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Where is India’s Ex-Muslims Movement Headed?

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

8 July 2022

Dallying With Hindu Hate Mongers Defeats Their Original Mission of Starting a Debate with the Muslim Community

Main Points:

1.    The ex-Muslim movement differentiates between Islam and Muslims; their whole argument being that Islam should be fundamentally altered otherwise Muslims will never be reformed.

2.    They have debated with clerics who still haven’t been able to answer many questions raised by the ex-Muslim fraternity.

3.    Slowly, even ordinary Muslims have started listening to them with due attention.

4.    Of late, the ex-Muslim movement seems to be dallying with rabid Hindu groups who have previously called for mass killing of Muslims.

5.    Whatever be the reason for this awkward alliance, it will only repel Muslims from this movement, thus defeating the very purpose of its activism. 


In my personal experience, I have met a lot of Muslims who have searing questions on the nature of Islam and some aspects of its teachings. They know that the Quran is not a scientific text and hence some of its statements run contrary to the basic tenets of science. More importantly though, they have got disillusioned with some parts of the Quran which command the followers to wage war against unbelievers. They know that instead of confronting these questions, the post Quranic theology further strengthened the notion of Islamic supremacy by proclaiming one universal truth which supposedly resides only in Islam. The lack of dissent, the status of women, the lack of a source-critical tradition to engage with scriptures in Muslim societies have made them unsure whether the Muslim society can ever be reformed or not. These Muslims go through the motion of observing Islamic practices like praying and fasting but they tell me that they have ceased to be believers long ago. What binds them to the faith is primarily their family and friends, not the credo of Islam.

But of late, India has seen another set of Muslims, who are no longer silent about the contradictions within Islam or the understanding that certain readings of Islam promote violence. This group comprises of all sorts of people: from madrasa trained scholars, professionals, social scientists and students. Their vantage point of critiquing Islam may be different but all of them believe in the necessity of speaking about it which distinguishes them from the first set of Muslims who consciously chose to remain silent despite their misgivings. They call themselves as ex-Muslims and are quite vocal about the perceived deformities within Islam. Ex-Muslims is an umbrella term but what unites them is their belief that Islam is the source of all problems within the Muslim society and the larger world and that without its wholesale repudiation, it cannot be reformed. Making a distinction between Muslims and Islam, they argue that the former has to be freed from the ‘deadly embrace’ of the latter. Their whole activism therefore is based upon challenging the received theological wisdom that Islam is a religion of peace and humanity; in its place they argue by engaging with the scriptures how Islam or Islamic theology is just the opposite.

Over the years, this tribe has only grown. Today there are a number of such groups spread throughout the country who are engaged in telling Muslims what is wrong in their religion. This activism is mostly confined to the cyber space as we can imagine that such debates still cannot be enacted within the physical public sphere. Slowly but surely, these ex-Muslims channels are drawing the attention of the Ulama and common Muslims who have some knowledge of Islam. Debates have been conducted between ex Muslims and prominent Islamic scholars and lay Muslims come to these channels to clarify their confusion but mostly to rebut what they consider as erroneous perspectives. This is a form of an online munazara (religious debate) wherein it really gets difficult to pinpoint which side won or lost. The respective followers, with their inherent biases, claim victory for their scholars.

But what is clear is that almost all Muslim scholars do not have satisfactory answers to some of the questions raised by the ex-Muslim fraternity. These questions might be related to the personality of Prophet Muhammad or the methodology adopted by traditional Islamic theology, or even the status of women in Islam, the Ulama have nearly always failed to give a convincing reply to objections. Under these circumstances, some of the Ulama, like Mufti Fazal Hamdard, who ‘rescues Islam’ from the safe confines of Pakistan, have resorted to personal attacks on some of the prominent ex- Muslims. Needless to say, this is reprehensible and shows the traditional Muslim clergy in an exceedingly bad light. This has only increased the following of ex-Muslims and one can see that now more and more Muslims are coming to listen to their views on their channels.

This further riles the Ulama as they fear their authority and respectability dwindling within the Muslim society. In desperation, one Mufti, again from Pakistan, managed to get hold of the real identification of a popular ex-Muslim who went by the name of Sahil. But what eventually came of it was that this ex-Muslim came out of the closet and starting debating these Mullahs on live TV. In solidarity, some others also decided to show their face despite a real threat perception. The Ulama need to think of some other strategy as clearly, all their technics to put a break on this movement have come to naught. In the meanwhile, ordinary Muslims are slowly warming up to these channels. However, this process is too slow.

The ex-Muslims channels are till today swarmed by Hindus who are anxious to know about Islam or those who simply want to have fun when Islam is being rubbished. This poses a fundamental problem to the ex-Muslim movement, something which they need to think about. If the audience of these shows are primarily non-Muslims, only certain kind of questions will be raised. If the ex-Muslim really believes that they have to rescue Muslims from Islam, then they have to ask themselves what they are doing to bring ordinary Muslims to their shows?

Rather than this, a strange alignment with the most obnoxious elements within the Hindu right wing is taking place. Some of the channels, who are quite popular do not see a problem in inviting rabid right wingers who openly proclaim that they are interested in reconverting Muslims to Hinduism. These people come from the same ecosystem who want to economically boycott Muslims, celebrate their lynching, call for mass killings, and thinks that everything that is wrong in India today is because of Islam and Muslims. Either by inviting such people to their shows or by going to their shows, the ex-Muslim movement is making a fundamental mistake by not remaining equidistant from both Hindu and Muslim right wing. This is not to say that any alliance with the Hindu right wing is problematic. In this case, it might have been occasioned by the fact that ex Muslims were wanting some form of protection from the very real threat from orthodox Muslims. But to go to the extent of inviting those who want to kill Muslims is going too far.

By aligning with such forces, the ex-Muslim movement is losing its own distinction between good Muslims and bad Islam. These Hindu right wing groups, who have Godse as their ideal, are not interested in protecting dissent within the Muslim society. For them, the ex-Muslim movement is another way in which they can highlight the brutality of Islam and Muslims. In short, they are using this movement for their own nefarious ends to polarize society along religious lines by pointing out the inherent evilness of Muslims. Whatever goodwill the movement has earned within the community will vanish if they keep inviting such Muslim haters to their channels.

The ex-Muslim movement started with the intention of hoisting certain critical debates within the Muslim community. It would be better if it remains true to its original mandate rather than dallying with those whose sole obsession with Muslims has done enough dagame to religious harmony and pluralism.


A regular contributor to, Arshad Alam is a writer and researcher on Islam and Muslims in South Asia.   


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