They have given up their faith. They don’t want to live by rules that come from ancient times and don’t fit into a modern world.
Now 50 ex-Muslims who have turned their backs on Islam have met in Germany. They come from 30 Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Iran. Activists, writers, bloggers and freethinkers, they sometimes risk their lives with their renunciation of Islam and their far-reaching criticism. For example, they stand up for freedom of speech and women’s rights.
BILD was at the “Celebrating Dissent 2022” in Cologne and asked five ex-Muslims why they turned their backs on Islam and what it costs them personally.
Maryam Namazie – Iran
Maryam Namazie (56) is an Iranian-born writer and activist. She had to leave her home country in 1980 during the Islamic Revolution and has been living in exile in London ever since.
“Most of us didn’t choose our religion. It is imposed on us by the lottery of birth. I was born into a cosmopolitan Muslim family in Iran, so I never thought much about religion. I was not forced to wear a veil, fast or pray during Ramadan. I went to a mixed school and never felt inferior because I was a girl,” Namazie told BILD.
“Then an Islamic regime came to power in Iran after crushing a people’s revolution, and overnight it became a crime to be a free woman,” the Iranian-exiled continued. She left her homeland to lead a life worth living. And she continues to challenge Islam in power so that others may have the opportunity to do the same.
Rana Ahmad – Saudi Arabia
When Rana Ahmad (36) was eleven years old, she had to wear a headscarf in her home country of Saudi Arabia. She was born into a strict Muslim family and grew up religious.
In autumn 2015, Ahmad fled to Germany and started a new life in freedom. Her autobiography “Women are not allowed to dream here” received a lot of attention in Germany.
She describes what she experienced as a woman in Saudi Arabia. Ahmad campaigns for women’s rights in Germany and supports women from Arab countries. In 2017, Ahmad founded the association Atheistic Refugee Aid with other activists.
“For me, a woman in Saudi Arabia, it was impossible to live there. It was reasonable and natural to leave Islam,” said Ahmad in BILD.
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury – Bangladesh
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (46) is a Bengali publisher and writer. In 1990, Chowdhury founded Shuddhashar magazine. In 2004 he founded a publishing house under the same name in the state capital Dhaka.
︎ In October 2015 he was attacked for publishing materials by atheist writers and narrowly survived an assassination attempt by fanatical Islamists. He then went into exile in Norway.
“I had a strong connection with Islam, I believed in that religion. That’s why I was curious and wanted to learn and know more about the Koran, Hadith and so on,” says Chowdhury.
And further: “Slowly I noticed that there are many contradictions, it doesn’t make much sense, it doesn’t correspond to reality. This whole ideology seems to me a power deal. It’s about oppressing other people. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Jimmy Bangash – London/Pakistan
Jimmy Bangash is a psychotherapist specializing in working with ex-Muslims and Muslim LGBT people in an international context. His current research examines how ex-Muslims experience psychotherapy and what impact it has on them. He grew up in London in a religious Pakistani family.
► “The main reason why I left Islam is: Islam is inherently homophobic. As a gay person I had to live with the fear that the Muslim community in London would not accept me.”
“In my 30s I met some ex-Muslims and I was sure I didn’t want to be a Muslim anymore. Homosexuality leads to the death penalty in Islam. And that’s not all: there are even barbaric guidelines on how homosexual people must be killed,” Bangash told BILD.
Yahya Ekhou – Mauritania
Yahya Ekhou was the first to publicly profess atheism in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. After a fatwa (religious legal opinion) was issued against him, Islamists demonstrated against him and demanded his execution.
He was charged and had his citizenship revoked. In 2018 he fled to Germany.
► “I lost everything because of this religion, my family, my nationality and my rights. I left Islam because I saw and experienced how this ideology discriminates and kills people.”
In West African Mauritania, apostasy (apostasy) and blasphemy (blasphemy) are severely punished.
The well-known scientist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (81) also took part in “Celebrating Dissent 2022” and protested for the writer Salman Rushdie (75): The Islam critic was severely stabbed on August 14 in an attack in the US state of New York hurt.