Those of us who reject the theology of Islam are ex-Muslims.
Ex-Muslim groups emphasize the need to use the ex-Muslim label because it helps normalize dissent. It sends an important signal across the world: former Muslims who no longer believe, do in fact, exist. No longer should former Muslims hide their dissatisfaction with Islam or their true convictions regarding Islam’s truth claims, its injunctions variously interpreted, or its rigid structures of control.
If we as ex-Muslims do not say anything about our identities, then for the most part, we are assumed to be Muslims. This, by virtue of the fact that many of our families are religiously observant. This perception is also due to our cultural backgrounds, our immigrant histories, and quite noticeably, our very names.
We broadcast “Muslim” as the default setting. This feeds into misleading and inaccurate Islamic propaganda regarding the number, the composition, the ubiquity, the desires, and the views of Islam’s supposed adherents. We want to correct those misperceptions by having our voices heard. We want to be counted correctly and not as pawns in the political schemes of those who would promote identity politics.
The ex-Muslim label helps to empower others who have mistakenly labored under the false belief that one could never actually leave Islam.
We wear the badge ex-Muslim with pride. We wear it for those who do not have the freedom to proclaim the same. Sadly, across the Muslim world, there are too many who do not have the freedom to exercise this basic human right of self-determination.
We speak for the atheist bloggers hacked with machetes in Bangladesh in broad daylight.
We speak for the free thinkers and secular activists in Pakistan who have increasingly gone missing.
We speak for the atheists and agnostics in Iran and Saudi Arabia who live in fear and who must hide their true identities.
We speak for those non-believers forced to live double lives.
What almost all of these people have in common is something that you may not have realized without the awareness campaign galvanized into motion by the use of the ex-Muslim label. These people weren’t just atheists, agnostics or freethinkers living in a vacuum. These people had left Islam. They were and are, ex-Muslim.
And so we speak out—we who do have the freedom to identify as ex-Muslim. We speak not only for ourselves, but for those without a voice.
There are elements within the broader global Muslim community who seek accommodation, espousing tolerance and civility but who in turn expose an ugly underbelly of intolerance when they come face-to-face with the notion that some people have chosen to leave Islam. This intolerance is intensified whenever ex-Muslims wish to peacefully and passionately counter the religious apologia of Islamic doctrine.
When a young man or woman can grow up in a Muslim household anywhere in the world, and openly leave the religion of Islam without repercussion, we will no longer need the ex-Muslim label. Until then, I and others around the world will continue to use this label.2
Generally speaking, it is Muslims who are most upset with our use of the term; preferring instead that we stay silent. The label helps us recognize and support one another. It helps us organize and mobilize. Our previous faith communities don’t care for us and our rights and so we stand up for each other.
I have begun writing because it is time for me to break my silence. I can no longer stay on the sidelines and pretend like I do not have strong opinions regarding the theology of Islam. I can no longer be silent about the problems, personal hardships, and social pressures experienced by many as a result of the unsubstantiated belief claims and the religiously driven social structures of control.
- With the brevity of Twitter, these will of course, only give you a sound byte view. You can dig into some of the underlying counter-apologetics by watching videos produced by many ex-Muslims, including those from The Masked Arab.
- This is in addition to the other labels that may identify and describe us. For me, humanist, secularist, free-thinker and agnostic deist all apply—and this list is by no means exhaustive. Many others with whom I share a skepticism of allegedly revealed religions will use the term agnostic atheist.