Editorial Note: In recent months, we’ve seen more coverage of Islam by the Patheos Atheist channel as well as a growing spotlight on the relationship and interactions between Atheists and Muslims in wake of the Chapel Hill shootings. One of Patheos’ Atheist bloggers, Kaveh Mousavi, considers himself an ex-Muslim and writes about his conversion-to-deconversion process here. In efforts to explore these stories and interactions more, here is a piece from Farouk A. Peru, who dubs himself a “Quranist Muslim,” about attending an event organized by the Council of Ex-Muslims.
By Farouk A. Peru
When I was growing up, my best friend wanted to leave Islam. He had every reason to. His family were only officially Muslims due to the draconian laws in Malaysia which forced anyone who married a Muslim to convert to the faith. Consequently, even though they did not want to be Muslims, legalities forced them to remain officially so. My friend was also a constant target by religious teachers who wanted to instil ‘true faith’ into him. Islam had become the bane of his existence and he naturally wanted to leave.
Being a Conservative Traditional Muslim at the time, I was horrified at this confession. I believed that anyone who left Islam would be executed under Sharia law but Malaysia did not have such a law in place. My friend would still burn in hell forever though. I loved my friend dearly and did not want him to suffer this fate.
Fast forward a quarter of a century and after much thought and contemplation, I now know that I should have supported him in his decision. I believe it is Allah himself who gave my friend his freedom and that Islam (by which I mean the religio-culture) is not the only means to the Divine or perhaps, for a more palatable term to atheists, to human evolution.
This evening, I attended an event organised the Council of Ex-Muslims. A Conservative Traditionalist Muslim might ask me, why on earth would I attend such an event? Have I lost faith at last? Since I am a Quranist, some Traditionalists assume it is simply the last stop before complete atheism. Well if it is, then I have been at this ‘last stop’ for nearly 20 years!
No, I was there for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am interested in the Ex-Muslims as a social phenomenon. Why are they emerging into public life now? What are their narratives like? Where do they go after Islam? These are fascinating questions for me. Secondly, I consider this a test of my faith. Ex-Muslims would ask some difficult questions to challenge my faith. These are the fires which purify the steel of one’s faith. If you cannot listen to dissenting views, then is your faith really that pure to begin with?
The panel members were chosen well. They represented a diverse set of narratives and when combined, emanated a very balanced view of the Ex-Muslim experience. The first was very well-spoken lady with whom I had a chat earlier. She had been through the rigmarole of the Traditional Islamic education and had even spent a year in Pakistan studying Quranic exegesis. However, she had questions brought about through learning various other modes of philosophical analyses. She felt that Islam could not answer these questions and that the notion of a god was untenable in the fact of the vastness of the universe.
The second speaker was also a woman who recounted her traumatic conflict with her parents who prevented her from having a normal social life. It was a very moving story about how she came close to even ending her life. After a long battle with her parents during which she left home, returned and left again, in the end what was the final straw was her consuming non-halal chicken! Such trivialities can cause a severance of family ties? What a world we live in!
The third speaking was from a more liberal background. She had no overt cultural compulsion to practice Islam although Islam remained her religious identity. However, at a certain point in her life, she had some complex theological questions which were simply unanswerable. I especially liked her open attitude about her own Muslim friends. She was like ‘to you your religion, I have my own beliefs’. That should sound very familiar to Quran readers.
The final panelist was the only male and was very affable. He was from a strict Salafee background and was fed fundamentalist diatribe as a child. Although he had doubtful periods, he quickly quelled them and become radicalised and even attended a training camp. However, he began to question some of the harsher beliefs in Islam. His own sexuality made him wonder why Allah would create homosexuals then condemn them to hell (I don’t believe Allah condemned homosexuality but that’s another story). The fourth panelist did become a Progressive Muslim though before leaving Islam altogether.
All in all, I had a very enlightening evening. Do I agree with their critiques of Islam? Partly yes. I do feel that Muslim’s attitude with regards to Islamic education is less than healthy. Very unhealthy in fact. Islamic education is seen a mechanism of identity transference. ‘I am a Muslim, my children must be Muslim’. Little thought actually goes into it. It is a didactic experience and the facilitators are generally rote learners themselves (Ghulam Ahmed Parwez called them medieval librarians). Forget any kind of philosophical thought. That stuff’s haram (forbidden). Big time.
I also disagreed with the Ex-Muslims on some issues. Well obviously. If I agreed with them fully, I would be an Ex-Muslim myself. I basically disagreed with their arguments concerning God’s existence. From the little that was mentioned, it was due to a material conception of the universe. I do feel that there is much to be said for inner explorations and the unity of mysticism and science (Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics is a good place to start). Secondly and more importantly, I do feel that their statements regarding the Quran weren’t accurate although I would not fault them for it. They were only repeating the Traditionalists’ understanding which is so prevalent that it is difficult to see anything else.
Having said the above, it would be extremely patronizing to claim that these Ex-Muslims left Islam because they ‘misunderstood’ or for the treatment they experienced. We must respect the fact that they decided that Islam (whatever its form) was simply not for them. And that’s fine. They have lives to live and should do so in the manner in which they find most comfort. As the first speaker said, when she was pretending to be Muslim, she felt like an alien in her own skin. No one should have to live like that. To me, as long as they continue their earthly journeys positively and find fulfillment and happiness, then as a Muslim, I bid them peace.
This piece originally appeared on Farouk A. Peru’s blog, Person Al Islaam.