Scores of Muslims in Europe are publicly abandoning their religion to become Christians or agnostics despite their former community’s taboo against such acts.
In France, the film “The Apostle” by filmmaker Cheyenne Carron has meanwhile lifted the veil on “apostasy” by telling the story of a young Muslim who converted to Catholicism and how he had trouble getting family and friends to accept his choice.
“It is time for us to stop hiding,” said Pastor Said Oujibou, 46, who left radical Islam for evangelical protestantism and who is among the few converts to have publicized his decision in France.
He said he is “tolerated” by his former co-religionists, even if he admits to having sparked “sarcasm and annoyance” from them.
But he warned against the “double talk” that certain branches of Islam in France close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists use toward apostate Muslims.
“Apostasy is a taboo in Muslim culture and if the text of the Quran does not provide for any punishment, prophetic tradition calls for killing apostates,” said Radouane Attiya, a former preacher trained in Saudi Arabia who is now a specialist on Islam at Liege University in Belgium.
Specialists said that more people become Muslim in Europe than leave the faith but Muslims converting to Christianity, especially evangelical protestantism, are on the rise, according to Oujibou.
Evangelicals seek to proselytise in working class and immigrant neighbourhoods where there are many Muslims.
“In Europe, as in Arab countries, there is a rampant atheism gaining ground. But what is new is the search for visibility,” Attiya said.
He said “Islamic radicalism, world jihadism are contributing to the emergence of a reverse radicalism.”
Ahmed, a Belgian engineer in his forties, abandoned Islam because he said he rejected the “total control” his former religion has over people’s lives.
Ahmed spoke only on condition of anonymity and said he was also “fed up with the omnipresence of fundamentalists,” and what he called “the hypocrisy of Islam.”
He joined a group that fights Muslim “indoctrination,” one that has around ten members, “very little financial means” and a website publicising the books of Robert
Spencer, an American anti-Muslim blogger who has been accused of racism and incitement to hatred.
Similar organisations have existed for several years in Britain and Germany, made up of Iranian exiles.
In September, the Central Council of Ex-Muslims in Germany called for a protest against a handful of Salafists who proclaimed themselves “police of the Sharia,” Islamic law, in the western city of Wuppertal.
“It’s true,” Ahmed said, “that somehow we join the extreme right, but Islam is also the extreme right. It’s up to us to clean house.”
Imtiaz Shams, 25, who comes from what he calls a “very conservative” Muslim family in London, may not be an activist like Ahmed.
But he renounced his faith before his family two years ago and joined an “underground community” for former Muslims that now numbers around 300 people in London.
“We do weekly meet-ups, we take care of each other. This is not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s a couple of ice cubes on top of the iceberg,” Shams said.
“We don’t really fit in with the activist ex-Muslim stuff. It’s more personal,” he said.
He said it is very difficult for Muslims to “come out” before their families.
“People feel hurt, because they feel like you are rejecting something, almost spitting in their face even if you have respect for their faith,” he said.
For his mother, it’s also “the fear that my child is going to hell.” He estimated that there may be around 10,000 agnostics among London’s Muslim community of 600,000.