4 June – Monthly Online Support Groups, 6:30-8:00pm (London time)
If you are an ex-Muslim in need of support, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Support groups are 90 minutes long. Five person groups are led by Dr Savin Bapir Tardy; larger group sessions are led by Marwa Wain.
16 June – Open Mic for World Refugee Day, 7-8:00pm (London time)
This month’s meet-up will be an open mic session to hear the stories of ex-Muslim refugees and asylum seekers in order to mark World Refugee Day. If you want to speak at this event, please email Ali Malik who runs the meet-ups at email@example.com.
27 June – Event on Persecution, Shunning and Survival: Being Ex-Muslim/Muslim and LGBT for Pride Month, 5:00-8:00pm London time
With Jimmy Bangash, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain Spokesperson; Khakan Qureishi, Gay Muslim activist and Stonewall LGBT+ school role model and Diversity Role Mode; Lilith, Trans Woman with migrant background; Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, French-Algerian openly gay Imam and founder of the first European inclusive mosque in Paris; Nemat Sadat, Author of the Carpet Weaver and first public gay ex-Muslim from Afghanistan; Saima Razzaq, Birmingham Community Activist and first Muslim woman to lead UK Pride event; Soheil Ahmed, Counter-extremism and LGBT Activist and others. Event will be chaired by CEMB spokesperson Maryam Namazie and Youtuber Fay Rahman.
Events in July include an online support group and a monthly meetup on 21 July with Maryam Namazie and Gita Sahgal on identity politics, racism and liberation. See other events here: https://www.ex-muslim.org.uk/all-events/.
We look forward to seeing you at some of our online events.
Dissent within minority communities is often not only badly reported in the media but is actually actively silenced under the guise of political correctness. On the final episode of this season of Backchat, Podcast Editor Mihir Joshi talks to Maryam Namazie from the One Law for All campaign group. They discuss honour based violence, blasphemy and the popular revolt against the Iranian Regime that has been raging for the past year.
In a quarter of the world’s countries and territories, people are legally killed, imprisoned or persecuted for blasphemy and apostasy. It is astonishing that in the 21 Century, thought, and opinion are still criminalised in this way.
The argument for blasphemy laws is that the “insulting” of sanctities is so dangerous for society that in order to protect public morality and social order, there is a need to discipline and punish. But this is a smokescreen as not everyone in any given society thinks alike. What is sacred to one can be insignificant, absurd, or even superstitious nonsense to another. The “public” doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the dominant narrative imposed by the state, “community leaders,” and self-appointed arbiters of morality – especially since belief is a lived experience and a personal matter. We are individuals, after all, and not extensions of the state and clergy. Freethought exists everywhere – though cultural relativists in the West seem to think that they are the only ones who are capable of dissent. In fact, anti-clericalism and anti-religion tendencies in theocracies are widespread, especially given the religious-Right’s interference in every aspect of public and personal life. The tsunami of atheism and ex-Muslims in countries under Islamic rule and the Diaspora is one such indication. We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg of this phenomenon because of social media somewhat levelling the playing field and giving freethinkers access to information, ideas, and networks denied by authoritarian states.
Whilst everyone blasphemes at some point in their lives – at least against religions they deem heretical, inferior, or irrelevant – not all forms of blasphemy are the same. Why some forms of it are considered dawah and devotion whilst others end up with dead bodies boils down to the all-important question of political power. For those in power, religion is a very useful way of maintaining control and quashing dissent. Which is why the more religion and the state are intertwined, the more severe the punishment for blasphemy.
Where earthly and divine power are deemed as one and the same, criticism of religion or God is considered a direct attack on state authority or God’s representatives on earth. In Iran, for example, people can be charged with enmity against God for criticising the Supreme Spiritual Leader, Khamenei, or the Islamic regime in Iran. Criticise God and you criticise the state. Criticise the state and you criticise God… It’s this link to power that makes blasphemy so deadly in some contexts – not the heightened “sensitivities” of imagined homogenous “Islamic societies” or “Muslim communities.”
The well-meaning in Europe who frown upon blasphemy as a defence of “minority” sensibilities wittingly or unwittingly miss this key point. Rather than a defence of the powerless, defending censorship to avoid offence and “hurt” actually defends the powerful. This further explains why minorities are most at risk of blasphemy laws – whether they be religious minorities like Christians, Bahai’s or Ahmadiyya or freethinkers like atheists and ex-Muslims. Even in Europe where Muslims are a minority, de facto blasphemy laws via the backdoor with accusations of Islamophobia affect minorities within minorities and help maintain the status quo and the religious-Right’s grip on the “Muslim community.”
Accusing blasphemers of “inciting hatred” because of what they think and believe is no different than accusing gay people for inciting hatred against heterosexuals because of who they love. The bitter irony in all this is that nothing incites hatred and violence more than religions in political power.
The “marketplace of offence” aside, the fact of the matter is that religion or belief in Gods are ideas like any other and must be open to criticism, review, and dissent.
Rights and freedoms are for people, not for ideas. People have to be equal, though not all ideas are equal or equally valid. People have to be respected, but ideas can be questioned, disrespected, discarded, mocked. Ridiculous ideas can and should be ridiculed. It is not the same as ridiculing, mocking, or disrespecting people who hold those beliefs. Isn’t that how human society has progressed? By challenging and discarding bad ideas?
Yes, of course, it is not only Islam that has such a severe punishment for blasphemy. All Abrahamic religions call for the death penalty for blasphemers. That they don’t still hang blasphemers in Europe, though, is not because the Bible has been edited or Christianity is a nicer religion but because of the dwindling role of Christianity in the state and increasing secularisation.
The measure of a free society is the extent of freedom of conscience (including the right to disbelief) and freedom of expression (including the right to criticise and mock the sacred). And it is secular societies that most guarantee these basic freedoms. Secularism is not the end all – there is still racism, misogyny, xenophobia, capitalism… but secularism is a minimal framework that ensures the separation of religion from the state, which most protects minorities and minority opinions.
Let’s not forget that minority opinions can become majority opinions and create new status quos with criticism, questioning, and dissenting via progressive political and social movements and struggles, such as the anti-colonial struggles, the US civil rights movement, or women’s suffrage.
The ex-Muslim movement should be seen within the same light – as a community in protest demanding the rights to apostasy and blasphemy. When one can be killed for blasphemy and apostasy, celebrating dissent is an important act of survival as well as of civil disobedience and resistance.
When the public space is so oppressively full of fear, subverting, flouting and disobeying absurd and inhuman rules not only challenges dogmas, the sacred, and taboos, but it reclaims and transforms the public space and society.
Celebrating blasphemy responds to violence with humour and non-violence. It diminishes fear and feelings of despair, and it increases democratic and participatory politics. It brings hope and courage. It insists on the human rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression, and it does so in practice and not as theoretical or abstract concepts and notions.
Celebrating blasphemy, which is fundamentally celebrating the right to thought and opinion, goes to the core of what it is to be fully human and enables us to reimagine society and the world without blasphemy laws.
This is especially crucial given the increasing numbers of people who are persecuted, imprisoned, or are languishing on death row for the “crime” of thought and opinion. Non-believers like Soheil Arabi in Iran and Ayaz Nizami in Pakistan or believers like Tijjaniya Sunnis in Nigeria or Qurani Muslims in Sudan.
Much of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s work over 12 years has been to normalise blasphemy and apostasy. From nude protests to challenge modesty culture, eat-ins at embassies that persecute people for fast-defying during Ramadan to atheist azaans (calls to prayer) and “Allah is Gay” placards at Gay Pride in London, blasphemy in the public space says to the parasitical imams and fundamentalists that they do not have power over us, they cannot silence us. and that we will not submit.
As Southall Black Sisters says: Our Tradition: Struggle not Submission.
Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born writer and activist living in London. She is the Spokesperson of One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and hosts a television programme broadcast in Iran in Persian and English called Bread and Roses.
A three-hour online protest took place on 4 April reaching out to thousands on social media to highlight the urgent plight of Soheil Arabi in prison in Iran since 2013. Arabi was initially sentenced to death for “insulting the prophet.” He was eventually acquitted of this charge and his sentence reduced on appeal to seven and a half years in prison, a two-year travel ban and two years of religious study to evaluate his repentance upon his release. He was then sentenced to lashes, an additional 3 years prison and a fine for “insulting Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic” and “propaganda against the regime.” Arabi has been seriously tortured and in need of urgent medical attention. This urgent action took place while he is currently on hunger strike to protest the injustice of his case, the denial of medical attention and leave due to Coronavirus, the torture and mistreatment of political prisoners and prison conditions, amongst others. You can read more about his case here.
The protest was hosted by Veedu Vidz, Shahin Mohamadi and Maryam Namazie and was the first online protest of its kind in both Persian and English.
Those joining the online protest included Activist Abbas Mohamadpour, Activist Armin Enayati, Activist Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, Cemal Knudsen Yucel of Ex-Muslims of Norway, Actress Elika Ashoori, Activist Faryad Ostovar, Youtuber Fay Rahman, Poet Halima Salat, Council of Ex-Muslims of Scandinavia’s Hamed Jamali and Milad Resaeimanesh, Lawyer Iman Soleymani Amiri, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s Jimmy Bangash, Artist Mahshad Afshar, Iran Tribunal London Spokesperson Mersedeh Ghaedi, Activist Mohsen Safarelahi, Marea Review Editor Monica Lanfranco, Activist Peyman Partovi, Rishvin Ismath of Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka, Poet Rock N Roll Sailor, Activist Samaneh Nateghi, Council of Ex-Muslims of Netherlands Savalan Ghodsi who also did a performance for Soheil, Activist Shabnam Shajarizadeh, Activist Shakila Salimi, Women’s Rights Activist Shaparak Shajarizadeh and Zara Kay of Faithless Hijabi.
Many sent messages or acts of solidarity, including Our House Founder Arash Hampay, Codou Bop – Human Rights Defender from Senegal, Filmmaker Deeyah Khan, Freethought Lebanon, Spokesperson of One Law for All Gita Sahgal, Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation Founder Halaleh Taheri, Harris Sultan, Australian ex-Muslim atheist of Pakistani descent, Ibtissame Betty Lachgarof MALI, Founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue Marieme Helie Lucas, Atheist Ireland’s Michael Nugent, Youtuber Mimzy Vidz, Activist Mina Ahadi, Muslimish, Nada Perat Radfrau of Centre for Civil Courage, Human Rights Activist Nazanin Afshin Jam, Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell, Pragna Patel – Director of Southall Black Sisters, Writer and Activist Rahila Gupta, Founder of Atheist Refugee Relief Rana Ahmad, Robyn E. Blumner – President and CEO, Center for Inquiry and Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, Saadiq Samad – Coordinator, Ex-Muslims of Tamil Nadu, India, Shuddhashar, Former Charlie Hebdo Journalist Zineb El Rhazoui…
See some of the MESSAGES OF SOLIDARITY can be seen below:
Our House Founder Arash Hampay
Codou Bop, Human Rights Defender from Senegal: I am a woman human right defender from Senegal in West Africa. I would be very grateful to you if you could send my strong support to Soheil Arabi for his struggle for his right for freedom of faith and being whatever he wants to be. Please tell him that I feel very sad about his situation and I hope that with the support from people who believe that it is his right to be atheist, he will very soon regain his freedom.
Filmmaker Deeyah Khan: This message goes to Soheil and all the other brave people campaigning for freedom of belief and expression from me and all at Fuuse. Soheil, we support you. We deplore the violence perpetrated against you. We admire your courage and your determination against the Iranian regime. We will not let your struggle go unnoticed. We will not allow your message to be silenced. We call on everyone to join us in the campaign for Freedom for Soheil! In solidarity
Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation Founder Halaleh Taheri
Gita Sahgal, Spokesperson of One Law for All: I’m sending a picture of rosemary for remembrance. For atheists and all political prisoners in Iran. Soheil, we remember you. We call for your freedom. We stand with you and the people of Iran protesting against a cruel government which has put their lives at risk. We look forward to the day when you are free.
Artist Mahshad Afshar
Marieme Helie Lucas, Founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue: Repression of free thought is something that belongs to the dark ages. The Iranian regime is cynically using religion to impose itself upon people. Neither sincere believers in Islam, nor secularists, agnostics and atheists can condone the eradication of our most fundamental human rights: freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. Mollahs! you don’t speak for the people as street demonstrations have made clear in the past few months! and you don’t even speak for believers as you pretend! I salute the courage and persistence of Soheil Arabi in defending our right to blasphemy, which is what is left to us when our freedom from religion is taken away from us. Free Soheil Arabi! Long live free thought!
Atheist Ireland’s Michael Nugent:
Human Rights Activist Nazanin Afshin Jam: During this time of isolation and just having passed Easter weekend I can’t help but reflect on how blessed I feel to be able to practice my faith in freedom. I am thinking about prisoners of conscience like Soheil Arabi who have received death sentences in Iran simply for being an atheist and questioning Islam and the supreme leader of Iran ayatollah Khamenei. Freedom of religion includes the choice not to believe in a higher power is a fundamental human right. And expressing this is freedom of expression, also a fundamental human right. It is not a crime and certainly cannot be used by a state to condemn someone to death by hanging. The United Nations and freedom loving people worldwide must do everything in their power to save the life of Soheil and other prisoners of conscience in Iran. Not only are they suffering grave human rights abuses in jail and heavy sentences and fines but now their lives are in jeopardy in their crowded jail cells with the threat of the spread of coronavirus. I stand with Soheil Arabi.
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters: Dear Soheil, I do not know you but you know all of us because you are fighting for all of us. For our freedoms, our dignity and for our humanity. Today I am thinking of you and all the political prisoners of conscience in Iran and around the world. Thank you for your bravery and courage. Thank you for standing up for all of us. Thank you for standing up for freedom of expression and conscience. I know that in your prison cell, surrounded by the forces of torture and inhumanity, a mere ‘thank you’ is not enough. But I hope that by registering my voice of protest, I will join the voices of the many in resistance in the hope that our voices will grow so loud and strong that even the brutal Iranian regime will no longer be able to ignore us. Martin Luther Kind once said ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. My friend, I stand with you in solidarity in your fight to be free from injustice.
Writer and Activist Rahila Gupta:
Activist Rana Ahmad:
Robyn E. Blumner, President and CEO, Center for Inquiry and Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science: The Center for Inquiry stands for reason, science, and secular values around the world. We support Soheil Arabi’s right to speak out on behalf of atheism and against theocracy and religious dogma. We support his quest for freedom of conscience, his right to question and criticize religion, and we find his continued confinement and mistreatment for simply exercising that freedom to be an outrage that the world is rightly judging.
Saadiq Samad, Coordinator, Ex-Muslims of Tamil Nadu, India: We have experienced the cruelty of Islam in 2017 and after the murder of Farook, most of us here are not ready to come to public. So we can send only this message. We can understand the pain of Sohail Arabi and his family. Ex-Muslims of Tamil Nadu, India supports the protest.
PLEASE SIGN PETITIONS HERE AND HEREand continue to fight for the freedom of Soheil Arabi, all other political prisoners in Iran and those across the world being held because of their conscience and expression.
The event was opened by MC Nahla Mahmoud and began with a screening of the stunning film: “No Longer Without You”, a documentary about a searing conversation about parenthood, tradition, religion, sex, and independence between a free-spirited daughter, Nazmiye Oral and her traditional Muslim mother, Havva in the intimate circle of a living room in front of their family following several public performances.
This was followed by a panel discussion with Actress Nazmiye Oral, Youtuber Fay Rahman, Journalist Khadija Khan, Student Activist Saff Khalique, Clinical Psychologist Savin Bapir-Tardy and Født Fri (Born Free) Foundation Director Shabana Rehman. Chair: CEMB Spokesperson Maryam Namazie.