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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > North America: Why Ex-Muslims need a safe-space

North America: Why Ex-Muslims need a safe-space

Tuesday 26 November 2013, by siawi3


Nov 21, 2013-11-23`

An Ex-Christian man emailed me a little over a week ago and the exchange convinced me there needs to be outreach to the secular community. It seems the secular community at large is unaware of the troubles Ex-Muslims face.

It all started when the sender asked for meet-up details for the Toronto chapter.

“Our meet-up is a safe-space exclusively for Ex-Muslims,†I told him.

The thing is, our community organizers meet many people who are hesitant before they attend. To be a disbeliever is one thing but to put one’s safety and security in the hands of another, is a massive feat of its own. The stigma of apostasy is very real. Many Ex-Muslims come from families, communities, and cultures where they are in danger of being physically and emotionally abused — and that’s if they haven’t already endured that. So, to reach out to a group and to be in a room of other Ex-Muslims, especially if you’re coming from a very tough situation, can feel like a big risk.

On a very frequent basis, we at EXMNA come across or are notified about people from Muslim backgrounds living in dire situations in North America. We support them in every way we can, by being there with them and showing solidarity, by connecting them with legal authorities and services that can assist them, and helping them gain independence to move out of places where they’re being oppressed, and get on their own feet. Many of our members and organizers have done this anonymously; due to the sensitive nature of this kind of support, those Ex-Muslims who are most marginalized are invisible to most of the world – they are kept hidden away, silenced, pressured, and many face violence and abuse at home and in their families’ communities. It was not until I met Kiran Opal that I began to hear of the amazing work she and members of the CEMB community have done over the years.

So, back to the Ex-Christian who wanted to peek in on our support group meetups. After I turned him down, he said “it is a little disappointing†that he couldn’t “get a better understanding of Islam “up close†(rather than just reading about it).â€

I understand the attempt to educate oneself. I do. However, it seems that many people are unaware of the turmoil of leaving religion, or of having to put on a facade of being ‘Muslim’ every day to family and friends, out of fear of rejection and alienation. Many of the people who come to EXMNA for support and solidarity are living in exactly such circumstances.

I explained to him that what makes EXMNA so unique is that there are no other grassroots organizations like it on this side of the pond. There are no other safe-spaces for Ex-Muslims to “come out†to each other (with their privacy and security held as the top priority) and to share their deeply personal journeys. A lot of our members – myself included – need this. This is how it all started. This is the point of EXMNA: for Ex-Muslims to have a space where they can put down their burdens, relax, and feel what it’s like to just be themselves.

I asked if he would be interested in an event or a meet-up for former religious people of all faiths in the future. His response wasn’t an answer to my question. Instead, he closed off the email, telling me it is “a shame to add to the divisions among us†because “aren’t we all striving for a secular world free of supernatural beliefs?â€

Sure, we are. But the support groups for Ex-Muslims are not meant to divide “ourselves†. We’re a subset of the global secularist movement. Ex-Muslims, in my experience, have always been welcome to open meetings and events in the secular community. Why is it difficult to accept that Ex-Muslims want and deserve to have a space of our own along with being part of a larger movement?

I’m appalled at his response but on the other hand, I can understand how he is ignorant of the issues at large, and blind to his privileges. Despite this, I would still never expect to be welcome as a spectator to a support group for queer people who are having to hide themselves or struggling with issues of “coming out.†Neither would I expect to be welcome to a support group for victims of sexual assault just because I want to “see it up close.â€

This type of response is disheartening as I feel it undermines our work in giving Ex-Muslims a platform to reach out and know that they have a community there for them with members who have similar stories, and can empathize with them completely.

It seems this person was rather unaware of the privileges he has.