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Documentary on “ex-Muslims” sparks contentious debate at Portland State

This is a guest post by Andy Ngo. He is a graduate student in political science at Portland State University. His academic interests include political Islam and secularism in the Middle East and North Africa. He can be reached on twitter at @MrAndyNgo and email at [email protected] .

On Nov. 23, over 60 people attended the screening of Islam’s Non-Believers at Portland State University. The documentary film featured the personal testimonies of ex-Muslims who have faced death threats, severe abuse and ostracization from their communities for leaving Islam. The film’s director, Deeyah Khan, is a Muslim and human rights activist.

The event was hosted by secular humanist student group, Freethinkers of PSU.

“I hope you realize that discriminating against ex-Muslims is not an excuse to validate your savior complex” – Rayhana

Controversy surrounded the event in the weeks leading up to the screening. Some students found the event insensitive given the political climate, while others thought the event promoted discrimination. In the glass display case for Freethinkers, a note was left which read, “Atheist Islamophobia is not okay.” Across campus, many flyers for the event were vandalized or torn down.


An anonymous note which read, “Atheist Islamophobia is not okay” was left in the display case for the event.

In response to the backlash, two ex-Muslim women featured in the documentary issued statements which were read or shown at the screening. “I hope you realize that discriminating against ex-Muslims is not an excuse to validate your savior complex,” Rayhana said in a pre-recorded video message.


Sadia sent Freethinkers of PSU a written statement. It read in part, “Islam’s Non-Believers was such an important documentary because for the first time ex-Muslims have been given a face and a voice. It has made us human.”


Andy Ngo, a student leader with Freethinkers of PSU, reads off Sadia’s statement to the audience. Collin Berrend.

Despite the controversy leading up to the event, the screening proceeded without any disruptions. Dr. Peter Boghossian, professor of philosophy at PSU, facilitated a group discussion after the film ended.

In attendance were ex-Muslims of Saudi Arabian, Pakistani, Egyptian, Jordanian and Iranian backgrounds. Some of them shared their thoughts with the diverse audience, which included practicing Muslims. Several ex-Muslims requested that video cameras be turned off due to fears they could be publicly outed as apostates and because of concerns for their physical safety.

An Iranian-American student explains how the vast texts and scholarly rulings in Islamic tradition make it easy to justify most behaviors. Bill Dickens.

Apostasy is the act of leaving one’s religion. In some traditional and conservative interpretations of Islam, death and imprisonment are punishments for apostasy.

One Muslim woman in attendance objected to the narrative presented in the film. “The punishment for apostasy in the Qur’an is not death,” she said. “The Qur’an is written in Arabic and most people from Bangladesh, India and other parts don’t speak Arabic.” Two native Arabic speakers later challenged this assertion when they recited several Qur’anic verses which can be interpreted as prescribing death for those who reject God.

At one point, Boghossian had to interject in the contentious discussion. “We could be here for weeks if we are going to engage in an exegetical debate about Islamic theology and interpretation,” Boghossian said.


Dr. Peter Boghossian facilitated the discussion after the film screening.

Despite strong disagreements, the discussion remained civil and engaging throughout the evening. Toward the end of the discussion, an Arab student pleaded to the audience: “To the people who are afraid to criticize Islam … I implore you to think about the minority within the minority. [Religion] is defended every day. The minority with the minority does not have a voice.”

Boghossian concluded the discussion after about 45 minutes, but many in the audience stayed to continue conversations.

Freethinkers of PSU is hosting a follow-up discussion on issues raised in the film on Nov. 30 at 5 p.m. in Smith Memorial Student Union, room 230.

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  • It seems clear that the presentor has a message of truth that some do not want to be heard.

  • “Atheist Islamophobia is not okay” – but it is. Phobia – is a fear without merit. Okay to have fear. Ok to be an atheist. What is not ok – is hate, killing in name of God, violence in the name of God, and fear.

    • Sandydog

      True, to you and me.

      Not true to Allah’s most devout slaves.

  • Larry A Singleton

    From Jihad Watch:

    Portland State U: Film on ex-Muslims facing threats and abuse denounced as “atheist Islamophobia”

    “The documentary film featured the personal testimonies of ex-Muslims who have faced death threats, severe abuse and ostracization [sic] from their communities for leaving Islam….Some students found the event insensitive given the political climate, while others thought the event promoted discrimination. In the glass display case for Freethinkers, a note was left which read, ‘Atheist Islamophobia is not okay.’ Across campus, many flyers for the event were vandalized or torn down.”

    The film is about Muslims being victimized, and the knee-jerk reaction of Leftist and Islamic supremacist students at Portland State University is that this makes Muslims victims. The plight of the ex-Muslims depicted in the film is lost in the brouhaha.

    “In some traditional and conservative interpretations of Islam, death and imprisonment are punishments for apostasy.” Actually, the idea that apostates should be killed is the dominant mainstream in Islam, not just an idea held by those who favor “traditional and conservative interpretations.” The death penalty for apostasy is part of Islamic law. It’s based on the Qur’an: “They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah. But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper.” (Qur’an 4:89)

    A hadith depicts Muhammad saying: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him” (Bukhari 9.84.57). The death penalty for apostasy is part of Islamic law according to all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

    This is still the position of all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, both Sunni and Shi’ite. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the most renowned and prominent Muslim cleric in the world, has stated: “The Muslim jurists are unanimous that apostates must be punished, yet they differ as to determining the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them. The majority of them, including the four main schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali) as well as the other four schools of jurisprudence (the four Shiite schools of Az-Zaidiyyah, Al-Ithna-‘ashriyyah, Al-Ja’fariyyah, and Az-Zaheriyyah) agree that apostates must be executed.”

    Qaradawi also once famously said: “If they had gotten rid of the apostasy punishment, Islam wouldn’t exist today.”

    But at Portland State University, to quote such statements is “Islamophobia.” Incidentally, I spoke at Portland State University a few years ago. Just before I was about to start, I was told that the Muslim Students Association was having a meeting at that moment in the same building. I immediately went over to the MSA meeting and invited them to come to my event and engage in free discussion and/or debate. None of the Muslim students took me up on my offer.

    • Chris Evans

      Sarah Haider,

      I believe that you have some fundamental differences in your methods for dealing with Islam compared to Robert Spencer’s methods, yet you and the staff of Ex-Musliims of North America have allowed a large segment of his words to be presented on your web site in the above post. Whatever differences you have with Dr. Spencer are, I believe, unfounded, but I still applaud you on allowing his words to be shown here. I hope that one day you, and he and Pamela Geller can become partners (to some degree) in what I believe is a noble cause, to make it safe for Muslims to leave Islam, and to make the world aware that Islam, as taught in it’s holy texts and as interpreted by millions of Muslims (but not all) is often very violent, oppressive and wrong…, ie., bad for the world.

      Thank you for all that you do. I am one of your biggest fans.

  • roccolore

    “Islamophobia” was invented by the left in order to smear critics of radical Islam.

    • Sandydog

      Not to be rude, but:

      There is no “radical” Islam.There is Islam–amputations, supremacism, “scientific” absurdities, and all.

      As with “Islamomophia”, the term was fabricated for a specific reason–to convince uninformed folks into thinking–despite the violence mandated against “filthy unbelievers” by Qur’an and Sunn’ah–that complying with those very texts constitutes “radical Islam”. An obvious oxymoron.

      Those two terms, and others, were concocted as Muslims are not able to easily control the Islamic narrative, to obfuscate the truth–in non Muslim nations–through violence.

      And westerners of all political stripes have–unfortunately–bought into them.

  • j_sean80

    Why muslims are so afraid of being criticized? Why do muslims in general feel the need to use vandalism and violence to protect their religion? We’re a progressive society; nothing is supposed to be immune from criticism.

    • Chris Evans

      j_sean80, I think that the reason Muslims are so afraid of being criticized and the reason why they react to criticism with violence is nothing more than them following the instructions found within the Quran that tell them to copy the behavior of Mohammad, in that he was 100% perfect in every single thing he ever did. The only records of his behavior are found in the authentic ahadith and the Sera of Mohammad (the Quran itself has very little historical records), and within those collections are several stories in which Mohammad ordered his companions to go out and murder various people who’s only crime had been to insult him and his claims to being a prophet. Mohammad knew, just as do modern tyrants, that the main threat to their goals for power and wealth was and is free speech – open criticisms and honest discussions, so Mohammad brutally repressed such free speech. He even ordered the murder of two young singing girls, just because they made up silly songs lampooning him. (One was murdered. The other escaped. I believe that there are about 10 other stories of Mohammad ordering the assassinations of various poets and critics.)

      Muslims today know that the only real threat to Islam is open and honest criticism, and they seek to quash such debate in any way they can, which as we have seen (aka: Charlie Hebro) can often take the form of savage butchery. Fortunately for the world, the internet has provided a forum for the open criticism of oppressive doctrines like Islam (in spite of censorship efforts of the management at google), and as a result millions of Muslims are listening to and learning the truth, and millions are beginning to leave it’s evil folds.

      Such is the nature of Islam, as exemplified and ordained by it’s founder, the prophet Mohammad.

  • Anon

    Ya’ll seem to be liberals yourselves, just going by the sort of language you use, yet you don’t seem to have much support from the liberal establishment. So you’re making your case to attempt to gain liberal allies. Correct?

    With all due respect, if this is your goal, I think you have taken on a lost cause. From a leftist perspective Muslims are victims to be protected from all criticism. Anyone who criticizes Muslims or Islam is a bigot, according to them. Calling people haters is a major way that liberals run their thought-control. Therefore, ex-Muslims are the untouchables, to a liberal. You might peel off a few here and there, but most will shun you.

    Anyway, that’s my prediction. I’m curious, what’s your experience? How many liberals are actually open-minded to the perspective of ex-Muslims? I’d love to be wrong. It would be great if the whole political spectrum understood that Islam has problems.

    So, if you don’t have much luck with liberals, you might be surprised to find that many conservatives and libertarians are not the haters that some liberals make us out to be.

    • SentaAPW89

      There is actually a term for those liberals Regressive Left.
      And yes, they’re idiots. I think it comes from a misguided The enemy of my enemy is my friend viewpoint.
      Not all conservatives/libertarians are racist, but a great deal seem to be.
      Of course I’ve seen people on the left be racist/sexist too.

      • Anon

        Actually, liberals tend to greatly exaggerate the racism they allege to be on the right, and greatly underestimate the racism on the left.

        For example, liberals often accuse everyone who criticizes Islam of racism. FALSE.

        Liberals often accuse everyone who thinks the BLM movement is misguided of racism. FALSE.

        Liberals often accuse everyone who do not buy into their social theories (e.g. blaming whites for the outcomes of underperforming minorities) of racism. MOSTLY FALSE. (There is evidence that SOME disadvantage remains for minorities, but liberals tend to exaggerate this. And anyway, people can disagree on their conclusions without being racist, whether they are right or wrong.)

        87% of people in the US approve of black-white mixed-race marriage. Only 11% say they disapprove. Racism is a small problem, not a major problem today.

        In addition, liberals conveniently invent social models in which minorities who hate whites are not racist. So anti-white racism is poorly understood, but obviously exists.

        Some liberals have extra hate for conservative blacks. They seem to think that blacks should think and act in ways that fit liberal stereotypes. Blacks who are not interested in identity politics and who don’t see whites as a stumbling block and who are not angry at the police are despised by many leftists. This is a very racist attitude. But of course, liberals do not see this as racism.

        If you spend a lot of time hanging out with liberals, you will of course get the impression that they are the “good guys” and conservatives are mostly bigots. I know, I grew up in a liberal family, and to this day the rest of my family is liberal and they think this way. However, they are wrong. Most conservatives are happy to treat people as individuals regardless of race.

      • Anon

        Here is a Hispanic man who points out that the racist scare is the new McCarthyism:

        (As an aside…. Something is not more or less true depending on who says it. Whether this author is white, Hispanic, black, Asian, or other, makes zero difference to the truth of the message. However, it seems that some liberals see things differently. To some liberals, something can be false if a white person says it, yet true if a “person of color” says the same thing. This is not only an error of logic, it is also a clearly racist attitude. It is clear discrimination based on race. Many liberals are finding the thinnest of rationales for painting conservatives as racist, while they espouse clear racism themselves.)