Founder, NYC Organizer
I am an Egyptian-American atheist who grew up as a Muslim in Alexandria, Egypt. I moved to the United States in 2002 and was forced by overwhelming scientific information to admit the faulty nature of Islam and all religions. On the first day of Ramadan in 2008, I did not fast for the first time in my adult life, and I was no longer Muslim.
After coming out as an atheist in 2009, I lived for three years as a former Muslim without having met any other ex-Muslim atheists or even knowing whether they existed. Finally in 2011, I met another former Muslim in a New York City bar for the first time. This experience inspired me to meet other like-minded people. I sought the help of the Center for Inquiry – a secular humanist group – and organized the first Muslimish meeting in NYC on May 30, 2012.
I take pride in being one of the founding members of Muslimish who shaped the core principles and goals of the group: creating a safe environment for discussion, fostering a pluralist society, and abolishing blasphemy laws across the globe.
Email Ibrahim at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wissam Charafeddine was born in the United Arab Emirates to Lebanese parents. He attended the Islamic Hanbaly Educational Institute and graduated with a diploma in Islamic Shariah. After the first gulf war, his family emigrated to the U.S. and he became an American citizen in 2004. During his academic studies, Wissam continued to study and give lectures on Islamic Shariah through distant-study programs in Iran, and with local scholars.
In 2008-2009, while researching in order to write an article about Islam and evolution, Wissam found a new understanding of science, and adapted a new understanding of life based on it. The article was never finished, but a new intellectual journey had begun.
Mr. Charafeddine co-founded Muslimish in 2012 in order to create an environment for support and dialogue among ex-Muslims and questioning Muslims, and fight for the freedom of expression against blasphemy laws in Islamic countries. In his free time, Wissam enjoys sailing, poetry, reading, music, and traveling with his 2 daughters and son.
Email Wissam at: email@example.com
I am an Egyptian-American woman, born and raised in New York City. As a child, I attended private Islamic school – first only on weekends, and then as a full-time enrolled student. My parents had hoped to impart Islamic values on me while I grew up in the West.
In my late adolescence, I began having doubts about the existence of a god, and soon afterward I took issue with specific teachings of Islam. The notion of heaven and especially hell did not sit well with me. I was skeptical that a god could be extremely benevolent but also violently punitive. Additionally, the perceived superiority of humans to all other organisms, as well as claims to miracles and the inception of our world directly opposed my rationality and education in the sciences. It was only after having strong doubts that I read more Quran and ahadith, which only dismayed me further with regards to the status of women and nonbelievers in Islam.
I now live as an ex-Muslim and have been vocal about my views with family members and the general public over the last six years. I feel very strongly that I can denounce a religion while still feeling compassion for and respect the human rights of its followers. This pluralistic stance is why I am a member of Muslimish. When I joined Muslimish in 2013, I met other ex-Muslims for the first time in my life. Since then, I have lost all shame for being an apostate.
Email Noura at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Member, Board of Directors
My parents inhabited a world in which Islam didn’t occupy a lot of mental space. Their generation, at least compared to mine, had the luxury of being indifferent to its central tenets. Religion was not the main topic of conversation. The subject could be changed. It was more easily marginalized. There were subtle ways of dismissing its centrality as a subject matter in their otherwise busy lives.
My dad, for instance, always insisted that religion was about how you treat other people. It was his way of dismissing the need to pray or fast or go on the pilgrimage, his way of letting others know that his religious views or practices or lack thereof were really none of their business. He never expended any psychic energy arguing for or against particular religious beliefs or practices. That phrase- al din mu’amala- spared him a lot of heartache. He rarely felt the need to enter into energy sucking arguments with anybody trying to convert him or to reform his ways.
Such strategies opened up a live and let live space that was supported by the relative tolerance of the larger culture. Nobody could accuse my father of being hostile to religion. He simply went underground with his indifference even as he affirmed to us the possibility of being good without being pious. There were various ways in which my father’s indifference allowed him to change the subject and open up a private space to show us what he deemed worthy of our attention.
One time, for instance, my brother spent the entire day at the local mosque with his friends. When he got home my father gave him a spanking and reprimanded him for wasting his time at the mosque instead of focusing on his school work, an infinitely more useful endeavor as he saw it. In private, then, my father opened up a space in which secular knowledge was sacralized and linked to worldly success. Prayer was a mere distraction or lahw from the more important task of doing well in our academic studies.
To this day I view books as a locus of the sacred and feel that reading is a meditative practice. We were educated in private American schools but my father always insisted that I study Arabic with private tutors. He valued the Arabic language more for its potential to open up economic opportunities than for its capacity to unlock the mysteries of the Qur’an.
Things began to change for my generation. It became increasingly difficult to marginalize the ubiquitous talk of all matters relating to religion. It seemed as everything had to be seen through a religious lens as though people born in Muslim majority countries or to ”Muslim” families were marked by an exceptional attachment to their faith. To veil or not to veil began to seem like the big existential question of the times. Televangelist like Amr Khaled were on a mission to veil all Egyptian women and make inroads into the upper and upper-middle classes. The country was abuzz with intra-religious missionary activity. Books were written and sermons delivered admonishing women to don the veil.
This religious discourse was supported by powerful players in the Gulf who spent a lot of money spreading their less tolerant version of Islam. Society became more polarized and views more militant. It wasn’t so much that one had to veil as one couldn’t escape veil talk.
Can we please change the subject? I longed to recapture my parent’s spirited indifference and the freedoms it afforded. Two things helped me escape this suffocating discourse. First, my parents never burdened my psyche with religious beliefs that would have made me easy prey for the conversion brigades. Secondly, through my love of the Arabic language and my abiding love of reading I was able to cultivate a humanistic space to nourish my intellect and my longing for meaning.
This is where Muslimish comes in.
I had always been looking for a community with whom I shared a common cultural background minus all the religious baggage. There was a comfort in knowing that some members of the group still identified as cultural Muslims and felt a deep affinity to their communities without necessarily sharing their religious views. We were becoming friends and supporting one another. The broad spectrum of views starting from militant atheists to agnostics to deists to doubters to progressive Muslims gave me hope that we have a fighting chance to reproduce the pluralism that has evaded my generation and is tearing the Arab world apart. My hope is that we as a group can set our own agenda and cultivate what we are for rather than have others always determine what we must speak out against. That is a freedom of sorts.
Ginan Rauf is an educator, oral historian, photographer, art collector activist and mom. She got her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University and has taught at various institutions of higher education including Brandeis, Rutgers, and the University of Bridgeport.
2015 President, Board of Directors
I have studied Islam for most of my life. In my childhood, I learned how to read and understand some of the Qur’anic verses and a few hadiths, and got to know how to pray and fast. During high school and college, I read more about Islamic history, basic religious methodology, how Qur’anic verses and hadith complement one-another (asbab al-nozool). I was driven to understand the core message of Islam. Later, I read the works of some of Islam’s major scholars such as Ibn-Taymiya and Al-Ghazali, and most Qur’anic exegeses. This knowledge helped me understand the nature of Islam and appreciate its impact on the Arabs in Hijaz during the 6th century AD. It also deepened my religious feelings and helped me refine my prayer and fasting, as well as encouraged me to perform Hajj and Umra.
I did not doubt any of the books I read. They were written by pious believing scholars. I also rarely doubted any of the hadiths, even those absurd hadiths that mentioned prophetic medicine were considered weak hadith (israeliyat)! I was proud of my religion and put the time and effort to improve upon my Islamic knowledge. I was also happy that my understanding of Islam basic tenets gives me the ability to understand their applications in everyday life.
I was not bothered by extremists/fundamentalists. They were always around and I saw them as a group of people who chose to take the Qur’an and hadith literally. They mostly did not have a strong capacity for abstract or analytical thinking. I considered them as schoolmates who flunked math because they did not get the abstract notions behind mathematical theories. In my view at the time, they were an annoying group, but harmless. This went on until 9/11 and until these extremists started to show up at my local Masjid forcing their opinions on everyone and pushing those who do not adhere to their vision aside, sometimes violently.
I shared my views on Islam with my kids. They asked a ton of questions and did not settle for any answer that did not satisfy their intuitive logic. Questions like: why are we Muslims, not Christians or atheists? How come men play a stronger role in Islam than women? Why there are no prophetesses or female imams? Why do we pray? Does God need our prayers? Why do women have to cover their heads? Why don’t men? The outdated segregation of men and women didn’t make sense to them. We spent endless hours in discussions that only proved the validity and importance of many of their questions.
Events at the Masjid and persistent questions from my kids pushed me back and forced me to open my trove of Islamic knowledge. I started to search for what I had been missing. It didn’t take me long to figure out that all of what I based my Islamic knowledge upon came from a homogeneous source that depends only on a few primary texts that were basically repeated from one generation to the next. I lacked the search tools and analytical methodology that would allow me to understand what went wrong. I needed additional information!
I went back and expanded my reading horizons to include non-mainstream Islamic writers and scholars of Islam teaching at universities around the world. I quickly came to realize that all of what I learned was just one version of Islam and that Islam was not as homogeneous or as well documented as I was made to believe. I learned that the first document on the history of Islam (sira) was that of Ibn Ishaq written 80 years after the death of Muhammad (Sirat Ibn Ishaq). And even this work was purged of many of its inconsistencies by Ibn Hisham (Sirat Ibn Hisham) a few decades later. I learned that there are 12 different hadiths documenting the event of Muhammad receiving his first message from Gibril, each with a different story ranging from it being a dream to a true physical encounter with the Angel. I learned that what I considered as truth was just one version or variant of a story. I learned that all of these versions have one thing in common, they are historically weak.
This knowledge left me feeling confused and betrayed. How come I did not seek, read and expound on this information before? It seems that the knowledge of these variants in the primary sources and the lack of certainty in the sira are not new. This body of knowledge has always been controversial or contested. So why do scholars insist on writing and detailing only one version of the story as if it were the absolute uncontested truth?
Although we know more about Islam than we do about other religions, our knowledge is still very limited. For example, little is documented about Muhammad before he started preaching his message and during the whole Meccan period. The history preserved in Sirat Ibn Ishaq mostly relates to the Medina period and thereafter. In addition, the rulers of the Umayyad dynasty had a superficial attachment to Islam and seemed to have felt hatred for most of the Prophet’s companions. They also killed serious Muslim scholars and employed puppet figures to falsify hadiths or prophetic traditions to justify their needs and political reign. In my view the only primary source that has historical legitimacy is the Qur’an. Other source such as the hadith or Sira have no legitimacy. I finally came to the conclusion that what we have today from Islamic history and hadith has little to do with what happened during Muhammad’s time and there is no possible approach or procedure than can resolve this issue.
This is where Muslimish comes in:
There is a clear need for Muslims of all persuasions to come together and start a movement that probes the limits of our historic knowledge, that casts this level of certainty into doubt and that redefines what it means to be a Muslim in globalized world in the 21st century. It is no longer feasible for Muslims to bury their heads in the sands of 6th century Arabia. We need to open a universal dialogue and ask as many critical questions as we can to help bring a positive change from inside Islam before it is too late!