The traditional penalty for becoming an ex-Muslim is death. While there are still roughly about 13 nations on the planet that have that penalty as part of their legal code, things are different in the UK. In theory, you can take on, practise, or discard whatever belief you wish, and that is the way it should be, because it is a basic human right.
Unfortunately things are not quite that simple, because if you are a Muslim in the UK who then publicly becomes an ex-Muslim you will be exposed to discrimination and threats of violence from some other Muslims.
ITV has put together this documentary to investigates the lives of ex-Muslims in the UK and outlines what happens when you stop believing in Islam. It focuses on the UK’s council of Ex-Muslims, a support group run by Iranian human rights activist Maryam Namazie.
“I remember saying to my mum, ‘I don’t think I believe in God any more,’ And her saying, ‘You can’t tell anybody else because they’ll kill you, we are obliged to kill ex-Muslims,’ and that it would put me at extreme risk if anybody else was to find out, so that conversation ended there.” – Sadia, a former Muslim
This new documentary in the Exposure current affairs strand investigates the lives of ex-Muslims, who face extreme discrimination, ostracism, psychological abuse and violence as a result of leaving Islam.
Featuring contributions from British and Bangladeshi ex-Muslims, Islam’s Non-Believers paints a vivid picture of the dangers facing those who renounce their faith. Some are at risk of suicide, or self-harm, or have been physically and psychologically abused by their closest family members. Most are terrified of being shunned by their own family and friends if their true beliefs become known.
Made by award-winning film-maker Deeyah Khan, who also directed the acclaimed Jihad – A British Story and Banaz: An Honour Killing for ITV, the programme finds that many young British ex-Muslims live in the shadows hiding their true beliefs, running huge risks if they ‘come out’ as atheists within their religious communities. Some of those who speak in the programme have asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
The film follows the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, a volunteer support group led by Iranian-born activist Maryam Namazie which supports ex-Muslims, often referred to as apostates or unbelievers, both in the UK and abroad. Maryam says: “They see us as people who are troublemakers, deviants, apostates and blasphemers… There is nothing, nothing more intolerant than religion.”
One ex-Muslim, Sadia, talks about her brother Razaa, who killed himself. She says it was partly because he felt sidelined and misunderstood by his community all his life, one reason being his atheism. She says: “I feel like when you leave Islam, your intelligence gets attacked. They make you feel like you’re stupid for making such a decision, which he felt like his entire life. Leaving Islam, becoming an ex-Muslim, all of a sudden you feel like you’re dirty, and you become unimportant within the community.”
Dr Omer El-Hamdoon from the Muslim Association of Britain says people can leave the religion of their own free will and should not be punished. But he says it is not surprising that those who do leave are shunned. He says: “The Muslim community is a community based on religion, so if a person chooses to stop being a Muslim they can’t really expect that the Muslim community is still going to say to them, ‘You are still part of our community.’”
The programme also reports on how the danger for ex-Muslims who live in Islamic countries can be even higher. Apostasy carries the death penalty in a dozen Islamic countries. Atheists face a double threat – persecution by their own government, and the risk of murder at the hands of Islamist gangs.
Bonya Ahmed, whose writer and blogger husband Avijit Roy was brutally killed in the streets of Bangladesh, speaks about the attack and how she is trying to rebuild her life in America. Avijit was murdered because he spoke out against religious fundamentalism. They are just two of many atheist bloggers and intellectuals who have been attacked by Islamist gangs wielding machetes in Bangladesh.
Also featured is an international network of atheist writers, bloggers, academics, intellectuals and artists who form a resistance movement against what they see as the growing oppression, violence and political power of Islamic fundamentalists. Many live in Muslim countries where leaving Islam carries the risk of prosecution and discrimination.
Arif Rahman, a Bangladeshi blogger now in hiding in London, says he sees bloggers as a resistance movement against religious extremism. He says: “When we started writing in 2006, we did not think the people would be killed over this. And in 2013 our first colleague Ahmed Rajab Haidar, he was an architect, was hacked to death in front of his house. That was the first time we realised this was real this could potentially happen.”
The programme finds that a number of senior British Bangladeshi imams, mainstream figures in society, have called for the execution of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, claiming they have insulted Islam, and making a number of anti-atheist statements.
Imad Habib, from Maryam’s organisation, is filmed on his way to help two girls escape from their Muslim family while they are on holiday in London. He says he had undertaken a similar journey – after he came out publicly as an ex-Muslim, he had to leave Morocco to escape prosecution by the authorities and attacks by religious extremists. He says: “First of all you suffer, you suffer, there is no one to help you, if you speak out at any moment you are going to be at risk, you speak out you feel afraid that anyone might find out who you are really, it is a really risky journey that those people take.”
This documentary sees how ex-Muslims continue to struggle to be heard and to express themselves, with radical Islamist protesters often trying to shut down their talks and events. Deeyah identifies these as a part of a growing international movement which is confronting radical Islam both in the UK and the Islamic world. Maryam says they remain defiant: “The internet and social media is doing to Islam what the printing press did in the past to Christianity, because it’s one way in which masses of people can connect with each other, can hear ideas that are taboo and forbidden.”
I do feel that I should add one rather important note. This is not about all Muslims. It is important to appreciate that most humans with an Islamic cultural heritage are decent honourable people who wish no harm to anybody. Instead this is really about the consequences of a rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and how a literal interpretation has been ramped up across the Islamic cultural world to create a climate of fear and intimidation that targets anybody who dares to fall out of line.
There has been a huge cultural shift since about the 1970s towards a more traditional very strict conservative strand of Islamic thinking that has been fuelled by the roughly $100 billion spent by Saudi Arabia to spread their rather extreme variation of Islamic thinking internationally. If you have ever wondered why extremist groups have been popping up all over the planet, then you need look no further than that flow of funding.
The ITV documentary is due to be broadcast at 10:40pm, so if you can’t watch it live, just set your recorders and catch it later.
Councils of Ex-Muslims
If you are a Muslim that is having serious doubts, don’t know who to turn to for help, and are afraid of what might happen if you expressed your doubts, then be assured that there are ex-Muslims that you can reach out to for help:
- Council of ex-Muslims of Britain: http://ex-muslim.org.uk/
- Council of ex-Muslims of Germany: http://www.ex-muslime.de/indexAktuell.html
- Council of ex-Muslims of France: https://www.facebook.com/Exmuslims.of.France
- Council of ex-Muslims of North America: http://www.exmna.org/
- Council of ex-Muslims of Morocco: http://www.facebook.com/Exmuslims.ma
On the UK site you will find the following resources that may be of help:
WikiIslam – Online criticism of Islam
The primary goal of WikiIslam is to collect facts relating to the criticism of Islam from valid Islamic sources.
WikiIslam is not an Islamophobic, racist or a hate site, many of the site’s administrators and editors are from a Muslim background and/or are skeptics from Muslim majority nations.
Recommended Reading –
The Islamist Delusion by Saif Rahman – “The Islamist Delusion – From Islamist to Cultural Muslim Humanist” is a well-researched and highly recommended book by Saif Rahman who is the Founder of HMCA (Humanist & Cultural Muslim & Assoc). It was written by Mr Rahman over the course of 8 years and details his reasons for leaving Islam & becoming an agnostic humanist, and is a comprehensive and objective study for Muslims seeking a fair & balanced analysis of traditionalist Islam; and for non-Muslims interested in gaining rarely found insights.
The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason – In The Atheist Muslim, we follow Ali Rizvi as he finds himself caught between two narrative voices he cannot relate to: extreme Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry in a post-9/11 world. The Atheist Muslim recounts the journey that allows Rizvi to criticize Islam―as one should be able to criticize any set of ideas―without demonizing his entire people. Emotionally and intellectually compelling, his personal story outlines the challenges of modern Islam and the factors that could help lead it toward a substantive, progressive reformation.
- Amazon US
- Not due out in the UK until Dec 2016