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“On The Side Of Those Who Fight For Freedom”

The below was first published on Centre for Women’s Justice website written by Maryam Namazie, joint prize winner of the Emma Humphrey’s Memorial Prize 2019.

I started Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and One Law for All more than a decade ago to publicly mobilise dissent against religious laws. An expression of “not in my name” and a challenge to the Quran, Islam and Islamism as the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of the emancipation of women, freethinkers and others (if I may “paraphrase” US Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton)*.

Having fled the Islamic regime in Iran – where there is a deep-seated anti-Islamic backlash and women’s liberation movement – I found it astonishing how Sharia courts, apostasy laws and women’s subservient status were legitimised as a defence of “minority rights” in Britain and the west.

How Machiavellian to promote a defence of fundamentalists as a defence of a presumed homogenous minority “community”! How patronising to assume that those of us from minority backgrounds are so “different” from everyone else that we can only be expected to live within the confines of predefined patriarchal structures.

In any religious or tribal court, the odds are stacked against women who are viewed as the property and honour of the men in charge and not as individual citizens with rights.

The fact of the matter is that Sharia law violates women’s rights, including here in Britain. As do Ecclesiastic courts, the Beth Din or Loya Jirgas. In any religious or tribal court, the odds are stacked against women who are viewed as the property and honour of the men in charge and not as individual citizens with rights.

Sharia courts legitimise and encourage violence against women whether by considering a women’s testimony as worth half that of a man’s, normalising polygamy and child “marriage” or considering marital rape as the prerogative of the husband, amongst others. Sharia court jurisprudence and practice violate every article of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), including by promoting the concept of “zina” which criminalises sex outside of marriage.

Sharia law also violates the rights of religious minorities, freethinkers, ex-Muslims, atheists, apostates, blasphemers and LGBT… In more than a dozen countries under Sharia, apostasy, blasphemy and homosexuality is punishable with the death penalty. In Britain, too, Sharia judges have made statements justifying the killing of apostates; the apostate label alone carries with it the grave risk of shunning and honour-related violence and death.

The establishment of CEMB and One Law for All were efforts to be heard and to be seen and to insist on our equal citizenship and individual rights and freedoms in the face of a cultural relativism that erases any dissent and only recognises “group” and “community” rights. Given that it is those in power that determine the “rights” of an in-group, a defence of an essentialised “Muslim community” ends up becoming an exercise in defending the fundamentalists and blaming the victims. Make no mistake. Defending Sharia courts or for that matter the veiling of children and sex segregation at schools or opposition to the “No Outsiders” programme is a defence of the Islamist project to control women, dissent and doubt and has nothing to do with promoting religious freedom or combatting bigotry.

A brief look at the founding organisations of the oldest Sharia court in Britain, the Islamic Sharia Council, for example, clearly shows the transnational Islamist links. The organisations include:

  • London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Center (whose Trustees include officials from the governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brunei, Qatar, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan – many of which punish apostasy with the death penalty and have discriminatory family laws).

  • Muslim World League (which propagates Saudi Wahabbism, the Muslim Brotherhood played a role in its founding).

  • Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith (involved in promoting sectarianism and jihad in the Indian sub-continent).

  • UK Islamic Mission (inspired by Jamaat e Islami and Syed Abul Ala Maududi and shares the same ideology as Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood).

  • Dawatul Islam, UK (UK branch of the Bangladeshi Jamaat e Islami. In 1971, some of the Jamaat e Islami were implicated in running death squads and organising lynchings against people demanding independence).

  • Jamia Mosque & Islamic Center, Birmingham (where protestors marched from the mosque after Friday prayers to the Bangladesh High Commission in Birmingham after the execution of a Bangladeshi Islamist convicted of atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence with Pakistan following the country’s war crimes tribunal).

  • Muslim Welfare House, London (was founded by Kamal Helbawy of the Muslim Brotherhood who has praised Osama Bin Laden. They have fatwas defending polygamy and prohibiting Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men as well as campaigned to stop the selling of alcohol).

It’s where we each stand when rights are violated and fundamentalists appeased that counts.

Contrary to the far-Right arguments that aim to promote anti-Muslim bigotry and xenophobia, this is not about a clash of civilisations but a clash between theocrats and secularists everywhere, with believers and non-believers, including minorities and migrants, on either side. Identities are irrelevant and beside the point though; it’s their politics that matters. It’s where we each stand when rights are violated and fundamentalists appeased that counts. As the refrain from the old labour movement song says: “Which side are you on?” Are we all, as the song continues – “on the side of those who fight for freedom”?

Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born writer and activist and joint winner of the Emma Humphrey’s Memorial Prize 2019. She is the Spokesperson of One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. She hosts a weekly television programme broadcast in Iran on Saturday evenings in Persian and English called  Bread and Roses.

For more details on Sharia courts in Britain, see a One Law for All submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

For more details on the work of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, click here.

Get your tickets here for CEMB’s upcoming March 8 event for International Women’s Day on Apostasy, Shunning and Survival.

* US Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton [1850-1902] said: “The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.”

No Longer Without You: Film, Discussion and Poetry on Apostasy, Shunning and Survival

Join Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain for an evening of Film, Discussion and Poetry to mark 8 March, International Women’s Day
Sunday 8 March 2020, 5:30pm for 6:00pm start until 9:00pm, Central London (Closest Station: Farringdon)

Get your tickets now: £7 waged; £5 unwaged, including students and pensioners. No tickets sold at door.

Ticket holders will be sent London venue details closer to the event. Venue is in Clerkenwell and is walking distance from Farringdon Station.

UK film screening of “No Longer Without You”

‘I will not do what you say.  I’ll follow my own path, but I will not let myself be cast out. I will be different, but No Longer Without You.’

“No Longer Without You” is 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.

“How can I walk away when my legs are not my own? And how do I pave my path back? Because my place within the family is my right.”

The film screening will be followed by poetry by Playwright and Poet Elewisa Mwhamadu Kuusi and a panel discussion on Apostasy, Shunning and Survival with Actress Nazmiye Oral, Youtuber Fay Rahman, Journalist Khadija Khan, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain Spokesperson Sadia Hameed and Clinical Psychologist Savin Bapir-Tardy. Chair: CEMB Spokesperson Maryam Namazie. The event will be MCed by Nahla Mahmoud.


NAZMIYE ORAL is an actress, writer, columnist and TV presenter. She began her acting career in the 1990s in the Netherlands with series like Baantjer, Combat, Oppassen! and Westenwind. She also performed in De Gesluierde Monologen, The SuburbSafari and in No Longer Without You, a play she wrote herself. The play was selected for the Holland Festival and Crossing the Line Festival in New York and has also been made into a documentary. Nazmiye has performed in television productions like A’dam E.V.A., Undercover, Moordvrouw and Oh Mijn Hemel, starred in the series Icarus: Zorgondernemer and In Vrijheid by Floor van der Meulen for which she was awarded Best Actress at the Netherlands Film Festival and at the Lucania Film Festival. In 2011 her debut novel ‘Zehra’ was released, for which she was nominated for the E. du Perron prize. She co-founded the Zina Foundation in 2003, a theatre initiative that travels through different neighbourhoods in the Netherlands using local stories.

ELEWISA MWHAMADU KUUSI is a British-born writer, playwright, actor and spoken word artist. Being of Jamaican parentage and born into Islam has given him a niche yet broad and ever-broadening perspective on life and a yearning to expose the flaws, discrepancies and lies of mainstream paradigms. While his works do not adhere to any particular genre, he does like to tell stories and messages that would normally be ignored or left unknown. Leaving Islam in 2013 and identifying as atheist since 2019 has made his truth-seeking disposition all the stronger. He is published in the anthology ‘100 Years Unheard’ (2018), has written and performed in his own stage play ‘Love Hurts’ (2016-17), has lectured on the subject ‘What is a Man? What is a Black Man?’ for the Association of Black Humanists (2018) and West London Humanists (2019), and has performed in various stage plays throughout London since 2012.

FAY RAHMAN is a British-Bangladeshi ex-Muslim atheist Youtuber. Fay grew up in the UK, in a non-practicing Muslim family. Through Islamic schooling she joined the Tableeghi Jamaat and then later adopted the even more conservative Salafi practice of Islam with the encouragement of her father and later her extended family. Fay left Islam in secret in February 2017 and openly in October 2018 – avoiding an arranged marriage, surviving an attempt on her life and causing her family to disown her. Fay collaborates with Faith2Faithless, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Faithless Hijabi for activism in free-speech, women’s rights and religious freedom. She has an active YouTube channel where she shares her experience as a young woman who has left Islam, the challenges she faces and the inconsistencies in Islam in order to reach others who are doubting or closeted and assure them that they are not alone.

KHADIJA KHAN is a Pakistani journalist and a commentator currently based in UK.  She writes about human rights, mainly women’s rights, as well as minorities, extremism and Islamism. She is an advocate for women’s rights, strongly believes that religion infringes women’s rights and Islam is no exception. She denounces the idea of Islamic feminism, since finding refuge for women’s rights under organised religion is not more than a myth. Being a humanist, she believes in tolerance and equality for all human beings. She criticizes the usage of blasphemy laws as a tool to crackdown on dissent and supports freedom of and from religion. She stresses the need of having freedom of speech to counter extremist ideologies in her write ups. She believes that freedom to challenge bad idea is the most effective way to counter extremist narratives.

MARYAM NAMAZIE is an Iranian-born writer and activist. She is the Spokesperson of One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and hosts a weekly TV programme broadcast in called Bread and Roses. She is on the International Advisory Board of the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom and Euromind. Maryam and CEMB were featured in a 2016 film “Islam’s Non-Believers” by Deeyah Khan. She was also a character in DV8 Physical Theatre’s “Can We Talk About This?”. She was joint winner of the 2019 Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize; awarded the 2017 Henry H. Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism award; 2016 International Secularism (Laicite) Prize from the Comité Laïcité République; Atheist of the Year by Kazimierz Lyszczynski (2014); Journalist of the Year at the Dods Women in Public Life Awards (2013); awarded the National Secular Society’s Secularist of the Year Award (2005), amongst others. The Islamic regime of Iran’s media outlets has called Namazie “immoral and corrupt.”

NAHLA MAHMOUD is an environment and human rights activist originally from Sudan. She works with a number of campaigns in the UK, including One Law for All and Secular Middle East and North Africa. She leads the Sudanese Humanists Group and is former Spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.

SADIA HAMEED is a Spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and has been featured in a 2016 film, “Islam’s Non-Believers”, by award-winning filmmaker Deeyah Khan. She is also a human rights activist and harmful traditional practices Consultant, based in Gloucestershire, working in the violence against women and secularism field, with a focus on Black Minority Ethnic women. Sadia delivers specialist training to professionals around issues of honour crimes, forced and child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She is expanding the scope of her training to include dowry related abuse, female infanticide, acid attacks, polygamy, temporary wives, breast ironing, virginity testing, witchcraft accusations, son preference, forced pregnancy and stoning or flogging of women. She is Winner of IKWRO Special Recognition: Activist of the Year 2017.

SAVIN BAPIR-TARDY is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of West London. Bapir-Tardy conducted her doctoral research at City University into how traumatic events are experienced. She has worked with adolescents, adults and older adults in a variety of mental health settings. She worked for 8 years as a Counselling Psychologist at the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) providing psychological therapy to women who have experienced “honour” based violence, forced marriage, domestic violence and female genital mutilation. Bapir-Tardy also provided training to professionals in mainstream mental health services on “honour” based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

For more information, contact m.namazie@ex-muslim.org.uk or visit www.ex-muslim.org.uk.

Muriel Seltman: On the side of those who fight for freedom

Muriel Seltman (27 March 1927 – 2 December 2019) was a mathematician, a writer, an activist and comrade in arms.

She joined campaigns in support of One Law for All against Sharia and religious laws and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain against blasphemy and apostasy laws and for secularism, reason and universal rights over a decade ago. She edited “Sharia Law in Britain: A Threat to One Law for All and Equal Rights,” attended events, leafleted in solidarity with the protesting people of Iran and against Sharia law, did interviews, including with Bread and Roses TV on anti-Semitism and spoke up at public events and rallies. As one of the main speakers at a rally in Hyde Park in 2009, she gave a scathing criticism of cultural relativism and unequivocally defended human rights for all. She ended her speech there with a refrain from a song from the labour movement: “Which side are you on? We are all on the side of those who fight for freedom.”

Muriel was a fighter through and through and right until the end. Her last book “Marx and Humanism” was written this year; her other books included: “Bread and Roses: Nontheism and the human spirit,” “The Changing Faces of Antisemitism,” “What’s Left? What’s Right?: A Political Journey via North Korea and the Chinese Cultural Revolution,” and “Thomas Harriot’s Artis Analyticae Praxis: An English Translation with Commentary”. She was a comrade, a generous friend and an excellent human being.
We will miss her fierce and courageous mind and activism, her enthusiasm, her love and her kindness more than we can say.
We were lucky to know her and to have her in our lives. All we can do now is to celebrate her memory by carrying on “on the side of those who fight for freedom.”
Muriel’s funeral service will be held on Friday 3 January at 1:15pm at the North Chapel, Eltham Crematorium, London SE9 2AZ.
Dress Code: No black please.
Also, no flowers.

How to cope without religion? By Hassan Radwan

By Hassan Radwan

I’m frequently approached online by those who have lost their faith and a question that almost always crops up in various forms is:

How do you cope without religion?

For those of us for whom religion gave them their meaning, comfort & guide in life’s ups and downs, loss of faith is a deeply distressing & terrifying feeling.

So I want to share some thoughts that might help.

  1. Don’t panic.

It’s OK to not have the answers to everything. Don’t feel you need to rush to fill the space religion had in your life. Take your time and allow your thoughts & feelings to settle.

It is said; “There is nothing so easy as catching a heart on the rebound,” referring to how people often recklessly fall into ill-fated relationships after the break-up of a long term relationship. For those of us who were religious we experience this same desire to fill the void. It can make us panic and want to quickly replace our value system with a new one. This can lead to poor decisions and going from one form of black & white thinking to another.

Learn to be OK with not having an answer for everything. As time moves on you will gradually develop your own thoughts and beliefs and they will be much more satisfying in the long term and reflective of who you are.

  1. Where do I get my morality from?

Losing belief in the prescriptions of religion can feel like you now have no yardstick for what is right and wrong, but this fear is unfounded. You are still the same person and you still possess an instinct for what’s right and wrong regardless of whether you consider it the result of an evolutionary process or something we are created with.

It’s true that it is not as fixed and cast in stone as the edicts of religion are – but that’s a good thing, because our understanding of human nature & the world evolves and is not static.

We must struggle with difficult questions using our conscience & evolving understanding of the human condition. It may not always be easy and we may not always agree (& it should be noted that those who claim to follow objective moral standards don’t always agree either,) but it allows humanity to keep striving to improve rather than remain bound to the morality of the 7th century.

  1. Fear of Death.

Fear & anguish over either one’s own death or a loved one is natural. Most people have some level of apprehension about it – including the religious. Religion may ease this thought, by painting a picture of some happy place where we and our loved ones will go, but once one sees them as man-made myths then this simply doesn’t work and we have to face the possibility there is nothing – that we simply cease being – however uncomfortable that thought may be.

As with most fears, it’s better to face them than to try to hide from them & the fear will lessen the more we accept reality.

If you think about it, if one’s consciousness simply ends at death, then there is literally *nothing* to fear. It is actually the “thought” of not existing that we find painful. Try to focus on doing your best in the life you have and strive to leave the world a little better for the next generation in whatever small way you can.

A statement often attributed to Marcus Aurelius puts it well:

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but…will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

  1. Fear of Hell

We’ve had the fear of Hell drummed into us since childhood, so it’s no surprise that even after losing our faith many of us are still troubled by it. One way to reduce this fear is to deconstruct it and see how it evolved.

Judaism originally had no clear concept of an after life let alone a place of eternal torture. The Old Testament refers to ‘Sheol’ which meant ‘grave’ and had a neutral connotation. It was a gloomy place of almost non-existence that everyone goes to – good or bad.

It was in the New Testament that Hell became a place where sinners would be punished.

One of the words translated as Hell in the New Testament is Gehenna which is the Greek version of the Hebrew word Gehinnom, where the Qur’anic word Jahannam comes from.

Gehinnom literally means “The Valley of Hinnom,”& it was a real place – a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem used to burn the dead bodies of criminals. When Jesus rebuked the scribes & Pharisees using this word, his audience would have immediately understood it as a metaphor.

It wasn’t until after the death of Jesus, that the concept of Hell as an abode of eternal torment was developed by Christian church fathers in apocryphal literature such as “The Apocalypse of Peter,” where they described sinners forced to drink boiling water, skins ripped off & eyes poked out.

By the time Muhammad was born, this very graphic and literal view of Hell was the view current at his time.

Another thing that can help is to think about why is it that you fear the Islamic Hell and not the Hell of other religions?

For example you don’t fear burning in Hell for not accepting Jesus, nor do you fear the crocodile headed Ammit devouring your heart, nor being boiled alive in Buddhist Naraka nor the flesh-scraping knives of Aztec myths.

You don’t fear them because you weren’t taught to take them seriously. They are not part of your in-group bias. The culture or community you were part of saw them as strange and absurd. You fear the Islamic Hell because that’s the myth you were taught to take seriously. But is it really any less absurd? Would a merciful God punish people on such a flawed basis – let alone torture them eternally?

The more you dissect and examine the concept of Hell rationally the more the fear will gradually fade away.

  1. Talk to Someone.

This can be very difficult for those who come from tight-knit religious communities where leaving religion is not treated sympathetically. Plus unfortunately many of the frontline agencies are not equipped or cognisant of the unique problems ex-Muslims in particular face. But you can speak to your GP or a professional therapist about getting counselling on how to deal with the trauma of losing your faith. There are also a growing number of ex-Muslim organisations that you can reach out to who can offer advice and someone to talk to.

The thing to realise is that loss of faith is a traumatic process and it’s normal to go through the stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, anxiety & depression. An experienced therapist can help you through your feelings.

  1. Explore New Interests & Communities

Take a look around at local organisations, events and activities in your neighbourhood. Get involved with things that interest you. Learn a new skill or take up that hobby you’ve always wanted. Check out what’s going on in publications or websites like Meetup and find interest groups or support groups. Get to know your neighbours, or join a local cause you care about. There are plenty of things to do and relationships to be made, but it means being proactive and taking the initiative.

Often, the religious beliefs we left behind were all-consuming and left us unaware or unable to fully explore the horizons and interests life has to offer. It can take a little work to get out of that old mindset, but with time and effort you can find a life that is meaningful and fulfilling and you may find a new passion and flourish in areas you never thought possible.

  1. Everyone’s Journey is Different.

Leaving behind the dogma of religion doesn’t always mean ceasing to believe in God or a higher power, although it does for some. The important thing is to be true to yourself and not go from following one crowd to following another. As the philosopher Voltaire said: “Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too.”

I am personally Agnostic about God and would put myself somewhere along the spectrum of Agnostic Deist and Agnostic Atheist. But don’t worry too much about labels. Again there is a temptation for those of us who had a clearly defined identity to want to find another box to put ourselves in. But labels can never encapsulate the full range of an individual’s thoughts and views – let alone the fact that these views are always evolving.

You may find that you still want to maintain a relationship with God – a God that is beyond any religion – and that’s fine. Equally if you find you no longer need God in your life – that’s fine too. It’s also fine to say you just don’t know and can’t define your beliefs. Don’t feel pressured to decide what you believe. The bottom line is, don’t let anyone else’s journey define yours. You didn’t go through the anguish of leaving religion only to then follow someone else’s idea of what you should or shouldn’t believe.

Thanks for your support in 2020! It means the world to us

Dear friend

It has been heart-warming to know we have been able to help so many as a result of your support.

* Assistance to 600 ex-Muslims a month

* Monthly support groups in London and Birmingham

* Monthly socials for isolated members

* Monthly meet ups, including on empowerment through art, female genital mutilation and male circumcision, leaving faith behind, shunning, mental health and apostasy and religion, misogyny and atheism… Ana Gonzales, a Partner at Wilsons LLP, conducts regular workshops on asylum rights and apostasy for asylum seeking ex-Muslims.

All free of charge.

Ex-Muslim after ex-Muslim has said:

“I have finally found somewhere that I belong.

“I feel at home here at CEMB.”

“I felt so alone until I found this family.”

In addition to assisting individuals wherever possible, we have co-organised an epic Celebrating Dissent Festival with De Balie in Amsterdam, campaigned against blasphemy and apostasy laws, brought attention to the adverse effects of child fasting during Ramadan, trained Malaysian government officials about apostasy, marched in Pride in London as the Imams of Perpetual Indulgence and more. You can see some of the highlights of the year on our website.

But there is still so much to do.

As you know, we have already begun crowdfunding to establish the first shelter for ex-Muslims in the world so that we can provide emergency accommodation in the UK to those at serious risk to their lives because of their apostasy from Islam. Thanks to those of you who have given so generously to this project. If you haven’t already and are able to donate, please help this important project. If you have an apartment we can use – even short-term – do also let us know.

With this crowdfunding campaign, we hope to provide a long-term and safe solution for those at greatest risk. Here is more information on the JustGiving campaign in case you can help (we have already reached 71% of our goal). We have also started a Patreon campaign for those who wish to support our efforts for emergency shelter on a monthly basis. You can also donate via our website.

Thanks again for your support.

We wish you a wonderful holiday and happy New Year and look forward to working together in 2020.

Warmest wishes

Maryam and Sadia

Maryam Namazie and Sadia Hameed







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