Category: Resources

Apostasy and Freedom of Conscience

apostasyJANDMOMaryam Namazie was at Birmingham University on 26 February speaking on apostasy and freedom of conscience for the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society’s Reason Week. Of course, there were  complaints about her speaking there (yes it is very controversial to defend the rights of apostates not to die!). The Society was even asked to record her speech in case of further complaints. Here it is:

Punishing apostates is a long-standing and fundamental feature of all major religions. Repudiating religion is deemed to be the worst of crimes.

And in Islam it’s no different except that Islamism is this era’s inquisition and totalitarianism.

To the degree it has power, that is the degree it controls every single aspect of people lives and society via its Sharia laws – from what people wear, who they have sex with, what music they listen to – even what they are allowed to think.

One of the characteristics of an inquisition is the policing of thought. Freethinking and freedom of conscience are banned. Even for Muslims, a ‘personal’ religion is impossible under an inquisition. You can’t pick and choose as you’d like. You don’t want to wear the veil; acid in your face should teach you a lesson. You want to go to school; maybe we can gun you down on your way there. You want to be an atheist. Off with your head…

Islamists will kill, threaten or intimidate anyone who interprets things differently, dissents, thinks freely or transgresses their norms by living 21st century lives. Of course people resist day in and day out but that is a testament to the human spirit despite Islamism and Sharia.

If you look at the purpose of the Sharia ‘justice’ system, it is there to teach the masses the damnable nature of dissent and free thought. Where it has power, like in Iran, there are 130 offences punishable by death – from heresy, blasphemy, enmity against god, adultery, and homosexuality. But apostasy is the highest and most heinous crime.

Around 19 countries consider apostasy from Islam illegal and a prosecutable offence. Depending on the influence of Islamism and Sharia law, in places like Malaysia, Morocco, Jordan and Oman punishments vary from fines, imprisonment, flogging and exclusion from civil or family rights. In ten countries apostasy is punishable by the death penalty.

And whilst there are religious justifications for the execution of apostates, apostasy laws today under the Islamic inquisition are the ultimate means of political rather than religious control.

Of course, from a religious standpoint, apostasy is the unravelling of the entire system from within by those considered to be “members” of the imagined Muslim community (often out of very little choice of their own). Question one law, one hadith, one sura in the Koran, and you begin to unravel it all. To question and dissent denies the Islamic inquisitor the opportunity to feign representation. And it prevents the submission that they demand. If you are allowed to leave, you undermine it all.

Historically apostasy laws have always been used as a form of control. It’s no different today. Islamists use it as a means of political control. After all they represent god’s rule on earth and any opposition to their rule, is a direct affront to God himself.

Apostasy laws are the most convenient way for an inquisition to eradicate its political rivals, dissenters, and opponents. You don’t even have to renounce Islam in order to be branded an apostate. In fact if you look at those charged with apostasy, it could include anything from tweeting about Mohammad as Hamza Kashgari did in Saudi Arabia, challenging the Saudi state like Raif Badawi, or opposing the Islamic regime of Iran like Zanyar and Loghman Moradi.

The charge of apostasy is often coupled with other charges such as blasphemy, or enmity against god. With such charges, there is no need to prove anything in lengthy court proceedings or to meticulously gather evidence as any transgression can be deemed to be an act of apostasy –both a crime against god and political treason against his representatives on earth. Under Islamic law an apostate must be put to death.

There is no dispute on this ruling among classical or modern Islamic scholars, however, there is some controversy as to whether the Koran prescribes any punishment for apostasy in this world.

Again this goes to the heart of the problem with various interpretations of religious texts and why religion must be kept out of the state and legal system to safeguard people’s rights and lives.

Needless to say, it is those in power who decide the interpretation of the day and in an inquisition it is clear which interpretations take precedence. Plus many leading authorities interpret certain suras of the Koran to mean that the death penalty is proscribed for apostates.

Now even if there is disagreement on whether apostasy is punishable by death in this world according to the Koran, it is clear that such a punishment is called for in the Hadith, which are the sayings and actions of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet.

Whilst Islamists will often try to dupe the public by saying such and such is not ‘true’ Islam (at least in English) because it is not included in the Koran, they are being dishonest to say the least as they know full well that Sharia law includes not only what is in the Koran but also what is in the hadith and Islamic jurisprudence.

In the Hadith, there are many examples of the death penalty for apostasy. According to Ibn Abbås, for example, the Prophet said, “Kill him who changes his religion” or “behead him.”

The only argument in the Hadith is over the nature of the death penalty. Don’t burn them as that is Allah’s job in the afterlife; in general, execution must be by the sword, though there are examples of apostates tortured to death, or strangled, burned, drowned, impaled, or flayed.

Also don’t forget the implications of being accused of apostasy. It means you are denied a proper burial, your family are often not even told where you are buried or you are buried in a place like Khavaran – which the Iranian regime calls the “place of the damned”. But of course Khavaran for many of us is a meeting place for remembering a slaughtered generation in Iran.

If the apostate is not executed due to Islamism’s limited influence or progressive social movement, many lose all civil rights – their property is taken, their right to inheritance is denied, they are forcibly divorced, lose child custody and so on.

Of course, Islamists will often say (in English at least) that “there is no compulsion in religion”. Again this is another one of their dishonest attempts at duping the public because this verse is applicable only to Christians and Jews who have not converted to Islam.

What they never tell you is that this verse is not applicable to Muslims. Muslims are not free to choose any religion other than Islam. A Muslim has to live and die with Islam whether s/he likes it or not.

It’s like the other verse they keep telling us about: “Whoever killed a human being shall be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind”. The supposedly noble sentiments are in fact a warning to Jews.

What become clear in all this at least for people of sound mind is that irrespective of one’s beliefs, apostasy and Sharia laws are incompatible with basic rights and freedoms.

They have to be challenged.

And this challenge is not as much a religious challenge as it is a political one.

A good example for this is Christianity which used to execute its apostates. It’s not that the tenets, dogma, and principles of Christianity have changed since the days of the inquisition but rather its social and political influence and its relation with the state, the law and educational system. A religion that has been reined in by an enlightenment is very different from one that has political power or is vying for power.

Challenging it means having the courage to think for oneself, as AC Grayling describes the Council of Ex-Muslims. It means asserting one’s freedom of conscience. It means reminding others that the right to religion has a corresponding right to be free from religion.

But most importantly it means pushing back and challenging a far-Right regressive movement – Islamism and its Sharia laws – that hang apostates as we speak.

Coming out as ex-Muslims, renouncing Islam publicly is breaking the taboo and challenging Islamism where it hurts most.

Some will say this is an unnecessary provocation. It’s a provocation, yes, but unnecessary, no.

Islamists tell us this all the time. Don’t say you are an apostate, don’t invite others to apostasy and there need be no killings.

If anyone believes that – and trust me there are still people who do – then they still don’t know Islamism …

They’ll say: don’t provoke. Don’t offend. Don’t criticise … and no one need get hurt.

But Islamists need no excuses.

Of course, in a favourable climate of multiculturalism and cultural relativism – where are all values and beliefs are equal and equally valid – and for western public consumption, Islamists like to blame victims and dissenters for their barbarity.

We are the ‘aggressive atheist ex-Muslims’ (compared at times with the Taliban no less) yet we are the ones who are being killed, imprisoned, threatened or forced to flee.

Throughout history barbarity has always been pushed back – not by tiptoeing around it, accommodating it, appeasing it, tolerating it but by facing it head on.

Pragmatism never changed the world but we intend to.

We can’t leave Islam? We can’t live 21 century lives? Watch us.


I ended my speech with Shahin Najafi’s song on apostasy. He’s the Iranian singer living in Germany who has had a fatwa for his death issued by an Iranian cleric. English lyrics are below.

A severed head in between your hands
my eyes on the broken clock
And sad and rebellious poems
and the wolf, unafraid of the gun
On my doubts of the origin of existence,
on choking loneliness when drunk
And longing and inhaling you,
and the depth of the tragedy not seeing you
The artery’s destiny is obstruction,
and your crime, a scream against the wind
The end of the story is always a bitter one,
and the poet whose conviction is apostasy
The good God sleeping in my book,
the dried semen on my bed
The good God of wrath, death, and fatwa,
and my cries over Yaghma’s poetry
Let me be like a cactus
Stay with me, as reading poetry,
next to you, with covenant with desert,
that our code is to die standing up
that our code is to die standing up
Tell them, our Hadith was a Hadith of blood,
contempt, born out of insanity
Tell them, how I did not give in
Tell them, how I died standing up
The good God sleeping in my book,
the dried semen on my bed
The good God of wrath, death, and fatwa,
and my cries over Yaghma’s poetry
Let me be like a cactus
Stay with me, as reading poetry,
next to you, with covenant with desert,
that our code is to die standing up
that our code is to die standing up
Tell them, my story was a tale of blood,
contempt, born out of insanity
Tell them, how I did not give in
Tell them, how I died standing up
that our code is to die standing up

Apostasy and Asylum in the United Kingdom

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Guidelines by the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain was formed in June 2007 to make renunciation from Islam a public matter. Whilst religion or the lack thereof is a private affair, when apostasy is punishable by death under Sharia law and apostates face threats and intimidations for leaving Islam here in Britain and elsewhere, a public renunciation becomes a necessity and form of resistance. The CEMB was also formed to break the taboo that comes with renouncing Islam and take a stand for reason, universal rights and values, and secularism.

For further information contact:

Maryam Namazie
BM Box 1919
London WC1N 3XX, UK
+44 (0) 7719166731

Published by One Law for All, June 2010
© Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain 2010 – All rights reserved
ISBN number: 978-0-9566054-2-9


Asylum is the process whereby the government of one country allows a citizen of another to live within its borders if that citizen were otherwise at risk of being subject to persecution. The individual citizen concerned must be at risk of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. This is in accordance with the requirements of the 1951 United Nations’ Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.[1] This report will look first at the numbers seeking asylum in the United Kingdom and the procedures for doing so. It will try to establish (as far as is possible) the number of these asylum claims which relate to persecution based on religion, and examine the success or otherwise of such claims. It will also examine the way in which courts have approached questions of apostasy in the past. Secondly, it will look at apostasy (leaving one’s religion); how it is defined, in which countries it is prominent, and what punishments are imposed on those found to be guilty of it. Finally, it will examine apostasy as grounds for asylum in the United Kingdom and ask if the current system operates in accordance with the UK’s national and international obligations.


Between January and March 2010, a total of 5,405 applications for asylum in the United Kingdom were made.[2] The United Kingdom Border Agency explains the process of an asylum claim as beginning with an initial “screening” interview, followed by allocation to a “case owner” (and an initial meeting with him/her), followed by an “asylum interview”; at which the claimant must provide reasons as to why he or she is claiming asylum in the United Kingdom. At this interview, the claimant will be asked to explain exactly why they fear returning to their country of birth. The claimant, if eligible, will be provided with housing and living costs while awaiting the outcome. If asylum is granted, the applicant will be given permission to remain in the United Kingdom for a period of five years. If not granted, the applicant will be removed from the United Kingdom; applicants may be detained while they wait to be removed.[3]

It is difficult to ascertain how many asylum applications to the United Kingdom are based on fear of persecution on the grounds of religion. However, the House of Lords, in a 2006 judgment, described religion as being one of the four most common grounds on which asylum is sought in the United Kingdom.[4] It is known that in the final quarter of 2009, 77% of decisions on asylum applications were refusals to grant asylum.[5] Therefore, it may reasonably be estimated that asylum claims on religious grounds are regularly being refused in the United Kingdom.

In the case of MM (Iran) v Secretary of State for Home Department in 2009, the Court of Appeal addressed the question of apostasy and asylum: “Distinctions there made between the ordinary discreet convert, who would be able to practice Christianity without untoward risk, and the more active convert, pastor, church leader, proselytiser or evangelist, or other convert to whom an additional risk factor might attach (eg a woman), who would be at real risk, and found that MM fell into the former category”.[6] In other words, it was thought that if a person did not display their apostasy publicly, they were not in any danger in Iran. This thought is common and the issue has been raised in other cases involving claims for asylum on grounds of apostasy. In the case of X (Iran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, the question of the claimant’s conversion to Zoroastrianism was examined again in light of whether or not it would be discovered in Iran, and the claimant placed in danger of persecution.[7] In this case, the judge referred to the judgment of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal in Secretary of State for the Home Department v FS which stated (inter alia) the following:

“We regard it as appropriate to assess the risk to these Appellants on the basis that their conversion would become known to the authorities, to friends, family and colleagues….”.[8]

It was further thought that it should be a matter of fact in each case, whether or not a conversion was genuine or whether a person’s conversion was likely to be discovered by the Iranian authorities. These cases provide examples of the considerations that are regularly being made when our judiciary ponders the question of apostasy and asylum. Thus, a pattern emerges which suggests that asylum will not be granted on the grounds of religion/apostasy unless it can be shown that the applicant’s apostasy will be known to the Iranian authorities (or another authority as appropriate).

The grounds on which a person may claim asylum are, of course, not limited to religion. As outlined above, further grounds include race, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. Therefore, it is arguable that there are three potential headings under which apostasy claims could be pursued, these claims may be better placed under the headings “political opinion” or “membership of a particular social group”; an apostate may merit protection on either of these grounds; particularly the latter. In K v Secretary of State for the Home Department, a particular social group was defined as “a group of persons who shared a common characteristic, other than their risk of persecution, which distinguished the group from the remainder of the society of which they were part, or who were perceived as a group by society”.[9] It is arguable that apostates, atheists, Christians, or any other sub-group in a society dominated by Islam could meet this definition.

A recent case (2010) decided in the UK Supreme Court may have an effect on the considerations made by the judiciary when assessing cases of asylum on grounds of religion/apostasy. Five Supreme Court justices said that gay and lesbian asylum seekers should not be expected to “exercise discretion” in their home countries to avoid persecution.[10] This had hitherto been the approach; that homosexuals could be discreet about their sexuality and therefore avoid being persecuted. Whether this transfers to religion, political belief, or membership of a specified group will remain to be seen, but it is almost certainly ripe for legal challenge. There may however be a distinction which the courts could make. There is a possibility that sexuality will be recognised as an inherent trait of which a person has no choice; this may be distinguishable from religion or political belief but it is difficult to assess this at such an early stage. It is arguable however that a person should not have to tolerate discretion and be expected to hide their religion (or lack of it), in the same way that they are not now expected to be discreet with regard to their sexuality.


Apostasy is generally understood to mean “the formal religious disaffiliation, abandonment, or renunciation of one’s religion”.[11] How each of the major religions react to apostasy varies, but it remains a criminal offence primarily in countries throughout the Middle East and Africa; in many, particularly under Sharia law, it carries the death penalty.

For example, in Afghanistan in 2006, Abdul Rahman was sentenced to death for converting to Christianity.[12] A month after his arrest, and following considerable international outcry, Mr Rahman was released and granted asylum in Italy.[13] This case is an example of one that has attracted international media attention. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) and One Law for All have been in regular contact with people who fear returning to their countries of birth due to the fact that they are atheists (or have converted to another religion). The example above provides evidence of the reasonableness of those fears. Indeed, incidents of violence against apostates are easy to find. The CEMB and One Law for All have had much contact with those who have either been directly or indirectly threatened with violence either by the state or non-state actors for being apostates.


The United Nations Convention in Relation to the Status of Refugees came in to force on April 22nd 1954. The signatories to this Convention agree to various forms of cooperation but the most important, for these purposes, is the agreement to the principle of non-refoulement. This states: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion” (Article 33(1)).[14] The United Kingdom is a signatory to this Convention.[15] This Convention legally binds its signatories to this principle.[16]

On October 2nd 2000, the Human Rights Act 1998 came in to force in the United Kingdom. Section 6 of this Act 1998 provides that ‘it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a [European Convention on Human Rights] Convention right’. A public authority is defined as including courts and tribunals, and a party whose functions are functions of a public nature.

The European Convention on Human Rights provides (inter alia) that ‘everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law’, ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’, and ‘everyone has the right to liberty and security of person’. Therefore, it is arguable that in returning apostates to a country in which their freedom, safety, security, or life may be in danger, the UK government acts in breach of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Recent cases involving the United Kingdom have tested and demonstrated the use of these laws. In May 2010, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in London ruled that Abid Naseer and Ahmed Faraz Khan could not be deported to Pakistan as the threat to their safety was too great.[17] Both men had been arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up Manchester’s Trafford Centre. Around the same time, the European Court of Human Rights cancelled the deportation of Bita Ghaedi and ordered her case be reviewed. Ghaedi fled Iran in 2005 to escape a forced marriage (the outcome of this case is awaited).[18] These cases are demonstrable of the inconsistent results on deportation cases in the UK and Europe. It must be asked why one danger is deemed greater than another. Bita Ghaedi pleaded that she faced danger from the Iranian government and from her family; from the government for her political and religious views – she has participated in the anti-government protests – and from her family for having a relationship with a man who was not her husband, causing her to fear that she would be the victim of an ‘honour killing’. She was however listed for deportation from the UK. For Naseer and Khan, the judge said “there is a long and well-documented history of disappearances, illegal detention and of the torture and ill-treatment of those detained, usually to produce information, a confession or compliance.”[19] There is also a well documented history of honour killings, forced marriage, and female oppression in Iran – so why the difference? There is now a desperate need for the UK and European courts to provide clarity on these issues.


“It is clear quite clear that under Islamic Law an apostate must be put to death.”[20] Although there are varying schools of thought across the Islamic world with regard to this issue, one can reasonably conclude that to be judged an apostate under Sharia is a dangerous predicament to be in. Whether enforced by the state, Islamic groups, or family members, the evidence to suggest that the danger of persecution, or worse, of disbelievers under Sharia law is considerable.

The United Kingdom is obliged, by virtue of United Nations mandate and its own Human Rights Act, to protect refugees and asylum seekers who have reasonable grounds to fear that they will be subjected to persecution – up to and including violence and death. Therefore, one can only conclude that, in refusing to do so, the United Kingdom may well be in breach of its obligations and therefore open to legal challenge.


Our thanks go to Awards for All for funding the guidelines.

The report was written by Anne Marie Waters.

A Publication of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain July 2010

BM Box 1919
London WC1N 3XX, UK
+44 (0) 7719166731
  17. pakistan-says-judge-1976436.html

Ex-Muslims: Know your Rights Leaflet

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Freedom of religion and belief is a human right

Everyone in the UK has the freedom of religion and belief, which is a fundamental human right protected by a number of international treaties and declarations. This right encompasses freedom of thought on all matters. No matter what your family or the wider community says and irrespective of your race, sex, age, and background, you have this fundamental right.

Know how to protect yourself

  • If you are worried about your personal safety, take it seriously. Consider the risk and whether you should involve the police.
  • Open a separate/secret bank or savings account
  • Leave copies of important documents such as passport, National Insurance number and birth certificate along with spare clothing and cash with a trusted friend.
  • Keep helpline numbers close at hand. Have a telephone card or change for urgent phone calls.
  • Arrange alternative emergency accommodation in case of need.

Your internet, e-mail and document use activities leave traces on your computer that can be found. Use a computer to which those you are fearful of do not have access to, such as at work, in a library, or a friend’s computer. Cover your tracks when searching for information, emailing about your situation or visiting sites and web-forums like those of the CEMB if you are using a computer that others may have access to.

Know that you are not alone

There are many people who are in or have been in your situation. Don’t despair. It really helps to meet other like-minded people who know what you are going through.

You can do this by becoming a member of the CEMB, coming to its events, and joining the CEMB’s web forum. There are also many local skeptic, humanist, secularist and atheist groups in various parts of the country that would be more than happy to lend a hand. They also have regular meetings, where you can meet like-minded people and get support.

Help is at hand

Make sure you know about your rights and options so that you can make informed choices. There are many organisations that provide assistance and support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Frontline Agencies: Important Points Leaflet

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Respect the person’s choices

Disclosures of fear should not be dismissed – for many people, seeking help from an agency is a last resort and therefore all disclosures should be taken seriously.

Do not involve the family

Involving families in such cases is dangerous. It may increase the risk of serious harm.

Do not use community leaders, neighbours and relatives as interpreters

People may feel embarrassed to discuss personal issues in front of them and sensitive information may be passed on to others and place the victim in danger.

Interview them in a private place:

Never speak to them in the presence of “friends.”

Explain their options:

Options victims have include seeking legal protection; leaving their family, starting a new life and possibly having to remain in hiding or live a life of ostracism and isolation; prosecute their family; or return to the family and hope the situation can be resolved. All the risks must be explained. There may be serious risk of harm if they choose to return to the family. To leave and start a new life can make them extremely vulnerable.

future contacts:

Establish whether they can be contacted in confidence at work, school, college, or through a trusted friend or organisation. If they have moved, do not meet the person at their new address, refuge or friend’s house as you may be followed.


Confidentiality and information sharing are going to be extremely important for anyone in a threatened situation.

Do not Encourage, initiate or facilitate family counselling, mediation, arbitration and reconciliation

Mediation and arbitration can place someone at risk of further emotional and physical abuse whether these are offered by Sharia councils, Muslim Arbitration Tribunals, imams and religious or professional groups.

Personal safety advice

If someone is planning to leave or the perpetrators suspect they might leave, they should take measures to ensure their safety and assess risk.

Under 18 Ex-Muslims

Ultimately, the first concern should be for the welfare of the young person. They may be at risk of significant harm if they are returned to their family. In these situations, police and Children and Young People’s Services should feel confident about justifying their actions, because experience shows that if information is shared with their family and friends it may place the person in danger.

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