Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, Annual Report, June 2008-2009

Message from Fariborz Pooya
Chair

In just over two years, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) has found its rightful place in the fight for equality in the UK and has set a precedence and standard for others to follow. Many living in countries under political Islam regard the CEMB as a beacon that guides them.

By its very existence, the CEMB has set the scene for the recognition of the fact that ‘Muslims’ and people from the Middle East, Asia, North Africa and elsewhere are not a monolithic group and that in these societies, as in the ‘Muslim community’ here in Britain, there is a real fight going on for human rights. The Council has shown that innumerable people under Islamic rule form the first lines of resistance against the political Islamic movement, that we have a lot to contribute to this historic battle and that our fight against the political Islamic movement is first and foremost a fight for human rights and apostasy from a universal point of view.

The work of the forum, the meet-up group, regular replies to critics and Islamists as well as media coverage and growing public support are key factors in the growth of the Council’s membership.

The Council has a rich and varied group of leading members who bring much experience to the work of the Management Committee, its forum and various other campaigns and activities.

I would like to congratulate everyone who has contributed to this Council over the last two years.

Warm regards

Fariborz Pooya

Introduction

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain was launched in the Houses of Parliament on June 21, 2007. The unique organisation was established by ‘apostates’ to break the taboo that comes with renouncing Islam and religion, particularly given that it is punishable by death in many countries, support ex-Muslims, campaign against Sharia, including apostasy laws, and defend secularism and universal rights. The organisation has grown considerably since its establishment.

According to Elle Quebec magazine, which selected Maryam Namazie as one of the top 45 women of the year 2007, the launch of the ex-Muslim movement was ‘a real revolution.’

At the launch of the organisation, spokesperson Maryam Namazie, said:

‘Whilst renouncing religion is a private affair, today, with the rise of religion’s intervention in society, it must be done publicly to pave the way for others to do so if they wish. Another reason to publicly challenge the political Islamic movement that is wreaking havoc in the Middle East and North Africa with state power in some countries or vying for power and access in other countries like Britain and Europe…’

Maryam’s statement has now been viewed by more than 130,000 people on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUBLfcGcN5Y.

Membership

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s membership has doubled to nearly 300 members over the past year. Given that membership in our organisation comes with certain risks, these numbers represent many more that are unable or unwilling to renounce religion and Islam publicly.

Members’ stories

Freed Ali, London: I wish to join because I am worried and angered by the state of affairs regarding religion in general in this country and in particular, Islam. There is too much pandering to Islamic leaders and I do not wish to see the spread of Islam any further. I also would like non-Muslims to know that there are a great many of us who believe in humanity, live decent, moral lives without the need for religious dogma.

Noshina Fawad, Leeds: I grew up in a household where my father was an atheist and my mother, a liberal Muslim. We were taught ethics and morality and were raised as Muslims. The more I learnt about Islam, the more I became aware of its many restrictions and how I was totally against them. Islam preaches peace and serenity and yet encourages the murder of ‘kafirs’, those who have said anything against it. Islam prohibits listening to music and yet many of the surats and ayats of the Quran are in musical form. Islam conveys equality for both men and women while men are allowed to have four wives, and this liberty is not mutual. Living in Pakistan, I witnessed how women were brainwashed to believe that they only existed to be of service to men, how children were scolded to memorise verses that they didn’t even understand. Religion limits an individual to a certain way of life; it restricts us to grasp any other possibilities of existence. I believe in justice and freedom and I am proud to say I have renounced religion!

Abbas Naji, London: It just doesn’t make sense to me that there is a god. There are fossils from millions of years ago; according to religion, though, god’s prophets came and brought something called religion to deceive and exploit people only a few thousand years ago. They use religion to scare and intimidate people into submission to a god and give false promises of a heaven and earth so they can rule over them. I think people should not bother and instead help and be kind to others and also be happy and enjoy their lives. In the hope that we can be free from religion and superstition.

Hypatia Theon, Cardiff: I am an Egyptian lady and have experienced the harsh Sharia law in child custody, divorce, lack of rights to travel, work and many other things for women… and hence the whole society. In the beginning I thought this is dictated by the supreme creator of the world until I started to read more about Islam from objective sources and even more about religions in general. I came to a solid conclusion that I can’t consider myself a Muslim anymore. I now understand that being a woman and a mother doesn’t mean at all to submit to such unjust treatment. I think by this way of thinking I will be able to raise my children with a sane idea about the world, to be more understanding and hence contributing to wherever they go.

Backgrounds of other CEMB members can be found on its website: http://ex-muslim.org.uk/indexMembers.html.

Currently, there are councils in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway. Overall, the councils have several thousand members across Europe. In addition to members in Britain, the CEMB has members from countries under Islamic rule, such as Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

‘Apostates’ worldwide

The CEMB has received hundreds of letters and emails from ‘apostates’ worldwide. Below are some from people living under Islamic rule who fear for their lives if their true thinking was ever made public. The heartrending letters give some indication of the fear and oppression under which many people live. The letters have not been corrected for spelling or syntax.

A man in Saudi Arabia writes
Hello Ms. Maryam

Hope u r doing well in Ur great life. Right now I m not capable to do something for u but I ever wish all the best of luck for u. & I m sure you need to know that why I do think for u in this way? Because u r the one who gave me a hope of thinking that I m not the only one thinking this way but also there are a lot of people like me. So I m not wrong too. Before I got your contact I have been thinking a lot on my final decision of faith. Before I got you I was really confused that am I right or wrong? But now I m totally satisfy & happy on my decision of faith. But I want to pay your great attention on the people who want to take out themselves from these rubbish things but cannot due to not suitable circumstances around them. But someone has to think about those all. Ms. Maryam please keep doing this great thing for the helpless humanity. My point of this mail: I don’t know how but I want to participate /contribute my services and efforts for this great mission. Because I m sure that we WILL be written in the golden words in the history. I am not supporting this mission that I shall be called in a good name but I must have to help those helpless people living a screwed life as well as I was. But madam I am still in a screwed life of Islam by force. Last week a very bad thing happened to me. Actually I was in the market for some shopping. Meanwhile I got the prayer time. Also I was in hurry to go back to my office. But I was caught by the religious police while I was taking out my vehicle from the parking. They stopped me by force and asked me to present the work permit (Iqama). I apologized that I m in a great hurry that is why I cannot go to Mosque. But they denied my all requests. And they took me to their center for preach and punishment. They slapped on my face and kicked on my back. And put me forcibly in the toilet for punishment for hours. After a long time they released me and I reached to my car by a taxi Now can u imagine this thing that what kind of humiliation is there in Saudi Arabia for us (if we will not go to mosque on the time of prayer)? In my homeland at my town a lot of people know my thoughts and that is why they hate me a lot & calls me (Kaafir) even most of my close relative don’t want to see me. Madam that is all the status of my life up to now. Sometime I am so hopeless from my life & think that when everything will be okay? But you please take care of yourself always.

This one from a woman in Pakistan

I am Sana from Karachi, Pakistan, as I am a keen observer and an admirer of ur courageous work but I always feel that u guys help and give legal support only in Britain, why not in a country like Pakistan, I do raise my voice on internet only as its too risky to talk against religion or ask valid questions here because sometimes I really do feel choking and its a complete male dominating society, a girl like me can’t even go around and yell what I feel inside, hatred against so called islamic-hijackers is growing day by day but its unislamic unethical to talk against them or even portray what one feel, well I wish to volunteer but wonder only, I am so hopeless, inside me is a quite rebel but wimpy indeed, as I have been mauled by my best friend and a sister for being unfaithful to god, though I am depressed but not scared.

This from a man about his wife in Syria

Dear Mariam,
I am really happy about what you did in London, we are defending upon ourselves and our future, and we will win as the humankind win in many parts in the world. I am so sorry that I was not with you. It is the occasion to talk to you about the problem of my wife. She is living in Syria, and she joined UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] on Feb. 2008. She is under pressure of her clan and many people to divorce and goes back to Iraq because of my principle in Islam. UNHCR fixed first of June to talk to her, but that is too far. I am now seeking for refuge in Sweden because ex-Islam will cause murder in Iraq and that clear in the second article of Iraqi constitution which put Islam above the law.

This from a woman in Jordan

Dear Maryam,

I am a 27 years girl from Jordan and I am a teacher. I was forced by my father to wear the veil (Hijab) and what is supposed to be Islamic style of clothing. I am not very convinced with Islam in many way, especially the way it deals with woman. The fact that woman should be fully covered, because they may look attractive to men. The fact that woman should obey men, and with many other issues. I want to leave this religion, but I am SO afraid on my life. My father is threatening me, he want to keep me locked in the house and to force me to leave my job because he want me to be fully dependent on him. He is a very violent man. I read your story and it was very inspiring for me. PLEASE I want your help and goodness, what should I do?? My best chance is to get out of the country, I don’t know to where yet and because of the world wide economy crises I think it is harder for me to find a job and settle in other country. Especially that I don’t want to tell anyone I know, because they may tell him, and stop me from getting out. I have masters in computer science. So I may apply for a PhD scholarship maybe and work at the university at the same time, and see how things go. I was thinking about emigration too, to any non Arab country. I was investigating Jordanian law, and I found out that there is something called honour killing, which let fathers kill there daughters and get prisoned for only couple of months, do you believe that!

This from a man in Egypt

Hello

I am writing you this letter because you are the only hope remaining for me in this life. I am a 24 years old Egyptian born to Muslim Parents. I have always doubted the truth of Islam and I always disagreed with its belief. Recently my parents discovered that i am an atheist (not a Muslim) and since then they have been forcing me to pray and read quran. They force me to listen to all the rubbish they have to say about Islam and they threaten me. They threaten to tell relatives and even the authorities which might endanger my safety. If they do what they say i will be facing beating and flogging. I am really very scared and depressed. I have approached many western embassies but they said i have to go to the UN commissioner for refugees which i can’t find. My life is a living hell. I wouldn’t be surprised if my life ended soon. Is there anyway you can help me?

Support for ex-Muslims

The CEMB has provided support and referrals to tens of ex-Muslims in need. It includes finding emergency and temporary safe homes and providing referrals to the police and social services for people who want to leave Islam but fear that they will be killed. It also includes providing letters of support to asylum seekers who fear for their lives if they are not granted protection.

One such activity was an urgent action campaign on behalf of member H M who was detained on September 10, 2009 and faced deportation back to Afghanistan where he would face the death penalty for ‘apostasy.’

As H said on the CEMB’s website: ‘I was not born to be a Muslim and be afraid of God and more importantly I did not sign an agreement with him/her /it to worship him. As a child, religion has been forced upon me. I have been forced to pray, fast, etc… In Afghanistan where I was living, questioning the existence of god or religion is deemed blasphemy and punishable by stoning to death. Now in the UK I have the opportunity and courage to declare who I am. I AM A FREE MAN WITHOUT ANY EXTRA BONDAGE ON ME.’

Ironically, only a few days earlier, he had texted the CEMB to say that Perwiz Kambakhsh had been released. Perwiz Kambakhsh is a young Afghan who was initially given the death penalty and later 20 years imprisonment for downloading information on the status of women under Islam from the internet. Only after an international campaign was he pardoned; he nonetheless had to be sent out of Afghanistan for his own safety.

As a result of our campaign along with others, several thousand protest letters were sent to Phil Woolas, Minister of State (Borders and Immigration) within 48 hours.

H was released from Dover Immigration Removal Centre soon after. Upon his release, H said:

‘I would like to thank everyone who has been supportive of me in the past few days, sending faxes, emails, making phone calls, on Youtube and elsewhere… It’s a great day for me but my fight is not yet over. I have only been given temporary admission and will have to sign in at a police station every week until my case is resolved so I will be looking to you for help in the near future.’

H’s solicitor has appealed the Home Office’s refusal; the CEMB continues to advocate on his behalf and on the behalf of others seeking asylum for apostasy.

Forum and Meet-up Group

The CEMB’s forum is active with a membership of 1062. Since November 2007 when it was established, there have been over 103676 total posts on 3938 topics. The forum is an important place for people to debate, share information and talk about issues and problems, and is gaining more and more members each month. The forum admin and moderators who make it all happen are Osmanthus, Berberella, Cheetah, and Allat. They are based in Australia, UK, Ireland and USA.

According to BerberElla, ‘the forum is active, friendly and welcoming. Ex-Muslims have been really happy to find it because it’s somewhere they can gather and chat about anything and everything. Many can’t exactly talk to our families so this becomes the family for us. I know it is for me.’

In addition to the forum, a member have formed the London Ex-Muslims Meetup Group, which has been running for a year now, had 17 events so far and increased to over 40 members. The meet-up organised an anniversary party on October 17, 2009 to celebrate its first anniversary.

According to Al-Jahiz, the Meetup Group has ‘enabled me to meet and socialise with some very intelligent and friendly people who have made the same most important decision in life as I have i.e. to leave Islam.’

According to Kamran Sheikh, more should join the Group because: ‘You want to say it but you are afraid and not allowed to say it. Come along to one of our regular meetings and you will discover that you are not alone. Without any political agenda or getting involved in serious debates, we enjoy socializing with people who share our non-religious beliefs.’

Events

October 10 conference

During this past year, the CEMB organised a highly successful International Conference on Islam and Political Islam on October 10, 2008 at Conway Hall, London. Nearly 300 people came together to discuss issues ranging from apostasy, the freedom to criticise and renounce religion, Sharia law and civil society and creationism, faith schools and religious education. Held on the International Day against the Death Penalty, the conference was a stark reminder of the many killed or facing execution for apostasy in countries ruled by Islamic laws.

The conference was opened by Fariborz Pooya, the conference’s Master of Ceremonies. After a welcome from Giles Enders on behalf of Conway Hall and Zia Zaffar on behalf of CEMB’s Management Committee, the audience watched a clip from Patty Debonitas’ film ‘Breaking the Taboo.’ Maryam Namazie then gave an opening address, saying that the political Islamic movement used rights and anti-racist language for western consumption so that it could go about its business as usual. She said: ‘While Islamic organisations here talk in PR speak, they, their courts, their schools, their leaders are nothing but extensions of Islamic states.’ She went on to say ‘In the end, political Islam matters to people because it affects their lives, their rights, their freedoms. And that’s why only a movement that puts people first can mobilise the force needed to stop it.’

This was followed by Plenary 1 entitled ‘Apostasy laws and the Freedom to Renounce and Criticise Religion’ chaired by Caspar Melville, editor of the New Humanist. Panellists were Mina Ahadi (head of the Council of ex-Muslims of Germany); AC Grayling (philosopher and author), Ehsan Jami (former head of the Council of Ex-Muslims of the Netherlands), Fariborz Pooya, Hanne Stinson (Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association) and Ibn Warraq (author). The panellists called for the immediate release of all those imprisoned for ‘apostasy’; an abolition of the death penalty; and a cancellation of laws wherever they exist that punish the right and freedom to renounce or criticise Islam.

After lunch, comedian Nick Doody entertained the crowd with a routine critical of religion. This was followed by Plenary 2 entitled ‘Sharia Law and Citizenship Rights’. It was chaired by Andrew Copson (Director of Education and Public Affairs of the British Humanist Association); panellists were Mahin Alipour (head of the Scandinavian Councils of Ex-Muslims), Roy Brown (International Humanist and Ethical Union’s Representative at the UN Human Rights Council), Johann Hari (journalist), Maryam Namazie and Ibn Warraq. The audience overwhelmingly supported the following resolution at the end of the plenary: The conference calls on the UK and European governments to bring an end to the use and implementation of Sharia law, which is discriminatory against women and children in particular, and to guarantee unconditional equal citizenship rights for all.

The audience then watched a remake of the right wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film entitled Fitna Remade by Reza Moradi.

After a break, Richard Dawkins (scientist, author) provided his criticism of Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation for which his site has been banned in Turkey, which was followed by questions and answers from the audience.

This was followed by Plenary 3 entitled ‘Creationism, Religious Education and Faith Schools,’ which was chaired by Keith Porteous Wood (Executive Director of the National Secular Society). Panellists were Richard Dawkins, Terry Sanderson (President of the NSS), Joan Smith (journalist and activist), Bahram Soroush (Labour Solidarity Committee Public Relations Officer), and Hamid Taqvaee (leader of the Worker-communist Party of Iran). The audience showed their unequivocal opposition to faith schools here.

Maryam Namazie closed the conference by calling on the participants to mobilise around March 8 – International Women’s Day – to step up opposition against Sharia law and political Islam. As she had said earlier: ‘In the end, political Islam matters to people because it affects their lives, their rights, their freedoms. And that’s why only a movement that puts people first can mobilise the force needed to stop political Islam. And it must – it will – be stopped.’

Other major events

The CEMB was instrumental in launching the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia law in Britain at the House of Lords on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2008 and organising two successful rallies against Sharia and religious laws in Britain and elsewhere on March 7, 2009 and November 21, 2009.
The CEMB also helped organise a successful public meeting on Sharia Law, Sexual Apartheid and Women’s Rights on March 7, 2009.
On April 29, 2009, the CEMB and other organisations and individuals launched the International Coalition for Women’s Rights against Sharia law in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and Somalia in particular along with Afghanistan’s rape laws and supported the launch of Iran Solidarity on July 13, 2009.

Speaking engagements

On July 15, 2009, Maryam Namazie spoke at a meeting hosted by Lancashire Secular Humanists; on June 21, 2009, Maryam spoke at an event hosted by Essex Humanists on Sharia law. On 21 May 2009, Maryam spoke at an event hosted by Oxford Humanists. On 17 April 2009, Maryam spoke on Islam, Human Rights and Homophobia at a talk sponsored by the Gay And Lesbian Humanist Association. During April 4-5, 2009, Maryam spoke on a panel on the centrality of the struggle for women’s rights at the International Conference on Secularism in Paris, France.

In March, Maryam spoke at several events in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria on Political Islam, Sharia and Women’s Rights, including one organised by the Centre for Inquiry. On January14, Maryam Namazie spoke against faith schools at a local NUT meeting in Leicester and on Political Islam and Free Expression on 22 November 2008 in Stockholm, Sweden. She also addressed the Central London Humanist Group on October 15 and North London Humanists on October 16 as well as the Annual Reunion of Kindred Organisations on 21 September, 2008.

Other Events

In October, 2008 Maryam was nominated for the Emma Humphreys Award.

In October 2008, Maryam Namazie was profiled in a report entitled Victims of Intimidation by The Centre for Social Cohesion.

In March 2009, the CEMB and over 200 other organisations from 46 countries endorsed the Joint Statement on Defamation of Religions.

In July 2009, Easy Living magazine profiled Maryam Namazie’s work in the CEMB in a piece entitled The Fighter.

In October 2009, 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why we are Atheists, which included a piece by Maryam Namazie entitled ‘When the Hezbollah came to my school,’ was published by Wiley-Blackwell.

Media coverage

The CEMB spokesperson Maryam Namazie was interviewed on BBC Radio 4, BBC TV’s One World, BBC Woman’s Hour, BBC Humberside, BBC 1’s Big Questions, Jyllands-Posten, Weekly Standard, Trouw, BBC 5 Live, IPS, Telegraph, The Hindu News, CNS News, and Australian Broadcasting Corporation amongst others.
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Maryam Namazie’s podcast offering a secular alternative to the BBC Today programme’s Thought for the Day, in association with the Humanist Society of Scotland, was broadcast on The Guardian’s Comment is Free site.

Media interviews can be seen on our website: http://ex-muslim.org.uk/indexMedia.html.

Management Committee

Asad Abbas (Secretary), Jalil Jalili, Rony Miah, Reza Moradi, Maryam Namazie, Fariborz Pooya (Chair), Sohaila Sharifi, Bahram Soroush and Zia Zaffar (Treasurer).

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