Personal identity is a fluid, dynamic phenomenon. As human beings, we learn and grow; we explore and develop ourselves. We have epiphanies and moments of enlightenment. We have the ability to change our minds. Those of us who once identified as "Muslim", and no longer do, are simply people who changed our minds about the veracity of Islam. We realised that, like the other major religions, Islam was a socio-political system devised by particular humans at particular moments in human history.

Many Muslims are fond of claiming that – according to some rather questionable calculations – Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. Much fuss is often made about Islam’s cross-cultural appeal that welcomes converts from all sorts of backgrounds into the global Islamic brotherhood with arms wide open.

The fact that the door also swings the other way is usually lost in all the Islamic triumphalism; the reality is that people are also leaving Islam – and other religions – at unprecedented rates.

There is often pomp and ritual that accompanies conversion to the Islamic faith. But people who no longer believe in Islam are routinely confronted by systemic campaigns of bullying, ostracism, and violent intimidation. These deliberate deterrents effectively skew the numbers, causing many apostates to stay "in the closet". Anyone who knows about Islam and Sharia understands all too well that by merely defining oneself publicly as an “ex-Muslim,” or an apostate, one immediately becomes the target of a religiously mandated death sentence.

Islam teaches that there can and must necessarily be ex-Christians, ex-Jews, and ex-Hindus. When they "revert" to Islam, it is seen as a cause for celebration. People from these Kafir backgrounds are, after all, misguided infidels who should be brought into Islam. On the contrary, the very idea of an “ex-Muslim” is offensive to many Muslims, particularly to those who practice or support Islamic evangelism (Daw’ah).

After Muhammad’s death in the 7th century, the first wars waged by Abu Bakr were aimed at exterminating ex-Muslims. The ‘Ridda’ or ‘Apostasy’ Wars were bloody military campaigns targeting those tribes that simply did not believe that Muhammad was a true messenger of God, as well as tribes that refused to remain slaves of Allah and tribes that revolted against the tyranny of the Islamic city-state of Medina.

History tends to repeat itself, and today, ex-Muslims continue to be under attack. Those of us who identify as ex-Muslims understand why this is an identity that must be preserved. It is the identity of the freed slave. It is the identity of the rebel against the theocratic tyranny of those who claim to know what God wants. It is the identity of the person who fearlessly points out that, despite what the surrounding majority is saying, the Emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Being an "ex-Muslim" is a plain, direct statement that one has noticed the contradictions, mistakes, and unethical parts of Islam and its scriptures, and has rejected them unreservedly. It is a statement of protest against dogmatic believers who aim to coerce into silence the free conscience of men and women who disagree with them. It is an identity with a story to tell.

In October 2012, the journalist Mehdi Hasan spoke at the London School of Economics, in a debate with David Aaronovitch titled The Right to Offend’. He described his vision of Muslim identity:

"Some liberals believe that beliefs are different. [That] you can change your beliefs. But you can’t change the colour of your skin or your sexuality. Well, first of all, I would argue, that that is a total misreading of what belief is, and how people hold religious beliefs. In particular, Muslims. My Islamic faith defines my identity far more than my racial or cultural background. David wants to be free to mock my beliefs or my prophet but he would never dare mock my race. As a Muslim, I would rather he mock my skin colour than that which is most important – most dear – to me in my life, which is my faith and my prophet. And I know this may be hard for some of you to accept and to understand, but a prophet who is more dear to me than my own parents. Or my wife. Or my children. That is what it means to me"

This is actually quite representative of how many people feel about their "Muslim" identity. It’s a line of thinking so saturated with irrationality, inhumanity and absurdity. It must be scrutinised.

Consider: If someone says that they care more for the Muhammad than they do for their own children, parents, and spouse what do they do to an ex-Muslim who dares to question the supposedly infallible character of Muhammad? Oftentimes, criticising Muhammad is seen to be an offence much greater than criticising one’s own family. Hence, most ex-Muslims face persecution, silencing, and even violence at the hands of their own family members, if they speak up and voice their conscience.

Consider: If someone says that their Islam is more immutable than their race, then what might such a person conclude about someone who changes their religion and leaves Islam? Often, the conclusion will be that such a person is a kind of political traitor, one who has abandoned a metaphysical "truth" that is more permanent than race. To someone who holds religious identity above all else, criticising and repudiating Islam or its fundamentals is perceived as being worse than a racist.

To such a mind, the existence of ex-Muslims, or apostates is an affront to the very order of the natural universe according to Islam. It is akin to being a deviant who commits crimes against the order that Allah and Muhammad have ordained for mankind.

In a way, this heightened rhetoric may be explained as a form of insulation.

Many Muslims in secular, liberal societies feel insecure without the usual taboos against apostasy and blasphemy to protect and bolster their faith. Thus, in their minds, Islam must be protected in other, more passive ways. Sulking and engaging in passive-aggressive identity politics, as the perpetually aggrieved and alienated victim (never the oppressor), are ways of achieving this.

However, to submit to this is to capitulate to the narrative that Islam is intrinsically beyond all criticism. It is to submit to the idea that even those who legitimately critique and point out the many flaws and unethical transgressions of Muhammad and his religion are somehow perpetrators of a kind of metaphysical evil. The request for such an impermeable bubble to shield Islam from all forms of criticism is also rooted in the arrogant assumption that Islam is beyond all need for reform.

The ex-Muslim identity is a beacon for those who question the falsehoods and chauvinism of such claims. Through the voices of ex-Muslims, a great deal of the double standards of daw’ah and religious bullying of apostates, are laid bare, and hypocrisy is exposed.

Many Muslims would prefer that we did not exist. They would prefer that the identity of the “ex-Muslim” be pushed silently into a dark corner and forgotten. However, it is one of the great aspects of secular, liberal societies that individuals are free to define themselves as they please. We are ex-Muslims, proud of having overcome theocratic tyranny; we will not be silenced and we are not going away.

This article was written collectively by members of the Council for Ex-Muslims of Britain Forum