Why the ‘Ex’ in Ex-Muslims


The wonderful author, activist (and friend) Taslima Nasrin writes the following in her message to the Council of Ex-Muslims to mark its 5th anniversary:

I congratulate British ex-Muslims for their bravery. Even though I do not consider myself an ex-Muslim because I was never really a Muslim or a believer, I feel close to Maryam Namazie and the other members of the ex-Muslim organisation. Atheists who were Christians but became atheists later do not call themselves ex-Christians. Why should atheists who were Muslims or born in Muslim families but became atheists later be called ex-Muslims? We should not be identified separately from other atheists. Fighting Islamists and Islam is not only our responsibility; it is the responsibility of all sane people. We are all here to make the world a better place.

In principle,  I agree with Taslima and I’ve said as much many times.

But it is called ‘ex-Muslim’ in order to provoke and challenge not to separate and segregate.

You don’t need an ex-Christian organisation because former Christians are not killed for leaving Christianity (in the most part in this day and age at least). With Islam, it is a very different matter. Yes your religion or atheism is your business but not when you are killed for it. Then ‘coming out’ is a form of resistance and dissent.

This has nothing to do with creating yet another false and bogus identity. It’s all about taking a stand with others (the organisation is open to all atheists and agnostics) to demand a strict separation of religion from the state and the curtailment of religion’s role in the public space. But with a special focus on Islam because of what Islam and political Islam represent in our world today.

And of course opposing Islamism and defending secularism is not the task of ex-Muslims or even atheists alone. But that is why there are many other campaigns and activities like One Law for All and Equal Rights Now. Each plays its own role, has its own significance and pushes back religion and defends humanity in its own way.

I will leave it at that for now. I hope to explain this further in my talk at the 23 June lunch celebrating the 5th anniversary of the CEMB.

Comments

  1. Sri says

    I would like to note that while it is true that most formerly Christian atheists do not refer to themselves as ex-Christians there are a couple of exceptions. I have heard atheists (and pagans) who refer to themselves as ex-Catholics (or jokingly as ‘recovering Catholics’ to parallel recovering from an addiction) or ex-Baptists.

    Perhaps some atheists don’t refer to themselves as ex-Christians because most Americans will assume that they left Christianity. However those who left a more strongly identified, structured denomination (such as Catholicism or Southern Baptism) may refer to themselves as ex-Catholic or ex-Baptist in order to emphasize their break with a very pervasive religion.

  2. Rafiq Mahmood says

    I am sometimes asked why I retain my “Muslim” name and do not revert to my former name or adopt another one. The reason is that same stubborn defiant streak that made me adopt it legally in the first place all those many years ago.

    Then people used to ask me why I didn’t use my “Christian” name because it would be easier in the UK job and housing market. I used to say that if people didn’t accept me as I was that was their problem, not mine.

    When people used to say, “You have an unusual name,” with the sub-text, “for a white guy,” I used to look them in the eye and say, “It’s not an unusual name, for a Muslim.”

    My own sub-text was, “So, what do you want to do about it?”

    Now, after having come to my senses at long last by seeing what Islam really means through living in a Muslim-majority country, people ask me with a sparkle in their eye and a glow on their cheeks, “Ah! You have a Muslim name,” with the sub-text, “and you’re a bule.”

    And now I look them in the eye and say, “That’s because I used to be a Muslim.”

    My own sub-text is the same as it was.

  3. Zugswang says

    I would only disagree that there is no need for ex-Christian types of organizations, but I would also say they are needed for less pressing reasons. I think having that identity of “ex-Christian” or “ex-Muslim” is important for outreach. It’s much easier to come to someone who can relate to you, and who can appreciate your struggle more intimately than someone who doesn’t share your background, and that familiarity makes it easier to ask that person for help, advice, etc.

    I still recognize that I was raised in a particularly American brand of Catholicism, and having left that specific church and culture behind (but retaining the stories and specific lessons of my upbringing) I have a unique perspective that allows me to relate to those from similar backgrounds who currently struggle with their religious/non-religious identity. I imagine I would be much more effective at addressing the concerns of a nascent ex-Catholic atheist from Illinois than one who grew up as a Hindu in Punjab.

    While my identity as an atheist and secular humanist is clear, the palimpsest of my life can still serve as an aid for others who are in the process of transition and need support and encouragement.

  4. csrster says

    I think if you locked Taslima Nasreen up in a closed room she’d eventually start an ideological argument with her own shadow :-)

  5. says

    Why do people say they “became an atheist” when we’re all born atheists? It is religion that parents, churches, mosques and temples try to pound into us. Those who were caught up in religion and later reject that indoctrination revert to atheism.

    • David Hart says

      Because we are born atheists only in the sense that we start from a position of complete ignorance about any factual questions. An atheist is someone who is unconvinced by any of the religions of the world that they have ever heard of; a baby is someone who has never encountered them, or given the idea any thought. An important distinction, because most babies only retain their lack of belief in the local gods as long as they retain their lack of belief in, say, animals they’ve not personally seen, places they’ve not personally been, and everything else that you learn about in childhood. It is a very rare baby who seriously considers the supernatural tales their society tells them, and rejects them on the grounds of insufficient evidence from the outset.

  6. Bill Yeager says

    The label ‘Ex-Muslim’ does not necessarily equate to ‘Atheist’, but I do see Maryam’s point about using it to provoke and challenge.

    In that it has been demonstrated that perceived atheist prevalence reduces anti-atheist prejudice (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21343437), it would likely hold true for ‘Ex-Muslim’ prevalence. But, then, is it more effective in the effort to combat fundamentalist hatred to bolster the prevalence of Atheist over ‘Ex-Muslim’?

    Atheist position cannot be successfully argued against with theist values, but someone who may be seen as a theist (e.g. Christian) ‘Ex-Muslim’ can easily be accused of having moved on to the ‘wrong’ religion and, therefore, is guilty of heresy and, therefore, ‘deserving’ of whichever punishment the Muslim accuser ascribes to.

  7. karim says

    provoke a reaction or just seek attention? I don’t know. In this climate where every country is attacking Muslim nations in China, Burma, Russia, Africa. And of course America and it’s allies who are attacking the heartland of the Muslim world. it’s easy to make a lot of money position yourself as an ex-Muslim even if it’s completely fraudulent.

    If you named yourself something airy-fairy like “humanist”, chances are nobody would take any notice.

    The truth of the matter is the enemies of Islam and they wars against Muslims just love a ex-Muslim shock story. Case in point Walid Shoebat who was a Palestinian Christian claiming to be ex-Muslim, but all his claims are fraudulent. His past does not add up. And of course Norma Khouri who wrote a literary hoax about honor killings of her friend in Jordan.

    Positioning yourself as an ex-Muslim is just a cheap way to get exposure where you couldn’t get the same on merit alone.

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