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An Interview with Zara Kay on No True Scotsman, FGM, Clitoridectomy, Infibulation, Identity Crisis, and Secular Communities (Part Three)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/04/01


Zara Kay is the Founder of Faithless Hijabi. She discusses: No True Scotsman fallacy; issues of family, religion, and culture; the feeling of an identity crisis; and perceptions of and issues in the secular communities.

Keywords: ex-Muslim, Faithless Hijabi, identity, Islam,  No True Scotsman, religion, secular, Zara Kay.

An Interview with Zara Kay on No True Scotsman, FGM, Clitoridectomy, Infibulation, Identity Crisis, and Secular Communities: Founder, Faithless Hijabi (Part Three)[1],[2]

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

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: This may connect to the FGM point, and to what has been called in other contexts a “No True Scotsman” fallacy. What exactly would constitute real Islam in practice if not every practitioner? Same for every other thing.

Zara Kay: Exactly. This is the thing that Christopher Hitchens said as well. Who has the authority to assess all of this? Who is the right person to make? It was in a debate with Tariq Ramadan. Only because I am going through debates now, so I am trying to get as much context from everybody, and all the backlash. Who are these people who are talking about reformation? Can all these people who talk about reformation come together and get one idea of reformation sorted?

A lot of times, yes, Islam can be separated from its political side, but then there is this whole philosophical side. A lot of people go like, “The Islamists have taken over Islam and they are using it for their agenda.” Sure. There is a minority of it, but there are also the other conservatives, and even the liberals, who have enabled this.

One man still calls himself a Muslim. He gets threats from people who are Islamists as well and conservative Muslims. He also claims to be practicing Islam. So did these others, they are one Muslim group attacking the other Muslim group, or individuals saying, “You are not Muslim enough.”

2. Jacobsen: How does this then apply to a context of an individual who lives in a culture and practices the faith, and may be a woman, or even have a daughter, in which FGM, clitoridectomy, infibulation is not necessarily common, but known and at least moderately endorsed practices? When they are saying, “This is not the religion, necessarily. This is more culture,” even though there might be some religion mixed into it. As a nuanced consideration, it might.

Kay: This is what I said earlier. There is a big, big overlap with it. “This is not religion.” I am like, “Okay. Well, what is not religion?” If it is culture, is there a theological backing to it? FGM has a theological backing to it. There is a Hadith that the Prophet says, “You have to circumcise males, and for women, it is not enforced, but it is better if you do so.” Therefore, people have exercised that.

For those who say, “This is a cultural practice,” I always question, “Where does this stem from? Sure, there is an overlap, but what about it makes you think that this is only a cultural practice? Is there no theological backing to it? Has this not been practiced in the time of the leaders, like the Prophet?”

The Shias have a temporary marriage. People say, “Shias are not the real Muslims. It is a cultural thing.” I am like, “Has temporary marriage never been practiced by the Prophet? Given Islam has been drawn down to the practices of the Prophet and the book, has it never been practiced by the Prophet? Yes, it has.”

Child marriage. They are like, “It is a cultural thing. It happens only in India and other countries.” I am like, “Has it not been practiced by the Prophet?” They are like, “Yes, but this was at the time of the sixth century.” I am like, “Has the Prophet not said that his practices need to continue? He has.”

The Sunnah is a theme. It is being practiced, sometimes in minorities, and more prevalent in some cultures or regions than others, but does it have any relevance to when Islam was introduced, or has it ever been considered part of Islam? Has the Prophet ever spoken about it? A lot of people do not even know how hijab was introduced in times of slavery. They do not even know this. They think it is an identity.

My sisters right now, we do not talk about this because it helps us keep our relationship sane, but they do not know when the hijab was introduced. They think that I have not read the Quran because I never finished it in Arabic. It is one of those books. Why would you want to read unless you were trying to understand individual verses? Why would you want to keep reading the same thing on cursing things or praising the Lord? So, I never bothered finishing it.

But now, I have read it. I have not read it the traditional way, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 30. But I have read it in different segments. I will pick a topic. I will investigate the book for references. I will read those verses and then look at the Tafseer, which is the translation of it from different books and schools of thought – the Sunnis, the Shias, and other scholars – to get a better context.

My family who think that I have never read the Quran, or that I do not have enough knowledge and that is why I left, or that I left because of my lifestyle; I do not think they have read a half of what I have read since I have become an ex-Muslim. Leaving your religion, it is the most confusing thing you could do. It is heart-breaking for you because you hit a reality where you feel like you have been lied to by your parents, by everybody else. You were taught the concept of God. These are the practices. This is right. That you should hate gay people.

When I came out of it, it totally shattered me. It was not an easy journey. It would have been so much easier being a Muslim. I am reminded of the times when I first came out. I was reading up on things. You had to make sense of it. You had to read more to understand why you were feeling this way, let alone thinking about it. Why are you having an identity crisis?

3. Jacobsen: What was the feeling there, when you were having that identity crisis, or feelings?

Kay: It feels like you have borderline personality disorder. You are trying to be an apologist for religion, but things are also not making sense to you.

You are trying to maintain relationships with the people that you love who are not Muslims, but every time you do that; religion is always at the forefront. It was hard for me to find a balance between, “These are the people I love, regardless of their religion. How do I accept them for believing in such a cult like this?” If one of my family members was a Nazi, would I be able to do that? Would I be able to embrace them as people and not their beliefs?

It is always an exercise. Now, with my family and I, we have had a rule that we do not talk about it. I am sure it is hard for them because I am on the ultimate side. I have not only rejected Islam; I am vocal about it. I have publicly called the Prophet to be a child molester or a rapist. I call his actions to be barbaric and violent. To my family, they are like, “Who are you? We did not raise you this way.”

I am sure it happens on both sides. While you are the one losing your identity, you are also trying to make sense of how you can be around the people that you love. The good part for me was I do not live with my family. They live on a different continent. I had my time and space. Whenever I felt like there was any form of emotional blackmail or social pressure, I would block them or I would tell them, “I need my space. I will call you when I am ready.”

Setting boundaries, by far, was the hardest thing with my family. I do not know if it is more to do with culture, the way we were raised, where when I tell my mom, “I am busy,” or, “I do not want to talk to you,” my mom is like, “What do you mean you do not want to talk to me? That is not a thing.”

I was never raised to ever talk back to my parents telling them, “I do not want to talk to you.” I was like, “I am not in the mood and I do not feel like talking.” She could not comprehend that for the first few times when I said it. She kept calling me obsessively and I had to hang up or block her. I am like, “I will call you when I am ready. Right now, I am not in the mood.”

Now they have learned not to push me because the more they will push, the more I will ignore them. It is something that I should probably do a Youtube video on, creating healthy boundaries. Muslim parents, or Muslims families, or the cultural part of it, there are no healthy boundaries. There is no such thing as boundaries.

4. Jacobsen: If you look, as we have, at the outside, in other words, those within one of the largest religions in the world, and critiques of it. If we also look at some of the cultural and family dynamics that either follow from that or mix with the surrounding culture, those are two important levels of critique. A third one is also looking into our own community within the general secular community.

Since you are several months in, now, though only several months in now, at the same time, what are your perceptions of the secular community, generally? What are some of the benefits of coming into that community? What are some of the potentially unique problems that the secular community has, in and of itself, of which it needs to, perhaps, have a more serious and sober conversation about?

Kay: When I joined the ex-Muslim community, I thought it was a place where I could feel comfortable being myself, talk to people who shared the same ideologies as me, or be around people who have also been ostracized by their family. I was quickly proven wrong, especially in Australia, so I stayed away from it. Maybe, this was the Australian group.

I stayed away from it because I realized nobody was doing outreach. Nobody was there for people. We all had one thing in common, that we are not Muslims anymore, but different people had different feelings about it. Other people thought that some people were criticizing Islam so much, and they left the group.

The community, the one goal they had was that they were all ex-Muslims. The other ideologies were quite variant and different. Some people, like I said, it is not unheard of that they are still misogynistic, that they are still sexist. That does not go away. That is much ingrained, despite them disbelieving in Islam.

One thing in the secular world. Now that I am exposed to the wider world, I have more people that I can choose to talk to or form a community with, but I do not particularly feel the need to be in a community anymore.

When you are first coming out as an ex-Muslim is when you want that support, and you want that guidance. That is where Faithless Hijabi comes in. We provide that, not to a great extent because it is a one-woman run show. People are looking for that familiarity. Sometimes reading other people’s stories silently helps them make more sense.

I do not particularly feel the need to be in a community. However, I do like having chats with friends who I can talk to about things. Some of them are ex-Muslims. Some of them are my friends. My community, or my family, has been my friends.

What the secular world is not talking about too much is the after-effects of leaving, it is not focusing on the mental trauma of people that have left. They are like, “Welcome to the world.” You are like this new puppy who has been introduced to this big world. It is big, and it is great, and it is a lovely playground, but you do not know how to run, or you do not know how to play fetch. Nobody tells you, “This is 101 on how you will fit in,” “This is 101 on how you will be more comfortable,” or “This is 101 on how you work through your trauma.”

The secular community is more like, “Yes, we are open to ideas.” There is not that community practice of a warm welcome. When you convert to Islam, there will be people telling you, “Here is a book that you should read,” or, “If you ever need to chat about more Muslim stuff, let me know,” or, “If you want to go and shop for hijabs together, we can do it.”

Jacobsen: It is the love bombing.

Kay: It is the love bombing, yes. It is the love bombing. I went to Iraq and people were so warm to see other people believing in such a religion. I am like, “Sure. I know where this comes from. It is great that you are warm and stuff, but it is not limited to it.” When I went to Israel and Palestine, I could feel the different vibes. Maybe, I was biased. This was in 2016.

I went to Israel for work and I thought people were so stand-offish. I thought they were being racist, or that I did not fit in, or that I looked like a race, or that I looked Muslim, (and I was not even wearing a headscarf). What I realized is, “Everybody here looks so different,” so everybody thought I was Israeli anyway. It was the attitude that they had, that they were quite reserved until you got to know them, and they were so friendly. They were like, “Come over to our place to eat.”

On the Arab side, they were generally friendlier. They would invite random people to come over to their place to eat. I do not know if this is more of a cultural thing or more of a tactic to bring people to religion. I do not know. I do not know about that.

I felt the difference immediately when I was in Palestine. I was standing to buy tickets to the train or something, and when I was in Israel. Everyone was rushing and there were no cues and lines. They were not patient enough. People would cut lines in Israel. On the Arab side, people were a bit calmer. They knew I was a foreigner, and that I was only reading in English and it was hard, especially in English.

The secular world has less of the whole, I would say, welcoming. There is less of the whole understanding of the mental trauma. Also, thinking about how religion has been spread, do you know who Alain de Botton is?

Jacobsen: Yes.

Kay: I only read his book, The Course of Love. I did not realize that he was also an atheist. He brought up this valid point. I was reading an article. On a massive note, I read random things. I was reading this article on, “What can we learn from religion?” I am like, “Why would atheists want to learn anything from religion?”

Jacobsen: [Laughing] He is thoughtful.

Kay: Yes, he is thoughtful. I know. He had a good point. I am like, “What is he talking about?” He was talking about the spread of religion and the community side of religion that the secular world does not have. How is religion spreading? At some point, Islam was spreading faster for various reasons. Why are people still staying in religions? There are so many people who call themselves Muslims by name but practice nothing Muslim-like.

I have so many friends who are like, “I do not even believe in God.” I am like, “Then you are an atheist.” He is like, “I do not like labels.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kay: “You have more anti-Islamic views than I do, [Laughing] but you called yourself a Muslim.” It made me realize, “Why is that the case?”

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Faithless Hijabi.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 1, 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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