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 Shafi, Hanbali, Maliki andHanafi – go even further, stipulating that the punishment for unrepentant apostasy is death.
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