You are shunned, treated as an apostate, a traitor. Your property is continually damaged. I have had physical assaults. You find yourself completely isolated, broken (Nissar Hussain in the Barnabas Fund 2016).
This chapter will examine the case of British Pakistani, Nissar Hussain, who emerged as Europe’s and Britain’s regional and national face for the ex-Muslim, Christian convert. The chapter highlights the persecution he and his family have endured from 2000 to present day, utilising excerpts from his daughter, Anniesa Hussain’s blog in which she documents her experiences as the child of an apostate; before examining the political police and legal failures in addressing the religious hate the family have endured, to conclude that there exists no freedom of religion for the apostate from Islam in spite of ratified Human Rights Legislation.
6.1 Leaving Islam, Embracing Christianity
Nissar Hussain has been the national face for Christian converts from Islam in Britain since 2001, when news circulating his apostasy throughout his local Muslim community in Bradford resulted in daily verbal and physical abuse that culminated in alerting local media, in order to address the innate suppression of ex-Muslims. Nissar officially converted to Christianity in 1996, where the trauma of his brother’s death left him soul-searching, leading him to find solace and truth in the example of Jesus Christ, where Islam had fundamentally failed. News of Nissar’s conversion soon spread, resulting in his disownment by immediate family and friends and his family endured daily harassment, initially in the form of daily emotional and verbal abuse; before resulting in damage to family property and physical assaults, forcing the family to flee to another part of Bradford in 2006. The family were approached by Channel 4’s Dispatches in 2007, interested in investigating the persecution ex-Muslim Christian converts and upon its release, resulted in a second wave of religious hate crimes, the most severe of which resulted in Nissar’s hospitalisation in November 2015.
6.2 Infidels Are Us
Anniesa, daughter of Nissar Hussain, set up the blog platform infidelsareus in 2014 in order to highlight the marginalisation of the ex-Muslim Christian convert. She recalls her childhood experience, growing up as the symbol of heterodoxy in the face of community orthodoxy. Anniesa has documented her life from life as a 6 year old (2000) up until the aftermath of her father’s attack on November 17, 2015.
‘Sustained Persecution of the Hussain Family 2000-2006’
From the time I was 6 years of age, my siblings and I endured daily verbal abuse, physical altercations, car and house window smashings. School playground hostility and school-mate deprivation. Death threats. Mob rule. Initial prevention of riding our bicycles in the neighbour common ground to then prevention of us playing on the street directly outside our property. I watched my father’s effort in erecting a 6ft fence in his backyard to protect his children become effectively decimated. I can’t ever imagine his pain, his helplessness when his fence still never stopped the glass bottles and bricks being hurled at his children as they played in their own back garden (infidelsareus 2015).
‘An Abnormal Normality’
I never understood, walking out of the house hand-in-hand with a sister or father, why our walls and windows were scrawled with the words ‘Fuck you!’ ‘Jew Dogs’ ‘Fucking Christians’ ‘Christian Dogs’ in ugly, black and permanent graffiti – marked out for the whole world to see. I didn’t see why so many Pakistani children at my school could look me straight in the face and tell me ‘we can’t play with you because my parents said you’re a Christian’. Nor was it acceptable to me, when they set fire to our neighbouring abandoned property, in order for the flames to lick across our house beams and set our house alight. At least when we had to flee to a local vicarage for safety, we were afforded a few weeks of peace and calamity. I could never accept the verbal and physical attacks on my parents and will never forget as a seven year old, an attempt on my Father’s life (infidelsareus, 2014).
‘Round II: 2008-2015’
In 2008 did the second round of persecution begin to unfold. I refer to it as the ‘second round’ since our current residence is the second family home in Bradford under which we’re enduring persecution. We were instantly shunned and faced immediate hostility from the Pakistani families on our street. There are approximately six Pakistani Muslim families on our street and upon seeing the documentary, became aware that we were not the Muslim family they’d assumed us to be – worse yet we used to be that Muslim family- and their contempt continues to this day (infidelsareus, 2015)
‘Bradford Attack: 17/11/2015’
Nissar Hussain is a living example of an ex-Muslim and it is this factor that doesn’t swallow well with Muslim families such as those who attempted to orchestrate his demise. His stance, his desire to fight his Muslim oppressors in a non-Muslim country has gained him enough hatred which culminated in an attempt on his life. If you watch the cctv footage you can see the pick-axe aimed for Dad’s head…
… It has come at a great cost but I think even Dad has finally accepted that one man is incapable of changing a system geared against apostates such as our family. So as we undergo a time of review and reflection as to where to move away from Bradford please continue to bear our family in prayer during the uncertain and uneasy transition. After almost two decades of sustained persecution, every single one of us has simply had enough. We want peace and stability, we want the ability to walk outside our property to a car that hasn’t been smashed, a father that doesn’t get brutally beaten. We need to be able to breathe and move freely (infidelsareus, 2015).
6.3 The political implications behind the persecution of the Hussain family
In his 2008 doctorate thesis, No Place to Call Home: Experiences of Apostates from Islam & Failures of the International Community , Meral (2008) situates the plight of the Hussain family within a political Cultural Defence framework:
Muslim diaspora communities tend to regard apostasy as a betrayal of their ongoing struggles with identity within their host countries. The more distant the culture of the host country is from an Islamic and Middle Eastern culture, the more intense the imperative becomes for maintaining Islam identity. When identities are precarious, their enforcement will take an aggressive form. This helps to understand why apostates face an equally dangerous situation, even when they are born and raised in a Western country (Meral 2008: 63).
The anti-Muslim discrimination organisation, Tell-Mama UK , re-quotes Meral in his allusion to this inherently political opposition to apostates from Islam, additionally also referring to the case of Nissar to deny any religious undertone to the persecution of his family, in stating:
A deliberate conflation overlooks the intricate dynamics of countries whose intolerance of apostasy is often political and not religious in nature… In 2001 (the year of the Bradford Riots), relations between the Asian communities and others were poor. So a conversion away from Islam was also viewed by some as a deep community betrayal. In that context, it might explain why the Hussain family suffered broken windows and street harassment (Tell-Mama, 2014).
Yet, whilst it is correct to highlight the political tensions and the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ paradigm as one result of racial/religious frustrations; it should also important to highlight the political correctness and fear of being labelled ‘racist’, or ‘Islamophobe’ provides the very grounds in which religious intolerance towards apostates from Islam and the very religious persecution directed towards the Hussain family is allowed to continue. It is also imperative to point out and include the overt failures of the Bradford police force and Bradford west local councillors and Members of Parliament (MP), as a political factor in the continuation of the persecution of the Hussain family.
Barnabas Fund published a letter written by Nissar to his local and current MP, Naz Shah, highlighting his precarious situation and the failures of the police, in addition to asking for her assistance in the matter:
Dear Naseem Shah MP,
Can I congratulate you on behalf of myself and family on your stunning victory and we can’t express our delight as our newly elected MP for the Ward of Manningham and wish you every success for the future. On a serious note can I express our utter misery and dire situation as Christian converts from a Mirpuri/Muslim background since 1996… when I had reported it to Police prior to this happening the Police sergeant’s response was: “Stop trying to be a crusader and move out!” In short the Police had wilfully failed us so as not to be labelled racists or seem to cause the Muslim community offence at our suffering and expense… I cannot express in words the Police failure over the years which has led to our suffering and have no confidence in them whatsoever and am desperate for your help (Barnabas Fund, 2015).
Furthermore, Wilson Chowdhry, chair of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BCPA) told the Catholic Herald that “apostasy crime” – committed against Muslims who convert to Christianity – needs to be more widely recognised in Britain. Regarding Mr Hussain’s case, he stated: ‘Police officers seemed oblivious. They didn’t put it down as a hate crime. They had it down as a neighbourhood dispute. That to me was atrocious’ (Catholic Herald 2015).
Police inaction and Shah’s failure to respond to this letter and lack of absence during repeated meetings Nissar set up to discuss his situation in more depth, must be analysed politically. Bradford’s issue with fundamentalism initiated with the public burning of the Satanic Verses , a key turning point being the 2001 riots which polarised factions of the Pakistani community in an already highly concentrated ‘ghettoization’ community structure; of which Nissar’s conversion is deemed treacherous to the wider Islamic Cultural Defence, perceived as opting out of identifying with ethnicity not just religion. This is evident through the National Secular Society’s interview with Anniesa who stated:
‘I realised we were different. Mum got asked in the playground, ‘‘why are you wearing salwar kameez, why aren’t you wearing a mini skirt now you’re not a Muslim?’’ Christianity is equated to whiteness. [Mum] said ‘‘my colour is still the same, I’m still a Pakistani woman’’ (National Secular Society 2015).
It is also important to note that, the necessity to avoid repetition of another Bradford riot and the re-election imperative of the local MPs voted in primarily through the Pakistani bloc-vote; the ‘Birardari’ –clan politics – (BBC 2015) system, which are crucial factors in the dismissal of the Hussain case as a religious hate crime by both the police and Naz Shah.
Nissar was interviewed by the Telegraph & Argus following his hospitalisation in which he stated:
“Our lives have been sabotaged because of our faith yet the police have never labelled it as a religious hate crime. It has come to this and the police have failed us. I have no confidence in them .We are under the cosh and classed as blasphemers. The Muslim community are largely decent people but because of the taboo of converting to Christianity we are classed by them as scum and second-class citizens. Most of the Muslim community here have turned a blind eye to what we are going through, there are some who have condoned it but there are also those who are directly committing hate crimes against us. Their objective is to drive us out again. We can’t go on like this. The plan is to move but we can’t do it overnight (Kathie Griffiths in the Telegraph & Argus 2015).
The same article also reported that the November attack was now being treated as a religious hate crime, with ‘Detective Inspector Andy Howard, of Bradford District CID, said initial investigations suggested is was a targeted attack and it is being treated as a religious hate crime’ (Telegraphy & Argus 2015). Yet the timing of police classification of the Hussain ordeal as religious hate coincides with the proliferation of interest in the Hussain case, as demonstrated in the tirade of media releases, such as the Daily Mail’s October 2, 2015 article entitled ‘Muslim family are driven from their home… after they converted to Christianity: Neighbours vandalise car and call them ‘blasphemers’ and the 19th November 2015 article, ‘CCTV catches terrifying moment Christian father-of-six was brutally set upon by hooded thugs with a pickaxe handle who targeted him as a ‘’blasphemer’‘ because he converted from Islam’, the Times’ 19th November 2015 article ‘Bradford father ‘living in fear after converting from Islam to Christianity’ and the Yorkshire Post’s 19th November 2015 article entitled ‘Terrifying video shows Bradford dad attacked by pickaxe thugs ‘for converting from Islam to Christianity’ to cite a few examples.
Nissar himself confirms this to the BCPA in the following statement:
Yes, they [police] recorded the most brutal attack on me, which was actually attempted murder, as a religious hate crime, but only after the local media named it as such, but in all of the years beforehand, the police force have been downplaying our abuse as a ‘neighbourly dispute’ (BPCA 2016)
6.4 Taking a Stand as a Christian convert
The failure of the political and legal system and the lack of freedom of religion in his decision to leave Islam has inspired Nissar to advocate for a specific law guaranteeing the protection of ex-Muslims. The 2015 circulating of the ApostasyByChoice petition online is one example of this.
Moreover, Nissar’s statements of ‘I think multiculturalism has failed, I think David Cameron’s Big Society has failed and I think there is two laws, one for them and one for us’ (Telegraphy & Argus 2015) and ‘I might as well be living in Pakistan, this is not Britain as I know it’ (BBC Asian Network, 2015) provides the contextualisation for the launching of the Safe Haven Project by the Christian Concern organisation, aimed to provide secure relocation for British ex-Muslim Christian converts. Nissar, campaigner and co-founder of Safe Haven said of the initiative: ‘ I am determined not to hide my conversion to Christianity and to do all I can to help the many thousands of other former Muslims, who have either moved away from Islam or need a refuge to escape this type of tyranny’ (Christian Concern, 2014).
The organisation Friends in the West reports Nissar Hussain’s partnership with the BPCA, in meeting with the British Home office, in ‘calling for a Home Office review of hate crime towards so called ‘apostates’ and for such crime to be listed in the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006’ (Friends in the West, 2016), prompting a response from Karen Bradley, Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation & Crime documented in two letters dating 27th June 2012:
In an open letter addressed to Mark Burns-Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner of the West Yorkshire police force, she writes:
‘I recently met Nissar Hussain, a Bradford resident who was involved in a high-profile attack outside his home in November because of his conversion to Christianity…as you are aware, any crime perpetrated on the basis of the victim’s religion should be recorded as a religious hate crime. This includes crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s conversion to a particular faith’ (Home Office, 2016).
In conclusion, the extensive case of the Hussain family in Bradford is interesting to note, as it carries an explicit political undertone not just religious – political opposition from local MPs and police, in addition to political frustrations at the family’s apostasy from the local Muslim communities in which they have resided. Although the plight of the Hussain family continues, with ongoing investigations; the fact remains that in spite of police acknowledgment of targeted persecution towards the Hussains dating back to 2001, the police only officially recognised such criminality as religiously motivated in the immediate aftermath of Nissar’s hospitalisation in November 2015. Additionally, the joint call made by the BPCA and Nissar to insert a specific apostasy clause into British existing Race and Religious legislation, is indicative of the overt failures to guarantee religious freedom for Nissar and his family.