A vintage old bird cage shaped like a human head

Image courtesy of shutterstock.com


After I shared my last post, I shut my laptop and looked for distraction from my pounding heartbeat. Part of me felt lighter; relieved to have reached a decision after months of turmoil. I felt more empowered than I had for a long time under the weight of muslim expectancy. But another part tensely anticipated the fallout. I knew the vulnerability implicit in making my decision public and hoped I wouldn’t regret my stubborn commitment to transparency and truth.


“Crucifixion? Good. Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each”

Apostasy is a sin in Islam. The Qur’an threatens eternal torture and damnation for Muslims who leave the faith, but the four leading classical schools of Islamic law – Shafi, Hanbali, Maliki and Hanafi – go even further, stipulating that the punishment for unrepentant apostasy is death as is the case in Afghanistan, Comoros, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Apostasy is also illegal in Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Maldives, Qatar and Oman. Despite freedom to chose (or leave) a religion being enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 18) apostasy still carries a huge stigma among muslims, even in the West.


“You can tell them you didn’t even tell your husband.”

‘So what are you now you’re not a muslim?’ my husband asked, his casual tone masking an underlying seriousness.
‘You read it? Whadidjya think?’
‘You could have told me before you published it. What if I’d heard through a third person?’

I’d picked his brain on living with a dichotomy of faith a lot recently, trying to learn what kept his strong and unwavering, struggling to understand how someone with a similarly unconventional perspective of Islam could live the double life of what he was understood to be and what he understood himself to be. We’d spoken in pockets of quiet afforded by the children playing in another room, and in the anonymity of darkness when sleep was elusive. So consumed had I been by the funeral pyre of my belief I’d failed to realize it was not a conflagration visible from afar. I hadn’t told him because I thought he knew.


Giving them what they want

I stayed away from the laptop all weekend and on Monday logged on with a thudding heart. It says a lot about Muslims that I was so prepared for a vitriolic response. Aside from an odd preoccupation (from male or anon commenters) with what my husband thought, the reaction I found most surprising was the number of people who asked what I am now, as though the very idea of independent thought distinct from any group or collective was unthinkable. Must I take another label?

Later, on the school-run, as I absently scanned my surroundings for signs of random jihadis – conscious I could be someone’s ticket to Jannah (paradise) – I reasoned I’m luckier than most, and I have Muslims to thank for this. Had race not trumped religion and secured my inlaws’ dismissal of me already I’d stand to lose a lot more right now. As things are, my departure caused little more than a ripple of righteous gloating on social media, and silence from the handful of Muslims I was in contact with. There are those who see this as vindication of their misgivings (‘told you she wasn’t a real muslim’) and it’s that strengthening of prejudice that causes me the most regret.

K believes it’s easier to make a difference from within, that by leaving Islam I’ve given my detractors exactly what they wanted, and while I know he’s right I also know how corrosive living a lie can be. You can defend yourself from external threats but not from the acid of self-hate destroying you from within. There’s no room for questions or variance in expression of belief in Islam – to be true to myself I must step out.


Valuable lessons

I recognize that what I lived and experienced under the stewardship of Islam gave me the ability to understand things as I do now – to deny that would be like a traveller denying the map that brought him to his destination. Without this experience I’d probably be talking like Ben Affleck. Not so long ago it was me arguing that Quranic references to sectarianism, slaughter and misogyny were just contextual backdrop to a peaceful religion, but no matter how you explain it there are two irrefutable facts:


  1. Those words exist as part of a codified religion, and

  2. People are acting on them in observance of that religion.


That material needs to be addressed.

To deny that it has any part in Islam is to deny the experiences of those affected by it. To deny abused women, child brides, religious minorities, homosexuals, western journalists, and all those murdered for ‘honour’ a voice. Too often we’re told ‘you can’t judge Islam by the behavior of muslims’, but I’ve come to realise you do need to judge a religion by those who speak and act on its behalf. The dialogue is just as open to co-believers to hold false claimants to account. If they are the majority why don’t they take the floor?


“Its (sic) not you who leaves islam its (sic) GOD who chooses you to leave”

Apparently my curiosity and desire to understand means I’ve missed the whole point – I’m supposed to overlook the detail and embrace the bigger picture. And while I get that it’s not about praying five times a day without fail and re-doing your wudu (ablutions) if you fart, there are others out there for whom it is all about the detail. And this, I’m told, is faith. I guess I’m concerned with the wrong details…

Offering up your autonomy to unquestioningly follow a mass prescribed game plan is not illustrative of an open mind, it’s an abdication of responsibility masquerading as a comforting hand on the shoulder. You don’t gain any control with your prayers and your good deeds – you simply give away your ability to trust yourself. You position yourself to become the person who will carry a gun into an elementary school or who is wearing a bomb underneath their business suit. You become the perfect pawn.


In believing without question you’re not being fooled – you ARE the fool.