Interview with Sadia Hameed – Spokesperson, Council of Ex Muslims of Britain

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Sadia Hameed is an ex-Muslim and human rights activist focused on women’s rights in particular. She is a Spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. She grew up in Oxford. She lost faith at age 15. Her brother was bullied for speaking out as an atheist and, likely due to the backlash and bullying for this, committed suicide in 2015. The last wishes of Razaa were not respected during the funeral for him. This estranged Sadia and her family. She was featured in the film Islam’s Non-Believers (2016).

Here we talk about the FiLiA conference.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, you got involved in the FiLiA conference. Who founded it? Why was it founded? How did you get involved?

Sadia Hameed: It was founded by Lisa Marie. It started as Feminism in London. It was a feminist conference in London that fizzled away. She then created FiLiA, which, I think, means daughter. So, she created this conference year on year. It has gotten better and better.

I have been involved in the past 2 years. It has gotten better and better. The demographics got wider and wider. I think that she just wants to take feminism to as wide an audience as possible. But a very, very honest feminism rather than the kind that shies away from anything.

She really believes in freedom of speech and equality regardless of who you are. She does not shy away from anything, which is very admirable in this day and age.

Jacobsen: Are there any confirmed speakers?

Hameed: At the moment, no, we are planning for 2019. I am hoping for the Pakistani activist Gulalai Ismail. She was charged with terrorism for her human rights work and her work in the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (or the Pashtun Protection Movement, PTM), which highlighted some of the Pakistani army’s behaviour tactics and abuses within the Pashtun area.

The moment that she focused in on the army. All of a sudden; she was targeted with terrorism and then went into hiding. She got out of the country, eventually. She is in New York, now, as far as I know. Her getting out of the country was not the last thing that they did.

Now, they went after the parents. Her father is in custody under false charges because she is against the army. The army is very powerful. Touch wood, we are hoping to bring her next year. No formal speakers as of yet.

Jacobsen: Who does Lisa Marie look up to?

Hameed: [Laughing] I do not know, actually [Laughing]. She has a lot of lovely feminist friends, perhaps them. I cannot say for certain. I would have to ask her.

Jacobsen: What have been themes discussed and ones more appealing for the overall conference?

Hameed: So, the sex work theme. That was very, very popular. It was on the FiLiA website. This was the first time. For the last few years, FiLiA hosted a panel on secularism. This was the first time that they had a panel on blasphemy and apostasy.

The interesting thing that happened at the conference this year. It was a couple sentences to open the panel on secularism. The first was, ‘Religion is misogynistic.’ There was no problem in the room whatsoever. [Laughing] All of the women nodded their heads. The women were like, “Yes, you’re telling us something that I already know.”

Second, ‘Islam is misogynistic.’ Then gasps through the room. I said, “What is the fucking problem, mate? What is the problem? I said exactly the same thing. I just mentioned a religion rather than just religion.”

It was a really good conference for people, women, that were definitely thinking. I felt like the conference was sewn together quite a lot this year. Some of the women this year managed to sew together the issues between the women talking about the trans issue and the women talking about secularism.

They realized that it was hard to reach them. It was the first time for when we went to the conference and realized the similarity of our issues. It took years but thank you very much for fucking realizing it. There was  quite a lot of positivity this year.

They also talked about surrogacy. Sadly, I missed that panel. So, I could not tell you too much about it, myself. We had Marie Legar this year as well. The issue was a woman who attacked in France for speaking back to a catcaller.

They had panels on women’s health, failing families, femicide, the trans issue in terms of children, class. If you go to the website, you can see the panel. It was so diverse. It was pretty fantastic, actually.

Jacobsen: What would be the principles of founding the conference or developing a conference for others to take into account – just to put those seeds in people’s mind if they want to create their own conference?

Hameed: I would say, “Have a clear, concise, simple objective.” Lisa Marie’s most recent objective is to bring feminism to as many women as possible. She has worked really damn hard for it. She fundraises for women who cannot attend it.

Her whole idea was a simple, straightforward one. It was to bring as many amazing women together as possible. If your objective is simple, then you are going to gain a really, really big audience. This is the first conference that I went to in which every single speaker was so diverse.

It was a tick-box feminism conference. People being like, ‘Let us bring in the token darky to meet our quota of darkies.’

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Hameed: [Laughing] there is a dishonesty in that, isn’t there? With FiLiA, it did not feel forced. Every single thing there felt like a real space was carved for everyone. This conference finished; within days, she said, ‘Okay, onto 2020.’

The only other place I have seen that so far is the Battle of Ideas. It is like a genuine free speech conference in the UK. That is the only other place where I have seen a genuine willingness to keep the space open regardless of whether the organizers agree or disagree.

I think that is really, really key. A good researcher is able to keep impartial. I think a good journalist. I think the same applies to a good conference organizer. You do the organizing. You do not control who says what  and how they say it.

You open the space for it. You let things happen quite naturally, really.

Jacobsen: Last question, with one minute…

Hameed: … [Laughing]…

Jacobsen: …how do you manage the stress of the kinds of difficult issues that you’re dealing with day in and day out on sexual abuse and survivors as well as the men and the women who are going through this over the long term, and not just dealing with one person and then it is over?

Hameed: Yes, I am working very hard to begin rolling out a campaign next year because in the sexual violence sector is, actually, a mandatory getting of a supervision. It is like internal therapy. It is mandatory as a professional working with victims who are very, very traumatized. It is impossible as a human not to take on some of it.

Part of a job, something that is mandatory is that you get therapy along the way. So, that is built into the job. It is monthly, usually. Actually, the sexual violence sector is the only sector in which it is mandatory. It is not mandatory in every single sector.

Even in the atheist sector, where I am right now, there is no need to provide me with therapy in spite of the difficult stories that I am hearing, including the sexual violence stuff that I am seeing. What I am going to be doing with the campaigns next year is to start lobbying governments to make it mandatory in every single care sector where you are dealing with difficult stories, the employer has a statutory responsibility to provide this support.

So, they can get the service. The impartiality of the service is crucial because the managers who ask if you are okay; in case, they can use it against you. Managers are notorious for cunts. Aren’t they? [Laughing] they are not always thinking about your well-being, but the organization and their own agenda.

Staff wellbeing, absolutely, assures client wellbeing. If you are not looking after staff, then you’re looking after your clientele. If staff are burned out, then they will do a great job in the daily work of the organization.

It is important for any sort of care sector. We will be looking for that full steam. We cannot do anything as of now because Parliament has been dissolved with the current General Election. I am sure that we will have another one [Laughing].

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Sadia.

Hameed: Thank you so much!

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-booksfree or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Nano GoleSorkh/Sadia Hameed.

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