Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?

The Ex-Muslims Go Public

People who leave Islam are fiercely criticized by believers. They used to make me angry, too. Then I got to know them.

This video is part of “Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?,” a series featuring Slate’s Aymann Ismail confronting fears about Muslims. Follow along on Facebook.


When we began this series, hoping to confront fears about American Muslims, I asked viewers to send ideas for what to cover next. In emails, YouTube comments, and Facebook messages, no subjects were more requested than ex-Muslims. Atheists who leave Islam are too often ostracized from their families and communities—and sometimes far worse. Their voices tend to be ignored by progressives of all backgrounds.

I’ll be honest: I was one of those Muslims who wanted them to go away. I resented how their stories were coopted by the right as proof Islam is rotten at its core. No matter their beliefs, I thought they were misrepresenting Muslims.

But about six months ago, I began emailing with Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider, who co-founded the Ex-Muslims of North America, a loose network for ex-Muslims. They seemed wary at first, and we spent a few months working out details of how and when we’d meet. Then they told me they were planning to launch a campus tour—a rare public venture for an understandably skittish group—and they agreed to let us film and interview them afterward. The first event, in Toronto, was suddenly canceled by the hosting university with little explanation. So we headed to Boulder, Colorado, instead, for the next stop.

The episode above includes the quietly tense atmosphere leading up to that event, some moments from it, and my conversations with Syed and Haider, who were forthright when I asked if “moderate Muslims” like me are an obstacle for them to be taken seriously.

Aymann Ismail

This series is written and produced by Aymann Ismail and Jeffrey Bloomer, and edited by Aymann Ismail.

You can also watch episodes on Sharia law in America, why some young Muslims radicalize, profane Muslim comedians, the hijab conflict, and homophobia in Islam.