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Germany: Founder Of Council Of Ex-Muslims Seeks To 'Break Taboo' --> Mina Ahadi (file photo) (Courtesy Photo) April 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Mina Ahadi, an Iranian-born activist living in Germany, has founded a council of former Muslims who have renounced their faith. Members of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims are immigrants from predominantly Islamic countries. Ahadi, who is now under police protection, spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari.

RFE/RL: Why did you decide to create the Council of Ex-Muslims?

Mina Ahadi: It's been 11 years now that I've lived in Germany, and the friends and I who founded the council have been critical regarding some events in this country. On the one hand, when there is talk about people who have come to Germany from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Turkey, they're all being labeled Muslims; then all of these 3 1/2 million people are put in the same bag, and Islamist organizations are being presented as being in charge of them.

"If this movement expands and grows worldwide -- which is our goal -- then it could create a global front against political Islam and force [proponents of political Islam] to retreat."

People like myself, we sought asylum in Germany and we came to live here because we [opposed] political Islam and such organizations. Many of the problems here -- such as honor killings or imposing the Islamic hejab on children, or building a number of mosques here -- create divisions among people. All of these are explained to society based on the argument that Muslims have a different culture or Muslims have different ideas. All of these prompted those of us who are critical and who oppose such things to create a body that will have different policies regarding such issues.

RFE/RL: What policies are you following and what is the aim of your group?

Ahadi: We are humans, and that's our most important identity. All of the people, men and women, who have come [to Germany] from [Islamic] countries are humans. They've come to this country because of a better life, because of freedom, and because of better conditions. And they want to live with the people of this country, with Germans. They don't want to have a parallel society. They don't want again for young girls not to have the right to have a boyfriend or not have the right to participate in swimming class because their families are Muslims.

We represent a secular policy, a human policy. And we want to stand up against political Islam and against Western governments' policy of cultural relativism

RFE/RL: How many members does your group have?

Ahadi: We started with 40 people, but currently we have 400 members. For now, we want our members to be from Germany. We have received membership requests from other countries -- for example, from Egypt, Morocco, Iran, [and] Scandinavian countries. But we have not accepted foreign members yet. All our members are living in Germany, and our only principle is that those who become our members [must] be atheists and not believe in God or any religion.

RFE/RL: You've said in interviews that you aim to give a voice to Muslims who do not want to be Muslims anymore and give a different image of people from Islamic countries who live in Europe. Could you explain?

Ahadi: We want to change the existing picture that all people who have come from Islamic countries are fanatics, religious, or backwards and that their culture is very different from others. In my view, this is not an accurate portrait. People who come from these countries, regardless of whether they're Muslims or not, they're not different from other people, and they want to have a [normal] life. And we are defending their rights.

RFE/RL: As you know, renouncing Islam is considered a grave offense among some Muslims, and in some Islamic countries, including Iran, apostasy is punishable by death. Don't you think that your move and the creation of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims could create tension and provoke some Muslims?

Ahadi: I'm aware that a person who says, 'I'm not a Muslim anymore,' faces the danger of death. That's why I'm now under police protection. But I don't think it causes tensions. It is possible that some groups or organizations might issue fatwas against people who have [renounced Islam].

But I think one should not be afraid, and this taboo should be broken. Our goal is to break the taboo -- people who don't believe should have the right to say it [publicly], and no one should [be able to] harm them for that. But in some countries where Islamists are in power, this is a taboo; and we want to break this taboo.

I actually think that our movement will motivate people to express themselves and live according to their beliefs. If this movement expands and grows worldwide -- which is our goal -- then it could create a global front against political Islam and force [proponents of political Islam] to retreat. In Germany, there have been no official fatwas against us, and I see it as a retreat that we have imposed on Islamic organizations and also on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

RFE/RL: You said there have not been any fatwas against you or the other members of your group. But have you received death threats?

Ahadi: Right after we launched our campaign, quotations from my interviews were published on some websites, and it was said that "this woman should get her response," or they said that "she should be murdered." So there have been death threats against me on [some] websites and also through letters we have received. But there has been no official fatwa by mullahs or by the Islamic establishment of Iran.

Islam In A Pluralistic World

A Muslim woman (left) watches a Christian procession in Madrid in March (AFP)


CONFERENCE ON ISLAM: A major international conference on Islam concluded in Vienna in November 2005 with strong appeals from prominent Muslim leaders to recognize international terrorism as simply "terrorism." Political figures from Islamic countries, including the presidents of Iraq and Afghanistan, argued that it should never be labeled "Islamic" or "Muslim" terrorism because Islam is based on peace, dialogue, and tolerance. "Salaam" -- meaning "peace" -- was the key word of the three-day conference, titled "ISLAM IN A PLURALISTIC WORLD."
Iraqi President Jalal Talibani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai used the word in their remarks to emphasize the peaceful nature of Islam. Other speakers quoted passages from the Koran to the effect that all men and women, regardless of faith, are creatures of God and should live in peace with each other without discrimination...(more)


Listen to Afghan President HAMID KARZAI's complete address to the Vienna conference (in English):
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Listen to UN special envoy LAKHDAR BRAHIMI's complete address to the Vienna conference (in English):
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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view a thematic webpage devoted to issues of religious tolerance in RFE/RL's broadcast region and around the globe.