Author: CEMB

New group for those who renounce Islam
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:16am BST 21/06/2007

A new organisation, representing former Muslims who fear for their lives because they have renounced their faith, is to be launched at Westminster tomorrow.

The Council of ex-Muslims of Britain plans to speak out against Islamic states that still punish Muslim apostates with death under Sharia law.

It also aims to become the voice of non-religious ex-Muslims who do not want to be represented by “regressive” umbrella groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain.

The council is being headed by Maryam Namazie, an outspoken human rights activist, following the formation of similar branches across Europe. Miss Namazie, a Left-wing feminist who was awarded the title of “Secularlist of the Year” in 2005, has herself faced death threats.

In Islam, apostasy is called ridda (turning back) and it is considered by Muslims to be a profound insult to God, which deserves harsh punishment. The nature of the punishment, however, provokes passionate debate between scholars, with most believing that it should attract the death penalty for men and life imprisonment for women.

Apostasy is punishable by death in a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan. In other parts of the world they can be shunned by family and friends.

Last year Abdul Rahman, an Afghan convert from Islam to Christianity, attracted international attention after prosecutors called for his death.

However, under heavy pressure from foreign governments, the Afghan authorities declared him unfit to stand trial and released him. Miss Namazie, who was forced to flee her native Iran, said: “We are establishing the alternative to the likes of the Muslim Council of Britain because we don’t think people should be pigeonholed as Muslims or deemed to be represented by regressive organisations like the MCB.

She added: ”We are quite certain we represent a majority in Europe and a vast secular and humanist protest movement in countries like Iran.”

She said the new Council, the launch of which is being sponsored by the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society, will start with a membership of 25 British ex-Muslims who are prepared to be named and pictured publicly.

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Spiritual departures
Andrew Copson
June 21, 2007 4:15 PM

“I recall being very frightened at the time as it was explained to me that to reject Islam was one of the worst things one could do and that the penalty for that was death. This incident and others which contribute to an intimidating and hostile environment for me and others in my position have meant I have been unable to openly express my humanist convictions to my family and other Muslims.”

This extract is from the longer testimony of one former Muslim, published (pdf) by the Cabinet Office’s Equalities Review earlier this year.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, launched today, is, as others have pointed out, a brave move by those raised in one religion to stand up against religious tenets which they feel oppress them and to campaign for freedom of belief.

The problem that they highlight by launching this group is undoubtedly a growing one, exacerbated by the increasing tendency of the media and of the government to define people in religious terms, and too often according to the religion of their upbringing or of their family.

Just as importantly, however, the new council will offer former Muslims – like the former Muslim quoted above – a network of support. To depart from the culture or religion of your own upbringing can be an alienating and traumatic experience – it can leave you feeling rootless and isolated. Salman Rushdie may have been recognised with a knighthood only last weekend, but by and large, people who have moved away from Islam, as a group, are off the public radar, and perhaps the recent reaction to the honouring of Sir Salman the “apostate” tells us something of the reason why.

When the British Humanist Association was approached by the former Muslims who conceived of this project, we were happy to give it our support – not in a spirit of anti-religious animus, but because it is clear that non-religious people in this position need our help. It is the absolute human right of everyone to make up their own minds in matters of religion and to have freedom of thought, religion, conscience and belief – if the child of two humanist parents grows up to decide that he or she is a Muslim, or the child of two Muslim parents decides that he or she is a humanist, they have the right to be so, free of intimidation or threat.

Britain has a long-evolving tradition of freedom of conscience, and the enjoyment of that right belongs to everyone; forces that impinge on that freedom have to be countered and individuals seeking that freedom have to be supported.

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