Choosing Family or Freedom: The Trials of ‘Coming Out’ as a British Ex-Muslin

Oct 30, 2014

By Simon Cottee

For a minute, Maryam thought the game was up. Home from university for the weekend, she overheard her father speaking loudly on the phone. He was emotional, angry: “She’s going out drinking and getting drunk and not returning anyone’s calls,” he raged.

Maryam froze, panicked. How did he know about her drinking? And what about her boyfriend, Michael? Did he know about him, too? “I thought he was talking about me,” she says, before explaining that it was actually her cousin Nasreen who was the object of her father’s outrage.

Maryam is a 25-year-old from the north of England. She’s currently at university, training to be a doctor. I recently interviewed her as part of a three-year research study, to be published later this year, on so-called “apostates” from Islam – men and women who used to follow Islam or identify as Muslim, but who no longer do.

Just over half of the 35 ex-Muslims I interviewed are like Maryam: in the closet about their apostasy, fearful that if they “come out” and open up about their disbelief that their families will reject and disown them.

Apostasy is a sin in Islam. The Quran, though it doesn’t mandate a worldly punishment for apostasy, threatens eternal torture and damnation for Muslims who leave the faith. The four leading classical schools of Islamic law on which the sharia is based – the ShafiHanbaliMaliki andHanafi – go even further, stipulating that the punishment for unrepentant apostasy is death.


 

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24 comments on “Choosing Family or Freedom: The Trials of ‘Coming Out’ as a British Ex-Muslin

  • 3
    Bob Springsteen says:

    Koran 3: 86-91 describes the life that awaits the apostate in hell, but the hadith informs us about the punishment for apostates in this life: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” (hadith number 4:52:260).



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  • This is Aisha’s fear, too: that if she discloses her apostasy to her family she’ll lose them.

    The women who are highlighted in this piece are headed for excellent careers and will be able to support themselves in a comfortable life in England. If these women can’t establish themselves in an independent life in a country that values them as intelligent, capable adults with full legal rights then what woman can do it?

    And as for the guy in the article who was railroaded into an arranged marriage and wonders if he might be missing the best years of his life…Yes! You ARE missing the best years of your life! Not to mention the fact that you are being dishonest with your wife and holding her in a relationship that she probably never wanted in the first place.

    For the ex-Muslims who are still in their own countries under the heavy handed surveillance of the state and their own families, I have absolute sympathy. Please don’t risk your lives. But to the ex-Muslims who are well established here in the West, you have rights and protections. Put all the distance you need between yourselves and your families. Establish personal boundaries. You say you need to call your Mommy after classes every day? Give me a break. Thinking about giving in on the arranged marriage just to make the family happy? Grow a spine. Pick your own spouse and make your own life for yourself. If the family can’t deal with it then hang tight with your in-laws or some other family. Plenty of people have toxic parents and cut their relationship down to bare bones. This is the right thing to do. Don’t just lay down and take abuse like a door mat. You have one short life here on earth, will you let your family abuse you like this?

    Easy for me to say? Right. I’m a 12th generation Mayflower descendant, New England WASP married to an Algerian Muslim. We’re both the first in our families to marry outside of the religion. Total resistance from the families in the beginning. I’m proud that we stood up to the small minded naysayers. Now it’s us calling the shots.



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  • It is very easy for we who are passionate about the harmful reach of religion to assume that this must be the absolutely central concern for intelligent others caught in its web. We neglect to think that their passions may be first and foremost for children and a family, or a professional career, or a loved one. Like being in any abusive relationship, it may be harder to leave than we imagine when other factors are in play.



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  • @OP – Choosing Family or Freedom:

    Those in less fortunate parts of the world don’t have these choices!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-29859587

    Boko Haram has denied claims by Nigeria’s government that it has agreed to a ceasefire and will release more than 200 abducted schoolgirls.

    The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, said the girls had converted to Islam and been married off since being taken.

    Nigeria’s army announced a ceasefire with the militants on 17 October, saying the girls would soon be freed.

    But violence has continued since news of the alleged truce, including a fatal bomb blast on Friday.

    In a video released on Friday, Abubakar Shekau said: “We have not made ceasefire with anyone. We did not negotiate with anyone. It’s a lie.

    “We will not negotiate. What is our business with negotiation? Allah said we should not.”



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  • True, but that has little bearing on the OP.

    What I want in democratic countries is a downgrading of the status afforded to local communities. We need to assert that these are not in any sense legal entities and they have no “ownership” of their “members”. They should not in any sense be conduits for the state and state services. The proper relationship any individual has with the state, children included, is first and formost directly and in the case of children facilitated by parents/guardians on behalf of the child. Parents should be obliged by the state to provide its information to the child (age appropriate) with penalties for not doing so. We must try harder to reach through communities and families to the individuals and assert they are born free in this society with full access to all its services and protections.

    I expect state-phobic US citizens to be appalled at the idea and all tories in this country. It is, however, necessary to change this attitude of ownership of offspring. Like politicians, as a parent, you are not in power, you are merely a servant in office.



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  • This article is about ex-Muslims in the U.K.

    As I mentioned above, those who live in Muslim majority countries need to be very careful and do what is necessary to stay alive. Every ex-Muslim who was interviewed in the article is being bullied by their own families and accepting that treatment when they live in a place where there are legal protections against this very thing.

    Coercion by the family to marry a stranger that they’ve imported into the country for that purpose, or to a cousin, or anyone else that they have chosen for certain reasons is pure bullying. It’s not difficult to fight back against this coercion by citing hadith:

    Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet said: “A non-virgin woman may not be married without her command, and a virgin may not be married without her permission; and it is permission enough for her to remain silent (because of her natural shyness).” [Al-Bukhari:6455, Muslim & Others]

    It is reported in a hadith that A’ishah related that she once asked the Prophet : “In the case of a young girl whose parents marry her off, should her permission be sought or not?” He replied: “Yes, she must give her permission.” She then said: “But a virgin would be shy, O Messenger of Allaah!” He replied: “Her silence is [considered as] her permission.” [Al-Bukhari, Muslim, & Others]

    It appears that the permission of an under-age bride is indeed necessary for her marriage to be considered valid;the above narrations seem to clearly make the approval of the bride a condition for a valid marriage contract.

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_marital_jurisprudence

    As for the ex-Muslim woman in the article (at University in U.K.) who is being badgered to wear headscarf or hejab, she can easily point out that there is no requirement for Muslim women to cover their hair. This doesn’t exist in the Koran whatsoever.

    And finally, there is an important paragraph in the Koran that should be trotted out immediately when any Muslim or ex-Muslim perceives that they are being bullied by one of their own.

    Allah says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256]

    This always serves to put the bullies right in their place. Religious bullies of all stripes should be sternly reminded that we lowly humans are never allowed to invent religious rules for living. A person who thinks that they are allowed to do that are putting themselves on equal ground with the prophets and with God/Allah himself. This is an egregious sin. It’s the sin of pride. If the rule is not in the Koran then no mere man or woman has any right to invent it. They should remember their humble place in this life and lean a lesson of humility.

    This is how we have handled these situations in our family. It’s important to know those “holy” books as best as we can. That way we can fight fire with fire.



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  • Yet another example of child abuse and of the worse kind. Worse than pedophile priests, because it is coming from the very people from whom a child has the expectation of unconditional love and support. As a parent it is unimaginable that anything could be more important than the safety and happiness of my children. It is insane to behave cruelly in the belief that such cruelty will ensure the favour of a grumpy deity to that sacrificed child in an imagined eternity.
    Such parents are not worth the name, may they rot in their imagined hell.



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  • 14
    Light Wave says:

    Thankfully for muslims our UK laws prevent atheists and agnostics from being killed or persecuted…so really its loosing your family connection that has to be traded against having a free thinking mind, but many British Muslims probably have some relative who is likeminded that may reject the notion of the family shaming someone or rejecting someone who has left the faith because they cant fake their commitment anymore, the family will eventually discover that the person is still the same without the religion or better in fact……I think the Quran’s penalty of death for those who leave Islam is more of a medieval Arabic deterrent, but modern Law in UK would certainly not entertain this notion in any way…. there’s never been a freer time for Muslims to leave Islam in UK, Other religions also share the same problem to lesser degrees….personally I would not trade my free thinking for anything, but its a hard call…..Imagine family but a trapped and controlled mind…..That would drive me mental……You cant choose the family your born into …but you can choose to free your mind…..If you don’t…well…..you only have one life….! don’t waste it…whatever your priority is…



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  • 15
    ImranAliPhD says:

    I don’t really understand these people. Grow a spine. I was born in a backward village in Pakistan and started school under a tree (compare that to these people in UK). My family is religious but both me and my brother are openly atheists. My mother, who is fairly religious, was very upset but now she is OK. Aren’t these people underestimating the parental instincts. They WILL accept you; they are parents.



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  • 16
    RSingh says:

    "the parental instincts. They WILL accept you; they are parents."

    Have you heard of honor killing? one of the reasons is muslim girl having an infidel boyfriend (not the other way around)!

    Heard of Ayan Hirsi Ali, Maryam Namazi and assassination of countless ex-muslims thoughout history…heard of the nations who by law execute ex-muslims, even to this date! Your ignorance is bordering on stupidity…take care if you indeed are an athiest.

    Please work for the minority rights in your country before you spend time on here.

    I want you to rebel against below before pointing fingers at west (Thanks to Bob):

    Koran 3: 86-91 describes the life that awaits the apostate in hell, but the hadith informs us about the punishment for apostates in this life: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” (hadith number 4:52:260).

    Ideas like these form the foundations of Pak's constitution. Who are you fooling here?

    [Slightly edited by moderator to bring within Terms of Use]



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  • I think it is only too evident what sort of culture can be imported if local populations permit it!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-29869909

    Iran sentences British-Iranian activist Ghoncheh Ghavami over volleyball game

    . . . . . . . . .

    A British-Iranian woman detained in Iran after trying to watch a men’s volleyball match has been sentenced to a year in prison, her lawyer says.

    Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, was found guilty of spreading anti-regime propaganda, lawyer Alizadeh Tabatabaie said.

    Iran banned women from volleyball games in 2012, extending a long-standing ban on football matches.

    The Iranian authorities have argued that women need protection from the lewd behaviour of male fans.

    Britain’s Foreign Office said it was concerned about the sentence.

    “We have concerns about the grounds for this prosecution, due process during the trial, and Miss Ghavami’s treatment whilst in custody,” it said in a statement.

    Amnesty International has described Ms Ghavami, who is from Shepherd’s Bush in west London, as a prisoner of conscience, and called for her immediate release. More than 700,000 people have signed an online petition urging the authorities to free her.

    The graduate of the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies was part of a group of women who tried to watch Iran play Italy in a match on 20 June.



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  • 18
    Bob Springsteen says:

    “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (Koran 2:256) only applies to Christians and Jews – “People of the Book”. Members of all other faiths are considered spiritually depraved and guilty of idolatry. “Idolatry is worse than carnage” (Koran 2:190).



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  • ImranAliPhD and RSingh,

    I think that you guys can meet in the middle here by acknowledging the idea that guys may have it easier when they try to put distance between themselves and their religion. I think Imran is correct when he says:

    They WILL accept you; they are parents.

    In Imran’s case, I can’t help but think about the disaster of a family to lose two sons. In a patriarchal culture it would take a complete disaster for parents to exile them, right? Better to keep them close and do their best to soften the effect of what they may see as a temporary aberration (drifting away from religion). On the other hand, a daughter is more expendable. In a patriarchal, patrilocal culture, girls will marry and leave home to live with her in-laws. She carries the weight of representing the honor of the males in her family by her own modest behavior. If she besmirches that honor and reputation then we get the honor killings that RSingh referred to above.

    So, can we say that:

    Girls/women need more support than men when they seek to distance themselves from their controlling religious families. If this statement is true, then the atheist/secular community should be aware of it and provide that support where it can.

    Is it really necessary for Muslims to declare themselves an Atheist in a public way? In such a hostile environment, perhaps we should advise them to use various softer strategies, as mentioned above (No compulsion in religion), to ease out as gently as possible and avoid inflaming the situation which might kick off an honor guarding/restoration response by the family.



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  • Girls/women need more support than men when they seek to distance themselves from their controlling religious families. If this statement is true, then the atheist/secular community should be aware of it and provide that support where it can.

    Even in the UK? Your previous post suggested otherwise:

    As I mentioned above, those who live in Muslim majority countries need to be very careful and do what is necessary to stay alive. Every ex-Muslim who was interviewed in the article is being bullied by their own families and accepting that treatment when they live in a place where there are legal protections against this very thing.

    I’m not so sure these girls/women would feel confident in seeking support from the atheist community. Would not the women’s shelter charities and other such organisations be better suited. Or maybe groups specifically related to ex-Muslims such as The Council of Ex-Muslims could help – the atheist community should certainly be supporting these groups, as RDFRS is promoting.

    Is it really necessary for Muslims to declare themselves an Atheist in a public way? In such a hostile environment, perhaps we should advise them to use various softer strategies, as mentioned above (No compulsion in religion), to ease out as gently as possible and avoid inflaming the situation which might kick off an honor guarding/restoration response by the family.

    But as you pointed out, the OP was concerning the UK – surely not such a hostile environment.



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  • the UK – surely not such a hostile environment.

    I don’t think that the U.K is hostile since I’m as white as a sheet with blue eyes and indistinguishable from the vast majority of its inhabitants. 🙂
    I’m not in the U.K. and I can’t judge how strong the pressure is there for these ex-muslims or even for the muslims who are still believers but just don’t care to participate in rituals day in and day out. Are you in the U.K.? All I have to go on is the article and past articles posted here to get a sense of the pressure these people are under. Not a perfect picture. Still though, I’m willing to bet that my hypothesis will stand-women need more support to resist the oppression of Islam and their culture than the guys do and that it’s a better idea to slide out of the scene stealthily rather than a blunt declaration of atheism which requires the family to take action to prevent such a calamity such as apostasy.

    Surely you don’t judge the situation inside the immigrant communities by the freedom and rights of the larger society, do you? I think we can assume that immigrant communities everywhere band together and attempt to maintain their common culture in a new location that seems alien to them. Religion is one component of culture.



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  • Surely you don’t judge the situation inside the immigrant communities by the freedom and rights of the larger society, do you?

    No. Actually that’s what I thought you were doing. I agree with you that women may need extra help when fighting against religious oppression.

    I am in the UK, a fairly multicultural part of the Midlands. As you say immigrant communities tend to band together, which can make it even more difficult for those who are then disowned by their family and community due to religious or other cultural issues.



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  • Marktony Nov 2, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    I am in the UK, a fairly multicultural part of the Midlands. As you say immigrant communities tend to band together, which can make it even more difficult for those who are then disowned by their family and community due to religious or other cultural issues.

    Many recent immigrants or students, also have relatives who they visit, back in their countries of origin such as Pakistan! https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/10/new-afghan-government-investigates-newspaper-for-blasphemous-article/#li-comment-159707



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