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Spiritual departures, Guardian’s Comment is Free

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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Ex-Muslim group launches in Britain , Boston Globe

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor June 20, 2007

PARIS (Reuters) – “Ex-Muslims” hoping to change the terms of debate about Islam in Europe will launch a British group in London on Thursday.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain will be the latest addition to groupings that began in Germany in February and spread to Scandinavia in May. A Dutch group will hold its launch in September.

The activists, many of them Iranian exiles, support the freedom to criticize religion and the end to what they call “religious intimidation and threats.”

“Too many things in the media and government policies have been geared to pandering to the political Islamic movements and Islamic organizations,” Maryam Namazie, head of the British group, told Reuters by telephone from London on Wednesday.

“I hope we’ll get a lot more attention and begin to change the debate,” said Namazie, who left Iran in 1980 after the Islamic revolution there.

Leaving Islam is considered a crime punishable by death in some Muslim-majority countries. Muslims in Europe practice their faith less than their co-religionists in the Middle East but few openly proclaim themselves apostates or atheists.

There are more than 15 million people of Muslim origin in western Europe, mostly in France, Germany and Britain. Spokesmen for Muslims are often religious leaders, some more conservative theologically or active politically than the silent majority.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, many Muslims in Europe have complained they are suspected of being terrorists or supporting extreme religious views.

Namazie said the launch of a Central Council of Ex-Muslims in Berlin inspired groups elsewhere to follow suit. The Central Council of Ex-Muslims in Scandinavia is based in Sweden with branches in Denmark, Norway and Finland.

Namazie said the British group had about 25 activists so far. She said expressions of support or interest had come in from the United States, France and Australia.

France, whose five million Muslims make up Europe’s largest Islamic minority, has many non-observant Muslims but few describe themselves as atheists.

Several small groups call themselves “secular Muslims” who respect France’s separation of church and state. They include some believers who want to keep religion out of politics.

Namazie said many ex-Muslim activists were Iranian exiles who did not fear reprisals from Muslim militants because they already had long experience opposing an Islamic government.

“We have been apostates for a long time,” she said.

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The Courage of their convictions, AC Grayling, Guardian’s Comment is Free

The courage of their convictions
AC Grayling
June 19, 2007 11:00 AM

There is an immense difference between understanding something with one’s head, and understanding it with one’s guts. Think of the phrase, “the courage of one’s convictions”. This week the true meaning of these words, hitherto eroded into a flat nap-worn cliche by overuse and misuse, comes home with the force of a kick in the belly. For on Thursday June 21 in London, a group of people are going to take a stand for their principles in a way that involves real courage, admirable courage, and which at the same time lights a torch of hope in a dark quadrant of the world’s affairs.

The occasion is the launch of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, following the establishment of such groups elsewhere in Europe, notably Germany and Scandinavia. The British branch is led by the outstanding Maryam Namazie, Iranian-born champion of (among other things) human rights, women, and refugees from religious persecution. The manifesto of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain eloquently speaks for itself, and I hope Maryam Namazie and her fellow-members of the council will not mind if I quote it here in full, because it deserves the widest publicity, not least because the 10 demands appended to it constitute a bill of rights which is absolutely necessary for everyone, non-religious and otherwise, to adopt and observe now that the world is again experiencing, with such bitterness, widespread religion-generated difficulties.

One point that has to be kept in mind here, because it illuminates the following document with the burning light of urgency, is this: apostasy (abandoning one’s religion) by a Muslim is to this day regarded as a crime punishable by death in countries governed by Islamic law (it once likewise invited death in Christianity). This is why the council is the embodiment of courage, and why the principles in its 10 demands are so vital.

Manifesto of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

We, non-believers, atheists, and Ex-Muslims, are establishing or joining the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain to insist that no one be pigeonholed as Muslims with culturally relative rights nor deemed to be represented by regressive Islamic organisations and “Muslim community leaders”.

Those of us who have come forward with our names and photographs represent countless others who are unable or unwilling to do so because of the threats faced by those considered “apostates” – punishable by death in countries under Islamic law.

By doing so, we are breaking the taboo that comes with renouncing Islam but also taking a stand for reason, universal rights and values, and secularism.

Whilst religion or the lack thereof is a private affair, the increasing intervention of and devastation caused by religion and particularly Islam in contemporary society has necessitated our public renunciation and declaration. We represent a majority in Europe and a vast secular and humanist protest movement in countries like Iran.

Taking the lead from the Central Council of Ex-Muslims in Germany, we demand:

  1. Universal rights and equal citizenship for all. We are opposed to cultural relativism and the tolerance of inhuman beliefs, discrimination and abuse in the name of respecting religion or culture.
  2. Freedom to criticise religion. Prohibition of restrictions on unconditional freedom of criticism and expression using so-called religious “sanctities”.
  3. Freedom of religion and atheism.
  4. Separation of religion from the state and legal and educational system.
  5. Prohibition of religious customs, rules, ceremonies or activities that are incompatible with or infringe people’s rights and freedoms.
  6. Abolition of all restrictive and repressive cultural and religious customs which hinder and contradict women’s independence, free will and equality. Prohibition of segregation of sexes.
  7. Prohibition of interference by any authority, family members or relatives, or official authorities in the private lives of women and men and their personal, emotional and sexual relationships and sexuality.
  8. Protection of children from manipulation and abuse by religion and religious institutions.
  9. Prohibition of any kind of financial, material or moral support by the state or state institutions to religion and religious activities and institutions.
  10. Prohibition of all forms of religious intimidation and threats.

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