Rahaf al-Qunun’s brave fight for protection from persecution ended happily with the Saudi teen’s arrival in Canada. The ex-Muslim who was fleeing her abusive family barricaded herself in her hotel room in Thailand and managed to reach safety despite her family and Saudi government’s attempts to return her to Saudi Arabia. Rahaf’s plight mobilised widespread support with countless groups and individuals demanding action by the Thai government and the UNHCR and cheering her on to safety.
Unfortunately, Rahaf’s plight is a reality for countless ex-Muslims, atheists, women and LGBT fleeing Sharia or “honour”-related violence condoned by Islamic states and movements. In more than ten countries, being ex-Muslim, atheist, or LGBT are even punishable by death. In these countries, being a free woman is a crime. Despite these harsh realities, countless asylum seekers in Britain and the west as well as refugee claimants in places like Turkey continue to be detained, refused protection despite evidence of persecution, mistreated and deported.
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) calls on governments and the UNHCR to protect ex-Muslims, atheists, women and LGBT fleeing sharia, “honour-related” violence and Islamic states and movements.
Like Rahaf, they are refugees too.
UK ACTIVIST CASE SUMMARIES
Marwa Mastouri is a Tunisian ex-Muslim woman who has received threats from her family and death and rape threats for her topless actions in support of those who do not believe in Islam, against hijab day and in solidarity with those who want to eat during Ramadan. She has written a book critical of Islam. Moreover, she has defended LGBT rights and recently carried out a topless action in support of Saudi women. Marwa is waiting for an interview with the Home Office.
Shawon Syed, a Bangladeshi ex-Muslim and bi-sexual has been waiting nearly two years for an interview with the Home Office. Shawan is an Editor of a magazine called “Boys Love World” and a sub-Editor of “Atheist In Bangladesh.” He continues to receive serious threats to his life. In Bangladesh, seven cases have been filed against him and his team for their criticism of religion and Islam. Islamist mobs have attacked and destroyed his home there and threatened his mother who is in hiding. His brother and father have already been murdered by the Islamists. Shawan has health issues and is currently homeless here in the UK. Shawan is a long-time activist who marched with CEMB at Pride and spoke at an event co-sponsored with Pride Festival on LGBT Rights, Blasphemy and Apostasy.
Mohamed Aly is an Egyptian ex-Muslim atheist. He left his country because he had been threatened with having his beliefs exposed to the public. He applied in the UK for asylum in April 2016 and has been refused on a number of occasions. Although the Home Office accepted that he was a genuine Ex-Muslim atheist, they advised him to return to Egypt and “live discreetly” as an atheist. The Home Office claimed that there is ‘’no policy of persecution in Egypt against Ex-Muslims atheists’’, it is merely ‘’discrimination’’. Mohamed is a long-time activist of CEMB involved in fast-defying actions during Ramadan and also marching at Pride in London amongst other actions and protests.
Aftab Ahmed is an ex-Muslim from Pakistan who applied for asylum in August 2015, been refused a number of times and is submitting a fresh claim. His father was killed by the Taliban and he was threatened by them; he continues to receive threats due to his activities with CEMB. In his refusal letter, the Home Office asserted that since the Taliban was a non-state actor, “the authorities are able to provide protection.” On his being agnostic and unable to return to Pakistan, the Home Office has said he “would be able to live as someone who does not follow Islam. As [he has] not converted to another religion, [he] would not be required to talk to anyone about [his] religion.” Aftab is a key CEMB activist involved in organising and participating in our protests and actions, including fast-defying and against blasphemy laws at the Pakistani embassy, defending LGBT rights at Pride and opposing compulsory veiling.
Fasahat Hasan Rizvi is a Pakistani ex-Muslim whose asylum claim has been rejected on a number of occasions. Fasahat’s spouse was forcibly divorced from him because his religious in-laws with links to an Islamist group there believed him to be an apostate. When she joined him in the UK and they had a second child despite the divorce, her family threatened to kill them for adultery and murder their child “born out of wedlock.” According to the Home Office, though, “it is believed that the authorities in Pakistan are able to provide [him] with effective protection” and that he can relocate to another city in Pakistan other than Karachi. According to the refusal letter, the Home Office states: “You are an educated male of working age and are able to speak Urdu and English, one of the official languages of Pakistan. You have already demonstrated considerable personal fortitude in relocating to the UK and attempting to establish a life here and you have offered no explanation why you could not demonstrate the same resolve to reestablish your life in Pakistan.” Fasahat stopped believing in Islam early on but realised he was an atheist here in the UK after reading Dawkins’ book and making contact with the CEMB. Fasahat has been one of CEMB’s main activists and organisers since 2016, however, the Home Office says “it is not accepted that [he] is an atheist.”
Letter from Fasahat’s 12-year-old daughter
My name is Hurmat Fatima and I am proudly standing here to support my family, my belief, my atheism and i am fighting for my rights. I have done continuous 8 years of education in this country so how do you expect me to go back to Pakistan and learn the compulsory local language (urdu, hindustani and more)? How do u expect me to go back to pakistan and learn Islam when i am a free-thinker and an atheist? How do you expect me to go there and be proud of my atheism when you can be sentenced to death for not believing in islam?
Home office know the terrible conditions that my family and i live in and yet they still choose to ignore us. They know that my daddy has mental issues and it can be risky for him to deal with lots of stress and depression. As a daughter, i feel extremely upset for him because i don’t want to lose my daddy. My parents try day and night to provide me and my sister the best life and the best environment. Because of you, we all suffer. They are the ones that taught me that all human beings are kind and generous and that you should never judge anyone but clearly home office is showing the complete opposite. I am thankful to my parents because they encouraged me to develop my critical thinking and i am really proud of being an atheist.
We have done everything that home office asked us to do, they have all the evidence all the proof what more do they want? We have respectfully and patiently waited for their response and they choose to refuse us. Do they realise that going back to pakistan is extremely risky, it isn’t even a joke, it is a matter of death and we can even be prosecuted just because of our belief? Do they realise that Islam considers atheism as a threat? Do you realise that if we go back to pakistan we have to constantly hide from everyone? They can at least have sympathy for us.
I have written several letters to home office through my account taking my time and my effort in it and they choose to ignore it. Just because i am a child that doesn’t mean that i can’t fight and that i can’t say my opinions or fight for my rights.
Just because home office are high standard people that doesn’t mean that they forget their respect. You should treat everyone equally and respectfully.
I am sorry but i have no words to define home office but disrespectful.
Basma is a 24-year-old Yemeni ex-Muslim woman who fled to Turkey. In Yemen, she was not able to live freely and decide what to do with her life. A woman there is a slave to her family and community. Because of her outspokenness about the situation of women and her criticism of Islam, she was called an “infidel” by professors at her university where she was studying mass communications and by her own father who threatened to turn her in to the authorities. Basma feared she would be killed by Islamist groups or sentenced to death as others have been so she fled before finishing her degree. Moreover, as a black woman from a persecuted group in Yemen that are openly called “Akhdam” or servants, she faced horrendous racism. In Turkey, where she hoped to reach safety, life has been hell. She was jailed for 4 months in a deportation centre and attempts were made to deport her a number of times, which she has resisted.
Arsalan Nejati is a 32-year-old Iranian who has been persecuted for his political views and social activities as an ex-Muslim, an independent author, blogger, and a member of the atheist and humanist society in Iran. In 2014, after he published his story, he was arrested and tortured by Iranian security. After his conditional and temporary release, the threats continued. He was forced to flee to Turkey. He applied for refugee status to UNHCR on 5 May 2015. He has been sent to a satellite city without the right to work and no financial support from UNHCR. After two and a half years, he was rejected by the UNHCR because whilst they say he had established that he was an atheist, “there is not a reasonable possibility that [he] will suffer serious harm if [he] return(s) there due to [his] faith as an atheist.” The UNHCR did not accept his appeal and informed him that his case has been transferred to Turkish Immigration Office.
Iman Soleymani Amiri is a lawyer, a writer and critic of Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Due to various activities on social media, he was identified by security agents and forced to flee the country before his arrest. He is director and author of Islamic Criticism Channel with more than sixty thousand subscribers. His audio and video content is available to the general public on various channels and networks. He is a weekly expert on a weekly program called “Islam, a Reasonable Need to Know”. He applied to UNHCR in Turkey for refugee status a year and a half ago. He has received no response from the UNHCR. Recently, his case has been forwarded to Turkish Immigration Office.
Amir and Mina Kalateh are Iranian ex-Muslim siblings. Amir became an atheist at 16 and persuaded his mother and sister to become atheists too. They took to social media, became admin of Atheist Iranian Community with nearly 12,000 followers. One day, they found that one of their meeting places had been exposed and the security were looking for them. Amir fled first and when Mina and Amir were summoned to court, Mina and her mother Mehri fled the country to Turkey. They arrived in 2016 and have still not been interviewed by UNHCR.
On Monday 21 January 2019, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain organised a rally at Richmond Terrace SW1A 2NJ across Downing Street in London to demand asylum and protection for ex-Muslims, atheists, women and LGBT fleeing Sharia and/or honour-related violence.
#RefugeeToo highlighted asylum or refugee cases as well as exposed the absurd reasons given for refusals by governments and the UNHCR.
Inclusive Mosque Initiative has declined to join us in a friendly debate on women’s rights and Sharia. No surprise there.
As you may know, prior to the 25 November International Conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism, they organised an event in response to ours before it had even taken place. They basically accused us of promoting a nationalist and western agenda because of our defence of secularism and universal rights. We asked them why they were so afraid of secularism.
Following their event, which was full of misinformation, we invited them to a friendly debate on the issues. What better way to debate and discuss than to do it face to face? “Inclusive” Mosque, however, have declined our invitation, now also accusing our conference of “transphobia” to which Sadia Hameed has asked for clarification. In any case, our conference proceedings are available online for everyone to see (we look forward to a video of their conference soon).
Of course, “Inclusive” Mosque could have just come and defended their views and heard what we had to say rather than making false accusations and using demagoguery, but given that no one is willing to even sign their name to their emails, that seems to be too much to ask.
Hopefully, eventually, the “Inclusive” mosque will reach the political maturity to argue its case and listen to views it disagrees with. In the meanwhile, though, one small suggestion for them: rather than spending time attacking those of us who are victims and survivors of Sharia and Islamism – many of whom are LGBT and migrants too by the way – why not spend more time focusing on criticising Islamists and the religious-Right at least? It’s really not that hard. Try it sometime.
Below are the emails sent and received by Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB):
On 2018-12-05 15:29, Sadia Hameed wrote:
Dear Inclusive Mosque,
We would like to formally invite you to take part in a friendly debate about Women’s rights, Islam and Secularism for International Women’s day on Saturday 9th March 2019.
Ideally we would have 3 speakers each, who would each make a short opening statement, followed by a debate and end with closing statements. It is important for us to have open and honest dialogue, we are hoping to help facilitate such a discussion.
Eagerly awaiting your reply.
Council of Ex Muslims of Britain
INCLUSIVE MOSQUE RESPONSE
On Tuesday, 18 December 2018, 11:40,
Thank you for the invitation, but we will have to decline. As a rule we don’t participate in public debates as we don’t find these to be constructive platforms for discussion.
We were also concerned by the transphobia at the Secular Conference this year, of which CEMB was a sponsor, and would not want to subject ourselves or our community to any similar statements made at this debate.
Sent: 18 December 2018 17:02
Subject: Re: Friendly debate
Dear Inclusive Mosque,
Thank you for responding to our message and clarifying that you are only willing to speak about us but not to us.
Sitting together for an adult discussion, enables individuals with different beliefs and ideas to see humanity of one another, however apostates have long been dehumanized in Islam, therefore we understand your ignorance and unwillingness to engage with us.
Lastly, could you please clarify the “transphobia” at the Secular Conference? I certainly do not recall anything of this nature.
We wanted to give you an update on the crucial work of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain this past year, thank you for your support and ask for you to continue to help us, including by donating to our crucial work. Every bit helps and no amount is too small. If you are thinking of donating during the holiday period, CEMB is a great secular/non-religious option doing important work without religious conditions, dogma or proselytizing.
Since it is nearing the end of 2018, we would like to tell you some of the highlights of the year that couldn’t have been possible without the support of our donors:
In February, Sadia went to Australia to speak at the first ever event of ex-Muslims speaking out publicly. She took part in a number of speeches and panel discussions in Sydney and Melbourne and also took part in media interviews. Here is one on Australian TV where she debates a Muslim woman apologist.
On World Hijab Day in February and in the women’s march in London in March, CEMB defended the movement in Iran against compulsory veiling.
In April, Maryam spoke at the 10th anniversary celebration of FEMEN in Paris. They are the topless activists that have worked closely with CEMB in support of apostasy, blasphemy and women’s rights.
On 18 May, CEMB has an “eat-in” in front of several embassies of countries that persecute people for eating during Ramadan. At the Saudi embassy, armed metropolitan police told us we were “offending” staff in the Saudi embassy, to which we exclaimed that their persecution offends us and is a lot more serious than hurt sentiments!
In the same month, Maryam spoke at a seminar at European Parliament on Fundamentalism & Neo-Liberalism in Europe: Their Collusion and Impact on Women’s Rights and Ethnic Minorities Rights. You can see a summary of her speech here.
Maryam also spoke at the Muslimish conference in NYC about ex-Muslims being a “community in protest” (as opposed to community in the regressive sense of identity politics). Here is Maryam’s speech at the conference and the Q&A that followed. Also see a shortened article in sister-hood explaining ex-Muslims as a community in protest.
With the rise of atheism in countries under Islamic rule, we are seeing many more cases of those being persecuted for blasphemy and apostasy. Here is a recent article we have published on the demand for atheism which calls for normalising #AtheismNotACrime. We developed a successful series of publicity materials for it, including for #BlasphemyNotACrime, #ApostasyNotACrime.
In July, CEMB joined Pride in London for the second year (organised by Daniel Fitzgerald). It was a great success for us given that we were not sure if we would be allowed to march officially until a few months before the event. We received tremendous amounts of support. This year we had a much larger group joining us, including a Bangladeshi LGBT group, Boys Love World. A filmmaker Carl Russ-Mohl joined our march and produced a short film on CEMB and Spokespersons Jimmy Bangash. You can see the film here. Spokesperson Imad Iddine Habib explains why “Allah is Gay,” a placard he made first in 2017, which has now been picked up by ex-Muslims from Germany to Canada.
With the International Coalition of Ex-Muslims formed after our 2017 conference (the largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history), we read a poem written by Jimmy Bangash in defence of LGBT rights in countries under Islamic rule.
In July, Maryam worked with MEP Teresa Barbat Gimenez to suggest amendments to the European Parliament’s Committees of Foreign Affairs and Human Rights report regarding Freedom of religion and belief.
In August, CEMB organised a Vegetarian Heathen Eid. Bakra Eid is about slaughtering animals in the most brutal manner. Many CEMB members miss Eid and the time with family but don’t want to take part in a religious event or have anything to do with animal sacrifice so CEMB celebrated Eid the heathen way.
In September for International Blasphemy Day, CEMB members tore verses of the Quran that were anti-apostate and anti-women in a public protest action.
The International Ex-Muslim Coalition also did a video accusing “Ayatollah Facebook” of silencing blasphemers by constantly shutting down pages of ex-Muslims and freethinkers. Here is Maryam’s message.
CEMB sponsored Bullet Hole, a powerful production about FGM, at Park Theatre, for black history month. It is a story of hope, love and human rights played by an all-female cast.
In October, Spokespersons Sadia Hameed and Maryam Namazie conducted a training for 11 Malaysian government officials who are involved in the Islamic religious affairs department, including those implementing Sharia in the law, education and government. We showed them the film, Islam’s Non Believers, and had an extended discussion on apostasy and the right to atheism. They argued that atheists go against “their culture” and that the law must be respected. We argued that unjust laws must be challenged and culture is not homogenous. We stressed the importance of secularism and universal values. Discussions were sometimes heated but it was the first time they had met with ex-Muslims and it helped some of them to understand the awful treatment Malaysian atheists face and humanise ex-Muslims. We also linked it to the treatment of women, religious minorities and LGBT, amongst others.
In early November, at the Freedom from Religion Foundation Convention in San Francisco, Maryam awarded Ensaf Haidar, Raif Badawi’s wife (the Saudi freethinker sentenced to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes for “insulting Islam”) with the Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award that she won last year.
On 25 November, CEMB sponsored an international Conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism, marking the 10th anniversary of our sister campaign One Law for All. The conference was a landmark event. (Organising Committee: Maryam Namazie, Sadia Hameed and Sina Ahadi Pour; MCs: Fariborz Pooya and Nahla Mahmoud).
In April and October, we held “Coming Out” parties where ex-Muslims received their apostasy certificates. The parties are one way of seeing people’s coming out as a cause for celebration rather than vilification and a source of shame.
We also started monthly support groups in addition to monthly meet-ups to allow ex-Muslims to share issues and empower each other. So far, the group has discussed issues like shunning, identity, post-apostasy trauma, family, drug and alcohol abuse, community, why we left Islam and relationships.
Our monthly meet-ups continue to go strong. It is a place where ex-Muslims and their friends can come to listen to a speaker, socialise, have a drink and let off some steam. The events bring speakers dealing with a range of issues including on the ex-Muslim experience through art and evenings with lawyer Ana González on apostasy and asylum, with Hassan Radwan on Islamic reform and Imad Iddine Habib on challenging racism and the far-Right.
In 2018, we also organised swimming lessons, picnics and movie nights and took ex-Muslims to Thorpe Park. You can see all our events and speaking engagements here.
We have done a huge amount of work for the right to apostasy and blasphemy (see also a timeline of our highlights from 2007-2018) but much more needs to be done. Particularly at a time when fascism, including religious fundamentalisms, is on the rise, we must keep going and defending universal rights for all, freedom of conscience, including for non-believers and secularism.
We look forward to working with you in the coming year and hope to see you at one or more of our upcoming events and speaking engagements.
Wishing you happy holidays and a wonderful New Year.
CEMB and One Law for All hold seminar on Sharia Law in Britain to mark International Women’s Day. The seminar brought together Muslims, ex-Muslims, women’s rights campaigners, lawyers and politicians to outline the problems with Muslim Arbitration Tribunals and Sharia Councils and to propose recommendations for prohibiting religious tribunals and bringing about equal rights for all.
CEMB defends Alexander Aan and condemns his being sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined for having written “God does not exist” on Facebook and calls for his immediate release. He was found guilty of “deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity” and “caused anxiety to the community and tarnished Islam” in Indonesia.
CEMB organises an International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers and Apostates and calls on groups and individuals to take action on this day by organising a protest or vigil, setting up a table in a city centre, writing a letter, signing a petition, drawing a picture, taking a photo, making a video to highlight blasphemy and apostasy laws and rules, defend free expression and the women and men whose lives are at stake.
CEMB organises a Day of Agreement to highlight the difficulties faced by non-believers in Islamic theocracies, where they are forced to live in silence and furthermore, are unable to have even the smallest disagreements, as it could very much result in incarceration or execution.
Northern Ex-Muslim Meet up Group Launched. CEMB affiliated Manchester Ex-Muslim Meet-Up group which was established in November 2012 by Sandbad has been renamed Northern Ex-Muslim Meet-up Group. Ex-Muslims from Leeds, Bradford and surrounding areas are now part of the group. They welcome ex-Muslims in the North to join them, including from Liverpool.
Muslimish Launched in May 2012 in New York City where ex-Muslims and Muslims who have questions about religion or want take a more objective look at its teachings can come and participate in a free and open discussion without fear of punishment or judgement.
CEMB holds successful International Day to Defend Apostates and Blasphemers. More than three hundred individuals and organisations call for an international day of action on 14 March to defend those accused of apostasy and blasphemy. Thousands more defended apostates and blasphemers via acts of solidarity and social media, Tweeted, sent letters of protest, or issued statements and messages of support.
CEMB stands with Bangladeshi bloggers and activists. In January, 29 year old blogger Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed. In February, 35 year old atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib, was brutally killed. Islamists continue to threaten prominent bloggers and have called for the “execution of 84 atheist bloggers for insulting religion”. We call for 25 April to be an international day to defend Bangladesh’s bloggers and activists.
First legal atheist organisation formed in Turkey! The first legally recognised Atheist Organisation of the Balkans, Middle East and among all Muslim-majority countries, has been founded in Istanbul, Turkey. The organisation, titled Ateizm Dernegi, was founded in Istanbul on April 16, 2014.
CEMB and One Law for All sponsor a two-day international conference on the Religious Right, Secularism and Civil Rights. Notable free-thinkers, atheists and secularists from around the world came together for a weekend of discussions and debates on the religious-Right, its attacks on civil rights and freedoms, and the role of secularism for 21st century humanity. The exciting two-day conference discusses the Arab Spring, Sharia and religious laws, the limits of religion’s role in society, free expression, honour killings, apostasy and blasphemy laws, faith schools, women’s rights, secular values and much more. The 250 delegates made an unequivocal stand with the brave women and men of Kobane saying: “Their struggle is ours. Their fight is a fight for us all. We are all, today, Kobane.”
CEMB and One Law for All organise a Conference on Sharia Law, Apostasy and Secularism to discuss freedom of expression, apostasy and blasphemy laws, Islamism and the religious-Right, as well as Sharia in the law, educational system and public policy. They will also highlight the successful campaigns against the Law Society and Universities UK and pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo and the many Muslims, ex-Muslims and others who have been killed or persecuted for their dissent.
CEMB calls on all to stand with Mohamed Salih, a young Sudanese who filed an official request for all mention of Islam to be removed from his documents, including his national ID. As a result, he was charged with apostasy, arrested and released after being declared mentally unfit. Salih was forced to flee the country.
CEMB hosts the largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history in London in July 2017 at the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression with over 70 notable speakers from 30 countries or the Diaspora gathered in what is dubbed “The Glastonbury of Freethinkers” and “a Conference of Heroes” to honour dissenters and defend apostasy, blasphemy, and secularism. The sold-out conference highlights the voices of those on the frontlines of resistance – many of them persecuted and exiled. The conference made a space for crucial discussions and debates on Islamophobia and its use by Islamists to impose de facto blasphemy laws, the relation between Islam and Islamism as well as communalism’s threat to universal rights, art as resistance and Laicite as a human right. The conference hashtag, #IWant2BFree, trends on Twitter. The conference includes a public art protest of 99 balloons to represent those killed or imprisoned for blasphemy and apostasy around the world. Resolutions against the no platforming of Richard Dawkins and in support of Egyptian atheist Ismail Mohamed and CEMB at Pride are adopted. A Declaration of Freethinkers is adopted at the conference.
Following the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression, the International Coalition of Ex-Muslims is launched. The Coalition begins working on joint projects and actions and meets regularly to plan campaigns.
CEMB holds fast defying protests outside embassies of countries that prosecute people for eating during Ramadan, an action that led to being filmed and threatened outside the Pakistani embassy and armed police approaching our protestors outside the Saudi embassy.
In April and October, we held “Coming Out” parties where people received their apostasy certificates. The parties are one way of seeing people’s coming out as a cause for celebration rather than vilification and a source of shame.
In October, Sadia and Maryam conduct a training for 11 Malaysian government officials who are involved in the Islamic religious affairs department, including those implementing Sharia in the law, education and government. We show the film, Islam’s Non Believers, and have an extended discussion on apostasy and the right to atheism.
The conference was a landmark event in the fight against all forms of fascism and in defence of universal rights and secularism with leading activists in the fight against the far-Right – including religious fundamentalisms of all stripes – from 24 countries and the Diaspora, including Algeria, Bangladesh, Europe, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kurdistan, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Serbia to Sudan, Tunisia and the United States.
In her welcome address, Conference Organiser Maryam Namazie reiterated how women are the first targets of fascist, fundamentalist and other far-Right movements and are leading the opposition to the sustained backlash against women’s rights and secular values – and in many cases continue to win victories in the most adverse circumstances. She stressed the urgency of secularism as a minimum precondition for women’s and minority rights.
Centre for Secular Space Director Gita Sahgal’s opening keynote address emphasised the precious heritage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights noting that Indian and Pakistani women fought for the clause on right to choice in marriage – the foundation for many struggles taking place on family laws and equality in marriage today. Muslims from Pakistan and India also voted for the right to religious freedom, including the freedom to leave religion.
Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saif Ul Malook spoke about the Asia Bibi case in his keynote address. As mentioned in a DW report on the conference, Ul Malook spoke of the Pakistani constitution and its secular credentials and his childhood when Christians and Muslims lived peacefully together in Pakistan and how a minority are behind the intolerance seen today. He was given a standing ovation for his courage in defending Asia Bibi and prosecuting Mumtaz Qadri, the man who murdered Salman Taseer. Ul Malook said he had no regrets.
The Conference passed a resolution in solidarity with Asia Bibi and her lawyer and the Judges who had the courage to strike down her conviction for blasphemy, called for asylum for Asia Bibi, the release of all those imprisoned for blasphemy and an end to blasphemy laws everywhere.
The film 3 Seconds Divorce by Shazia Javed about the struggle against triple talaq in India, had its UK premiere at the conference. On a panel discussion that followed, campaigners gave examples of similar practices in Britain. One Law for All had criticised the ‘theological inquiry’ into sharia law in Britain that the government had established and raised concerns about how the British government has effectively caved into religious lobbies by recommending that marriages may require a religious as well as a civil divorce, giving Islamists the green light to establish community-based ‘zina law.’ Women’s rights campaigner Yasmin Rehman explained this was not the historic practice of Muslim communities in Britain. Rights activist Afsana Lachaux pointed out that while she won a victory in France where a Judge set aside decisions made by a UAE Sharia court regarding custody of her son, the English court accused her of ‘demonising’ Sharia law.
In various other panels on Gender Segregation, the Veil and Women’s Bodily Autonomy and Secularism as a Defence of Women’s and Minority Rights, activists spoke about the far-Right marching against migrants on the one hand and against women’s rights on the other from Russia to Poland to the US and South Asia. Polish feminist Nina Sankari described rise of far-Right militias in Poland; Freedom from Religion Foundation Co-President Anne Laurie Gaylor warned of the takeover of the courts by the religious-Right with grave implications for the future. Italian journalist Cinzia Sciuto argued that universal rights were a better way to ensure migrants’ rights than to entrench multi-cultural practices that left them at the mercy of homogenised communities. Eve Sacks of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance gave examples of extreme isolation and erasure faced by Jewish women in ultra Orthodox communities, where literally all images of women and girls are excised and women are forced to shave their hair and cover with a wig and or a hat. She called for support in the campaign for sex and relationship education to be applied to religious schools.
Staša Zajović reminded the audience that religious revival was on the main tools for an aggressive nationalist politics which caused the genocidal war in former Yugoslavia. The irreligious feminists who worked across the conflict and took care of victims of all backgrounds were called ‘internal enemies’ or ‘witches,’ and faced numerous attacks.
The importance of direct action was reiterated by Inna Shevchenko of Femen who argued that religious patriarchies found women’s bodies ‘sinful, dirty, guilty and always shameful,’ and Ibtissame Betty Lachgar of Morocco, who described living under a monarchy that claimed descent from Muhammed, Islam’s prophet, and turning fountains red to challenge violence against women, organising ‘kiss-ins’ and eating in public during Ramadan. These activities were dangerous and brought legal and other threats.
There was also considerable good news. The Rojava movement which had confronted ISIS and in the middle of war, protected refugees and developed women’s leadership was remembered by Culture Project Founder Houzan Mahmoud who added that secularism alone was not enough, rather a transformation of society was needed. Campaigner Homa Arjomand recalled the successful struggle against the recognition of Sharia courts in Canada and Filmmaker Nadia el Fani reported on the adoption of equal inheritance rights in Tunisia in the face of opposition from the government. The struggle against ‘Triple Talaq’ reflected women’s struggles for equality across the world. The One Law for All campaign also won a number of victories forcing regulators to abide by their responsibilities- see timeline for victories against the Law Society and gender segregation at universities and schools, amongst others.
Artist Mahshad Afshar also had a solo exhibition to showcase her “Cursed Seal” Photography collection. There was a dance performance by LCP Dance Theatre.
One Law for All gave awards to Afsana Lachaux, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Gita Sahgal, Houzan Mahmoud, Ibtissame Betty Lachgar, Inna Shevchenko, Masih Alinejad, Marieme Helie Lucas, Nadia El Fani, Nina Sankari, Pragna Patel, Staša Zajović and Yasmin Rehman for their immense contributions to the cause of women’s rights and secularism. The awards were sculpted by Sodabeh Gashtasebi and was a likeness of Vida Movahedi who first stood on a plinth on Revolution Street in Iran waving her white hejab on a stick.
In her closing keynote address, Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters warned of the rise of fascism all over the world, and recalled Southall Black Sisters stand against blasphemy laws and in defence of Salman Rushdie, nearly 30 years ago. The need to oppose both racism and fundamentalism within a framework of secularism has never been more urgent.
The conference adopted a Ten Point Manifesto for Women and Secularism which recognised that the far-Right, including religious fundamentalisms, was gaining power in both authoritarian and democratic states and that its strength was due to the complicity of governments who see fundamentalists as allies to deliver services, post-conflict ‘stabilisation’ and privatised law. The Manifesto acknowledged that universal rights were won in the struggle for civil rights, liberation and against colonial occupation and called for the promotion of a universalist based approach to human rights, the right to free conscience and expression, abolition of religious-based laws in family, civil and criminal matters, prohibition of gender segregation and compulsory veiling, prohibition of religious laws that violate children’s rights, the need to counter both racist and fundamentalist discourse, and secularism as a basic human right, amongst others.
The conference ended with “This is our Resistance,” a new song by Singer/Songwriter Shelley Segal inspired that very day by the women’s rights activists present.
Fariborz Pooya and Nahla Mahmoud were Master of Ceremonies. The Organising Committee were Maryam Namazie, Sadia Hameed and Sina Ahadi Pour. The Conference was sponsored by Bread and Roses TV; Center for Inquiry; Centre for Secular Space; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Culture Project; European Network of Migrant Women; Equal Rights Now; Fitnah; Freedom from Religion Foundation; National Secular Society; One Law for All; Southall Black Sisters and Secularism is a Women’s Issue.
Ten years of One Law for All Timeline showing the highlights of the campaign can be seen here. Please donate to One Law for All so we may continue our crucial campaigning work, which would not be possible without public support.
High quality video footage of the conference will be made available soon but livestreaming footage of entire conference and some photos are now available.