An initiative was launched in November to help protect those in the UK who want to leave Islam, but fear the consequences of doing so.
Entitled ‘Safe Haven’, the project is a response to the brutal treatment experienced by some in the UK who have left Islam and become Christians. It offers confidential advice and support to those considering leaving Islam and may even help individuals to relocate. The launch took place at Church House in Westminster and was attended by members of the Church of England's General Synod and representatives of other organisations.
The origins of the organisation can be traced back to last summer, when a girl practically turned up on the doorstep of Christian Concern explaining that she was under threat from her family due to her desire to reject Islam. However, although at a college in the UK, no-one of white Caucasian origin had spoken to her in the two years she had been at the college, so she felt she had no where to go to if she did turn from Islam. This resulted in her eventually returning to her home and continuing to live under the shari’a law which exists in many parts of the UK, where many people cannot access British justice as they are under threat from even their own families.
One of those who spoke at the launch, Fiaz, explained: ‘My own household, my brothers, my parents, they don’t want anything to do with me. They’d rather see me dead.’ His own experience has moved him to highlight the problems that others in the UK – especially women – face if they want to leave Islam. ‘When an Asian girl turns away from the culture or the religion itself then it’s all about honour. They are at greater risk than the men are. There are hundreds and hundreds of women across the country who have turned away from Islam. And there are those who are still at home but they are too afraid to turn away because they don’t feel that they have anywhere to go.
‘Right now…there are girls who are beaten, who are abused, and they are afraid to go out and tell others because they feel that if they did and they get caught, that’s the end of the road. I came across a girl a year ago whose own brother raped her. She is still at home. If she had an escape route she would take it.’
Another supporter of the project explains how, as a ten-year-old, she thought about leaving home but ‘felt that I couldn't dishonour the family and leave, so I ended up being quite suicidal and didn’t talk to anybody and spent all my time on my own’.
Now she said: ‘It’s OK for people when they convert from another religion to Islam. Nobody says “I’m going to kill you”. They don’t live in fear of their lives. Why is it that when a person leaves an Islamic background, becomes a Christian, why do we have to live in fear of our lives?’.
Another woman tells of how, aged 12, she was sent to Bangladesh to enter a forced marriage. When that failed, another attempt was made when she was 16. She recalls: ‘The memory still makes me feel physically sick. If I shut my eyes I can almost smell him and see him sitting opposite me, licking his lips with delight. Incredibly, in the eyes of the Muslim community, this appalling union was going to bring honour to my family. I only just escaped with my life and my sanity intact’.
Another speaker, Nissar, left Islam while living in the UK, but has received death threats, experienced recurring verbal abuse, had his car burned and his house vandalised. When he first went to the police, he was told to ‘stop being a crusader and move’.
Fiaz welcomed the launch of Safe Haven saying: ‘If outsiders think that this is not happening in Britain, then they need to wake up, because it is. An individual who has turned away from Islam will get killed. It hasn't happened yet but it will happen. The Safe Haven project is long overdue. It’s time to act now’, he warned.
Co-founder of Christian Concern and member of the Safe Haven team, Pastor Ade Omooba, welcomed the project, saying: ‘The compassion of Jesus Christ drives us. Love demands that we do not turn a blind eye, but stand with those who want to leave Islam. We want to see people set free from fear. At Christian Concern we have heard of these appalling experiences too often. Something needs to be done’.
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive, added: ‘We are very grateful to all those who have given money and offered practical help to enable us to get this far. Please continue to pray for and support this vital initiative’.