Feminists should not be afraid to criticize Islam. No religion is above critique. As an ex-Muslim feminist, I can attest to the real threats and risks associated with dissent. I didn’t publically leave Islam until I was certain I could survive entirely on my own. We rarely read about criticisms of Islam due to anti-blasphemy laws in Muslim countries. I was 25-years old when I met an ex-Muslim for the first time. I remember thinking: We can leave?! It never occurred to me that leaving was ever an option. I knew the consequences could be dire (homelessness, violence, honor killing).
We should not be afraid to question how Islam treats women, LGBTQIA+, and ex-Muslims in Muslim countries and at home. We are perpetuating a disservice by failing to confront human rights violations committed against religious minorities, women’s rights activists, and dissenters. This is a very sensitive topic during today’s hostile political climate, but this must be addressed. I do believe Muslims are entitled to quality housing, employment, education, legal representation and protection under anti-discrimination laws. I believe they should receive accommodations regarding prayer as well as designated spaces. However, I also believe that state-sanctioned violence against women, LGBTQIA+ and ex-Muslims should be confronted in Muslim countries. If you support the former but not the latter, you’re part of the problem.
State-sanctioned violence includes legalizing marital rape, normalizing child rape, compulsory hijab, virginity testing, guardianship laws, and death sentences for apostasy in thirteen Muslim-majority countries. These are huge issues in the Muslim world, yet we are not supposed to criticize their fundamental roots in Islamic edict. These human rights violations are legal and enforced. Writing this blog post could result in imprisonment, public caning, or even death in over 20 Muslim-majority countries. In the Maldives, all citizens are required to be Muslim. Converting to a different religion may result in loss of citizenship. In six Muslim-majority countries, leaving Islam is punishable by imprisonment. It’s very hypocritical to make demands, yet deny oppressed groups access to the same rights, comforts, and protections Muslims enjoy in the US.
Before we call the hijab an “empowering” act, we must free every woman imprisoned for removing her hijab. If we are going to fight for prayer accommodations, we need to ensure people can openly leave Islam without fear of violence, imprisonment, discrimination or murder. Until Muslim women’s rights activists are no longer imprisoned, tortured or forced to seek asylum in the US, we are not free. Until Muslim women no longer have to be citizens of the US, Canada or Australia to remove their hijabs, travel solo, and leave Islam publicly, we are NOT free. Proximity is not liberation. If you haven’t yet met an ex-Muslim, ask yourself: what are the systemic, legal and socioeconomic barriers that force ex-Muslims to hide? As a radical feminist, I choose freedom over fear. I left Islam despite threats to my life. It’s hard to be brave in the face of violence and subjugation. But my liberation is more important than my fear. It always has been.