Atheist Group Told They Cannot Change Their Name to Reach Out to Ex-Muslims

Earlier this week, the London School of Economics’ Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society voted to change their name to the Atheist Secularists Humanists & Ex-Muslims Society. Besides giving them a nice acronym (ASHES), it spoke to a specific demographic that could use some outreach from our community: Ex-Muslims.

Sundas Hoorain explains why:

These people have had the courage to stand up and say we may get ex-communicated by our families, our communities, put at peril of our lives, lose most if not all the people we love, but we will not remain quiet, we will not live a lie. These people, in taking the stances they take, are first disowned by their families; their own parents want nothing to do with them. Their friends, people they grew up with, almost everyone they knew, reject them for not keeping their heads down. Their immediate community would, then, rather see them dead and believe death is what they righteously deserve. The community at large also rejects them for speaking the unspeakable, for taking positions and demanding a space that is considered taboo.

The group itself added:

The status of ex-Muslims in Islam is particularly precarious, and the historical and present-day Islamic response to people who become ex-Muslims is one that justifies our inclusion of the term in our name. We do not ask our members for their beliefs, but we estimate that approximately 20% of our members are ex-Muslim or from a Muslim background and we want to be inclusive and welcoming toward them.

Makes a lot of sense. For the same reason a group in Utah might have an “Atheist, Humanist, and Ex-Mormon” group (how is that acronym not yet taken?!), you can understand why including ex-Muslims specifically would be helpful in this case.

So the society did what any group does when they want to change their name. They submitted the proper paperwork to the Students’ Union.

Then they waited.

Then, a couple of days later, they got a response from the school:

The Activities Committee have decided not to grant the name change that you have requested.

We decided not to grant the name change because given the email that you sent us as why you would like to change the name, we feel that by adding ‘ex-Muslim’ to the society name it will no longer become a safe space for ex-Muslims; in the sense that it may be an indication as to where ex-Muslims can affiliate to. For this reason would you please consider replacing the ‘ex-Muslim’ part of the proposed name change to either ‘Atheist, Secularist, Humanist and ex-religious’ or ‘Atheist, Secularist, Humanist and ex-religion. This will be in order provide the safe space for all students who join your society and potentially increase your society membership.

Please remember as far as anything to do with LSE and LSESU then the name will stay as ‘Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society.’

… what? Their rationale for denying the change is that putting ex-Muslim in the name would make things worse for ex-Muslims?! Alex Gabriel couldn’t believe it: “Are ex-Muslims endangered by joining student bodies which acknowledge their existence?”

If they’re in danger, then punish the people who put them in danger, not the group trying to help them out. This seems like a hasty, poor decision by the Union. It’s possible they see “ex-Muslim” as a verbal jab against Muslim students on campus, but I don’t buy that for the same reason “atheist” isn’t an insult to the religious students on campus.

No word yet on whether the student group will challenge the decision, accept the “ex-religious” substitution, or keep their current name.

(image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Donalbain

    Actually, yes. It can make a place less safe. Shelters for battered women do not put that on the door. It is possible that someone attending an ex-Muslim group could be identified as such and be put in danger.

    And from another direction, I dont see the point of picking a particular religion to use for the ex- part of the name. Surely they want to be as welcoming of ex-Christians and ex-Hindus as of ex-Muslims.

    • RebeccaSparks

      Having volunteered at a couple of DV shelters, I find that while the safe houses don’t have signs and addresses listed, the DV offices and meeting places do advertise their location.  You need some way for the women who need the services to find the services.

      If the ex-Muslims in the group find the name change safe and desirable, I dont’ see a problem with it.  

  • Jon Peterson

    EHRMAGERD! A.S.H.E.R.S.!

    I couldn’t help myself. That recommendation was idiotic :P

  • Jon Peterson

    The difference between the two is that a battered women’s shelter is
    1. a shelter for avoiding specific people
    2. for battered women specifically

    The club is
    1. a social gathering place for meeting similar people
    2. open to anyone who would like to be a positive and inclusive member

    The two aren’t comparable. Putting a sign on a women’s shelter is like saying to abusers “hey, look here for the escapee”. Acknowledging a particular type of member in a club name is not. Especially because given the type of club, anyone who would use it as a method to find and abuse/attack individuals isn’t going to START doing so after the change as if they were actually surprised to learn ex-Muslims attend its meetings. Those type of people would have targeted the group already.

  • C Peterson

    It’s truly a horrible idea for an organization like this to change its name to include the former members of any particular religion. I’m glad the petition was denied, although I disagree with the reasoning involved.

    Any such organization might reasonably include “ex-religionists” in its name or mission, but to single out a single religion? I think that sets a terrible precedent.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    If the Society hasn’t done so already, why not go by the recommendation of the ex-Muslims in the group, and perhaps also ask the opinions of ex-Muslims who potentially might join the group? Those who are already members would be the closest to experts on what danger they have faced, are facing, and might face if the name is changed, and those ex-Muslims who are not members would give insight into whether or not the name change would attract them or turn them away.

    Then if all that still indicates that the name change is a good idea, go back to the Activities Committee and argue again, armed with the desires and opinions of the ex-Muslims themselves. 

    The Activities Committee is reflecting the general timid tiptoeing around anything with the teeny weeniest chance of “offending” Muslims that I often see in colleges both in GB and the US, and they should honor the opinions of those students who actually know what dangers there might be, if any, and who are the potential targets of such danger.

    These paternalistic college administrations should not be talking about the ex-Muslims in the third person, but should be having a direct dialogue with them.

    • Quintin

      If they hadn’t done so already of course.

  • Baal

    “They submitted the proper paperwork to the Students’ Union.”
    I read this as,
    “They submitted the proper paperwork to the Soviets’ Union.”

    I agree that someone should ask the ex-muslims.  it’s a little weird to include just one religion unless that group is specifically reaching out to a specific population.

    • http://www.rosiebell.co.uk/ Rosie

      I’m totally gob-smacked that in a British university attending an atheist gathering could bring you into physical danger.

      • Tim

        It is shocking, but I can assure you that it is true having witnessed some very nasty Islamofascism on Campus as Queen Mary College, London.

        I can well believe that LSE has similar problems with these thug morons.  Untimately it is a criminal justice issue, but the Metropolitan Police are usually on the side of the Islamofascists. 

  • Guest

    I can understand the idea. There are plenty of hostile crazies around, I don’t think you need to point it out and wave a big blinking sign “infidels, 10 for the price of 1!”. There is a reason why safe spaces are usually un/under marked.

  • kaydenpat

    Seems like the current name covers ex-Muslims anyways.  I can understand the fear that the group will be targeted if it has the term “ex-Muslim” in its name given how extreme Islamicists seem to overreact against anything they view as blasphemous.

  • Tim

    Who cares what the Union says.  Just use the name you want and if it doesn’t match the official name then who cares.

    I used to be presendent of a University Caving club – the words caving club were on our cheque book and in our dealings with the Union, but outwardly we were always the “Speleological Association” in order to aviod having the same acronym as the Cricket Club.

    LSE is a University which has a particular problem with Islamist thugs on campus.  If the freethinkers club wants to take a brave stand on this matter then I am right behind them and I think all you guys should be too. 

  • anon101

    This is just another sign that the islamists have won. Nowadays nobody dares to criticise islam anymore except for genuine Nazis. The LSE are afraid of the msulims and they are so afraid that they would not even admit that they are afraid.

  • Amakudari

    Why Islam specifically? Well, why not? I’d rather take their word for it because I think a group should be able to decide its own mission, name, etc. Those pushing for this did happen to be ex-Muslims, which includes Sundas Hoorain, who is very public and active about her apostasy from Islam, and the group’s director for ex-Muslim affairs. And AFAICT it was supported by a free vote of members.

    Perhaps they feel that ex-Islam is unique relative to ex-Christianity or ex-Judaism or ex-Buddhism or whatever. It is. I know of no Christian country that provides the death penalty for apostasy, yet many ex-Muslims in Britain come from parents steeped in such cultures. Maybe Muslims are uniquely averse to labels like “atheist,” “agnostic” or “humanist.” Maybe they feel that the connotations of their name would not lead ex-Muslims to believe their particular issues are given priority compared to ex-Christians. They address all of these in their statement.

    Those shouldn’t matter. The problem here is bureaucrats snuffing it in the cradle when the appropriate judging ground is the marketplace of ideas. The bureaucrats’ reasoning merely adds stupidity to the paternalism.

  • Ek Chakkar

    Unfortunately, this is unprovoked aggression. The term “atheist society” alone denotes a club of people that does not believe in a deity. If the lives of ex-Muslims were not at risk, this would be called infantile but because they are, this is irresponsible.


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