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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

NSS supports the launch of the Ex-Muslim Council of Britain

The Ex-Muslim Council of Britain was launched this week on a wave of good wishes and congratulations at an inspiring event at the House of Commons in Westminster.

Maryam Namazie, the NSS’s Secularist of the Year for 2005, is the voice of the London chapter of an organisation that is making waves throughout Europe. Following on from Mina Ahadi’s high-profile launch of the German Council of Ex-Muslims, other groups have sprung up all over Europe. It is clear that there is a need for an organisation that encourages people from a Muslim background who are uncomfortable being defined by a religion they may have abandoned. Maryam Namazie said that there was an urgent need for another voice to counter that of political Islam, represented in this country by such groups as the Muslim Council of Britain, which she described as “regressive” and the “oxymoronic” Islamic Human Rights Commission.

Ms Namazie said that the new group was about protecting and promoting the human rights of people everywhere, rights which were routinely abused and trampled on by the proponents of political Islam. She said that the group was not anti-religious, it was anti-politicised religion.

A Muslim man who came to the launch said that he valued his religion and had heard no evidence that Islam per se was the cause of misery and conflict, Maryam said that she was not against Muslims – only political Islam. “My parents are Muslims,” she said, “and they are nice people. There are plenty – the majority – of Muslims who are nice people. But political Islam is not nice. It routinely takes away the rights of women and children, and it threatens and terrorises those who will not come into line with its ideology.”

Also present at the launch were Mina Ahadi, the woman who started the ex-Muslim movement and Mahin Alipour who heads the Scandinavian Council for ex-Muslims. Both spoke passionately of their belief that people from a Muslim heritage who no longer wish to be identified by their religion – or even have a religion – should be free to say so and to be heard.

The NSS was pleased to co-sponsor the launch of this new enterprise and NSS president Terry Sanderson said: “This is fundamentally a fight for human rights, but I want to add my admiration for the courage of the people behind this initiative. They are in the vanguard of something that has the possibility to change the world for the better. It is probably the first time in history that such a thing has happened – the first time it has been possible for it to happen. As people from Islamic societies emigrate to the West they suddenly find a culture of human rights that allows them at last to renounce their religion if they want to. This is something that is completely impossible in the cultures they have come from.

“Although it would take even more courage to abandon your religion in an Islamic country than it does here, I hope that the example set by these women will eventually provide a spur to others who live in Islamic states to take the plunge. I hope that this idea spreads like a virus, or perhaps like one of Richard Dawkins’ memes. Because of the wonders of modern communications technology this is now a possibility. Let us hope it becomes an unstoppable wave.”

NSS honorary associate A.C. Grayling was also there to pay homage to the courage of these pioneers. The previous day he had written a glowing essay in the Comment is Free blog in the Guardian, in which he also reproduced the launch manifesto of the new group. Read it here

After the speakers, one man rose from his seat and said that he was from a Muslim background and that he had wept as he had listened to the women on the platform speaking,. He said that he had known since he was 14 that he was an atheist, but was not able to tell anyone in his strictly religious community. Even now he felt too intimidated to reveal his surname, but he was inspired and encouraged by what he had heard.

We hope that thousands – maybe even millions - of other Muslims around the world will hear the message of Maryam, Mina, Mahin and all the others who have been brave enough to be the first to say: I will not be defined by my religion, I will not be put into a box that limits my humanity and renders me powerless.
See also: Some coverage of launch from the BBC
Daily Telegraph
Washington Post

Published Fri, 22 Jun 2007