On 28 May, #ISupportExMuslimSahil trended on Twitter, surprising many users who are not abreast with Hindi and Urdu journalism in the subcontinent. While people were asking questions like “who is ex-Muslim Sahil?” and “where does ex-Muslim Sahil live?” some curated news websites came up with the keywords “ex-Muslim Sahil identity revealed” using click baits in equal measure. The identity of the so-called Sahil is finally out.
‘Ex-Muslim Sahil’ is an Indian national whose real name is Nisar Ahmed Sheikh. He is 36 years old, born in a Muslim family. He followed Islam, believing it to be s a true religion until his youth when NA Sheikh changed his religion, as he read up and came to know about the darker side of the religion he was born into.
Initially, he used to make videos hiding his face while delivering the message of Islam. Then a maulana based in Pakistan, Mufti Fazal Hamdard, exposed ‘Ex-Muslim Sahil’, displaying his face on his YouTube channel.
‘Ex-Muslim Sahil’ alias Sheikh, who used to invite non-Muslims to convert to Islam — telling them that other religions had a lot of flaws. Some of the people he targeted for conversion shot back, detailing the shortcomings of Islam as well.
But given the kind of mental frame that ‘Ex-Muslim Sahil’ aka NA Sheikh was in those days, he would be offended and think of what he heard as Islamophobic propaganda. He would desperately look for answers in the Qur’an and Ahadith.
His faith that Islam, ‘the truest religion’, could have no commandment that would hurt humanity, received a rude shock. Sheikh could not believe the life of Mohammed had several instances that should be embarrassing for Muslims in the modern age. The icon of the prophet began crumbling in the mind of ‘Ex-Muslim Sahil’.
A question that troubled Sheikh a lot was why Prophet Mohammed married a girl Ayesha who was 6 years old when he was 50. He could not come to terms with sex slavery in Islam. With several non-Muslim friends around whose company he cherished, he could not believe his religion branded them as infidels. The Qur’an was exhorting him not to befriend them but, instead, fight them until they believed in Islam.
Sheikh was good at studies; he landed a well-paid job in a private company and then hopped between one job and another. It was in one of the companies, where he worked about three years ago, that his religion received a big shock. Some colleagues confronted his belief system and he had no answer. Nisar Ahmed Sheikh became ‘Ex-Muslim Sahil’ that day, assuming a pseudonym for social media, as he knew his community was too ruthless to withstand his ‘blasphemy’.
His ritualistic routine, which hat involved offering salah/namaz (prayers) five times a day, stopped abruptly.
As he gradually earned popularity on YouTube, telling fellows from the faith he had discarded to follow suit after objective analyses of Islam, he caught the attention of the mainstream media while some fanatics were already baying for his blood.
During one of his debate shows came on India TV, three former Muslims were invited to challenge three maulanas. As he would do on YouTube, he told the Islamic clerics that jihad with the hope of paradise and wreaking terror in the world had created a wrong image of Muslim people. He said because all terrorists who were caught turned out to be Muslims and the criminals were absolutely certain that they were following the teachings of Islam.
One of the clerics could not bear it anymore. Losing his cool, the maulana called Sheikh aka ‘Ex-Muslim Sahil’ a murtad (apostate). Now, being proclaimed as a murtad is akin to inviting a brutal death sentence ordered by a qazi. Since that episode on national television, the man who dared to expose Islam has received death threats nearly every day.
Sheikh says he had made up his mind to come completely out of the closet, but the television fracas changed it all. Instead of his postal address, he shared his email ids email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Ex-Muslim Sahil’ also shared the mobile number that he uses for WhatsApp: 8655181026. He does not receive calls at this number. Instead, on reaching out to him through this medium, the sender receives an automated message that asks him/her to visit his YouTube channel and subscribe to it.
After being threatened on India TV by a maulana, Sheikh resumed his videos and told his followers to tell others to look for his channel on YouTube by the name “Ex-Muslim Sahil Official” where he continues to challenge the Islamic clergy on live streams every day and hopes even maulanas and muftis would change their minds and abandon Islam. The channel now has more than 73,000 subscribers and every video of his is watched by 4,000 to 8,000 people even when it is a live broadcast. The viewership reaches millions later.
Experts say he must be making above Rs 1.5 lakh a month from YouTube, given his following.