I have built a fledgling (perhaps fetal, if I’m being generous) writing career around it. I promote and am a part of organizations about it. I openly talk about it and identify with it. I am an ex-Muslim atheist, loud and proud, unashamed and out, and have been since 2006. And yet, despite my shamelessness, I mentally buried a significant part of my early history with being an apostate of Islam. The very first time I joined a group for apostates of Islam, I defected after just two group chat sessions.
Indeed, the memory might have stayed buried indefinitely were it not for a particular troll who found my writing at Skepchick.
In conversations regarding the lack of representation of ex-Muslim voices, I’ve come across a lot of people willing to guess at and speak for ex-Muslims. When I ask that they let the actual ex-Muslim in the conversation (i.e. me) speak, I’m told that I don’t represent all ex-Muslims.
Well, yes. But frankly, at least I’m not a never-Muslim speaking completely out of my arse.
Something that we at EXMNA have been hard at work trying to rectify is our relative invisibility. People on all sides of the issue of apostasy in Islam have a tendency to forget that we exist. Numerous podcasts, articles, features, books, and so on mention us, sometimes even use us as props in arguments, without any of us actually being consulted on the matter. That it often stems from ignorance of our existence rather than malice makes it no less insulting and dehumanizing.
How bad is it? When I try to bring awareness of the issue, I’m told that ex-Muslims face too many dangers to be out, so there is no way to contact “them.” I’ve had anti-feminists tell me that if I really cared about women’s rights, I’d know and care about the plight of “those” ex-Muslim women. I’d laugh if it weren’t such a painful reminder that my mere existence isn’t worth consideration in so many people’s minds.
Thankfully, there are some who remember us. Yet those who do know we exist sometimes still rely on second- and third-hand voices to speak for us, even on matters that are explicitly by, for, and about us.
To quote fellow Patheos blogger Dan Arel, #AnApostatesExperience was meant to show “what real threatening and venomous attacks look like,” as if that erased the threats that Aslan received. It’s hard for me to see how this is any different than “Dear Muslima,” except this time it’s a Muslim as the target. [Aslan] never suggested that his experiences are worse than the experiences of any ex-Muslims, so what do they have to do with the threats he’s received? The struggle of ex-Muslims is an important issue to highlight, but not as a way of one-upping the victims of threats and harassment.
To answer the title, i.e. “Why is it so hard for critics to read Reza Aslan charitably?”: It’s because Aslan is far too charitable when it comes to the oppression that Muslims perpetuate within their own communities. Further, I find the characterization of #AnApostatesExperience in the post to be not only uncharitable, but also poorly-informed as to the real issues with Reza Aslan and with ex-Muslims.
He wasn’t the only Muslim responding. I got one Muslim who told me that I would’ve been better off taking off my headscarf rather than full-on coming out to my family as an atheist. This person is hardly alone. More than one Muslim has asked me why I didn’t tell my parents that I wanted to de-veil and stop practicing Islam rather than to declare to them that I had deconverted.
Remember when Sam Harris said a misogynistic thing and doubled-down on it by talking about how he has a wife, a mother, and a female editor whose contributions to his work he highly values? Most white liberal atheists saw that for what it was and mocked him. It’s the “I have a black friend” argument.
Recently, the case of Meriam Ibrahim made international headlines. The story was that she, a pregnant Christian woman married to a Christian, was being accused of apostasy and sentenced to death for it. Some but not all of the articles about it mentioned the most troubling fact about the case: she is not even a apostate in that she was a Muslim and then defected from Islam. Instead, her absentee father was a Muslim and, by Sudanese law, this automatically makes her a Muslim, despite being raised a Christian by her Christian mother.
A case of a born and raised Christian being accused of apostasy from Islam and sentenced to death for it shows that anti-apostasy laws are a brutal tool that can be used to enforce tyranny on anyone, whether they are an apostate, a theist of another religion, or a non-apostate atheist.