Tag: blasphemy

Celebrating Blasphemy and Dissent in the Ex-Muslim Movement | Maryam Namazie

The below was published in Shuddhashar magazine, Blasphemy issue, 1 May

In a quarter of the world’s countries and territories, people are legally killed, imprisoned or persecuted for blasphemy and apostasy. It is astonishing that in the 21 Century, thought, and opinion are still criminalised in this way.

The argument for blasphemy laws is that the “insulting” of sanctities is so dangerous for society that in order to protect public morality and social order, there is a need to discipline and punish. But this is a smokescreen as not everyone in any given society thinks alike. What is sacred to one can be insignificant, absurd, or even superstitious nonsense to another. The “public” doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the dominant narrative imposed by the state, “community leaders,” and self-appointed arbiters of morality – especially since belief is a lived experience and a personal matter. We are individuals, after all, and not extensions of the state and clergy. Freethought exists everywhere – though cultural relativists in the West seem to think that they are the only ones who are capable of dissent. In fact, anti-clericalism and anti-religion tendencies in theocracies are widespread, especially given the religious-Right’s interference in every aspect of public and personal life. The tsunami of atheism and ex-Muslims in countries under Islamic rule and the Diaspora is one such indication. We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg of this phenomenon because of social media somewhat levelling the playing field and giving freethinkers access to information, ideas, and networks denied by authoritarian states.

Whilst everyone blasphemes at some point in their lives – at least against religions they deem heretical, inferior, or irrelevant – not all forms of blasphemy are the same. Why some forms of it are considered dawah and devotion whilst others end up with dead bodies boils down to the all-important question of political power. For those in power, religion is a very useful way of maintaining control and quashing dissent. Which is why the more religion and the state are intertwined, the more severe the punishment for blasphemy.

Where earthly and divine power are deemed as one and the same, criticism of religion or God is considered a direct attack on state authority or God’s representatives on earth. In Iran, for example, people can be charged with enmity against God for criticising the Supreme Spiritual Leader, Khamenei, or the Islamic regime in Iran. Criticise God and you criticise the state. Criticise the state and you criticise God… It’s this link to power that makes blasphemy so deadly in some contexts – not the heightened “sensitivities” of imagined homogenous “Islamic societies” or “Muslim communities.”

The well-meaning in Europe who frown upon blasphemy as a defence of “minority” sensibilities wittingly or unwittingly miss this key point. Rather than a defence of the powerless, defending censorship to avoid offence and “hurt” actually defends the powerful. This further explains why minorities are most at risk of blasphemy laws – whether they be religious minorities like Christians, Bahai’s or Ahmadiyya or freethinkers like atheists and ex-Muslims. Even in Europe where Muslims are a minority, de facto blasphemy laws via the backdoor with accusations of Islamophobia affect minorities within minorities and help maintain the status quo and the religious-Right’s grip on the “Muslim community.”

Accusing blasphemers of “inciting hatred” because of what they think and believe is no different than accusing gay people for inciting hatred against heterosexuals because of who they love. The bitter irony in all this is that nothing incites hatred and violence more than religions in political power.

The “marketplace of offence” aside, the fact of the matter is that religion or belief in Gods are ideas like any other and must be open to criticism, review, and dissent.

Rights and freedoms are for people, not for ideas. People have to be equal, though not all ideas are equal or equally valid. People have to be respected, but ideas can be questioned, disrespected, discarded, mocked. Ridiculous ideas can and should be ridiculed. It is not the same as ridiculing, mocking, or disrespecting people who hold those beliefs. Isn’t that how human society has progressed? By challenging and discarding bad ideas?

Yes, of course, it is not only Islam that has such a severe punishment for blasphemy. All Abrahamic religions call for the death penalty for blasphemers. That they don’t still hang blasphemers in Europe, though, is not because the Bible has been edited or Christianity is a nicer religion but because of the dwindling role of Christianity in the state and increasing secularisation.

The measure of a free society is the extent of freedom of conscience (including the right to disbelief) and freedom of expression (including the right to criticise and mock the sacred). And it is secular societies that most guarantee these basic freedoms. Secularism is not the end all – there is still racism, misogyny, xenophobia, capitalism… but secularism is a minimal framework that ensures the separation of religion from the state, which most protects minorities and minority opinions.

Let’s not forget that minority opinions can become majority opinions and create new status quos with criticism, questioning, and dissenting via progressive political and social movements and struggles, such as the anti-colonial struggles, the US civil rights movement, or women’s suffrage.

The ex-Muslim movement should be seen within the same light – as a community in protest demanding the rights to apostasy and blasphemy. When one can be killed for blasphemy and apostasy, celebrating dissent is an important act of survival as well as of civil disobedience and resistance.

When the public space is so oppressively full of fear, subverting, flouting and disobeying absurd and inhuman rules not only challenges dogmas, the sacred, and taboos, but it reclaims and transforms the public space and society.

Celebrating blasphemy responds to violence with humour and non-violence. It diminishes fear and feelings of despair, and it increases democratic and participatory politics. It brings hope and courage. It insists on the human rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression, and it does so in practice and not as theoretical or abstract concepts and notions.

Celebrating blasphemy, which is fundamentally celebrating the right to thought and opinion, goes to the core of what it is to be fully human and enables us to reimagine society and the world without blasphemy laws.

This is especially crucial given the increasing numbers of people who are persecuted, imprisoned, or are languishing on death row for the “crime” of thought and opinion. Non-believers like Soheil Arabi in Iran and Ayaz Nizami in Pakistan or believers like Tijjaniya Sunnis in Nigeria or Qurani Muslims in Sudan.

Much of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s work over 12 years has been to normalise blasphemy and apostasy. From nude protests to challenge modesty culture, eat-ins at embassies that persecute people for fast-defying during Ramadan to atheist azaans (calls to prayer) and “Allah is Gay” placards at Gay Pride in London, blasphemy in the public space says to the parasitical imams and fundamentalists that they do not have power over us, they cannot silence us. and that we will not submit.

As Southall Black Sisters says: Our Tradition: Struggle not Submission.

#EndBlasphemyLaws  #BlasphemyIsNotACrime

Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born writer and activist living in London. She is the Spokesperson of One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and hosts a television programme broadcast in Iran in Persian and English called Bread and Roses.

“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.”

On 30 September, International #BlasphemyDay, #EndBlasphemyLaws #BlasphemyNotACrime

A quarter of the world’s countries and territories (26%) have anti-blasphemy laws or policies, and more than one-in-ten (13%) countries have laws or policies penalizing apostasy.

According to Pew research, laws restricting apostasy and blasphemy are most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where 18 of the region’s 20 countries (90%) criminalize blasphemy and 14 (70%) criminalize apostasy. While apostasy laws exist in two other regions of the world – Asia-Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa – blasphemy laws can be found in all regions, including Europe (in 16% of countries) and the Americas (29%).

The 14 countries that have the death penalty for blasphemy are all countries with Islamic law: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

66 countries have blasphemy laws: Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Comoros, Cyprus, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mauritius, Montenegro, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, St Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Sudan, Suriname, Switzerland, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe. (It used to be 71 but Canada, Denmark, Greece, Malta and New Zealand have dropped blasphemy codes from their books recently.)

On 30 September, International Blasphemy Day, let’s stand with blasphemers across the globe.

Blasphemy is not a crime; it is an integral part of freedom of expression and conscience. #EndBlasphemyLaws #BlasphemyNotACrime #BlasphemyDay

#IAmSohailArabi #Iran

#IAmSinaDehghan #Iran

#IAmPeymanMirzazadeh #Iran

#IAmSaharEliasi #IAmMohammadNouri #Iran

#IAmSherifGaber #Egypt

#IAmShahabMurtadhaGhafouri #Kuwait

#IAmMohamedRusthumMujuthab #Maldives

#IAmAbdulInyass #Nigeria

#IAmTaimoorReza #Pakistan

#IAmAyazNizami #Pakistan

#IAmShafqatEmmanuel #IAmShaguftaKausar #Pakistan

#IAmAhmedAl_Shamri #SaudiArabia

#IAmRaifBadawi #SaudiArabia

#IAmMahmoudJamaAhmed_Hamdi #Somalia

#IAmJabeurMejri #Tunisia

De Balie #CelebratingDissent Festival was an Astounding Success

The epic ‘Celebrating Dissent’ Festival took place between 30 August -1 September in Amsterdam, a collaboration between the prestigious art and debate institute De Balie and Maryam Namazie.

Consisting of a mixture of intense, probing conversations, comedy, art, poetry and dance performances, films, lectures and protest, the weekend was an education in the issues facing dissenters fighting religious constraints and the religious-Right. The work of ex-Muslims and women campaigners was particularly evident.

More than 50 speakers from 30 countries worldwide discussed Women’s Dissent; Touching the Holy Subject; Comedy, the Sacred and Islamophobia; Separation of Religion from the State; Women against Gods; Identity; and Fighting the Far-Right. The deep wound left by silence within families was portrayed in a gut-wrenching film ‘No Longer Without You’ by Nazmiyeh Oral. Nadia El Fani’s  brave film ‘Neither Allah nor Master’ explored the importance of laicité. Speaker upon speaker showed how some of the most vibrant responses to fundamentalism have come from the universal desire for freedom – especially where survival has become synonymous with challenging religion and the religious-Right.

To highlight the dangers facing dissenters, a public protest of 160 balloons with the names of those persecuted or murdered for blasphemy and apostasy was held. Participants at the Festival carried balloons to a nearby square and chalked the names of dissenters into the pavement as a memorial of sorts.

The historic event was an astounding celebration of apostasy, blasphemy and dissent. From the moment the city’s Mayor, Femke Halsema, opened the festival by welcoming ‘heretics, infidels and renegades,’ it was clear that this would be a historic and remarkable festival committed not only to defending free thought and expression but also the lives and freedoms of dissenters.

Video footage

30 August 2019

Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Maryam Namazie 
Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Taslima Nasrin
Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Inna Shevchenko
Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Saif Ul Malook

Celebrating Dissent: Interview Marathon with Zineb El Rhazoui. An empty chair since she was prevented from coming by Dutch government.

31 AUGUST 2019

A Conversation on Women’s Dissent with Inna Shevchenko, Maryam Namazie and Taslima Nasrin. Music by Shelley Segal. Protest Art by Victoria Guggenheim. Chair: Samira Bouchibti.

Touching the Holy Subject with Nadia El Fani, Rishvin Ismath, Saif Ul Malook and Sarah Haider. Music by Veedu Vidz. Chair: Bahram Sadeghi.

Comedy, the Sacred and Islamophobia with Shabana Rehman, Ali Rizvi and Armin Nabavi. Chair: Sherin Seyda.

Public Art Protest commemorating dissenters in a public square.

Separation of Religion from the State with Afsana Lachaux, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Elżbieta Podleśna, Homa Arjomand and Sadia Hameed. Chair: Bercan Gunel.

Women against Gods with Gita Sahgal, Ibtissame Betty Lachgar, Maaike Meijer, Mineke Schipper and Rana Ahmad. Performance by Atoosa Farahmand. Chair: Ianthe Mosselman.


Film Screening Neither Allah Nor Master by Nadia El Fani followed by a conversation with Hind Bariaz, Karrar Al Asfoor, Wissam Charafeddine and Zara Kay. Chair: Sophie Rutenfrans.

Film Screening No Longer without You by Nazmiyeh Oral followed by a conversation with Cemal Knudsen Yucel, Fauzia Ilyas, Mimzy Vidz, Omar Makram, Rishvin Ismath, Sohail Ahmad and Zehra Pala. Chair: Parwin Mirahimy.

On Identity with Kenan Malik, Harris Sultan, Jimmy Bangash, Rahila Gupta and Yasmin Rehman. Poetry by Halima Salat. Chair: Jorgen Tjong a Fong.

Fighting the Far-Right; Celebrating Dissent with Halima Salat, Maryam Namazie, Mohamed Hisham, Muhammed Syed, Sadia Hameed and Sami Abdallah. Music by Shelley Segal. Chair: Samira Bouchibti.

There was also artwork by Mahshad Afshar and Jenny Wenhammar.

 Media coverage of De Balie #CelebratingDissent Festival

Photos of De Balie #CelebratingDissent Festival.


Demanding the unconditional immediate release @RusthumRussso

Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba was arrested by police in the Maldives earlier this week on charges of “insulting Islam” on social media. @RusthumRussso Tweeted police raising the alarm on multiple death threats against him; instead he was arrested and taken into custody. No further information has been given by the police and his place of detention is unknown. No lawyers have agreed to represent him so far and according to local sources, lawyers are reluctant to do so especially in light of several murders by Islamists, including of journalists and bloggers.

We, the undersigned, condemn his arrest and demand his immediate release. @RusthumRussso was merely exercising his freedom of conscience and expression and has a right to do so. We also call for an end to the blasphemy law in the Maldives so that believers and nonbelievers may freely express their conscience without fear, threats or imprisonment.

Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

Ex Muslim Support Network of Australia

Ex-Muslims of Tamil Nadu, India

Faithless Hijabi

Irreligious Community Of Sri Lanka

M.A.L.I. Alternative Movement of Individual Liberties


One Law for All

Yukthivadi Sangham, Kerala, India

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