Leaving Islam for Atheism, and Finding a Much-Needed Place Among Peers

May 23, 2014

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Women talked about “coming out,” being open with their families, leaving “the closet” at a conference here this month. But the topic was not sexuality. Instead, the women, attending the third Women in Secularism conference were talking about being atheists. Some grew up Catholic, some Jewish, some Protestant — but nearly all described journeys of acknowledging atheism first to themselves, then to loved ones. Going public was a last, often painful, step.

Anyone leaving a close-knit belief-based community risks parental disappointment, rejection by friends and relatives, and charges of self-loathing. The process can be especially difficult and isolating for women who have grown up Muslim, who are sometimes accused of trying to assimilate into a Western culture that despises them.

“It was incredibly painful,” Heina Dadabhoy, 26, said during a discussion called “Women Leaving Religion,” which also featured three former Christians and one formerly observant Jew, the novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. “My entire life, my identity, was being a good Muslim woman.”

Ms. Dadabhoy, a web developer who lives in Orange County, Calif., and who often gives talks about leaving Islam, said the hardest part of the process was opening up to her family.

There are few role models for former Muslims, and although the religion’s history contains some notable skeptics, very few of them are women. Today, Muslim feminists like Irshad Manji and Amina Wadud advocate more liberal attitudes toward women in Islam, but neither has left the faith. And many atheists resist identifying with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-American (by way of the Netherlands) whose vehement criticism of Islam is seen, even by many other atheists, as harsh.

One group that seeks to bridge that gap is Ex-Muslims of North America, which had an information table in the exhibition hall. Members of the group, founded last year in Washington and Toronto, recognize that their efforts might seem radical to some, and take precautions when admitting new members.

Netherlands’ Group Launches Shelters For Ex-Muslims

‘Open Doors,’ a major Netherlands-based Christian group, has launched a global initiative to set up shelters for ex-Muslims who have converted to Christianity. Founder of the organization Anne van der Bikl said that the shelters will be safe places where former Muslims can find safety and spiritual support. He added that ‘Open Doors’ will also provide medical aid and job support for those who have suffered as a direct result of their conversion.

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Ex-Muslims Demand Right to Renounce Islamic Faith

Are Ehsan Jami’s methods promoting religious tolerance in the Netherlands? Controversially, 9/11 was chosen as the date to sign the “European Declaration for Tolerance.” It aims to draw attention to what the former Muslims see as the lack of freedom of religion within Islam. Former Muslims from several European countries signed the declaration in the Hague on the sixth anniversary of the terror attacks in the United States Tuesday. Other signatories included many well-known Dutch politicians, authors and journalists. The date of the declaration, Sept.11, was symbolically chosen in order to condemn the terror and intolerance perpetuated by radical Islamic militants, though critics argue that choosing the date unfairly links Islam to terrorism.

Controversial Former MP Hirsi Ali Defends Committee for Ex-Muslims

{Some prominent Dutch personalities have recently collided over how to respond to the newly created Committee for Ex-Muslims. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former MP and Dutch intellectual, supports the Committee and its chairman Ehsan Jami, also a current MP. For more information about Hirsi Ali and the Committee for ex-Muslims, see the [Netherlands country profile.->http://www.euro-islam.info/spip/article.php3?id_article=294} Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the controversial former Dutch MP who now works for a conservative American think-tank in Washington, has strongly criticised the Labour party for its attitude towards Labour councillor and chairman of the ex-Muslim committee Ehsan Jami. Hirsi Ali, who has the same spokeswoman as Jami, told the Dutch press that the Labour party seems to have more solidarity with intolerant fundamentalists than _freedom fighters’ such as Jami. Hirsi Ali said she supports Jami and condemned the _barbarians’ who attacked him. Jami was placed under police protection last week following an attack by three men believed to be Islamic fundamentalists. Jami has made a number of controversial statements about Islam. Labour leader Wouter Bos has made it clear that his party will not support the ex-Muslim committee and said he was unhappy with the way Jami has chosen to attract attention for problems within the Muslim community.

Ex-Muslims in secular push

A new group of secular-minded former Muslims in the UK has urged the government to cut funding to religious groups and to stop pandering to political Islam. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, launched yesterday in London, opposes the interference of religion in public life. Its spokeswoman, Maryam Namazie, said the group provided an alternative voice to the “regressive, parasitical and self-appointed leaders” from organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Human Rights Commission. “We want to challenge the Islamic movement,” she said. “It does not surprise me people are afraid to criticise Islam. There has been too much appeasement. There are policies and initiatives aimed at Muslims and this approach divides society.” The council calls for the freedom to criticise all religions and the separation of religion from the state and legal system. Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “We’re not taking them seriously. I don’t think Muslims will have time for this.”