Letter to Commentary Magazine

February 6, 2005

165 East 56th Street
New York, NY 10022


To the Editor of Commentary:

I was very gratified to read Daveed Gartenstein-Ross’s commendable essay on Muslim apostasy, “When Muslims Convert” (February 2005). I was puzzled, however, at the one-sidedness of his discussion of the topic: he discusses apostasy from Islam to other religions in some detail, but writes as though apostasy from Islam to atheism or agnosticism did not exist. The omission is especially puzzling in light of the recent publication of Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out (Prometheus, 2003), a collection of essays by Muslim apostates edited by Ibn Warraq, author of the classic Why I Am Not a Muslim (Prometheus, 1995). Daniel Pipes has described Why I Am Not a Muslim as “a well-researched and quite brilliant” indictment of Islam, and The New York Review of Books praised Leaving Islam last year as “probably the first book of its kind.”  

As it happens, the Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society, which was founded by Ibn Warraq and which I currently direct, has been dealing since 1998 with the issues that Gartenstein-Ross so cogently describes in his article. As our Mission Statement puts the point, we stand for “freedom of expression, freedom of thought and belief, freedom of intellectual and scientific inquiry, freedom of conscience and religion—including the freedom to change one’s religion or belief—and freedom from religion: the freedom not to believe in any deity.” In the minds of certain Muslim zealots, that rather uncontroversial declaration expresses the intent to commit a crime. It is crucial that those of us who uphold freedom of conscience stand together against such zealots, regardless of our other doctrinal commitments.



Irfan Khawaja
Executive Director, Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society