Rabia Kazan is a rebel without a hijab.
As a young girl in a religious Muslim family in 1970s Turkey, which was then largely secular, she was forced to wear the head covering. If caught removing it, she received a beating from her mother.
As a journalist and author, she wrote a book, “Angels of Tehran,” in 2007, about Iran’s practice of “temporary marriage” that she called a form of sanctioned prostitution. Heavy criticism from some Muslims followed.
Two years ago, as a human rights activist living outside of Turkey, which has turned towards fundamentalist Islam, she announced that she had taken off the hijab for good. This time, she got death threats.
And last week she formally cut her ties with “radicals who claim to speak in the name of God, Kazan launched an international initiative, “This is not my Allah,” which urges leaders and rank-and-file members of the Islamic faith to “be on the side of justice.”
At a press conference last week in Midtown Manhattan, Kazan, her bare hair tied behind her head, listed what she called “murderous excesses” committed in the name of Islam and outlined a four-part “call to action.”
“I am calling for a secular interpretation of Islam to coexist with its more stringent practice,” she said.
Though her campaign is focused on the religion in which she was raised, Kazan, 38, expressed her support for Israel and for the Jewish community in her introductory speech and in subsequent remarks. As a schoolgirl, Kazan heard awful things about Jews and about Israel. She was curious about Israel, but afraid to express her interest.
As an adult, she learned about Jewish culture while traveling abroad, she said, and is particularly impressed by Jewish contributions to art and science.
Kazan said “Islamist terror” has targeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for assassination, and, in a call for anti-extremist “protests and demonstrations and rallies,” said, “If every Muslim shouting ‘Death to Israel’ this past summer would shout ‘Death to ISIS’ or ‘Death to those who kill in the name of Allah,’ we would already be on our way to redemption.”
Kazan has not visited Israel, but she said she hopes to go there soon. She is negotiating with an Israeli publisher to have her book come out in Hebrew. “I love Israel a lot,” she said.
“This is not my Allah” is an independent effort, said Kazan, who has worked for the Swiss-based International Civil Liberties Alliance, whose president, Alain Wagner, also took part in last week’s press conference.
“Our society needs to help moderate Muslims reject the extremists,” Wagner said.
In launching her “global campaign of resistance,” Kazan has not worked with such established groups as Rabbi Marc Schneier’s interfaith Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, or with other prominent Muslims who have renounced Islam in recent years, many of them embracing fundamentalist Christianity.
Kazan declined to say if she still considers herself a Muslim. “I believe in God,” she said. And she was vague about where she lives now.
“I know the threat of death firsthand,” she said. Because she wrote a controversial book, because she shed the hijab, “I became an enemy of Islam. I live with the fear of being killed. I have run. I have changed my name. I have gone into hiding. I live with the fear of my loved ones [being] murdered in some twisted act of vengeance against Allah. I have known this fear intimately for the last 10 years.”
Citing polls that indicate that only 7 percent of Muslims “support jihadist ideology,” Kazan said her views reflect the majority of “moderate” Muslims. Many, she said, are afraid to speak out. “The silence of Muslims feeds radical Islam. If this silence comes to an end, these terrorists will lose power.”
The press conference took place without counterprotests or any visible security presence. Kazan noted, however, that the event, originally set to be held at the midtown Harvard Club, was moved. “At the last minute, they [Club management] informed us that they would not accommodate us, probably because the content of our campaign scared them.”
The Club did not reply to a request for comment from The Jewish Week.
Citing Islamist terror against people deemed to be “infidels,” Kazan said, “I stand before you today to say: ‘I do not believe in a God who asks for the death of innocents.’” Such organizations as al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Taliban and ISIS “converge on the same ideology … execute people while saying Allahu Akbar [God is great]. This is not what any God wants.”
Her four-point platform urges:
n “Imams to preach tolerance, love and non-violence.”
n “Muslim educators … to educate young Muslim students about the interlocking relationship of the three Abrahamic religions and respect for all faiths.”
n “Muslim mothers … to teach their children that the atrocities being perpetrated in the name of Allah [are] blasphemous and antithetical to their religion.”
n “Muslims who have experienced the sting of the radical interpretation of their religion to share their stories on my website or Facebook page.”
“Bombs and guns alone can’t be a solution in this fight against terrorism,” Kazan said.