The Apostate (former Muslim)
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Why I Left Islam
I was raised as a Muslim in Saudi Arabia by conservative Muslim Pakistani parents. From an early age, I had many issues with my inherited religion, ranging from great guilt and fear over missing the ritual prayers to a great deal of anger at God for making the world the way he apparently had.
I believed in Islam for as long as I did for a strange and not uncommon but very unsophisticated reason: Koranic Science, undeniable proof (or so I thought) that Islam was God’s Truth. When that turned out to be a crock, I believed for a little longer out of a sort of inertia, coupled with a great spiritual hunger that arose out of the relative deprivation of my life.
I’ve told the story of my apostasy in different ways to different people. I’ve pinpointed many solitary and dramatic point-in-time causes. This is not because I’m assigning various reasons, ex post facto, to my apostasy. It’s more because all these reasons had lain dormant in me for a long time, and eventually rose to the surface and declared themselves at some well-remembered junctures, to the point where I admitted to myself that I was no longer a Muslim.
For instance: There was the time I went to Hajj and on one long trek, happened to see from above, from a bridge, the awe-inspiring vision of a sea of white-clad humanity pouring its heart out to God. And in that awe-inspiring moment, I had a sudden conviction pop into my head that there was no God listening to the heartrending cries of suffering humanity. In that moment, I sensed the milennia of unanswered prayers of a species yearning to hold on to… Something. I was somehow sure there was nothing there to hold on to.
There was the time I finished a short book on the history and development of major and minor religions that have arisen and died in the course of recorded history. It was a very simple and straightforward book; making no assumptions, offering no hypotheses - Just presenting the facts. At that moment of finishing the book, I had an epiphany about Islam: It was crystal clear to me that it was just another man-made religion, destined to take its place with other religions that had come and gone, whose gods had been worshiped for centuries and then been abandoned into obscurity. This realization was very startling to me, not least because in that moment, it suddenly seemed so self-evident and simple. I remember recording this moment on a scrap of yellow note paper, as I relaxed in the teacher’s lounge of a school where I was a teacher’s assistant (and where I had found that book), and subsequently hiding my little confession.
There was the time I read the Koran with pencil in hand and by the time I was done, there wasn’t an inch of clean margin-space left unmarred by my – sometimes very blasphemous – scrawls. For I heard the sound of a human man’s voice in that “holy text” and nowhere did I find any hint that I was acceptable, that my ideas could be reconciled to what the text clearly said. I felt the text spoke directly to men and was written for them and had nothing to do with me as a woman.
I also found the Koran painfully boring and repetitive and strangely over-concerned with the sexual and domestic peccadilloes of the author. It seemed plain to me that Muhammad was the author of the Koran.
Naturally, I have all sorts of issues with Islam’s position on women, and with Islamic penal law. And I see Islamic history as a sort of joy-ride of imperialism, oppression and a chronicle of misery with 'Bad Idea' written all over it. But my main beef with Islam, the main reason I don’t believe any divine being revealed the Koran or appointed flawed Muhammad as the final prophet, is the utter ludicrousness of the idea of Revelation.
Consider: For some reason, a God creates us as conscious self-aware beings. He has also created the universe – obviously, this God is a being of some level of sophistication. Grand ideas, foresight, ingenuity and other lofty virtues are not beyond His ability to master. For some reason, He decides He wants to communicate with His creation. Instead of using some simple and foolproof method, He decides to use hearsay, whispers in the dark, dreams and other nebulous methods. Then He proves incapable – many times over – of preserving any of His ‘revelation’ in its true form. Finally, He catches on to it that His revelation is being corrupted time and again, so He finally decides He’s going to preserve His final revelation in perfect form, down to the last jot and tittle. Except that He can’t.
Now our Almighty Being has managed to produce a situation where many versions of His Truth are floating around. Since He’s been known to exhort His creatures to believe upon pain of eternal damnation, nobody wants to believe anything other than what his mama and daddy told him was true. Then they all fight about who’s got 'The Truth™'.
But they all agree about one thing: The purpose of this whole revelation business was to provide mankind with guidance, supposedly because we can’t reason our way out of a paper bag with a squirt gun and a starter hole (which is true enough most of the time). Well, that certainly makes sense – kind of like a manual. But…we can’t really take any of the ‘guidance’ at face value because then we’d be slaying kafirs, taking slaves and oppressing women at every turn.
So we’re supposed to use reason. All that fuss to exactly what purpose? So we can come back to relying on our common sense, our intuition, our conscience? And then have big fights over whether revelation or common sense should prevail! With one side insisting we should look at reality and whatever seems reasonable should be imposed upon the revelation (since revelation couldn’t be unreasonable, you know), and the other side arguing we can’t take it upon ourselves to decide what’s reasonable and have to take the text at its word.
Exactly what problems has Revelation solved? What kind of guidance has it provided that people hadn’t figured out long before God started corresponding with us? And how much harm has it done in trying to make our lives “easier”?
The modern Muslims who speak of reinterpreting scripture in the light of our modern values (why not just adopt the modern values and drop the unnecessary muddling factor of revelation?) speak of the limitations of the time and space in which God revealed His Word. They speak as if God was operating under constraints. They forget that God could have made things any way He wanted to, and then revealed something that would have stood the test of time without the need for all this complex reinterpretation. But He didn’t. I’m not willing to forgive such a lack of imagination in such a supposedly exalted being.
The Koran and the Hadith are also very flawed as sources of law, or even as guidance, for the simplest human society, much less our complex modern societal structures. They fall apart with the least scrutiny – the edifice is built on ignorance, superstition, bad history and worse science. And most of all, the picture that revelation paints of our divine creator is very unpleasant and sounds like a patriarchal Middle-Eastern fellow into raping and killing and much intolerance. This holds for the Bible and the Koran. There is too much unpleasant talk of hell and eternal damnation, and this ignorant, controlling, jealous, merciless, petty, insecure God condemns me to hell for a sin I never even intended to commit: my apostasy.
I never set out to stop believing. When it happened, it was as much a surprise to me as it was to my parents. And I can’t go back – I can’t make myself believe in what I’m convinced are human lies. It’s not a matter of my will – so why should I burn for it? But this is apparently the unforgivable sin. How can there be sin without volition? A God who is that unjust, I cannot believe in.
And a religion that is as nonsensical and ludicrous as Islam plainly is, I cannot believe in.