What happens when Muslims leave Islam?

May 22, 2015

By Alom Shaha

The Apostates by Simon Cottee claims to be “the first major study of apostasy from Islam in the Western secular context” and the book will no doubt become a useful text for other academics who might wish to study this or related subject matter. It includes an exploration of what it means to be an “apostate” – not just in Islam but in general – and provides interesting insights into the reasons why people apostatise. But the real focus of the book is on the stories of the 35 apostates from Canada and Britain who Cottee interviewed as part of his research.

Cottee addresses the fact that apostasy in Islam has become intensely politicised and polarised. He asserts that the right often portray apostates as “brave dissidents who live in fear of violent reprisal from fanatical Muslims” whereas, for the left, “the question of apostasy barely registers and … concern over apostates is typically derided as Islamophobia”. Cottee claims that “ex-Muslims deserve better” and his book is certainly an invaluable contribution to making sure that the experiences of ex-Muslims in the West will be better understood.

A large part of the introduction is devoted to pre-emptively making excuses for what might be considered the shortcomings of the book as a work of sociology. The author describes the difficulties he encountered in trying to conduct his research: like many of the “ex-Muslims” I know, most of his interviewees are “closeted” and “actively conceal their disbelief”. Cottee found all of his interviewees through the CEMB Forum, an online “self-help” forum set up by The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Relying on a single source like this makes the data unrepresentative and in my opinion, Cottee doesn’t provide a convincing argument otherwise.

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19 comments on “What happens when Muslims leave Islam?

  • My own personal story. Back in the 1992 I joined a local mosque in order to learn enough about Islam to pass as Muslim in Sudan, where I hoped to work. The more I learned the crazier it became. Further 5 times daily prayers, with accompanying calisthenics) killed my back. It was simply not possible. I dropped the idea as impractical. No one came after me.

    There is a ceremony where you recite some Arabic to make you officially a Muslim. The theory is, at that point you are considered free of sin, and if you touch anyone, this is a magic blessing. It was quite fun being a holy person handing out blessings to the adoring multitudes.

    I read the Qur’an cover to cover, and got to see Islam from the inside. It is quite different from the popular imagination. At no time did I ever accept a belief in Allah or that the Qur’an was written by a deity. The 5 times daily prayers keep the elderly gentlemen unbelievably spry. That is actually one of the best ideas of Islam.

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  • Roedy, you probably have more insight into Islam than most of the rest of us here. Certainly more understanding than I do, which is an unreliable mishmash of personal experiences (all positive) in Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, and Turkey, and readings (all negative) about the treatment of women in the more conservative states. My basic reaction to Islam is that it is just as stupid as all other religions, but — for complex political reasons — inspires a larger populations of fanatics than Christianity. And leaving it is, of course, harder. So in all future discussions about Islam on this site, please comment. I’m relying on you.

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  • It also seems to me that a study of apostates in the West would give us very little information about apostasy in, say, Saudi Arabia or Iran. We know that there are secularists, and even atheists, all over the Arab/Islamic world, but I should think their experience would be quite different from that of an apostate in England, Germany, or France.

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  • 4
    Temujain says:

    As a Muslim by birth, fluent in Arabic, who studied Quran in its Arabic form and Sharia law, believe me, you can’t understand Sharia Law if you don’t understand the history of the early Islamic movement and how it came about. In short, I can say the following: Apostasy is a barbaric political creed, forged during the eighth century (2nd Islamic century) as a pretext to justify prosecution of political dissidents.

    The Sharia law was formed during that time (Ammawi’s dynasty and later Abbasi’s dynasty) when the Islamic empire – in its climbing to the region domination – was facing a continuous conquest war from the outside and an intermittent civil war from the inside. It was practically in martial law all the time, and hence needed these extreme measures to prevail.

    In the Quran itself, there is absolutely no reference to apostasy or any associated punishment for those who change their belief or leave Islamic faith. On the contrary, there are numerous verses stating that faith cannot and should not be forced on people. Read this for example “There is no compulsion in religion” Chapter 2 Verse 256, and “You cannot force your belief on others” Chapter 10 verse 99, and many others.

    There is no shred of evidence that Mohammed in his lifetime punished people for leaving Islam, and they were many who did at that time and even the Quran has mentioned them, yet, Mohammed did absolutely nothing to harm them.
    In reality, the vast majority of the Muslim people don’t know such barbaric law exists in the Sharia, and the majority would dismiss it as unacceptable barbaric and evil. They trust the Sharia and defend it thinking it represents a pure form of the social justice preached in the Quran, little they know it is in fact a man-made political and economic agenda.

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  • 5
    nomorewoo says:

    “In the Quran itself, there is absolutely no reference to apostasy or any associated punishment for those who change their belief or leave Islamic faith.”


    Quran 9:66
    Make ye no excuses: ye have rejected Faith after ye had accepted it. If We pardon some of you, We will punish others amongst you, for that they are in sin.

    Quran 16:106
    He who disbelieves in Allah after his having believed, not he who is compelled while his heart is at rest on account of faith, but he who opens (his) breast to disbelief– on these is the wrath of Allah, and they shall have a grievous chastisement.

    “There is no shred of evidence that Mohammed in his lifetime punished people for leaving Islam,”


    Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:17 Allah’s Apostle said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.”

    Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:89:271 A man embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism. Mu’adh bin Jabal came and saw the man with Abu Musa. Mu’adh asked, “What is wrong with this (man)?” Abu Musa replied, “He embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism.” Mu’adh said, “I will not sit down unless you kill him (as it is) the verdict of Allah and His Apostle.

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  • 6
    Temujain says:

    The two verses mentioned above (9:66 and 16:106) don’t command direct punishment, they talk about what could happen in the judgment day, and that God will deal with them. There are numerous contextual verses like that.

    The Hadeeth (proposed sayings) on the other hand is the political tool that is used to manufacture the “public consent” and is the source of these extreme and cruel measurements.

    Over the centuries, faith and culture became mingled together, Islam in Malaysia and not like Islam in Saudi Arabia, women in Pakistan are not like women in Turkey. Culture takes over and presented as religion. There is a big movement within the Islamic world to reform the faith started more than a century ago by Mohammed Abdo of Egypt, Al-Kawakiby of Syria and others, and it is getting momentum. People will not abandon their faith, no matter what because it is part of their identity, the pragmatic approach is to encourage reformation.

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  • … they talk about what could happen in the judgment day, …

    Is the above quote of 16:106 incorrect? It says “they shall have a grievous chastisement” not “could have”.

    What do you mean by the judgement day? Is that when the apostate dies and unfortunately finds out he was wrong? What do you think would be a suitable “grievous chastisement”?

    The Hadeeth (proposed sayings) on the other hand is the political tool that is used to manufacture the “public consent” and is the source of these extreme and cruel measurements.

    You suggest that the Hadeeth are not part of the Islamic religion, not scriptures, but merely political ideology with roots in the religion. Are many Muslims of that opinion?

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  • 8
    Temujain says:

    I understand that from an external point of view. The problem is with extracting these verses out of their context. In Islamic theology, there is a study associated with the Quran called “Reasons for Revelation” أسباب النزول . The study is concerned about understanding the historical reasons for verses revelations and the associated contextual events. You probably know that – unlike the Ten Commandments- the Quran was not given in one shot but rather revealed progressively over the period of 23 years. There is a big chunk of it serves as historical narration as most of the verses tell a story about particular event.

    For example; the verse in 16:106 above talks about two persons who declared they left their faith during the lifetime of Mohammed; one of them (name: Ammar Bin Yasir) did that under torture (the Meccans killed his father in front of him and threatened to kill his mother – they did eventually). He is the one whom the verse described as “..not he who is compelled while his heart is at rest on account of faith “. The other one (name: Abdullah Bin Abi Sarh) was a spy for the Meccans -in our current terms- who committed treason and sabotage. He is the one whom the verse described as “..but he who opens (his) breast to disbelief– on these is the wrath of Allah, and they shall have a grievous chastisement”. Actually, when Mohammed later returned to Mecca and subdue the Meccans, he forgave him – unwillingly though. He did not exercise the verse and say “well, you have been condemned by God and I am fulfilling His verdict”, didn’t happen.

    You suggest that the Hadeeth are not part of the Islamic religion, not
    scriptures, but merely political ideology with roots in the religion

    Interestingly, Hadeeth was banned from narration by Mohammed’s close companions in the few decades after his death. Unfortunately, Hadeeth was made part of the religion, as I said, when the political system was established later on. There is nothing like the shield of religion to push any political agenda, and the Hadeeth – not the Quran – was the perfect one. There are no two Muslims who contest the authenticity of any single verse of the Quran, this is a fact. However, Hadeeth – on the other hand – is the subject of a great debate among Muslims. It is the dividing tool and the source of these denominations (Sunnis and Shias for example don’t agree on it).

    “Are many Muslims of that opinion?”

    Oh yes, there are many. For example, this group called “People Of The Quran http://www.ahl-alquran.com/English/main.php ” . They denounce the entire Hadeeth and dismiss it as irrelevant and politically corrupt because it carries lots of contradictions with the Quran. Others offer an entirely new review of the revelation which promote secularism and the necessity to separate state from religion. If you can read Arabic then checkout this site: http://www.shahrour.org/

    There are reformists, not as many as we hope to see, but it is happening in spite of this dangerous political atmosphere. It was getting momentum up until the seventeens and religion was confined within the mosques and lightly practiced. But the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and later the Anglo-American catastrophic invasion and destruction of Iraq opened the heaven doors for extremists to avail the opportunity and use the hate sentiment to fuel their hidden, evil and barbaric agenda. In the Middle East, religion is the only deadly weapon to face the American war machine.

    This is what the women used to wear in Afghanistan in the 70s :


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  • With all due respects, Temujain, your lengthy explanation of why all violent Muslims are not ‘true’ Muslims is a prime example of the “No true Scotsman’ fallacy. No matter that they are ideologically wrong, millions of Muslims espouse violence toward apostates.
    I certainly can appreciate your noting the violence and betrayal practiced against some Islamic nations by the west as a cause for a new militancy in Islam in those nations, but I would point to Saudi Arabia, which is a close ally to the US, has never, to my knowledge been attacked by the US/the west, and is extremely militant – based on its own interpretation of scripture. Would the ‘real’ Muslims please stand up?

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  • 11
    Temujain says:

    my dear friend, I certainly didn’t deny that Muslims could commit horrible religious crimes, indeed some do to a disgusting degree, and I am not really interested in defending those who support it. My main argument about apostasy is from authentication point of view, and whether it is genuinely endorsed by the one and only one “holy” scripture, and it is not. You’ll probably be surprised to learn that “Hijab” is baseless in Islam, it’s purely cultural.

    Richard Dawkins in one of his interviews praised the church’s handling of apostasy in comparison with Islam. This is true only relatively recently, because the church used to burn people for apostasy and sorcery. However, that doesn’t label millions of Christians as blood thirsty and certainly doesn’t condemn Christianity as an evil cult, at least I don’t. The church rule was defeated and that law vanished, and I hope the Sharia will suffer a similar spectacular defeat.

    You don’t need to attack Saudi to unleash the violence within, both Saudi and Iranian regimes are extreme and violent by nature way before the US was established. They established their rule in a bloody and brutal campaign back in 1700. They slaughtered more Muslims and innocent people than any one did in history. One thing we should understand about these two regimes is that they don’t recognize borders and they would use the attack on any “Islamic” community/country as a pretext to extend and spread.

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  • 12
    Temujain says:

    The theory is, at that point you are considered free of sin, and if
    you touch anyone, this is a magic blessing.

    This is funny, I have never heard of that, is that in Sudan only?

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  • 14
    voiceofarabi says:

    Hi Temujain,

    I am too Muslim by birth, and fluent in Arabic and studied Quran and other major religions. I just want to let you know that I Agree with you 100%.

    Unfortunately, the truth is kept hidden by all parties as it helps keeps everyone in power… The real evil here is the political system, and mans’ greed as demonstrated many times in history, and the Spanish inquisition is just one out of many.

    I even go as far as say… Nothing in Isalm today is as intended as the prophet Mohammed wished. Islam is all about tolerance, and not “we came to slit your throat”…

    I agree with you.. it all went wrong in the 2nd Islamic century, but the real evil today is… Wahabism (started by ibn tymiya) and Muslim Brotherhood, started by whatever left over from the Ottoman empire….

    Islam overall, is mainly peaceful, with some ugly parts, just like any other religion, but let us not forget, the whole thing is man made, in order to control and improve the lives of the unwashed masses… 🙂 .

    I too will keep following your post.. you are an informed and open minded person. thanks

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  • Just do the 45 minutes back and leg stretching that I do on rising in the morning and before I exercise – No need for all that garbage in the Qur’an just to get your flexibility surely !! They’ll be telling us that it contains all the science you could ever need next !

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  • 17
    Temujain says:

    Yes, the first (from left) is a verse in the Quran, the rest are not from the scripture, which I and millions others are totally and categorically against it, are political creeds, stamped with religious justification, in which only a psycho will pay respect to. We need to understand that at that time – everywhere – nothing can be passed to the masses without the scary and immense power of religion stamp of approval. And yes, this is how dangerous and devastating religion can become when it is given the power of a state.

    Now back to the verse quoted above. Again, it is extracted from its historical context. It is part of historical narrative (around 60 verses) of a decisive battle in year 624 AD when the Meccans – nick named unbelievers – invaded the city of Madina – Muslim stronghold – threatening a massive slaughter of its people. Here, it’s a survival issue and there is no place for being passive.

    Please let us just avoid extracting segments out of context and present them as standalone statements. I could do the same and quote verses which promote peace and justice, and they are overwhelmingly outnumber the one quoted above. Here are just few samples:

    Quran, 5:32 the unequivocal “… whoever kills a soul – unless for a soul – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely”

    About peace, Quran 2:208 “O you who have believed, enter into peacefulness, the whole (of you)”

    About being just no matter what, Quran 5:8 “do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness”

    About social justice, Quran 16:90 “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression”

    About leaning toward peace if in conflict, Quran 8:61 “And in case they – your opponents – are bent on for peace, then be bent on for it “

    About promoting kindness and fairness, Quran 41:34 “And not equal are the fair deed and the odious deed. Repel with that which is fairest; then, only then, he between whom and you there is enmity will be as if he were an intimate constant patron.”

    About social harmony, Quran 7:199 “Take to clemency, and command benevolence, and veer away from the ignorant..”

    About being kind to others, Quran 49:11 “O you who have believed, let not any people scoff at (another) people who may be more charitable than they; And do not defame one another, (Literally: do not defame yourselves) nor revile one another by nicknames. Miserable is the name, evident immorality, after belief! And whoever does not repent, then those are they who are the unjust”

    I can go on for much longer, but the point is that the Quran is not a collection of isolated, dry, firm, and uncompromised commands that can be taken blindly as is. There are unfortunately those Muslims who do just that and end up in a complete mess. I totally agree this is purely an Islamic doctrine problem, an accumulation of centuries of Theo-political alliance domination, and only Muslim intellectuals are capable of fixing it.

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  • Ahmed Farhan
    Jan 26, 2016 at 6:12 am

    the moment the Atheist breathes his/her last breath, he/she is sent straight to the blazing fire of Hell.

    This does naturally terrify and motivate believers, but atheists who are well aware of the nature of religious delusions, and the non-existence of Hell or afterlives, can take a relaxed view – unless they are under pressure from believers inflicting religious views on them.

    Atheists can do good for their fellow men as good citizens, without counting imaginary merit points created by appeasing imagined gods!

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