Where are all the secular liberals in the Muslim world?
I've lost count of how many times I've heard this question. The answer is both unsurprising and heartbreaking. In Muslim-majority countries, they are often being lashed and imprisoned for blogging, hacked to death in open daylight, or sentenced to death for writing poetry. Here in the West, they are often being disowned from their families, ostracized from their communities, and even murdered by their own families in "honor killings."
As for those who choose to leave the religion altogether, the outcome is even more sinister. There are thirteen countries, all Muslim-majority, where atheism is punishable by death. And Saudi Arabia -- the birthplace of Islam, its Prophet, and the location of its two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina -- has declared that all atheists are terrorists. Remember, this is also the home country of not only Osama bin Laden, but fifteen of the nineteen hijackers from 9/11.
When simply changing one's mind comes at such a high cost, it isn't surprising that you don't hear much from secularists, atheists, or agnostics in the Muslim world.
But this last Thursday, that changed. Maryam Namazie's Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain started the #ExMuslimBecause campaign last week, encouraging dissidents from across the Muslim world to come out and say why they left Islam.
The response was tremendous. By early Friday morning, #ExMuslimBecause was the U.K.'s top trending hashtag. We heard from secret LGBT Saudis; women who had been forced into marriages; closeted atheists in Egypt and Pakistan tweeting under pseudonyms; young women disowned by their families in the U.S.; and more.
I've compiled some of the most popular tweets below. Some come from a purely rational place, and others are understandably angry -- which is relatable if you think of what so many ex-Muslims go through. There are also tweets from Muslims who did not take this trend too well, as well as those who were supportive. What you'll see below is the often unheard, third side to the international conversation we have been witnessing since the Paris attacks -- a conversation that represents an increasingly reverberating alternative narrative that is developing across the Muslim world, where atheism is on the rise. While some of it may seem shocking, it is important and should be read by everyone who wants to understand narratives from the Muslim world otherwise all too often silenced before reaching us.
A few points to keep in mind as you read further:
1. Being part of Muslim families and communities, ex-Muslims not only receive the same bigoted treatment as other Muslims, but are also persecuted (often severely) by Muslims who consider them heretics and apostates.
2. Ex-Muslims often find themselves caught between the anti-Muslim bigotry of the far right that demonizes all Muslims, and the apologism of the far left that conflates any legitimate criticism of Islam with "bigotry" or "Islamophobia" -- à la Ben Affleck's tantrum on Bill Maher's show last year. Criticizing Islam (an idea) and demonizing Muslims (a people) are very different things.
3. Many ex-Muslims feel betrayed by their liberal counterparts in the West. The fight against Islamic jihad should come from a position of moral strength, not xenophobic bigotry. This is a fight that liberals should take on themselves before it's hijacked by the far right.
Here are some of the tweets:
— Abu Bisseh Al Assad (@alina_mmz) November 21, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause I am not an abomination by virtue of being gay.
— Yazeed (@DudeInDistress) November 20, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause I couldn't handle hearing my own family say that Shi'as, my neighbours and best friends, are kuffar.
— Riyam ريام (@riyamnm) November 20, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause my own mother told me I should be killed because I didn't believe the same things she did
— Yas (@YasmienMills) November 20, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause I got tired of suppressing my compassion twds LGBT+ people in the name of a deity claiming to be most compassionate
— Heina Dadabhoy (@heinousdealings) November 21, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause I'm told Islam gives you freedom of thought and religion but at the same time punishes apostasy by death
— Jameela (@Bluebohemian10) November 21, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause for some reason Islam bans alcohol and pre-marital sex but not slavery.
— Imran Said (@MalayBoy97) November 20, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause they chopped off a bit of my dick man!! That shit ain't cool. Didn't even wait to ask me or nuttin 😂😂
— Sohail Ahmed (@SohailPakBrit) November 20, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause I have a deep yearning for knowledge about our world, nature and the universe. Religion can't provide adequate answers.
— Shah (@slumdoglove) November 20, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause When you can't explain sun eclipse , moon , earthquakes just say there are the miracles of God
— Wahaaz (@wahaaz) November 20, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause I couldn't debate or criticize islam without my parents yelling or screaming at me, and threatening me.
— Sarah (@nukacola11) November 20, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause People should have the right to leave whatever religion they want.
— Aren Armenian (@Aren_Armenian) November 20, 2015
It's a bad decision to blindly follow any religion. #ExMuslimBecause
— Yung Arab (@AliHcx_) November 20, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause there's a scary amount of people out there who think punishing people for apostasy and blasphemer is perfectly acceptable.
— Imran Said (@MalayBoy97) November 20, 2015
Some Muslims weren't happy with the trend:
You're #ExMuslimBecause of Satan 👹. If you are brave enough say that in Saudi Arabia. 🗡🤐
— عبدالله بن عباد (@abdal) November 21, 2015
#ExMuslimBecause trend was made up by anti Islam individuals who have islamaphobia and just want attention
— free syria (@ThriftJaan) November 20, 2015
But other Muslims were very supportive:
Maybe as Muslims it'd be good if we searched through the #ExMuslimBecause trend to find ways we can be more inclusive & tolerant
— Ruqaiya (@ruqxx) November 20, 2015
And some non-Muslims who had also left their religions showed solidarity:
— Eric Green (@ericofthegreen) November 20, 2015
If you are an ex-Muslim with a story, you can participate by:
Tweeting the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain: @CEMB_Forum
Messaging the council on Facebook: www.facebook.com/exmuslims
Emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
If you're in North America, you can also contact these other great organizations:
Muslimish (for questioning and ex-Muslims): Muslimish.com
Ex-Muslims of North America: EXMNA.org
And if you're an ex-Muslim in a Muslim-majority country, you can get your story out there by contacting Movements.org, an organization that puts dissidents in oppressive countries in touch with international journalists, writers, lawyers, government officials, and more.
The next time you hear someone speaking as if they represent all Muslims in their view of the faith, remember that their voice isn't the only one.