Former Muslims speak on social exclusion of those who leave Islam

Following the example of similar platforms in Great Britain, a blog called “Ex-Muslims in Finland” (Suomen Ex-Muslimit) has been running since 2015 providing information and experiences on leaving faith as a Muslim. The National Broadcasting Company YLE published a report on the two female founders of the blog and their accounts about social problems (former) Muslims face in their communities in Finland when they want to leave the Islamic faith.

The report accounts the women’s experiences as they struggle to tell their families about their choice while still “pretending to be a Muslim” by continuing some of the Islamic practices such as wearing the headscarf. The women report how especially in the Somali community, to which both belong, the social pressure from families, friends and the community restricts the freedom to make such independent choices. They note that sometimes as a preventive measure families have sent their children abroad to learn intensively about Islam if they notice that the child might be turning away from the Islamic lifestyle and religious practices.

Unlike in other countries such as Great-Britain, the women say that former Muslims in Finland tend to stay away from publicity to avoid negative reactions from their social environment. Another former Muslim of Middle-Eastern origin (male), accounts that in his home country the punishment for apostasy according to the Sharia law is death. The two women maintain that especially the situation of women is difficult in religious communities in Finland, as many rules such as dress codes restrict their lives. They additionally argue that the Qur’an does not acknowledge women as individuals with an agency but as bound to their functions in relation to their male family members.

The report unfortunately gives little space to other perspectives on the issue. One of them is a comment of a prominent journalist of Somalian origin Abdirahim Hussein. He notes that during his 22 years of stay in Finland he has not heard of any instances where a person who has declared leaving the Islamic faith would have treated badly by other Muslims. The report also included a short comment from the imam Anas Hajjar emphasizing that death threats and social exclusion are not accepted forms of behavior when a Muslim is having doubts in his faith but rather encourages to dialogue about the issue with the person in question.

Finland’s only proper mosque is in the small town of Järvenpää Helsingin Sanomat

So far there is only the one purpose-built mosque in Finland, the Järvenpää Mosque, which was erected in the 1940s. The timber-framed building also includes a small minaret, but as in most non-Muslim countries, the call for prayer from the minaret is not permitted.

The Järvenpää Mosque belongs to the Islamic congregation of Finland’s Tatars, established in 1925. “Apart from the one actual mosque, we can only speak of prayer-houses here in Finland. The majority of the country’s just under forty houses of prayer are in the capital area”, says the Finnish Islamic Association spokesperson Isra Lehtinen.

In the Helsinki region there are seven sizeable Muslim mosques. Prayer-houses have been set up, for example, in converted bank branches and in old cinemas. Finland is home to an estimated population of 40,000 Muslims — the same size as the total population of the town of Järvenpää.