Interview – Zee Jay, A British Immigrant and Ex-Muslim

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 Zee is a DJ / musician living in the UK.  An Ex-Muslim born in Abu Dhabi, UAE, he went to an Islamic School there before reaching a conscious decision to leave Islam. He is an activist for the ex-Muslim cause as well as a full-fledged music enthusiast. Zee’s passion for music and his work can be listened to here. Follow him on Twitter.

TM: Hi Zee, I gather from what little I know about you that you’re an immigrant to Britain? Can you tell us a bit about what prompted you to move to London back in 2009?

Zee: Prior to moving to London, I was living in Pakistan for around 7 years after having moved there from Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. (I was born in the Emirates to Pakistani parents and grew up living there). My initial aim in moving to London was to explore better opportunities and get firsthand exposure to the western way of life that I was really fond of. Growing up, I always followed more of western pop culture and wanted to interact more with people from those countries as well.

TM: Was London what you expected, culturally? What were your impressions of the British way of life? Was it a tolerant place?

Zee: This might come off as a bit surprising, but I was initially quite taken aback with what I was experiencing when I first came to London. I used to live in East Ham / Upton Park and I was experiencing more or less the same that I tried to get away from. Being surrounded by the same South Asian culture instead of the British one was not doing me any favours. Though, after exploring many other parts of London, and after moving out of there, I began to understand more of London. I got to see more of the British way of life as I got to check out the more ‘English’ boroughs if I have to put it in a manner of speaking. London is huge, and it’s a cultural melting pot where you get to experience a variety of different cultures from various countries depending on what area you go to.

Now after having lived so many years in the UK, I do love the British way of life, from the food, the pubs, the buildings, the people, all the way to the entertainment business. Heck, I would even go as far as to say that involving yourself in politics here is much, MUCH more tolerable as opposed to what you experience in a country like Pakistan.

I think that London has been a very tolerant place. I feel safe here, more so because I appreciate Britain for its pride and its state of progressiveness while also giving me an opportunity to explore so many cultures all in one place. Its not perfect by all means and you may have a bout of experience with a few ‘bad apples’, but its a huge departure from many other countries in my opinion. I believe Britain should be proud to have London as its capital and for assimilating traditional British values with others from around the world.

TM: What is the ‘Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Academy’ and how did you get involved with its teachings?

Zee: The ‘Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Academy’ is an Islamic organisation. Their mission statement is to deny the legitimacy of the claims of Ahmadis, declaring themselves as Muslims, and to insist on the finality of Prophethood for Islam, which they hold ended with the Prophet Muhammad (a matter over which Ahmadis do not hold a similar view).

The organisation has offices located in Pakistan and also in East London. They’re known to distribute leaflets in Muslim majority areas as well as go to Islamic TV channels and mosques, where they deliver speeches denouncing the Ahmadis and call upon the Muslim Ummah to combat them wherever they can.

I was lured into the academy via some housemates that I used to live with back when I first moved to London. I was still a Muslim then, and belonged to the Sunni sect of Islam. The academy’s purpose was in line with my beliefs and I felt I was doing a great duty to my faith and towards Allah by preserving its authenticity. We would go to shops and ask the owners to boycott items that were produced by Ahmadi owned companies. If you look at their website now you can see a lot of material, including but not limited to: books, fatwas, speeches, images, articles that all talk about how Ahmadis are an evil entity. The more I learned about the persecution of Ahmadis throughout Pakistan’s history, the more I became uncomfortable with the academy’s practices, and I eventually reached a point where I left it altogether and never turned back.

TM: How, if at all, have your beliefs and outlook changed since moving to Britain?

Zee: When I first moved to Britain, I was still a Muslim. While I always appreciated wanting to experience Britain and its culture, I also wanted to make sure I held fast to my Muslim roots and teachings that I grew up with. However, what I never expected was to have my beliefs challenged and having them debunked. Living in Islamic countries, you don’t get much liberty to doubt your beliefs, or to question them, seeing how such actions are considered as blasphemous and taboo. Living in Britain,there is a more expansive scope to think, and you are exposed to the liberty of having freedom of thought and conscience that are not only there but also encouraged. I met people in my life who were atheists and I would argue with them over how belief in Islam was the one true way to live in this world. I’m not going to go into all the details of the various arguments I would have with non-believers but it all led me in a path of questioning my own beliefs. The more I researched about it, the more I grew to have doubts about Islam. In the end, after going through one transitionary phase to another, I made the conscious decision to leave Islam. From being a Muslim follower, to a more libertarian one, to being a cultural Muslim, to becoming an agnostic and eventually becoming an Atheist.

TM: The threat of the far-right is adequately covered, but there is almost none about honour-based violence or the Islamist religious right. Do you have any fears living in this country as an apostate?

Zee: I’ve lived as an apostate for quite a few years now, and I don’t have any fears of being in danger living here. Although, that can also be due in part to the fact that I don’t have family that is connected to the Muslim communities here. While not on the same scale that we might see in Islamic countries, I do believe that there is a legitimate reason to talk about how there are incidents of honour-based violence taking place here in Britain or how even the Islamist religious right are being given a platform to spread messages of hate and terror. This is all a by-product of teachings that have made their way from those Islamic countries from which they stem.

TM: ‘Blasphemy’ laws are pretty harsh in Pakistan. What, if anything, do you think British citizens can do to show support for those impacted by religious censorship?

Zee: Meeting other ex-Muslims, I’ve noticed its much harder to live as an apostate if you have family that is quite religious and mingles a lot within the Muslim community. So all is not rosy as it might seem. I’ve an ex-Muslim and also known others who have had to deal with the repercussions,as well as the persecution, ostracisation and the mental health issues that arise from it. I believe we need to show support for the organisations that fight for the rights of freedom of expression and speech as well as the right to criticise teachings of religion, without having to be censored or given threats. No idea is sacred and no idea should be free from criticism. It’s a precious privilege that not everyone gets to avail in countries where blasphemy laws are put into place resulting in people – activists – being put into jail, given a death sentence or even murdered by an angry mob.

British citizens could and should stand up more for those who have a very difficult time in coming out and living their lives how they choose to.

TM: How, if at all, have your experiences of living in Britain changed you or your outlook?

Zee: Living in Britain has let me discover more of who I really am. Leaving religion was a huge blow for me and I did venture into a path of self-discovery. I’ve seen the good side of Britain as well as the bad side of it. I’ve learned to appreciate a lot of things that I thought I would never have had done back in Pakistan. I’ve also become more open-minded in approaching life in general, since I don’t have to be so conservative anymore. I’ve also taken a keen interest in following politics and looking at current affairs through the political spectrum. It has been quite a fascinating journey and I feel that it’s only just the beginning with much more to learn and take note of. My outlook isn’t rigid anymore but and its ever-changing as time progresses and we learn of new revelations. Who knows what my outlook would be in the future, but I’m also quite curious about it at the same time.

TM: Is the UK government too strict or too permissive in the way that it treats or responds to Islamist organisations?

Zee: I’ve felt the UK government has been a little too lenient in handling matters when it comes to Islamist organisations. I don’t know what’s the cause for this. Would it be because they would be labeled as Islamophobic (which it wouldn’t be) or whether they don’t have an idea of the true dangers these Islamist organisations pose? I think it would be helpful if they knew of the work and influence that such Islamist organisations arising from countries where their fundamental roots lie, have on the Muslim community. That could prove to be a good way of identifying the level of danger these organisations pose. It goes much deeper than what the UK government perceives it to be.

TM: Why is music so important to you?

Zee: Music has become an important staple in my life. Growing up, I listened to a lot of western music. I always wanted to explore music as a hobby / profession but it wasn’t encouraged in the family due to various factors – partially due to the fact that music is shunned in Islam in addition to  being surrounded in a South Asian culture of a more traditional sense. It wasn’t an encouraging environment, but after having moved to the UK, I was free to practice music how I wanted without any interference. After going through my period of soul searching after leaving Islam, I felt a much more deep connection with music than ever before. You could say its one of the closest things to a belief that I can confide in now. It definitely helped me get back on my feet when I was in a state of depression after having left Islam. I would love to go big and make a huge name for myself in the field of music someday.

TM: Which genres do you prefer?

Zee: I’m pretty open with almost any genre really. I grew up listening to a lot of pop, but then moved into listening rock and heavy metal music. Later on I greatly appreciated dance music, most notably house music. My motto with music is, if it sounds great then its worth listening. Though as a musician / DJ, I specialise mostly with House music as well as some trance and drum and bass. I’ve also taken a very keen interest in listening to jazz these days.

TM: Do you play clubs or mostly spin online? How can we listen to your sets?

Zee: At the moment its mostly online, but I’ve been trying really hard to nab a gig at a club for a start and work my way from up there. So if you know of anyone who can get me an opportunity to play, do let me know, haha!

You can listen to my stuff on my YouTube channel (Link here: https://www.youtube.com/user/DJZee84. Also don’t forget to check out my Twitter for any updates and more! (@DJZeeJay)

TM: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us Zee. Good luck to you.

Zee: You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me!

This is part of a series of interviews that Conatus News will be releasing to highlight their voices, concerns and the difficulties they face. Previous interviews can be found here

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Terri (PhD) is an author, blogger, and has taught philosophy and film studies in Secondary and Adult Education for over ten years

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