23rd March is celebrated as the International Atheist Day by ex-Muslim and atheist organisations across the world including countries such as Sri Lanka, Norway, Jordan and the UK to name a few. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) celebrated the international day for the second year now with the organisation urging families, communities and societies to end the heinous practice of shunning atheists, ex-Muslims and freethinkers.
Shunning can be explained as long-term psychological torture and a form of social death penalty injected upon those who were born into a religion but have given up practising the religion and in this context the religion is pre-dominantly Islam. Now, a recent panel discussion on Apostasy, Shunning and Survival, has highlighted why we must #ShunShunning.
The Panel discussion inculded actress Nazmiye Oral, YouTube sensation Fay Rahman, Journalist Khadija Khan, student activist Saff Khalique, Clinical Psychologist Savin Bapir-Tardy and Born Free Foundation Director Shabana Rehman Shabana Rehman alongside CEMB spokesperson Maryam Namazie and MC Nahla Mahmoud.
Each of the panelists highlighted their struggle in achieving religious freedom from parents and orthodox societal elements who were reluctant at their chosen lifestyle. One of the audience members who wished to remain anonymous spoke about his experience of being gay and giving up on Islam. His Salafi parents however, were unable to accept his “lifestyle” and therefore, threw him out. Shahid* (name changed upon request)
“When I was growing up, I noticed that my household had adopted the Salafi sect of Islam. My mum started wearing the face veil and she eventually implicitly imposed Salafi rituals and customs on my father instead of the other way round.
“When I realised that I was gay, I was shamed for my identity and told to become more religious. But the more I read, the further away from religion my rationale and logical thinking took me and eventually, I became an ex-Muslim. But the day my parents found out that I was gay and had given up on my religion, my parents asked me to leave. In a few days, they called me back with the hope that maybe able to “change and cure me”. After three months of psychological and mental torture, I left home!”
Apostasy- the renunciation of one’s religion- is a punishable offence under the Sharia law in as many as 13 countries, including Malaysia and Pakistan but not in the UK. But these individuals continue to remain marginalised from the society, being shunned from the community and in worst cases, they are threatened and abused physically falling prey to honour killings, or abused mentally, emotionally and psychologically.