Over the weekend, the Islamic Society of North America held its annual conference in Houston, Texas. Members of Ex-Muslims of North America were also there to speak with attendees, pass out their own literature, and share their own testimonies of leaving the faith. After all, it’s no secret that many Muslims who no longer believe in God are afraid to say so publicly because of the backlash they face from their families and communities. (Apostasy, according to many Muslims who believe in Sharia law, warrants a death sentence.)
So the EXMNA members were there, wearing shirts that said “I’m an Ex-Muslim, Ask Me Why” and “
God Love is Greatest.” You can see their flyer below, too. It’s not confrontational. It’s educational. And the group said everything went fairly smoothly when it came to chatting with conference attendees.
That didn’t last long, though, because when a few of the members went to a Starbucks at a nearby Hilton, they were kicked out by hotel security. They weren’t given a reason, so they went back with a camera, and this is what happened:
It’s still unclear if the problem was that they were peacefully chatting with the attendees or that their shirts said they’re ex-Muslims. Neither one should be a problem. Even the security man seemed confused. He didn’t seem to know why they needed to go; he just knew they had to get off the property.
He also called them “part of the protest,” which is flat-out wrong. They weren’t protesting the conference. They weren’t even protesting Islam. They were simply educating attendees on their own stories of leaving the faith.
According to Lina, who was originally kicked out, there were mixed messages from the Hilton all around:
I was told that they are not allowing protestors at the property, I assured the woman that I was not a protestor. She then asked me if I was part of the event or a guest at the hotel. I was neither. I was then told that even though I was a paying customer, I was not allowed to be on the premise as it was reserved for guests and event members for the weekend and that they will not be allowing anyone else on their private property. However, I noticed the Starbucks was still open to the public and I didn’t see anyone else being asked to leave.
Armin Navabi, an Irani atheist activist, was in Houston on behalf of EXMNA. “Our goal was to see how tolerant Muslims can be, to our delight, we found many Muslims were tolerant”, he stated. “On the other hand, we found that many Westerners were intolerant. It seems that “saviors” of Muslims are more sensitive about anything that could potentially offend Muslims than Muslims are themselves.”
Hazar, another Syrian ex-Muslim who was in Houston for ISNA, states “I expected negative pushback of our presence by ISNA itself but in fact, most Muslims we talked to were welcoming. And so I certainly didn’t expect to be discriminated against on American soil by the Hilton staff for refusing to be closeted about my ex-Muslim identity. It was important for me to represent ex Muslims at ISNA because we are some of the lucky few that are able to do so with minimal consequences in comparison to those of us who aren’t privileged enough to live in a democratic society. And yet today, the treatment we received by the staff at the Hilton felt just as dehumanizing.”
Just to be clear, the Starbucks wasn’t the problem. The Hilton made this call. A request for comment earlier this evening went unanswered, and a manager I spoke to wasn’t even aware of the incident.
It’s not even the first time EXMNA members have been punished for being open about how they left Islam. Two years ago, the group’s President Muhammad Syed ordered a cake from Wegmans that said nothing more than the name of the organization and “Congratulations on 3 years!!” The baker at the store refused to do it, saying it was “offensive.” Eventually, though, the corporate office apologized and said that never should’ve happened. They also gave the group the cake for free.
So far, the Houston Hilton hasn’t apologized… or offered anyone free coffee.