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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Last Night, I Thought We'd Lost Him

In 2014, you and I tried to raise $56,000 for Mubarak Bala. If you recall, he'd just been released from a mental health facility in the north of Nigeria. He'd been placed there by his father after revealing that he no longer believed in God. Mubarak's father, brother and uncle became violent with him, drugged him and took him to the hospital.

What his father didn't know was that Mubarak's mom had left him a phone. With it, Mubarak reached out to me and several other people. He told me what was happening, where he was and asked if we could help get the word out.

We did it. Together, you and I reached the BBC, Vice, The Guardian, ABC, The Associated Press, the Globe and Mail, and so many more. We didn't just tweet and sign petitions. We legitimately raised hell. Mubarak got out of the hospital and fled south, away from fundamentalist Islam.

We all knew his life was still in danger, though. Nigeria's south is just as fanatic about religion as it is in the north; the only difference is that in the south, they are worshipping Christ, not Mohammed. It was only a little bit safer in Abuja, where Mubarak found himself.

And so we encouraged him to find a way out. We suggested that America or Canada, Australia or the UK were all better places for him. He agreed he would be safer in these places, so he began to plan his way out.

Mubarak is brilliant. He is highly educated, and he speaks better English than most people I know in Canada. When he was locked up in the mental health facility, his biggest concern was whether or not his dad had pulled funding for his education. He wanted to learn. That's all he wanted.

So, when he was accepted to a school in Massachusetts, we were all very excited for him. Except that now we had to raise $56,000 to get him from Nigeria to the US. We also needed it to file his student visa paperwork, pay for a place to live, and pay his tuition.

We didn't make the goal. Not even close. I think we raised about $1500 for Mubarak, all of which was sent to him to make life in Abuja a little easier. We tried really hard. Lawrence Krauss and Peter Boghossian donated signed books to help. Shelly Segal let us use her gorgeous song, Saved, for the video:

We had your attention, but we just couldn't make it happen, and Mubarak had to remain in Nigeria. He was alright with it. He had every right to be angry and bitter. Instead, he chose to make something of his life and committed himself to humanist activism in Nigeria.

In the time since then, Mubarak has helped countless apostates navigate life in Nigeria without religion. He set up methods of communication so that they could all be each other's support system. Mubarak set up safe places to live and raised money to pay for them. He connected with activists around the world, gaining allies everywhere. It was all to help people like him; to prevent future generations from having to experience the same things he had. Mubarak, in no uncertain terms, is a humanist hero. He had every reason to be down on himself and give up. Instead, my friend, my colleague, rose to the occasion and made the world a little bit better each day.

You know that on April 28th of this year, Mubarak was arrested and detained for insulting the Prophet. He was not and still has not been officially charged with anything, and for months on end, we have had no idea if he was alive or not. His wife and 6-month old child were left in limbo, left to wonder what had happened to him. His lawyers were unable to see him and confirm he was still alive. For many of us, after five months with no word and no signs of life from Mubarak at all, we couldn't help but think perhaps he was no longer with us.

Still, not knowing meant there was hope. I had hope.

Yesterday, I was sent an email from an anonymous source that claimed to know Mubarak had been killed in prison. The email was just detailed enough to make me sick. My heart sunk into my stomach, and a wave of nausea overcame me. I had known it was a possibility that this happened months ago, but reading those words, I guess, made it real. My hope faded. I cried. I awaited confirmation.

Mubarak used to pop into our chat with, "Hey, Canada!" What I wouldn't give to get a "Hey, Canada!" right now.

When my friend, Ashleigh, died, there was a brief period during which I was under the impression she had been murdered. I felt the emotions of someone who just found out that someone they loved had been murdered. For me, this manifested as the question, "why?" That's all I could think for those few hours when I felt her life had been ended by someone else. Just "why? Why would someone do this?"

Last night, when I got word that there were rumours Mubarak had been killed in prison, I didn't have to ask why.

I knew why.


This morning, Humanists International was able to confirm that these were, in fact, just rumours and that Mubarak Bala is still alive. While this is excellent news, it doesn't change that Mubarak is still locked up without charges in prison with many Muslim fundamentalist offenders. His keepers are Muslim extremists, else Mubarak would have never been arrested in the first place. He is surrounded by people who genuinely believe the proper punishment for apostasy is death.

Today, HI may have confirmed he is alive, but this luck won't last for long. Each day that passes is another day we could lose him for real.

This brilliant and compassionate man risked his life day in and day out to make things easier on other Nigerians leaving religion. He stood up and fought for the right to freedom from religion. From the moment he revealed to his father that he was an atheist, he has fought for secular people's rights.

What can we do to thank him for his sacrifice? What can we do to show him that his life's work was appreciated? What can we do for Mubarak Bala?

You gotta scream. Just like we did in 2014. We have to raise hell, again.

Please, sign and share this petition, click here.

Please tweet or email this story to your favourite reporters, and just keep doing it. Don't let up.

Please share the story on the IAA website, here, with all the reporters you can find. Don't stop!

Please, use the hashtag #FreeMubarakBala and don't let anyone forget that a humanist hero is being held without charge in Kano State.

Don't forget Mubarak. Please don't forget Mubarak. I don't want the rumour to be true, next time.

If you like what I do here and want to support my work, you can chip in here or become a member here.




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