Why Indian Ex-Muslims Formed a Movement Defending Secularism

Leaving one’s religion can be difficult and more challenging for some people than others. Such is the case of the Ex-Muslims of Kerala (EMU) members, an organization formed by former Muslims living in the southern state of Kerala in India.

The organization, created in 2019, comprises hundreds of members from different backgrounds, supporting each other and discussing several topics and issues, including what can be done within Islam. While the Ex-Muslims of Kerala were similar to groups such as the Non-Religious Citizens (NRC), an organization formed by those who left religion, it stands out for accepting those who abandoned Islam in Kerala. This move can have serious repercussions within society.

Some of the members of this group include Liyakkathali CM, a Keralite rationalist and YouTuber who serves as the president of the organization, Aysha Markerhouse, the organization’s treasurer, and Safiya PM, the general secretary of the Ex-Muslims of Kerala. Other executive members include Faisal CK, Sherin Rashid, and Dilaana Rauf.

Each member of the Ex-Muslims of Kerala had different reasons for leaving Islam. For Liyakkathali, who attended a madrassa until Class 7 (equivalent to 7th Grade), the tendency to shut down curiosity and critical thinking, aside from studying Islam’s stance on slavery and discrimination against women, compelled him to leave.

They’d tell us such questions about god are planted by the devil. I was once beaten for a genuine doubt. That is when I began to study religion on my own,” Liyakkathali said.

As for Aysha, her experiences as a woman and how Islam treats women led her to the path of leaving Islam. The more she read about Islam, which she said she did to defend Islam, the more she learned about the inherent inequality between men and women in the religion, along with ultraconservative rules such as banning dance and music.

But Safiya’s story was different. While Liyakkathali and Aysha used to be ardent believers of Islam in their children, going so far as the former threatening his former primary school teacher in a letter when his teacher said that Jesus, Allah, and the Hindu gods were all one, Safiya grew up as a non-practicing Muslim. Her father was non-religious, but she was encouraged by her relatives to study Islam, which only helped her open her eyes to the unpleasant reality of the religion.

While other ex-Muslims in Kerala had other reasons to leave religion, such as studying science and unfair inheritance rights in Islam, the consequences of abandoning Islam have been similar among many ex-Muslim Keralites, with many being outcasted by family and society. Liyakkath suffered ostracism, while Safiya said that their decision to leave Islam significantly impacted everything, including the burial of their family members.

Then there’s the sensitive issue of Islamophobia in Kerala and the rest of India. With the rise of far-right Hindu nationalist groups and leaders in India, some ex-Muslims have gone from criticizing Islam to speaking with hatred against Muslims. Many of the Ex-Muslims of Kerala and other ex-Muslims like EA Jabbar and Abdul Ali have spoken against rising anti-Muslim sentiment in India.

You cannot violate basic human rights because you are an ex-Muslim. Groups such as ours are formed not to destroy Islam but to fight for the right to life that ex-Muslims have as much as others,” Liyakkath said.

It makes it difficult for us to speak about our experiences, for it may be used against Muslims. It is a vulnerable situation,” Aysha also said, adding that this situation shouldn’t be used as an excuse to brush things under the carpet.

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