Muslimish: Growing Communities and Extending Dialogues


Sunday, April 29, 2018 (All day)


30 John F. Kennedy St, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
The Humanist Hub is delighted to partner with and host Muslimish for an extended program on Sunday, April 29. Muslimish: Growing Communities and Extending Dialogues (A Special Extended Conference Event) Speakers: -Wissam Charafeddine Cofounder of Muslimish, Arab American Educator, Engineer, Entrepreneur, Former Imam and a current Islamic reformer and Freethinker secular activist. -Hannah A. Muslimish NYC co-organizer, Middle Eastern Studies & Religious Studies, Completing Masters at City College of NYC, Grew up Christian, Practiced Shia & Sunni Islam and currently a teacher in an International High School. -Rafya Oskui Muslimish co-organizer, Business Owner, Healthcare Professional, Pakistani American, Women's Rights Activist, Mother, Change Maker. -Ginan Rauf Muslimish Historian, Secular Humanist, Feminist, Educator, Photographer and Mother. Doctoral in Comparative Literature from Harvard, MA in Near East and Judaic Studies from Brandis, Rutgers, University of Connceticut and University of Bridgeport. -Ali Rizvi Author of The Atheist Muslim, Physician, Musician, Grew up in Libya/Saudi Arabia/Pakistan, advocate for Secularism, Science and Reform, particularly in the Muslim Community. Featured in the New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, The Huffington Post, CBC, BBC, The Globe, The Mail and a range of other media outlets. About Muslimish: We are a group of Ex-Muslims and Muslims of varying degrees of religiosity. We come together from diverse backgrounds, and cover a broad spectrum of views and positions from atheist to agnostic to theist, ex-Muslim to cultural Muslim to believing Muslim, and more. Amidst this diversity, we share common cultural traditions and come from Muslim backgrounds. We are united by a common goal of fostering a questioning atmosphere. We criticize ideas without criticizing the people that hold them – for no idea should be so sacred to be beyond human curiosity and discussion. We believe we can question religious beliefs without adopting discriminatory attitudes towards our communities. We encourage skeptical thinking but deplore all forms of bigotry including racism, sexism, classism, anti-Semitism, and ageism. We believe in a strict separation of church/mosque and state and strongly feel that no state should impose religious or irreligious beliefs. All citizens are entitled to exercise their free speech and live without fear of persecution or censorship. Such a society would serve both the religious and irreligious. Pluralism Project Summary: The panel “Muslimish, Growing Communities and Extending Dialogues,” was hosted at the Humanist Hub during their weekly Sunday meeting time. Muslimish is a group dedicated to encouraging dialogue and providing support for former, atheist, questioning, and humanist Muslims. The event was advertised as running from 1 pm to 4 pm but ended up beginning at 1:30 pm and finishing close to 7:00 pm. Greg Epstein, the director of the Humanist Hub, began by welcoming both everyone in the room and everyone watching the livestream online. Epstein told his own story of finding an intentionally Jewish humanist community and said that he had been waiting for years to see a group such as Muslimish take shape. Close to fifty people were in attendance. The crowd was mostly white but also included a large group of immigrants and their descendants from Muslim majority countries, including India, Pakistan, Egypt, and Turkey. Epstein noted that with five speakers this event was closer to a mini conference than the hub’s typical programming. The first speaker was Wissam Charafeddine, co-founder of Muslimish and a self-identified Islamic reformer and secular activist. Charafeddine was once an imam in Michigan, but he experienced a crisis of faith while researching and learning more about evolution. He pointed out that although he is no longer an imam he still values being part of a community that has a strong commitment to moral values. He went over his personal tips for effective dialogue and then showed two news clips in which atheists in the Middle East were mocked by Muslims. Hannah A. spoke next about her journey finding community through Muslimish. In her teen years she reconnected with the Pakistani side of her family and converted to Islam. As an adult, she has come to question the concept of faith, however there are aspects of Islam that she still identifies with and having community is very important to her. Next, Rafiya Oskui spoke very movingly about her struggle to gain custody of her daughter in Pakistan. Her husband was abusive and after she fled from him he pressed blasphemy charges against her as a means to prevent her from seeing their daughter. Oskui has faced an onslaught of threats and hate online for her public stance as an atheist against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. For security concerns, her presentation was not livestreamed or recorded. Jean Rauf followed Rafiya. She spoke at length about the life and example of the Egyptian feminist Huda Sha’arawi, and how important it is that the stories of secular Arabs and Muslims are also told. She noted that Mulimish was not against religion, they just wanted religion to be kept separate from people’s everyday lives. Finally, Ali Rizvi, author of Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason, spoke. Rizvi spoke at length about the need for a Muslim enlightenment. He distinguished between Islam and Muslims, claiming that he was anti-Islam, but that does not mean that he discriminates against Muslim people. He mentioned a story about a young girl in Toronto who lied about having her hijab pulled off because she did not want to wear it anymore. Rizvi claimed that most attacks in the West that are reported against Muslim women who wear hijab are actually hoaxes, these women are using anti-Muslim sentiment as an excuse to take off their hijabs. Rizvi explained that he prefers the term “anti-Muslim sentiment” to “Islamophobia,” because he believes that the term Islamophobia prevents reasonable critique of Islam, and is a tactic used by extremists to play into leftist identity politics and prevent dialogue. The Q&A session that followed the panel revealed how diverse Muslimish’s panel was and raised again the question of what exactly the group is trying to accomplish, and in particular whether it is possible for a group of atheist, humanist and questioning Muslims to exist without their narrative being co-opted by other. The questions fell into two camps: those who appeared to be suspicious of Islam and consequently supported Muslimish, and those who felt that Muslimish was feeding into alt-right and conservative politics. During one of the more heated exchanges, an audience member pushed Rizvi about his claim that most Muslim women who wear hijab lie about being attacked. Rauf took the side of the audience member, declaring that Rizvi’s comment reminded her of men who claimed that women lied about rape. During another exchange, an audience member asked if hijab was by definition an oppressive symbol. Rizvi agreed with that statement, but Charafeddine disagreed, explaining that his daughters choose to wear hijab even though he has asked them not too. The female panel members received very few questions. This summary was written by a Pluralism Project staff member who attended the event.