Nahla Mahmoud

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Nahla Mahmoud
Nahla Mahmoud Secular Conference 2014.png
Nahla Mahmoud speaking at the Secular Conference 2014.
Born 1986/1987 (age 31–32)[1]
Nationality British
Education Ecology
Alma mater University of Khartoum
Occupation Spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Known for Human rights activism

Nahla Mahmoud (born 1986/7)[1] is a Sudanese-born British writer, ex-Muslim, secularist, environmentalist,[2] and human rights activist,[2][3] and spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.[4] She fled to the United Kingdom in 2010.[1][2]

Early life and education

Mahmoud was born in Sudan and raised as a Sunni Muslim. In primary school art class, she drew a picture of Allah, which is considered forbidden by most Muslims, and her teacher punished her for it. Mahmoud was disgruntled by the fact that she did not enjoy the same rights as boys and men, that she couldn't draw or sculpt what she wanted, or keep a dog as a pet, that she was not allowed to ask critical questions, and that she could not learn about evolution.[1][5][6]

Mahmoud studied ecology[7] at the University of Khartoum, and worked for the Science Students Association.[8] At university she came across a professor who opposed the Omar al-Bashir regime; he had just been released from jail where he had been tortured for teaching the theory of evolution.[6] This revelation shocked her and made her feel like she 'didn't exist in Sudan as woman, as a scientist'.[6] “These incidents made me gradually refuse Islam until I completely renounced it and became an atheist.”[1] This made life even more difficult for her, because under Sudanese law, apostasy could be punishable by the death penalty.[6] Mahmoud resolved that she no longer wanted to live under Sharia in Sudan, and eventually fled to the UK in 2010.[2]


Sharia interview controversy

Nahla Mahmoud on Islamic hate speech and apostasy culture in the UK.

Mahmoud became a spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB). In this capacity she appeared in a short (1 minute, 39 seconds)[9] televised interview on Channel 4's in January 2013[10] to give her perspective on "What does Sharia law have to offer Britain?".[11](5:47) She recounted how she grew up living under Sharia in Sudan, where she was ‘always dealt with as a second-class citizen, always brought up to believe that I am an incomplete human being [who] needed a man as a guard.’ Mahmoud found it astonishing that Britain, the country she had fled to escape Islamic rule, maintained a similar system of sharia courts, arguing that ‘Everyone should have equal rights and live under one secular law.’[9] This interview led her to be targeted by an Islamist hate campaign,[12] led by Salah Al Bander, director of the Sudan Civic Foundation[13] and a former LibDem councillor in Cambridge City Council, who called Mahmoud a ‘Kafira’ (unbeliever) on a Sudanese Arabic website. He stated that ‘I will not forgive anyone who wants to start a battle against Islam and the beliefs of the people’.[9] When mosques and Sudanese newspapers took up the campaign against her, Mahmoud received numerous death threats and both she and her family in Sudan were harassed;[9][11](5:52) her brother over there was physically attacked.[13] Even the official Facebook page of the Sudanese Armed Forces called Mahmoud an infidel and apostate.[14] The local LibDem leader, Spencer Hagard, who investigated Al Bander, saw no fault in his behaviour, and even regarded him more highly than before. Mahmoud filed a complaint with the police, but received no protection, and instead got the suggestion to keep quiet about her views.[13][15]

Ex-Muslim rights

Nahla Mahmoud and Maryam Namazie discuss apostasy in Sudan and the Meriam Ibrahim case (2014).

At the Secular Conference 2014, Mahmoud highlighted the aggression from Islamists faced by ex-Muslims, critics of Islam, atheists of all backgrounds, and anti-traditional liberal Muslims, commenting that it was "really scary" that a 2011 Policy Exchange survey found that 34% of British Muslims aged 16 to 24 supported the death penalty for apostasy.[11](12:33) She rebuked the regressive left attitude of some Westerners who dismiss any kind of criticism of Islam as 'islamophobia', and ignore Islamic intolerance in the spirit of 'multiculturalism'.[11](5:57)

Mahmoud has estimated that during the years 2010, 2011 and 2012, there have been between 120 and 170 Sudanese citizens who have been convicted for apostasy, most of whom repented to avoid a death sentence.[6]

Mahmoud appeared in Among Nonbelievers (2015), a Dutch documentary on HUMAN about the situation of ex-Muslims worldwide.


Mahmoud is an environmentalist[2] who is passionate about nature, and received training as an ecologist. In her 2013 research paper "Climate Change and Violent Conflicts in East Africa" for the Evelyn Oldfield Unit, she sought to "[question] the traditional analyses of conflicts, which rely primarily on ethnic, religious, and cultural explanations since these do not take account of the increasingly obvious link between the growing scarcity of renewable resources and violent conflict in the three East African countries [Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia. Shortages of cropland, fresh water, woodland, pasture and marine resources cannot be ignored."[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e "No God, not even Allah". The Economist. 24 November 2012. Archived from the original on 26 December 2017. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Daniel Silas Adamson (22 October 2014). "My enemy's enemy - the battle for secularism". OpenDemocracy. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  3. ^ Valerie Tarico (30 August 2015). ""There is no god — now what?": How to find meaning in an atheist world". Salon. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  4. ^ Liam Corcoran (15 January 2014). "Student and women's groups write open letter to UN condemning in UK universities". The Independent. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  5. ^ Reza Moradi (13 July 2014). "Nahla Mahmoud: "Apostasy is a right"". Bread and Roses TV. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e Lou Garçon (27 October 2016). "L'Afrique tuera-t-elle Dieu?". Slate Afrique (in French). Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  7. ^ a b Nahla Mahmoud (2013). "An Overview: Climate Change and Violent Conflicts in East Africa" (PDF). Accredited Community Research Course. Evelyn Oldfield Unit. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  8. ^ Nahla Mahmoud (1 May 2014). "A tribute to legendary Sudanese poet Mahjoub Sharif (1948-2014): a story of love, hope and being". OpenDemocracy. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d Cohen, Nick (24 August 2013). "Richard Dawkins attacks Muslim bigots, not just Christian ones. If only his enemies were as brave". The Spectator. Press Holdings. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  10. ^ "What does Sharia law have to offer Britain? Nahla Mahmoud". Channel 4. 14 March 2018. Archived from the original on 31 December 2013. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d Ruben Gischler (28 August 2015). "Onder Ongelovigen (interview met Boris van der Ham)". Opiniez. Vimeo. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  12. ^ Hussein Kesvani (17 October 2013). "Leaving Islam Behind Is a Scary Prospect for Britain's Ex-Muslims". Vice News. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  13. ^ a b c Anne Marie Walters (30 August 2013). "The Price Paid for Criticising Islam". Standpoint. Social Affairs Unit. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  14. ^ Nahla Mahmoud (6 February 2013). "Here is why Sharia Law has no place in Britain or elsewhere". National Secular Society. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
    General Command of the Sudanese Armed Forces (24 January 2013). "Nahla Mahmoud: A Sudanese citizen declares that she is a disbeliever and an apostate of Islam". Facebook (in Arabic). Archived from the original on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  15. ^ Gita Saghal (2 April 2015). "Sharia law, apostasy and secularism". OpenDemocracy. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
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