'I have to help the people of Bangladesh'
Asif Mohiuddin is one of Bangladesh's most famous bloggers. As an open atheist in a mainly Islamic country, he has been attacked and thrown in jail for his beliefs. DW caught up with him after his recent move to Germany.
In addition to being an active blogger, Asif Mohiuddin co-founded the Shahbag movement in Bangladesh, which has been arguing for the strict division of state and religion in the country, as well as justice for victims of Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence.
Mohiuddin recently arrived in Germany on a one-year scholarship. He says that living in Germany now means he can walk the streets safely. But still, he says, he has to keep his location secret.
DW: What did you write on your blog that was so offensive? Can you give us examples of what it might be that Islamists found so blasphemous?
Asif Mohiuddin: I wrote a blog entry about women's rights which caused problems. In the Koran, Chapter 4, Verse 34, it says that a man can beat his wife, if she doesn't obey her husband. I criticized that because in modern civilization there is no place for hitting anybody. Also, according to Sharia law, if someone leaves Islam, then that person has to be killed. I don't think that is a good thing, so I criticized that. And that is why people got angry.
I also criticized leaders of Islamic political parties, and one of them even asked that my name be put on a list. He mentioned my name a few times and said that I should be killed, because I criticized his ideology. I also criticized the Bible and Hindu religious books, the parts that were not compatible with modern society.
But you almost paid with your life for your views. Has anything come of the investigation into the attack that you suffered in January of last year?
Asif Mohiuddin's blog won a Bobs award in 2012
There is a fundamentalist group in Bangladesh called Ansarullah Bangla Team, and they admitted to attacking me. I met my attackers when I was in prison. They were in the same cell as me. They recognized me. We had a nice discussion. I asked them why did you attack me? They said, 'You left Islam, you are not a Muslim, you criticized the Koran, we had to do this.' They said they would try to kill me again when they leave prison. I said to them that I would always speak out against them.
Are you concerned about being attacked again?
Yes, a few days ago, people posted a Facebook note that I should be killed, that somebody should go to Germany and kill me. They received around 1,200 'likes' and many people shared that post. Yes, they are still looking for me and I am still the number one enemy of Islam in Bangladesh.
How well do you know the Koran?
I was a believer of the Koran when I was 13 and 14. Then I realized that everything written in the religious books was fake and lies. I don't believe that there is a person living in the sky, watching over the world. I don't believe that. I read the Koran and the Hadiths [the traditional stories of Muhammad] and I criticized many of those things that were not compatible with modern society.
But isn't it a case of live and let live? Do you respect people who want to live a religious life, according to the Koran? Or do you want to change that actively?
No, no, no. I never wanted to convert anyone to atheism. It is okay if someone personally believes in god or in the Koran. I don't have any problem with that. But I do take issue with people enforcing Sharia law in our society. They should not decide that a woman shouldn't go out or not study. We should not cut off hands of thieves or throw stones at women that have an affair. This is what they do in many villages in Bangladesh. But this is modern society. We should not practice laws that existed 1,400 years ago.
In December the Islamist opposition leader Abdul Quader Mollah was executed following major demonstrations by your Shahbag movement. How did you feel about his execution?
Actually, I don't support the death penalty. We just started a movement pursuing the war criminals [from the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan]. My idea was to ban Islamic political parties. When we started that movement I told people a number of times that our main focus should be the separation of religion and politics, not the death penalty for Quader Mollah.
But we had a huge debate, and most of the people wanted the death penalty for Quader Mollah. It's a democracy, so I had to follow them. But personally I don't support the death penalty, and I was silent at that time. Four years ago I wrote a blog against the death penalty. But still, I do think that if the poor people of Bangladesh who don't have money for lawyers are able to be dealt the death penalty, then the war criminals should as well. That's my logic.
What will you do when your year-long scholarship in Germany ends? Will you go back to Bangladesh?
Yes, I will go back to Bangladesh. We started so many things, so I will go back to get them going again. I'm also the coordinator of a blogger organization in Bangladesh and we just held a march against the government there a couple of days ago. I'm not a very patriotic person, I don't believe in nationalism. I don't think that Bangladesh is my country - all the world is my country. But I have to do something for the people of Bangladesh.
Asif Mohiuddin was is a recipient of Deutsche Welle's 2012 for online activism for his blog entitled "God, Almighty only in name but impotent in reality."