Ex-Muslims – a personal perspective

British Islam conference 2018

Presenter: Imtiaz Shams

Imtiaz was brought up in a religious household. His first book was the Riyad as-salihun by Al-nawawi a classical book of Islamic literature. He prayed, fasted and completed the Umrah pilgrimage spending part of his life growing up in Saudi Arabia. He was a teenager living in London during 911 and experienced Islamophobia in its immediate aftermath.

Imtiaz left Islam becoming an ex-Muslim about 5 years ago. He announced his decision to his family 3 years after he left Islam.

In his experience it is difficult to break away from the Muslim community due to the feeling of isolation that is felt when you become an ex-Muslim. He discovered a Reddit online community for ex-Muslims which at the time had about 2,000 members. It has since grown to around 27,000 members. Through this online space ex-Muslims shared their stories and gave advice to each other. He found the stories ‘magical’ as they showed he was not alone. He and others started organising physical meet-ups establishing these worldwide. Membership is controlled to ensure the safety and privacy of participants.

Imtiaz Shams is a founding member of Faith to Faithless a support group for people who have left a particular faith. This has included ex Muslims, Jehovah’s witnesses and Orthodox Jews. Faith to Faithless is a part of Humanists UK.

Imtiaz has experienced a range of reactions from others when they learn that someone has become an ex-Muslim. Some ignore them hoping they will simply go away. Others insist they have left Islam so they can indulge in drinking alcohol and illicit sex and other forbidden activities. Whilst there are many who turn to conspiracy theories and insist that ex-Muslims are sponsored by the Illuminati and Jewish organisations. The reaction from religious leaders is to instruct the families to ostracise the person who has left Islam. Imtiaz expressed disappointment that non-Muslims have accused him of being a type of native informant that is betraying his ethnicity. Dissent and critical discussion is in the eyes of many white liberals as something that belongs exclusively to Western culture. Their view being that Islam is a part of the colour and ethnicity of a person.

Summary/final points

  • The term ex-Muslim is negative and objectionable and would rather not be used by those who have left Islam
  • There is an increasing awareness that you can leave Islam if you want to. That there is support available for anyone who makes that personal choice
  • Ex-Muslims should be loved unconditionally by their families and be able to talk about their ideas freely
  • Families do come around eventually and things get better as love is a powerful force which can overcome bigotry
  • You should provide understanding and support for anyone that chooses to leave Islam as they will be enduring a difficult and lonely time during their transition from having faith to being faithless

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