Waleed Al-Husseini founded the Council of Ex-Muslims of France. He escaped from the Palestinian Authority to Jordan and then to France, after torture and imprisonment in Palestine. He is an ex-Muslim and an atheist. In this educational series, we talk about the situation of ex-Muslims in France.
Scott Jacobsen: To begin with, what inspired you to start the foundation for ex-muslims in France in the first place?
Waleed Al-Husseini: You know, if I want to speak about the inspiration, it will be from the things I have been through. I mean my story, what we explained in the last interview, because it makes me feel that there are a lot of us, and that we need to be united. We need to be united in our voice to speak about us and our problems, to make others feel not alone, and also to demonstrate to Europe and the United States that there are people who leave Islam.
All of these things were reasons and inspiration. Then the work of Maryam Namazie, who is the founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain. We chose the date of chevalier de la barre, the young French nobleman who got killed for blasphemy here in France during the Dark Ages, to show that we are all chevalier de la barre, but from a Muslim background instead of Christian. These are the things that inspired me.
Jacobsen: What are the main social, political, and educational, initiatives of the organization?
Al-Husseini: We are a group of atheists and non-believers who have faced threats and restrictions in our personal lives. Many of us have been arrested for blasphemy.
The Council of Ex-Muslims of France has the following aims:
- We call for universal rights and full equality and oppose tolerance of inhuman beliefs, discrimination and ill-treatment in the name of respecting religion and culture.
- Freedom to criticise religion. Prohibition of restrictions on unconditional freedom of criticism and expression using so-called religious ‘sanctities’.
- Freedom of religion and atheism.
- Separation of religion from the state and the educational and legal system.
- Prohibition of religious customs, rules, ceremonies or activities that are incompatible with or infringe people’s rights and freedoms.
- Abolition of all restrictive and repressive cultural and religious customs which hinder and contradict woman’s independence, free will and equality. Prohibition of segregation of sexes.
- Prohibition of interference by any authority, family members or relatives, or official authorities in the private lives of women and men and their personal, emotional and sexual relationships and sexuality.
- Protection of children from manipulation and abuse by religion and religious institutions.
- Prohibition of any kind of financial, material or moral support by the state or state institutions to religion and religious activities and institutions.
- Prohibition of all forms of religious intimidation and threats.
Jacobsen: More to the central discussion, for ex-Muslims — whether atheist, agnostic, another religion, secular humanist, and so on — in France, what is the general day-to-day situation for them?
Al-Husseini: They are in danger not only from governments, but more from the people. Many of us get killed simply because of the usage of some liberal words — for example — look at what happened in Pakistan a few weeks ago or what happened to the bloggers in Bangladesh last year. Or in Saudi Arabia and Mauritania for example, where people have gone to the streets asking the government to kill the apostates. So those in our situation know that we will get killed. Even here in France I am in the same situation. I’m in danger.
Jacobsen: If any, what percentage of ex-Muslims would you say undergo severe discrimination in France? And if so, what are the forms of the discrimination?
Al-Husseini: Here in France, many avoid saying anything because they will be attacked at their work, or perhaps fired if the owner of the company is Muslim. Many of them will not say anything because they are living in areas with many Muslims, who will attack them. Some of us can’t even give talks at universities, as you must have seen with what happened to Maryam Namazie last year. When they use the term “Islamophobia,” which hasn’t as a label before by the way, it is just used to shut us up. This word is used to protect Muslims. It is what I call the modern fatwa.
Jacobsen: What is the one of the biggest misconceptions that French Muslims have about French ex-Muslims?
Al-Husseini: It is the same everywhere, they think that ex-Muslims are Zionists, or that they are working with them to destroy Islam. It’s always the same. They never think that it’s a free choice.
Original Publication in Humanist Voices.