BHA: Please, help us fight blasphemy laws

From the British Humanist Association:

The news that our patron Stephen Fry is under criminal investigation in Ireland for allegedly committing ‘blasphemy’ is enough to send chills down your spine. We’re urging the Irish Government to repeal its blasphemy law (passed in 2009), and we remain extremely concerned by a growing trend of European countries, such as Denmark and Ireland, re-activating ‘dormant’ blasphemy laws to silence criticism of religion.

This trend has to stop, and we need to grow and scale up our campaigns against blasphemy laws – everywhere in the world. Please, if you haven’t joined us already, will you join the BHA today?

We also have reason to be concerned by a startling letter published by the Church of England at the weekend, which urged even greater influence for religion in UK politics, claiming Christianity as an exclusive ‘wellspring’ of moral values, and condemning secularism – the very best guarantee we all have of being treated fairly, whatever your religion or belief.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the religious lobbies were trying to drag us back decades and erase the social progress we’ve all fought for, tooth and nail, in spite of religious lobbying. As Stephen Fry once said, in times like these, ‘it is essential to nail one’s colours to the mast as a humanist.’ If you haven’t joined us already, please, don’t put it off.

BHA defends its patron Stephen Fry in face of Irish blasphemy probe

BHA responds to Archbishops’ general election letter

Man sentenced to death for apostasy as violence against non-religious across Islamic states continues

ITV programme: Islam’s non-believers

Humanists may be interested in the programme that is online for about another three weeks:

http://www.itv.com/hub/exposure-islams-non-believers/2a4261a0001

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain featured  and issued the following press release:

“I remember saying to my mum, ‘I don’t think I believe in God any more,’ And her saying, ‘You can’t tell anybody else because they’ll kill you, we are obliged to kill ex-Muslims,’ and that it would put me at extreme risk if anybody else was to find out, so that conversation ended there.” – Sadia, a former Muslim

This new documentary in the Exposure current affairs strand investigates the lives of ex-Muslims, who face extreme discrimination, ostracism, psychological abuse and violence as a result of leaving Islam.

Featuring contributions from British and Bangladeshi ex-Muslims, Islam’s Non-Believers paints a vivid picture of the dangers facing those who renounce their faith. Some are at risk of suicide, or self-harm, or have been physically and psychologically abused by their closest family members. Most are terrified of being shunned by their own family and friends if their true beliefs become known.

Made by award-winning film-maker Deeyah Khan, who also directed the acclaimed Jihad – A British Story and Banaz: An Honour Killing for ITV, the programme finds that many young British ex-Muslims live in the shadows hiding their true beliefs, running huge risks if they ‘come out’ as atheists within their religious communities. Some of those who speak in the programme have asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

The film follows the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, a volunteer support group led by Iranian-born activist Maryam Namazie which supports ex-Muslims, often referred to as apostates or unbelievers, both in the UK and abroad. Maryam says: “They see us as people who are troublemakers, deviants, apostates and blasphemers… There is nothing, nothing more intolerant than religion.”

One ex-Muslim, Sadia, talks about her brother Razaa, who killed himself. She says it was partly because he felt sidelined and misunderstood by his community all his life, one reason being his atheism. She says: “I feel like when you leave Islam, your intelligence gets attacked. They make you feel like you’re stupid for making such a decision, which he felt like his entire life. Leaving Islam, becoming an ex-Muslim, all of a sudden you feel like you’re dirty, and you become unimportant within the community.”

Dr Omer El-Hamdoon from the Muslim Association of Britain says people can leave the religion of their own free will and should not be punished. But he says it is not surprising that those who do leave are shunned. He says: “The Muslim community is a community based on religion, so if a person chooses to stop being a Muslim they can’t really expect that the Muslim community is still going to say to them, ‘You are still part of our community.’”

The programme also reports on how the danger for ex-Muslims who live in Islamic countries can be even higher. Apostasy carries the death penalty in a dozen Islamic countries. Atheists face a double threat – persecution by their own government, and the risk of murder at the hands of Islamist gangs.

Bonya Ahmed, whose writer and blogger husband Avijit Roy was brutally killed in the streets of Bangladesh, speaks about the attack and how she is trying to rebuild her life in America. Avijit was murdered because he spoke out against religious fundamentalism. They are just two of many atheist bloggers and intellectuals who have been attacked by Islamist gangs wielding machetes in Bangladesh.

Also featured is an international network of atheist writers, bloggers, academics, intellectuals and artists who form a resistance movement against what they see as the growing oppression, violence and political power of Islamic fundamentalists. Many live in Muslim countries where leaving Islam carries the risk of prosecution and discrimination.

Arif Rahman, a Bangladeshi blogger now in hiding in London, says he sees bloggers as a resistance movement against religious extremism. He says: “When we started writing in 2006, we did not think the people would be killed over this. And in 2013 our first colleague Ahmed Rajab Haidar, he was an architect, was hacked to death in front of his house. That was the first time we realised this was real this could potentially happen.”

The programme finds that a number of senior British Bangladeshi imams, mainstream figures in society, have called for the execution of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, claiming they have insulted Islam, and making a number of anti-atheist statements.

Imad Habib, from Maryam’s organisation, is filmed on his way to help two girls escape from their Muslim family while they are on holiday in London. He says he had undertaken a similar journey – after he came out publicly as an ex-Muslim, he had to leave Morocco to escape prosecution by the authorities and attacks by religious extremists. He says: “First of all you suffer, you suffer, there is no one to help you, if you speak out at any moment you are going to be at risk, you speak out you feel afraid that anyone might find out who you are really, it is a really risky journey that those people take.”

This documentary sees how ex-Muslims continue to struggle to be heard and to express themselves, with radical Islamist protesters often trying to shut down their talks and events. Deeyah identifies these as a part of a growing international movement which is confronting radical Islam both in the UK and the Islamic world. Maryam says they remain defiant: “The internet and social media is doing to Islam what the printing press did in the past to Christianity, because it’s one way in which masses of people can connect with each other, can hear ideas that are taboo and forbidden.”

This is a Fuuse Films production for ITV.

15 September: SHG meeting with Imam Sohayb Peerbhai on Islam

Pilgrims performing Tawaf (circumambulating the Kaaba). This picture was taken from the gate of Abdul Aziz. Taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

Pilgrims performing Tawaf (circumambulating the Kaaba). This picture was taken from the gate of Abdul Aziz. Taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim (copyright).

The next SHG meeting will feature Imam Sohayb Peerbhai. Sohayb, who is a friend of our Chair and colleague of his on SACRE and Interfaith Forums, has kindly agreed to come to talk to us about Islam.

Sohayb will start with a short talk on current issues in Islam and will then answer questions. We anticipate that there will be lots questions and so we would be grateful if you would email your questions to us before the meeting. We will group the questions to prevent duplication. To help Sohayb to provide a succinct and considered response, we will send the questions to him before the meeting. However, everyone is free to ask other questions on the evening, time permitting.

7.30 pm on Thursday 15th September, in the University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury, SY3 8HQ. The Guildhall is next to the Theatre Severn. There is plenty of free parking outside.

Bangladesh Prime Minister appears to condone killings of atheist writers

From Prothom Alo Bangladesh

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday said everybody needs to exercise tolerance as it is essential for the country’s uninterrupted development.
She said it is not at all acceptable to write something hurting religious sentiments of others. “We perform our religious rituals. But, if anyone writes filthy words against our religion, why should we tolerate that?” news agency UNB quoted her as saying.
Nowadays it has become a fashion to write something against religion as part of free thinking, she observed. “But, I consider such writings as not free thinking but filthy words. Why anyone would write such things? It’s not at all acceptable if anyone writes against our prophet or other religions. This is a characteristic fault, expression of distorted or filthy mindset. I hope no one would write such filthy things,” said Hasina.
“Why the government would take responsibility if such writings lead to any untoward incidents? Everyone should maintain decency. Or else the government wouldn’t take the responsibility for any uncivilised attitude.”
About the killing out of vengeance for such writings, she said Islam does not permit it and Almighty Allah does not bestow the duty of trial on them.
“But, if anyone doesn’t abide by the guidance of Almighty Allah and his prophet and thus kill people, it is ‘Shirk’. I hope no one would indulge in such act,” she added.

Several Bangladeshi writers have been murdered recently, including Najimuddin Samad on 5 April.

See also Arif Rahman.

Another atheist blogger murdered in Bangladesh

From the International Humanist and Ethical Union on 30 March 2015:

Washiqur Rahman’s Facebook banner declares “#IamAvijit”, after the leading secular and humanist blogger, Avijit Roy, who was murdered a month ago in Bangladesh.

Washiqur babu

This morning Washiqur Rahman himself was killed in similar circumstances: a machete attack by assailants on the streets of Dhaka. The brutal attack took place close to Rahman’s home. Police have reportedly taken two men into custody who were detained at the scene.

Bob Churchill, Director of Communications at the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) comments: “We are deeply saddened that yet another rationalist voice has been so brutally silenced in this vile backlash against atheist bloggers. Our thoughts are with Washiqur’s family and we stand in solidarity with the many individual thinkers and writers from Bangladesh who exercise their right to discuss religion — Islam in particular — frankly and critically. This is a human right, freedom of expression, and it should be respected and protected in Bangladesh, as it should be respected and protected everywhere.”

Asif Mohiuddin, who was also the victim of a machete attack in 2013, but survived and now lives abroad, described Washiqur on his Facebook page as a “humanist” and a true wit. He told the IHEU: “He was a good friend. We spent hours over tea discussing blogs a few years ago. He had a great sense of humor, his satires were amazing. I named him the George Carlin of Bangladesh! Personally he was very polite, a nice human being. He wanted with all his heart, a true secular country, where everyone can practice their freedom.”

Arifur Rahman, another fellow Bangladeshi atheist blogger, saw Washiqur recently at a social meetup. Washiqur was “a soft spoken personality,” says Arifur, and “his writing was very good. He was… careful, but that did not save him… The culture of impunity that has spread over the last few years clearly has very damning results. It is now the consensus inside Bangladesh, be it silent or spoken, that ‘if you drop an atheist in the open street, nothing will happen to you, you will be treated as a hero.’ The word ‘Nastik’ (atheist) has been vilified in Bangladesh (and the rest of the Muslim world); they are seen as sub-human, it is OK to kill them.”

Washiqur’s writing

Washiqur also used the hashtag #WordsCannotBeKilled, introduced by Avijit Roy’s daughter following her father’s murder. In that vital spirit, we share some words from Washiqur Rahman.

Mild-mannered in person, Washiqur’s satire could be bitingly incisive and insightful. Writing a 52 episode series for Dhormockery.com (a satirical Bengali site), called “Jaw-crushing answers to insulting comments of atheists” (see: questions 1-20, questions 21-40) he enumerated questions raised by critics about Islam, alongside answers commonly given to them, but paired the questions together in order to highlight how the answers are very often in tension, or contradict each other entirely. For example:

Insulting comment 21: Islam is claimed to be ‘the best and the complete way of life’. Does that mean that slavery is valid for eternity?

Jaw-crushing answer: See, Islam is a humane religion. Slavery was not forbidden because of the situation of that time. But there scope for ‘qiyas and ijma’ (consensus and reconsideration) in Islam. That means any custom can be abolished

Insulting comment 22: Why then Muslims are not agreeing to equal inheritance for girls through ‘qiyas and ijma’.

Jaw-crushing answer: See, Islam is a ‘perfect and complete way of life’. Its ‘codes of life’ has been formulated for the overall welfare of humanity. Islam has basically given women the highest honor. But you want to abolish the laws of Allah for the sake of inconsequential earthly benefits. This is not acceptable.

For Bangaldesh’s Independence Day, he wrote a poetic lament about which sections of society really are liberated, and those which are not. The piece reveals many wider social justice concerns, alluding to the apparent immunity from prosecution faced by some garment factory owners, and the injustices faced by many of the poorest in society:

আজ বাংলাদেশের স্বাধীনতা দিবস।

মোল্লা স্বাধীন, জঙ্গি স্বাধীন, ছাগু স্বাধীন, মুমিন স্বাধীন, দুর্নীতিবাজ স্বাধীন, রাজনৈতিক নেতা স্বাধীন, পাতি নেতা স্বাধীন, ধর্ষক স্বাধীন, সামরিক বাহিনী স্বাধীন, সুশীল সমাজ স্বাধীন, পিনাকী স্বাধীন, শফি হুজুর স্বাধীন, দলদাস স্বাধীন, গার্মেন্টস মালিক স্বাধীন, লঞ্চ মালিক স্বাধীন…

স্বাধীন নয় কৃষক-শ্রমিক,
স্বাধীন নয় কথিত সংখ্যালঘু-আদিবাসী,
স্বাধীন নয় মুক্তচিন্তার মানুষ,
স্বাধীন নয় মানুষ হতে চাওয়া মানুষগুলো…

Today is Bangladesh’s liberation day

The Mullah has freedom, extremists have freedom, Muslims have freedom, the corrupt have freedom, political leaders have freedom, adulates of the political leaders have freedom, rapists are free, the armed forces are free, so-called civil society is free, intellectuals who support Islamists, they also have freedom, religious leaders have freedom, the garment factory owners have freedom, the ferry owners have freedom.

Not free: the farmers and labours
Not free: indigenous people and minorities
Not free: Freethinkers
Not free: All the people who just want to be human…

Known on Facebook as Washiqur Babu, Rahman also blogged at Shocholayoton and posted at an online message board called Logical Forum. Washiqur Rahman is also a pseudonym and we’re not using his full given name on advice.

Tom Pride on reasons why the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo deserved to die

From the excellent satirical blog, Pride’s Purge:

November news – visit of the South Shropshire Interfaith Forum

Three members of the South Shropshire Interfaith Forum joined us for our November meeting, and explained the purpose of the Forum.

Members of all faiths and of none are welcome to join their meetings. Their main aim is to serve the community. Respect for all, mutual learning and understanding is encouraged- the idea is to break down barriers and build bridges. The group tries to be good neighbours locally, and to consider the sufferings of all humans globally.

A wide-ranging discussion covered issues such as what we mean by faith and how great differences can be dealt with. The idea is not to alter anyone’s belief, but to be able to express that belief without causing offence. Unfortunately there was insufficient time to ask the myriad of questions that were bubbling up.

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