It’s like taking off a very old and dusty mask – leaving Islam in Yemen

More and more people in the Islamic world are leaving their religion. Many do this in silence, but some write about it. A particularly fascinating example is the blog of a young woman from Yemen. It takes a lot of courage from this conservative country, which has also been at war for almost four years, to express criticism of Islam.

We have succeeded in making contact with this extraordinarily courageous woman. We were interested in who was behind this Facebook page. However, when we questioned her, we were anxious to preserve her identity and did not ask any personal questions.


You live as a young woman in Yemen. What is the situation for women there and how has it changed in recent years?

The situation for women here is absolutely terrible, and has become even worse in recent years. Yemen has become very unsafe specifically for women. There are now more than ever, abductions and rape cases, followed by honor killings. Many women choose not to speak up for themselves in fear of mistreatment, embarrassment and judgment by the people around them, because this brings shame to their families. Women are forced into marriages that they do not want and make them unhappy. People here believe that marriage is the most important goal that women can reach, and that it is more important than education. Some families don’t even allow their daughters to go to schools. Child marriages happen in parts of the country. I have personally known and seen young girls who were married to old men, some of them were my classmates in elementary school. I have read online that child marriage has even been on the rise in recent years because of the war, as families sell their daughters into marriage for money because they are poor.

What would you wish for your country?

First of all, for the war to stop, since it is causing so much suffering. Secondly, to witness the day when my people start accepting the idea that change is not bad and that breaking habits and traditions sometimes has its own advantages. Everyone knows that Yemen is facing a war at the moment but how many of them know something other than that? Yemen has a very important history and unique culture but instead of repeating the same historical events, we need to finally let go of those bad habits and traditions and stick to the good ones. We’re already in 2019 but people are still living in the past till this day and to be honest, it makes me quite sad.

You are no longer religious. Why do you no longer believe in Islam? And since when?

I might not have been a strict Muslim, but I believed that Islam was perfection at its finest and that there weren’t any flaws and holes in it for anyone to criticize. However, ever since I was a kid, I’d still feel guilty for not following what my religion has taught me, in fear of burning in hell forever. I remember one time I took off my hijab for the first time in my school’s bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and started checking myself out but couldn’t fathom why I still felt super guilty about it and scared of anyone suddenly knocking on the door at the same time. So I started reading more and more and meeting different people online and getting mixed feelings from them about Islam until one day, I had a wakeup call and realized some things. For example, a few questions popped up in my head such as,”Why would people hate Islam if it were a peaceful religion?” and why would Allah punish me for not following his rules? Why does this Allah care more about women’s hair and bodies and why do people kill in the name of this God? Is he even out there and if it’s true, why is he going to burn those who don’t believe in him? I started finding many flaws in what’s supposed to be the “One and Only God” out there as Muslims say, so I stopped praying to him. I wouldn’t deal with such unforgiving, angry and narcissistic humans, so why would I worship a God with those traits?

»I no longer see black and white, my insides are full of beautiful colors now.«

How has life changed for you in Yemen since you left Islam?

Mentally, a lot. I felt like I was reborn in the same exact place. It’s like taking off a very old and dusty mask I’ve been forced to wear for years. Although I’m still forced to wear the burka, the woman behind it is no longer the same woman as before. I no longer see black and white, my insides are full of beautiful colors now.

It is very dangerous to leave Islam. Articles 12 and 259 of Yemen’s penal code provide for the death penalty for apostasy. How do you deal with it? Can you hide the fact that you are no longer a Muslim?

Like many other Ex-Muslims, I have no choice but to hide my identity and be careful of revealing any details that may cost me my life. There was a period of my life when I felt extremely lonely and depressed that I didn’t even care about anything anymore, so I would post my pictures on social media platforms and stop praying at home and that wasn’t smart of me, to be honest. But like I said, I simply didn’t care whether I was alive or dead the next day. But as people whom I met online were on my side and assured me that I wasn’t alone, I’ve decided to be more careful and think about every move I make because one wrong move and it’s the end for me.

Is there not a great danger that your family will find out that you are no longer a believer?

My family knows that I’m different from other typical Yemeni girls who are supposed to behave good and be very religious. But none of them know that I no longer do my daily prayers, that I have left Islam and that a couple of internet friends have seen photos of me. The males in my family are very controlling of us women and if they ever find out about this then I’ll be in huge danger, at great risk of punishment for my apostasy and possibly at risk of honor killing. My sister is also no longer religious. Thankfully, her and I are very close so we’ve always got each other’s back.

You run a Facebook page that is critical of religion and about freedom, especially for women. Why do you take such a risk to be discovered?

Most people in my society were forced to believe in something they had little choice in. I want my people specifically to open up their hearts to new things and ideas from another Yemeni and for them to think outside the box. My page is like an open door for anyone who seeks answers outside the context of religions and wants to know what it’s like being a free thinker.

What would happen if your family found out that you were running this Facebook page?

Absolutely horrible and unfair things would await me. This includes me being physically beaten, emotionally and mentally abused, as well as arranging marriage for me without my consent. Because as people in my society always say, a woman cannot be set free or else she’ll end up doing sinful things and that’s why she needs a man in her life to control her. Even just thinking about what would await me is terrifying.

What do you personally want for your life?

I want to know and feel what it’s like being in a healthy and safe environment and I want to help others in need of help and support. I want to be able to speak up for myself without fearing the consequences. I also want other people to know that Yemen is more than just the war that you hear about on the news and to share information about the lives of ordinary women here. There are individuals like me who want to make a change and do better for our society. I’m not by any means religious but I want to send a message that Yemen should be for everyone; religious or not, Muslims, Jews or Christians and that if we can all live together and accept our differences, we can rise again.

Thank you so much for your time. I wish you all the best and that all your wishes will come true one day.



Shiite Islamists threaten human rights activist in Germany

Islamist terrorism has dominated the headlines in the European media for many years. The attacks in the Bataclan, in Brussels, at Charlie Hebdo, to name but a few. They show the cruel face of religious extremism. All these attacks were committed by Sunni Muslims, who were incited on the Internet by the ideas of the Islamic State, or in mosques by corresponding sermons. What is forgotten here is that the same extremism also exists on the part of Shiite Muslims. We remember the death fatwa which was pronounced against the British author Salman Rushdie in 1989. Even the well-known musician Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) supported these threats. Rushdie had to go into hiding for many years. After the attack of the USA on Iraq a Shiite militia has formed there, which represents similar extreme views as the Sunni IS. Only the strategy they are pursuing is different.

Worood Zuhair

I meet the well-known atheistic blogger Worood Zuhair in a café in a German city. She had contacted me because the death threats against her became more and more intense. We, the Atheist Refugee Relief, have been accompanying the young woman since her arrival in Germany. She comes from Karbala in Iraq, the holy city of the Shiites. There she had already turned away from Islam after realizing that all the atrocities committed by the Islamic State in the name of Islam were also committed by the Prophet Mohammed. This led to even greater tensions within her family, so that one day she was beaten up  by her own brother into an incomplete spinal paralysis. In 2015 she fled via Turkey to Europe. Since then, she has been campaigning on the Internet for women’s rights, especially in Iraq. She blames Islam, which is cementing patriarchal structures and justifying injustices, for the backwardness of her region.

Zuhair shows me her WhatsApp messages she had received lately. It’s a flood of insults. They are predominantly sexually degrading and extremely misogynistic. What is striking about this news is that there is repeated reference to a man named Mohammed Mandalawi, nickname Bunea. Quote: “I will tell my friend Mohammed Bunea, who is in Germany, to kick you in your rotten c***”.


Mohammed Mandalawi

Mohammed Mandalawi is the leader of the newly founded rocker gang “Al-Salam 313” in Essen, Germany. The 313 refers to the 313 companions of Iman Al-Mahdi. The logo of the rocker gang is a white dove. This is also the symbol of the paramilitary unit “Jaish al-Mahdi”, which is said to have provided death squads in Iraq. The “Jaish al-Mahdi”, or “peace brigades”, are under the control of the influential spiritual politician Al-Sadr. They have military training and were involved in the attacks against ISIS in Mossul. When one of Al-Sadr’s representatives, Muhammed Talakani, visited Germany, Mohammed Mandalawi had himself photographed with him several times at private joint activities.

Mohammed Mandalawi with Muhammed Talakani

Worood Zuhair says “Muhammed Talakani is a religious agitator. Shortly after he spoke about the sinful behavior of Iraqi blogger Tara Fares in a public speech, she was shot.” Zuhair now finds herself confronted here in Germany with the same groups she fled from back in Iraq. Groups that know only one answer to criticism of Islam. Those who reject Western culture. She now fears that there will be a similar retaliation against her as there was against Tara Fares.

Zuhair’s fears are entirely justified. On the one side, a young woman who has only the word and fights on the Internet for more freedom and against the deprivation of women’s rights in Islamic culture. On the other side, an armed militia, linked in politics, highly armed and trained militarily.


Another attack on ex-Muslim atheist

Rany E. shortly after the attack

Early Sunday afternoon, 28.04.2019, frightened Rany E. entered the ambulance in Bremerhaven. In addition to wounds on his upper arm, he also had a strongly swollen ankle joint, so that he could only move with a limp. He was attacked with an iron rod. This was only one of the last cases of attacks against atheistic ex-Muslims in German camps.

People whom we support in Germany are repeatedly attacked by other fellow refugees. Thus only last week a mother of four children was beaten by other residents because she ate a sausage with pork meat. Also in the past we received reports from men who were burned or whose mobile phones were destroyed. These are just the highlights of the martyrdom of harassment and abuse to which these people are subjected on a daily basis.

Women are often seen as sexual prey. Apart from the day-to-day harassment that women have to resist, we have also often been told of sexual assaults in the camps.

Rany E. says he is very worried whether he is safe in Germany. He has fled from the very people with whom he has to live here. The Atheist Refugee Relief demands that atheistic ex-Muslims be accommodated with non-Muslims. They are not safe in a normal camp – especially not in the now beginning Ramadan.


Residence requirement endangers homosexual refugee

Abdulrahman Akkad

Abdl Akadd Abdulrahman has had a long odyssey. One and a half years ago, the young man from Syria publicly outed himself as gay. He posted a video on Facebook, which exposed him to hostility and threats. As a result, he requested that his residence requirement (Wohnsitzauflage, a german legeslation, that requires refugees to stay in a certain for three years) be moved to a city in another region. When the trial dragged on, he had to run away and was forced to violate the residence requirement for security reasons. After moving back and forth for months because he couldn’t rent his own apartment in another region, the residence requirement was finally completely abolished after he emphatically pointed out his precarious situation in the Foreigners’ Office.

According to the Atheis Refugee Relief another procedure must be found with regard to the residence requirement. We support the residence requirement as an instrument to help integration, but in the case of a group that is also subject to persecution here, the residence requirement must be abolished without replacement for these persons, which is also legally possible. In addition, those affected, most of whom are secular and humanist thinkers, have no problem integrating here, as they particularly share our values of freedom.


Mauritania: Muslims demand death of atheist blogger

When Yahya Ekhou began the day in his room in northern Germany on the morning of March 1, he had no idea what wave of hatred had come over him on the Internet. Many people demanded his death. Among them was a representative of parliament. The reason for these extreme reactions was a post from Mr Ekhou. There he asked, referring to the train accident that happened in Cairo on 27 February 2019, why a God could do such a horrible thing to so many believers.
Since it cannot be excluded that he will also be attacked here in Germany, the Säkulare Flüchtlingshilfe e.V. informed the local police. The police then sent officers to him for inquiry.

Yahya Mustafa Ekhou on 16th November 2018 in Berlin.
Yahya Mustafa Ekhou on 16th November 2018 in Berlin.

Mr. Ekhou has been known to the Secular Refugee Aid e.V. for a long time as a committed fighter for freedom and human rights. He also participated in the panel discussion  “Islam and Human Rights – different cultures, same problems?”.

As his application for asylum was rejected, he is currently in the revision process. However, these latest developments once again show why atheists cannot be sent back to their home countries, where they are exposed without protection to Islamic legislation, which often provides for the death penalty for turning away from Islam.


Sherif Gaber, Egyptian blogger, desperately needs help

In October 2018 the passport of blogger Sherif Gaber was confiscated at an Egyptian airport. He can no longer leave the country. He has also been charged with blasphemy.

Please share this video!
(The video has English subtitles)

“ – After many months of trying everything, I decided to make this video. In it, I share many details about my situation and why it’s more complicated than many people think. I also couldn’t share some other more important details because of how dangerous it will be.For example, all the details about booking the flights with the names of the hotels and the ticket numbers that I’ve booked. Such details will reveal a lot of info that some people can track me with. Also, things that happened to me while being interrogated and while in prison but I couldn’t share it. But if one day I left Egypt, I’ll talk about all this publicly with evidence so that you understand more about this country and why I had to leave.

“ – Some of you who have contacted me in the past few months know how much I’ve tried and know how unpleasant it is for me to make this video. I already know how hard it’s to get that money and how almost impossible for a country to give me citizenship while I’m in here but I’m doing this for me. I can’t give up now. There’s so much in this life that’s worth living for.

“ – I never asked to share, comment or even like any of my videos. But this time I need that. Every support I get and every share gets me closer to freedom.

“Please share this video.

“Thank you”


Fled Saudi Rahad Mohammed Alkunun in safety for now

The Saudi citizen Rahad Alkunun wanted to flee from a forced marriage to Australia. On her flight there, she was prevented from continuing her journey in Bangkok, Thailand. Representatives of the Saudi and Kuwaiti embassies intercepted her in the transit area, where she said they confiscated her passport. Human rights organisations were alarmed and prevented Ms Alkunun from being repatriated for the time being.

The Atheist Refugee Relief has long emphasized the special danger situation of people who want to leave theocratic systems. So these affected people are never really safe. It can happen at any time that a family member commits a so-called “honour murder” against them, also in Germany. For example, we advocate that when ex-Muslim asylum seekers are recognised, a ban on information is automatically imposed and that a residence requirement is waived, according to which fugitives and recognised asylum seekers must be resident in a certain region for three years. This would make it difficult for persecutors to track them down in countries like Germany.


Zineb El Rhazoui, “Destroying Islamic Fascism”

Speech by Zineb El Rhazoui, a Moroccan-born Frenchwoman and editor at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Now she is under police protection in France. She owes her life to the fact that she was not in the editorial office on the day of the assassination.


Islam and human rights – different countries, the same problems?

On 16.11.2018 the Atheist Refugee Relief e.V. organized a panel discussion entitled “Islam and human rights – different countries, the same problems?” on the occasion of the Secular Week of Human Rights in Berlin. Four guests from four very different countries were invited, but all of them were influenced by Islam. Alia Khannum from Pakistan, Shuruq from Saudi Arabia, Yahya Ekhou from Mauritania, Mahmudul Haque Munshi from Bangladesh told their stories about how they turned away from Islam and how society reacted with incredible violence every time. Moderator Angelika Kalwass confessed that when she became familiar with the topic in preparation for the evening, she felt overwhelmed by the force of what she had heard. In addition, the Islam critic Hamed Abdel Samad was invited, who pointed out that we in Europe must not offer any space to this culture of intolerance and must defend our civil liberties. He said that the European Parliament should make it more difficult to criticise Islam on the pretext of suppressing hate speech. At the end of the event, Mina Ahadi, President of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims, recalled the dangers of a political Islam with regard to her own history.

The occasion of the event was the experience of the Atheist Refugee Relief e.V. with refugees who had left Islam. Although they came from many parts of the world, the reaction of the institutions of their home countries and especially of their personal environment was always very similar. We also had to experience that it was often the family pressure that moved people to flee. Religious ideology penetrates into the last areas of private life and controls individuals, especially women, in every detail of their lives. This is what we wanted to address, because the public debate often does not address the influence of religion and instead the cause is to be found in the respective culture.


Three Saudi sisters on the run

+++ UPDATE: The three sisters are now safe! Many thanks to all who helped!!!

The three sisters Manal, Muna and Nauf have left Islam and are now on the run. They are being persecuted by their family and are currently in great danger because apostasy (leaving the religion) is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. It is also a great shame for families there, especially when it comes to daughters, and it is therefore very important for their families to take the girls back to Saudi Arabia and bring them to the punishment.

Therefore we ask for your support. The three sisters must leave their current location as soon as possible, but they have no financial resources. Please donate to GoFundMe so they can go to a safe region.