I interviewed ‘Saab’ in March, when partnering with the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), in investigating experiences of ex-Muslims across Britain.
Summary : Saab is a covert apostate (atheism), who because of the hostility to apostates keeps his status secret from family and friends, and will pretend to be a Muslim if he really has to, such as at the Pakistani embassy, or when he is pressed to go to Mosque, because of the fear of retaliation, including murder. He anticipates it will impact his marriage chances; it certainly affects his social life and his psychological well-being.
Saab is an ex-Muslim from a Pashtun background in his early 20’s. He became an apostate in 2013 after coming to the realisation that ‘religious ideas were illogical’. This dawned upon him in reading into the Islamic doctrine and ‘thinking’ as he simply put it.
‘I felt like I gave up something, as if it had never existed. I do not have any beliefs right now.’
Saab’s main focus is progressing his career and therefore doesn’t grant much time to considering, much less discussing his apostasy. Although he confided in a few, select number of friends – ‘most of them weren’t Muslims so they reacted normally’.
Yet, the fact remains that Saab tends to avoid his apostasy status due to the intolerance towards it, should family members and members of the Islamic community, both in the UK and Pakistan, learn of his non-belief.
‘My family continues to belief that I am Muslim and I don’t want to change that because I don’t trust anyone. Almost all of my family lives in Pakistan and I think a close friend or family member could use the apostasy rule as a justification to kill me and that is not something I want. I feel safe in Britain because I am mostly around Non-Muslims.
However, around Muslims, I refrain from discussing my apostasy because one never knows what that could lead to. I feel extremely uncomfortable when my Muslim friends pressurise me into going to the mosque with them but I pretend to be Muslim for a short period as I don’t wish to engage in any arguments with them or make enemies as apostasy is punishable by death. This is again a major issue when I travel back to Pakistanas I have to pretend to be Muslim because I fear being persecuted.
I was once renewing my Pakistani passport in Manchester and as part of the procedure, I had to declare that I was Muslim. I did not want to do that but the Pakistani consulate was full of Muslims who I thought might harm me if I refused to sign the declaration. It was one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever done. I am single at the moment and I think my apostasy would have a huge effect on me trying to find a partner from my own ethnicity
When I indirectly speak of it as a general topic, I have mostly noticed hatred from Muslims for apostates and they have expressed that they feel apostates should be killed. I do feel under extreme pressure to pretend to be Muslim because I don’t want to fall out with someone who could potentially harm me. Especially, if I were to travel back to Pakistan.
I try to avoid such situations by not expressing my views. However, if people do try to pressure me into praying or something similar, then I try to tell them that everyone has their own right to do whatever they feel like doing or not doing.’
When asked about whether he has taken protective measures as an apostate, whether it be informing the police or appealing to the local Imam, he stated that he attempts to avoid any possible trouble by maintaining silence. Saab does however believe the police would be helpful should he ever need urgent help, whilst the mosques would not.
‘I think we should all be given safety. Pretending to be someone you are not, is extremely uncomfortable. If I was to move out of Britain to Pakistan (For example), I think I wouldn’t be alive for more than a few months because I think my true feelings would eventually come out which would lead to my death. I am working in the UK and I try not to socialise with people that I think could find it offensive to find that I am an apostate. However, I am very comfortable in the UK as I am free to express myself.’