Taslima Nasrin is one of those atheists who holds little back in her public criticism of religion, especially Islam. The Bangladeshi author has been threatened multiple times but she has continued to speak out in defense of women and freethought.
In an interview with The Hindu this week, she had this exchange with the reporter:
People say your criticism of religion is rather excessive and provocative.
I said religion oppresses women. Laws should be based on equality, not on religion; women should have equal rights in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. I said we must stop stoning women to death in the name of religion. Is that provocation? Every civilised state has questioned the relationship of the state with religion, eventually disentangling and distancing the two. Islam should not be exempt from the critical scrutiny that other religions have gone through. My opinion is based on my belief in secular humanism. If that is provocative, then it is absolutely necessary to provoke.
Another allegation is that by making statements against Islam, you strengthen the right wing in India.
Absolute nonsense. I criticise all religions, including Hinduism. I opposed Hindu godmen, rituals such as karva chauth and shivaratri, and condemned the oppression of Muslims in Gujarat. I donated Rs.10,000 to poet Shankha Ghosh, who was collecting funds for rehabilitating Gujarat riot victims.I objected to the oppression of Hindus in Bangladesh, Jews in Nazi Germany, Muslims in Bosnia, Palestine and Christians in Pakistan. I also wrote in favour of films such as PK, Water and The Last Temptation of Christ. Please don’t call me a Muslim, I am an atheist.
Like I said, she’s awesome. Constantly firing on all cylinders. But that last line in her response rubbed Firstpost‘s Hasan Suroor the wrong way. The Indian publication criticized Nasrin for rejecting the “Muslim” label:
If I was the interviewer I would have urged her to calm down. No need to get so upset, Ma’am. “Muslim” is not a term of abuse. Not yet. But, actually, it is not so much Nasreen who is the problem. Her outburst is symptomatic of the militant, in-your-face brand of modern-day atheism she shares with the likes of Richard Dawkins, the British uber atheist whose anti-religion rants have alienated many of his own atheist mates on both sides of the Atlantic.
It’s hard to get more condescending than that.
Simply put, it’s not the label she uses. She doesn’t hold Muslim beliefs; she actively fights against them. She embraces atheism and freethought and it’s downright insulting to her to be considered something she’s not.
And yet her rejection of that label is deemed “militant” — which shows you how watered-down that word is in the hands of religious apologists.
Remember, lady, you were born and brought up as a Muslim, still bear a Muslim name and remain culturally Muslim even if you have renounced your Islamic beliefs. You can’t wish away the fact that Muslim-ness is part of your cultural DNA. And genes don’t disappear with a wave of a hand: Abracadabra, and hey I’m now completely cleansed of my genetic faultines [sic]!
But virtually no one hears the word “Muslim” and separates it from acceptance of Islam. I know there’s a large community of cultural Jews who aren’t religious, but “Muslim” is almost always identified with faith, at least in my experience. That’s why she rejected it and she has nothing to be ashamed about.
Just to be sure I wasn’t missing something here, I asked another former Muslim, Heina Dadabhoy, what she thought about the whole scenario:
I thought it was within Taslima’s right to self-identify as she pleases. I don’t like it when people call me a Muslim, either, in any context. I’m okay with being called a former Muslim or an ex-Muslim or from a Muslim community/family/background, but I don’t like my apostasy to be erased and minimized by being called a Muslim. I don’t believe in Islam and I don’t call myself a Muslim. By any definition, I am not, and neither is Taslima.
What the reporter may not know is that cultural Muslim can be a very different identity from ex-Muslim. There are people who identify that way who consider themselves Muslims and believers in Islam, but they don’t practice or believe in all of it, just parts of it. There are some former Muslims who also say they are cultural Muslims, but there are people who are the latter but not the former.
Her response was an honest one to being called something she’s spent so much of her life not being to great persecution and danger. Since I haven’t faced as much for being an apostate, I deflect with humor/sarcasm when someone calls me a Muslim, but I’m nonetheless pretty angry inside about those times.