Final Updated: 15 March 22:30 hours
In less than 48 hours, more than three hundred individuals and organisations signed up to the call for action to defend apostates and blasphemers. Individuals included Iranian Campaigner Mina Ahadi, Lebanese writer and actress Darina al Joundi, Algerian author Djemila Benhabib, Scientists Richard Dawkins and Laurence Krauss, Moroccan atheist Imad Iddine Habib, Algerian Secularist Marieme Helie Lucas, Iraqi Kurd women’s rights activist Houzan Mahmoud, Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin, Iranian/German author Siba Shakib and writer Ibn Warraq amongst others. Supporting organisations include Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Foundation of Australia, Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Polish Rationalist Society, and The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. The updated list of signatories can be found here.
Thousands more distributed the call via social media, Tweeted, and issued statements and messages of support. Petitions in defence of the ten highlighted cases saw a surge in signatures. Various acts of solidarity took place throughout the day, including the following:
Victoria Gugenheim, World Award Winning Bodypainter, has painted herself to mark today:
She explains why:
The more we stay silent on the plight of Islam’s apostates and blasphemers and women living under Islamic rules, the more we are allowing evil to flourish by doing nothing. And so I realised today, that I had to do something.
Art has a quality that words sometimes do not. It is visceral, immediate and full of impact when accomplished well. I wanted to lend my skills to today, to the apostates, the blasphemers, the women living under Islamic rules, to CEMB and to One Law for All to spread the message that there is real suffering and torment in Islam, and that our rights and freedoms (one could argue privileges since they can so quickly be taken away again) depend upon being outspoken against this encroaching force for harm.
What bodypaint can do that a veil can’t is show you in detail just how much of the woman is lost when the veil is forced upon her. Here parts of her that are covered are both seen and unseen, and I hope this brings home that an item of clothing forced upon a person is not a liberating garment at all. It reduces a person to an object, dehumanizes them, suffocates their human spirit, and causes them to suffer as a result. And unfortunately, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
My ultimate goal is to make the world a better place to live in for everyone, and I hope that by standing up in my own way, that I encourage other people to do the same.
Moroccan atheist Imad Iddine Habib sent this photo of himself to mark the day:
Maryam Namazie Tweeted “Apostasy and Blasphemy are my right!” and posted an atheist “shahada”:
Palestinian atheist who was imprisoned for a year by the Palestinian Authority marked the day with the below photo:
Atheist Alliance International issued a statement proclaiming “If you are not free to dissent, you are not free.”
Singer Al Grandy dedicated his song One Law for All to this day. The song is about equal rights, free expression and the right to criticise.
The Atheist Foundation Australia issued a statement saying “Blasphemy is Bullshit“.
Vancouver-based Women’s Rights campaigner Zari Asli sent in this photo of herself to mark the day:
“SudoNim” designed the logo for the International Day:
The Polish Rationalist Society started a Facebook Events Page and made a poster.
Derek Lennard of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association sent in the following quote from American 19th Century Freethinker-Robert Ingersoll:
What is real blasphemy?
To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.
To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.
To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.
To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.
To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.
To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.
To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.
To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.
Jesus & Mo author made the following statement:
In a world where religion repeatedly shows itself to be such a pernicious influence, apostasy and blasphemy cannot be crimes. On the contrary, for the progressive humanitarian, they are moral duties. The people listed here are prisoners of conscience in the truest sense. They deserve our support.
Photographer Ben Hopper Tweeted: As you all (might probably not) know today is the International Day to Defend Apostates and Blasphemers and included the following clip from comedian George Carlin:
Hamid Taqvaee, Secretary of the Worker-communist Party of Iran made the following statement:
Apostasy and blasphemy are just other names for free thinking and open-mindedness! Prosecuting people for these “crimes” is itself a criminal act!
To mark this day, Sandbad wrote:
I remember the day I and my best friend went to Darband,
And while we stood there, here he came, The Muslim Supreme Leader, we didn’t take –
Someone said; on weekends he does it as well! So we waited behind as he climbed the mountains – with his followers, bodyguards and friends…
We similarly liked the mountains – me, my friend and the Supreme Leader himself – But he was the man who would see us dead – if he knew we were apostates…
Fiyaz Mughal wrote a piece entitled: A Day for Compassion and Understanding from a Faith Perspective.
Sarah A Brown wrote a piece entitled: Support Apostates and Blasphemers.
Maryam Namazie wrote a post on Tunisian atheist Nadia El Fani facing threats after her film ‘Neither Allah nor Master” and publicly asserting her atheism here.
Michael Nugent, chair of Atheist Ireland, blogged about the day here.
Maria Hagberg, international women’s activist from Sweden wrote: “Freedom of religion also means Freedom from religion.”
Gita Sahgal of Centre for Secular Space wrote:
The Jamaat e Islami achieved a blasphemy law in Pakistan which persecutes religious minorities and free-thinkers. Here is their founder Abul Ala Maududi on apostates.
“There are only two methods of dealing with an apostate. Either make him an outlaw by depriving him of his citizenship and allowing him mere existence, or end his life. The first method is definitely more severe than the second, because he exists in a state in which ‘he neither lives nor dies.’ Killing him is preferable. That way both his agony and the agony of the society are brought to an end simultaneously.” (Abul Ala Maududi—Murtad ki Saza Islami Qanun Men – The Punishment of Apostates in Islamic Law)
Why does the British state think they are ‘moderates’ and some on the British left help them get into local government and dominate ‘anti-fascist organisations’?
Sonja Eggerickx, President of the IHEU wrote:
We welcome the International Day to Defend Apostates and Blasphemers. As president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) I am proud to work for an organisation which argues in favour of the right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression at the highest levels.
Our delegation in Geneva is currently in session at the UN Human Rights Council. Earlier this week we were able to give voice to Kacem Elghazzali from Morocco, a previous victim of malicious laws against “blasphemy”. In 2010 he found himself threatened with death for declaring his atheism and expressing his doubts about Islam on his website.
Three years later, now in exile in Switzerland, our delegation gave him the chance to tell his story and ask questions directly to the Moroccan representatives at the United Nations. He was speaking as a representative attached to the IHEU delegation, and I think it is best to let his words speak for themselves. Kacem told the chamber:
“I am from a religious minority, I am an atheist. But as a result of publicly declaring my atheism I had to flee my native Morocco in fear of my life and seek refuge in Switzerland. In 2010 I was a victim of death threats, of physical violence, and of discrimination by agents of the State.
“After posting several articles on the internet about my atheism and why I decided to leave Islam I began to receive death threats, and people started to circulate my photo and address, calling on people to kill me. These threats were echoed by a public school teacher, who told students that I was an apostate atheist, showed them my videos and blogs, and said that I should be punished according to Islamic law – in other words, I should be killed. This was followed by demonstration against me in which the police refused to intervene. Instead I was taken from my home at night for interrogation by people who identified themselves as secret policemen.
“When I tried to file a complaint against the teacher they refused to take up the case, saying it would be better to remove my blogs and apologise, and that they could easily arrest me because of a case taken out against me by an Islamic association. They added that declaring my atheism was the same as criticizing and insulting the king which under the constitution was considered to be blasphemy.
“May I, through this Council, ask the government of Morocco why, under the Constitution, is no atheist allowed to be a citizen? Why does the Constitution insist that anyone with an Islamic name must be a Muslim? And why should an atheist be threatened with death?”
Kacem’s story comes after a series of actions by IHEU highlighting the importance of secular views under the banner of “freedom of expression” and “freedom of religion or belief” including the right to apostasy in international human rights law, and noting that despite this atheism remains explicitly or effectively illegal in many countries. In Decemeber, we also published our first Freedom of Thought report on discrimination against non-religious persons around the world.
So, humanists are not idle in the global effort to abolish laws against “blasphemy” and “apostasy” and to education against the social persecution of the non-religious. We at IHEU can only campaign on these issues at the UN and elsewhere because we democratically represent a global community of national and local Humanist organisations who together form our union.
Anne Baker did the following drawing to mark the day:
“SudoNim” made the following poster:
Rafiq Mahmood sent the following poster and piece from Indonesia:
Cross-examining a Muslim
Prosecution counsel: What is your religion?
Defence counsel: Objection, Your Honour. What relevance does the witness’ religion have?
Prosecution: I intend to demonstrate that the witness is not only unreliable but is inherently prone to perjury.
Judge: OK, counsellor, go ahead, but this better be good. Answer the question, please.
Witness: I am a Muslim.
Prosecution: What do you have to do if you are a Muslim?
Witness: You have to say the kalima shahadat with utter conviction, you have to…
Prosecution: OK. We’ll start with that. What is the kalima shahadat?
Witness: Ash hadu…
Prosecution: What does that mean in English?
Witness: I bear witness…
Prosecution: Just the same as you are testifying now in this court?
Prosecution: It is not just expressing an opinion or stating your belief, you are testifying as you would before this court?
Witness: Yes. That is what I said.
Prosecution: With absolute conviction that you are saying the truth?
Prosecution: I’m sorry to press you on that point. I just wanted the court to be absolutely clear what the kalima shahadat means. Please continue.
Witness: Ashadu an lā ilāha illā’llāh wadahu lā šarīka lahu, wa ašhadu anna Muḥammadan ʿabduhu wa rasūluhu. I bear witness that there is no god except Allah…
Prosecution: Let me stop you there for a moment. Can you tell me how many people are in the courtroom? …
What are you doing?
Witness: I am counting them.
Prosecution: All I really wanted was for you to say “yes” or “no” but that is OK. You can tell me how many people are in the room because you can see them and you can count them. Is that correct?
Witness: That is correct.
Prosecution: Do you believe in angels?
Witness: Yes, I do.
Prosecution: How many angels are there in this room?
Witness: I don’t know. I can’t see them. They are invisible to human eyes.
Prosecution: So if you can’t see them, you can’t count them?
Witness: No, I can’t.
Prosecution: Have you ever seen a god?
Witness: There is only one god and we can see his creation all around us.
Prosecution: That’s Allah, right?
Prosecution: Have you ever seen Allah?
Witness: Everyone can see evidence of Allah all around us.
Prosecution: Have you ever read any of the plays or poems of William Shakespeare?
Witness: Yes, I have. I read them at school.
Prosecution: Are they evidence of the existence of William Shakespeare?
Witness: Some people say that he didn’t write those plays.
Prosecution: I didn’t say conclusive evidence. The works of Shakespeare are evidence of Shakespeare, right?
Witness: Yes. I suppose so.
Prosecution: And you have seen that evidence?
Prosecution: Have you seen Shakespeare?
Witness: Of course not. He died hundreds of years ago.
Prosecution: So let me ask you again. Have you ever seen Allah?
Witness: No. Not directly.
Prosecution: Is he, like the angels, invisible to human eyes?
Witness: The angels are servants of Allah. Allah is not like the angels. But yes, he is invisible to human eyes.
Prosecution: Now if there were other gods they would also be invisible?
Witness: There is only one god.
Prosecution: But let’s, for a moment, imagine that there were more of them. Would they also be invisible?
Witness: Allah forgive me for imagining it but, yes, they would.
Prosecution: Where is Allah?
Prosecution: Throughout the universe?
Prosecution: If there were other gods, where would they be?
Witness: Auzubillahi min ashaitan nir rajeem! There are no other gods, but, Allah forgive me, if there were any, they could be anywhere.
Prosecution: Anywhere in the cosmos?
Prosecution: So let’s recap. You cannot see any gods and they can be anywhere in the universe. You would have to travel throughout the universe to count them but you can’t count them because you cannot see them. And yet you give a witness statement, with utter conviction, that there is no god except Allah. How do you manage that?
Witness: It says so in the Holy Qur’ān.
Prosecution: Did you write the Qur’ān?
Witness: Oh Allah protect me from the deviousness of this kafir! Of course I didn’t.
Prosecution: Then it is not your testimony, is it?
Witness: It is the word of Allah.
Prosecution: But not yours?
Prosecution: Now let’s continue with the English translation of the Kalima Shahadat. You said that you bear witness that there is no god except Allah. Please go on.
Witness: He has no partners.
Prosecution: Please have a look at the bench. How many judges are there?
Witness: Only one.
Prosecution: Is there always only one judge?
Witness: No. Sometimes in higher courts there can be three or more judges.
Prosecution: Are they partners?
Witness: Yes. They help each other to reach difficult decisions.
Prosecution: But in this court, His Honour has no partners?
Witness: No. I can see that he is alone.
Prosecution: What about Allah?
Witness: He says he is alone, without any partner.
Prosecution: Can you see that he is alone?
Witness: I believe his word.
Prosecution: But can you see it with your own eyes?
Prosecution: Please continue.
Witness: And I bear witness that Muhammad is his servant…
Prosecution: What is a servant?
Witness: Someone who does something to help out.
Prosecution: Can you see any servants in this court?
Witness: Well, there is the clerk who calls the court to order and arranges stuff for the judge and there is the stenographer.
Prosecution: How do you know they are servants?
Witness: I can see them doing their work.
Prosecution: How was Muhammad the servant of Allah?
Witness: He gave an example of how people should live.
Prosecution: How do you know?
Witness: The Sunnah is narrated in the Hadith.
Prosecution: What is that?
Witness: The Sunnah is the example of Muhammad, Sall-Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam, and the Hadith are the sayings and deeds of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam, narrated by witnesses and passed down by chains of reliable people.
Prosecution: Did you personally witness Muhammad setting an example?
Witness: No. But the authentic hadith does and billions of people follow the sunnah of the holy prophet, Sall-Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam.
Prosecution: The hadith is a chain of hearsay evidence, is it? People quoting other people?
Witness: Yes, but…
Prosecution: Uncorroborated hearsay evidence is not permitted in court. Do you know that?
Prosecution: In any event, you did not see Muhammad actually doing anything. You didn’t see him doing his work, did you?
Witness: No. But the world is witness to the great blessings he brought.
Prosecution: But you didn’t see him personally, did you?
Prosecution: Please continue with the kalima.
Witness: Muhammad is his servant and messenger.
Prosecution: Is that it?
Prosecution: I am going to do something now. I want you to watch me and when I have finished I want you to describe what you saw. Do you understand?
Prosecution: What did I just do?
Witness: You wrote something on a piece of paper and then handed it up to the judge. His honour looked at it and nodded.
Prosecution: Did I give a message to the judge?
Witness: Yes you did.
Prosecution: Remember that you are on oath. Is it your testimony that I gave a message to the judge?
Witness: Yes it is. I saw you.
Prosecution: What did I write?
Witness: I don’t know.
Prosecution: I asked him if I could see him in his chambers afterwards. What did I write to him?
Witness: You asked to meet him afterwards.
Prosecution: Is that the truth?
Witness: I suppose so. That is what you said.
Prosecution: Do you believe me?
Witness: Sure. You are a lawyer and you are not supposed to disrespect the judge or the court. The judge would object if you lied.
Prosecution: Is it your evidence that I passed a note to the judge asking to meet him in his chambers?
Witness: Yes, er, no. I did witness you give him a note but I didn’t see what was written on it.
Prosecution: Take it slowly. Why can you state on oath that you saw what you saw?
Witness: I saw you. I saw you take out a pen and move a piece of paper in front of you. I saw you appear to write on the paper. I couldn’t see what you wrote because you were too far away. I saw you put your pen back in your pocket and I saw you hold the paper you had just written on and I saw you lean forward and stretch your hand up to the judge. I saw his honour take the paper from you and look at the paper. I then saw him nod.
Prosecution: Did you see Allah give a message to Muhammad?
Witness: Actually Gibrael gave the message to Muhammad, Sall-Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam.
Prosecution: Aha. So Allah gave the message to Gibrael and Gibrael gave the same message to Muhammad?
Prosecution: When did this happen?
Witness: Throughout the time of the holy prophet’s ministry on earth.
Prosecution: Were you alive then?
Prosecution: Have you ever seen Allah?
Prosecution: I put it to you that no part of the kalima shahadat is actually your testimony at all. No. You don’t have to answer that. Tell me please, what is the most important thing in your life?
Prosecution: Is it more important than your parents, your spouse or your children?
Prosecution: What is the most fundamental element of your faith? What is it that, above all else, makes you a Muslim?
Witness: The kalima shahadat.
Prosecution: Thank you. Your witness.
Defence: Are you allowed to lie in Islam?
Witness: No, although some say it is permitted if you are being persecuted or under severe threat. Normally lying is a sin.
Defence: Thank you. No further questions.
Syrian American photographer Mallorie Nassrallah sent in the following piece by Heez living in Damascus. He says:
I’m a nineteen year old atheist, These who know I am are four people among all my friends and family, I’ve suffered quite enough from what those four did already, so there is no need for others to know about it
I’m not sure how will you react to this message, I’m not even sure you’ll read it, but for me, am glad to make you the fifth person I tell about my atheism, I salute you.
Here is his essay:
The sky was raining meteors like poorly chosen coal would spit sprinkles of fire all around the circle of small stones near its flames.
It was a moonless night, unlike tonight, but that didn’t stop the image from coming to my mind, for the shining moon never stopped the flames from lighting up the skies of Damascus even more… For a moment there, you would simply stand, eyes full of tears, witnessing the practice of turning the long heard metaphor “the night became day” to pure reality. The image that came to my mind wasn’t so pleasant either.
It speaks of a night that I’ll never forget, gathered with my family on our luxurious roof garden, in a town we never thought would get harmed by either the regime or the unfortunately armed resistance. The night was a night of celebration for we were going to witnesses the astrological phenomenon of “meteor rains.”
The plan was really simple, we watch the meteors we know are falling far away from here, we try to take some pictures, we make a couple of wishes, we have some tea, and then we go downstairs to sleep. A slight change of plans, however, very out of our hands, turned the night into a catastrophic nightmare.
The place from which I witnessed the sky that night is different now. An orange sky exists now, something I’ve only seen before in the news about Gaza or Kosovo, maybe Iraq too, but never the oldest inhabited capital in the world; Damascus.
It’s very important to mention that the dates of the two nights are not very far apart, but the circumstances are. For in the first night, the future was foggier than ever. The protests and the civil movements had been on hold for a little less than a month with only little exceptions, the march towards Damascus by the armed, mostly Islamist resistance, had just begun. While the second night was long after the battle of Damascus had started.
So, on the roof garden, while witnessing a meteor once every second or so with dad trying to make sure his fake smile makes the rest of the family feel happy and safe, my younger sister reaches to the edge of the roof. She looks at a little boy down on the street, staring at the sky just like in all those Disney movies trying to count the stars. While she stared at him a weird voice started to fade in from afar, becoming louder by the milliseconds.
Tonight, the sky became as bright as it gets. I was on my way back home when the first explosion occurred, the shock was too immense for me to absorb before the second explosion, then came the third, then the fourth. What’s really ironic about tonight was the fact that the resistance blew up bombed cars in an area being simultaneously hit by the regime’s air force. Yet what hurts is the fact that nobody cared, nor paid attention. Everybody was fully aware of that fact, but it wasn’t something new, as the war going on in Syria never cared less about the people of this country. Still, both parties claim to be fighting in the name of the people.
The memory hit me first as I heard the screams of panicking men and women all around me, everybody was in shock for a second or two, especially those standing in the same street in which I stood, most of us were several seconds too late for death, and several seconds too early for it, as the cars that were blown up were on the two ends of that very street! That memory, the one that crushed my mind while still in shock, is as simple as the following:
I rushed to take my young sister off the edge with plans in my head to take her and the rest of the family to the basement, but as I reached her, I saw the young boy in the street, reaching out for what he thought was a meteor, I look up, then down, then up again, then a final look down before I scream as hard as I can “go away!”. The boy turns his head to smile at my little sister and I up on the roof–a smile beyond my words.
I cover her eyes and the two of us fall down to the dirt of the garden out of the pressure caused by the explosion.
The next hit was at our roof, clearly mistakenly, or maybe with the intention of making it look like it was a mistake. By the time of the second strike we were on our way down to the basement, crying, and at least for the moment safe.
Tonight was another nightmare; I could literally see people walking with parts of martyr’s bodies on their shirts or on their shoes. The first explosion gave the people around a minute to gather around the blown up car in order to clear the area of injured people, then came a bombed regime car, bombed not by the regime “I think,” but by those very Islamist groups moving through the rushing-to-help crowds. When people witnessed that, they started running in every direction they could, they went through the street in which I stood amazed to reach a safer place perhaps, but as many of them reached there, took a breath, and stood back, the third and fourth car blew up, causing a panic wave that I’ve never seen before in my whole life. 73 people died there alone. Why? They were not of the same religion of those who held the guns.
Another aspect that reminded me of that day after the whole thing was done, is the reason for which my neighborhood was bombed at the first place. That day witnessed a protest that was very intimidating for the regime to endure. It was titled “neither Islamic, nor Christian, we want only a civil country.” The Syrian regime fears such protests more than it fears the weapons of those practicing Jihad against it, for it ruins the reputation he’s selling of this revolution to be only about religion, a 100% false accusation, yet the opposite is being proven by those holding guns against the regime in the name of Allah!
The smile on a kid’s face, and 73 martyrs; that was the cost of only two out of many incidents I’ve witnessed in my hometown, the first by the regime, and the second by the resistance. And while I still refuse to leave this country, hundreds of activists, children, students, and others, are either being forced to leave, or leaving willingly in order to avoid worse times.
Why am I saying this? I’m a secular, idealistic activist, from deep inside Damascus; I have suffered some of the worst things sufferable by both the regime, and the armed resistance. I long for the days in which we used to get hit and shot at while protesting. I long for the days in which my voice was heard along with millions of other voices. I long for the days in which supporting the revolution with a gun was rather a sin. I long for the days in which the blood of the martyrs meant something more than just a number in the news bar on the bottom of the screen! I have always stood against the regime, but neither me, nor thousands of Syrian people will ever tolerate the intolerable, we won’t accept a regime nor a resistance killing innocents in our name. Period.
Stop the killing; we want to build a home for all the Syrian people.