CONFIRMED SPEAKERS BIOGRAPHIES
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A C Grayling is a Philosopher, Master of the New College of the Humanities, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford. He has written and edited over thirty books on philosophy and other subjects; among his most recent are “The Good Book”, “Ideas That Matter”, “Liberty in the Age of Terror” and “To Set Prometheus Free”. For several years he wrote the “Last Word” column for the Guardian newspaper and a column for the Times. He is a frequent contributor to the Literary Review, Observer, Independent on Sunday, Times Literary Supplement, Index on Censorship and New Statesman, and is an equally frequent broadcaster on BBC Radios 4, 3 and the World Service. He sits on the editorial boards of several academic journals. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2003 he was a Man Booker Prize judge, in 2010 was a judge of the Art Fund prize, and in 2011 the Wellcome Book Prize. He was the chairman of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. He is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. His latest books are “The God Argument” (March 2013), “Friendship” (September 2013) and “The Challenge of Things” (March 2015). Anthony Grayling’s new book “The Age of Genius” was published in March 2016.
Ali A. Rizvi is a Pakistani-Canadian writer, physician, and musician who resides in Toronto. He has recently published his first book, “The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason”. Ali grew up in Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, as part of a progressive Muslim family, before he moved permanently to Canada in his twenties. As a physician, he trained in pathology (with fellowship in oncologic pathology) at SUNY Buffalo and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and also holds a master of science degree in biochemistry from Ontario’s McMaster University. In 2011, he switched his career to medical communications so he could focus more on his writing. Ali is an avid and vocal advocate for secularism, science, and reform, particularly in the Muslim community. He is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, and also plays with a rock band in Toronto.
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy is an Egyptian women’s rights activist. She became known for publishing a nude photo on her blog which she described as “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy”. Since then she became a subject of several death threats. Elmahdy describes herself as a “secular, liberal, feminist, vegetarian, individualist Egyptian” and has identified as an atheist since turning 16. In 2013, Elmahdy sought political asylum in Sweden for fear of being jailed, after being kidnapped and receiving death threats, and escaping a rape attempt. Continuing the photographic theme of her protest, Elmahdy has subsequently called for men to submit images of themselves wearing veils “in an attempt to create awareness over hypocritical attitudes,” and requested women “who wish to remove their veils to send her photographs of their faces, to be published online.”
Alya Al-Sultani is a vocalist and composer based in London. Her first musical experiences were Iraqi folk songs sung by her great grandmother and radio broadcasts of Um Kolthum, Abdel-Halim and Fairouz which she listened to with her family while drinking sweet black tea infused with cardamom. After leaving Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, her family settled in Tottenham, North London. The pursuit of freedom in music is driven by her aesthetic, her immigrant experience and her Eastern feminism. Apart from working on her own projects, Alya enjoys debuting new music for contemporary composers and experimenting with opera, including the integration of improvisation techniques, microtonal ideas and Eastern influences. Her most recent projects include an EP with her trio SAWA, a lead soprano role in Purcell’s King Arthur, a collaboration with electronic artist Lossy and debuting a suite of songs for composer Yasmeen Ahmed which will be performed in Bahrain this October. She is currently writing her next album, Love & Protest, which will be a significant departure from Chai Party (April 2015, Two Rivers Records). Alya is executive producer at Two Rivers Records and occasional festival programmer. She is completing a doctorate in psychology, researching the impact of choir participation on refugees with trauma.
Ani Zonneveld is founder and President of Muslims for Progressive Values with chapters and affiliates in 12 countries and 19 cities. She has organised numerous interfaith arts and music festivals, participated in many interfaith dialogues and is a strong supporter of human rights and freedom of expression. She is the brainchild of Literary Zikr – a project that counters radical Islam on-line and co-editor of MPV’s first book, an anthology titled “Progressive Muslim Identities – Personal Stories from the U.S. and Canada”; she has contributed to many forewords and numerous anthologies too many to list; is a contributor for HuffingtonPost, OpenDemocracy and al-Jazeera, and recently gave her TEDx talk titled – Islam: As American As Apple Pie; and the subject of a documentary title “al-imam” featuring Ani’s activism works. As an award winning singer/songwriter, she utilises the power of music and the arts in countering radicalism as she speaks-sings her message of social justice and peace from a progressive Muslim woman’s perspective, and is the first woman to release an English Islamic pop album in the U.S. in 2004. She was born and raised Muslim from Malaysia and is based in Los Angeles.
Annie Laurie Gaylor is Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She was also the editor of the organisations newspaper, Freethought Today until 2015. Gaylor is the author of several books, including Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children and, as editor, Women Without Superstition: No Gods – No Masters. In 2010, Gaylor received the Humanitarian Heroine award from the American Humanist Association. She has been an invited speaker at conferences including the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia, and the regional conference of the Minnesota Atheists. She is on the speakers bureau of the Secular Student Alliance.
Benjamin David is Editor-in-Chief of Conatus News, a contributor to The Huffington Post, a philosophy academic, and was until recently the president of The University of Warwick society, Warwick University Atheists, Secularists and Humanists. He is also an activist for the university free-speech movement, #Right2Debate, a Secularist and published poet.
Bonya Ahmed is a published author and moderator at Mukto-mona blog. Until recently, she worked as a Senior Director in the Finance industry in the USA. She is the widow of Avijit Roy, a well known writer, blogger, and activist who founded Mukto-mona as the first online platform for Bengali speaking freethinkers. Roy and Ahmed were brutally attacked in the middle of the street by Islamists during a book signing trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 26, 2015. Ahmed was gravely injured during the attack. Ahmed continues to work with international and local groups to help Bengali bloggers and activists and for justice for Avijit and others murdered. She is dedicated to drawing attention to the growing culture of impunity in Bangladesh.
Cemal Knudsen Yucel was born and raised in Turkey. He was an Islamist and active in youth branches of the Islamist movement, Milli Gorus, which is the a part of Muslim Brotherhood. He is now an ex-Muslim atheist activist and founder and chair of Ex-Muslims of Norway. He writes articles, participates in debates and conferences related to apostasy, blasphemy, women’s status in Islam, Islamic reform, and political and social issues. He is helping to build the ex-Muslim community and promoting enlightenment work.
Chris Moos is a secularist activist, and campaigns against sexism, racism and fundamentalism. As a PhD student, he was the president of the London School of Economics SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. In 2013, the LSE banned him from wearing Jesus & Mo t-shirts, a ban he successfully challenged. He has also co-organised successful campaigns against the Universities UK gender segregation policy as well as the Law Society’s Sharia Wills Practice Note. He writes for the Huffington Post and the Freethinker, and was nominated for the Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year 2014.
Damon Conlan is a magician, comedian, skeptic, and blogger from the West Midlands. His sarcastic sorcery often orbits the themes of atheism and skepticism, as well as political satire. He also likes to call himself a Jocular Prestidigitator because it has long words in it and makes him sound clever.
Dan Barker is Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-host of Freethought Radio, a national weekly talkshow. He is a contributing editor of Freethought Today and is involved with the Foundation’s state/church lawsuits. He regularly travels the country and the world giving lectures, performing concerts, and participating in debates with theists, many at college and university campuses. Prior to that, he was a preacher for 19 years. He became a teenage evangelist at age 15 and was ordained in 1975. He served as associate pastor in three California churches. He maintained an ongoing touring musical ministry, including eight years of full-time, cross-country evangelism. An accomplished pianist, record producer, arranger and songwriter, he worked with Christian music companies such as Manna Music and Word Music. Following five years of reading, Dan gradually outgrew his religious beliefs. He announced his atheism publicly in January, 1984. He tells his story in the books Losing Faith in Faith (1992) and Godless (2008).
Dave Silverman is the current president of American Atheists, a non-profit organisation that supports the rights of atheists and the removal of expressions of religion in public in accordance with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. He is the author of “Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World”, a firebrand manifesto from one of the most recognisable faces of atheism. In his book, Silverman-a walking, talking atheist billboard discusses the effectiveness, ethics and impact of the in-your-face-atheist who refuses to be silent.
Deeyah Khan is a critically acclaimed music producer and Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary film director. She was born in Norway to immigrant parents of Pashtun and Punjabi ancestry. Her 2012 multi-award winning documentary Banaz: A Love Story chronicles the “honour killing” of a young British Kurdish woman killed in 2006 in London. Deeyah’s second film the Bafta-nominated Jihad involved two years of interviews and filming with Islamic extremists, convicted terrorists and former jihadis. She has also received several awards for her work supporting freedom of expression, human rights and peace, including the Ossietzky prize by Norwegian PEN and the University of Oslo’s Human Rights Award. She received the 2016 Peer Gynt Prize from the Parliament of Norway. Deeyah is also the CEO of Fuuse. One of the most recent Fuuse initiatives is sister-hood, a digital magazine and a series of live events spotlighting the voices of women of Muslim heritage.
Djemila Benhabib was born in to a Greek Cypriot mother and an Algerian father, both scientists. She was raised in Oran, Algeria, where her parents were engaged in social and political causes. From an early age, she was aware of the poor condition of women in that country, but also of their hopes. She became an activist in the Parti de l’avant-garde socialiste (PAGS). In the early 1990s, the oppressive Front islamique du salut (FIS) rose to power. Djemila helped to organise demonstrations to oppose this movement. However, in 1994, death threats made by the Front islamique pour le djihad armé (FIDA) forced her and her family to flee to Paris. There, she organised groups that fought against the oppression of Algerian women – some of this oppression having reached as far as France itself. In 1997, she was awarded a scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree at Quebec’s Institut nationale de recherche scientifique (INRS). After that, she went on to pursue another Master’s degree in political science and international rights. During these studies, she also served as the Canadian correspondent for the French-language Algerian newspaper El-Watan. In 2012, she received Le Prix international de la laïcité.
Elham Manea is an Associate Professor specialised on the Middle East, a writer, and a human rights activist. She is a Fulbright scholar who holds a PhD degree in political science from the University of Zurich, Master degree in comparative politics from the American University in Washington D.C, and a Bachelor degree in political science from Kuwait University. She has published several academic and non-fiction books including The Arab State and Women’s Rights: The Trap of Authoritarian Governance. She works at the Political Science Institute at the University of Zurich and a consultant for Swiss government agencies and international human rights organisations. Recently, she has been appointed by the Swiss Federal Council as a Member of the Federal Commission for Women Affairs. Her concept of humanistic Islam was first published in a series of articles in Arabic. Her most recent book is: Women And Sharia Law: The Impact Of Legal Pluralism In The UK.
Fariborz Pooya was born in Iran. He took part in 1978-79 revolution, but moved to UK in 1979. He studied economics and politics at Oxford Brookes and Birkbeck College, University of London. He founded the Iranian Secular Society, was one of the founding members of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and writes and comments on politics and secularism. He also co-hosts political-social TV magazine, Bread and Roses TV.
Fauzia Ilyas is a Pakistani human rights activist and ex-Muslim. She became known for founding Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan where the state religion is Islam and apostasy lead to death. Since then, she became a subject of several death threats. In 2015, Fauzia sought asylum in the Netherlands because her family members and religious fanatics threatened her life, and the authorities threatened to arrest her for blasphemy.
Gina Khan was born in Birmingham to Pakistani Muslim parents. Gina is a Human Rights activist and researcher. Personal experiences prompted Gina to break her silence in 2005 by speaking out in radio debates and writing to local Birmingham newspapers following a traumatic divorce and experience of living as a lone woman and parent in Birmingham. Gina focuses on two main subjects; the rise of pro-jihad ideologies within Muslim communities and the position and status of women within those communities. Gina believes these two twin phenomena to be symptomatic of deeper problems. After speaking out against Jihadism in Birmingham, Gina and her children were forced to leave her home after it was attacked. She is currently the co-Spokesperson of One Law for All.
Gita Sahgal is a writer, journalist, film-maker and rights activist. She is currently Founder and Director of Centre for Secular Space. She was formerly Head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International; she was suspended in 2010 after she was quoted criticizing Amnesty for its high-profile associations with the Islamist Moazzam Begg, the director of a campaign group called Cageprisoners. For many years she served on the board of Southall Black Sisters and was a founder of Women Against Fundamentalism and Awaaz: South Asia Watch. With Nira Yival Davis, she edited Refusing Holy Orders: Women and Fundamentalism in Britain ( London, 1992). Among her articles are ‘Legislating Utopia? Violence Against Women, Identities and Interventions’ in ‘The Situated Politics of Belonging. During the 1980s, she worked for a Black current affairs programme called ‘Bandung File’ on Channel 4 TV. She made two films about the Rushdie affair, ‘Hullaballoo Over Satanic Verses’ and ‘Struggle or Submission’. She has also made two programmes for Dispatches Channel 4, ‘The Provoked Wife’ on the case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia and ‘The War Crimes File’ an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by members of the Jamaat I Islami in Bangladesh in 1971.
Gona Saed is a women’s rights activist from Iraqi Kurdistan. She was forced to flee Iraq – Kurdistan in 1998 for her active involvement in campaigning for human and women’s rights. Currently she works as a Projects Manager at the Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation in UK and is the Overseas Director of Kurdistan Secular Centre. Gona is a writer and commentator and a public figure in Iraqi Kurdistan well known for her stance on equality and women’s rights. She is a co-founder of several civil society and NGO organisations, including the Independent Women’s Organisation in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1993, Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Rights Organisation in 1999 and recently the Kurdistan Secular Centre in 2015. Gona has over 25 years of experience as a human and women’s rights activist and advocate. She has campaigned to abolish polygamy law in Iraq – Kurdistan in 2008, to lift the UN economic sanctions on Iraq during 1990s and against the war on Iraq before and after 2003. In the UK she is been an active member of campaigning for positive changes in government policies in responding to the so called “ Honour based violence”. Gona has been a key speaker at the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day in Denmark in 2010 presenting about “Women in Conflict Zones – Iraq as an example”. She has been a speaker in many local and international conferences and in public debates and media interviews including BBC 4 Women’s Hour, London Live TV and BBC world service representing issues facing Middle Eastern women and their struggle for freedom and equality.
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti has written extensively for stage, screen and radio. Her first play BEHSHARAM (SHAMELESS) broke box office records at Soho Theatre and the Birmingham Rep in 2001. Her play BEHZTI (DISHONOUR) was sensationally closed in December 2004, after playing to packed houses at the Birmingham Rep. The play which explored sexual abuse in the British Sikh community caused controversy as it was set in a Gurdwara. Members of the local Sikh community objected to the play and demonstrations culminated in a riot which led to theatre bosses closing the show – a move which launched a national debate about artistic censorship and multiculturalism. Death threats forced Gurpreet into hiding. In 2005, BEHZTI won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. In 2006, the play was translated into French and did sell-out tours in France and Belgium. Behzti was translated into Italian in 2012 and was performed in Bari, Italy. In 2010 her follow up to Behzti – BEHUD (BEYOND BELIEF) was co-produced by Soho Theatre and Coventry Belgrade and shortlisted for the John Whiting Award. Recent credits include KHANDAN, Royal Court, FOURTEEN, Watford Palace Theatre and the feature film EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE. She is currently under commission to the Birmingham Rep, is developing two television projects for the BBC and is a member of the writing team of THE ARCHERS.
Halima Begum is an ex-Muslim feminist researcher and blogger. After a decade-long journey from Sunni and Shia Islam over Islamism to Secular Liberalism, Halima wrote a study on “British ex-Muslims: Negotiating the Essential and the Revolutionary”, which won the Best Dissertation Award at Birkbeck University in 2014. Halima plans to expand her research to incorporate a gendered experience of Ex-Muslim apostasy. Being a seasoned Ex-Muslim, Halima is keen to promote freedom of expression and uphold rights of personal autonomy. She hopes to share her journey and help others find the best way they can be true to themselves.
Hanifullah Wais is a civil society activist and a human rights defender in Afghanistan. He is also Editor of Jamia e Madani (civil society) magazine and contributor to 8am daily.
Hassan Radwan graduated with 1st class honours in Arabic from SOAS University of London in 1984, his specialist subjects being Quranic commentary and Pre-Islamic poetry. For 3 years he served as president of SOAS Students Islamic Society. He spent 15 years as a teacher at Islamia Primary School in London and has written four books for Muslim children as well as leading an Islamic circle. After going through a period of questioning & doubting his faith he first identified as an ex Muslim but eventually came to identify as an Agnostic Muslim and campaigns for radical reform within Islam – in particular the need to recognise the Quran’s human origin. He recently translated the book “My Ordeal with the Quran” from Arabic to English and founded the Agnostic Muslims and Friends Facebook group. He also runs the Agnostic Muslim Khutbahs blog. Hassan is also an active member of the Inclusive Mosque Initiative in London.
Houzan Mahmoud is a women’s rights campaigner, public lecturer and co-founder of Culture Project, a transnational project formed recently to raise awareness about feminism and gender in Kurdistan and diaspora. She has an MA in Gender Studies from SOAS-London University. She worked as representative of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq for many years. She was born in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1973 and currently residing and working in London. Her articles were published in UK publications including The Independent and The Guardian, The Tribune, The New Statesman and others. Houzan led many campaigns internationally, including campaigns against the rape and abduction of women in Iraq, and against the imposition of Islamic sharia law in Kurdistan and Iraqi constitution. She led many other campaigns around the world against so called honour killings, and against violation of freedom of expression.
Imad Iddine Habib is a Moroccan atheist threatened for his atheism. He is founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco, the first public atheist organisation in a country with Islam as the state religion. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain declared May 15 “International Imad Day” in order to galvanise support for his case. His case was also highlighted in a 2013 CEMB report on the political and legal status of apostates in Islam. He is currently co-Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.
Inna Shevchenko is leader of FEMEN, topless activists against various manifestations of patriarchy, including dictatorship, religion, and the sex industry. She was kidnapped and threatened by the Belarus KGB in 2011 and was given political asylum in France. In July 2013, Shevchenko was the main inspiration for a new French stamp depicting Marianne. In December 2012, the French magazine Madame Figaro included Shevchenko in its list of the world`s top 20 iconic women of the year. Shevchenko is a speaker at conferences and a columnist for the international press. She was a speaker at a debate on the freedom of speech in Copenhagen on 14 February 2015 with cartoonist Lars Vilks. She was speaking about an illusion that in Western Europe people can fully enjoy freedom of speech when a terrorist opened fire in the lobby of the cultural centre, where the debates took place. Surviving the attack, Shevchenko later said, “Liberal voices should be louder than Kalashnikovs”.
Iram Ramzan is a reporter and freelance journalist based in Greater Manchester. She founded Sedaa.org, a platform for progressive/secular voices of Muslim heritage, challenging the narratives surrounding Islam and extremism.
Ismail Mohamed is the first Egyptian to publicly announce his atheism on national television. He started Black Ducks, an inspiring Talk Show on Youtube that interviews atheists and non-religious individuals from the Arab world. It aims to achieve a secular society in the Middle East and North Africa and offer solace and courage to those who are atheists in secret so they may know they are not alone in the world. Many share their stories of struggle on The Black Ducks. The channel is the number one platform for Arab atheists and apostates throughout the region. Mohamed launched his project in 2013, after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power, a time when many Egyptians feared dearly for their freedom and sovereignty.
Jane Donnelly is Atheist Ireland’s Human Rights Officer. Atheist Ireland is an Irish advocacy group that promotes atheism and reason over superstition and supernaturalism, and an ethical, secular society where the State does not support or finance or give special treatment to any religion. Atheist Ireland has also worked against blasphemy laws, and are part of a Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. Jane also runs the website teachdontpreach.ie, which records religious discrimination in Irish schools and advises parents on how to tackle it.
Jodie Ginsberg is CEO of Index on Censorship, a campaigning publishing organisation for freedom of expression, which produces a quarterly magazine of the same name from London. Jodie joined Index from the think-tank, Demos. A former London Bureau Chief for Reuters, she worked for more than a decade as a foreign correspondent and business journalist. She was previously Head of Communications for Camfed, a non-profit organisation working in girls’ education.
Karima Bennoune is currently UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. She is also a law professor at the UC Davis School of Law, and author of “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism”. In 2007, Bennoune became the first Arab-American to win the Derrick Bell Award from the Association of American Law Schools Section on Minority Groups. She sits on the Board of the Network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws.
Karrar Al Asfoor is an atheist and from Najaf, Iraq and Co-founder of Atheist Alliance Middle East and North Africa. He is also active with Arab Atheists and the Forum for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Facebook discussion group of 44,000 members that promote the right to freedom of belief and expression offering unlimited space for free speech in the Middle East and North Africa region. He is also an activist on movement.org, a platform that aims to crowd source human rights.
Kate Smurthwaite is a stand-up comedian and political activist. She has appeared on more than 500 TV and radio shows including This Morning, The Big Questions, Woman’s Hour and The Moral Maze. In 2013 she won a Three Week’s Editor’s Choice Award for her show at the Edinburgh Festival. Kate is a writer for BBC Three show The Revolution Will Be Televised and is the Vice Chair of Abortion Rights UK.
Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster. His book From Fatwa to Jihad was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. As a scientific author, his focus is on the philosophy of biology, and contemporary theories of multiculturalism, pluralism and race. These topics are discussed in The Meaning of Race (1996), Man, Beast and Zombie (2000) and Strange Fruit: Why both sides are wrong in the race debate (2008). He has presented Analysis, on BBC Radio 4, Nightwaves, BBC Radio 3 and was a panelist on The Moral Maze, Radio 4. He has written and presented a number of radio and TV documentaries including Disunited Kingdom, Are Muslims Hated?, Islam, Mullahs and the Media, Skullduggery and Man, Beast and Politics. His latest book is The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics, published by Atlantic.
The London Humanist Choir is the UK’s foremost community atheist, humanist, secular choir. We formed in May 2009 with the support of the British Humanist Association and made our debut at the BHA AGM in July 2009. Since then our 40+ singers have performed at numerous events including the Faiths In Tune – Interfaith Festivals, Sangerstevne Choral Festival, Edinburgh Free Fringe, London Month Of The Dead, Sara Pascoe’s Christmas Assembly and Stand Up For Darwin. We host our own annual variety show – One Life – which celebrates World Humanist Day on 21 June. Our repertoire is wide ranging, including classical pieces, the oldest known folk song, humanist ceremony music, Tim Minchin and the Flaming Lips to name but a few.
Maajid Nawaz is a liberal activist and counter-extremism campaigner. He is Co-Founder and Chairman of Quilliam – a globally active civic-intervention organisation that focuses on emerging geo-political fault lines and counteracting extremism. Maajid is also the co-founder of Khudi, a Pakistan based social-movement campaigning to entrench democratic culture among the nation’s youth. He was adopted by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience after being detained in Egypt. He speaks of his journey to anti-extremism and democracy in his autobiography, ‘Radical’. Maajid has spoken from various platforms internationally, ranging from universities across Pakistan to addressing the US Senate in Washington DC. He has been profiled by CBS 60 minutes, Larry King Live, BBC Newsnight, has spoken at the TED conference, and is regularly interviewed by prominent journalists across the world. His work is published by The London Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, India Times, Dawn Pakistan, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Guardian, and The New Statesman among many others.He is also an adjunct fellow IACSP- CSS South East Asia Regional Centre.
Marieme Helie Lucas is an Algerian sociologist, political theorist and author. Marieme was born in Algeria to a ‘family of feminists’ and had been active in the liberation struggle of Algeria. She is founder and former International Coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, a solidarity network that provides information, support and a collective space for women. She is also the founder of Secularism Is A Women’s Issue, which focuses on the threat of the erosion of secular spaces and of formal secularism, and challenges all forms of fundamentalisms.
Mario Ramadan is a Co-founder of Freethought Lebanon, an active freethinking group based in Beirut, Lebanon which aims to empower freethinkers living in Lebanon in order to promote secularism as a solution to the sociopolitical corruption, to encourage scientific thinking, to increase tolerance towards free thinking and secular values, and to support legislative initiatives related to humanism. Mario is a leading figure in the country’s growing secular community. He was awarded Atheist of the Year by Kazimierz Lyszczynski (2016).
Maryam Namazie is Co-Spokesperson for One Law for All, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Fitnah. She hosts a weekly television programme called Bread and Roses. She is on the International Advisory Board of the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom; National Secular Society Honorary Associate; a Patron of London Black Atheists and Pink Triangle Trust; International Advisory Board Member of Feminist Dissent and a columnist for The Freethinker. The Islamic regime of Iran’s media outlets has called Namazie immoral and corrupt and did an ‘exposé’ on her entitled “Meet this anti-religion woman.” Maryam was a character in DV8 Physical Theatre’s Can We Talk About This?, which deals with freedom of speech, censorship and Islam. She was awarded the 2016 International Secularism (Laicite) Prize from the Comité Laïcité République and was honoured by the National Secular Society for her campaigning work defending free speech at universities (2016) despite attempts at barring her by Student Unions or Islamic Society efforts to intimidate and cancel her talks. She was also awarded Atheist of the Year by Kazimierz Lyszczynski (2014); Journalist of the Year at the Dods Women in Public Life Awards (2013); selected one of the top 45 women of the year by Elle magazine Quebec (2007); one of 2006′s most intriguing people by DNA, awarded the National Secular Society’s Secularist of the Year Award (2005), amongst others.
Michael Nugent is a Writer and Chairperson of the advocacy group Atheist Ireland, which promotes atheism, reason and ethical secularism in Ireland and around the world. He campaigns for the right to assisted dying for terminally or seriously ill people and has campaigned against terrorism in Northern Ireland, including founding and chairing the peace group New Consensus. His writing ranges from satire to serious; his comedy book Dear John – The John Mackay Letters was a number one bestseller; his comedy musical play I, Keano was also a hit.
Nadia El Fani, a Tunisian film-maker living in France, risks arrest and up to five years in prison if she returns to Tunisia after Islamists filed a complaint against her for her film “Neither Allah nor Master”. The film is an account of Tunisian life immediately before and after the fall of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Others films include Ouled Lenine, Laicite, Inshallah! and Our breasts, our weapons!
Nasreen Rehman is an award winning playwright and screenplay writer. She is Chair and co-Founder of British Muslims for Secular Democracy. BMSD is an organisation that challenges these voices and seeks to appropriate this space in order to forward a different and more enlightened face of Islam – one that is more democratic and equitable. She represents BMSD at conferences in the U.K. and Europe and engages in media debates on topics such as Islamophobia and the hijab. She also serves on the Board of Akademi, a lead organisation for South Asian dance, in Britain; and is a founder member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) a women’s rights movement in Pakistan. In the past, she has worked as an economist in the private sector and in development, in the U.K and in Pakistan. As director of the Mahbubul Haq Human Development Centre, in Islamabad she steered the publication of the Report on the Crises of Governance in South Asia, and helped to develop the terms of reference for the Centre’s report on Gender in the region. As trustee of the Runnymede Trust, she served on two national commissions on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, respectively.
Nina Sankari is a Polish secular, atheist and feminist activist. She is the Vice President of the atheist Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation in Poland, co-founder of the International Association of Free Thought and its Spokesperson. She writes and translates articles for the Polish and French freethinkers and feminist centres (Fakty i Mity, 50/50, Journal ReSPUBLICA, La Raison, Charlie Hebdo). She has participated in many international conferences related to secularism, rationalism, atheism, women’s rights, and on political and social issues. She is the initiator and co-organiser of the Atheist Days – a big yearly event in Warsaw.
Noura Embabi is an Egyptian-American ex-Muslim based in New York City. She is currently serving as President of Muslim-ish, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to creating a safe environment for the exchange of ideas among current and former Muslims, fostering pluralism that respects the rights of all individuals to live according to their conscience, and striving to abolish blasphemy and apostasy laws across the globe. A member of Muslimish for over three years, Noura identifies with the nuanced stance of the organisation – giving voice to those leaving Islam in order to humanise and bring visibility to ex-Muslims, while cultivating conversations with others in order to move towards a pluralistic society.
Pragna Patel is Founder and Director of the Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. SBS is, a multi-award-winning women’s organisation founded in 1979 to address the needs of black and minority women experiencing gender violence. It successfully campaigned for the release of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a landmark case in which an Asian woman was convicted of the murder of her violent husband. The case reformed homicide law, creating greater awareness within and outside minority communities. Pragna is also a co-founder of Women Against Fundamentalism. She has also written extensively on race, gender and religion, including ‘Citizenship: Whose Rights?’, ‘Faith in the State? Asian Women’s Struggles for Human Rights in the UK’, and ‘Shrinking Secular Spaces: Asian Women at the Intersect of Race, Religion and Gender’. She was listed in The Guardian’s Top 100 women: activists and campaigners.
Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for human rights and global justice since 1967. New Statesman readers voted him sixth on their list of “Heroes of our Time” 2006. He won Campaigner of the Year at The Observer Ethical Awards 2009, as well as Secularist of the Year 2012. He writes and broadcasts on many human rights and social justice issues. In protest against the Archbishop of Canterbury’s support for legal discrimination against LGBT people, he interrupted Dr Carey’s Easter Sunday Sermon in 1998. He attempted a citizen’s arrest of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in 1999 and again in 2001, and was beaten unconscious the second time. He was also arrested and beaten when he went to support Moscow LGBT Pride in 2007. Both attacks left him with brain and eye damage. He is currently the Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
Rahila Gupta is a freelance journalist and writer. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and New Humanist among other papers and magazines. Her books include, Enslaved: The New British Slavery; From Homebreakers to Jailbreakers: Southall Black Sisters; Provoked; and ‘Don’t Wake Me: The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong (Playdead Press, 2013). She is co-authoring a book with Beatrix Campbell with the title Why Doesn’t Patriarchy Die?
Rana Ahmad is Syrian/Saudi-Arabian Activist, Women’s Rights Campaigner, Ex-Muslim Activist, Head of the RDF department Arab Atheist Community in Germany,Pop science blogger and editor, a member of Giordano-Bruno-Stiftung,and a member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Germany. She hope to help all girls to be free. After she discarded her religion, she had to escape because she was threatened with death by her family and the government in Saudi Arabia.
Rayhana Sultan is an ex-Muslim atheist activist from Bangladesh. She launched CEMB’s #ExMuslimBecause campaign that trended on social media with over 100,000 Tweets across 70 countries worldwide. Rayhana has participated in several public discussions and media interviews highlighting the legal and social challenges for atheists, secularists, and vocal critics of religions in Bangladesh, including the country’s constitutional stance that misinterprets the idea of secularism and freedom of expression.
Richard Dawkins is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008. Dawkins first came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. With his book The Extended Phenotype, published in 1982, he introduced into evolutionary biology the influential concept that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism’s body, but can stretch far into the environment. In 2006, he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Dawkins is an atheist, and is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design. In his most popular book, The God Delusion, published in 2006, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion. He has been awarded many prestigious academic and writing awards and he makes regular television, radio and Internet appearances, predominantly discussing his books, his atheism and his ideas and opinions as a public intellectual.
Savin Bapir-Tardy is a counselling psychologist at the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) and a lecturer in psychology at the University of West London.
Sadia Hameed is a Spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and has been featured in a 2016 film, Islam’s Non Believers, by award-winning filmmaker Deeyah Khan. She is also a human rights activist and Honour Based Violence, Forced Marriage and FGM Consultant.
Sanal Edamaruku is an author and rationalist and founder-president of Rationalist International and the president of the Indian Rationalist Association. He is the editor of Rationalist International, author of 25 books and other articles. In 2012, he was charged with hurting religious sentiments for his role in examining a claimed miracle at a local Catholic Church. He moved to Finland to evade his arrest.
Sarah Peace is a Nigerian writer, artist and director of Fireproof Library, which campaigns for freedom of expression through publication of secular and humanist literature. Fireproof Library provides a platform for people from marginalised communities to challenge dogma and superstition and advocate for human rights through its Secular Voices campaign.
Shabana Rehman is a performance artist and human and animal rights advocate. She is Norwegian with Pakistani descent. Shabana entered the stage in Oslo, Norway in 2000. In the following years, she quickly built a reputation for groundbreaking and iconoclastic comedy. Her controversial and popular comedy style along with public political stunts like Mullah-Lifting, and bodypainted with Norwegian flag as a performance artist, have given her a unique position in her native Norway. Among substantial international press cover , she has been featured both by The New York Times and by Times Magazine. In addition to her profilic comedy career, Shabana is a highly respected columnist, satirist, and public speaker in Scandinavia and the Scandinavian community in USA. She regularly writes for major newspaper and magazines in the region. A frequent participant and contributor in talkshows and public debates, she is among the most respected celebrities in Norway. Shabana has received several awards for her writing and fearless comedy. She had played her shows in several countries, among them Canada, USA, Denmark, Iceland, Faroe Islands and Germany. She recently founded the Secular Feminist Front.
Shelley Segal is a singer-songwriter involved in secular activism. Her first record, ‘An Atheist Album’ is a passionate response to dogmatic belief, inequality, religious oppression and the idea that only the devout can be grateful and good. The record gives a voice to the often underrepresented views of non-religious people, the fastest growing minority in many countries. It also creates opportunities to discuss issues of secularism with the mainstream media. Her voice has taken her around the world including England, Australia and ten tours of the United States. She has released seven recording projects of her own and runs independent record label True Music where she works with other artists. An award winning song-writer, powerful performer and explicit story-teller, Shelley uses her music not only to express the way she sees the world but to create the world she wants to see.
Savin Bapir-Tardy is a counselling psychologist at the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) and a lecturer in psychology at the University of West London.
Sukhwant Dhaliwal is a founder and editorial collective member of Feminist Dissent, a journal on gender and fundamentalism. With Nira Yuval-Davis, she is co-editor of Women Against Fundamentalism: Stories of Dissent and Solidarity, published by Lawrence and Wishart in 2014. Sukhwant started out in the women’s voluntary sector and then, after ten years, moved over to academia. She is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Bedfordshire and she has continued to work closely with feminist partners on research projects encompassing the six equality strands. She recently started writing on Sikh fundamentalist networks in the UK.
Tasneem Khalil is a Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist and editor of Independent World Report, a journal of human rights and global politics. He is also the author of the new book Jallad: Death Squads and State Terror in South Asia (Pluto Press, 2016). He was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2007, following his detention by the Bangladeshi military intelligence agency. In 2008, Swedish PEN conferred him with an honorary membership for his journalism.
Teresa Giménez Barbat is a Member of the European Parliament for the ALDE Group (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe). She is an anthropologist and writer and an advocate of secular humanism, rationalist universalism and scepticism. Giménez Barbat has created Euromind, a forum for scientists and humanists. It is a platform to boost dialogue between science and politics.
Yasmine (@ConfessionsExMu) is an Arab-Canadian university educator who has recently written a memoir entitled ‘Some of my Best Friends are Jewish, and other confessions of an ExMuslim’. In it she describes how, despite being born and raised in North America, she endured the same traumas that are familiar to Muslims across the planet. As a child, she was beaten for not memorizing the Quran. As a teenager, she was forced into a marriage to a member of Al Qaeda, after he was bailed out of prison by Osama bin Laden himself. And as an adult, she wore a niqab, and lived in a home/prison with paper covering all the windows. Yet, somehow, with nothing but a high school diploma and a baby in tow, she got out. Despite the dark themes, Yasmine’s message is one of hope to her fellow ExMuslims.
Victoria Gugenheim is an award-winning body artist. She is passionate about the necessity of and is merging, art with science. Art and science share a common ancestor with the human imagination, and without imagination there can be no hypothesis. It was the first visual, material, tangible “What if?” that humanity had, and it started 300,000 years ago deep in the caves near the twin Zambini Rivers. Victoria’s art has been a lifelong quest of “de-othering” people through art, public speaking and personal aesthetic choice. Her art ranges from bodypainting, makeup, photography, sculpture, performances, installations, digital art, clothing design, drawing and painting with science and technology. She uses bodypainting as a way of empowering the human spirit, giving the person painted a new found confidence that can be life changing.
Waleed El Husseini is a Palestinian essayist, writer and blogger. In October 2010, the Palestinian Authority arrested him for allegedly blaspheming against Islam on Facebook and in blog posts. His arrest garnered international attention. He founded the Council of Ex-Muslims of France in 2013. His ‘I’m Proud to be an Atheist’ Facebook page has over 150000 ‘likes’. His book Blasphémateur!: les prisons d’Allah, 2015 has been widely received.
Yasmin Rehman is a freelance consultant and doctoral candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her area of research is polygamy and the law. She has worked for more than 20 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights. Yasmin has worked for Local Government, the Metropolitan Police Service as Director of Partnerships and Diversity (2004-08) during which time she also held the Deputy national lead for forced marriage and honour based violence. Yasmin has most recently been commissioned as founding CEO of a race equality charity in East London, followed by Transforming Rehabilitation bid and now reviewing police responses to domestic abuse for national charities. Yasmin is currently member of the Board of EVAW (End Violence Against Women Coalition), an Independent Adviser for City of London Police and a member of the Centre for Secular Space.
Zehra Pala is an Activist of the Atheism Association of Turkey, the first legally recognized Atheist Organization of the Balkans, Middle East and among all Muslim-majority countries. Its focus is to advocate for human rights, especially the right to irreligion – a right that is viewed as an act of terrorism in many Middle Eastern countries. Ateizm Dernegi aims and purposes to protect irreligious as well as free-thinking persons’ rights in Turkey. The right to be Atheist or irreligious coincides with one’s legal human rights. The founders of Ateizm Dernegi are striving for the day when atheists no longer face any discrimination or prejudice in the workplace, at home or on the street. The founding members of the organization have coined the slogan, “No atheists will be alone anymore, in the courts or in the streets!”
Zineb El Rhazoui is a Morocco-born French journalist. She is a columnist for the Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. She did not attend the editorial meeting of 7 January 2015 when terrorists burst in and murdered her colleagues, as she was in Morocco at the time. She is the magazine’s religion expert and a passionate critic of Islam. She is also a prominent secularist and human rights campaigner, speaking publicly around the world about free speech.
The conference is sponsored by: Bread and Roses TV; Centre for Secular Space; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Culture Project; Equal Rights Now; Fitnah; Freedom from Religion Foundation; National Secular Society; One Law for All ; Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science; Southall Black Sisters; Secularism is a Women’s Issue, amongst others.