Skip to content

An Interview with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar on Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0 (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/07/01


Faisal Saeed Al Mutar is the founder of Ideas Beyond Borders and Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0, Global Secular Humanist Movement, and a columnist for Free Inquiry. He discusses: clever obstacles placed by governments; books being translated through Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0; and selection of who leads the conversations.

Keywords: Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Global Secular Humanist Movement, Ideas Beyond Borders.

An Interview with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar on Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0: Founder, Ideas Beyond Borders & Founder, Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0 (Part Two)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are the clever obstacles some of the governments are putting up or would potentially put up?

Faisal Al Mutar: One of the main things is the tracking stuff. These governments track behaviour. They are able to see what other people see. They can track the location and then be able to arrest the perpetrators. One of the other main things; that many, at least 100, people I know get exposed.

One of my writer friends, two months ago, is a Tunisian. Not through Al-Qaeda, but there were many extremist websites sharing her name and address on webpages, they said, “She is an infidel, kill her.” They do not say, “Kill her.” They say, “Do something,” with the implication there.

That way, Facebook cannot track them as easily. This is one of the tactics that the extremists use. I have had this happen many times to me. I “are less, because I live in the West. But there are days when I went to a chat room about religion. Somebody said, “What is your email? I would like to take the conversation to private.” It’s not smart. I know.

I think a guy has a device or something to get the IP Address from the email. He took it to a page. This is when I was living in Malaysia. He took it to a page and out my photo online. They said, “This guy this in this neighbourhood around here.” It got 10,000 likes.

That was in 2010/11. Lots of comments, “I am going to kill this guy.” I freaked out at the time, rightly so. Nothing happened. But I was scared for a week. Because the address put online was within three blocks.

Many of the people saying, “I am going to kill him,” probably lived in Indonesia and not Malaysia. This is the trouble people who consume our content may face death threats, being killed, and so on.

We, as an organization, in terms of dealing with translators is wanting to empower the translators. We want to pay for these people. Other than them working as an Uber driver. We would like them to get as much money as they get from Uber but from us – translating the most important ideas of the 21st century.

Some issues faced by translators, not all. Because of the blasphemy laws, the translator is afraid of translating the book, because they would be breaking the blasphemy laws. We had a translator who lived in Egypt.

He said, “Look, Faisal, I agree with everything. I love Steven Pinker. But I cannot translate it. There are blasphemy laws. I can be persecuted in my country, even though these things are not my ideas. I can be punished through blasphemy laws for translating.”

For example, they cannot make a contract with us. We have to work entirely on trust. They translate the book. We give them money. If there was a physical contract, their lives would be in danger. This has been one of the issues faced by us. It is looking for translators.

Most of our translators live in the Middle East. It is the policy that I take. One is the lower cost. Another is empowering those people over there. It has been a big obstacle. But so far, we have been really successful in finding really high-quality translators, who are so excited.

They are probably so much more excited than me. Because they are translators. They speak the same language. They recognize that many people because of language barriers, blasphemy laws, and so on, cannot access this stuff and need it.

It is about stopping extremism before it takes root. This is the idea behind IBB.

Jacobsen: By the way, 35 million people, that is the size of my country [Laughing].

Al Mutar: [Laughing] there are many people who speak Arabic. There are about 500 million people who speak Arabic, but not all of them are experts. It is good. One of our policies is generally not reinventing the wheel.

We are trying to improve the already existing systems. The people who are bloggers and have pages related to our cause. We are partnering all together to distribute each others’ content.

Jacobsen: It centralizes through an umbrella but decentralizes because it is distributed as a network.

Al Mutar: Exactly, yes.

2. Jacobsen: Why start with Lying by Sam Harris? Why The Future of Tolerance, which is a conversation between Maajid Nawaz, former extremist, and Sam Harris, an inactive neuroscientist?

Al Mutar: There was no holy reason why we started with lying. It is a small book. We wanted to test the model with small books before moving to big ones. The reason why I think this book is important, whether we started with it or not.

Many people who live in authoritarian regimes, like my own, Iraq, live with a constant state of fear. They don’t trust anyone. My mom, who I adore a lot, lived through the revolution before the Iraq-Iran War, the Iraq-Iran War, the Gulf War, then the sanctions, then the Second Gulf War.

In a lifetime, she lived through all these things. Her generation who grew up in the 1950s. They live in a constant state of fear of each other. Because the neighbour may be part of the militia. As a result of the climate, there is a climate of lying.

You lie about how much money you make. If you are rich, you say you’re poor; if you’re poor, you are you’re rich. Because the whole of society is based on lies. Many of the things people talk to each other about are not true.

When I grew up, people ask, “Do you like Saddam Hussein?” Of course, I say, “Yes, I love Saddam Hussein.” I have to lie. This book by Sam Harris really explores many of these dimensions of really lying for survival to white lies if your girlfriend asks, “Do I look fat in this dress?”

It even asks if white lies are good for society or not. Even though, they are not detrimental in terms of consequences. I think the Arab audience will learn a lot by looking at the different dimensions of the concept of lying and white lies, and others.

As for Islam and the Future of Tolerance, it is the right audience, in my opinion [Laughing]. There are three things that I think people can learn from it. Number one, it is that you can have a civil discourse about one of the most complicated and also emotional cases of our time.

It is Islam, Islamism, and so on, in which it is so easy for emotions to run high and so easy for people to get defensive/offensive – to advocate for barbaric policies. It is so easy for things to go crazy. The fact two people come from two different sides of the world. A neuroscientist atheist who studied at Stanford and went with Buddhist monks.

Jacobsen: Being a security guard for the Dalai Lama.

Al Mutar: [Laughing] yes, being a security guard for the Dalai Lama, then writing a book about a call for the end of religion. Then there is Maajid Nawaz who grew up in a moderate family but gets radicalized.

His life mission became political from being a minority Muslim in Britain to being beaten up by neo-Nazis, being an Islamist and recruiting people to destroy his home country that he is born in, and into being jailed in Egypt.

Sam Harris went to overseas to study Buddhism. Maajid Nawaz went overseas to establish a Caliphate [Laughing]. These are people from completely different backgrounds.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Al Mutar: I am honoured to know them personally. They are able to maintain a civil discourse. Maajid is really trying to change the Muslim world from within. His point of addressing abrogation and extremism, and the diversity in the Muslim or the lack of it.

It is something many Muslims need to listen to the perspective. Hopefully, it is bringing the conversation together. This is an example of a conversation. I am hoping through the translation work getting the word out there is good.

I am hoping there will be Lebanese Christian and Syrian Muslim having a conversation. They can take the example of Maajid and Sam and people of different backgrounds into having their own conversations about the future of tolerance, whether about Islam or other subjects.

It is a region filled with civil wars and other conflicts.

3. Jacobsen: If we look at the mainstream conversation of the secular community in North America and Western Europe, more often, it’s led by men. There’s a number of reasons for that, at least arguments put forward about it.

Not in favour of it, but in terms of description. Would it be powerful to some of the audience, the 35 million or the 8-10% of people reached, via people like Harris and Nawaz but with a woman who was a former Buddhist and a woman who was a former Muslim?

Al Mutar: Sure, definitely, I am very honoured by some of the translators and the lead advisor in the Advisory Board, including a woman, Dr. Nadia Owediat. She has an incredible story and courage.

I am in favour of empowering. It is far more difficult to come out. It is so difficult to be a woman in the Middle East.

Jacobsen: That’s boilerplate.

Al Mutar: Add to that, it is to be an uncovered woman in the Middle East. If you are a woman who didn’t wear a hijab, you are also at a disadvantage because people think less of you. Some may see you as a prostitute, at least in some parts of the Middle East.

Others will be more liberal and more open-minded on that subject. Let’s say you’re an ex-Muslim, a liberal Muslim, and so on, through my organization, I am in favour of empowering these voices of courage and inspiration.

There are some new voices popping up in the Middle East including Manal al-Sharif. A Saudi woman who led the driving campaign. I saw her speaking at the Lincoln Center in New York There is Yasmine Mohammed travelling across the United States and Europe to give talks and not to forget, also, Ayaan Hirsi Ali who has been outspoken about this stuff.

We definitely need more. I think that we are definitely a community and need to help each other out in this regard. I am always looking for helping out. This is out of the organization. But as an individual, I have 400,000 followers on Facebook and 30,000 on Twitter.

I am always willing to retweet or share other voices, whether men or women, LGBT, and so on. Those underrepresented groups. I am a straight male. I am happy being one. But I am definitely in favour of getting these underrepresented voices more representation.

I do not know how much a retweet can help. But I am followed by many journalists and many people who book events and many organizers, and many CEOs. All of that. Just giving some exposure to them and hoping they will be picked up by someone else, it would be incredible.

I am doing my part. I am asking all of the others, not necessarily leaders as there is no leadership here but those, with influence to try to create more influencers. There are two reasons. Obviously, there is a collectivist reason.

We try to help each other out. Also, I think it is in the benefit of us as a cause and individually to help one another. For example, one of the main things I have been facing in North America. Whenever I talk about extremism, Al-Qaeda, etc., people say, “You have an accent. You’re from Iraq. It is too far. You do not know what you’re talking about. We do not have extremism here.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Al Mutar: They look at me as some sort of alien, as if I am from some foreign land. My issues aren’t relevant here. One of the best counterexamples to that is Yasmine Mohammed.

Jacobsen: Yes.

Al Mutar: She was married to an extremist guy. This was in fucking North America. She didn’t grow up in Egypt or Palestine. She grew up in Vancouver (Canada). This is in the context of North America.

People like her and others. Those who live and grow up here. They have been helping me as well. Because when I speak about extremism, I can speak about them with extremism here. I have been dismissed in the terms mentioned before.

I get a personal benefit, not simply the charitable benefit of helping these people out. But I get the benefit of saying, “Okay, my friend grew up in an extremist household.” If someone says, “You have a foreign problem,” I can reply, “No, my friend grew up here and had the same problem.”

In fact, I would argue that I grew up more liberal in Baghdad than Mohammed in Vancouver. My parents were more liberal. So, what the fuck are you talking about here? Extremism, as with IBB, is also beyond borders.

Now, most of the world is infected by it. There needs to be a holistic and global solution to this international problem of extremism.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Ideas Beyond Borders & Founder, Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0; Founder, Global Secular Humanist Movement.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 1, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: