My recent experiences indicate that there is a need for a support organisation in New Zealand (NZ) for those who decide to leave Islam. To my knowledge there currently is no such organisation in place. The needs of ex-Muslims are somewhat unique compared with those leaving other religions. For those turning from Islam to another religion, they will generally have support from the members of that new ‘spiritual home’, but for those for whom that is inadequate, or have turned to atheism, there is currently little or no support available. Skeptic, Rationalist and Humanist groups are active in NZ, but do not meet all of the challenges, that an ex-Muslim faces.
Muslims themselves are very much in the minority in NZ – currently numbering around 45,000 from a total population of 4.5 million (1.0%). Ex-Muslims are an even smaller minority, currently unknown to each other. The prospect of ideological and possibly physical isolation when leaving Islam and the various types of coercion applied to punish those who do so will lead many to either unwillingly go through the motions and pretend all is well, or depending on their level of self-confidence, to go out alone and suffer in silence.
While every individual situation will be unique in many respects, my intention is to provide a local NZ network of like-minded ex-Muslim friends who can provide support for each other, and for those whose faith is weak and are considering leaving Islam – to give them the comfort that there is someone in NZ to talk to. We have the right to free thought and those who dare to think differently should not be discouraged. We have a right to choose our religion, or to choose no religion.
The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), formed in 2007, has already shown leadership in this area and CEMNZ will be affiliated to the CEMB.
As for myself, I was born into a fundamentalist Christian (Baptist) family in the UK, who believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and I was fairly successfully indoctrinated during childhood. I discovered Islam at College and the step across at age 19 was relatively easy because the foundations of the two religions are essentially the same and Islam resolved many of difficulties I had with Christianity. After 25 years as a moderately active and faithful Muslim, but with some unresolved questions, I had the opportunity to study and evaluate answers to those questions. Faith wavered and then collapsed. I read a vast number of books and other material, to try and make really certain that I was not making a mistake now and to understand why I (or anyone) would have believed in the first place. These studies ranged across many areas: Archaeology, Biology, Christianity, Cults, Geology, History, Islam, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Psychology, Theology etc. I have found that the answers are out there, without the need for a supernatural agent, if we are prepared to open our minds.
Catherine Dunphy, Executive Director of the Clergy Project, has contacted the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain about about incorporating ex-Muslim imams and mullahs into the Clergy Project which is a confidential online community for faithless clergy.
If you are an imam and mullah who has finally seen the light, please get in touch with her.
Rim Razek writes to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain:
I was born in Egypt. I come from a strictly religious background; most members of my family are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite being brought up by parents who tried to censor art, music, and certain books, I was constantly searching for answers and looking for ways to get around the censorship. By the time I was sixteen, I had read numerous books on philosophy and religion and had come to conclusions that led me to leave Islam, conclusions I knew would make me a social outcast once anyone found out about them. After a period of inner conflict, I decided I wasn’t going to let society dictate what I believe or how I should live my life. I resolved to take off my veil and wrote an article called “Mass Hysteria,” saying that the veil is nothing more than a political and misogynistic tool used by Islamists in order to gain power and control while it provides no reflection of piety or morality as advertised. I also compared the freer attitude of Egyptian women in the sixties with the present.
After I published this article and a picture of myself without the hijab, I was thrown in a mental asylum and subjected to electroshock treatments as a punishment; I have recently blogged about for the first time. This was a traumatic experience. After getting out of the asylum and pretending to conform for a while, I returned to being outspoken. I made a video about how indoctrinating children with religious ideologies is child abuse and my friend Kacem Elghazali posted it on his blog atheistica. I took part in my friend Aliaa Elmahdi’s campaign by posting pictures of myself with and without the veil.
In another post, “Male Dominance and Female Submission,” I posted a series of photos that showed the way I had to veil throughout my teenage years and concluded with a photo that represents my emancipation. In that post I wrote, “I screamed under my veil: Equality!! Justice!! Freedom!! My echoes were never heard and my only choice was submission. My thoughts, my feelings, my beliefs had no place in a society which gave women no more rights than cattle, a society that considers women no more than the sum of their hymen plus the length of their headscarves.” Shortly after, I did an interview with an Arabic blog called libvoices.net.
As a result of publishing these articles and pictures, and my support of Aliaa Elmahdy, I received many threats of rape, torture and murder. I was afraid I would be denounced to the police and arrested as an apostate, in which case I would be raped, tortured, and possibly killed in jail. Under the current government, there has been a drastic increase in the number of people being prosecuted for blasphemy and apostasy, and many Egyptian salafis and preachers are calling for the death penalty for apostates.
In February 2012, my father received a research fellowship to the US and brought me and my brother with him. When I arrived here and began living in the dorm, away from my family, I began to feel like I could breathe again. My father’s fellowship ends in June; when he said he expected me to return to Egypt with him, I decided to apply for political asylum. I did so without the help of an attorney by researching the process online. I am not allowed to work for a period of about six months after I file, so I started this crowdfunding appeal to help me cover basic living expenses until I am allowed to work. I would appreciate your support.
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain fully supports Reem’s right to asylum and protection.