The gifts were mostly what used to be forbidden: liquor, condoms, even a framed portrait of Arabic calligraphy that read: “There is no God.”
The exchange of presents was held at a holiday get-together of Ex-Muslims of North America [EXMNA], a support group for those who have left the faith. It was a lighthearted way of asserting their newfound identity, a contrast to the hostility, including threats of death and disownment, that many say they faced after their exercising freedom of conscience in the United States.
Changing religion or abandoning it altogether is so common in America that according to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Survey, 28 percent of Americans have left the faith they were raised in. And while all major creeds have lost adherents, those who abandon Islam can face particular hardships.
Sarah Haidar, who was born in Pakistan, said that growing up in Texas, she never imagined someone could want to leave Islam.
“I thought it was sort of a one-way street. You just found your way into Islam and you stayed there,” she said, adding that people who are pulled in the other direction are afraid to talk about it.
“Many Muslims take it as a personal insult when you step out and step away from their religion,” she said. “And I understand why that is, but I think it creates a situation where people are afraid to speak their minds, where dissent is not really respected on any level.”