Intro ~ Voices of ExMuslim Women – Solidarity on International Women’s Day
To mark today’s International Women’s Day, I have invited ExMuslim women, from EXMNA and everywhere, to tell their own stories in their own voices. For too long, women from Muslim backgrounds who no longer follow Islam and related cultural norms have remained silent. Sometimes they are kept silent by force. But more often, they remain silent because of socio-economic pressures. Even in 2014, in North America, women of all ages are pressured and bullied into remaining quiet, repressing their dissent, especially within religious communities. Islamic communities tend to be particularly conservative: innovation of religio-cultural norms is seen as a sin (bid’ah) by most Islamic schools of thought, a sad reality which hinders progress in many aspects of life.
ExMuslim women and LGBT people face intersecting disadvantages. In the larger society, we often face preconceived stereotypes and alienation as first- or second-generation immigrants and people of colour. From within Muslim communities, we face enormous pressure to conform to social and religious traditions at all costs. Sexuality and gender are contentious areas in most conservative circles, and Islam is no exception. Patriarchal norms, which keep women and men of all sexual orientations in repressive situations, are ubiquitous within Muslim families and communities. Today’s project will highlight the experiences of ExMuslim women, what they have learned, and what they want to share with other women and men around the world.
For those of us who have left Islam as a faith and as an identity, the pressure to stay silent is intense. For many ExMuslims, the price for speaking out about their skepticism, atheism, or agnosticism, is often very high. There is no one monolithic Muslim identity; there is nothing essentially, inherently “Muslim” about someone born into a Muslim family. Yet, for too many people, Islam has become a racialized identity. Many Muslims and non-Muslims see the Muslim identity as a race, not just a doctrine. Although ExMuslims, whether ‘out’ or ‘closeted’, do not identify as Muslim, others often insist on imposing this identity on us.
On the other hand, the web, traditional broadcast channels, and print media are saturated with stories, images, and voices of Muslims defending Islamic practices and beliefs and normalizing the ‘Muslim identity’ in the West. We at EXMNA support plurality of voices and the work of liberal, secular, progressive Muslims, regardless of our philosophical differences.
However, now it is high time for people who have left Islam to raise our voices and be part of the conversation, to talk about our identity, our privileges, and our struggles in a world where we often face bigotry on one side, and cultural relativism on the other.
What better time than International Women’s Day to highlight these voices of women who speak for themselves. Each of these 17 women, members of EXMNA and dear friends, was born and raised in a Muslim family, studied and practiced the Islamic faith as was expected of her, and eventually left the religion. Today, these women have agreed to share their stories in hopes that they will resonate with others who have left Islam, and with those who may be questioning it for themselves. Although they are now based in North America, these women hail from very diverse backgrounds: the project unites Afghan, Saudi, Lebanese, Egyptian, Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Iranian, and Libyan Ex-Muslim women. Each tells her own story in her own words. Listen to them. Take their words to heart. Share their stories. And remember: for each of us privileged to have the freedom to speak out, countless women are silenced daily. ExMuslim women are speaking in solidarity with these women and with women everywhere. ExMuslim women are seeking solidarity with women everywhere.
I asked these women to either answer a few questions I had posed, or compose their own story in any way they would like. Here are the questions and their responses.