Ex-Muslims On Islam and Identity

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by Neil Godfrey

Ex-Muslims of North America: Normalizing Dissent

Islam & Identity

I found the speakers here worth listening to. The video runs for 1 hour 47 minutes but after the first 50 minutes it is question time.

Key points I took from the talks (not in video order — not even in a coherent order: just as jotted down at the time and/or recalled afterwards):


  • Conquered peoples find identities to counter the dominant group. Example: Westerners conquered with superior technology, wealth, and the subject groups, unable to compete against those attributes, pride themselves in alternative values such as pride in simplicity and purity of religion and devotion to family live, meanwhile identifying their conquerors as hypocrites and greedy for wealth and with broken family lives.
  • (Same in ghetto areas: youth unable to compete academically for whatever reasons pride themselves on being “tough” and “cool” instead.)


  • Identity is not just one thing we have; we all have many identities. None of us is just one thing. The problem with “identity politics” is that real differences between individuals are blurred.


  • We used to be focused on “universal rights” but with “identity politics” what has become important is the privileging of difference. So instead of advocating for universal rights for all people no matter what their differences, the call is for special rights or privileges for those with differences.


  • The Muslim world was not predominantly conservative in the past. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the Muslim Socialists dominated in the Middle East. But the West, determined to be rid of what was perceived as the threat of communism, supported the radical Islamist groups and the Islamic Socialists were generally overthrown from power. Islamic powers in the 60s and 70s used to be dedicated to equality and democratic rights and justice for all but those groups have been replaced by a different kind of Islam.


  • One used to think of Islam as something one believed, but now it has become an “identity” defining the whole person, their politics and personal makeup. “Essentialising” Muslims has turned them into a kind of pseudo race. Islam has become a kind of racial group that identifies the whole of a  person instead of a set of beliefs an individual held. Now Islam has become “what you are“, not simply what you believe.


  • In Iran today there is a huge anti-Islamic backlash (though it is being kept largely underground for the moment) against the conservative Muslim leaders.
  • It has not always been this way. Note Turkey in the 1920s when national identity was cultivated to replace religion as the primary identity.
  • The problem has grown because radical Islamist groups have State funding and they have the means and will to take over wherever they see a vacuum arise.


  • Many Muslims hold conservative view simply because they have never heard any alternative ideas or interpretations. The challenge is to spread the alternative views.


  • 15% of Muslims have left their faith. That figure does not tell us if they have converted to another faith or become atheists. But it does tell us that Muslims are no different from other religions with people continuing to leave.


  • The situation in Muslim countries has changed in the last 15/20 years. Bangladesh, for example, 30 years ago — it was a safe place for secularists. We have gone backwards in recent decades.
  • The problem has come about with the rise of the totalitarian environment in those countries. Take away that totalitarian environment and things will change socially very quickly.


  • We (ex-Muslims) need to find our allies and work with them. Example, even among most conservative Muslims are many who will never kill another for their lack of faith.



  • We should not look at the Muslim world as “the Muslim Community” because that homogenizes the individuals. The repressors are those on the far Right and the Islamists.


  • We need to organize the way the Left has always organized and find allies everywhere. Example, there are Muslims in many different areas such as agencies working for the homeless, women fighting against Sharia law, for children’s welfare, etc etc etc. All of these things are the same things the Left has always been battling against.
  • It is necessary for the Left to build a Solidarity with such groups as they have always done. They need to be promoting

Universalism and
Citizenship Rights and

  • Secularism is where all of us — religious and non-religious, believers and non-believers — can meet. This is the space where religion is separated from the state. Even many conservative religious people believe and support this idea.


  • Is not CAIR doing a good work? Should we support and team up with them, too? But CAIR is a religious group that is seeking to carve out a special place for a religious body. We need to be doing the same works but with another voice so people can see that they do not have to support a religion to work for justice and a better world.
  • Just because a person or group does good things doesn’t naturally make them worthy of support. Mussolini made the trains run on time. Trump has probably said at one time in his life something that’s true, too. That’s not the point. We need to present a politics that puts people (not religion) at the centre.


  • The fight must be on several fronts simultaneously. We need to fight racism as well as against the Religious Right and fundamentalism.


  • What of those who want to identify as Muslims? We have a right to identify as a Muslim or anything else we want. The problem is that Identity Politics only accepts One Identity and it homogenizes everyone. Only the strictest regressives are accepted as part of the identity — e.g. Islamists insist a woman must do and be x, y, z, etc or she’s a whore… but in reality we can have many different identities.
  • Ex-Muslims are all different. Many but not all are atheists, for example. So some will argue against a role for any and all religion. But others can argue from a different perspective.
  • What of an “inter-faith” type of religious movement that sees something spiritual in common to all faiths? Some would argue against such a view and say that what is common in all faiths is merely the common good in all humanity, not some essential religious core. Religion does not have a solution. We are individuals and not some extension of a religion — that is an important concept to grasp. And if we are all individuals there is not even an “ex-Muslim community” in any homogenizing sense.
  • Even in Muslim societies the Islam of the leaders is not the Islam of the many or the values of the many. In a secular society we are all free to live the way we like. Most Muslims, for example, don’t believe the claims of the Religious Right. That is the same with the Religious Right among the ordinary Hindus, Buddhists, Jews…


  • Many don’t know that ex-Muslims exist. When people leave their faith they can feel very isolated as if they are the only ones to have done so. It is important for a group like Ex-Muslims to let others know they are not alone.


  • Whether or not a person is a “good person” is irrelevant to the issues under debate. A very loving father, because of his sincere beliefs, can impose very strict rules on his family — not understanding the harm being caused.


See https://www.exmna.org (Ex-Muslims of North America)

And one more that I checked after the video:  Australian Ex-Muslims


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Neil Godfrey

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