My recent experiences indicate that there is a need for a support organisation in New Zealand (NZ) for those who decide to leave Islam. To my knowledge there currently is no such organisation in place. The needs of ex-Muslims are somewhat unique compared with those leaving other religions. For those turning from Islam to another religion, they will generally have support from the members of that new ‘spiritual home’, but for those for whom that is inadequate, or have turned to atheism, there is currently little or no support available. Skeptic, Rationalist and Humanist groups are active in NZ, but do not meet all of the challenges, that an ex-Muslim faces.
Muslims themselves are very much in the minority in NZ – currently numbering around 45,000 from a total population of 4.5 million (1.0%). Ex-Muslims are an even smaller minority, currently unknown to each other. The prospect of ideological and possibly physical isolation when leaving Islam and the various types of coercion applied to punish those who do so will lead many to either unwillingly go through the motions and pretend all is well, or depending on their level of self-confidence, to go out alone and suffer in silence.
While every individual situation will be unique in many respects, my intention is to provide a local NZ network of like-minded ex-Muslim friends who can provide support for each other, and for those whose faith is weak and are considering leaving Islam – to give them the comfort that there is someone in NZ to talk to. We have the right to free thought and those who dare to think differently should not be discouraged. We have a right to choose our religion, or to choose no religion.
The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), formed in 2007, has already shown leadership in this area and CEMNZ will be affiliated to the CEMB.
As for myself, I was born into a fundamentalist Christian (Baptist) family in the UK, who believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and I was fairly successfully indoctrinated during childhood. I discovered Islam at College and the step across at age 19 was relatively easy because the foundations of the two religions are essentially the same and Islam resolved many of difficulties I had with Christianity. After 25 years as a moderately active and faithful Muslim, but with some unresolved questions, I had the opportunity to study and evaluate answers to those questions. Faith wavered and then collapsed. I read a vast number of books and other material, to try and make really certain that I was not making a mistake now and to understand why I (or anyone) would have believed in the first place. These studies ranged across many areas: Archaeology, Biology, Christianity, Cults, Geology, History, Islam, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Psychology, Theology etc. I have found that the answers are out there, without the need for a supernatural agent, if we are prepared to open our minds.
Safwan Mason, June 2013
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