Islam’s New Challenge: Ex-Muslims

Islam’s New Challenge: Ex-Muslims. By Daniel Pipes.

I shall focus here on the phenomenon of ex-Muslims in the West, leaving aside the Muslim-majority countries. The numbers are imprecise: one estimate has about 15,000 Muslims who de-convert or leave Islam every year in France and 100,000 who de-convert in the United States. Over time, this amounts to a significant population; perhaps one-quarter of people of Muslim origins living in the West are now ex-Muslims. They roughly counterbalance the converts to Islam, who tend to be better known, figures like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Keith Ellison. That said, some ex-Muslims are also very well known, if much more discreet; hello, Barack Hussein Obama. …

First, publicly leaving Islam in of itself constitutes a major statement. Though generally forbidden in Muslim-majority countries, doing so is of course legal in the West. But even in Europe and North America, an ex-Muslim faces rejection by the family, social ostracism, humiliation, curses, threats, reprisals, and sometimes even violent attacks. So, it always requires courage and stamina. …

Second, ex-Muslims organize. … The Ex-Muslim Organization of North America, for example, provides mutual support, polishes arguments against Islam, raises troublesome issues (such as female genital mutilation and polygamy), and actively lobbies governments. Again, Muslims have never before confronted such an opposition.

Thirdly, ex-Muslims argue against Islam to believers. Wafa Sultan in Los Angeles primarily addresses fellow Arabic speakers, finding fault with Islam and inviting them to leave it. … Expositions by these knowledgeable and inspired ex-Muslims writers living in the West have sent shockwaves to their countries of origin. Historically protected by custom and law from any kind of criticism, Islam lacks defenses for such critiques: sputtering imprecations and cracking down tend to be the favored responses, rather than reasoned rebuttals; recall the Danish cartoons of Muhammad and the violent outrage they inspired. Even irony is prohibited. Anxious authorities ban criticisms; if that does not work, they jail the culprits. They even concoct Zionist conspiracies.

But with passion and unique authority, ex-Muslims push believers to think critically about their faith. These efforts have contributed to a substantial decline in Muslim religiosity. For example, a major survey called the Arab Barometer was summarized in The Economist the following way: “Many [Arabic-speaking Muslims] appear to be giving up on Islam.” This move toward secular outlooks across the Muslim world results in part from ex-Muslims in the West free to propagate their experiences and ideas. …

There’s never been anything like this in Islam’s 1400 years of history; it’s a new phenomenon. These boisterously opinionated ex-Muslims challenge their birth religion, helping both to modernize it and to reduce its hold. Their role has just begun, as their ranks increase and as pious Muslims flounder in the face of this challenge. …

Israel:

Almost invariably, ex-Muslims are pro-Israel. … They broadly impact public opinion and support the extraordinary development of the Muslim world becoming less hostile to Israel. … However, the global left has become ever-more hostile to Israel. So, Israel today has better relations with Saudi Arabia than with Spain or Sweden. …

Islamic violence in the West appears to have decreased:

You may have noticed much less news about violent jihad in the United States. … When Islamist attacks take place, they tend to be portrayed as mere violent episodes without motive. Exceptions exist, such as Boston Marathon and Fort Hood attacks, but most of what appear to be jihadi attacks are simply not reported, although these seem to take place every few months.

One example from 2013: an Egyptian Muslim in New Jersey murdered two Copts and butchered their corpses. The perpetrator, Yusuf Ibrahim, was caught, convicted, and rots away in prison. But never, not even at the court proceedings, did any hint of his motive emerge. Were the three young men fighting over a girl, over money, over loot, or over religion? Is Ibrahim a common criminal or a jihadi? I have been following this case for eight years and I have no idea. In all, I perceive less jihadi violence than there used to be but more than appears to be the case.

For the first time since the seventh century, Islam is being challenged with criticism in its homelands. Maybe, finally, Islam will be moved along from its seventh century fundamentalist roots.

hat-tip Stephen Neil