Thursday was the one year anniversary of the first meeting of Muslimish, an organization made up of people who have left Islam in the United States. It is affiliated with the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and has meetups in New York City, Detroit and Washington DC. My friend Hassan Khalifeh, who runs the SSA club at Wayne State University, writes about some of the unique problems facing those leaving Islam:
This group is a little different, given the nature of the religion that they have been brought up in. A friend of mine, Monica Harmsen, points out that Islam is very good at making itself seem like it’s the default religion. It’s also a religion that severely diminishes followers’ sense of influence over their actions in an almost predeterminist way. Islam is a religion whose higher power is very dictatorial and totalitarian, making departing from the religion emotionally difficult. Even worse, Muslim families, communities, and governments sometimes make it one of the most taboo and dangerous of deeds to denounce Islam. This is why questioning and ex-Muslims require extra support and the utmost acceptance and empowerment. And if there’s one thing that we have learned from successful movements such as the Gay Rights Movement, it’s that when more oppressed people come out of the closet, the more comfortable and acceptable it is for others to do the same.
Coming out is becoming easier with the help of organizations like the Secular Student Alliance, Center for Inquiry, and many others who have shown tremendous support for those leaving their faiths. A newer, up-and-coming organization—Muslimish—is a promising one, whose mission focuses on supporting questioning and ex-Muslims, in association with The Richard Dawkins Foundation and the Center for Inquiry.
Secular activists and organizations, being a major force of good in helping and supporting others, should not forget or fear to actively reach out to the Muslim community. Many questioning and ex-Muslims have secretly come up to me, relieved to know that there are other ex-Muslims out there that they can meet with and talk to safely. I hope to make that clear to any questioning and ex-Muslim afraid to talk, and to other secular activists out there.
We have some ex-Muslims involved with CFI Michigan, including at least one who has to hide his identity for fear of reprisals. Muslimish has meetings in the Detroit area because the city of Dearborn has the largest Arab and Muslim population in the United States (Arab and Muslim are not synonymous here; many of the Arab residents are not Muslim are Chaldean Christians). This outreach is very important. We must do what we can to create a safe space for Muslims to leave their faith.