Sultan never imagined her life would take this path. She was born to a large middle-class family in the Syrian port city of Banias. Her father was a grain trader, her mother a housewife. She has nine brothers and sisters. The family was devoutly Muslim and Sultan, who studied medicine at the University of Aleppo in Damascus, says she never had any reason to doubt her faith. But in 1979, when she was a student, she witnessed a horrifying crime. As she stood chatting with some other students on the university courtyard, armed members of the Muslim Brotherhood began shooting at one of her teachers, killing him on the spot.
“They filled his body with bullets as they shouted ‘Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar! (God is greatest!)’,” she recalls. She says they killed him because he was an Alawite, a member of the same Muslim sect as the Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, whom they wanted to overthrow, even though he had nothing to do with politics.
“This was the turning point of my life,” says Sultan. She began to reread the Koran closely, gradually coming to the conclusion that the violence and oppression of most Muslim governments and some of those fighting against them stemmed directly from the teachings of Islam.
“I began to question every single teaching,” she says. She noticed that “there are too many verses in the Koran which say you must kill those who are non-Muslim; you must kill those who don’t believe in Allah and his messenger. I started to ask: is this right? Is this human? All our problems in the Islamic world, I strongly believe, are the natural outcome of these teachings. Go open any book in any class in any school in any Islamic country and read it. You will see what kind of teachings we have: Islam tells its followers that every non-Muslim is your enemy.”
[…] Sultan has no intention of stopping her attacks on Islam even though she and her family in Syria have been threatened. Two of her brothers have been interrogated by the Syrian secret police, she says, since the Al-Jazeera broadcasts. In fact, Sultan’s long intellectual journey has brought her to a radical conclusion: that reform of Islam is impossible.
“Muslims have been hostages of their beliefs and their teachings for 14 centuries,” she says. “I believe the time has come and the truth should be spoken. I know that I am waging a very difficult war. It is going to take years. I might not be able to see it in my life, but I am strongly sure that the next generation will see the fruits of my writing and my message.”