After turning away from Islam and becoming an atheist, young blogger Kassim al-Ghasali became a target in his native Morocco. Following a string of death threats, he sought political asylum in Switzerland, where he now lives and continues to embrace ideals of freedom and tolerance.
Ever-outspoken in his beliefs, al-Ghasali presented a speech at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in February. Speaking to the German-language news outlet Die Welt following the event, the young Moroccan shared his views (a translation of the full interview can be found in the Gates of Vienna blog), on the Arab Spring, why he believes Islam cannot be reformed in the same way that Christianity was, and why moderate Muslims should admit that "terror and violence" -- or more pointedly, "unmitigated horror" -- is part of the Koran.
Al-Ghasali also poignantly added that the Koran is a "politically and historically-determined book and not the word of Allah" and that Islam cannot be reformed as its tenets are anathema to Western enlightenment, which helped to reform Christianity [emphasis added].
"In my opinion, there can be no reformation or enlightenment in Sunni or Shiite Islam, because there is no church to be reformed," al-Ghasali explained to Die Welt.
"In Islam, we are subject to the power of a sacred book and the instructions it gives. Identity and understanding of self come from the Quran. If Muslims could use their reason without the instructions of a book which is recognized as the Word of God, then we could talk about enlightenment. But today most Muslims are against the ideas of the Western Enlightenment."
He went on to note that, historically, "there were several attempts at reform in Islam, but they were not welcomed."
"Any moderate Muslim who would like to reform Islam should admit to himself that terror and violence are in the Quran. The unmitigated horror. But no Muslim could admit that the Quran is a politically -- and historically-determined book — and not the word of Allah."
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, author of "Battle for the Soul of Islam" and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) disagrees with al-Ghasali's premise, however, and told TheBlaze that the blogger "is mixing a number of different concepts" thereby "passing judgement on all Muslims."
"He is free to believe what he wants," Jasser qualified, before saying that it is "wrongheaded" to credit Western Enlightenment with having reformed Christianity because reformation of the faith was brought on more by individuals rather than an entire movement.
"I agree that reform cannot come from the top-down, that is not going to happen, but so many Muslims have written about separation of mosque and state," Jasser said before explaining that the entirety of Islam should not be stereotyped based on politically-motivated clerics and the goals of Islamism, or, political Islam.
"He [al-Ghasali] does not give any solutions. So do all Muslims need to leave their faith?" Jasser asked.
The author and doctor also said that he "could not disagree more" that the Koran harbors "unmitigated horrors" and explained that, just as in passages from the Old Testament and scriptures, there are texts that contain hellfire. "Islam is not a pacifist religion, and there are historical contexts at the time in which God told Muslims it was OK to fight and defend themselves."
"We elevate [the words] of theocrats that use verses for their own empowerment rather than take into account the context of a battle that happened in 6th century AD," Jasser said.
But what then of the Arab Spring, which was supposed to comprise "moderate" voices within Islam and not the usual theocrats bent on domination?
For his part, al-Ghasali shared some very illuminating thoughts on what, or rather who, is truly driving the Arab Spring. He explained that supporters of the movement "want everyone to think the same, dress the same and pray at the same time."
"Most of the supporters of the Arab Spring do not believe in human rights as the West understands them. For them, democracy is just a ladder for the climb to power. Then they fasten knives to the treads so that no other political parties can climb the ladder. What is happening in the Arab World now is comparable to what Europe went through in the 17th and 18th century. The difference is that this phase at that time brought forth enlightened philosophers and thinkers. In the Near East, on the contrary, the supporters of divine laws and the followers of Islam are coming to power."
On this point, Jasser agrees. He told TheBlaze that due to high illiteracy rates and low education standards in countries across the Middle East and Maghreb, everyday men and women fall prey to clerics who have less-than scrupulous intentions.
With a new generation poised to embrace sharia law and the tenets of Islam as prescribed by clerics and imams bent on world domination, al-Ghasali explained what led to his departure from Morocco and his views on religion.
"It is a culture that controls everything: our personal relations, our thoughts, even our imagination and our dreams," he said of Islam.
"A culture that does not allow us to be different, or think differently. A culture that sticks its nose into everything."
He said that it makes "no sense" to "call for respect for human rights while, on the other hand, religious texts call for the killing of infidels, bullying women and oppressing minorities."
On this point, another outspoken voice for human rights in Muslim countries, Nonie Darwish, agrees. The director for Arabs for Israel and author of the book "Now They Call Me Infidel," left Islam for reasons similar to al-Ghasali.
She told TheBlaze that for her personally, Islam and being at peace with the world and those in it are "irreconcilable."
"I personally cannot be a Muslim and be at peace with the world," she said. "I could not make peace with Islam and the rest of the world at the same time. The problem with Islam is that it is very rigid in how it looks at others. I could not reconcile that with how to love the rest of the world."
Darwish said that for her to have remained a Muslim, she would have had to "kid herself" or "try to create an Islam that does not exist."
"Islamic ideology is obsessed with rejecting non-Muslims. The bulk of the scriptures are focused on condemning non-Muslims. I think it is hypocritical for people to call themselves Muslims and then say they can love the rest of the world because if they read their scriptures its always about cursing non-Muslims. It is hypocritical to reconcile Islam with peace."
Darwish also shared her belief that being a Muslim "is a contract with the state, not a relationship with God."
"If you leave the Islamic world -- that state -- or any Muslim -- can kill you," she said.
"It is not a religion."
Jasser, however, believes that it is indeed possible to be a moderate Muslim, but agreed that it is much easier to be so in the West and that if a religion-wide reform were to take place, the West is the only place it could ever truly happen.
"This is the challenge of my work and Islamic leadership coalitions," he told TheBlaze. "No one is under any delusions that this is not an uphill battle against institutions that have decided to use supremacist interpretations of our faith."
He also explained that the roughly 200 local Muslim families that he and his family share time with in his home-state of Arizona cannot all be hypocrites who lack compassion and a capacity for loving their fellow man. To Jasser, that notion is not based in reality.
He does not dispute the fact that there are violent passages in the Koran and hadiths and even admitted to their abundance, but qualified that hellfire, as described by the Koran, is about what "God himself tells a Muslim who turns away from him will suffer," and not what "one human being can bestow upon another human being."
In other words, Jasser maintains that the Koran is God's word to each individual worshipper and not meant to convey a Muslim man or woman's judgement upon another person.
While many would like to believe that Islam is reformable, Darwish maintains that, at least in her opinion, it is not. She told TheBlaze that she had to leave Islam in order to be honest with herself.
"In my opinion it is not reformable, but I won't make that decision for other Muslims."
"Moderate Muslims are enablers, I believe of the radicals," she said. "Because they are not standing up to radicals, they are making excuses."
Al-Ghasali seems to share Darwish's opinion. During his interview with Die Welt, the Moroccan blogger explained how his own family failed to support him when he turned away from Islam.
"Not even when protest demonstrations against me were organized in front of my house," he said. "So I had to leave my home and my town and go into hiding until I had the entry permit for Switzerland."
As a Muslim, turning away from Islam or converting to another religion renders one an apostate -- a brand both Darwish and al-Ghasali wear. The crime of apostasy in Islam is indeed a grave one and under sharia law in certain Islamic countries carry penalties including jail time and even execution.
Al-Ghasali said he would return to Morocco only when it has "healed itself of the cancer of Islamism."