cast out and at risk from faith and family
THE first brick was thrown through
the sitting room window at one in the morning, waking Nissar
Hussein, his wife and five children with a terrifying start.
The second brick went through his car window.
It was a shock, but hardly a surprise. The week before, another
brick had been thrown through the window as the family were
preparing for bed in their Bradford home. The victim of a
three-year campaign of religious hatred, Mr Husseins
car has also been rammed and torched, and the steps to his
home have been strewn with rubbish.
He and his family have been regularly jostled,
shouted at to move out of the area,
and given death threats in the street.
His wife has been held hostage
inside their home for two hours
by a mob.
His car, walls and windows have been daubed in graffiti: Christian
The problem isnt so much what Mr Hussein, whose parents
came from Pakistan, believes, but what he doesnt believe.
Born into Islam, he converted eight years ago to Christianity,
and his wife, also from Pakistan, followed suit.
While those who convert to Islam, such as Cat Stevens, Jemima
Khan, and the sons of the Frank Dobson, the former Health
Secretary, and Lord Birt, the former BBC Director-General,
can publicly celebrate their new religion, those whose faith
goes in the other direction face persecution. Mr Hussein,
a 39-year-old hospital nurse in Bradford, is one of a growing
number of former Muslims in Britain who face not just being
shunned by family and community, but attacked, kidnapped,
and in some cases killed. There is even a secret underground
network to support and protect those who leave Islam. One
estimate suggests that as many as 15 per cent of Muslims in
Western societies have lost their faith, which would mean
that in Britain there are about 200,000 apostates.
For police, religious authorities and politicians, it is
an issue so sensitive that they are accused by victims of
refusing to respond to appeals for help. It is a problem that,
with the crisis of identity in Islam since September 11, seems
to be getting worse as Muslims feel more threatened.
Muslims who lose their faith face execution or imprisonment,
in line with traditional Muslim teaching, in many Islamic
countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Yemen.
In the Netherlands, the former Muslim MP Ayan Hirsi Ali had
to go into hiding after renouncing her faith on television.
The Prince of Wales recently held a meeting with religious
leaders to consider ways to stop former Muslims being persecuted
in other countries, but Britain itself is also affected.
Mr Hussein told The Times: Its been absolutely
appalling. This is England where I was born and raised.
You would never imagine Christians would suffer in such a
The police have not charged anyone, but told him to leave
the area. We feel completely isolated, utterly helpless.
I have been utterly failed by the authorities. If it was white
racists attacking an Asian guy, there would be an absolute
outcry, he said. They are trying to ethnically
cleanse me out of my home. I feel I have to make a stand as
an Asian Christian.
Yasmin, who was raised in the North of England, has been
forced out of her town once, and is now trying to resist being
chased out again. Brought up in a Muslim family, she converted
after having a vision of Jesus when she gave birth to her
youngest son, and was baptised in her thirties.. My
family completely disowned me. They thought I had committed
the biggest sin I was born a Muslim, and so I must
die a Muslim. When my husband found out, he totally disowned
my sons. One friend tried to strangle me when I told him I
was converting, she said.
We had bricks though our windows, I was spat at in
the street because they thought I was dishonouring Islam.
We had to call the police so many times. I had to go to court
to get an injunction against my husband because he was inciting
others to attack me.
She fled to
another part of Britain,
but the attacks soon started again as locals found out about
I wasnt going to
leave again, she said, adding that it was the double
standards of her attackers that made her most angry.
They are such hypocrites
they want us to be tolerant of everything they want, but they
are intolerant of everything about us.
There are so many who convert from Islam to Christianity.
We have 70 people on our list who we support, and the list
is growing. We dont want others to suffer like we have,
Although some are beaten black and blue for
their faith, others suffer even more. The family of an 18-year-old
girl whomYasmin was helping found that she had been hiding
a Bible in her room, and visiting church secretly. I
tried to do as much as possible to help her, but they took
her to Pakistan on holiday. Three weeks later,
she was drowned they said that she went out in the
middle of the night and slipped in the river, but she just
wouldn t have done that, said Yasmin.
Ruth, also of Pakistani origin, found out recently that she
had only just escaped being murdered. When she told her family
that she had converted, they kept her locked inside the family
home all summer.
They were afraid I would meet some Christians. My
brother was aggressive, and even hit me I later found
out he wanted me dead, she said. A family friend had
suggested taking her to Pakistan to kill her, and her brother
put the idea to her mother, who ruled against it. You
are very isolated and very alone. But now, my brother is thinking
about changing and a cousin has made a commitment to Christianity.
Noor, from the Midlands, was brought up a Muslim but converted
to Christianity at 21. Telling my father was the most
difficult thing I have ever done. I thought he would kill
me on the spot, but he just went into a state of shock,
she said. He ended up almost kidnapping her.
He took drastic actions he took the family to
Pakistan, to a secluded village with no roads to it. He kept
us there for many years, putting pressure on me to leave my
Christian faith. I endured mental and emotional suffering
that most humans never reach, she said. Eventually,
her father realised that he could not shake her faith, and
released her with strict conditions.
In desperation, my father threatened
to take my life. If someone converts, it is a must for family
honour to bring them back to Islam, if not, to kill them.
Imams in Britain
sometimes call on the apostates to be killed if they criticise
their former religion.
Anwar Sheikh, a former mosque teacher from Pakistan, became
an atheist after coming to Britain, and now lives with a special
alarm in his house in Cardiff after criticising Islam in a
series of hardline books.
Ive had 18 fatwas against me. They telephone
me they arent foolhardy enough to put it in writing.
I had a call a couple of weeks ago. They mean repent or be
hanged, he said. What I have written, I believe
and I will not take it back. I will suffer the consequences.
If that is the price, I will pay it.
The most high-profile British apostate is Ibn Warraq, a Pakistani-born
intellectual and former teacher from London, who lost his
faith after the Salman Rushdie affair and set out his reasons
in the book Why I am not a Muslim.
He recently edited the book Leaving Islam, but finds it hard
to explain the hostility. Its very strange. Even
the most liberal Muslim can become incredibly fierce if you
criticise Islam, or, horror of horrors, leave it.
He himself has taken the precaution of using only a pseudonym,
and lives incognito in mainland Europe. He thinks that Islamic
apostasy is common. In Western societies, it is probably
10-15 per cent. Its very difficult to tell, because
people dont admit it.