Reading Time: 3 minutes

A British Humanist organisation has criticised the UK government for denying asylum to an ex-Muslim, saying that the Home Office has ‘a fundamental misunderstanding of equality and human rights protections with regards to non-religious people.’
Humanists UK was reacting to news that Hamza bin Walayat, who renounced Islam and became a humanist, had his application for asylum rejected after failing to correctly answer questions about ancient Greek philosophers.
The Home Office, according to this Guardian report, said Hamza bin Walayat’s failure to identify Plato and Aristotle as humanist philosophers indicated his knowledge of humanism was:

Rudimentary at best.

The Home Office also said Walayat did not face persecution for his beliefs. In a letter rejecting his asylum claim, seen by the Guardian, it said his assertion that he would be at risk in Pakistan, and could be killed by his family because of his beliefs and his renunciation of Islam, was unfounded.
Walayat, who has lived in the UK since 2011, said he had received death threats from members of his family and community in Pakistan after integrating into secular British life, forming a relationship with a non-Muslim partner and refusing to conform to the expectations of conservative Islam.
Apostates are subject to discrimination, persecution and violence in Pakistan. In March last year, a student who had stated he was a humanist on his Facebook page was murdered at his university.
Blasphemy is punishable by death under Pakistani law. In August, 24 British politicians wrote to the Pakistani government urging it to repeal its draconian blasphemy law, which has been used against religious minorities and humanists.
Walayat claimed asylum in July last year after being served with removal papers for overstaying his student visa.
After an interview with immigration officials, the Home Office said he:

Had been unable to provide a consistent or credible account with regards the main aspect of your claim, namely that you are a humanist.

When tested on his knowledge of humanism, Walayat gave a “basic definition” but could not identify:

Any famous Greek philosophers who were humanistic.

The letter said:

When you were informed by the interviewing officer that he was referring to Plato and Aristotle, you replied: ‘Yeah, the thing is because of my medication that is strong I just forget stuff sometimes’.

The Home Office concluded:

Your knowledge of humanism is rudimentary at best and not of a level that would be expected of a genuine follower of humanism.

Walayat joined the Humanists UK in August, but said he had believed in the basic principles of humanism from childhood.
Humanists UK said on its website:

The Home Office … sought to test the ‘non-religiousness’ of Hamza by asking him to name ancient Greek philosophers who had held humanistic worldviews …

This line of questioning is unfair and problematic for several reasons. Firstly, it is unlikely that a religious claimant would be treated in the same manner. It is not expected that a Christian should be able to answer questions about St Thomas Aquinas or know who drafted the Nicene Creed in order to demonstrate their religious status.
For some, a knowledge of the history of their belief system may be of personal interest, but it is a not a means of determining the strength of their convictions. This is the same for humanists.
Secondly, these questions imply that the Home Office is treating humanism as a monolithic, doctrinaire-positive tradition. Humanism is not a ‘canonical’ belief system, where adherents must learn and follow a strict set of behaviour codes. As a descriptive term a humanist can be someone who has simply rejected religious belief but holds some positive conception of human values.
Such an individual may well not even have heard of humanism. Therefore, one does not ‘follow’ humanism in the sense implied.

According to Humanists UK, “humanism is not a ‘canonical’ belief system, where adherents must learn and follow a strict set of behaviour codes. As a descriptive term, humanists can be someone who has simply rejected religious belief but holds some positive conception of human values.”
In a letter in support of Walayat’s asylum application, Bob Churchill, of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said:

For many, the broad descriptive ‘humanist’ is just a softer way of saying atheist, especially if you come from a place where identifying as atheist may be regarded as a deeply offensive statement.

Andrew Copson, of Humanists UK, said:

We are appalled by the way the Home Office has handled Hamza’s claim for asylum; it sets a dangerous precedent for non-religious people fleeing persecution. The Home Office is simply incorrect to claim that non-religious people seeking asylum don’t get the same protection in law as religious people do.
Further, the questions put to Hamza not only reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of humanism, but also show that the Home Office, as a public body, is failing in its duty under the Equality Act 2010.
Humanists UK will be writing to the Minister of State for Immigration to address these concerns.

A Home Office spokesperson said:

The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and each claim is carefully considered on its individual merits.

Hat tip: AgentCormac