An ex-Muslim called Ahmad created a Twitter account the day after the Paris bombing in November 2015. He created the account because he felt he couldn’t stay silent anymore and had to share his views on Islam and on the responsibility of Islamic thinking. He started debating people quite politely and after a while he came to realise there were many ex-Muslims like him, closeted or not, all across the world and not just in Muslim majority countries.
He understood that the key to a positive and secular future wherever Islamic thinking is widespread was to normalise the act of leaving Islam; that any individual born into a Muslim family should have the right to say “I don’t believe anymore” without the risk of losing everything, including his life.
Ahmad believes that what keeps ex-Muslims from living by their own choices is the silence that surrounds their very existence. Few people are aware that even in the West, where Muslims should be free from the chains of Islam, sons and daughter of devout Muslim families are living double lives – Muslim openly, unbeliever secretly.
How many children are beaten by their parents or imams in order to force them to pray? How many face very high familial pressure to wear the headscarf but would still say publicly that they are happy to wear it to avoid putting the blame on their family? How many are not allowed to study far from home so that family can still control their behaviour and actions? Very few victims dare to go to the police so that their family and community are not shamed. Ahmad affirms that many closeted ex-Muslims feel trapped and crushed by the Islamic law of silence.
For him, a potential #MeToo movement coming out from Muslim communities could be huge but it won’t happen as long as the existence of ex-Muslims is not widely recognised and normalised. The cost of speaking out publicly is still too high and society’s support of those who leave Islam is still too weak.
Ahmad created the @ExMuslimTV in December 2016 with other ex-Muslims. The account is a video-only channel dedicated to giving a voice to those who dare speak up. Some are afraid and cover their faces and distort their voices, others are braver and choose to reveal their identities.
Through the ExMuslimTV Twitter account and the ex-muslim.tv website, Ahmad’s first and foremost priority is to inspire other ex-Muslims to live the lives that they dream of. It is also a channel via which ex-Muslims can connect, give hope to each other, and even find role models. Ex-Muslims send their self-made video to @ExMuslimTV.
A lot of time and effort goes into preparing the videos that are sent by former Muslims to the channel through the ex-muslims.tv website or social networks, so that the message travels as far as possible and to convey a positive message of hope to as many closeted ex-Muslims as possible.
Ahmad tries to leave politics out of what he does as some people might feel that they are scapegoating Islam for some political goal. He doesn’t identify with either left or right wing politics but he admits being pleased by the stats on Twitter, which reveal that one third of ExMuslim TV’s accounts followers are on the left of the political spectrum. Although major progressive political parties in the West and in India are still mostly silent about the ex-Muslim cause, he feels it is very important that individuals who identify with the left also embrace the ex-Muslim struggle among the causes they defend.
Ahmad is passionate about ExMuslim TV’s mission: to inspire those to publicly identify as ex-Muslim and to prevent them from feeling hopeless or helpless and from committing suicide because they might feel that is the only way out. It is a very solitary and lonely journey when attempting to break away from Islam. It takes courage, perseverance and strength of character to resist the urges and pleadings and threats of family, friends and neighbours.
People have the right to question Islam whether they are Muslims or not, just like apostates from any other faiths are free to do. And people must be free to do this without any fear of harassment or death.
Politicians from of all persuasions should also be able to stand up and support ex-Muslims without being smeared as extreme or far right. Freedom of conscience has no politics says Ahmad and it is time that liberal societies embrace this progressive cause and empower those who secretly dream of the right to be free within a free society.