Compiled by ʿAbd ‘llāh al-Afrīqī
It is therefore ironic that the godfather of modern Gulf atheists was brought up in present-day Saudi Arabia and turned Salafist before embracing atheism. Abdullah al-Qasemi was born in 1907 in Najd, central Arabia, to a conservative family and a strict father. Qasemi traveled to India and across the Middle East following the death of his father before getting his education in Cairo, where he initially defended Salafist teachings, which had him expelled from Al-Azhar University. Qasemi slowly distanced himself from Salafism following the publication of his book They Lie to See God Beautiful.” Qasemi survived two assassination attempts in Beirut and in Cairo for his nonbelief and went on to publish numerous books, including The Universe Judges the God and The Conscience of the Universe before he died in Cairo in 1996. His infamous statement, “The occupation of our brains by gods is the worst form of occupation,” is today widely quoted by Arab atheists.
He was born in Qasim, but he was not Qasimi or even Saudi. There’s a lot of talk but when I asked Sheikh Abu Abd al-Rahman Ibn Aqil al-Zahiri, who debated Qasimi, he said that Qasimi’s father was an Egyptian from Sa’id who came to Qasim for work. The Sheikh also mentioned that Qasimi hated it when people spoke of his Egyptian heritage, for whatever stupid reason he found in his stupid head.
Anyway, Qasimi was an exemplary student. He was the first person in the modern era to write a refutation of Azhar University (I’ve read his refutation and it was actually accurate and appropriate). Qasimi also wrote good refutations of atheists and secularists in regard to their tashkik of ahadith about geography and medicine and things like that. These books are no longer read but I did read through most of them, and they were actually pretty good. He had one early problem: he would always write poetry about himself on the inside cover of his books with really pretentious and self aggrandizing language, to the point where Sheikh Sa’di praised his books a lot but advised him to remove the poetry because it was clear arrogance. He didn’t, and even until now the last time I remember checking Qasimi’s Azhar refutation at the Amir Sultan Library in Khobar, it still had the poetry on the inside cover.
Qasimi was known for his intelligence and diligence as a student, but also his pretense and narcissism. He was referred to as the Ibn Taymiyyah of his era because he was considered an expert in every field of the religious sciences; a mufassir, muhaddith, faqih, mu`arrikh, you name it. But he used to say retarded things; I don’t remember if it was with Sheikh Sa’di, but he did ask one of his teachers at some point why the salat is wajib and weird questions about the ‘ilal of the din which a student of knowledge doesn’t normally ask.
He disappeared from the knowledge seeking scene for a while. He jumped into books of philosophy and a few years later, wrote some weird modernist books. When the Saudi shuyukh tried to shut him up, he complained to Sheikh Sayyid Qutb. Qutb at first defended Qasimi’s right to speak, but when Qasimi sent Qutb a copy of his (Qasimi’s) new books and articles, Qutb freaked and accused Qasimi – rightfully – of trying to destroy Islam.
Qasimi bailed and I know at least one of his sons apostated with him, and he lived in Egypt. He tried to form an atheist political movement there, but Jamal Abdel Naser found it to be too far and Qasimi was jailed, more than once I believe. He spent some time in Lebanon where he was involved with the Literary Society and they treated him like a VIP. Eventually, Sheikh Ibn Aqil al-Zahiri who himself is/was a man of many specialties met Qasimi in Garden City. They argued back and forth into the night, and Sheikh Ibn Aqil spent the remainder of the night writing his book retelling the debate (“A Night in Garden City”) in one sitting and finished it just before fajr.
I also asked the Sheikh one time about Qasimi’s manners during the debate. Basically, Qasimi was verbally copy-pasting from Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill, and when Sheikh Ibn Aqil would quote the kuffar’s own secular philosophers ripping those guys up, Qasimi would just change the subject. Basically he would make accusations regarding the existence of Allah based verbatim on the books of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment philosophers, and any time Sheihk Ibn Aqil brought the hammer down on him Qasimi would just look for another topic where he could possibly make a point. He was an arrogant bast the entire time and unrepentant to the very end. He died from cancer in Cairo in a death which one hopes was long and slow.
So why did he apostate if he was the Ibn Taymiyyah of the era? It wasn’t philosophy, because many Muslim scholars delved into it without apostating. It seems his heart was always sick, considering he was a pompous, pretentious narcissist most of his life and would ask for the ‘ilal of everything even after becoming an alim in his own right. Some people are destined to end up like that and no amount of knowledge will protect them from the Devil if they welcome him and his whispering by being too impressed with themselves.
He has at least one son still living in Saudi who is Muslim. Beyond that, I would have to go back through the books though I think this brief sketch is enough contribution for me. Perhaps others can add some more, Allah knows best.
May Allah protect us from all sorts of deviation. The story of al-Qasimi is indeed one for us to learn a lesson from. He was a caller to the Sunnah and was staunch in it. However, due to the sickness of the heart he went astray. A lesson for us all. This is not the time for us to “score points” and “point fingers” by saying that yes, this is the outcome of Salafiyya. No! When any Muslim leaves the fold of Islam then our heart should bleed for this is indeed a great tragedy. Whether, that person belonged to Salafiyya or any other school of thought. Whether we agreed with him or not. May Allah keep us firm on Islam.