Ex-Muslims of North America saves a soul

Need I note that I’m using the word “soul” metaphorically?

From The Ithacan, the student newspaper of Ithaca College, we have the sad tale of Mahad Olad, a columnist for the paper who had a narrow escape from religious dogma. A sophomore, Olad was both atheist and gay, but had to hide it from his devout Somali Muslim parents, who lived in Minnesota. His mother invited him on a summer vacation to Kenya (where the family had moved during the Somali wars) to “visit the relatives.”

He arrived in the country on May of last year, only to discover that his family had found out about his double apostasy and planned to “cure him”. He was visited by sheikhs, and realized he was to be sent to a “conversion camp” for gays of the Muslim faith. He describes these hellholes:

I was quite aware of the horrors of these gay and religious conversion camps. The leaders operate the camps around grim parts of Somalia and Kenya. They subject their captives to severe beatings, shackling, food deprivation and other cruel practices. It usually involves a rigorous Islamic curriculum. Those who fail to cooperate, make adequate progress or try to escape could possibly be killed.

. . . Gay conversion therapy is exceedingly abhorrent. While it can’t alter someone’s sexual orientation, it certainly can scar them for life. Suicide rates are extremely high for people forced into these conversion camps. I have been meeting with the State Department and others to discuss what can be done to stop this barbaric practice, which is sadly still prevalent in American society.

Unlike conversion therapy in the U.S., the religious conversion camps in Africa aren’t commonly reported on or talked about; they operate in secrecy. The fact that homosexuality is still illegal in most of Africa makes these conversion camps even crueler. We don’t have exact numbers of how many young people are forced to go to these camps, but we know the numbers are growing. Many of the people held captive have similar stories to myself. Their families immigrated to the U.S., then brought them back to Somalia or Kenya to force them into these places.

Olad was having none of it. Resourceful and brave, he escaped from his hotel and contacted the Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA), the organization run by Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider. Syed contacted the US Embassy in Kenya, who offered to help. They sheltered him and persuaded Ithaca College to put him up for the summer. EXMNA then paid for his plane ticket home.

Olad of course is now without family; such is the fate of Muslim apostates:

Both the FBI and campus police are keeping an eye on me and, while I have begun to feel physically safe, emotionally the nightmare isn’t over. At 19, I now have no family. Even family members who weren’t a part of this scheme aren’t talking to me. Their rejection and treatment of me has been devastating. It has left me seriously questioning who I am and whether I deserve to be treated this way. The loss of my family’s love and support, both financial and emotional, has been extremely traumatic.

While I’m lucky to have close friends who have offered comfort, it does nothing for the hole my family ripped into my heart. I know what they did to me was horrible and wrong, but they are still my family and reconciling with them will take some time.

. . . After everything they put me through, I don’t know if I will ever be able to have a relationship with my family, but I am thankful that I am alive. For now, I am taking it one day at a time.

I can only imagine what it means to instantly lose your family. But how horrible of them to do this to Olad because he was gay and an atheist! What does love mean to such people?

Kudos to EXMNA for working to keep Olud safe and returning him to America. They’re a good group, and you can donate to them here.  I just did. Any group that would do something like this deserves our support.

Below is a photo of Olud from The Ithacan and EXMNA’s short video of him from their “Life Beyond Faith” series:

Mahad Olad


  1. Posted February 20, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Gay conversion therapy: Religious punishment under the guise of helping people.

    I wonder how many of these are recognized as “charities” thus bloating the “good works” of the religious who donate to them?

  2. rickflick
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Such a sad situation. Perhaps there should be some publicity among the target audience about not “visiting the relatives.”

  3. GBJames
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink


  4. Paul S
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    What’s this ^^

    • Posted February 21, 2018 at 4:10 am | Permalink

      GBJames is subscribing to the thread, without commenting.

  5. Christopher
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    and here I was stressing myself out because I am having a great deal of trouble making my meager mortgage, car, and student loan payments…yet, I can still talk to my family, who accept me (mostly) for being an atheist, and I’ve never been kidnapped by religious goons who try to “cure” me. It does put things into perspective.

    My first thought after realizing how lucky I am, in spite of it all was, honestly, “if he needs a place to stay…” even this redneck crap-hole town is better than a religious conversion camp!

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank goodness EXMNA got him out! Good thing he knew to contact them as well. Awful that he has lost his whole family like that. That is really rough for him.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Jesus Christ, short of physically or sexually abusing a child themselves, I can’t think of anything worse for parents to do to a child than to punish the child, or to disown the child, for being who and what the child is.

  8. loren russell
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Of course, ‘visiting the relatives’ is a means of inflicting female ‘circumcision’ Or a surprise wedding.

  9. claudia baker
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Also going to donate. Thanks PCC for bringing our attention to Olad’s story.

  10. Posted February 20, 2018 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    It is conceivable that Olad’s family were unaware of the horrors they were consigning him to. If so, reconciliation may yet be possible. But I’d advise against accepting invitations to visit

  11. Posted February 20, 2018 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Just donated, and posted about it on FB. Thanks for the publicity on this.

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Poor guy. He’s still just a kid and he’s already had to go through so much. Religion truly poisons everything. Mahad is the same person he was before they knew he was a gay atheist, and it’s so sad that their love for him could be damaged because of religious beliefs.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 20, 2018 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      I remember Christopher Hitchens was criticized for that statement – religion poisons everything – but I have become more and more appreciative as the tragedies unfold.

      • GBJames
        Posted February 21, 2018 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        It is a great phrase and I use it often. Much to the annoyance of my Mormon colleague. 😉

    • bundorgarden
      Posted February 21, 2018 at 4:46 am | Permalink

      I certainly sympathise with him (being gay myself). But I dont think someone who is 19 is still just a kid!

      • GBJames
        Posted February 21, 2018 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        Well, that depends at least a bit on how old you are!

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted February 21, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        He certainly shows a maturity way beyond his years. And when I was 19, I certainly didn’t think I was a kid, and I don’t treat 19 year olds as kids. In fact I don’t treat kids as kids, within reason. But when you’re a woman who’s of a “certain age”, your maternity genes tend to kick in when you see anyone (or anything for that matter) who’s had a rough time emotionally. It’s not patronizing, just being caring.

    • Simon
      Posted February 21, 2018 at 4:52 am | Permalink

      They would probably say that it is their love for him that made them do it. It would make sense too. The the fate of his soul would transcend all other considerations and to fail to act would condemn him for eternity. This is what belief can do to people. It doesn’t make them hateful, it turns their good intentions toward destructive acts.

      • Posted February 21, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        Exactly. The family went to all this trouble because they love him.

        Sad how religion can pervert love.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted February 21, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        That’s pretty much what I was saying (badly).

  13. Posted February 20, 2018 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    I think there was something in the Bible about loving Jesus more than your family or something?

  14. danstarfish
    Posted February 21, 2018 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    Wow what a story. I’m glad EXMNA was able to help him get out of there.

  15. Posted February 21, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    How horrible, but heartening that he has gotten some help.

%d bloggers like this: