I am a 27 year old Pakistani woman. Just over two years ago I was a strict conservative Muslim who did not even think about questioning my religion — in fact, 25-year-old me would have been appalled at who I am now.
This is the story of how I realised Islam was another man-made religion.
The “Perfect Musalimah” Phase
I started wearing the hijab, praying, and fasting regularly when I was around 14-15. Nobody forced me into it, but my once-moderate Muslim parents caught the religion bug, and young susceptible me got caught in the sudden tide of Islamic devotion.
I became the perfect “musalimah”. Despite being in a liberal co-ed school I kept my distance from boys, never partied, never missed a prayer and never took off the hijab even in female-only gatherings because of male attendant/waiters. To top it off, I was an honor roll student and believed all my achievements were due to the “wazifas”(supplications) and prayers I did. I was that kid other parents compared their children with. Heck, I even inspired a few people to put on the hijab and become “religious”. People praised me right and left and I never had any reason to question Islam.
But one thing never changed: my drive to become a career-ambitious woman, favouring financial independence over marriage and kids. I graduated with an engineering degree but I had a difficult time finding a job. When I did land one, it paid terribly and I could barely call myself “independent”.
My parents would “console” me by saying “Allah has not made it your responsibility to earn. Your husband will provide for you. Just get married and prioritize the house and your family. We did not educate you to build a career — your degree will be useful when you need to help your kids out with their studies.” That kind of life sounded a nightmare to me. Four years of arduous engineering studies just to help the kids I didn’t even want with their homework.
I turned to religion to defend my choice as a single working woman, and to my utter disappointment there was nothing on the worth of single women. A woman was only valued if she was a mother or a pious wife. So instead, I convinced myself that I’m “flawed” to not want marriage. After all women in my country rush to get married and have kids. Its my fault that I’m refusing this “easy ticket” to jannah (paradise).
My First Questions
Then one of my friends sought me out (due to my devoutly religious reputation) and started asking some hard-hitting questions about why Allah even created some humans just to condemn them to eternal torture, considering he already pre-defined our fates. How can some non-Muslims can be punished eternally despite being decent people? And why does heaven sound so damn unappealing?
I tried to give her the same answers that I read online, tried to sugar coat them. Pointed her to some websites. I don’t know if she bought it, but some of the answers felt so contrived or made Allah sound like an egotistical sadist.
I also begun to have questions of my own: I always found it odd that the “universal” book/prophet gave incompatible prayer/fasting timings for those living near the poles. Why must women cover their hair, arms and legs even though they are not sexual organs and the same as man’s? To cover our beauty so as not attract unwanted attention? Men can attract unwanted attention for the same reasons — shouldn’t they cover up too?
When I tried to voice these questions to my mom, she got exasperated and cited how Banī Isrāīl (the Children of Israel) were cursed into monkeys/pigs for asking too many questions, and how I’m incurring Allah’s wrath just as they are. That was enough to terrify me and and I forced all my doubts to the back of my mind.
My Meeting with an Agnostic Atheist
I only began to seriously doubt my religion a few months ago when I befriended an agnostic foreigner (lets call him JP) in grad school and like other religious Muslims, believed it was my duty to invite him to Islam. I’ve had non-Muslim friends before who were forced to study Islamiyat in school so they knew all the basics about the faith.
It was only when I started explaining core basic concepts out loud to a person (who rejects organised religion) that I realized how utterly ridiculous they sounded. Concept of halal/haram, 5 repetitive rote-memorized prayers in Arabic, the incorruptible holy book that was compiled after the death of its Prophet.
I won’t post all the extensive discussions we had for brevity’s sake — just the most pivotal one we had.
I asked JP how could someone reject religion entirely? It was incomprehensible. Didn’t he wonder why all religions overlap with each other, esp. the Abrahamic ones? Didn’t he think they all had a common divine origin? He said maybe because it’s human nature, that we want to believe in something, anything, so we borrow things and build up on them.
I argued: no, its because Allah send so many of his unnamed prophets with the same message throughout time and humans corrupted them so other religions were born.
JP then brought up the Greek mythology creature Pegasus and I immediately reacted we have the Burraq so maybe the Greeks had an unnamed prophet who interacted with Burraq as well, because how could Muhammad, an illiterate even imagine something like that? It can’t be a coincidence. He then said “maybe he knew Greek mythology or maybe he was smoking something… sitting in a desert, saw a horse and an eagle, mixed them up. Doesn’t require a leap of imagination…”
My brain immediately froze with blatant blasphemy! No, I wasn’t offended, just that he could say something like that so freely whereas I couldn’t dare to even think like that. Something so insulting to the holy prophet! It shook me to the core. But it planted the seeds of alternative explanations in my mind.
And finally… The Umrah that brought “Enlightenment”
My parents started to suspect my drift away from religion. Their solution: book me an umrah (pilgrimage) so I could find “hidayat” (guidance) again. (And also because I kept rejecting proposals because the thought of marrying a devout Muslim man made me so uncomfortable.)
Right after completing my second tawaf, I couldn’t help but feel the whole circumambulation ritual and kissing the rock felt so paganistic…and so pointless. What benefit could it possibly have for Allah to command it?
Then I came across the station of Ibrahim and I wondered if someone actually tried to scientifically analyze it to determine the true dates of the foot prints. And then it hit me, of course the Saudi authorities wouldn’t let them. If Islam gets disapproved they’ll be the ones that suffer the most.
Even then I chalked these thoughts or “waswas” (whispers from Satan) as the work of the devil and reasoned that the pagans must have gotten an unnamed prophet too that prescribed circumambulation and they corrupted his message. I prayed hard to Allah to stop these doubts and give me hidayat.
Then one night in mecca, a thought occurred to me: why do we pray the way we pray? Muhammad received the obligatory prayers on the Miraj as a “gift” for his ummah (community). He then bargained to get them reduced to 5. Hence, no previous religion should exist that performs exactly 5 daily prayers daily like we do.
Imagine my shock when I found out the Zoroastrianism, a religion that predates Islam, had prayers the exact same time as we do and also other glaring similarities with Islam. So either Zoroaster was a prophet that went through the exact same ordeal and was gifted the 5 prayers for his “ummah”, or Muhammad being a caravan trader would have probably interacted with traders from the Persian empire and gotten the idea from there. The latter explanation seemed more plausible and rational.
That was the final nail in the coffin. There was no way to defend it anymore. The prayers should be unique to Muslims only, but here there was glaring evidence that Islam is a religion plagiarized from other religions. It all made sense suddenly. All these silly rituals. All these similarities with Judaism and Christianity.
I remember going to bed that night completely shaken. My world had suddenly fallen apart. My life had revolved around the 5 prayers. Everything I did was based on the Islamic principles. I immediately lost the will to pray or perform ablution. I only pretended to do so in front of my parents. It’s so ironic that I lost my faith in the “holiest” city, the very heart of Islam.
I feel free but also devastated. So many years of my life wasted. I had met two wonderfully amazing guys in my life but did not pursue a relationship because I thought it was haram. I did not apply to grad school in Germany despite being eligible because of Halal/Haram issues. So many opportunities lost. And I can’t share this experience with anyone. If I tell my deeply conservative family, all hell will break lose. They’ll probably disown me; they hate it whenever I voice my questions regarding Islam, to the point it brings tears in my mom’s eyes.
I once heard my mom say, it is a mistake to “over-educate” girls because then they get picky and do not receive proposals. I don’t want her to add “becoming a kaffir” (infidel) to it too. If I tell my family, they wont even examine my reasons, but jump to the conclusion that I have lost my mind or am under jinn (demon/genie) influence.
Thanks to that one hadith about how women should always have sex with husbands whenever he pleases, and Islam’s stress on breeding & being submissive, I have become so psychologically scarred that I cannot — no matter how hard I try — imagine a situation where I want to have sex, or a situation where I would be enjoying it. I cannot. I am terrified of sex, as I always imagine it as an unknown stranger (with whom I was forced into arranged marriage) forcing himself on me. I need therapy. I need help. I want to get away from this all, leave this country and undo the damage, but I don’t think its possible with my age. I’m 27 and halfway done with my masters with barely any savings. Where can I possibly go? My family is against me getting a PhD because they think I’m too old and already over educated.
I am looking for hope. I am looking for ideas on how to move forward.
To all the young ex-Muslims who figured it out in your early 20s and later teenage years, you are in a better position than me. Please plan ahead and strive to become independent so you do not have to spend the rest of your life hiding and pretending.
If you are experiencing trauma due to religion, please head over to RecoveringFromReligion.org to find resources that may be helpful to you. We have live chat and phone hotlines, a list of worldwide secular therapists, a podcast, a recovery excursion being planned for this fall, and many other links to relevant information.