Although Dr. Tawfik Hamid, the author of The Roots of Jihad, won't allow his face to be photographed and refuses to divulge where he lives, he speaks throughout the U.S. on understanding -- and challenging -- radical Islamic ideology.
Dr. Hamid fled his native Egypt because he espouses a peaceful interpretation of Islam based on the Koran. Today he is one of the leading authorities on the Islamic texts (Sulafi) which are responsible for the spread of jihad in the Arab world.
Before he embraced this new way of seeing, Dr. Hamid was an ideological extremist on the fast track to becoming a terrorist.
"I was eight when I first heard the teaching that says, ‘When you die a martyr, you are not dead -- you are alive,'" says Dr. Hamid, who was raised in a secular Muslim family. "Dying for Allah was the only guarantee that we would not go to the grave.
"For us, the grave was frightening. Sulafi Islam teaches that only punishment awaits us in the grave. So to me, and many kids around me, the idea of dying for Allah and going to Paradise was wonderful. For me, a child, that meant eating lollipops and candy and chocolate. Believe me. This was my dream!"
The dream later changed.
During medical school, Dr. Hamid joined JI (Jaamma Islameia), an outlaw fundamentalist group calling for jihad against Muslims who have abandoned their faith (apostates) and non-Muslims.
He met Dr. Aiman Al-Zawaheri -- now Al Qaida's second in command under Osama bin Laden -- in JI.
"Al-Zawaheri was a very nice man on the personal level," Dr. Hamid says. "He was very dedicated to the concept of jihad against the U.S. He often came to the mosque I went to. We prayed together. We talked."
Dr. Hamid describes his metamorphosis. "At first I followed the teachings of Sulafi Islam. I changed into a person that justified the killings of innocents. I thought in a totally distorted manner. I became like a beast.
Thinking is probably what saved me. I began to question.
"When it came time to go forward and commit certain acts -- I was invited to go Afghanistan, to train for jihad, to die for Allah -- I felt this struggle between my conscience and the religious teachings. I started to think.
"And this word, thinking, is probably what saved me. I began to question. You see, at the theoretical level things seemed okay. But at the practical level, when I was about to act...
"A friend introduced me to another form of Islamic thinking that was relatively peaceful. This sect was primarily based on the Koran. I began studying Koranic verses in a totally different manner. There are many verses in the Koran that praise B'nai Yisrael; that grant the Israelis the land. Soon I started to preach this new understanding."
One day, he was called to preach at the mosque. "I gave a lecture, and people listened peacefully. It was good. But afterward, some fundamentalists surrounded me. They said, if you come here again we will kill you. Then they attacked me and my friend. We ran. But soon they began stoning me."
Dr. Hamid looks at me with pained and furious eyes.
"Unfortunately, this resistance to peaceful teaching is not limited to fundamentalists. It is now at the level of the people."
The three dominant beliefs encouraged in the popular Sulafi Islamic teachings are killing the apostate, beating women, and declaring war on non-Muslims.
"Clearly," Dr. Hamid adds, "most adherents believe Jews are apes and pigs."
"It is vitally important to confront Islamic organizations in the U.S. on these points. They should clarify their positions in an unambiguous manner. Of course, they will say what they say. But you must put your questions to them in a clear manner. Do not give them a chance to blame the world for their own actions. They know how to play with the words. I know, because I was one of them.
"For example, a Nazi can say Nazism is peaceful. But if they don't denounce the Holocaust or the killing of Jews, what they say means nothing. Ask them, ‘What do you think of killing apostates? Is it correct, or absolutely wrong?' If they say it is absolutely wrong, take them to the next question. ‘Clarify what Saudi Arabia says about killing apostates.' (The punishment for apostasy in Saudi Arabia is death.) Tell me whether this is wrong. If they say it is wrong, ask them to please put this up on their website, or post it in their mosque, or have them sign a document stating that this is what they believe.
"The same is true of beating women: ‘Is it correct or absolutely unacceptable to beat women?' Ask me. I could say to you, ‘Islam generally recommends dealing in a good manner with women.' Or you may hear, ‘Oh, it's only in rare instances.' I know how they trick the world. I was one of them. Don't let them betray you."
He leans forward on the table.
"Ask Muslim kids what they think about Jews. Kids do not lie. They will tell you what they are being taught. If they say, ‘Jews are nice people and we can live with them in harmony,' I will be the first person to congratulate their parents. But I assure you, if you ask Muslim kids living in the U.S. what they think of Jews, you will be shocked."
"Dr. Hamid, do you hate your own people?"
For the first time, he hesitates -- briefly.
"I am against them," he says. "When you preach peace, and the whole community boycotts you and your wife and your children, it is painful. Just because you preach that killing apostates is absolutely wrong and is not mentioned in the Koran, and that Jews are not ‘pigs' and ‘monkeys,' and the community threatens you, it is painful. But forget my passion, my emotions. Follow the logic."
With the publication of The Roots of Jihad and subsequent speaking engagements to large audiences throughout the US, does he fear for his life?
"Yes. But I feel obligated to expose the truth. I am morally obligated to help Muslims understand the Koran in a peaceful manner. Enabling Muslims to live in harmony with the rest of the world is far more important to me than my life. I always say that in certain times in history, there are people who stand against evil. I am honored to be among them."
This article originally appeared on Frontpagemag.com