Less theory, more practice: Why the reemergence of the Taliban should concern Britain

The women of Afghanistan were unconvinced from the start. You can’t claim to want peace for a nation wracked by 40 years of bloodshed, yet continue to exert extreme and daily violence across that very nation. Nor can you claim to respect women’s rights (according to your interpretation) if you openly target, maim and murder high-profile women. Clearly, the Taliban remain unchanged. They have revealed their lack of desire for peace through their systematic, destructive behaviour, whilst feigning participation in ongoing, unprecedented peace talks with the Afghan government. Given Britain’s instrumental role in aiding the removal of the Taliban from power, the lack of media coverage across the UK – concerning the re-emergence of the Taliban on an international platform –  and the likelihood of women’s rights gains reversing upon their return, is deeply concerning.

Why is the reemergence of the Taliban such a concern?

Britain’s commitment to usurping the Taliban and restoring peace and security to Afghanistan has come at a grave cost. Over the last 19 years, Britain has lost 457 soldiers, deployed around 10,000 troops, and spent over £25.5 billion through military operations in Afghanistan. The UK pledged a further £70 million to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces for 2021, with the aim to tackle the threat from insurgents and protect Afghan lives, through supporting and training  the Afghan National Army (73,000 soldiers) and Afghan National Police (20,000 officers). But why should instability in Afghanistan continue to concern us?

Large swathes of Afghanistan are on the brink of collapsing in terms of governance. Governmental control extends to around 30% of the country, with 20% under Taliban control and the rest split between Islamist factions – many of which are influenced or are connected to the Taliban.  And in spite of Taliban insistence that foreign troops leave the country, as one condition for peace, the consequence of this is Afghanistan could fall into complete anarchy, thus becoming a haven for international terrorist activity. This is the era of globalisation, where terrorism is planned and perfected in fundamentalist training camps in Afghanistan -and the wider region- and implemented particularly in western Europe, especially in recent years.   

Women’s rights gains in Afghanistan are under siege by the Taliban

Women activists have voiced the necessity of their rights remaining firmly on the negotiating table. The female experience in Afghanistan is already a harrowing one. In Afghanistan today, 1 in 3 girls are married before adulthood, only 19% of girls under 15 are literate, and 3.7 million children are not in school, 60% of which are girls.

During Taliban rule, less than 10% of girls were enrolled in primary schools. Women were prohibited from holding professional careers.  Under the Taliban, there were hardly any women civil servants. By 2020, 21% of Afghan civil servants were women, and 27% of Afghan MPs were women. Since the initiation of the peace talks last September, the Taliban have openly increased their targeting of students, colleges , women activists, political figures and journalists. These spate of high-profile killings in 2020  include the deaths of TV presenter Malalai Maiwand, on 10 December, and women’s rights activist Freshta Kohistani, on 24 December.

Women, already marginalised in Afghanistan, could have their careers and educational opportunities wholly taken from them, and their fundamental rights relegated, should the Taliban dominate negotiations with  the Afghan government . This false perception of education not only as a ‘western’ concept, but also that it should be denied to women, is dangerous and widespread among other Islamist factions such as  Al Shabab and Boko Haram. The Taliban’s current recognition on international political platforms positions them to re-influence and re-inspire those who terrorise their own populations, particularly its women. 

Women are the key to genuine and sustainable peace in Afghanistan – as seen in peacebuilding efforts in a post-genocidal Rwanda for example . Theoretically talking about peace does not drive a nation forward: practicing it does. Women are natural carriers and implementers of peace. Women are also disproportionately affected by war. Naturally, they are primary targets for the Taliban. The Women, Peace and Security agenda in Afghanistan is a priority for Britain, and has steadily gained momentum over the last 19 years. Perhaps the most notable example of this is the UK National Action Plan for Afghanistan, using UNSCR 1325 as its basis, which elevates women in peacebuilding and peacekeeping in Afghan society, and promotes female participation in all political negotiations and decisions concerning a sustainable future for all Afghan citizens. Britain has invested £4.5 million thus far to particularly  increase women’s participation in local elections.

The future of Afghanistan is at a crossroads, straddling between instability, insurrection and Islamist insurgency, or peace, progression and promotion of women as equal citizens, community builders, and local and national leaders. The return of the Taliban, an unrelenting ideology intent on violating peace -even during their sit-down with the Afghan government on 12 September 2020 –  should be just as concerning to Britain as it is in Afghanistan. Britain’s investment in Afghanistan’s economy, security sector, political and educational rights for women and minorities – at the cost of British lives, time and resources- cannot go to waste as the Taliban pay lip service to theoretical peace talks. Peace is a practical concept. Now is the time to practice it, with the women of Afghanistan at the helm.

Please support WLUML’s No Peace Without Women’s Rights In Afghanistan campaign , through signing and sharing the petition https://www.change.org/p/government-of-afghanistan-afghanistan-protect-women-s-rights-demand-ceasefire-656cfd5f-2235-4d4c-9a7b-caf83ca919a4?recruiter=49766617&recruited_by_id=2ac8ada0-98b2-0130-fa0d-00221964dac8&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=petition_dashboard


Driven out of Bradford: Third world experience in First World Britain

In 2017, N. Lewis and I co-researched and co-wrote ‘Hate Crimes in the UK against ex-Muslims: Experiences, Effects & Recommendations’ . The full report is enclosed at the bottom of the page.

Given recent attacks in France and ongoing, divisive violence, I wanted to draw attention to religious and other minorities silently suffering in communities where heterodoxy is not encouraged. In times of terror, the world has a tendency to become tribal and individuals are guilty by association. We often forget about those who live in fear that members of their own family, religious groups and communities could kill them for not wanting to stay within the remit of inherited circumstances.

This is a brief snippet of the ordeal my family were forced through upon my parents’ conversion. We experienced anti-Christian persecution from 2000-2016 until we were forced to leave Bradford, the very city my siblings and I were all born and raised in.

Nissar Hussain (Real name, Pakistani Background, Bradford).  

Summary: Nissar, his wife and his children (ranging from under 10 to early/mid 20’s) have faced close  to two decades of sustained, vicious persecution for being converts to Christianity from Islam. It  involved campaigns of violence, threats – including of rape, intimidation, harassment, spitting, drive by bricking, burning out of cars, and the house on one occasion, abusive graffiti, and attempted  murder. The police, in his experience, were, at least until near the very end, more interested in  getting the family out of the area rather than dealing with the perpetrators: the family has had to  move twice, once within Bradford, and finally had to be escorted out of Bradford by 10 armed police  officers.  

Nissar is a Pakistani ex-Muslim Christian convert from a Sunni background. Born and raised in  Birmingham, Nissar initially converted at 15 through reading the New Testament scripture in stealth  in his bedroom. However, family pressure and threats caused him to backslide , until the death of his  brother in 1996 spurred him into rededicating his life as a Christian. 

Nissar had moved to Bradford by then and as his children were born there, members of his local  community noticed he stopped attending the local mosque, his children didn’t attend Madrassah.  Once news he had converted spread like “wildfire”throughout the community as a result of  declaring his faith to a very close Pakistani friend who he befriended some years earlier, his family  experienced instant contempt and hostility. Throughout the years 1999-2006, verbal threats, spitting  and abuse, escalating to physical intimidation harassment on a daily basis to following Nissar or his  wife on the school run. Nissar was set upon and pounced on on a few occasions in full view of his  children, even put into a headlock on one particular occasion. 

Drive-by brickings became the norm, as the family experienced regular damage to the front and rear  bay windows of their property, in addition to the frequent smashing up of their vehicle. On one  occasion, another vehicle was used as a battering ram to drive into Nissar’s vehicle (Sept 2002). A  month later his car was engulfed in flames in the early hours of the morning (Oct 2002). Yet, despite  his car being written off 3 times and hundreds of pounds worth of damage to his property, the police  were more interested on having his family leave his local area than investigate further the overt  hate-campaign against his Christian conversion. 

‘It was clear in black and white really – literally so – black graffti sprawled across my window panes  and property walls : F*** Christians, Jew Dogs. We had clear footage of these young thugs dancing  on my car, putting my windows through, harassing my wife and kids for hours on end. I’d call the  police and log every single incident. I’d get stopped in the street and get told ‘’You’ve seen what  we’ve done to your car. Now we’re going to burn you out of your home.’’ Yet the police simply aren’t  interested. I had one police officer lose his temper in my home to tell me ‘’stop being a crusader and  move out’’, as though it’s that simple to just pick up and leave. My finances couldn’t permit it. The  police simply are not the police.’ 

The threat to burn the Hussain family home did materialise, resulting in a forced expulsion from  their area for a while. The vacant property directly attached to Nissar’s home was broke into and set  alight, in the hopes the flames would spread across to Nissar’s house (Oct 2002). ‘I remember the smoke penetrating our living room, suffocating us. The fire brigade came in no time  at all, but the kids were hysterical, crying and kneeling huddled together on the floor smothering  their faces in their laps. Outside the local young Muslim men gathered outside on the opposite side of  the pavement jeering and shouting and generally having a good laugh at the sight of the house fire  as four fire engines and their fireman furiously went about containing the fire. We ended up escaping  to a local vicarage to take refuge for a week.’

In June 2006, Nissar and his family moved to a different part of Bradford, where they enjoyed two years of relative bliss. ‘I didn’t tell the local Muslims I was a convert Christian for obvious reasons.  The few families living there just assumed us to be another Pakistani Muslim family and were  elated we had moved there and I was in no rush to correct them.’ 

However, Nissar was approached by the Channel 4 documentary programme ‘Dispatches’, who were  looking to investigate the experiences and treatment of apostates from Islam within Britain and who  had come across Nissar’s ordeal through reading about him in the local and national  newspapers. Reeling from the fresh, raw persecution over the last six years and feeling a sense of  duty and passion for the Christian convert cause, Nissar agreed to take part in the filming of the  2008 documentary ‘Unholy War’. However, it was this very exposure that reignited the persecution and the family were soon subjected to the same kind of anti-Christian persecution they had just left  behind which was instigated and orchestrated by a neighbouring clan family who initially welcomed  them, but now with their “instant contempt” were doing their best to drive the family from their  home in a similar way to what had happened at the previous location. 

Between 2008-2014, the social ostracism and hostility from many of the Muslim families in the area  soon turned into verbal abuse, fronted by this clan family. Nissar’s car windows were put through  eight times during these years and the family endured verbal threats and abuse. 

‘Nobody in my family were safe. I’d be out early in the morning, picking up shards of broken glass off  the streets, due to the fact this demented family has orchestrated smashing my car up for the  umpteenth time. My girls came out to watch over me this particular time and one of the chief  perpetrators was already out and about conspicuously, conveniently inspecting his and his brothers’  cars, despite it being 4 am in the morning. It didn’t take him long to launch into his usual verbally  abusive tirade with impunity and without any fear or consequences of the Law, when he saw a few of  us gathered by the car. The girls whipped out their phones to record him – we were fed up being told  by the police there was insufficient evidence to make arrests – and he was screaming blue murder,  ‘’I’m going to get your girls f***ed by the Pakistanis! Your wife, mothers and sisters too!’’ ‘ 

The prosecution of this abusive man, although only for a slight public order offence, sparked the  catalyst for an intensified campaign for retribution and to force the Hussains from their home for a  second time. Numerous physical altercations would become the norm, where more and men from  this large extended family would drive by the house, swear and follow Nissar’s wife and girls on their school run – it became almost a daily occurrence. 

‘They would openly threaten me and my family, telling us point-blank we were not welcome here,  that we should never have moved into the area, or Bradford per se. It was daily warfare, constant  mob rule. I had 50 people stood outside my property one day, the usual intimidatory tactic and I  bolted my door for fear for our lives, whilst screaming on the phone to the police that they had to  send someone down immediately. So what do they do? They send a PCSO, who after viewing  the footage, dismissed it as nothing more than a extended gathering! Gathering? I have a mob  outside, pointing up at my house windows, circling my car and taking note of my registration plate  and it’s apparently ‘a gathering’. We’ve been contending with this two-tier battle, this two-tier  system of political correctness that is terrified of being labelled and racist ; that refuses to confront  with Islamic intolerance and radicalisation per se – not just where apostasy is concerned. It’s exactly  the political liberalism gone wrong that facilitated the systematic rape of 1,400 girls in Rotherham. In  Bradford, there have been two race riots concerning the Pakistanis and police and so the local  authorities are petrified of disturbing what they term ‘race-relations’. I’d even called them up on  numerous occasions to relay that I’ve had another chief member of this family state he’s planning to have me beat up and in the presence of an independent witness. They are categorically uninterested,  as is my local MP and council, all voted in through the Muslim electorate (baradari system) and  whose loyalty definitely does not reside with a convert Christian.’ 

Nissar’s warnings to the police materialised. On 17 November, 2015 as Nissar was making his way to  his car, two men ambushed him and beat him with a pick axe handle – smashing his kneecap and  breaking his hand, leaving him hospitalised for 11 days. The police released a video of the attack on  their website, ‘conveniently labelled the attack as religiously motivated when all these years prior, it  was termed a neighbourly dispute. I was sickened to watch from my hospital bed, the MP Naz Shah,  supposedly ‘my’ MP, tell the world that the attack on me was mmerely a result of a ‘neighbourhood  dispute’. The system has really been against us from all sides. I truly realised that we were going to  get no help whatsoever from the authorities, particularly when the police shut down their  investigations regarding the attack 4/5 weeks after it occurred, due to insufficient evidence and  without informing me: I found out by accident whilst ringing CID to enquire of them. I now had to  focus on getting my family to safer shores – I didn’t know who they would target next.’ 

Nissar and his family have since moved into a safe house as of November 2016 in dramatic  circumstances: 10-Armed Response Officers descended upon our home as they had received  “credible intelligence to suggest our lives were at risk.” Nissar, naturally, remains an avid  campaigner for safe houses for Christian converts in Britain. ‘It really has come to this, the police, Church (CoE) and local politicians have failed. They are in denial  regarding the apostasy issue in the first place and wouldn’t know the first thing about the  tribal/cultural/religious mindset if it hit them in the face. Their reserved, refined English mentalities  could never comprehend what the ex-Muslim endures in this country also the Police and “Powers  that be” are extremely nervous and fearful of causing “race relations issues” and add to the mix  Political Correctness and you get Islam also Shariah “unhinged” and running rampant the length and  breadth of this Country and a “two-tier Law system.” Never in my life, having been born and raised in  this country – as someone who was taught to take on British values and for someone who is proud to  be British – never in my life did I think it would come to this. It is a national disgrace and a total  betrayal of this Country for those of us who leave Islam and especially for those who convert to  Christianity’.


‘Abdul’: From Islam to Buddhism

In 2017, N. Lewis and I co-researched and co-wrote ‘Hate Crimes in the UK against ex-Muslims: Experiences, Effects & Recommendations’ . The full report is enclosed at the bottom of the page.

Given recent attacks in France and ongoing, divisive violence, I wanted to draw attention to religious and other minorities silently suffering in communities where heterodoxy is not encouraged. In times of terror, the world has a tendency to become tribal and individuals are guilty by association. We often forget about those who live in fear that members of their own family, religious groups and communities could kill them for not wanting to stay within the remit of inherited circumstances.

‘Abdul Aziz’ (Pseudonym, Gujurati background) 

Summary: ‘Abdul’ left Islam for a Buddhist-influenced spirituality as a teenager, and he has  kept his status as an ex-Muslim secret for over a decade from all bar a handful of people outside of  his ‘analogue’ life. The reasons are fear of violence or death from extended family and others, fear of  what the shame would do to his ailing mother, and fear of ostracism. He is unmarried because he  fears it will compromise his secrecy, leading to tensions. He maintains a facade of Islamic  observance, but it has a psychological toll, and he hopes one day to gain the inner strength to ‘come  out’ publicly.  

‘Abdul’ is a Gujarati ex-Muslim, whose pursuit for a spiritualist Islam led him to abandon the faith 11  years ago. 

I left Islam in 2006. I was 15 years old then. I tried to practise it before then and found it very hard  but I did try. From 2004 onwards, I started to become interested in spirituality, initially Sufism -I  used to think Sufism was Islam – you have to practise meditation and pray. At that time, I wanted to  be a good Muslim, a proper Muslim and I was on a spiritual path – but I ended up leaving Islam due  to this one friend, who was more my mentor. I used to believe in anything he would say, he used to  talk about meditation and prayer, but I started to notice contradictions in what he preached. One day something clicked inside me and I asked him, ‘’Do you believe in God?’ He said no. I just  broke down, mentally broke down because I used to believe in anything he would say. He would go  on to explain, ‘’this in Islam isn’t true, neither is that.’’ Obviously, I believed him, but after that  stopped talking to him and hanging out with him for half a year. During that time, I was coming to  terms with it – the idea there is no God: my whole belief in Islam fell down.’ 

For the first time in his life, ‘Abdul’ found himself at a loss regarding his belief and commitment to  Islam. 

‘The moment there’s one thought, then the whole thing is questionable, because you’re taught  there is nothing wrong with your religion; can’t be anything wrong with it because it’s the word of  God . But the moment there’s one thought, it’s questionable. I started reading articles online and  there was this ex-Muslim from Canada – posting quotations from the hadiths, all of which were  referenced. That’s the moment I left.’ 

Yet in spite of leaving Islam over a decade ago, ‘Abdul’ strongly fears and recognises the immediate  dangers to openly living as an ex-Muslim. 

‘The moment I left I knew I couldn’t say anything. I used to be like them. I know what Muslims are  like and obviously I’ve experienced the anger, I used to be like that. I used to be Muslim when in  2006, the cartoons of the prophet came out and you saw the anger. I knew I couldn’t come out, it’s  very risky. ‘I want to come out but the risks are too great right now – I feel I’m not strong enough to  handle it. I want to be free but at the moment I won’t be able to handle it, so I’m still trying to wait it  out. I do self -help mediation to give me confidence and stuff like that, cause it’s all in the head. I do  it to better myself and it will come out because time is running out for me – my mum keeps telling me  I need to get married and I can’t do that, I believe if I get married everyone will find out through the  moment I get married. I have a lot of things lying around in my bedroom which proves I’m not  a Muslim – I’ve got a lot of Buddhist material I’ve collected and bought over the years, so I  believe it’s going to happen and I believe that for me to be happy I’ve got to set myself free.’

‘Abdul’s’ personal situation and family life provides another factor in his concealing of his ex-Muslim  status. 

‘The most I fear about is getting attacked physically, by cousins, uncles because they’re not nice  people, they can be quite violent -at least their past suggests [that]. I’m more scared of mostly being  attacked, beaten up and also concern for my mum and the mental and physical impact it would be on  her. She’s on her own now, my Dad’s dead. I’m the oldest, I have one younger sister and that’s it – my mum isn’t strong mentally, she has health problems – she has high blood pressure, she lacks iron  in her body so gets tired very easily and she suffers from physical panic attacks. So I’m worked about  the impact on her. I have a feeling she won’t abandon me if she finds out but it would kill her on a  physical level but also, what people will think. I don’t want to tarnish my family’s reputation.’ 

These fears spur ‘Abdul’ into going through the motions of Islam, to avoid suspicion or questions by  those who know him. He stated that there are probably only six other people that know he has left  Islam, scattered across the globe. He is aware of one other ex-Muslim in person, someone he credits  for his leaving Islam – yet feels he is not as mentally and physically secure as his other ex-Muslim  example, to emancipate himself from the Islamic system of life. 

‘There’s some things I can’t avoid. I have to go to the mosque. I don’t go during the week – I used  to years ago up until early 2012 – but now it’s just on a Friday. When Ramadan comes it’s a bloody  nightmare! Not only do I have to fast and starve yourself but I have to lead the Ramadan prayers.  That’s because when I was younger I learnt the whole Quran off by heart. It’s an absolute nightmare  because now I don’t believe in all this.’ 

‘Abdul’ is largely exempt from any contempt he may face from family members, friends or the wider  community as he chooses not to mention it all, but he recounts an incident where he was verbally  abused for leaving Islam. 

‘I usually don’t talk to anyone about it, all my friends are Muslims anyway. If they find out I  probably won’t have any friends. But I used to talk to one girl online and I told her I left Islam. She  was shocked: ‘’No it’s not true, you have a beard!’’ She told one of her friends who I also talked to  online. At the time I would refer to myself as Buddhist back then. Now I refer to myself as a general  spiritual cultivator. So this other girl came online, swearing at me: ‘’you Buddhist mother******, you  bastard!’ . Straight away I blocked [and] said to the first girl ‘’what did you say to her?’’. She told  me ‘’I didn’t say anything , just that you’re a Buddhist.’’ This was in 2008, where I wasn’t even 18 at  the time. ‘ 

‘Abdul’ traces this type of abusive, contemptuous behaviour to the example of Muhammad.  ‘The prophet of Islam was like that and when so many people for so many years copy that, they  become that person. He was like that, it was a cult, almost a mafia thing.’ 

‘Abdul’ continues to live as a secret non-believer, but with the intent to one day come out, whether  that be through flight or confessing to his loved ones – he is uncertain.


Jalal’s experience from Apostasy to Agnosticism

In 2017, N. Lewis and I co-researched and co-wrote ‘Hate Crimes in the UK against ex-Muslims: Experiences, Effects & Recommendations’ . The full report is enclosed at the bottom of the page.

Given recent attacks in France and ongoing, divisive violence, I wanted to draw attention to religious and other minorities silently suffering in communities where heterodoxy is not encouraged. In times of terror, the world has a tendency to become tribal and individuals are guilty by association. We often forget about those who live in fear that members of their own family, religious groups and communities could kill them for not wanting to stay within the remit of inherited circumstances.

‘Jaleel’ (Pseudonym, Pakistani background) 

Summary: ‘Jaleel’ is a covert apostate, who is agnostic. His journey was a gradual one, from strict  Islamic adherence at university, but with questions and doubts about Islamic treatment of women  and other issues, questions which became more forceful after 9/11. He recently left Islam altogether  in his heart, and he describes the mental anguish caused by seeking to break from what he calls the  indoctrination he was subjected to. He maintains an appearance of adherence to Islam chiefly to  protect his family from the pain of knowing the truth, but he is also well aware of the death penalty  many hold is the proper punishment for apostasy.  

‘Jaleel’ is a British Pakistani whose subscription to fundamental Islamic doctrine during his years at  University exposed him to a literal interpretation of Islam, unlike anything he had previously been  indoctrinated with. 

As I went to university I got involved straight away with the Islamic society and I was  very much Muslim and practising, but the things that didn’t sit well with me was the inequality  regarding women – it did bother me a bit. But my white friends would come along to our events and  ask questions like ‘’why are the women kept in separate rooms?’’ and I would say ‘’they just are’’. But  that kind of got me thinking, well why are women kept in separate rooms and why are women not  allowed an opinion, or if they have an opinion, why are they assumed to be of a certain character?’ 

Jaleel shoved such thoughts to the back of his mind, justifying that this treatment of women was  how it was in Islam, that women should be covered up and separated from men. 

‘I was very much tuned up into this fundamental kind of talk -all these kinds of Mufti men – I would listen to these kinds of lectures and go to these kinds of lectures, was very much tuned into  these Wahhabi kinds of movements. I had no idea what Wahhabi was before, I grew up in a culture  of , oh Wahhabis aren’t proper Muslims and they bring something else – I grew up in  a Barelvi environment. So when I got to uni I thought this is actually the pure Islam – the ‘’ are you  Salafi or Wahhabi?’’ – I was quite hard core.’ 

[Editors note – Wahhabi Islam is a kind of extreme Islam that comes out of and is strongly supported  by Saudi Arabia and is exceptionally puritanical. It is usually thought to be a subsect of Salafi Islam,  which is also pretty puritanical. Barelvi Islam is a form of Islam from the Indian subcontinent that  has especially strong devotion to the person of the Islamic prophet, but also has Sufi mystical  practices such as veneration of ‘saints’, and is often regarded as at best dubious by Salafi and  Wahhabi Muslims.] 

Jaleel would still struggle with Islamic opinion regarding women, in spite of efforts to pacify himself.  It wasn’t until the events of 9/11, when an explosion of scrutiny and exposure of the Islamic ideology  emerged on social media, that Jaleel found himself studying a religion he previously thought he was  already aware of. 

‘After 9/11 there was this bug: who are Muslims and what do they believe? When really we just grew  up learning how to pray and what to do and what not to do. It was dogma more than anything, we  were narrated Hadiths about how wonderful the prophet was and why he did such things. He was so  beautiful and his lifestyle was amazing, but we never read the Bukhari texts or any of the hadith  books. But after 9/11 I still had these niggling doubts, but I still believed Islam was peaceful. Then I’d  visit a lot of forums -social media was becoming a big thing and people were posting a lot of stuff – I’d go to these pages where the majority of these people were racists or bigots who didn’t like  anybody else other than themselves. They held arguments against the Muslims and I would read a couple of times that the prophet was a paedophile and that really hurt me so I didn’t want to go  back, but slowly I did keep going back and maybe I did kind of like reading those kind of things. I  didn’t want to believe it was true but I saw that someone had posted a link to authentic Bukhari texts  regarding the life of Muhammad. We had all those books at home so I looked these verses up.’ 

Jaleel’s research into the life of a Prophet he had been led to believe was a solely a moral figure  destroyed him mentally. He recalled his pain during attending an Islamic lecture with  his friends, whilst grappling with his fresh discovery, yet continued to pacify and justify certain  actions of Muhammad. 

‘I read that he married Ayesha at six then consummated it at nine, it didn’t sit well with me at all. I would  watch programmes and people online trying to defend it : ‘’oh it was the norm back then,  7th century Arabia, nothing abnormal about it as this is what happened then’’. But once I opened  that can of worms, I couldn’t turn back. Again, I read about the Battle of Khaybar where Saffiyah was  taken and the marriage was consummated that very night and that didn’t sit well with me at all. My  whole life I had been told the prophet married his wives to make ties with them, to make ties  with these various tribes and people but really she didn’t have a choice- she was forced to convert to  Islam after her whole family had been killed – so how could that have been consensual? It made no  sense, so suddenly from then I was on a rocky road.’ 

[Editors note : The Battle of Khaybar is one in which the Islamic prophet defeated some Jewish  tribes, and massacred one particular tribe, the Banu Nadir, taking the women and children as slaves / prisoners of war. Saffiyah was a Jewish teenage woman of that tribe, the daughter of the tribal  chief, who had been killed in battle with the Muslims the year before, and was a renowned beauty.  At Khaybar, her husband was beheaded, and she was brought past the body to the Islamic prophet,  who offered her freedom if she would marry him, which she did. A frequent chant at some Islamic  events is ‘Khaybar, khaybar ya yahud, jaish muhammad saya’ud,’ meaning, ‘Khaybar, Khaybar, O  Jews, Mohammad’s army will return.’ In addition, because a Jewish woman poisoned Muhammed,  which eventually led to his death, it is also associated with depicting Jews as treacherous people.] 

Jaleel eventually made the move to leave Islam in August/September of last year after a long  struggle. 

‘These doubts would keep coming and I’d pray and pray – I still do, I still feel guilty – the  indoctrination isn’t something that you can leave so quickly. It’s an amalgamation of these things  and the actions of Muhammad that led me to think this can’t be the truth. Wife beating is  considered ok, a woman’s witness is only half of a man’s. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain good  things in the Quran, Muhammad did some good things but he also did some very terrible things  which [mean] I can’t then say he’s the role model of society – or my role model.’ 

Jaleel isn’t fazed by the theology side of things, as his agnosticism ensures he isn’t bothered by  whether God does truly exist. However, as a Muslim he would find himself feeling the need to justify  God’s existence to himself. Jaleel currently chooses to remain closeted and remains happier for  doing so. 

The only place I’m out is social media to people who don’t know me. I would attend these meet- up  groups, free thinkers, ex -muslims groups – with others of like mind. But coming out to my  community, there is absolutely no way for the absolute obvious reason. It’s not a huge community  but a close-knit one and it would destroy everything I love. I love my family: there’s  this assumption that you have to leave your family once you’re an ex-Muslim, but that’s not true. My  family are not bad people, they just happened to grow up with this, but I can’t come out with it because it would literally destroy everything and I wouldn’t want to do that to my family,  my parents. The easier way out is not to say anything – yeah I may have to go through the motions  but it doesn’t hurt me in any way. But what does bother me sometimes is when people praise  Muhammad so much and I think ‘’ if you were to read this and that you might change your mind’’ .’ 

Jaleel’s current convictions towards his former faith are largely due to the spotlight shone on Islam  in recent times. ‘Islam was not under the microscope back then, like it is now. What it means to be a  Muslim now comes more from ‘’the Quran says this, the Hadith says that’’. It goes beyond the basics  – whereas Muslims generations ago would have no idea what was in the Quran. They were taught to  read it and eloquently so, but they couldn’t understand it. I mean, I could read the Quran yet didn’t  understand it. But back then, being taught how to pray, how to fast was what Islam meant  generations ago. Islam is not a religion anyway, it’s a cult where so many things are dogmatic. Give  me a reasonable reason – when kids are being butchered in Syria – why Allah would care which foot I  step into the toilet with or which hand I wipe myself with? It’s totalitarian – you’re told about what to  do and how to do it and you cannot leave. I suppose it’s the same in all religions but not to this effect,  there’s a death penalty for apostasy and there’s a lot of people who believe that openly which is very  scary. There’s all these British people who have all these kinds of views.’ 

Yet whilst Jaleel has formally abandoned his prior ideological belief, the psychological scarring is  very much a thing of his present. 

‘I don’t think it’s an easy thing to change – that’s the problem. You can’t and it’s passed down  and its how people learn. So many of these people come from places like Pakistan, where Islam is the  be all and end all and that’s all they know. They come here and preach it and it’s what kids learn. I  still feel so guilty, it really messes you , you really need to speak to someone. I feel guilty  for questioning and leaving it, but also guilty for ever believing it; this man took sex slaves, married  children and killed innocent just because he wanted to spread his ideology. Your mind is imprisoned  by this and psychologically you can’t really move on even leaving it. I still can’t bring myself to eat  non-halal food, it’s a big thing for me at the moment as I’m still a new ex-Muslim. The indoctrination  isn’t just a word, but a real thing that affects people. I have nothing against Muslims, there are some  great Muslims! But Islam is cultish and makes you do some crazy things, so rightfully people are  starting to leave. This one book ruins many people’s lives.’ 

Jaleel continues to live as a closeted ex-Muslim to his family and close community, but feels happier  for choosing to do so, as he is convinced open admission of his agnostic status would severely hurt  his loved ones. Given that he believes nobody knows what the heart believes anyway, he doesn’t see  the point in coming out of his closet any time soon.


Barry, Apostasy and Humanism

In 2017, N. Lewis and I co-researched and co-wrote ‘Hate Crimes in the UK against ex-Muslims: Experiences, Effects & Recommendations’ . The full report is enclosed at the bottom of the page.

Given recent attacks in France and ongoing, divisive violence, I wanted to draw attention to religious and other minorities silently suffering in communities where heterodoxy is not encouraged. In times of terror, the world has a tendency to become tribal and individuals are guilty by association. We often forget about those who live in fear that members of their own family, religious groups and communities could kill them for not wanting to stay within the remit of inherited circumstances.

Barry’ (Pseudonym, Pakistani background) 

Summary : ‘Barry’ is semi-openly an atheist apostate (although he would not describe himself as  such) who, among other things, struggled with sentiment in Mosques that prayed regularly to be  given superiority or authority over non-Muslims. He and his family have suffered some verbal abuse,  and due to pressure from the local mosque he lived close to was forced to move house. 

‘Barry’ first began to question his prior Islamic beliefs upon coming to Britain. He describes the  fundamental perception of his experience with Muslims: 

‘The Muslims view the world in a very different way, they believe if you’re a Muslim then you’re a  human being. If you’re not a Muslim, you’re not a human being and you don’t deserve to live. I was  born and raised in a Muslim family, I read the Quran – 4 versions of it – I read the Hadiths, I studied  Islam. When I came to the UK my mind was changed. The UK was a different world – I met people, I  changed my mind and when I went down to the British Secular meetings and the Humanist  Association , then I realised life was very different. All humans are the same.’ 

‘Barry’ struggled with his Islamic beliefs at his local mosque. ‘I used to go to Friday prayers and  there’s a ritual there where they say ‘‘O, God please give us authority over non Muslims’’ and I  thought why do we need to pray give us authority over non-Muslims? I realised they were going to a  wrong side but I never announced I was a thinking differently. To announce you’re thinking  differently gets you in trouble.’ 

As ‘Barry’ shifted further away from the Islamic mindset, he became more critical of Islamic doctrine  and became aware of how life can irrevocably change. 

‘Often when you move away from the Muslim mindset, it’s a different world. Your friends are gone,  your family’s gone, the relationships are gone. It’s very hard to cope with and it’s not very easy. I’ve  noted that people have moved away , have turned their backs and that’s very common.’ 

‘Barry’ gave up what he calls the Islamic mindset in 2011, citing his belief to be the religion of  humanity. ‘ I’m a humanist because if I can love humans, that’s the best religion and I don’t care if  someone is a Christian, Jew, whatever sort of Muslim, Hindu or Sikh – I believe in human rights. I’m a  member of the British Secular Society, I go and talk to the ex-council of Muslims. I do get called an  apostate, I have been accused of declaring I’ve renounced Islam and that is not true. I know many  people who have left Islam – so my question is – who announces it? We don’t need to announce it,  what benefit do we get from announcing you’ve left Islam? I’m just an ordinary man, so if I’m  an atheist , I’m an atheist at home. I consider myself a critic of Islam. Yes, I’m against fanatics,  especially this Salafi sect of Islam. They are the most extreme and have no respect for anyone. I am a  strong believer that Sharia is the end of human civilisation.’ 

‘Barry’s’ views didn’t go down well with his friends, who would always criticise his perception of  Islam, yet he would tell them that he opinions were shaped by what he read in the hadiths. ‘I would  give the example of when Muhammad married Ayesha at nine – there are hundreds of hadiths that say  she was playing with dolls when she was getting married but they don’t want to know. If you ask  them if the Hadiths are correct they say yes, if you don’t believe the Hadiths are correct then you are  an apostate, or a non-Muslim. But when you say there are 120 Hadiths confirming that Muhammad  married Ayesha as a child, they’ll deny it. I can see there’s an insanity there and it’s not that I’m  fighting with them, but whenever we talk about this and I have a different view to them only because  I’ve read the Hadiths, then I’m a bad man.’

[Editors note – Hadiths are collected accounts of the sayings and actions of the Islamic prophet. One  particularly authoritative collection of these Hadiths are known as the Bukhari texts. Hadiths in  effect form a foundation for Sharia law.] 

Barry’s contrasting view of Islam has resulted in a few verbal exchanges with some figures from his  local area, who would verbally abuse him in the presence of his wife and children. Due to pressure  from his local mosque to vacate his house, he eventually did so and currently lives in relative safety.