Taslima Nasrin


Although many subjects of our Atheist of the Week column have led interesting lives, Taslima Nasrin, our featured atheist this week, deserves special kudos. Born on August 25, 1962, in the Mymensingh District of Dhaka, Bangladesh, she was subjected to the horrors of being female in a backwards Muslim family living in a predominately Muslim society (the current demographics list 94.73% of the people of the Mymensingh District as Muslim – an incredible statistic from this writer’s point of view). As a child, she endured not only the brutality of her father, but sexual abuse at the hands of her uncles and other men as well. These childhood traumas, as well as the general oppression of womenhood under Sharia, influenced her later on to embrace staunch feminism and led her down the path of literary activism.


Her first newspaper article, and a key incident in her emergence as an activist, was about the death of a teenage girl who was flayed 101 times for having intercourse with a Hindu boy. Acts taken against Bangladeshi women in 1993 and 1994 alone included the stoning of a woman for remarriage after divorce (and the woman’s parents were flayed); a burning at a stake over an accusation of adultery; flaying for adultery; burning of schools teaching girls; and the denial of medications to pregnant women on the grounds that they would turn them Christian.

Talk about setting a fire in the belly of the beast! In 1993, after publishing several articles cataloging the severe mistreatment of women under Sharia law, a fatwa was issued and a price put on Nasrin’s head. That same year, her book Lajja (“shame” in Bangla) was banned in Bangladesh and in several other Indian states as well. Since then, the Bangladeshi government has banned her four autobiographical books, citing “anti-Islamic sentiments”, and other such nonsense. Then, in 1994, Islamic Fundamentalists called for her death in the streets after The Statesman quoted (or misquoted, according to her) as saying “…the Koran should be revised thoroughly.” (Rallies continued in Dhaka during that period, some of the crowds reaching up to 200,000 people!) Wanna guess what the government did in reaction to these protests?

The government issued a warrant for her arrest; reportedly charging her with the High Crime of…(drum roll please)…hurting the feelings of the religious public! If convicted, Nasrin anticipated a sentence of up to two years; more probably, she feared she would be murdered while serving out her sentence. Therefore, she went into hiding and subsequently expatriated. She now lives in India.

Since exile in 1994, Nasrin has recieved numerous awards, such as the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and her books have been translated into twenty different languages. She has continued to champion gender equality and to oppose the oppression of non-Islamic minorities living in Islamic societies. She has also continued to recieve threats to her well-being. A new bounty of 500,000 rupees (About $12,500) for her beheading was issued in March of this year.

To fundamentalists, one of her most incendiary stances has been for the secularization of Islamic societies and Sharia law. She believes that her feminist goal of equal woman’s rights is impossible under any religious faith:


Nasrin spoke with astonishment that “seventh-century law” should rule any Muslim societies today and said that “secularization in Islamic countries is urgent.” Some women’s groups in Bangladesh did support her, she said, but others did not “because they believe you can have women’s rights under religion. I don’t believe in reformation of Shariah law.” She does not think feminism is possible in Islam—or in any faith.

“I don’t think there is a feminist interpretation of religion,” she said. “I don’t believe in religion. Because of religion, there is war, ignorance, injustice, women’s suffering.”

Comments (3 comments)

Marc André / August 31st, 2007, 9:21 am / #1

Thank you so much for this article. Except for her foreword to Warraq book I did not know Taslima Nasrin. I am always fascinated to see people like her coming out against
a strong force like Islam and in a Muslim country! It is easy for me to fight the plague of faith here in Canada but I cannot imagine doing it in a new age violent theocracy. I am glad to see that her books are translated in many language.

darkeros / September 3rd, 2007, 10:24 pm / #2

Shady Character…
Thank YOU so much for this inspiring piece on such a powerful woman leading the way for women’s rights in the face of such dangerous threats upon her life. As Marc writes, it is easy for us who live in countries such as Canada and the U.S. to stand up and face the ignorance that religious beliefs generate, but to do it in the face of such violent hatred is true courage that I feel both humbled by and inspired to live my life more fully for.

I too look forward to reading her works.

Thanks again for exposing me to her life.

S.kamal / November 26th, 2007, 4:59 am / #3

I am very much astonished about this lady. Inspite of life threats she is very stubborn in her principle.Although she does not beleive in god I pray god for her safety against the fundamentalist.

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