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For Muslim apostates, giving up their faith can be terrifying, alienating and dangerous

In many Muslim-majority countries, renouncing Islam is a crime punishable by death. But even in the liberal West, some ex-Muslims continue to fear leaving their faith.

Although reformists point to the Qur’anic ruling,”there is no compulsion in religion,” they hide their disbelief or risk being ostracized by their families and the wider ummah (community) of believers. In extreme cases they believe their status as “apostates of the faith” puts them in danger. Simon Cottee, a senior lecturer in criminology at Kent University, England., interviewed 35 former Muslims in Britain and Canada as part of the first major sociological study of ex-Muslims in the west. He based this piece on fieldwork in Canada.

Halima is an 18-year-old biology student from a strict Muslim family in Ontario.

Although she continues to wear the hijab and dresses conservatively, Halima no longer prays or fasts. Nor does she abide by the restrictions against alcohol and pork, and she has all but forgotten the Qur’an — the holy book she once had committed to memory.

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