An Apologist’s Apology

Black and white, woman offering man flowers
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Since leaving Islam I’ve been troubled by a kind of mental dyspepsia. An occasional discomfiting bubble bursts through the weightlessness that supplanted those discarded unattainable standards I measured myself by for so long. The bubbles are memories that, to me at least, are as toe-curlingly excruciating as re-reading your teenage diary in your thirties.

If I were a celebrity this would be the moment to take out a full page ad in the New York Times outlining how life is a continuous unfolding and you really shouldn’t hold someone responsible for the illusions they once defended vociferously as ‘the truth’.

There but for the grace of obscurity go I…

Still, looking back I was a fully paid up, card-carrying member of the muslim apologentsia, and  whenever I remember beliefs the Old Me held, explanations the Old Me gave, the shame is no less searing than if my life had played out in the media spotlight. So, if I were to write my own public apology it would go something like this:



I, the undersigned, do hereby apologise for overruling my better judgment and secret suspicions in favor of being a naive apologist about religious and cultural practices that limit people’s rights and freedoms…

To the imam I approached about converting: you gave me a little book and advised me to come back when I’d read it. In the dark ages of ‘Life Before Google’ I hadn’t come across the author, Sayyid Abdul A’la Mawdudi, in my reading.

I didn’t know he was the godfather of what we now call Islamism.

The book made no mention of his stance on women (it didn’t mention women at all – an example of the gravity of what’s left unsaid if ever I saw one), so I was unaware he protested women’s rights in his native Pakistan and supported the Hudood bill of 1979, requiring that a woman produce four male witnesses to support a charge of rape, lest her accusation become an admission of guilt to fornication for which she is flogged and the rapist walks free.

Amongst the blandishments and hyperbole it was, however, adamant about belief in prophets, books and angels (which, I confess, I lied about – I liked the angel idea, but in a fairytale kind of way).

How different things would have been if you and I had been straight with one another from the start, though I have to say, your refusal to meet my eyes made that difficult. I knew the ‘respecting my modesty’ reason, but it still made me feel dirty somehow, and inferior. Why did I get the feeling if I‘d given you permission to look at me you’d still have refused?


To my friends and work colleagues with whom I shared my discoveries and descriptions of south Asian culture, I wince when I recall ‘explaining’ everything, from arranged marriage to the position of women, with the enthusiasm of a mechanic taking apart a vintage engine – not necessarily because I shared the sentiments but because, from my position of privilege, I could savour these ideas without being imprisoned by them.

Instead of building intercultural bridges as I imagined, I was adding my bricks to the prisons so many are walled up in by their own communities. Somewhere along the way, in my desire to lessen ignorance of different customs, dress, and beliefs, I became one of those erecting barriers to fair critique.

I’m talking about my ‘understanding’ of the prohibition on women praying while menstruating, and my too-swift ability to find the good in being forced to sit at the back of the room even when ‘clean’. Although I was vocal in my protest of veiling and gender segregation I should have seen the whole lot for what it was – misogyny sanctified by religion – and run a mile, but I succumbed to cultural relativism before I even knew there was such a term. I was too busy learning the ‘rules’ of a new culture to realise I’d leapt from one patriarchal prison to another. Freedom of choice doesn’t guarantee of freedom of thought, something I’m sure some of the runaways to Syria are getting a practical lesson in right now.


To my readers, I think back to the explanations I gave in the pompous belief I was educating and informing, when by dismissing things as ‘not real Islam’ I trivialised and vetoed issues that are a reality for many. I flush with embarrassment remembering my Ben Affleck period. If only someone had written me a letter like this back then.

Irksome though they are, I’ve kept the posts I published as a muslim on my blog. I always wrote guilelessly, from the heart, and while my perceptions have changed the sentiments in those words reflect how I felt at the time. Perhaps the route by which I arrived at my current position will resonate with others out there. At the very least they’re a reminder to me of the dangers of allowing your mind to be closed off and the importance of questioning everything.


To my son, this is the hardest paragraph to write. Those who view circumcision as innocuous will be perplexed by the source of my deepest shame, but for me it’s my most visceral betrayal. I apologise to you for my complicity in the decision to inflict unnecessary surgery on a helpless infant, despite my qualms about its justification, and for my self-absorbed prayers during the period you were unconscious. My irresponsibility in believing any single outside influence had complete reign of events shames me beyond words. As a mother I fell far short that day. That I allowed something to be done to you against my instinct and better judgment with such ready submission will be a stain that never leaves my conscience – a guilt far greater than any other.

These things occurred because I allowed them to. When I think of the cumulative hours I spent listening to racist, prejudiced views about westerners, ghoris (derogatory: white girls), and unbelievers and never once challenged them because I’d convinced myself my role was merely observer in a cultural field study, I burn with humiliation. In my drive to support the underdog, the displaced, the different, I fell completely for the poisonous narrative of victimhood – the plight of the misunderstood parlayed by one face, while the other darkly delighted in the deceit.

This continues, in part, because of the actions of people like me, sympathetic apologists and muslims in denial of the content of their instruction book. I helped make it harder for the voiceless to be heard by dismissing the dangers they faced, repudiating their claims as ‘not real Islam’. By its very existence honor killing, FGM, and forced marriage is no less real than the muslim who prays and fasts and gives of his earnings in the certainty of his goodness. The fact that I could rationalise all the questionable elements of my faith and the culture I married into speaks of a depth of need within me I was unaware of on a conscious level. To be muslim requires a split personality.

I started this post believing I owed myself an apology for betraying my moral standards so easily but I realise that’s not necessary. There is grace and peace in owning up to and admitting your mistakes. My ability to love my wild and precious life is hard won – I can’t allow natural imperfection to rob me of it. Instead of growing cynical and distrusting I try to draw from all that’s human in me – thoughts, disappointments, and triumphs – enough to triumph myself. Who is it who said ‘human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished’? I’m an experiment, each trial is a test, I learn to like myself more with each iteration. The lessons I’m learning from this, though painful, are rich in wisdom and self-knowledge – gifts far greater than the earache I’ve given everyone else.



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By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. You do write so beautifully from the heart Aisha – I truly hope some of the young men and women who may be teetering about a ‘fleeing’ to join their brothers and sisters in Islam find this blog. It might give them pause for thought.

  2. Dear Aisha: It is not easy to apologize at the best of times, and I know you must have taken a deep breath before writing this incredibly sensitive and compassionate piece. Yes, compassionate because I know you are – and I was glad to read at the end that you have forgiven yourself, which is so important (I have done the same many times over in my life! We are “only human,” aren’t we). I think perhaps you were not so much putting up barriers as creating a kind of distance between yourself and your readers, so that you could explain things to yourself (does that make sense?). I have also encountered victimhood many times here in Jamaica – it is very harmful to the perpetrator and those on the receiving end, and all twisted up with guilt, manipulation and as you say, deceit. Wishing you all the best, Emma

    1. Thanks Emma. It was never my aim to create distance between myself and my readers – I genuinely felt a compulsion to show people there was another angle that was being obscured by all the negativity. But by flatly refusing to accept that negativity as part of the picture I closed down avenues of conversation that needed to happen, that’s what I meant when I said I’d become one of those who erected barriers to reasoned critique.
      As doubt began to shred my belief in the tenets of Islam – the seerah, the hadith, and finally the Quran itself – that knee-jerk reaction to defend faded and was replaced by a thirst for good old solid reasoning. The research took me the rest of the way.
      Lovely to hear from you and wishing you well too.

  3. I echo Apple’s comment.

    I’ve always had concerns regarding the way women are treated but I respected your beliefs. I can only say I’m pleased you’ve seen the light and whatever religion you chose, or not, I hope you find true happiness and peace. I’m a tree-hugger, and while many can lay claim to Mother Nature belongs to their God and religious club, they are still at her mercy.

    virtual hugsx

  4. Very well written .well done .I’m so glad you have the courage to be your self and let no person or religion dictate how you think. Best Wishes for the future and Lots of Love. dad.

  5. I’m sorry you have reached this conclusion. I wished you had seen more kindness from those who were supposed to support you. There is a different path to be taken by everyone of us and I wholeheartedly wish you all the best. Salam and may peace be upon you, Aisha.

  6. What a heartfelt post – I’m sorry you feel that you should be apologising to people but hope you feel better for getting it down in writing x x

  7. What a heartfelt and deeply brave post to write. I’ve never had a faith to follow or to leave but reading your raw words I understand the turmoil you must have felt.

  8. You write with such beauty and passion. You have nothing to apologise for. Views naturally change with time and experience and it is brave to put your hand up and say your opinions are now different, not that you should have to. x

    1. You’re not alone in stating I have nothing to apologise for. Quite a few of the commenters have said the same thing and I’m starting to worry I haven’t clearly expressed my reasons for writing this. I appreciate the sentiment (and please don’t think me rude for trying to clarify) and I’m aware no grovelling is necessary nor dispensation to absolve my mistakes. I wanted to document the conflicts and emotions arising from such a tectonic shift in perspective, especially in the current climate of polarized attitudes towards Islam and muslims.
      Should anyone wonder what goes on inside a recently apostatised ex-muslim’s head, it’s all here 🙂

  9. You have written this so well and it is really thought provoking. We are all human, we all make mistakes and we all need to be easy on ourselves sometimes.

  10. I don’t think you need to apologise at all Aisha, life is about finding ourselves and to do that we must experience different things, paths, beliefs and troubles and whilst this was heart rending to read, you are clearly one very brave lady x

  11. You write so beautifully and have nothing to apologise for. We all do the best we can in this world and find our way through it, it’s all a journey and everything we do is part of that.

  12. I don’t think any apologies are needed, we all make mistakes in life and it is our way of learning and learning to forgive – hope you feel better for writing it all down

  13. This is such a brave post. Whatever your past life has been it is so difficult to leave it behind. Do not let your mind be clouded by bitterness and regret but let it flourish in your newfound freedom.

    1. So true – we’re all products of our past aren’t we? And in that way it accompanies us into the future, but yes, taking the lessons learned from the struggles and leaving the ‘baggage’ where it lies is good advice.

  14. I have to say I’m quite ignorant to religion and don’t understand much of it, but it does seem to be the route of all evil in the world. Interesting post, heartfelt and honest, the part to your son touched me. You mustn’t feel guilty about how you once felt though, we often just go along with things and think one way then change our minds… it’s all part of growing as a person I guess. x

  15. I do so love reading your posts. they flow with emotion and life. We all change as we grow and some need to break free in order to flourish. The who you were and what you experienced yesterday has made you the woman you are today. She is part of your strength as well as your sorrow. Always remember that

  16. This is the first time I’ve come across your blog and so I have no idea of the events you’ve spoken of, but my heart breaks for you over the circumcision of your son. I feel so deeply for you and I do hope that you can find peace on that issue somehow. I love that you’re so honest in your writing, This must have been so difficult to write. Thank you.

  17. I am a mother of a young male child, not circumcised. However, here is me thinking that I did not do good by my son. There are some who would have it that it is better for a child – reduces the risk of penile cancer, the risk of urinary infections, HIV infections, and so on.

    If you care to find out about it, here is some professor talking –

  18. Christianity, Islam and Judaism
    All sprang out from the same source
    Harmoniously; only at different ages
    And traveled far and away only to fall apart
    Seeking supremacy by men who preached
    What the religion never proclaimed.

  19. Talibans, Talibans
    Enlightened learned ones
    Believing in Quran and Islam
    Throwing acid on little girls
    Walking to school only to learn
    What God denied the Taliban.

  20. I hope your apology will make many a devout Muslim reflect on their faith in a lie and deception. Your honesty and humility should change a few. Thanks

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