Category: Press Releases

The scientist and author Richard Dawkins is giving away translations of The God Delusion in countries under Islamic rule like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan.

The reason behind the decision is the thirst for atheism in such countries. Whilst 3.3 million copies of the bestseller have been sold since 2006, the unofficial Arabic pdf alone has been downloaded 13 million times.

The rise of atheism in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia is something we have been speaking about for some time now. The Iranian Baztab Now website warned of a tsunami of atheism amongst Iranian youth. The #ExMuslimBecause hashtag initiated by the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain became viral overnight with over 120,000 Tweets from 65 countries.

The hashtag “#Aik crore Pakistani mulhid” (10 million Pakistani atheists) trended around Darwin Day for two years running. Free Mind, launched by Arab atheists promoting atheism, has recorded more than 1 million visits so far.

The now highly visible and vocal ex-Muslim movement (a new Council has just been established in Jordan), the access to atheism and freethought via social media, the deep-seated opposition to theocratic rule that comes from lived experience, the irrationality of religious doctrine, the authoritarianism of religious rule, scepticism about prophets and contradictory tenets, the unrelenting violence, amongst others, make atheism increasingly enticing for a mostly young population.

Remove Islamism’s threats and apostasy and blasphemy laws from people’s lives and even we ex-Muslims will be stunned at the extent of atheism in countries under Islamic rule.

The powers that be have understood the “threat” atheism poses – seeing it as an existential danger, especially since Islam and state power are intertwined, hence why atheists are persecuted (with many others including religious minorities, women’s rights activists, labour leaders and LGBT).

• Iran as one of the most important bases of atheism in the Middle East, with more than half the population using the Internet regularly, has seen a government ban on more than 160,000 social media accounts and websites for  spreading “atheism and corruption” in one year alone.

• Two government ministries in Egypt have been ordered to produce a national plan to “confront and eliminate” atheism. The Egyptian parliament is looking to criminalise atheism.  Recently, Mohammed Hashem was told to see a psychiatrist and kicked off a television show for not believing in God. A mother has even lost custody of her children because she is an atheist.

• A series of laws in Saudi Arabia define terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion.”

• A Malaysian government minister has said that atheists should be “hunted down” and “re-educated.”

• In Pakistan, a High Court Judge has reiterated that “blasphemers are terrorists” in a case that seeks to ban “derogatory” social media posts against Islam and Muhammad, Islam’s prophet. The Islamabad High Court has directed the government to block web pages containing blasphemous content and put the names of “blasphemers” on the exit control list.

Thirteen countries punish atheism with the death penalty, all Islamic states, namely Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, UAE, and Yemen.

And even in countries without the death penalty, like Bangladesh, Islamists kill atheists whilst the government does little or like Tunisia, where Hatem Al Imam, the President of Tunisian Freethinkers has been brutally attacked. Turkish government-backed Islamists in Afrin address “Kurdish atheists,”telling them to repent or face decapitation …

Clearly, to be an atheist, to question or criticise God, prophets, Islam and any religion or dogma is not a crime though too many are being killed or imprisoned for it. It is high time to stop blaming atheists for their persecution under cover of offence, Islamophobia, hurt sentiments… and instead target the states and movements that are hunting down, imprisoning and murdering people for the mere exercise of their freedom of expression and conscience.

Urgent cases that need our immediate attention include:

Bangladesh: Asad Noor, a 25-year-old atheist blogger is facing up to 14 years in prison because he “hurt religious feelings” with his social media posts “mocking the prophet”.

Iran: 20-year-old Sina Dehghan was sentenced to death for “insulting the prophet”. Deghan’s co-defendants, Sahar Eliasi and Mohammad Nouri, have also been convicted of posting anti-Islamic content on social media. Nouri was sentenced to death; Eliasi has been sentenced to three years in prison upon appeal. Soheil Arabi was initially sentenced to death for “insulting the prophet” is on hunger strike and in critical condition. Ruhollah Tavana and Saeed Malekpour have also been sentenced to death for “insulting the Prophet” and “insulting and desecrating Islam” respectively.

Iraq: In Dhi Qar- Al-Nasiriya, a city in the southern part of  Iraq, atheists have been hunted down; in most recent news, one of four has been arrested for “spreading the culture of the absence of God.”

Pakistan: Ayaz Nizami and Rana Noman face the death penalty for “blasphemy.” After the arrest, #HangAyazNizami trended on Twitter. Taimoor Raza, 30, has also been sentenced to death for “insulting the prophet Muhammad.”

Saudi Arabia: Ahmad Al-Shamri, in his 20s, has been sentenced to death for atheism and blasphemy; Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and a thousand lashes for “apostasy” and “insulting Islam”. Poet Ashraf Fayadhhas been sentenced to eight years imprisonment and lashes for poems containing “atheist ideas” reduced from an initial death sentence.

#AtheismNotACrime #EndBlasphemyLaws #EndApostasyLaws

Dear Prime Minister,

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) has been informed that members have received “Punish a Muslim” contest flyers. We are outraged at this clear incitement to violence and call on the government to take immediate action to investigate the origin of the letter and find and prosecute the perpetrators.

We have cancelled an event we are holding on the day for fear of the safety of our members and call on the government to ensure the safety of all minorities. Furthermore, we are concerned that the letter has been distributed up and down the country, as well as on social media.

CEMB continues to fight on several fronts – against the far-right of all stripes, including Islamism and white supremacists as well as for citizenship rights irrespective of beliefs or background.

Sadia Hameed and Maryam Namazie, CEMB
Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space
Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters

Sunday 25 November 2018
Conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism
9:30am registration for 1030am start
Central London

Join notable secularists and veteran women’s rights campaigners for a conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism at a spectacular venue in central London on Sunday 25 November 2018.

The conference will raise key issues surrounding religious arbitration, the veil and gender segregation at schools and universities, including as part of the religious-Right’s assault on women’s rights. It will also highlight the voices of people on the frontlines of resistance, the gains made by secularists both in the UK and internationally, and the importance of secularism as a minimum precondition for equality. Challenges that secularists continue to face and priorities for continued collective action will also be addressed.

The conference will mark the tenth anniversary of the One Law for All Campaign for equality irrespective of background, beliefs and religions.

Confirmed Speakers (Biographies):

Afsana Lachaux, Women’s Rights Activist
Ahlam Akram, Founder of Basira
Amina Lone, Director of Social Action and Research Foundation
Annie Laurie-Gaylor, Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation
Beatrix Campbell, Writer, Journalist, Broadcaster and Playwright
Bonya Ahmed, Activist, Writer, Blogger at Mukto-Mona
Diana Nammi, Founder and Executive Director of Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Eve Sacks, Trustee of Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance UK
Fariborz Pooya, Bread and Roses TV Producer
Gina Khan, One Law for All Spokesperson
Gita Sahgal, Founder and Director of Centre for Secular Space
Homa Arjomand, International Coordinator for One Secular School System
Houzan Mahmoud, Co-founder of Culture Project
Inna Shevchenko, FEMEN Leader
Marieme Helie Lucas, Algerian Sociologist, Political Theorist and Author
Maryam Namazie, Co-Spokesperson for One Law for All, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Fitnah
Nadia El Fani, Tunisian film-maker
Nasreen Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner
Pragna Patel, Founder and Director of the Southall Black Sisters
Rahila Gupta, Writer and Journalist
Rumana Hashem, Women’s Rights Activist
Sadia Hameed, Spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Sadikur Rahman, Solicitor
Victoria Gugenheim, Award-winning Body Artist
Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner

Tickets can be purchased here.  Conference venue will be given to ticket holders closer to the date of the event. Please note that tickets cannot be bought at the door and must be purchased prior to the event.

More information on the conference is available on its website.

Conference sponsors include: Bread and Roses TV; Center for Inquiry; Centre for Secular Space; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Culture Project; Equal Rights Now; Fitnah; National Secular Society; One Law for All; Southall Black Sisters; and Secularism is a Women’s Issue.

For more information, please contact Maryam Namazie, [email protected]

Dear Right Hon Amber Rudd, MP,

The Independent Review on Sharia: Sharia Laws are part of the extremist threat and not a solution

As black and minority women and human rights campaigners, we voice our dismay at the outcome of the inde pendent review on Sharia laws commissioned by the government in 2016. Although the government has rejected formal recognition (through regulation), the way has been left open for the Sharia courts to continue to exist in a no-man’s land where they continue to produce discriminatory parallel laws while posing as an acceptable alternative dispute mechanism. Now they will be strengthened by a review that has endorsed their existence.

At the outset, we feared a whitewash but what we have seen is worse. The review is superficial, narrow and secretive; and completely lacks credibility. We protested when the Home Office appointed a theologian to lead the review and two Imams as advisers. How absurd that the Home Office now claims that the review ‘was not tasked with considering theological issues, for example whether Islam and Sharia law treat women in an unequal way’. Why then appoint three people whose only qualification for the job was their status as religious scholars?

Any review that is based on interviewing only eight women and a handful of organisations; and that provoked a boycott from most of the organisations that deal with women adversely affected by religious laws, cannot be considered legitimate. Demands for the acceptance of Sharia laws to govern family matters are part of a wider fundamentalist and ultra conservative goal to normalise profoundly misogynist values in the law and other public spaces. Our front-line experience has found clear evidence that both the intent and the process of the Sharia courts is abusive and discriminatory; that the Sharia bodies are run by organisations with links to extremist organisations; and promote the full range of fundamentalist goals such as strict gender segregation, imposition of hijabs and other dress codes, homophobia, bigotry and discrimination against non-Muslims and Muslim dissenters, blasphemy laws and attacks on apostates.

Our research also shows that they do refer to ‘courts’ and ‘Judges’, because of a clear intention of establishing themselves as a parallel law which ‘good Muslims’ must adhere to. The review suggests that that they are ‘Councils’ only and thus sanitises them.

In order to arrive at its conclusions, the reviewers conducted no investigation and ignored evidence that would have undermined their conclusions. They ignored the wider political fundamentalist drive to undermine human rights. They also ignored a considerable body of evidence submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament by members of our coalition and others. For instance, Maryam Namazie submitted two statements in evidence which contained details of statements made by Islamic law ‘Judges’, that exposed their wider political agenda. Knowing that hate speech and discriminatory speech is regularly erased from websites once it has been exposed, she had taken screenshots of their statements. She stated in conclusion, ‘despite all efforts to package Sharia’s civil code as mundane, its imposition represents a concerted attempt by Islamists to gain further influence in Britain’. If the reviewers did not wish to draw on our submissions, they could have applied some diligence and researched it themselves. Why did they not do so?

The coalition also gathered detailed testimony from many women. Unlike the reviewers, we did not ask for evidence solely from women who had experience of sharia courts, although we met and interviewed many who had tried to get a divorce under ‘sharia law’, were deeply traumatised by the experience and experienced further violence and abuse of their rights. We also published and put in evidence to parliament, a devastating letter signed by over 300 abused and marginalised women from all religious backgrounds expressing their fear of being controlled by religious laws.

Sweeping statements are made about the “choice” that Muslim women make to approach such councils without giving any consideration to the highly constrained religious context in which that “choice” is made. The review is utterly silent on the crucial concept of ‘zina’ (sex outside marriage), the grave sin punishable by death in many Muslim countries. It is fear of ‘zina’ which compels many women, even those with civil divorces to seek an Islamic divorce. Procedural changes in sharia councils will not diminish their role in spreading this concept; to which they provide the only ‘solution’. That is why use of Sharia bodies is increasing. Evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee makes clear that fundamentalists insist that a civil divorce cannot be final. Yet earlier generations of women had civil marriage (as well as a Muslim marriage contract) and were satisfied with a civil divorce. Increased religious bullying is a major reason for women’s recourse to sharia, not simply their ‘conscience’. Indeed, the form of Sharia which the theologians of the panel have failed to challenge is much more regressive than Muslim personal laws in Muslim majority countries.

Unlike the review, we have shown that women cannot engage with Sharia Councils or the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal in relation to their divorce without this also impacting on their rights and freedoms in other areas. Our research shows that Sharia Courts/ Councils deal with more than divorce – they impose ‘mediation’, promote polygamy and child marriage, and interfere with child custody and criminal proceedings in relation to domestic violence. The review made no serious attempt to investigate these issues.

The review stands in direct contrast to the devastating observations made by Dame Louise Casey in her report in 2016 “women in some communities are facing a double onslaught of gender inequality, combined with religious, cultural and social barriers preventing them from accessing even their basic rights as British residents.”

A forensic examination of the operation of Sharia in Britain lays bare what fundamentalists do to achieve their goals, not merely what they think. We do not accuse them simply of ‘thought crimes’ but of promoting crimes and human rights violations.

The review is a botched attempt at consultation established with flawed terms of reference and an explicit disregard for gender discrimination. The government and the reviewers have failed the women most affected and ignored the concerns of rights advocates.

We will be providing a more detailed submission. Meanwhile, we call on you, as Home Secretary, to ensure that none of the recommendations contained in the review are implemented without consultation with those advocates who are able to make clear connections with extremism, fundamentalism and inequality. The government has, so far, failed in its duty to make an equality impact assessment, which it needs to do with the full weight of evidence before it. Continued indifference to the government’s duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights will leave us in no doubt that there is no change to the social contract in which women’s rights are traded off as part of a process of appeasement of fundamentalists and extremists.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Gita Sahgal and Yasmin Rehman, Co-Directors, Centre for Secular Space
Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Diana Nammi, Executive Director, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Houzan Mahmoud, Culture Project
Sadia Hameed, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Rumana Hashem, Human Rights Advocate
Nasreen Rehman, Human Rights Advocate
Gina Khan, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All

 

The Council of Ex Muslims of Britain (CEMB) was protesting against World Hijab Day outside the Iranian embassy on the Wednesday 31st January 2018.

World hijab Day takes place every year on the 1st February and countless non-Muslim women don the hijab, without knowing or caring what is stands for. However, during the current protests in Iran, countless brave and fearless women in Iran are tearing off this symbol of oppression and there has been complete silence from western feminists.

Vida Movahed has become the iconic image of the current movement, in revolt of the mandatory hijab laws of Iran, she removed her veil and was stood with it on a stick, inspiring other women and later some men to also photographing themselves with their hijabs on sticks.

CEMB’s protest was originally organised to coincide with Masih Alinejad’s White Wednesday campaign, ahead of World hijab Day, however, with the current situation in Iran, CEMB also felt it important to stand in solidarity with women like Vida. So on the 31st January 2018, CEMB created the # I AM VIDA campaign. We are asking everyone to photograph themselves as Vida did, to show the women of Iran, they are not alone, we hear them and we stand in solidarity with them. We will not back down, we will lobby your government to stop oppressive mandatory hijab laws.

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