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An Interview with Zara Kay on Dawkins, Liberation of Women, and Women’s Free Choices (Part Four)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/04/08


Zara Kay is the Founder of Faithless Hijabi. She discusses: Dawkins; common harassment experiences; sexual and intellectual liberation for women; providing community; recommended authors and speakers; and women’s free choices.

Keywords: ex-Muslim, Faithless Hijabi, Islam, religion, Richard Dawkins, secular, Zara Kay.

An Interview with Zara Kay on Dawkins, Liberation of Women, and Women’s Free Choices: Founder, Faithless Hijabi (Part Four)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Dawkins recalls a story of a woman. In the recollection, the woman was talking to her mother. The woman came out to the mother. The mother goes, “I do not mind that you do not believe in God, but an atheist!” It is the label, right?

Zara Kay: Yes. It is the label. It has such a negative repercussion to it. A lot of times, on Twitter, obviously, my fans are Islamists and haters. They knew I was not stopping. They tried sexually harassing me. I have even got dick pics.

Jacobsen: Ew.

Kay: I woke up today to a Saudi man calling me a “bitch.” classy.

2. Jacobsen: Lovely. How common is this among ex-Muslim women? How often are they receiving this online, especially if they are prominent?

Kay: A lot. This is what I spoke about before, as well. I will probably pick it up in one of my conferences. As an ex-Muslim woman, the attacks you get are always to do with sexual harassment from men.

Jacobsen: Why?

Kay: I have never had a woman come up to me and tell me that, “You are such a slut.” No, wait. It has happened, but not to the magnitude of how men have done it. Men think that it is okay to call a woman ugly because she is assertive. I have been compared to cartoons. I am like, “You do realize you are talking to somebody who does not have self-esteem issues, right? I do not think that anything you say can stop me from talking about religion, regardless of how I look.”

3. Jacobsen: Does this go to that fundamental axiom that others have indicated, often women, of a sexually liberated woman and an intellectually honest and educated woman is a severe threat to fundamentalist ideologies of every stream, secular, religious, and otherwise?

Kay: Absolutely. This is beyond religion. I started off with talking to women in tech panels. I have not put this out there, but I used to work for Google. I left last year. I was invited to talk to a lot of panels. I volunteered, as well. They were mostly in engineering. The question that I got asked from early first-year university students was, “Is it hard working in a male-dominated field? What are the differences? Do you get attacked for being a woman?”

I am like, “Personally, I have been told once or a few times that I got my job because I am a woman or some quota that needed to be filled.” It made me think. That affected me so much. Maybe he was joking, but the fact that he could say that, makes me think that surely, whether he was joking; there are people who think that.

Jacobsen: It reminds me of a quote by Margaret Atwood. In her later years, in other words, more recently, she remarked on early interviews with male interviewers. Some of the questions, to give an indication, that she used to get, would be something like, “Do men like you?” She would respond, “What men?… Ask them.”

Kay: [Laughing] I am not a massive fan of Jordan Peterson because he encourages gender norms and gender roles. He is the type of person, and I have said this on my Twitter, as well, that I find him sexist. He is the type of person that will put two facts together to make his theory up, and then when you attack him on his theory, you are like, “The research shows this. because you put two facts together to create that narrative, that it is most likely not the case.”

He is always basing it on historical data, which puts both men and women in this box where they are unable to come out of because, “This is the norm. This is what we have defined. Men are not meant to be vulnerable because it is a sign of weakness. Women are always emotional. This is their attribute. They are nurturing. They are caring.” Sure, that sounds great, but men can do that too. It is not impossible. Men can do that too.

Even in the idea of early dating with a girl, she is needy. She is emotional. That is meant to be the norm, but when you say a man is emotional. It is always shed in a negative light on it. I have a friend who is going through a breakup. He is crazy over this girl. He is like, “I am so pathetic. I fall for women, too.” I am like, “Can you stop? There is nothing pathetic about it. This is who you are. It is been stigmatized that men cannot be this way.”

When I went back to doing panels for women in technology. These were my questions asked, it came out. This is what I was told. In the end, when I quit my job at Google, in my last week, we had new people come in; I was training them. They wanted to see my stats because I was leaving. I had done 30% more than all the men who had started with me, in terms of getting work done.

For the longest time, I remember telling my first manager, “I am not doing enough. It is not happening.” My manager is like, “I would tell you if you are not doing enough. That is not the case.”

4. Jacobsen: That leads to an important question. Within the community, how do we provide community? How do we build a community in which there is that warm welcome without the tone of a love bombing, in addition to a space for people to be more akin to their true selves, rather than the ones that have, traditionally speaking, been imposed on them from without?

Kay: How do we provide that warm welcome? For me, personally, the issue that has been neglected or not given enough light is the trauma. Because I am public. I seem to be composed and not talk about the trauma at all, not from personal experience. I talk about it from a more generalized or an average view from the stories that I have received, so I come off composed in public.

Some of my friends have had to deal with all that trauma of mine. However, more attention is given to how difficult it may have been for people leaving, and understanding that we all come with baggage, and understanding that while we want to be part of the community, we are not all the same.

For the religious community, it seems like they are all kind of the same, have the same beliefs and everything, and that is how they bond over it. Going into the secular world, we are not all the same.

Also thinking about how exaggerating more on the trauma can potentially create trauma bonding, it is even more mental, if that makes sense. Constantly talking about the trauma, it must be so hard. A moderated avenue where people can talk about it. There is comfort given. There is also direction on, “This is where you can go for help.”

How else can they make us feel? How would I do it? For me, because I specifically work with ex-Muslim women, empathy is my key driver. Empathy is something that people say you are born with and it is an innate ability. Yes, however, it can be practiced on, as we move forward.

For me, when people come out as ex-Muslims, it is always like, “If you ever need to chat, I am a little busy right now, but in a few weeks, drop me a few messages and I will respond when I can.” I still feel like some of them still are not quite comfortable coming out.

I also think that family giving unconditional love has been hyped up too much. That people fear ostracism, and that is why, regardless of what the secular community does; it is still not enough, because they are not family.

I am also reading this ABC article about when the Saudi women escaped. In my head, I am thinking they have mentioned the app. They have mentioned methodologies on how these women have escaped. Does that make my job harder, now, that I am trying to help Saudi women?

Are they going to create another app? Is it going to be worse? I eventually wanted to do some tech stuff. A VPN Saudi Arabians network and install the app and see stuff that I can, to see if there must be some loophole on the tech side of the app.

Jacobsen: There probably will be. You would know that better than I would.

Kay: How much moneydo they have? How many capable people do they have?

Jacobsen: With any of these theocratic governments, they have made it clear that they are willing to kill in order to prevent bad international press. Sometimes it backfires, but they are willing to go to the ultimate extent to prevent people from speaking out. The baseline is this is an extremely difficult job.

Publishing the means by which especially women who do not have as much economic independence, for instance, can find safety, as with Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun who got asylum in Canada, landing in Toronto. The obvious conclusion is it is likely that they are going to incorporate this into their counter-activist and counter-ex-Muslim efforts.

Kay: A lot of young girls who have wanted to escape are mad at Rahaf right now.

Jacobsen: I can imagine.

Kay: They are like, “You ruined it for all of us.” The more we delay helping other women escape. It seems like one of the Israel-Palestine; no solution for the two states problems. That is where I am stuck at right now.

Jacobsen: It is different. Palestine, I mean, it is one-sided.

Kay: The thing is. This is what I was discussing with a friend whose partner is Israeli. When I went to Israel, I was anti-Israel. I had read this book The Atheist Muslim four months after I went to Israel. Ali Rizvi, who wrote the book, had described his first experience talking to a Jew, where he was kind of nervous, kind of shaky. That is how I felt. I felt uncomfortable.

Jacobsen: An individual Jewish person is not the IDF. It is not Israel. It is not Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kay: The thing is, from the outside, we have been trained. We have been brainwashed to always hate Israelis, Jews, everything. As Muslims, we hate Jews, regardless of what is happening in Palestine. All these ideas have accumulated.

When I went into Israel, and I spoke to Jews, and Israelis, and people who had served the army, people who I considered friends. In my head, I was meant to hate the Israeli army because they kill innocents but that is not what the reality is like. A lot of people discredit Israel for being not peaceful, but they do not discredit Palestine for supporting Hamas. They put a blanket statement on all Israelis or all Zionists.

I was even invited to dinner at one of the Zionist’s places. He knew I was a progressive Muslim. I could not agree with his views. However, if you do the same thing with other Muslims, that would not go down well.

I am not a fan of illegal settlements. I hate it, but looking at how much they have exaggerated on the stories that I was told when I was in Palestine, about innocent kids dying, and they were struck here. They were doing nothing. I am like, “It is not all Israelis killing. There is something wrong. There is some different narrative that everybody has been feeding each other. It does not make sense to me.”

5. Jacobsen: Like in Operation Cast Lead in 2008, 2009, in the first five minutes of the first day, 300 Palestinian civilians were killed. It is disproportionate. Also, the international community is clear on a lot of the international laws being broken more by the Israelis than others. There is a reason why it is called the oPt, the occupied Palestinian territories, not the oIt (occupied Israeli territories).

Kay: I do not know much about the oPt.

Jacobsen: It is the occupied Palestinian territories. That is what you will find is one of the statements. Anyway, we are way off base.

With the Shia community, and those who have left the Shia community, have there been any prominent writers or thinkers or speakers that you would recommend for the audience today?

Kay: With the Shia community, Ali Rizvi is one of them. Armin is one of them. There are not many I know of. Most of the ex-Muslims who have been out in public are Sunni, that I know of. Most of them have been Sunnis. Not a lot of Shias.

I know a few of them who are not public, from my community itself, not the Shia Islam, but from my community itself, and so many questionings, so many still in denial, so many failing to acknowledge that Aisha was married at the age of 6. They still hate her because she went against Ali. But no, not many Shias I know about.

There are a few Iranians that are in Canada. I do not know their names. I only know them on Twitter. Who did I introduce you to? I introduced you to Sabina and Sumira, right?

Jacobsen: I believe so.

Kay: They are Sunnis. I find it so that whenever there are any Muslim women who do anything. Whenever there are any Muslim athletes, it is always hyped. They are like, “Look at her, a Muslim woman who is an athlete. The first woman who did this.” I am like, “That never happens with Jews.”

Jacobsen: That is true.

Kay: “The first Jewish woman who did this.”

6. Jacobsen: It reminds me of a triplet problem. I remember Maryam Namazie talking about a minority within a minority, as the ex-Muslim community, who experience the prejudice of not being important by the government, and then being bullied by members who are a part of a former community. Members who left the community. They are being bullied by their former community. That is one case.

If you look at Alberta, in my own country, and across the country, we do see what they are calling Islamophobic, or anti-Muslim acts or events. Those have been increasing in non-trivial percentages.

But then, there is also anti-Semitism that has been increasing to various domains. It was that synagogue where there were several people murdered in the United States. It was well-known. It was kind of an almost no questions needed to be asked in terms of saying, “Yes, this is clearly an anti-Semitic act.”

These are three communities that need some more positive cachet in the public mind, even to find a modicum of combatting some of the negative treatment. It is a good intention, but it can look a little weird to some, especially those, maybe, that have left the faith, as well, at times.

Yasmine Mohammed, she is quite right, in many contexts. Removing the hijab and empowering those who want to leave, who do not want to wear it but are being forced to wear it by having videos of burning it, that is a powerful message for many women, I would assume.

On the other side, there are others who choose to wear it as part of self-expression, but, like you said, they are getting harassed, regardless. The final thing is: Do you have freedom to follow faith or not? Do you have freedom, as a woman, to choose what you wear or not?

Kay: Yasmine Mohammed and Asra Nomani. Asra still considers herself a Muslim. Like that is the thing, when you come to the secular world. We are all different, but we have something in common. We are all fighting against one thing. It was nice to see people fighting for one cause, with different backgrounds, coming up with different stories. It was powerful.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Zara.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Faithless Hijabi.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 8, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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