The Apostates

When Muslims Leave Islam

March 2015 9781849044691 256pp
EU Customers


The Apostates is the first major study of apostasy from Islam in the western secular context. Drawing on life-history interviews with ex-Muslims from the UK and Canada, Simon Cottee explores how and with what consequences Muslims leave Islam and become irreligious.

Apostasy in Islam is a deeply controversial issue and features prominently in current debates over the expansion of Islam in the West and what this means. Yet it remains poorly understood, in large part because it has become so politicised — with protagonists on either side of the debate selectively invoking Islamic theology to make claims about the ‘true’ face of Islam. The Apostates charts a different course by examining the social situation and experiences of ex- Muslims. Cottee suggests that Islamic apostasy in the West is best understood not as a legal or political problem, but as a moral issue within Muslim families and communities. Outside of Muslim-majority societies, ex-Muslims are not living in fear for their lives. But they face and must manage the stigma attached to leaving the faith from among their own families and the wider Muslim community.


‘Free people should be able to abandon their religion without being punished.  Simon Cottee brings us the stories of British and Canadian ex-Muslims who live in the shadow of stigma and with the threat of ostracism. Wider society has ignored them, and the most disgraceful elements of the Left have denounced them, but here they can speak for themselves. Books are too often described as “important” or “original” when they are neither. The Apostates is both.’ — Nick Cohen, columnist and author of You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom

The Apostates is not about religious freedom or religion that poisons. It is about some “ordinary” British and Canadian ex-Muslims who struggle to find themselves. They ask others to respect, as also mirror, their anxieties, their hesitant belongings, and their irrepressible longings. If there are pathways to empathy, an affirmation of humanity as the largest circle of belonging, then The Apostates is that bridge to a brighter future, hazy but still discernible, that makes us all prisoners of hope.’ — Bruce B. Lawrence, Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor of Religion, Duke University, and author of Who is Allah?

‘An excellent new study …. The Apostates shows how elements in the left and academia are happy to denounce Muslims who exercise their freedom to abandon their religion as ‘native informers’ who have gone over to the side of western imperialism.’ — The Spectator

‘An account from the inside of what [Cottee] terms “the lived realities of the apostates and how they subjectively make sense of their situation”… The Apostates graphically illustrates the difficulty of any conscientious repudiation of Islam.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘[Cottee’s] book is certainly an invaluable contribution to making sure that the experiences of ex-Muslims in the West will be better understood. … Cottee has done a great service to the community of ex-Muslims out there in imploring his readers to “lend an empathetic ear to the voices expressed in these pages”.’ — New Humanist

‘Exiting any social group is typically costly and traumatic. Quitting religious groups of whatever persuasion is even more so. In recent years there has been much critical attention towards Muslim apostates, but the debate is characteristically prejudicial and ill informed. Simon Cottee’s carefully researched empirical study will do much to inform, clarify and correct public opinion. Proper sociological knowledge is the first step towards better understanding.’ — Bryan S. Turner, The Graduate Center, CUNY; author of The Religious and the Political: A Comparative Sociology of Religion

‘Full of touching stories, The Apostates is a passionate and powerfully rendered account of what it’s like to leave Islam and how this fateful transformation impacts on the lives of those who experience it.’ — Ziauddin Sardar, Chair of the Muslim Institute and author of Mecca: The Sacred City

‘[T]he West’s embrace of secular multiculturalism has created a groundswell of increasingly non-religious Muslims, though quantitative research is lacking documenting this trend. Simon Cottee’s The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam provides readers with a powerful depiction of this group. … By focusing on the life histories of his subjects, Cottee gets beyond the simple platitudes that crowd Facebook forums for ex-Muslims—“Religion poisons everything”—and takes a deep dive into how one exits a religious community that embraces harsh punishments for non-believers both in this life and beyond.’ — Foreign Affairs


Simon Cottee is a senior lecturer in criminology at Kent University.

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