Sarah Haider

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Sarah Haider
Sarah Haider -Aus Skeptics convention 2017.jpg
Haider addressing the 2017 convention of the Australian Skeptics
ResidenceWashington, D.C., USA
Years active2013–present
Known forCo-founding Ex-Muslims of North America
Home townHouston, Texas, US
MovementSecular movement

Sarah Haider is a Pakistani-American writer, speaker, and political activist.[1] She created the advocacy group Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) which seeks to normalize religious dissent and to help former Muslims leave the religion by linking them to support networks.[2] She is the co-founder and director of development for EXMNA.[3]

Early life[edit]

Haider was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in a practicing Shia Muslim family.[4] Her family moved to the United States when she was seven years old and she was raised in Houston, Texas.[5] She was a devout Muslim as a child. In a 2017 interview with the blog Gene Expression, she said of her religious participation:

I dressed modestly to deflect attention from my body, and to the bemusement of my parents, I chose to don the hijab for a short period. I stayed away from drugs or sexual encounters of any kind, complied with dietary restrictions, and prayed as regularly as I could.[6]

She became an atheist at the age of 16.[5] She believes that she was lucky enough to have a relatively liberal father who may not have let her wear shorts or have boyfriends but still allowed her to read any books she wanted, including those critical of Islam, and allowed her to move away from home to go to college. Her journey into questioning religion began when her atheist friends in high school started having debates with her. One of her friends would print off "horrible" verses from the Quran and would hand them to her without any further commentary. She set out to prove her atheist friends wrong and started studying the Quran to understand the context of these verses. However, she stated that sometimes the context was worse and she slowly became an atheist.[7]

Her father has since become an atheist as well. Haider described the journey to atheism with her father to the Reason Rally in 2016 as a long series of debates spanning over a decade. However, it was not until her father discovered Facebook groups of other Pakistani atheists that had active members who were his age that he felt comfortable leaving Islam. She now advises ex-Muslims to find their family secular peers to make them more comfortable leaving religion.[4]

After finishing college, she moved to Washington, DC, and became involved with non-profits and social advocacy groups. This involvement inspired her to launch her own non-profit advocacy group later on.[8] She still currently lives in Washington.[9]


Haider explains the goals and actions of EXMNA (2017)
Muhammad Syed, Sarah Haider and Heina Dadabhoy speaking at the American Atheist Convention 2015.

In 2013 Haider and Muhammad Syed co-founded Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA), an advocacy organization and online community which aims to "normalize" religious dissent and to helping create local support communities for those who have left Islam.[6] The organization was first based in just Washington, DC, and Toronto, but is now active in over 25 locations in the United States and Canada.[1]

EXMNA believes Muslim communities often shun those who are accused of apostasy as well as their families and that fear of excommunication and violence makes it dangerous for closeted ex-Muslims if they are exposed as disbelievers.[10] This is the reason why EXMNA believes that it is very important to normalize dissent in religious communities and why they have created a network of social support for those who chose to leave Islam.[11][12] Islamic "apostates live with a level of threat that influences every aspect of life." EXMNA has a lengthy screening process to ensure the security and safety of EXMNA members.[11]

In 2015 she gave a speech called "Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique" at the American Humanist Association's 74th annual conference in Denver, Colorado, that has been widely viewed since uploaded to YouTube. During an interview with Dave Rubin she explained her excitement by saying "it felt like my whole life was leading up to that speech." However she said she was nervous to deliver the speech, believing the topic of Islam and dissent to be "sensitive", yet was delighted at how well the speech was received.[7] Haider, a self-described liberal, is disheartened by what she feels is a hostile attitude of fellow liberals. She has said women who leave Islam often "face ostracism, beatings, harassment and threats from their families and communities, forced travel back to home countries to pry them free of Western influence, and forced marriage." She feels she is shunned by the left, having been called an Islamophobe and told that "criticizing Islam is tantamount to racism." This makes the position of ex-Muslim atheists precarious, because according to Haider "the political right is not our friend. We don't have allies on the [religious] right" due to our atheism.[13]

In 2017 Haider decided to take EXMNA on a tour around the United States and Canada to speak at college campuses throughout the 2017–2018 academic year. EXMNA will be speaking on a variety of topics that affect Muslims and ex-Muslims.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Amos, Owen (28 November 2017). "They Left Islam and Now Tour the US to Talk about It". BBC News. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  2. ^ "Sarah Haider – Writer, Activist, Founder of Ex-Muslims Of North America (Episode Co-Hosted by Sarah Nicholson". Archived from the original on 10 October 2017.
  3. ^ Haider, Sarah (19 December 2016). "Sarah Haider on Leaving Islam, Changing Liberals' Minds, and Ex-Muslims of North America". Areo. Interviewed by Mali, Malhar. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  4. ^ a b "FACES OF REASON: SARAH HAIDER, CO-FOUNDER OF EX-MUSLIMS OF NORTH AMERICA". The Reason Rally Coalition. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b Haider, Sarah; Syed, Muhammad (2016). "Islam's Ex Factor: An Interview with Sarah Haider and Muhammad Syed". The Humanist. Vol. 76 no. 5. Interviewed by Naff, Clay Farris. Washington: American Humanist Association. pp. 21–23. ISSN 0018-7399. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  6. ^ a b Khan, Razib (20 March 2017). "10 Questions For Sarah Haider". Gene Expression.
  7. ^ a b "Sarah Haider and Dave Rubin Talk Ex-Muslims, Paris Attacks, and Atheism [Full Interview]". Youtube. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  8. ^ "Sarah Haider, Co-Founder of Ex-Muslims in North America, Shares Her Transition to Atheism and the Need to Look Up to Fathers who Champion Women's Rights". AHA Foundation. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  9. ^ "Sarah Haider - Openly Secular". Youtube. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  10. ^ "For Muslim apostates, giving up their faith can be terrifying, alienating and dangerous". EXMNA.
  11. ^ a b Joshi, Hrishikesh (3 February 2017). "Leaving Islam in North America". National Review. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  12. ^ "I shall always be ready with a lie".
  13. ^ Taub, Gadi (25 November 2017). "Mark Lilla Wants to Wean U.S. Liberals Off Identity Politics". Haaretz. Retrieved 20 February 2018.

External links[edit]