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An Interview with Zara Kay on Faithless Hijabi, Global Violence Against Women Statistics, Leaving Fundamentalism, and Building Bridges (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/03/22


Zara Kay is the Founder of Faithless Hijabi. She discusses: the why of founding Faithless Hijabi and its developments; statistics on violence against women; developments in backlash against fundamentalism; and the building of bridges, or not.

Keywords: Faithless Hijabi, Islam, ex-Muslim, religion, questioning, rights, violence, Zara Kay.

An Interview with Zara Kay on Faithless Hijabi, Global Violence Statistics, Leaving Fundamentalism, and Building Bridges: Founder, Faithless Hijabi (Part Two)[1],[2]

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

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Why found Faithless Hijabi, and what have been some of the developments since its founding?

Zara Kay: I only became a public atheist when – my first webcast was in September – so, recently. Before I even started it, on my Facebook – I knew I was going to start Faithless Hijabi. I realized there was a gap that was not being addressed. We have LGBT groups. We have women in data analytics groups, that I am proud of. We have specific groups for transgender people. They have Muslim women groups. Where are the ex-Muslim women groups?

We have forums on Reddit where people anonymously stage their questions or their dismay with religion, but there was not a one-on-one response. There was not a support group as such. There was not somebody who would go like, “I know what you are saying,” or “I have been through that.” There was not a library of stories that people could relate to.

Now that I look at all the stories. These have come from hundreds of different women, but there is so much overlap. It is like you are reading the same stories in different intensity from different people. There has been a common theme with the stories. It all starts up with abuse. It all starts with hijab. It starts with the mistreatment of women in the religion. It starts with Muslim women not getting their rights or forced marriages or ostracism or women wanting to come out bolder as compared to men.

On my article, I also said that it is always different when women come out, versus when men come out. For women, if they are going to come out in public, or even to their families, they do not want to wear the hijab. They do not want to be subjugated any more. They want equal rights. They want to go to universities.

We have always had to fight for our rights, especially when you are fighting against a book, or especially when you are fighting against something that has been set in stone for you. You must come out bolder.

For men, a lot of their questions were to do with philosophy. For them, too, it was the misogyny. They are like, “Why are women treated like that?” But it is not unheard of that there are still misogynistic ex-Muslim men. It is not unheard of. I have had ex-Muslim men who I would think, that coming out of religion. We are not in that religion, but it has damaged, or has enabled that mindset already. The mindset has remained even after they have left religion, of not taking women as equals.

Misogyny and sexism are not an Islamic problem. It is not a religious problem. It is a world problem. It is every person’s problem.

2. Jacobsen: Two statistics come to mind for me, from relatively unassailable sources. One from the World Health Organization, or the United Nations. 35% of women, in their lifetime, will experience, as we know, sexual or physical intimate partner violence, or male sexual partner violence. “Intimate partner” is not a fancy term. It means husband or male sexual partner.

That is a little over one-third of the world population. It is going to vary between 20% and 40%, depending upon the region. Of course, the Middle East, we do not have the precise data, so it could be much worse there.

The second data point is from the FBI. It is also, apparently, the same number that came out of the Home Office of the UK in the mid-2000s when they were looking into thousands of rape cases. One of the worst crimes, apart from murder or something, that would fall under the category of violence against women.

According to this research of, again, not fringe sources, mainstream, reliable creators of information, they found that only 8% were unfounded cases. In other words, after an investigation, only 8% of rape cases were found to be false. In other words, the vast majority are not. These not only have to be taken seriously as a baseline, as a moral issue, given the weight of the claim, but also must be given the strong benefit of the doubt.

You are right. There is a firm empirical basis to back that claim, in multiple domains, not those two statistics from the-

Kay: There is a good article on it is called “The Lily”, on this 21-year-old Indian girl who went to the jails in India, interviewing rapists. She asked them, “Why did you rape?” Basically, the conclusion was these men did not even know they were raping them. These men were like, “But that is their role, right?”

Going back to Islam, marital rape is not recognized because you cannot say no to your husband for sex. Unless, you are on your period. You have a Hadith that says that angels curse you when you say, “No,” to your husband.

There have not been any explicit verses or Hadith that talk about the men saying, “No.” It has been known that men are the ones who crave sex more than the women, or that it is a woman’s role to say, “Yes.” The idea is what man would say, “No,” to sex, right?

It is so interesting that a lot of times, nobody ever looks into all of this, because when you tell Muslim women or Muslim men, “Did this verse exist?” I am happy for women to go like, “Hey, that is not fair,” or, “Yes. This hasn’t been my experience. I have not come across it.”

But for women to then go and defend it and say, “This is your right. Why would you get married then?” I am like, “Are you drawing down the value of your marriage only to have sex? Is that all your value as a married woman is to your husband?”

It feels like the misogyny and the sexism is not only imposed by the men. It is also imposed by women. Women are big enablers. There is surely a market for that. I am thinking of it in terms of business. It is like buying and selling a thing. If there weren’t any buyers for that idea, nobody would sell it. If there was nobody selling that idea, there would not be any buyers. It is a demand, supply chain.

It seems to me that there have been women who have accepted this. There have been women who have accepted that this is how they should be treated. Like you said, these are practices passed on from sisters, mothers, and parents.

Sex was a taboo topic in my family, so we never spoke about it, even when we had a group chat in my family. Even when I spoke about a surgery that I had, a cervical cancer surgery, my sister’s like, “Can you do it in an only women’s group?” I am like, “Why? It is biology. My brother has a wife and a daughter. He needs to know this.”

My brother and I, in a separate chat, talk about sex. I will tell him about my dates and everything. It is so funny how the sisters are the ones to tell you, “No,” when my brother is not uncomfortable with it. My brother does not want to take sides, so he lets the women deal with it. He was like, “I am going to stay silent.”

When you enable things like this, when you enable the idea that men shouldn’t know about women’s private parts, or men shouldn’t know about women’s transgressions. I guess, you are enabling that culture of one, the segregation, and two, putting women in a vulnerable position where they cannot talk about things.

I was not allowed to wear shorts at home. Even now, as I go back home. I had a big argument with my family. My mom is like, “You shouldn’t be wearing shorts.” I am like, “Why? It is my dad.” They are like, “Yes, it is your dad, but you are a girl and you shouldn’t be wearing shorts.”

I am like, “When you say these things in front of my dad, you are basically telling him that I am an object that can be seen in a sexual form, despite me being his daughter. You are putting the ideas in that head. You are enabling men to see me in that form. Had you not ever put it there…”

When I came to Australia, and I saw families where the daughters would wear shorts, I am like, “The dad allows it? How?” Then I realized, it is because they have not been raised to treat their daughters as properties or objects or tools for sexual gratification. That was what surprised me.

This is where I was having a chat. I am like, “If there was an apple there, and you tell the child not to ever eat it because it will hurt them, they are never going to eat it. If you raised them that way, they are never going to eat it. But if you tell them, ‘You see an apple you, go eat it, whether it is yours or not, you go eat it,’ they are going to do it.”

If you are raising men to treat women as sexual objects, they will. It was a bit disgusting to me because I was in that position, and my dad was there, and then my dad yelled at me for wearing shorts and told me I had no self-respect. Then I had this argument with him. “Why can you wear shorts, and why cannot I wear shorts?” He was like, “Because you are a woman.” That was so strange to me, hearing him say that.

It was because either early on, I did not recognize it because I had never worn shorts, and I am now becoming more aware of it, or that I was complying to it. I did not even realize it. I thought that way as well. That I should cover myself up, even in front of my dad because I could possibly turn him on. It is such a disgusting position to be in.

While I never faced any of that, women in Faithless Hijabi have been molested by their uncles, even their dads, or their stepdads. It is a common theme. I am sure it happens a lot in the West anyway, regardless of religion, but this seems to be more prevalent in societies where women are treated a degree below men.

3. Jacobsen: As we are moving more into 2019, what are you seeing as some of the reasons for fear and reasons for hope in terms of a growing ex-Muslim movement, much of it online, in addition to stronger backlash by more fundamentalist homes or theocratic governments?

Kay: In 2019, I only became an activist last year. Years before, I did not even know ex-Muslims existed. Now that I have become an activist, a lot of people are like, “Be safe. Be careful.” I did not realize what they were saying. To me, I was like, “I am fine. I live in Australia. It is fine. Nothing has ever happened to me.”

But I did receive a lot of online harassment pushback. Personally, it only helped me grow. It only helped me become stronger than all of that, but I can imagine it takes a mental toll on you. I failed to actively recognize it. I do not think even people who say, “Be safe,” or “Be careful,” think about it. They only perceive the backlash to be physical in nature, acid attacks, or being jailed, or raped. A lot of people forget the mental strain that it takes.

However, because the ex-Muslim movement is growing, like Faithless Hijabi, other ex-Muslim activists, more women talking out, I am trying to do quite a bit to normalize conversations. Last year, the no hijab movement did not have a lot of people posting it up. This year, a lot of people did. It is growing. I see 2019 and the future years to only keep growing regardless of the backlash.

I emailed a few Islamic scholars for a debate. Nobody responded. I want to open conversations. I want to see where the differences are. We have chosen this path. The best thing we can do is bridge that.

How can we stop people from being ostracized by their family, especially in countries like Australia? There are parents who have kicked out their daughters or sons for being ex-Muslims. We do not want that. In Australia, it is still not being recognized. They still think it is a family problem versus, “This is a country problem as well. We need to support these people. We need to find out ways on getting the right psychologists to them.”

When I started seeing the psychiatrist, I had anxiety. When I was going through major generalized anxiety disorder, I started seeing a psychiatrist. He was a Muslim. I did not realize, initially, that this would hurt me in the long term. Initially, we got along. Then he started questioning my identity crisis. He was possibly correct. I was ignoring it because I did not want to confront it.

His being a Muslim. I started telling him about my thoughts, about how I thought Islam was not right for me, how I did not appreciate the Prophet, how I thought he was a rapist. During Ramadan, he was talking something about blasphemy, and the punishments. He said, “Touch wood.” I freaked out. I freaked out, not because of my physical safety. I freaked out because of my mental safety. I was not safe around him, mentally.

Jacobsen: I understand.

Kay: Now I must be careful because he is a Muslim and I cannot say what I want to. He is not my therapist anymore; he is a Muslim man. I obviously did not report him because it would go nowhere, or he would lose his job for nothing. I am sure he is doing great work with other people. That means that he is not the right therapist for me.

That means that Australia needs to come up with better therapists, or therapist sessions, or more education on how to work with people who have left religion. There are questioning God and they are in between. I have seen the pattern where they are like, “We are spiritual.” I am like, “Sure, but I do not believe in God, and science makes more sense to me.” That was my path to atheism, as well, and to rejecting God.

For religious people, I do not think they recognize this, that these people are leaving religion. A lot of times, these psychologists can be detrimental, or the sessions can be detrimental to those figuring out their paths. It makes them even more confused. They can be like, “Maybe you will find your path back.”

I am not sure about this documentary, but somebody did mention it to me. It was by an Australian journalist, Patrick Abboud. In the end, he said, “Maybe they will learn to accept Islam the way it is.” Maybe as an outsider, I have not heard the documentary, but a friend of mine mentioned it. That got me mad, saying, “How would you like it if I said maybe Muslims will learn to accept that their religion is so misogynistic, and they still choose to be in it?” Is that a fair statement for me to say?

4. Jacobsen: Does this build bridges, in other words?

Kay: I do not know who Patrick Abboud is. I do not know what his background is. His last name sounds like he is Middle Eastern, maybe not Muslim. A lot of times, even people in the West were embracing the hijab or people are like, “Islam is not such a terrible religion once you take the spiritual side of it.” I am like, “Sure. There are spiritual sides to religion, and you can separate them, but that is not all there is to Islam.”

People go, “The foundations of Islam are love, peace, and compassion. I am like, “You are telling somebody.” I do not want to assume that she was not Muslim, but based on her name, she did not look like somebody who was raised with that religion. She may have converted into it, converted out, or knows about it, or has studied it extensively. I am like, “You are telling this to a person who has lived her life as a Muslim and has come out and is a public atheist who every day faces harassment or abuse. That Islam’s foundation is love, compassion, and peace, and that it has been hijacked by everybody else.” Who are these people hijacking the religion, if it is not everyone?

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Faithless Hijabi.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 22, 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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