Muslims, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims joined forces in London to protest against Sharia and against all religious laws and courts. The rally took place in Hyde Park, Saturday 21 November 2009. Speakers included: Roy Brown, of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU); rally organizer Maryam Namazie, of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (an IHEU Member Organization); David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation; Naomi Phillips of the British Humanist Association (IHEU MO); and Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society (IHEU MO).

The themes of the protest were “one law for all” and “universal human rights.” Expressing solidarity with Muslims resisting the “inequalities and inhumanities” of Sharia law, the protesters affirmed their commitment to democracy, secularism, equality and human rights.

Among those addressing the crowds were speakers from Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh and the UK. They expressed solidarity with Muslim communities worldwide and condemned racist, anti-Muslim far right and fascist groups.

“Sharia law is a form of religious dogma and tyranny. It is homophobic, sexist and anti-democratic. It persecutes LGBT Muslims. Same-sex acts carry the death penalty in several Islamic states. Gay people can be stoned to death or hanged in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. We support LGBT Muslims – and all Muslims – who are fighting for their freedom,” said Peter Tatchell of the LGBT human rights group OutRage! and Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East.

“This protest supports secular democracy. Secularism is often confused with anti-clericalism. The two are not the same. Secularism is not against religion per se. It is against giving religion privileged status, rights and protections.

“We believe there should be a separation of religion from the state. No faith should dominate any government and seek to impose its creed on the rest of society. When this happens, freedom of expression is diminished and minority faiths are victimised.

“For these reasons, secularism is not only an important element of freedom of expression. It is also the best guarantee of religious freedom, as it prevents any one faith becoming politically dominant and abusing its powers to oppress people of other faiths,” Mr Tatchell added.

Lib Dem MP Evan Harris condemned the government for “caving in to religious pressure.” He cited the way Britain’s equality laws allow religious bodies to discriminate against LGBT people and people in certain circumstances. Mr Harris also condemned the government for giving privileged advisory status on policy and legislation to often unrepresentative faith leaders.

Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union warned that over 50 Islamic states, with the support of many developing countries, are currently “demanding that the United Nations outlaw the defamation of religion.” This would restrict free speech by criminalising criticism and condemnation of religious beliefs and institutions, he said.

A speaker from Iraq, Issam Shukri, told the rally how Islamist militias linked to the cleric and MP Muqtada al-Sadr had executed dozens of women who they deemed to be improperly dressed because were not fully covered head-to-toe. These militias have also organised death squad executions of LGBT Iraqis.

Maryan Namazie, the rally organiser, told the crowd:

“Our rally is being held to mark Universal Children’s Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We are not defending western values. We are defending universal humanitarian values. Sharia adversely affects the rights, lives and freedoms of countless human beings across the world. Opposing Sharia law is a crucial step in defending universal equal rights and secularism, and showing real solidarity with people living under and resisting Sharia.”

–Based on a report from Peter Tatchell

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