and ambiguities in Quranic verses written by Syed Kamran Mirza Besides, I found it very interesting to learn about a wide range of freethinkers that swayed Islam and its history. One such freethinker of Muslim origin is poet Al Ma’arri (973-1057), sometimes known as Eastern Lucretius. For Al-Ma'arri, religion is a "fable invented by the ancients," worthless except for those who exploit the credulous masses. Another well known skeptic of Muslim origin is Omar Khayam, also a great poet and mathematician, who said:

“Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.”

The Birth of Mukto-Mona: It was most probably Mr. Jamal Hasan, a Bangladeshii-American activist, who wrote to me personally with a request to join a popular Bangladeshi forum called NFB (News from Bangladeshi). He collected my address from the ISIS website. At the NFB site, I came across quite a few fellow-Bangladeshi freethinkers living abroad, who considered themselves as apostates. Only a handful of secularists and freethinkers fighting the large circle of mullahs amid great spirit and enthusiasm at that time ( second half of the year 2000) at NFB included Syed Kamran Mirza, Jamal Hasan, fatemolla, Dr. Jaffor Ullah, late Narayan Gupta and Dr. Shabbir Ahmed, Aparthib Zaman. Avijit and I were just new additions to the "kafir-nastik" group and I was the youngest member. We wrote articles on a regular basis. It was interesting to see how crazily Mullas reacted to our sharp criticisms of Islam. Often we received hate mails from Mullas. While most of those 'hate-mails' were from Bangladeshi Muslims, others were from Islamic fanatics outside Bangladesh. The Mullas were enraged by our effort to demystify Islam. Sometimes, I wrote articles using my real name (Jahed Ahmed), other time I used pseudonym such as Satya Sondhani (truth seeker), Ray. J. Akash.

To facilitate the communication among us, the likeminded freethinkers, we created a yahoo groups named as Voops (Voice Of the Oppressed) which also included members such as Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina & Taslima Nasrin. Voops didn't last long due to some ideological differences and the group split apart. Ali Sina's personal website at the time was known as and the name by which his website is known now i.e. Faith Freedom Internationa (FFI) was initially proposed as Faith Freedom Foundation (FFF) by all members in Voops with an aim of creating a common platform. Avijit Roy also created a yahoo group known as Mukto-Mona (meaning, 'a freethinker' in Bangla) which was later developed into a full website. We discussed critical issues concerning Islam & other religions on a regular basis. In particular, our focus was on how to devise an effective way to rationalize Islam & Muslim societies. We all agreed with the statement that is posted in Ibn Warraq’s ISIS website under goals and missions: ”…Islamic society has been held back by an unwillingness to subject its beliefs, laws and practices to critical examination, by a lack of respect for the rights of the individual, and by an unwillingness to tolerate alternative viewpoints or to engage in constructive dialogue.”

I came in contact (online) with Ibne Warraq (the founder of ISIS) through an introduction by Jamal Hasan. In August 2001, at personal level I faced a disastrous problem of academic origin. I was dismissed from graduate school. Of curse, it didn’t happen overnight. Due to my obsession with internet for days and nights my overall GPA (Grade Point Average) went below standard 3.0 and I was placed on probation during Spring 2001. However, when I was about to make up GPA and get rid of probation, some deeply involved emotional incident at a personal level shattered all my plans. It was just two days before the final test in a subject in which I was doing very well, thus brightening the chances of getting rid of probation. I shall not narrate this particular incident here, save it for a later time except for if I lied about my disbelief in God, religion on that particular occasion, I would not have needed to pay the big price I had to. Probably things would have been different and on my side. Yet I don’t have any regrets. Today I feel proud I didn’t act like an opportunist. But at that time it was really hard for me to handle everything with an even head.. Overwhelmed by stress, anger and stubbornness, I acted in an impulsive manner. I decided to skip the final test and instead requested the instructor, to put an "incomplete" instead of an "F" grade on my transcript. Unfortunately, he didn't comply with my request (he didn’t have to though) and as a result, as per the rules of graduate program, I was dismissed from the grad school with an "F" on my record. I was still living on the campus apartment when 9/11 took place. Although profoundly shocked, we were not surprised by the atrocities of Islamic fanatics. Our group issued a statement addressing the world Muslims, emphasizing the root of religious intolerance, hatred and how it is rooted in Quran and Hadeeth. Ibn Warraq and Ali Sina worked on the draft of the statement while we all gave in our inputs. Taslima Nasrin also a signatory with us. A copy of our statement could be viewed at

I left Colorado and came to Michigan by the end of September, 2001. In November (or, may be December), 2001, Ibne Warraq of ISIS invited me at a conference of ex-Muslims at the Center for Free Inquiry, Amherst, Buffalo, New York. Austin Dacey, at that time the director of the Campus Freethought Alliance, contacted me on Warraq's behalf. It was a great event in my life. I met good number of fellow freethinkers from Muslim populated countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Iran. Also I had an opportunity to talk face-to-face with prominent secular humanist philosopher, Prof. Paul Kurtz, many of whose writings I was already familiar with. He is the founder of CSICOP, as well as Council for Secular Humanism (CSH). I met (Dr.) Austin Dacey (now the director at the Center for Inquiry metro New York) and we became friends ever since. The conference lasted for three days. I was allowed to present my personal views through a short speech. As a strategy to secularize Islamic societies, I emphasized on reforming the education system in Muslim countries so that Muslim children will have easy access to science-backed and secular education.

My Present Views About Islam and Questions I Didn’t Answer: Reading my testimony, one would see- what I learned from Maulana as a child has had a deep impact on my mind in a later life. One might argue- Maulana was an ignorant person and his teaching was erroneous. One might say, real Islam is totally different from what Maulanataught me. However, I would certainly disagree with them for by now, I’ve read Quran and Hadeeth myself, and I do think, what Maulana taught me significantly exist in Muslims’ Holy Scripture Quran and Hadith as well. I will soon quote verses from Quran to present my stand. Before that, I need to comment on popular views about Islam, or views of what we call ‘mainstream Muslims.' I mentioned in the beginnings that in terms of their views on Islam, my mother, brothers, and sister belong to ‘mainstream Muslims.' But who are these ‘mainstream Muslims'? They are the majority of Muslim population, who take words of Quran for granted without ever realizing the need to apply any rationale. They, mistakenly, believe- Islam is all about peace (interestingly, US President George W. Bush also seems to believe so), Muhammad is the greatest human of all times; again, without ever realizing the need to scrutinize his life with a rational and impartial mind. Of course, I agree, unlike Islamic terrorists, mainstream Muslims don’t commit atrocities to others; most of them are peace-loving ordinary people who don't care much about politics. However, they are the people who blame the Islamic terrorists for their actions, but never raise any question against verses of Holy Quran and hadeeth which are supportive of extremism. Now I will give some proof of Quranic extremism.

First of all, Islam divides the world into two parts: Dar-el-Islam (Land of Muslims) andDar-el-Harb (Land of War –where non Muslims live). I don’t know if a Hindu divides the mankind into Hindus and non-Hindus. I’m not certain, if a Christian or a Jew believes in such sectarian views. But I’m sure- Muslims do. Muslims believe, it is only Islam that can guarantee peace and prosperity for the mankind. Thus, in accordance with Quranic instruction, it is the holy duty of every pious Muslim to conquer the non-Muslim land and convert the non-Muslims into Islam. Now I will present an excerpt from our call to the world Muslims. It will show verses of Quran, which, by any standard, are inhuman, parochial and potentially dangerous:

“…Quran tells us to: "not to make friendship with Jews and Christians" (Q. 5:51), fight them "until they pay the Jizya (a penalty tax for the non-Muslims living under Islamic rules) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued" (Q. 9:29). "kill the disbelievers wherever we find them" (Q.2:191), "murder them and treat them harshly" (Q. 9:123), "fight and slay the Pagans, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem" (Q. 9:5).

Quran says that all those who disbelieve in Islam go to hell (Q.5:10), they are najis (filthy, untouchable, impure) (Q. 9:28), and orders us to fight the unbelievers until no other religion except Islam is left (Q.2:193). It prohibits a Muslim to befriend a non-believer even if that non-believer is the father or the brother of that Muslim (Q. 9:23), (Q. 3:28).

It says that the "non-believers will go to hell and will drink boiling water" (Q. 14:17). It asks the Muslims to "slay or crucify or cut the hands and feet of the unbelievers, that they be expelled from the land with disgrace and that they shall have great punishment in the world hereafter" (Q. 5:34). And tells us that "for them (the unbelievers) garments of fire shall be cut and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water whereby whatever is in their bowels and skin shall be dissolved and they will be punished with hooked iron rods" (Q. 22:19-22) and that they not only will have "disgrace in this life, on the Day of Judgment He shall make them taste the Penalty of burning (Fire)" (22:9).

Quran says that "those who invoke a God other than Allah not only should meet punishment in this world but the Penalty on the Day of Judgment will be doubled to them, and they will dwell therein in ignominy" (Q. 25:68). For those who "believe not in Allah and His Messenger, He has prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire!" (Q. 48:13).

As for him who does not believe in Islam the Prophet says that after he dies it will be announced with a "stern command": "Seize ye him, and bind ye him, And burn ye him in the Blazing Fire. Further, make him march in a chain, whereof the length is seventy cubits! This was he that would not believe in Allah Most High. And would not encourage the feeding of the indigent! So no friend hath he here this Day. Nor hath he any food except the corruption from the washing of wounds, Which none do eat but those in sin." (Q. 69:30-37)

The holy Prophet prescribes fighting for us and tells us that "it is good for us even if we dislike it" (Q.2:216). Then he advises us to "strike off the heads of the disbelievers"; and after making a "wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives" (Q.47:4). Our God has promised to "instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers" and has ordered us to "smite above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them" (Q.8:12). and "to strike terror into (the hearts of the enemies"(Q.8:60).

He has made the Jihad mandatory and warns us that "Unless we go forth, (for Jihad) He will punish us with a grievous penalty, and put others in our place" (Q.9:39). Allah speaks to our Holy Prophet and says "O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be stern against them. Their abode is Hell,- an evil refuge indeed" (Q. 9:73).

He promises us that in the fight for His cause whether we slay or are slain we return to the garden of Paradise (Q. 9:111). In Paradise he will "wed us with Houris (celestial virgins) pure beautiful ones" (Q. 56:54), and unite us with large-eyed beautiful ones while we recline on our thrones set in lines (Q.56:20). There we are promised to eat and drink pleasantly for what we did (56:19). And have sex with "boys like hidden pearls" (Q. 56:24) and "youth never altering in age like scattered pearls" (Q. 76:19)

As you see, Allah has promised all sorts of rewards, gluttony and unlimited sex to Muslim men who kill the unbelievers in his name, not forgetting even those with pedophilic inclinations. We will be admitted to Paradise where we shall find "goodly things, beautiful ones, pure ones confined to the pavilions that man has not touched them before nor jinni" (Q. 56:67-71).

In the West we enjoy freedom of belief but we are not supposed to give such freedom to anyone else because it is written "If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good)(Q. 3:85).

As for women, the book of Allah says that they are inferior to men and their husbands have the right to scourge them if they are found disobedient (Q. 4:34). It advises men to take a green branch and beat their wives, because a green branch is more flexible and hurts more. (Q. 38:44). It teaches that women will go to hell if they are disobedient to their husbands (66:10). It maintains that men have an advantage over the women (Q.2:228). It not only denies the women's equal rights, it decrees that their witness is not admissible in the courts of law (Q.2:282). This means that a woman who is raped cannot accuse her rapist unless she can produce a male witness. Our Holy Prophet allows us to marry up to four wives and he licensed us to sleep with our slave maids and as many 'captive' women as we may have (4:3) even if those women are already married. He himself did just that…….”

My Addition to the Above: How could Quran be the words of God the most benevolent, the kindest? Indeed, it's not. Muhammad was not any holy man. He marriedAyesha, when she was just 6 years (had sex with her when she was 9). Isn’t it a case of child abuse? When Khadiza, Mohammed’s first wife, died, Muhammed was 49 years, and between 51st and 63rd (age he died) year of his life, he married at least 11 times! Among his wives is, Zainab, who was initially Mohammad’s adopted-son Zayed’s wife. Do these examples justify the myth, that he was the greatest of all humans and God’s true messenger?

Last Words- What's My Final Identity and Aim in Life? I was a Muslim, but I’m no more. Does it mean- I’ve no identity to live with? Of course, not. My identity, echoing the words of George Bernard Shaw, is as follows:

“I’m convinced that my life belongs to the whole community; and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I got hold for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before turning it over to future generations.”

Like the Greek philosopher I quoted in the beginning, I’m a citizen of the world. I don’t need any divine guidance for living a responsible and a decent life. All I need- common sense, compassion and reasons. I love to dream- there would come a time in our world, when one person wouldn’t judge another person based on race, religion and ethnicity. Our first and last identity would be- humans, inhabitants of the planet earth Superiority of any particular religion or culture over another wouldn’t prevail. I’m sure, I’m not alone in having such a dream. But I will do my part of the job. Through my writings, I would like to stimulate minds of educated Muslims throughout the world. I aspire to revive the lost trends of ‘Golden Age of Islam’ (9th century to 13th century), which was marked by traditions of Muslim rationalists called Mutazillatese. Inspired by the Greek learning, and adhering to rational inquiry, Muslim world flourished remarkably in Astronomy, Medicine, Mathematics, Arts and philosophy. Some great thinkers of golden age are- astronomer Al Sufi, Al Biruni (born in 973), physician Ibne Sina (born in 981), physicistAl-Haytham (born in 965). However, this trend didn’t last. With the change of social-political phenomena, fundamentalism rose and rationalist traditions submerged in the ocean of darkness, from which the Muslim world has yet to emerge. Yet I am very optimistic, since the people who love truth, reason and freedom—however small or big in number—always existed in the human history. There is absolutely no reason to think- they are all gone by now.

Chronological order