11/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Confessions of a Phony Internet Muslim

I never intended to be an atheist. Atheism is impolite; denying society's gods is a reproach to society itself. The wise man economizes his reproachfulness.

Worse, atheism is boring. An atheist can dream of space elevators that would allow us to mine the moon and self-replicating nanobots that could till the soil in places where food would not have grown previously, but so can a Christian, and Wiccans can have nightmares about such things. Meanwhile, the Christian also awaits Christ, the Muslim awaits the Mahdi, and the Jew awaits the Messiah which hopefully does not turn out to be Christ or the Mahdi.

So I decided to take a vacation from atheism. But eating acid at the Vatican was out for logistical reasons. Instead I created an alter-ego, becoming a devout Muslim going by the name of Ali Desu Hussein. And then I got on the internet.

My intention was to argue with Christians as a Muslim. I assumed that this would be really fun, and I was right. But it's harder than it sounds. One apparently gets banned from Christian message boards immediately after posting the following:

In the name of the Prophet, peace be upon him-

I have come to bring you the truth of Islam, the religion of peace. Surely does the world itself cry out to you in testimony of this truth, but just as surely do its cries fall on deaf ears. Surely does the breath of Allah move over the waters, and just as surely does the Christian believe this to be the breath of Jesus, when, after all, it was Allah, as noted above. Surely surely surely.

But I wanted to have a dialogue, not just to immediately convert others to Islam by way of my awesome testimony. My Islamic Mr. Hyde would need a YouTube account.

YouTube, like the Internet at large, is what the Holy Land would have been like during the Crusades if everyone in the Holy Land had too much free time on their hands. Groups once relatively isolated from each other now mingle freely, if unproductively. Evangelicals of a certain sort post damning animated narratives of Mormon theology which, sadly, are largely accurate; Muslims of a certain sort post clips of talking lions who are apparently Muslims themselves; Jews of a certain sort post videos of other Jews speaking at great length about something which I'm not entirely clear on because it is boring and I turned it off.

Then, there is the infinite debate over the infinite. Now was my chance to truly play the role of the believer, to walk a mile in the shoes of someone sitting at their computer in bare feet. Though I didn't have a camera and couldn't pass for a credible Muslim even if I did, visuals were unnecessary anyway; aside from videos and video responses, YouTube theologians also ply their ancient trade by way of old-fashioned text, which was sufficient for their predecessors.

But if I was to do the work of Allah on as grand a scale as I was planning, allies would be needed. I came across TheFollower72, a fellow Muslim who appeared to be quite active in his own social network proselytizing insomuch as that his user page was heavy on comments left by others. But all was not well. One exuberant YouTuber had posted the message, "Go Christianity!!!"; my new friend was under virtual siege by some virtual Tueton. And there seemed to be treachery afoot; one user calling himself AyatollahKhomeini123 had left the following warning: "Please block and delete the user who is going around by the name of bakhtash. He is an evil munafiq akhee, and a shahan shahi royalist pig who has disguised himself as a Moslem but in reality he is a back stabber who be-friends with you making you thinik he is a moslem and then stabs you by revealing his own true identity as an anti Islam. Down with bakhtash. Allah o Akbar. Khomeini Rahbar." But the plot thickened; bakhtash himself had left this similar warning: "Please block and delete the users and comments that are only negative against Islam and or are hypocritical!, the false user 'AyatollahKhomeini123' is a munafiq akhee, he is a shahan shahi royalist pig whom in this account does a lot of bad things!"

It was clear that I couldn't trust even my alleged coreligionists; any one of them could be a royalist pig or even a false Muslim. I would have to be a false Muslim on my own. I resolved to proceed with all the bravery of a talking lion.

Next, I contacted the YouTube account of the Worldwide Church of God, a Christian sect founded by Herbert Armstrong, himself one of the most prominent prophets of the mid-20th century. I left a friendly message and got a similarly friendly response: "Greetings Friends! Praise the Lord Brethren and may God Bless the United States of America!" So far, so good. But then another, more traditional Christian intervened lest I eventually be converted to Lord Bretherenism or what have you. "Bro, the Worldwide Church of God is a dangerous cult," he explained. "This Herbert guy you are speaking to talks to the dead do not listen to him." This didn't bother me; if I was actually speaking with "this Herbert guy," then I, too, talk to the dead insomuch as that Herbert Armstrong died in 1986; it would be hypocritical of me to think less of him for doing the same.

It was time to approach the resident atheists, so I posted a couple of comments on their videos to the effect that Islam is the way and the light and whatnot. This was a mistake; atheists can be very, uh, prolific. One non-believer called CrissyFrog left three long messages on my user page in quick succession, each filled with grandiloquent denunciations of the one true faith. "We are apostates of Islam. We denounce Islam as a false doctrine of hate and terror... We strive to bring the Muslims into the fold of humanity. Eradicate Islam so our people can be liberated, so they can prosper and break away from the pillory of Islam... Quran is replete with scientific heresies, historic blunders, mathematical mistakes, logical absurdities, grammatical errors and ethical fallacies. It is badly compiled and it contradicts itself. There is nothing intelligent in this book let alone miraculous." I was suddenly bored, having accidentally encountered my own irritating opinion.

But the ultimate cyber-novelty was still to be had - I would allow myself to be converted from Islam to Christianity. Covertly, I began interviewing candidates, finally deciding upon a fellow going by the handle of ps35ffi. The exchange went as follows:

ps35ffi: Who was Jesus? What does the Koran say about him? That he was a prophet? What does the Koran say about it's prophets?

AliDesuHussein: Qur'an says many things about the prophets my friend, but most important to know is that Muhammed (peace be upon him) is final prophet:

1. Allah

2. ???

3. Prophet!

[Note: The Reader may recognize that bit as having been derived from an old South Park episode. Or the Reader may not, in which case it is mine.]

ps35ffi: Does it not say that what the prophets say is Allah's word and should be obeyed?

AliDesuHussein: Absolutely my friend, it does.

ps35ffi: Ok my friend. Yeshua said I am the way the truth and the life, no one cometh to the Father but by me.

AliDesuHussein: where does it say this?

ps35ffi: In my text, it's in John 14.6

That was enough evidence for Ali Desu Hussein. I sent my new spiritual adviser a private message to the effect that I was going to need to think very heavily on these matters. This made him very happy.

And thus it was that I gave this fellow a gift beyond measure: the belief that he had managed to win over a religious enemy to his own, true faith. Overcoming the bad manners inherent to my atheism, I had performed the greatest act of politeness that the world had seen since Christ. Then I pirated a bunch of computer games.