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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.'”

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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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Dutch politician sets up Committee for ex-Muslims, Radio Netherlands

Dutch politician sets up Committee for ex-Muslims by our correspondent in The Hague John Tyler

11-09-2007

Young Dutch Labour politician Ehsan Jami has established a Committee of ex-Muslims in the Netherlands to support those who have renounced Islam.

22-year-old Jami (photo) held a press conference on Tuesday – the sixth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York – to announce the birth of the committee.

There’s been an intense amount of interest in Mr Jami and his efforts, much of it critical. Ehsan Jami is proving to be a controversial spokesman, partly because of his outspoken views about the religion he has renounced.

During the press conference, Mr Jami described Islam as “not a religion of peace.”

“It’s a religion of submission…of its followers, submission of Christians, Jews, Budhists, atheists, infidels, the whole world. So I ask myself, how long is Holland going to pretend that we’re not at war with the Muslim extremists. And my message is this to the Muslim extremists: In this country, in this nation and in this continent, there is no more room for you.”
Backing from abroad
Mr Jami was joined by two other ex-Muslims who lead similar efforts abroad. Maryam Namazie heads an organisation founded in the United Kingdom in June, while German Mina Ahadi set up the Council for ex-Muslims in February.

Each of them has met with resistance in setting up their committees, and all three say they have received death threats.

On the other hand, Mr Jami says he has received hundreds of e-mails from ex-Muslims who support his efforts. But he hasn’ t succeeded in finding other former Muslims to work with him publicly. And that’s not due to a shortage of ex-Muslims in the Netherlands.

Leaving quietly
A number of former Muslims held a press conference earlier this week – at a mosque, no less. Their message was that Muslims can leave the faith quietly, and they take issue with Jami’s confrontational approach. One of them, Peyman Jaffari, calls himself an atheist and a humanist. He told Radio Netherlands Worldwide:

“Ehsan Jami says people have the right to leave Islam. That’s something we ascribe to. But he has another message as well. He calls the prophet Muhammad Osama Bin Laden. And he presents his committee on 11 September. So he’s very polarising and describes Muslims as enemies.”
Mr Jaffari says he’s had some intense discussions with friends and family who were trying to save his soul, but he says he hasn’t faced any animosity for having left the faith. For him, ex-Muslims have more similarities with Muslims than differences.

9/11
For Mr Jaffari and other sceptics, Mr Jami’s choice of 11 September was particularly damaging for his message.

But Maryam Namazie, chair of the Council of ex-Muslims in the UK who came to The Hague to sign a declaration of support for Ehsan Jami, doesn’t see anything wrong with the date.

“If you’re against the slaughter of people who were going about their daily business like New York and you’re criticizing the movement that was responsible, what does that have to do with ordinary Muslims? I think that this is what political Islam often tries to do: equate themselves with all Muslims as a way of saying: ‘If you criticise it, you’re racist, you’re attacking all Muslims’. That’s not the case.”
Ms Namazie says that political correctness in western countries has gone too far, with the result that people are afraid to criticise Islam, and especially in public.

But she should be pleased with the week’s events. Criticising Islam was at least one thing the various ex-Muslims here in the Netherlands managed to do.

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