I was Muslim: The reason I became an active atheist is now why I’m not one

Disclaimer: I didn’t want to write this. I am no one. An insignificant blogger, with no hard financial security, no listing on a best-seller list. I am about as much a threat to rich, older, white men as a mosquito is to a rock. I don’t do this for “hits” (the small amount I make from Freethought Blogs goes to charity. I don’t tell people that since that’s no one’s business, really, but feel it necessary to convey exactly what I’m setting up). There’s so little to be gained from doing this. But perhaps I should. (People who claim I’m doing this for clickbait are to be taken as seriously as those claiming men supporting gender equality do so solely for sexual favours.)

For the few who have followed my writing (hi, mom), you know how much I hate being biographical. When I do write biographical material, it is to add to the largely low volume of ex-Muslim people willing to speak out. They don’t speak out because of legitimate fears, because the culture of Islam, even in Western societies, still carries heavy burdens hard to convey, because unlike a white atheist, a brown one with a “Muslim” name is uncommon. To this day, I’m still being told I “look” Muslim, when I’m wearing jeans and a normal jacket. I can’t escape the weird identity I have and it’s this identity which makes me so angry at the leading figures – i.e. white men – of a movement that changed my life. But I’m more fucking angry at the sycophantic nature of a movement that was supposed to have abandoned sanctity for reason and evidence.

I wanted to never speak about Richard Dawkins – or rather the environment that views him with infallibility. I wanted to avoid saying anything about Sam Harris. I got what I wanted from their books – both books, which I loved and which had a profound, life-changing effect on me. For the better. Dawkins made it safe and sane for me to question and engage; Harris conveyed a civil focus on deep questions that required evidence to engage in. Hitchens conveyed beauty and brilliance in the secular outlook, which helped me engage with my parents as I left. It came at a time when my parents divorced, when I had no friends, and no direction. It was a confusing horrible mess, yet here was Dawkins waxing poetic about meaning, here was Hitchens pointing to poetry and to Salman Rushdie.

But those same tools they used to carve out a path now remain clutched firmly in their hands, with a refusal to cut out the poison that sits within so many of us.

Including me. Including bloody me. And I’m not the one with honorary degrees, renowned expertise, PhD’s, New York Times pieces, best-selling books. But it can still be me.

Because I’m a man, who has never experienced sexism, who doesn’t know what stupid, shitty, sexist, misogynist thing I might say – today, tomorrow (but hopefully never).

Because I don’t know everything.

Because I don’t know what phrasing might sound like; and, even if I didn’t intend to be a sexist shit, no matter how many articles I write against sexism, doesn’t excuse one (severe) fuckup. Digging in my heels indicates I care more about maintaining an image of infallibility than that I’m a critical person willing to admit:

“I stepped over the border of ignorance and into bigotry. I never intended to hurt or harm. I would never want to do that to friends or innocent people. Please accept my apologies for saying something fucking stupid. I deserve your reprimands for being another man saying something that sounds like it’s from the 18th century.”

Because I hope to never have friends who say I can never be sexist, never be wrong, because I’m their buddy. Because I hope my friends recognise that’s not reasoning that would pass a first year critical thinking course: I’m sure many of the world’s most awful people (and no I’m not saying Dawkins/etc. are the worst people) were “friends” with other men.

If anything insulates sexism, it’s the idea that otherwise decent, good men can’t be sexist or cant do/say sexist things.

Yes. We. Can. I admit it. I can, I may be. I don’t know when. But I’m still a man living in a world designed for me and my gender. I’m blinded by that and by the stupid bigotry that is the norm. This would, I imagine, be worse when I have millions of people who adore me and say my work changed their life.

This entrenched “bros can’t be wrong/listen to the men/old, rich white men are victims of barely paid bloggers” is poisonous and not something I want a part of.

I’m sick of being told how to do my job by random white dudes, I’m sick of it happening to my friends – especially women. Of them being told how wrong they are about every thing. I’m sick of these men defending each other and their views and their ideas of what is actual sexism, what is actual feminism, what is actual oppression. Again: it’s not that they’re wrong by default. Of course not – John Stuart Mill is someone I’d struggle to criticise. It’s the culture of inclusivity that wraps itself around the giant men and around the image of the giant man because pesky non-men, non-whites, non-male adorers are making noises in one small part of the internet. I see this in game reviews I write. I see this happen to friends who are scientists getting their research explained back to them by non-scientist men in comments.

As a non-white person, as an ex-Muslim I’ve always struggled to find a space of inclusivity. The atheist space was one that looked like it could do that. One of the main reasons I took up metaphorical arms was watching how Islam continued sexist biases in the 20th century, even from people I know, loved and respected. I watched brilliant, wonderful men continue sexist views (being served by women, separating women into different rooms, etc.): that’s why I find it believable that brilliant, otherwise good men can be sexist. The irony is that Islam can be blamed.

This is why I don’t blog or write so much about strictly atheist subjects. Perhaps that’s bad. Perhaps I should be doing more about ex-Muslims. I take heart knowing I’m contacted by people questioning Islam (very, very rarely); I don’t hide my views. Atheist is the only label I use (I don’t even call myself a feminist, though have no issue with others labelling me what they want if they can justify what they mean).

As a brown person in the atheist movement, I’ve never felt particularly welcome. Seeing the tactics of white men defendng other white men from obvious bigotry that isn’t obvious to them – and, worse, seeing their sycophantic followers convey these men’s infallibility – has never made my view more entrenched: I want nothing to do with this “movement”.

I thank all these amazing people – yes, including Dawkins and Harris – for what they’ve done. I thank them from the bottom of my pathetic “social justice warrior” “feminazi” heart. But this is no longer a space I want to be part of when the first lesson they taught me – question yourself, question your most deeply entrenched views, question how you might wrong – is now no longer allowed to be applied to them.

Adam Lee continues to be called a liar, without anyone saying what he’s lying about. Ophelia who has been watching Dawkins and similar highly prominent folks for years is declared an opportunistic, click-bait blogger. Forget her books, her articles, her columns. Greta Christina gets told by Sam Harris’ fans that she should shut up about sexism (again, not Sam Harris’ fault, but the culture of inclusivity, which is my major focus). On and on, it goes. Silence, lies, betrayal. No. No more.

I won’t be part of a movement resolutely more focused on shielding rich, white dudes than by being inclusive of marganlised, non-male, non-white people. Count me out. Call me back when we give a shit about women and you can admit those of us writing in a small corner of the internet actually care about moral action, not money, for what we do.

The only people who can survive off atheist clickbait are people who writes books called The God Delusion. It’s not fucking bloggers.


  1. 5Up Mushroom says

    This does such a good job of encapsulating the mix of anger and disappointment I have felt about the disgusting sexism and protection of that sexism in the atheist movement. I feel utterly futile against the constant flow of straight white men claiming that bigotry is non-existent or unimportant in the atheist movement. As a straight white male, I feel this way. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to not be a straight white male. Fuck atheism if this is what atheism is.

  2. says

    Beautifully said.

    How I wish none of this had happened. How I wish the atheist activist movement had managed to be what it could have been, instead of veering off into disgusting bullying of women combined with mindless unconditional defenses of the Top Men.

  3. ludicrous says

    You didn’t want to write this but I am glad you did. Maybe, just maybe ,it will be seen and open the door a crack for some.

    If I could have one wish it would be that everyone would accept that a feminist is not someone you either are or are not. It is a work in process particularly for men. I think it starts when one notices that the male centric view we grew up with is not the only one. I think we men can favor equality in many ways but if we don’t get in the habit of asking ourselves continuously “how might this appear to women” and then actually asking women, we hold ourselves back.

    I think Dawkins et al are trying to view, sexism, misogyny from with their masculine experiences. As you point out we men can never directly experience sexism but we can make guesses about what it might be like.

    I think we are trying to tell these guys what their opinions sound like to women. IMO it’s very difficult to tell anyone anything, but you can ask questions. I think if instead of telling them, we were to ask them how do you think this looks to a woman they would be stuck. They would be able to guess pretty well what a woman might say to them, but they wouldn’t know why. They are not asking themselves, “what might this look like to a women and why”

    A boy child is expected to not run like a girl, throw a ball like a girl, cry like a girl, and above all not think like a girl. These prohibitions are sticky and these guys are stuck.

  4. Eric MacDonald says

    What a beautiful put down of white male privilege. What is remarkable about it that the people you are speaking about Tauriq, are supposed to be sceptics!!! Ophelia has copied this post over at Butterfliesandwheels (I am a long time fan), and I have added further comment on your post over there. Good for you!

  5. Kevin Kehres says

    If anything insulates sexism, it’s the idea that otherwise decent, good men can’t be sexist or cant do/say sexist things.

    ^This^. Exactly and completely correct. It needs to be on a million T shirts. It needs a thousand memes with LOL cats. Everyone in the world should see a YouTube video with this as its theme.

  6. Al Dente says

    Thank you for this post. It was unpleasant to write and to read but it had to be said and had to be read.

  7. canonicalkoi says

    I’m sorry you felt moved to write this, as beautifully written as it is. It’s a damning indictment of the atheist movement as it currently stands. And the problem is that the guys at the top, all the older, white, established guys like the status quo. Hell, they love the status quo and will defend it to the last breath in their bodies. I wish just once that one of them would hear, “That was a sexist/racist thing to say” and instead of rearing back and getting indignant, would think about what they said. See it from another’s viewpoint. Hell, even admit, however briefly, that other viewpoints even exist. Then, maybe, eventually, we could all move on from this.

  8. Hj Hornbeck says

    You’ve eloquently summed up what a fair number of us are thinking. The pain of writing that was worth it.

  9. Hunt says

    That response from Adam Lee is a week old. Since then Michael Nugent has systematically analyzed the misrepresentations and “lies” (or willful ignorance) of his piece. I suggest you go read his blog.

  10. leni says

    Were you in your critical man posture when you wrote that? *side eyes you*

    It seems like you might have been, but I got a distinct coherency vibe thing that’s confusing me. 😉

    Thanks, Tauriq.

  11. says

    That’s one of the problems of lumping all atheists, who are naturally as different from each other as all theists, together in one vast movement. Just because one faction is dominating the narrative right now is no reason to rage-quit atheist activism. It’s really all the more reason to be more active, in my opinion.

  12. Al Dente says

    Michael Brew @14

    You can be as active as you want. Let us know when you’ve shut down the Slymepit, shown Dawkins and Harris the error of their ways, and won the admiration of Michael Nugent. Until then, I’ll go my way and let organized atheism go its way. Why should I waste my time and money supporting organizations who refuse to consider half the world’s population to be human?

  13. psanity says

    Thank you for this post. You express so well the grief, the gut-wrenching disappointment, that so many of us have about the excruciating slow trainwreck that is movement atheism. It seemed like such a good train. It seemed like a train that could take us to good places. Yet here we all are, standing by the tracks, watching the cars slowly buckle while those still aboard cheer on the drunken engineers.

  14. mildlymagnificent says

    I often say Good grief! for effect.

    But there’s nothing quite like the real grief of seeing something you value turn into worthless, moth-eaten trash right before your eyes. Even for those of us who didn’t admire these people, they were sort of like those family photos on top of the bookcase that we were quite comfortable to have in the background. Now that the light’s been shone directly on them, we see how shoddy, how dusty, how flyspecked they really are.

    I suppose there will be a pause and an adjustment of backpacks and a re-girding of loins and many, but not all, of us will set off on the next stage of this apparently endless trek. But surely it could be a bit less gut-wrenching a bit less often.

  15. says

    Absolutely spot on. Thank you so much for putting it so well.

    And good riddance to the “movement”. Meanwhile, the rest of us can get on with standing up for what we believe in.

  16. says


    But those same tools they used to carve out a path now remain clutched firmly in their hands, with a refusal to cut out the poison that sits within so many of us

    There are so many things about this whole crapfest that piss me off. One of the biggest is the refusal of Dawkins, Harris, Shermer, and Nugent, as well as their followers to apply the same tools of logic, reason, and skepticism to their own views. They’re all sooooo ready to use those tools to shred the entrenched views of others (provided they’re religious), but to apply the tools internally? Hell no. They *can’t* do that. To allow others to criticize them and explain in detail why they need to reexamine themselves? Hell no. They *can’t* do that.
    Instead of doing that, they double down.
    Instead of doing that they whine about being bulled.
    Instead of doing that, we get labeled as the ‘thought police’, ‘feminazi’s’, ‘jackbooted thugs’, ‘lynch mobs’, and other hyperbolic B.S. that doesn’t hold up upon examination (I question if Dawkins even understands what Orwell meant by the ‘Thought Police’).
    Gah. If not for the fact that I’ve found a subset of the atheist community that does confront their own biases as well as those of others, that actively works to excise their own prejudices and expects the same of others…I don’t think I’d want anything to do with the atheist movement. Which I guess is what that crowd wants. They don’t want more LGBT People of Color among their ranks-at least not unless its on their terms; and for all that they sit upon their ivory throne in their ivory tower, they are not my lords, kings, or bosses. They do not get to dictate the terms of my participation. They *will* treat me with respect. They *will* treat women, LGBT people, and People of Color with respect. Or they will be part of an ever shrinking movement that wants nothing to do with they and their status quo.

  17. says

    Kevin @7:

    If anything insulates sexism, it’s the idea that otherwise decent, good men can’t be sexist or cant do/say sexist things.

    ^This^. Exactly and completely correct. It needs to be on a million T shirts. It needs a thousand memes with LOL cats. Everyone in the world should see a YouTube video with this as its theme

    Yup, and Sam Harris’ “I’m not the sexist pig blah blah unexamined privilege” B.S. post needs to be held up as a prime example.

  18. Tauriq Moosa says

    Thank you all for the kind words. I am now very glad I wrote this, if it helped give some further voice to the disappointment and frustration so many of us feel.