Pharbin Malik was sixteen years old when she died on a street in Birmingham, England, in 1989. She was killed by her father because she did not follow his religion anymore.
We could find no photograph of her anywhere online, or in newspaper archives.
It seems the world has forgotten her. And yet, her story reaches forward in time to touch raw and exposed nerves today.
Like there is no picture we can associate with her, so it is that we who leave Islam are somehow faceless, erased from history and kept hidden away.
The absence of her picture, and the silence accompanying her death, reflect the experiences of many of us who choose to leave Islam, and for that choice are forced to live in fear and silence.
Leaving Islam is the worst crime there is.
We hear the echoes of her story as they resonate in our own lives and in the lives countless apostates of Islam today.
The stigma surrounding apostasy, leaving Islam and openly saying so, is difficult to understand for people who have never had to face these taboos.
Apostates are seen in Islamic canon as sub-human, as the lowest of the low. When an Islamic extremist wants to threaten a Muslim they often carry outtakfir, a pronouncement that their rival is no longer a Muslim, and is thus deserving of punishment and violence, and even death.
The taboo against leaving Islam and the ever present fear and threat of violence deny people the most basic right of free conscience. Because of the fear of being labelled an apostate, criticism of Islam is stifled from within Muslim families and communities, leading to the oppression of individuals, and the suppression of dissent and questioning within Islam.
We ask people to remember the stigma faced by ExMuslims, and the intimidation, ostracism, violence and death threats that so often pressure ExMuslims to remain silent and ‘closeted’.
Stand with them. Remember them. Help them when you can.