Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Leaving Islam

"I just couldn't agree with most of the stuff, especially with the treatment of women -- that got me out of Islam."
"They [her family] think I'm a bad Muslim. But I doubt if they'd ever think I'm an ex-Muslim. That would be the end. He [father] would never accept my apostasy."
"There was a lot of pressure to be completely religious. [Punishment followed transgressions]...There was a tear in a page [Koran] and my father assumed I'd ripped it. He got my hand -- and put it on the stove."
"I just filled in two bags of my papers and stuff and told my brother, 'I have to take out the trash', and there was a cab waiting for me and I went straight to the shelter."
Halima, 18, Ontario biology student

"As a kid I really believed with all my heart, but my faith just kind of went away. It flickered out. I stopped feeling the presence of God. And that's when I took seriously the possibility of Islam being wrong."
"There really isn't a defence for any of it [religion]."
"I realized that I don't want to stick to just one way of looking at the world."
"I wanted to do my part for the apostate community, I guess. To normalize the process of apostacizing ... To say, 'I'm an ex-Muslim, you are not alone, you are not the only apostate in the world' There's such a taboo surrounding apostasy in Islam."
Zain, 27, Pakistani Canadian

"There's great animosity towards ex-Muslims. You're treated like a traitor, just for not believing the same thing. And you're expected to keep your mouth shut and not criticize the religion."
"I wanted to belong [to be a good Muslim]. I wanted to feel connected to my roots. I wanted to have a certain identity. And I really wanted to believe."
"Men can date, have sex outside of marriage can marry somebody not of their religion -- they can pretend to have their wives convert -- they can go through the motions. But if we want to be free, we have to leave. There is no middle ground for women."
Kiran Opal, founding-member EXMNA: Ex-Muslims of North America
Empowering? Really?

It certainly is not Islam alone that prefers to have its faithful remain faithful. Other religions are quite the same in that respect, as are other cultures representing ethnic groups, as well as ideologies. Most view those that leave the fold as traitors to a common faith, belief, cause and work to impose isolation and suffering on those who dare to withdraw from or reject those sacraments that held them to the community of faith, cause or belief.

In many faiths, the result of some intrepid soul risking being rejected by those they are emotionally closest to, of bringing shame to them from within the community is to be viewed with incredulous dismay disdain and dismissal, so that hearts are hardened toward them and just as they have chosen to reject what is of inestimable value to those who have given themselves over to the religion, culture or ideology, they find themselves alone in an unfamiliar, desolate place of mind, struggling to find themselves.

Most religions, however, do not view those they know as apostates as no longer worthy of life. God, after all, regardless of the religion that claims the Almighty, happens also to be the fount of life, the maker of life. So how much sense does it make for a religious authority to delegate to itself the taking of life? Yet some countries devoted to their fundamentalist version of Islam -- a growing phenomenon all over the world of Islam -- take it upon themselves to sentence those who leave Islam to death.

It is not only the religious authorities that pronounce capital punishment upon those of their citizens who are incautious enough to make it be known that they will no longer live as Muslims, but the extended families of those who remove themselves from the Islamic orbit. For women, breaking away from the tradition of 'modesty' under Sharia that requires them to be subservient to men, and who have little defence against rape when they are held to have led men astray, their lives may be forfeit to the Islamic charge of having defiled Islamic precepts of female purity.

For Halima, the young Ontario biology student whose strict Muslim family initiated a process to have her marry a 50-year-old Yemenite and enable his re-settlement in Canada, that constituted the final break. She could not envision herself at 18 married to a 50-year-old man she did not know, and living a traditional life of an obedient Muslim woman; she chose freedom and opportunity. "Come home -- or you'll regret it", her father wrote to her, and Halima would know very well what that regret might constitute; "honour killings" by family members of those who transgress have made their mark.

When Zain with his Pakistani background, born of immigrant parents to Britain, pursued philosophy, the study of Friedrich Nietzsche freed his mind of doubts and by age 19 he no longer believed. He made online contact with a young woman in Canada and they planned to elope. When his parents discovered his plan to marry a woman who was not Muslim they attempted to convince him to reject this path. But he had left the faith and at age 20 left Britain for Canada, and there married the young Canadian woman.

It is doubtful he will ever be reconciled with his parents. He fled Britain to find his destiny in Canada, outside Islam, and with a young woman not of his ethnic group, his culture and the religion he was born into. And now that he has been very public with his apostate status his extended family became aware from an online testimony in aid of others like himself, and they took it upon themselves as pious Muslims to "collectively shame[d] my parents for being bad parents", leaving them socially isolated. Forgiveness is not to be found in that dead zone.

A young Bengali-British woman interviewed for Simon Cottee's soon-to-be-published The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam, spoke of the shame and self-hate experienced by those vulnerable to being shunned and cast out and held to be less than human for their choice to leave Islam. "It was rough and I could barely pull myself together ... because I knew they wouldn't accept me", leaving her "lost, as though I don't know who I am anymore".

Enter a support group established in Toronto and in Washington in 2013 for ex-Muslims to find comfort and companionship within the emotional embrace of others like themselves who mustered the courage to find their own way in life, outside Islam. EXMNA: Ex-Muslims of North America was set up to help these rejected souls meet others like themselves. The group states its opposition to avoidance of religious criticism.

Its motto is "No Bigotry and No Apologism", aptly describing their mission to oppose those who fall in line behind accusations of "Islamophobia"; insisting that moral relativism is a false yardstick by which to measure Islam. Kiran Opal, one of the group's founders, experienced doubts about Islam and Sharia, but it was not until her family brought candidates for marriage within the faith to her attention that she realized she would have to be responsible for herself to escape the trap.

Kiran Opal in her complaint overlooks one important thing; when men marry outside Islam, they seek to convert their wives to Islam, and that usually solves the problem. Islam is a prosetylizing religion, it has always, and continues to, focus on converting non-Muslims to Islam. This represents an important obligation due Islam by its faithful. Women, on the other hand, deciding to marry a non-Muslim do not necessarily observe the need to convert their husbands because they are isolated and rejected to begin with, for marrying outside the faith.

She, like others who leave Islam, know that in making that decision they leave behind much more than just a religious belief. Islam is a complete way of life, a social, political cultural structure whose strictures are well defined, with immutable expectations from its adherents. Leaving Islam means leaving family, friends, and all that is familiar in life. Leaving those who decide they can no longer live within its confines with guilt and indecision and a profound sense of loss; all that was ever familiar and dear to them sacrificed to achieve their individuality and an altogether different future.

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