Skip to content

An Interview with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar on Ideas Beyond Borders (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/06/22


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: Ideas Beyond Borders and its work; different audiences; and the Reason interview.

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 Ideas Beyond Borders: Founder, Ideas Beyond Borders & Founder, Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0 (Part One)[1],[2]

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

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, when it comes to some of the more recent initiatives of IBB, Ideas Beyond Borders, what’s going on? What’s new?

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar: There have been some amazing updates. One of the things since we started the organization; it has been important to have a system of translations to me. That the moment we get a book, article, or content.

That it will go through a system and get the highest quality in the fastest time possible. The latest update is that we have built a great system. Once we have a book, we have a deadline for when it will be publishers. We have translators, followed by editors, followed by proofreaders, and followed by linguists to make sure the words used by editors and translators approved, etc., will be the ones used.

We try to produce a piece of art translation. That system has been finalized, roughly, around August and beginning of September (2018). I can, honestly, say that we have two books successfully translated. One is Lying by Sam Harris. Another is Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris, Islam and the Future of Tolerance.

There will be the premiere of the moving in November. We will launch the book as a celebration alongside the premiere of the movie. There is an Arabic version that will spread across the Arab world like wildfire, for those who desperately need it.

We tried to translate the book Radical from Maajid Nawaz. It is interesting that there is no Arabic translation, which shows we need to exist. Part of Maajid’s life was in jail in Egypt for 4 years. He did a year of college in Egypt.

Yet, he mostly is known to Western audiences. But I think the people who most need to know him are people in the Arab world. For your audience and the others, for getting shit done, there will be, at least, 10 books done by the end of the year.

We are building an online library. We have a company, affiliated with WordPress, who will work pro bono for us, make the access easy for us. Hopefully, it will be designed with quotes and derivatives, small derivatives, an audiobook, a video, and so on, to make the information as accessible as possible.

We are trying to reach as many people as possible. We are an educational organization in the end, try to reach people of all ages and attention spans [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Al Mutar: Those who want to read the whole thing. Those who want to read some of it. We are also tapping into another case, which I realized recently. This is something for people to search today, not when things will be changing.

If you look at Wikipedia, many important pages like the Civil Rights Movement, it is only 1 sentence in Arabic. In English, it is 25 pages.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Al Mutar: It is a movement for anti-racism in America: “Oh, really?” Things to do with human rights, LGBT rights, science, medicine, new discoveries. None of them exist in Arabic. If they exist, they exist as a sentence or two, but not many.

Your audience should also expect that working with many partners across the Middle East who have expertise in writing, translating, and editing. We are hoping for 50 articles per month, maybe 100. Some things may not work as we always want, though – so 50-100 per month.

Articles ranging, as we translate them, from Utilitarianism, scientists who are Arabs but live in the West and the way the people in the Middle East do not know that they exist, e.g., four Iraqis writing about biology and live in the UK. Many do not know about them.

We try to make many of these Arab scientists, liberals, and thinkers to be known in their audiences. We are also translating Arab, liberal, secular, and Enlightenment thought, and open-mindedness of Arab thinkers into English.

There is an Iraqi sociologist who is a pretty amazing person, Ali Al-Wardi. He is not known to many in the West, but he is well-known in Iraq. He wrote a book called The Mockery of the Human Mind (Arabic: مهزلة العقل البشري).

He is a sociologist who tried to understand the nuances and contradictions of Arab society: why would someone want a girlfriend but also a virgin for marriage? He taps into all of these contradictions and tries to explain them.

This is something many in the West would want to understand, because these are complicated. It is seeing things from local writers and authors, which would be fascinating. We are doing a lot of things.

Our campus program with the AHA program expanded from 6 campuses to 24 across the United States, Canada included We have York University in Canada, then we have Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, UCBerkley, Texas A&M, and so on. All over the place: South, Midwest, East coast, West coast, and so on.

Now, we are in Toronto. People from other areas of Canada. We are more than happy to reach out to them. The plan is to make 12 events this Fall semester. The conversations that we are mostly interested in is the women’s rights in the Islamic world, female genital mutilation, free speech in the Islamic world, secularism, separation of mosque and state, and the conflicts in the region.

We have a speakers list that is expanding such as Yasmine Mohammed, myself, and others. We are expanding to experts in extremism and experts in defeating and fighting extremism. Unfortunately, many students across the US and Canada and, hopefully, expanding into European, which they are not familiar with.

They are mostly listening to, in my opinion, a narrative that is not the full picture. They listen to people who portray America as racist and Islamophobic, which is, of course, somewhat true. But they portray the Middle East as a beacon of victimhood. And if not for America, then everything would be good.

We say, “Things are more complicated. There were civil wars before even America existed.” It is listening to more than one narrative coming from the Linda Sarsours of the world and others. The goal is to diversify the set of knowledge the Arab youth have access to, but also to those Westerners on campus – especially on the Middle East and elsewhere.

We are in connection with organizations that work on the ground in Iraq, Lebanon, and Kurdistan, and some parts of North Africa. It is starting to do workshops about the books that we translate on the subjects like extremism and others.

We start on campuses because these are the places where people are receptive to ideas, to have a place for conversation and workshops about why we have extremism in the Middle East and how to defeat it.

It is engaging with the local communities, the young people. Many people do not know this. But the Middle East is considered one of the youngest people in the world. Many are wondering about life, more than any other place of the world.

Because they are bombarded with terrorists and with words. Many of them are questioning the old way of life, the extremist way of life. Definitely, we have plans for the end of this year and next year to open branches of Ideas Beyond Borders in Baghdad, Kurdistan, Tunisia, Iraq, and Morocco.

We will start to work underground with people. The translation, campus, and workshops are the main things that we are doing. Hopefully, as we grow, people will be expecting more programs for us.

Hopefully, our programs will be expanded as possible. It is hard to translate these texts into Arabic, where most of the knowledge is not available. Our programs are definitely scalable. There is always a need for transiting more content, more books are being written every day if not every minute.

Lots of the content existing in thee books could be relevant to our target audience, which is, as of now, the Arab youth. This will expand to the Kurdish youth, Iranian youth, Turkish youth, Indonesian youth, and Pakistani youth.

My role as the ED and founder is to build a model that is so successful that can be multiplied in other places. I would rather do one thing super well than do a bunch of things with half-assed work.

We focus on the Arab world. We build a successful model there, where we are at 80% now. Our partners and amazing staff and board have done amazing work. I am proud of them. I think that as we progress; we are going to build the model the world has ever known in terms of the translation and getting access to knowledge there.

2. Jacobsen: People who tend to be more open minded or liberalized in terms of their ideas, or the consideration of new ideas. You noted one of the key demographics, young people, as well as university educated people.

Are metropolis residents another consideration for target audiences?

Al Mutar: A big segment of them are there. Also, one of the main obstacles: because many of the books cannot be published inside of these countries because of blasphemy laws and the banning of content from authoritarian regimes.

It is difficult to get the knowledge available for the places that do have access. That being said, there are multiple developments happening in the region now, which allows rural people to have access to the internet.

Also, the ability of many cheap laptops and many cheap Kindles and all that to be accessible. It would be amazing for a company listening to this interview if they donated more and more laptops and internet access to many of these remote areas.

Because as of now, the only means by which to reach as many people as possible is limited. The influence can be viewed in multiple ways and in multiple directions. As of now, through our partners in the region, distribution partners, we have access to between 25 million and 35 million people.

That’s a lot of people [Laughing]. Many of these people, there are two policies of influence, which I have studied and want to implement. You can either be the influencer or influence the influencers.

Let’s say 30-40 million people having access to the knowledge, they can be influential and can take the knowledge into more remote areas. These individuals can be who are influenced. These can be influencers themselves to influence through recommending a book to a friend, tell a friend about us, print the book and give this to a friend who does not have access to the internet.

Or even, they could take the ideas and absorb and then use them in their own language and in their own way, to the people who live next to them. Even if we don’t influence everybody, everybody can be influenced by an influencer. That is the goal as well.

It is reaching 500 million Arabic speakers. But if we influence 10% of them, and really well, they can take the knowledge, process this in their own way, and then explain it. It is the way I was influenced by other authors.

It is like the way I became an influencer to other people.

3. Jacobsen: Also, a recent Reason interview: you talked about evolutionary theory and its Wikipedia page in Arabic. What is the story there?

Al Mutar: Yes, so, many of my Saudi friends, and Turkish friends, the theory of evolution page has been banned, which is for obvious reasons why. Then Turkey, and Iraq unfortunately, started to remove any reference to evolution in the biology books.

They are afraid the ideas will come to their country. They are trying to ban them. But we are working really hard with a major partner who has a project called The Theory of Evolution Arabic. They are developing Q&As, everything.

It is 0 to 100, from somebody who is a beginner and doesn’t understand anything about evolution into somebody that is advanced. This can answer many of the questions many people have in the region. Are we still monkeys? If you believe in it, does this mean your parents are monkeys?

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Al Mutar: These basic questions that most people do not understand. They try to make this simply understood. They are one of our main partners that are part of this. Hopefully, we will get a digital library built fully fleshed out on evolution.

Maybe, we can tap into other sources like Wikipedia and others, also translating. It is to make the resources available. We are also trying to work with many tech companies over the past few years, where we have developed relationships with software engineers at Facebook and Google.

We want to, hopefully, use some of the tools they developed and then use them for our purposes.  There is a USB drive, where the computer will make its own VPN. That way, the authoritarian governments and others will not be able to track people.

In a meeting, I said I am more than happy to distribute some of these tools, e.g., the VPN self-generating computers, and so on. Also, our website and the digital library, one of the main requirements asked of the engineers and web designers is to create multiple versions of this website.

In a way, the authoritarian regimes – Saudi Arabia and others – will block the website, which I expect to happen. There will be multiple other websites and, constantly, new URLs popping up all the time, of all the PDFs and the things that we do.

That way, the book can be found somewhere else. The idea, we are not making money. We are more than happy to let people upload the books in their own serves, as we are a non-profit. The more servers, the more versions are available elsewhere.

In Saudi Arabia, unless, they decide to block the whole internet.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Al Mutar: There will always be a place or website for people to access our content.

Appendix I: Footnotes

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

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 22, 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: