"As long as they knew where I was, I wasn’t safe.”
While the UK is being Islamized, the process does occasionally work the other way. For every dozen Samantha Lewthwaites and Taliban Terrys, there is the occasional Salman Rushdie.
But it's not easy leaving Islam in a Western society coming under the demographic and cultural pressures of Islamization.
Amal Farah, a 32-year-old banking executive, is laughing about a contestant singing off-key in the last series of The X Factor. For a woman who was not allowed to listen to music when she was growing up, this is a delight. After years of turmoil, she is in control of her own life.
On the face of it, she is a product of modern Britain. Born in Somalia to Muslim parents, she grew up in Yemen and came to the UK in her late teens. After questioning her faith, she became an atheist and married a Jewish lawyer. But this has come at a cost. When she turned her back on her religion, she was disowned by her family and received death threats. She has not seen her mother or her siblings for eight years. None of them have met her husband or daughter.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done – telling my observant family that I was having doubts. My mum was shocked; she began to cry. It was very painful for her. When she realised I actually meant it, she cut communication with me,” said Ms Farah. “She was suspicious of me being in contact with my brothers and sisters. She didn’t want me to poison their heads in any way. I felt like a leper and I lived in fear. As long as they knew where I was, I wasn’t safe.”
This is the first time Ms Farah has spoken publicly about her experience of leaving her faith, after realising that she did not want to keep a low profile for ever. She is an extreme case – her mother, now back in Somalia, has become increasingly radical in her religious views. But Ms Farah is not alone in wanting to speak out.
The most significant aspect of this development is that is unlinks Islam as a system from race. That linkage has been the best offensive and defensive weapon in the hands of Islamic groups looking to carve out special rights while denouncing critics of Islam as racist.
It's hard to call the Council of Ex-Muslims, racist.
The Ex-Muslim Forum, a group of former Muslims, was set up seven years ago. Then, about 15 people were involved; now they have more than 3,000 members around the world. Membership has reportedly doubled in the past two years. Another branch, the Ex-Muslims of North America, was launched last year.
Their increasing visibility is controversial. There are those who question why anyone needs to define themselves as an “ex-Muslim”; others accuse the group of having an anti-Muslim agenda (a claim that the group denies).
Maryam Namazie, a spokeswoman for the forum – which is affiliated with the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) – said: “The idea behind coming out in public is to show we exist and that we’re not going anywhere. A lot of people feel crazy [when they leave their faith]; they think they’re not normal. The forum is a place to meet like-minded people; to feel safe and secure.”
The Council of Ex-Muslims has become a pivotal force in the fight against gender segregation at UK universities and in other issues as well.