By Scott Douglas Jacobsen (Interviewer) and Stephanie Wimmers (Translator)
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Mina, what is your family background regarding religion, geography, culture, language, and education?
Mina Ahadi: I was born in Abhar, a little town in Iran. My mother tongue was Turkish but we learnt and spoke Persian in school. My father was active in the Tudeh party in Iran, but he died when I was 4 years old. He was a teacher. My family was Muslim and traditional. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was an atheist.
Jacobsen: Was there a family background in activism?
Ahadi: Politics was always a subject. My father and uncle were in Iran’s communist party, Tudeh, and the student movement was very strong back then in Iran and I witnessed all of that.
Jacobsen: You were born in 1956. So, you have experience with the world and its changes over several decades. What have been some most impactful, even emotionally moving, moments in world history that you have personally been a part of? What about simply witness to by your judgment?
Ahadi: The Iranian revolution in 1979 was a very important and big emotional event. I was an activist back then and have seen and learnt a lot, afterwards I read a lot about revolutions in other countries.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You are a member of the Central Committee and Politburo of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. What tasks and responsibilities come with this position?
Ahadi: I work with the Communist Worker’s Party of Iran. We are trying to reach younger generations in Iran and have done and achieved a lot up to this point. I’m in contact with women in Iran with whom we talk about women’s rights violations and gender apartheid in Iran. With the Party’s committee, we have campaigned against stoning in Iran and have saved many women and men. I’ve done a lot myself against executions in Iran and aided a movement against executions, too. We’re trying to help the secular and modern movement in Iran and we would like to topple the Islamic regime with another revolution. The party is very important on that level.
Jacobsen: What are the main targeted objectives of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran in the far future?
Ahadi: In Iran, we would like to topple the Islamic regime and build up a democratic and human-rights oriented regime instead. We want to get rid of all Islamic laws and sharia law, we want freedom of speech, and for equality and liberty to be guaranteed for everyone. Every person should be free and happy, and that’s doable with the options of modern science and communication. We think Iran has a large women’s rights movement, workers’ movement and also anti-religious movement, and after the Islamic regime, we will be able to show all the world how, with the help of social media and communication, you can build a direct system that helps people every day to talk and decide about their lives and how their society functions.
Jacobsen: Faith, in many ways, can be seen as a virus, and an oppressive one in general, with some positives such as hope and community-building. Although, this can be seen as false hope, and community can be built in other ways. How does faith enter the law? How is this tangled up with religion?
Ahadi: Faith and religion is a result of fear and powerlessness of people. Religion nowadays, especially Islam and political Islam, has shown the ugly face of religion, and many people, especially women and teenagers, are against those religions, even in so-called Islamic countries. Religion and faith get weaker the more people live better and get enlightened. I believe that freedom of speech should be a right for everyone in the future. Religion has to be a private matter and stay private. Religion should disappear from the state’s matters and from schools. But, everyone who does have a religion should have to option to practice it, religious organisations should work like NGO organisations, and in it should be possible to criticise religion without fear, and enlightenment work and prosperity and freedom helps people to gain even more distance from faith.
Jacobsen: What has been successful in reducing the incidence of religious and faith influence on the law?
Ahadi: Religion has a huge influence on laws in Islam. Sharia is the Islamic law and everything gets defined against women’s rights and human rights, in general. When religion manifests in law, us women lose all our rights, homosexuals lose their rights, and children and people of other faiths have no rights either.
Jacobsen: How can women, and everyone else, benefit from one secular law for all that especially respects women’s reproductive rights?
Ahadi: Secularism is a very important step for women’s rights, and also for all humans. A secular system means the government is neutral and no religion is allowed to interfere with the system. Religion shouldn’t be in the school curriculum and children shouldn’t wear hijabs in school either, no religious signs in the workplace, so also no hijab in the workplace. Secularism is a guarantee that religions cannot split people in the world of work, and that is especially important today.
Jacobsen: Your husband was executed, on the anniversary of you two as a couple. How did this affect you? What emotions arose? Any messages for those enduring that level of pain and coping?
Ahadi: Yes, my husband was murdered on our anniversary, and that was very difficult for me as a young woman. At the end of May 1980, we had guests in our house and I and my husband spoke about those people in Kurdish dress that were at our house, and I told my husband I was tired and that we would talk about this issue the next day. The next day, I was at work, and when I came home I saw the religious police in our flat and I did not go home because it was very dangerous for me, too. After one month I read in the newspaper that my husband and all our guests from Kurdistan had been executed. I cried all night, and cannot forget about it – that your loved one is taken away and executed is very painful and incredibly bitter. Maybe that’s why I have fought against execution my entire life.
Jacobsen: Do you ever heal completely? If not, how much do you heal? How do you use this to motivate change for the betterment of all – based on the loss of a true love?
Ahadi: I have never gotten away from this tragedy. Every year at the end of June, the anniversary of the execution, I fall into depression. I have never had an opportunity to work through this grief, but with much strength I have helped other people to not be executed. The fight against the death penalty is an important part of my life and my work, and that’s very well known in Iran.
Jacobsen: Why is capital punishment a bad thing, an evil? How does the International Committee Against Executions help show this and prevent capital punishment as a norm? When is capital punishment permissible?
Ahadi: The death penalty is barbaric and inhumane. No government or individual should be allowed to take another person’s life, no one must do such a thing to anyone. I think humanity should abolish this barbarism. I am trying to organise a campaign in Iran against the death penalty, by giving these people a face. I work with pictures of those people and conduct interviews with those affected in prison. I am trying to work with various TV and radio shows to publish interviews and reports of the life stories of those affected, and I do more work on women’s stories. For example, we have organised very big campaigns about Nazanin Fatehi or Ryhane Jabbari, and also about Sina Dehghan, an ex-Muslim, people who have or will be executed in Iran, and multiple others, and we have saved many, but also conducted educational enlightenment work against the death penalty.
Jacobsen: You are a co-founder of the German Central Council of Ex-Muslims. What was the impetus for its foundation? Why are ex-Muslims so persecuted to the point of death threats and outright murder in secular countries?
Ahadi: The central council of ex-Muslims was founded in 2007. I said back then that we were 4 million foreigners in Germany, and suddenly we all got labelled as ‘Muslims’. The German government arranged the Islam Conference with Islamic organisations and then sold it as integration. I saw that when someone in Denmark made a caricature of Mohammed, the German television showed a man from the Islamic organisation of the Central Council of Muslims who said all Muslims were offended. So, we were against that kind of politics and founded the ZDE (Central Council of Ex-Muslims) because we needed a different voice and a different set of politics.
Four million people came to Germany for freedom and a better life, not for more religious indoctrination or more influence of Islamic organisations. We are an organisation that is for a headscarf ban in the workplace, and for a ban of headscarves on children. We are against religious classes in school, the wearing of the hijab and the building of more mosques, and we are for integration with modern culture and women’s rights-oriented politics.
Apostasy in Islamic countries is taboo and ex-Muslims can be executed in some countries. We want to show that freedom from religion is a basic human right and must not be punished. In a secular country that also mustn’t be punished with death threats. I have received death threats in Germany multiple times and also have to have personal security.
Jacobsen: How can people help what Maryam Namazie calls the “minority within the minority”? Also, women have less status and finances and, therefore, the capability to move away from religion, in general. What can empower women more, and girls too?
Ahadi: First off, it has to be said that we are dealing with a political Islam that is very aggressive and brutal in the 21st century. Stoning and honour killings and human rights violations in Islamic countries is not our culture, but barbarism from the side of political Islam. But you also have to acknowledge that Islam as a religion is misogynistic and has influenced our culture for centuries, so we are dealing with a complex subject. We have to explain enlightenment worldwide, and the reason is that it has helped people and these aren’t just Western values but human rights and have to be accepted and implemented everywhere. Women’s rights are human rights and universal rights, and primarily, Islamic laws and sharia have to be abolished. The headscarf is a symbol of political Islam and has to be banned worldwide, and women in Iran or other countries should be helped against the forced wearing of the headscarf.
Jacobsen: What seems like the main issue in the ex-Muslim community now? What about the Muslim community?
Ahadi: Being an ex-Muslim in Islamic countries is not easy, but there are more ex-Muslims today. Being an ex-Muslim in Iran or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia means that a person is for secularism and for women’s rights and modern culture. Many ex-Muslims cannot stay in their country of origin and are refugees at the moment, we help refugees and also ex-Muslims that are in prison and have been given the death sentence. For ex-Muslims, it is important now to make religion a private matter in the system in our countries, and to get rid of Sharia laws. For Muslims, I have to say religion is a matter of succession, it is inherited. So I have coincidentally been born into a Muslim family, and so I become a Muslim – and many Muslims are cultural Muslims and live completely normally, and don’t agree with Sharia or Islamists, and that also has to be seen. In Islamic countries, many Muslims are victims of these barbaric regimes, and are also opposed to it.
Jacobsen: How can we best fight political Islam and apostasy laws?
Ahadi: You have to see on a global basis which problems we are talking about. We are talking about political problems that have to do with western governments and their politics. In 1979, in Iran, we had a revolution for a better life, and Islamists have only gained power there with the help of USA, and that’s important. I would like to say that it wasn’t that people had become any more religious and that was why the Islamists had come into power, no, Islamists have come into power with the help of Islamic and western governments, and now Islam and Islamism is a very important political tendency. We have to work against political Islam, and first and foremost help people in Iran and other countries who are against Islamic governments. We have to fight women’s rights violations and not play everything down as just being culture. I’m very critical towards traditions of the Left that define Islamism and political Islam as a genuine fight of oppressed people against imperialism. No, political Islam stands for the taking of power by reactionary governments and has to be fought. We also have to be against apostasy laws and against the death penalty for apostasy and help these people.
Jacobsen: Who is Nazanin Fatehi? How did you help her?
Ahadi: Nazanin Fatehi is in Iran and I heard she has married and is living normally. Nazan was 16 years old when she was out with other young girls in Karaj when she was attacked by some young men. Those men wanted to rape Nazanin and she went at them with a knife. She got arrested and got sentenced to death. There was another Nazanin in Canada, Nazanin Afshin Jam, who wanted to save Nazanin – she made contact with me and I helped her find Nazanin in the Iranian prisons, and together we did a very important campaign and saved Nazanin, that was a big discussion, also about women’s rights and death penalty for minors and everything. I am very happy about this fight we have won, and there is a book about this achievement.
Jacobsen: You have been living under police protection. This is common for publicly outspoken ex-Muslims, especially well-spoken, articulate, and thoughtful ones. As the chairwoman of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims, what has been your main challenge?
Ahadi: Yeah, I had six bodyguards for a long time, and also now when I do public events, I have personal security. That’s a problem in Europe as well. When we criticise Islam or show ourselves as ex-Muslims, we have to fear for our lives. But I wasn’t afraid and I also always say I’m not scared of Islamists either because I’ve known those monsters from the start and fought against those monsters. I am a woman who fights against misogynistic laws and culture. I criticise Islam and all other religions, and unfortunately, that’s dangerous today. I also get labelled as a racist by some left wingers in Germany, and that is also a problem. I want to appear worldwide for secular societies and freedom and women’s rights, and my work is enlightenment work and I also want to help refugees and especially women who fled those countries.
Jacobsen: You won the Secularist of the Year from the UK National Secular Society. How does this feel? What additional responsibilities to the community come with this?
Ahadi: It was an honour for me and I was very happy about it. What I do and say now is not in the direction of European governments, and in Europe my work is not acknowledged as integration work, therefore women like me and especially women who are communists do not get any recognition or prizes. In Germany, women who call themselves Muslim and advertise for a moderate Islam get prizes every day… but at least this was my first prize now in the UK and worldwide and it was very good because that way, we can show that our work is recognised and we gain more attention. For me it was very important what Richard Dawkins said there, he said that he always thought that women in Islamic countries will rise up and do something against Islamists, and Mina Ahadi is an important person against misogynistic laws.
Jacobsen: You have two daughters. What world do you hope for them to have into the near and far future? How does this vision extend to all girls, young women, and women?
Ahadi: I have two daughters who are very important to me. I wish for my children for a life free of any form of discrimination or violence. I wish for my children to be free from any form of interference of religion, to enjoy their life. A world without war and exploitation, without reactionary culture and I wish for the millions of girls or women today for better lives, and want to help my daughters and all those other people.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved and see more of your work in the future?
Ahadi: We are a small group and have received no money from the government or other institutions up to now. However, ex-Muslims are a movement now and we help several people who need help each day, or who fight for freedom and secularism in Islamic countries. I think we have to see this movement and those bloggers or writers who, with much trouble, help do enlightenment work in Islamic countries. We need money, television or other communication platforms, and professional help.
Jacobsen: What are the upcoming presentations and ideas that you want to explore in the near future?
Ahadi: I want to invite all ex-Muslims in Europe to organise a congress. We need to show ourselves and everyone needs to see that we’re doing very important humanist work. I want to organise a large symposium over the hijab and would like to present our fight against the headscarf there first. My generation in Iran in 1978 was on the streets, we were thousands of women and we said that women’s rights aren’t eastern or western, but universal, and in the Iran of current times, young people have made a call to go out on Wednesdays without a hijab, and they go out on the streets without the headscarf, and they get insulted by those in power in Iran. I want to show this movement in all Islamic countries. I also want to organise a conference with bloggers from Islamic countries and show that thousands are on social media every day and criticise religion and Islam.
Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
Ahadi: I thank you very much and hope our voice gets heard even more and our activities will be recognised worldwide, and we aren’t victims anymore, but an alternative for a better future, and rebellious women who have a vision and also a lot of experience, and so far we have achieved a lot as well.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Mina, honour and pleasure.