Canadian blogger Abdullah Sameer posted a video on Facebook last Thursday that picked up around 70,000 views in less than 24 hours. The topic was bound to attract attention; Sameer’s video was a video diary on why he had made the decision to leave Islam.
Sporting a large and characteristic South Asian beard, Sameer looked the part of the traditional, conservative Muslim Canadian. His Facebook photos include plenty of him embracing his hijabi wife (a white convert to the faith) who looks nothing short of stunning in her bright blue garb. But he was unable, he explains in the video, to reconcile his faith with a few problems he found in the Qur’an.
Shockingly, the comments thread below the video became flooded with a tide of hateful attacks and death threats from outraged users all over the world. Hundreds of users took the time to leave comments, and though there were a few hopeful messages of love and support, they were scattered amongst the wave of anger directed at Sameer.
I asked Sameer how he felt about the response, and whether he expected such a vitriolic backlash against his personal video.
“To be honest, I thought very deep and hard before doing this. I saw what happened to Ismail [an American ex-Muslim blogger whose recent video ‘Why I Left Islam’ generated a similar backlash] so I’m not fazed.”
He admitted some degree of surprise, however, when he told me “I didn’t expect such idiocy though. They all go on about my name or my beard.”
While Sameer’s brazen attitude doesn’t show it, there is a real danger to what he is doing. Recent years have seen a spate of attacks on freethinkers and secular bloggers in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Nazimuddin Samad, a law student in Bangladesh was one recent victim; similarly to Sameer, he maintained a blog where he wrote about his views, including his lack of religious belief, in great detail.
Reports stated that Samad’s name was on a hit list of atheist bloggers circulated widely around Bangladesh in 2013 that called for their immediate execution.
From his home in Canada, though, Sameer is far removed from these events. “These bimbos are on the other side of the planet. [I’m] not scared.”
“Plus, I have life insurance!” he joked.
While the response to Sameer’s video was by no means unusual, it is most certainly linked to the wider phenomenon of aggression towards Muslim freethinkers and liberals who choose to exercise their freedom of conscience and to question or even leave Islam. While 256 of Al-Baqara clearly stated that there is no compulsion in religion, this particular verse seems to have been lost to some parts of the Islamic world today.
And it is a cruel irony that the places in which Muslims are most free to question and explore new thoughts and ideas are not in the heartlands of the Muslim world, but are Western countries such as Canada.
Sameer was a dedicated Muslim for many years; his portfolio includes websites such as Verse By Verse Quran and Light Upon Light. The latter is a site dedicated to hosting Islamic lectures and videos for the purposes of Da’wah, and it proudly counts its total number of video downloads – over 4 million – on the front page.
But while his beliefs may have changed, the respect he is owed as a human being has not. Muslim lives must matter to us even up to the point where those lives make the free decision to leave Islam. Threats of murder and serious bodily harm for one’s religious beliefs – or lack thereof – should never be acceptable in a free society.
Sameer assures me that he’s going to keep on blogging, regardless of the threats. I find myself worried, though, that I might see in my lifetime the horror of what happened to bloggers such as Nazimuddin Samad repeated in Ontario, Canada.
Will TG Miller works for the Kurdistan Secular Centre and is current student of Cambridge University. Follow him on Facebook, where he posts regularly.