Father-of-two Faisal Bashir has called on police to do more to tackle hatred coming from Muslim communities after harassment drove him from his home when he left Islam.
Mr. Bashir said he decided to stop practising Islam in the summer of 2014 after becoming uncomfortable with hearing “hateful” sentiments from other Muslims.
“I heard religious people say things I couldn’t put up with any longer – it was all too hateful,” he told the East London and West Essex Guardian.
But when the resident of Ilford, Redbridge, stopped attending mosques in the area he said local Muslims began to terrorise his family.
“These people knew I had become an atheist and soon enough my whole family was being harassed,” he said. He recalled groups of men loitering outside his house “shouting and swearing”.
“I was called an apostate, a non-believer, I was told I had betrayed my God and my faith.
“Sometimes they would even say things to my children – they are far too little to know what was happening, they were very frightened.”
Mr. Bashir was told by police that the hate campaign was a “nuisance” rather than a police matter until the harassment was reported at least twice a month.
But even then, police said they were unable to act because the perpetrators often changed and no physical altercations took place.
Eventually, after a police officer told him he “should just move house to get away from it all”, Mr. Bashir moved to another part of Ilford in June 2015. He told the local newspaper his family “wasn’t left with any other choice”.
The mobile mechanic reported the hate campaign against him seems to have died down, but urged Redbridge Council and the Metropolitan Police to work together and do more to tackle religious hatred towards non-Muslims.
He said: “My personal problem appears to have been solved for now, but it doesn’t mean it’s not still out there in society.
“We need local authorities to investigate this kind of thing more thoroughly before something terrible happens.”
Mr. Bashir’s plea was backed by the Ilford-based British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA).
“Sadly Faisal’s description of persecution is similar to that faced by many Muslims choosing to leave the faith who end up shunned by their community.
“Police and councils up and down the country just don’t understand the level of animosity people choosing to leave Islam can face”, said chairman Wilson Chowdhry.
But the chair of the Federation of Redbridge Muslim Organisations (FORMO) denied there being any Islamic angle to attacks on ex-Muslims, telling the East London and Wessex Guardian “there is no compulsion in Islam”.
“I don’t think this is about religion, I think it’s the individuals involved being a bit silly.
“Maybe this man has had a family disagreement with these people or he’s anxious or distressed about something, so he’s decided to attribute it to him being an atheist,” said Farouk Ismaili.
The FORMO chair said hate in Islam “just doesn’t exist”. He added: “I think there’s also a lack of understanding about what Islam is because I go in and out of mosques in Ilford all the time and there is no hate preaching whatsoever.”
‘Hate crime’ has been top of the police agenda following the release last year of an ‘action plan’ in which the government defines ‘success’ as maximising the number of ‘hate’ reports. But police have been accused of reluctance to act when the perpetrator is from a minority ethnic group.
Two Muslims were murdered in religiously motivated attacks in the last 18 months, but in both cases the perpetrators were Muslim fundamentalists. Following the murder of Asad Shah, who was stabbed just hours after wishing Christians a Happy Easter on Facebook, the victim’s family was forced to go into hiding.
Posts appeared online celebrating the murder, and Muslims showed up to the trial to congratulate the killer and chant their support in the courtroom.