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European “ex-Muslims” demand right to leave Islam, Reuters

European “ex-Muslims” demand right to leave Islam

By Alexandra Hudson

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – A Dutch-Iranian launched a campaign on Tuesday for Muslims to have the right to renounce their faith, a view which has triggered three physical attacks on the 22-year-old.

Ehsan Jami’s group has stirred intense interest in the Netherlands, which has one million Muslims, and has reignited a highly emotive debate about Islam.

“There are five sharia schools in Islam which say if you leave Islam you must be killed,” Jami, 22, told Reuters in an interview while bodyguards stood watch at the door.

Apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment in some Muslim countries and deplored throughout the Islamic world.

Jami’s “Committee for Ex-Muslims” wants imams and Muslims to recognise fellow Muslims’ right to leave their faith and to respect freedom of religion.

Jami and leaders of the German and British committees for ex-Muslims signed a declaration of tolerance on Tuesday and warned of the danger and controlling instinct of what he called political Islam.

“This is a significant step, because apostasy is a crime which is punishable by death in some Muslim countries and because even simply questioning anything to do with Islam is forbidden as the faith is considered divinely ordained,” said Maryam Namazie of the British ex-Muslim group.

Mina Ahadi of the German group said it was significant all three leaders were of Iranian background because they had witnessed first hand the repressions of political Islam.

Jami’s blunt criticism of Islam, which he likens to fascism and Nazism, has offended many Dutch Muslims, and earned comparisons to the rhetoric of Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders whose party holds nine of 150 seats in parliament.

News of an attack on Jami in August by suspected Islamists caused an outcry. A filmmaker critical of Islam was murdered in an Amsterdam street in 2004 and several high-profile lawmakers are guarded after death threats.

On Monday a separate group of “Ex-Muslims” said they disagreed with Jami’s methods and he had succeeded only in polarising communities.

“We defend the right to be able to walk away from any religion, including Islam. But they are using that right as a cover to categorically insult Muslims and to stigmatise them as ‘violent’ and ‘terrorists’,” said former Muslim Behnam Taebi in a statement.

Prominent Dutch imams have also taken issue with Jami’s reading of the Koran and invited him to hold talks.

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Muslims who renounce their faith band together in European countries, International Herald Tribune

Muslims who renounce their faith band together in European countries
The Associated Press Monday, September 10, 2007

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands: Leaders of “ex-Muslim” groups from several European countries signed a declaration of “Principles of Tolerance” Tuesday, hoping to counter Islamic radicalism and support Muslims too afraid to openly renounce their religion.

Groups of secular Muslims have sprung up in the past year in Germany, Britain and the Scandinavian countries; there are plans to launch a group in the United States as well. Tuesday marked the formal launch of the Dutch group.

Though membership is limited to several hundred people, they hope to add a new voice to the debate about ? and within ? Europe’s Muslim communities.

“This is a movement, not an organization,” said Ehsan Jami, chairman of the new Dutch arm. He said his wish was for Islamic leaders in the Netherlands to endorse the principle of freedom of religion, to “put it down in black and white, on paper, and make it known in sermons, in mosques or in Islamic schools, as far as I’m concerned, hang it up everywhere.”

Under some interpretations of Islam, changing religion is forbidden, and apostasy is a heresy punishable by death.

Jami, 22, a councilman in the city of Voorburg, has been assaulted three times since announcing plans for a Dutch group in May, and now receives police protection.

Only a handful of people have formally joined the group so far, which Jami blamed on the intimidation, the beatings and threats he had undergone.

“Our intent is to break the taboo” within Islam against renouncing religion, said Maryam Namazie, who in June founded The British Council of Ex-Muslims. It now has around 70 members.

“The first step is making it easier to do that. You could compare it to when the first gays came out of the closet,” she said.

The German group, the first and largest of the European organizations, was founded in January and now has around 400 members, according Chairwoman Mina Ahadi, who has also received death threats.

Dozens of prominent Dutch intellectuals, including author Ayaan Hirsi Ali ? now living in the United States ? and politicians on the far right and left of the political spectrum signed a statement of support for the group.

But centrist politicians boycotted the event, as did some other secular Muslims, arguing that the timing of the group’s launch on Sept. 11 was provocative and Jami’s tone is anti-Muslim, rather than anti-religion.

In an interview Monday with the Associated Press, Jami likened fundamentalist Islam with a “cancer” and with Nazi fascism because of its determination to “overrule the world.”

“The primary meaning of Islam in Arabic is not ‘peace,’ but ‘submission,’ submission to the ideas and the values of Arab tribes living in the 7th century,” he said Tuesday.

Akbar Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic Studies department at American University in Washington, said the advent of such groups is not surprising.

“Expatriates may be intellectually questioning, given the freedom they have from being abroad,” he said. “A few may decide they are fed up with Islam ? others become much more vigorously Islamic.”

He said it is wrong to say Islam endorses killing apostates, though some of the Hadith, or sayings attributed to Mohammed, endorse it ? when taken out of context, he said. However, he said a cultural revulsion at the idea of apostasy is common in Islamic communities.

Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch lawmaker who abandoned Islam and lived under threat for years for her provocative criticism of fundamentalism, said she was “shocked” by the attacks on Jami.

“The rule of law, the basis of a state with civil liberties, is hollow if it becomes dangerous to do your shopping,” Hirsi Ali said in a statement from the United States, where she took up residence last year after quitting the parliament.

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Group for ex-Muslims expands across Europe, USA Today

By Toby Sterling, Associated Press AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Ehsan Jami knew he was making himself a target for radical Islamists when he decided to launch a Dutch organization for Muslims who renounce their religion.

Five months and three physical assaults later, his “Committee for Ex-Muslims” is being launched Tuesday, joining similar groups that have sprung up around Europe.

These groups hope to add a new voice to the debate about — and within — Europe’s Muslim communities, presenting themselves as diametrically different to the disenchanted and sometimes violent youth who grab headlines, or to immigrants who live cloistered among their own.

Instead, they seek recognition from the Muslim mainstream for “freethinkers,” empowered Muslim women, homosexuals and those who want to renounce their religion without fear.

Under some fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, apostasy is forbidden, or is a heresy punishable by death.

“We want to support people who want to change their religion, but their parents, their society have them clasped in it and won’t let them out,” Jami, 22, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. “They would realize that they are not standing alone.”

The latest attack on Jami last month, when he was struck and pushed to the ground at a shopping center by three youths, was widely publicized in the Netherlands. The assailants were arrested, but Jami was forced into hiding, and receives police protection.

He said an earlier attack was even more dangerous, when he was surrounded by a large group of youths at night and had a knife held to his throat.

He had anticipated death threats, he said, but had not fully appreciated what they meant.

“It’s like the death of family,” Jami said. “You know it will come, but you don’t know how much pain it will bring.”

Leaders of ex-Muslim groups from Germany and England plan to attend Tuesday’s launch, before meeting the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday.

“Very clearly our intent is to break the taboo” within Islam against renouncing religion, said Maryam Namazie, who in June founded The British Council of Ex-Muslims.

“The first step is making it easier to do that. You could compare it to when the first gays came out of the closet,” she said.

Other groups have formed in the Scandinavian countries. Altogether, the European groups have total membership of no more than several hundred.

But the ex-Muslims say they are determined to show that “not all people from Muslim countries are religious,” said Arzu Toker, vice president of Germany’s Council of Ex Muslims, the first and largest of the organizations.

“If we don’t show it, many people (in the West) will think ‘all these people are just the same,’ and that’s simply not true,” she said.

Toker, a Turkish-born journalist, says membership in Germany has grown to more than 100 from 18 founders in January. Hundreds more have written to show their support, but are unwilling, unable or afraid to join.

Akbar Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic Studies department at American University in Washington, said the advent of such groups is not surprising.

“Expatriates may be intellectually questioning, given the freedom they have from being abroad,” he said. “A few may decide they are fed up with Islam — others become much more vigorously Islamic.”

He gave the example of Muslim girls living in the West who wear veils, but never would have done so in the country they immigrated from.

He said it is wrong to say Islam endorses killing apostates, though some of the Hadith, or sayings attributed to Mohammed, appear to endorse it — when taken out of context, he said.

Salima Belhaj, who is not a member of Jami’s group, says she has been branded as an apostate because of her modern lifestyle.

“It’s others who decide that I’m an ex-Muslim, because I wear short skirts or don’t go the mosque and drink a glass of wine” now and then, she told the newspaper Trouw.

She said she still considers herself a Muslim, “but I don’t think that others should decide how I live my life. As I see it, Islam is something between you and God.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch lawmaker who abandoned Islam and lived under threat for years for her provocative criticism of fundamentalism, said she was “shocked” by the attack on Jami.

“The rule of law, the basis of a state with civil liberties, is hollow if it becomes dangerous to do your shopping,” Hirsi Ali said in a statement from the United States, where she took up residence last year after quitting the parliament.

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Europe: New Groups Unite Those Who Renounce Islam, Radio Free Europe

September 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) — Some call them apostates, but they prefer the term ex-Muslims.

Today marked the official launch of the Dutch Ex-Muslim Committee, the latest such group to emerge in Europe. The groups say they want to make it easier for people to renounce Islam — and draw attention to places where leaving the faith is punishable by death.

The new group is headed by Ehsan Jami, a 22-year-old Dutch politician of Iranian origin.

The group’s creation follows the launch this spring of a German council for former Muslims.

Other groups soon followed suit in Scandinavia, and in Britain.

“If these groups in Europe are able to draw attention to the worldwide problem, this is of great benefit.” — Paul Marshall, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom

Rights activist Maryam Namazie, the force behind the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, said that even for those living in Europe, it’s not easy to renounce Islam. Those who do face threats and intimidation. “So we thought if we could have an organization based on the German model where you could actually have people’s faces and names who announce that they want to renounce Islam, it would make it easier,” Namazie said.

She says her group aims to “break a taboo” about leaving Islam, and to present a more varied image of Muslims and people of Muslim background.

Membership is small: Namazie says her group still only has some 70 members, while the German group claims around 600-700.

But she says this is likely a small fraction of the number of former Muslims in Britain. “It’s not an organization that people can become members of easily because of the threats and intimidations that surround it. And so I think in reality each member that does put his name and face to the organization represents many more who are unable to do so right now,” she said.

Fear of Persecution

To be sure, all these groups have sprung up in the relative religious freedom of Western Europe.

It’s a long way from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, where apostasy is punishable by death.

But Namazie says she herself has received death threats. Mina Ahadi, who set up the German council, is under police protection. And Jami of the Dutch group is reportedly now living in a secret location after being assaulted.

Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, says initiatives like these groups have the potential to be helpful by highlighting what he calls a major issue worldwide.

“Many ex-Muslims around the world are persecuted, some are killed, others are imprisoned and very many live in fear. So this is a huge issue,” Marshall said. “If these groups in Europe are able to draw attention to the worldwide problem this is of great benefit.”

But the latest initiative has drawn criticism, too.

Today’s launch comes on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States — a date chosen for its associations with militant Islam.

Han Noten, a senator from Jami’s Labour party, said the choice of date was a provocation. “It suggests the issue is about the innocent and the guilty, with former Muslims being innocent and Muslims guilty,” he wrote.

And even some other Dutch ex-Muslims have been critical, too.

“We defend the right to be able to walk away from any religion, including Islam,” one of them, Behnam Taebi, said in a statement. “But they are using that right as a cover to categorically insult Muslims and to stigmatize them as ‘violent’ and ‘terrorists.'”

[External link]

Muslims in Europe who renounce their faith band together, The Strait Times

Muslims in Europe who renounce their faith band together

AMSTERDAM – EHSAN Jami knew he was making himself a target for radical Islamists when he decided to launch a Dutch organisation for Muslims who renounce their religion. Five months and three physical assaults later, his ‘Committee for Ex-Muslims’ is being launched on Tuesday, joining similar groups that have sprung up around Europe.

These groups hope to add a new voice to the debate about – and within – Europe’s Muslim communities, presenting themselves as diametrically different to the disenchanted and sometimes violent youth who grab headlines, or to immigrants who live cloistered among their own.

Instead, they seek recognition from the Muslim mainstream for ‘freethinkers,’ empowered Muslim women, homosexuals and those who want to renounce their religion without fear.

Interpretations of Islam
Under some fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, apostasy is forbidden, or is a heresy punishable by death.

‘We want to support people who want to change their religion, but their parents, their society have them clasped in it and won’t let them out,’ Mr Jami, 22, said on Monday. ‘They would realise that they are not standing alone.’

The latest attack on Mr Jami last month, when he was struck and pushed to the ground at a shopping centre by three youths, was widely publicised in the Netherlands. The assailants were arrested, but Mr Jami was forced into hiding, and receives police protection.

He said an earlier attack was even more dangerous, when he was surrounded by a large group of youths at night and had a knife held to his throat.

He had anticipated death threats, he said, but had not fully appreciated what they meant.

‘It’s like the death of family,’ Mr Jami said. ‘You know it will come, but you don’t know how much pain it will bring.’

Other Europeans to attend launch
Leaders of ex-Muslim groups from Germany and England plan to attend on Tuesday’s launch, before meeting the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday.

‘Very clearly our intent is to break the taboo’ within Islam against renouncing religion, said Maryam Namazie, who in June founded The British Council of Ex-Muslims.

‘The first step is making it easier to do that. You could compare it to when the first gays came out of the closet,’ she said.

Other groups have formed in the Scandinavian countries.

Altogether, the European groups have total membership of no more than several hundred.

But the ex-Muslims say they are determined to show that ‘not all people from Muslim countries are religious,’ said Arzu Toker, vice president of Germany’s Council of Ex Muslims, the first and largest of the organisations.

‘If we don’t show it, many people (in the West) will think ‘all these people are just the same,’ and that’s simply not true,’ she said.

Ms Toker, a Turkish-born journalist, says membership in Germany has grown to more than 100 from 18 founders in January. Hundreds more have written to show their support, but are unwilling, unable or afraid to join.

‘Advent of such groups is not surprising’
Akbar Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic Studies department at American University in Washington, said the advent of such groups is not surprising.

‘Expatriates may be intellectually questioning, given the freedom they have from being abroad,’ he said. ‘A few may decide they are fed up with Islam – others become much more vigorously Islamic.’ He gave the example of Muslim girls living in the West who wear veils, but never would have done so in the country they immigrated from.

He said it is wrong to say Islam endorses killing apostates, though some of the Hadith, or sayings attributed to Mohammed, appear to endorse it – when taken out of context, he said. — AP

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