Until people are free to come and go as they please

Maryam considers the question of who gets to speak for British Muslims. Her answer is no one and everyone.

She says there’s been a huge fuss about the fact that Maajid Nawaz included her in the brief film he made for Newsnight.

In the programme I explained why I define myself as an ex-Muslim. It is not enough for me to call myself an atheist when I receive death threats for leaving Islam. Calling myself ex-Muslim is a public challenge to Islam, Islamism and its death penalty for apostates. Until people are free to come and go as they please and without fear, there is a political necessity to label myself in this way.

Of course it made sense to include her in the film. Vyckie Garrison and Libby Anne have a lot to tell us about the Quiverfull version of Christianity, and ex-Muslims have a lot to tell us about being Muslim. The experience of exes is highly relevant to understanding religions, and all the more so when they are categories who are disadvantaged by those religions.

The point of the programme though is not that I represent the “Muslim community” but that regressive self-appointed imams and Islamist organisations do not necessarily do so. This is an important point that is often ignored in the media and by Government.

There is no homogeneous “Muslim community”. The “community” includes feminists, gay rights activists and those deemed apostates. Muslim does not equate Islamist; Muslim does not equate support for stonings, amputations, gender segregation and women’s inequality.

After all, people’s ethnicity, religion, gender, race, class, ability, sexuality, identity… do not define them; it is their politics and choices that do.

Well I would say both do, but I know what she means – it’s the things we’ve chosen that we really want to represent us, portray us, be what people associate with us.

I have just as much a stake in this debate as anyone else – Muslim or not – because to a large extent my life depends on it. As Islamists tell me all the time, no one is allowed to leave Islam and doing so especially publicly goes beyond the matter of apostasy to a matter of treason. This is they say is deserving of capital punishment in all countries.

You’re not allowed to leave Islam and you’re especially not allowed to talk and write about why you left Islam – it’s all or nothing; permanent or treasonous; total commitment or total crime. A nightmare.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    Intolerant religions rely on coercion – it’s the only way they can maintain their membership. The Catholic Church likewise used force – including torture and executions – to make everyone good little submissive, obedient members. The Puritans likewise set up coercive theocracies here in the American colonies. Even later, there was tacit coercion in small towns – the church was the hub of social life, and if you didn’t join, you would have no social life, which could be disastrous for you in a small community where everybody had to pull together to survive.

    I have identified a strong correlation between the rise of unbelief and the move toward urbanization – this coincides with the decline of Christianity in the US that was noticed starting some 60+ years ago. No one saw it coming, but in an urban area, a person has MANY different options for socializing. Churches can finally no longer coerce people into joining, and they’re seeing their membership plummet. People aren’t converting. Many, especially men, are finding that a social activist group like Rotary is far more suited to their preferences and their goals – their contributions actually HELP people, instead of just paying for some pseudo-monarch’s salary and the cost of a building.

    We who have finally – FINALLY! – achieved freedom from religious coercion must extend such protection to all within our borders. Otherwise, we’ve won nothing.

  2. rnilsson says

    Intolerant religions rely on coercion – it’s the only way they can maintain their membership.

    And that is also their weakness. Too transparent, once it can be seen (if that makes sense).

  3. medivh says

    rnilsson: a lot of sense. A glass cage is still a cage; once you see the glass, you feel trapped. If you don’t feel the need to venture that far, though, the cage can seem like a boundless plain that you’re just not interested in exploring right now. You totally could if you wanted to, but there’s stuff to do here and after that you’re too tired, and whatever other excuse you come up with to not venture out.

    Ok, it’s not a perfect analogy…

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