Why I am an Ex-Muslim

Whilst I find biographical writing egotistical in most cases, I hope to indulge here in a trajectory of thought rather than a life. I hope to show my own severing of the Islamic veil, which shrouded everything within its bleak dichotomous imagery, and how it is that ex-Muslims are a rarity. Though we are growing in number, there are not many who are willing to openly criticise Islam – I consider this to be part laziness, part apathy and part incredulity by “moderate” Muslims.The major reasons and criticisms will be dealt with in the second part.

Is it racist to loathe some one’s nonevidential-based and metaphysical beliefs? I do not think so. If this were true, I’d be considered alongside the person who decided “Whites Only” was a good sign to make on park-benches. We do not find black people declaring themselves ex-black, or white people declaring themselves ex-white. To say then that I am a racist is incorrect. I was Muslim, now I am no longer.

The question then is why declare oneself by what one is not. Why focus on being an ex-Muslim?

Power in Words

Defining oneself by a negative is something we as sceptics and atheists often have to puzzle over. Indeed, such a sentence might itself preclude this notion. I have said and I will continue to say that atheism is not a thing, a group, a set of goals. It is not a group of people clamouring for their world view to be adopted, since it is not a world-view. It comes close to be meaninglessness as air comes to being an ocean breeze. Indeed, the harshest critiques of labelling arises from amongst the “upper” echelons of the pursuit of reason.

Sam Harris in his address at Atheist Alliance in 2007, picks up on this theme of racism and atheism too, when he states:

Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially if the thing you are naming isn’t really a thing at all. And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as “non-racism” is not one. Atheism is not a worldview—and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves. So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” …  “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.”

We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

No doubt, my dear readers, some of you will already have objections to this. Whilst I am not dealing with atheism in general, the application to ex-Muslim can be seen as a two-pronged defence: To labeling ourselves atheists and maintaining the use of ex-Muslim.

The main reason: No, there is no such thing as non-racism. But there was a very prominent, destructive, irrational and un-evidential claim known as racism. But we can not deny the activism of “black consciousness”; No reasonable person today would support my country’s history of apartheid. Yet during that time, people proudly – but sometimes in secrete for fear of reprisal – called themselves “anti-apartheid activists”. Yet would any of us today call ourselves “anti-apartheid”? Well, yes, if there was an apartheid to oppose.

Similarly, the tide must turn with faith. I believe it must be eradicated, for good if we are to even grasp at the near-infinite beauty of a good life. No: We do not call ourselves non-astrologers, as Harris states. Nonetheless, just as it needed activism to render most people’s accepted world-view of “race” into something aversive, I think it will take such “activism” to render faith into the vice it is. But this is for another article.

I believe, then, that the use of reason effectively dealt with racism, such that only stragglers and madmen could present themselves proudly as racists today. Similarly, with faith: It too is a great retardation of intelligence. But one so great that even those who do not have “faith” sometimes think it must be sacred, left to its own devices, “it’s not harming anyone” (those I call IDGAFS1).

And a form of faith that has coiled into a great fist, smashing the ground beneath our feet, is Islam. All religions have their horrors and their extremists, no one denies this. Essentially, it is our main point in critiquing it: Religion is man-made. That must be religion’s most salient and nocuous property.

And no more so demonstrated than through the repugnant, almost childish knee-jerk reactions from fundamentalist Muslims. Having unwoven the threads of caustic intellectual abuse, by the hands of the vice of faith, I can finally step back to see this for what it is. But there are no woods to step out of to see trees of respect, love, or reason. Faith would have us cover our eyes and just nod to shadows. Islam, being what it is, as dangerous as it is, would send those shadows out to fight. It is time to fight back.

We know what a terrible darkness such shadows of truth hold.

The Triumph of Reason

I can admit something I was never very proud of before: I do not think I ever truly believed in a god or afterlife. Along with probably most of you, I am the addressee of Pascal’s Pensées: He who is so made that he can not believe. I learnt the Quran – and still know it – from beginning to end. I can read and write in Arabic. It is a very beautiful language and the incredible aesthetic beauty of its script no less appealing.

But what does the Quran say? If you had asked me that after I had read it the first time, then proceeded to memorise it, I would have stared at you blankly.

As we speak, there are approximately 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, comprising 22% of world. The results may vary but we can assume this: There’s a lot. Of those, I’m an uncertain how many of those are children of Muslim parents (did you flinch when you thought of “Muslim children”?). We can safely say though that millions of children around the world are taught to read, learn and recite in Arabic without understanding a word they’re saying.

I did not know I was reading this, when I recited:

98:6 Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings.

88:23-24 But whoso is averse and disbelieveth /Allah will punish him with direst punishment.

These are mere tips of growing icebergs, as fundamentalists freeze ancient ideas into growing pandemics of destruction.

Perhaps your own thoughts can formulate on why it is dangerous to learn in a language you essentially do not speak, to learn sentences you would not condone. I do not condone murder or destruction or harm to any person, yet here I was, learning verses spoken by “Allah Himself” (via Jibreel, to Muhammad, to the scribes, to etc.). Who was I to question my duty as a Muslim?

I attended seven madrassas. At each one, I was physically abused by the jaded jackals of god’s word. If we did not pronounce certain Arabic letters correctly, our fingers were bleeding after a good dose of punishment by a cane. We were yelled at, screamed at, hair was torn out in anger as we were not feeling Allah’s power and grace and beauty. It is neither hard nor uncommon to consider such occurences and perhaps that’s what makes it so wrong. A lot of my ex-Muslim friends also went through similar conditions. All this amidst a growing society, fresh from the battle against oppression – a society still licking its war-wounds and scrambling for some semblance of stability.

I neither consider myself scarred, harmed or abused to any great degree. I am neither angry at those men nor wish them harm. In a sense, I thank them for instilling the most powerful seed that resides in the human mind: Doubt.

We all know the foundation for stable thought in analysis begins with Cogito ergo sum. Yet, we must also remember Dubito ergo Cogito (I doubt, therefore I think), THEN Cogito ergo sum. I found myself wondering, if god’s love is so great, his power so immense, why do I constantly feel nothing but the biting cain against my knuckles?; Why do I feel nothing but paper when I touch the Quran?; and where is that rapturous experience that exudes from all the imams and mullahs I had interacted with?

It was then that stumbled across the most important book in my life: The Satanic Verses. It was to render that doubt into reason, to turn my apathy into action and so stabilise why I think being an outspoken ex-Muslim is important…

ENDNOTES

______

1. Idgafs are not necessarily “not giving a frack”, as the term suggests, but they are primarily nonbelievers who treat faith as something that should not be attacked, mocked, criticised, or at least attempted to be understood using emotion. Most nonbelievers I know are like this, even though they would be supporting me in any other area to promote reason.

In Defence of Johann Hari

“Freedom of thought,” says the philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville, “is the only good more important than peace. Without it, peace would be another word for servility.” This is the basis for the first amendment in the American constitution; itself formulated from the thoughts from the man who perhaps coined the term “United States of America”, namely the great Thomas Paine.

As Paine wrote in Common Sense:

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.

Those last words are resounding and might be the distant echo to the so-called Rushdie Affair. The “defense of custom” seems to have become the staple diet for the majority. We have fought so long and so hard for tolerance that we tolerate the intolerant; We defend their customs and their ideas which themselves are based on bullying strategies that renders a cloud of protection on “men of faith”. When someone who is not of the cloth utters that the 2007 floods in Northern Yorkshire are a deity’s judgments on homosexuality, as the then Archbishop of Carlyle, Graham Dow, did, we would think them insane. But because he has archbishop next to his name we are meant to “respect” such barbaric, backward and unhelpful thoughts.

Recently, my friend the great Johann Hari has faced a horrible string of threats, underpinned by death, fear and Islam. He alerted his faithful readership to the horrid poison, weaving a noose within the veins of equality in the UN. Islamic countries are demanding that we respect their hideous misogynist notions of shari’ah, to steer clear of criticising an illiterate pedophile who flew on horses to heaven, and to never raise reason as an ecumenical notion for everyone.

They are demanding this because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stresses the right to free-speech, free-thought. This logically means the ability to criticise openly any and all ideas. The only thing that the UDHR even alludes to being “sacred”, in the normative sense of the word, is the unified human spirit to unite without superstitious, overzealous boundaries. Muslims fear this, as Hari correctly highlight, because it would mean that young people would do the one thing all religions fear: THINK FOR THEMSELVES.

Sapere Aude (Dare to know)!” says Kant in his essay on the Enlightenment. ” ‘Have courage to use your own understanding’ – that is the motto for the Enlightenment.” Islam – and all religions – would quiver under such scrutiny. The use of intellect is hardly encouraged unless it is in accordance with Allah’s will. Everything is supposed to be through Allah; but everything includes good and bad, right and wrong, evil and misconceptions. So wouldn’t this religion, which is mistakenly called a “religion of peace” by many world leaders, cherish such open-mindedness? Why then the fear of Enlightenment values?

Because then the foundations would fail, it would flounder and like a hydra dying and frothing red beneath the sea, it would sink into the bottom depths of our history. Muslims realise this. They realise their grips would falter on the minds of their flock; so much so that they are willing to arrest the Indian editors of Hari’s article.

How could Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha be arrested for publishing Hari’s article? Because hurting religious feelings is part of the Indian penal code. Under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code it forbids “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”. The irony rests in the double-standards. And what religions are included in section 295A? Why some religions, Islam, but not others, Norse or Roman? And, of course, what about those who are outraged but are not religious? Why do we never get any “special treatment” for our “feelings”?

Boo-hoo, my childish Islamic friends. Your feelings were hurt? Shame. I can tell you exactly why those of us without religion neither have any law against offending us, in India (and most places), and more importantly, why we usually don’t fight for one: Because we believe in the freedom of open criticism. We believe in the right to express any ideas, in a rational, open way.

This means I do not care whether you worship Zeus, Allah, or Yahweh: If it makes you happy, go ahead. If it consoles, by all means do it. But you can not demand me to respect such ideas and to not criticise them. I am open to you criticising my ideas, any of them. I will not be privy to respecting any ideas just to make the faithful happy. To quote Hari:

[A] free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs – but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offence.

Whilst we writers against religion limit ourselves to words, our antagonists would find vent in bullets. Whilst we would change and let the plateau of equality be the ground on which we all walk, Muslims would have the high-ground to censure equal human rights. They would rather we shut up and step away from hurting their poor feelings.

I support Hari in his criticisms, as is apparent. Hari had every right to write what he liked, as did people in my country’s past. Consider that Steve Biko’s book is entitled I Write What I Like. I even support the freedom to write tripe like creationist or Holocaust-denial literature. Because scientists and historians can then openly criticise and point out the flaws in the creationist and “revisionist” literature. I don’t believe in banning books or writers or the stultification – in fact, my life is dedicated to fighting for anyone to say anything, in an open minded, discursive way.

Not so for the religious, as this reaction to Hari’s article displays. If that is not a sign of backward thinking, pointing away from the path of reason into the dark woods of dogma, then I am not sure what is. Perhaps the Quran and its horrible statements of death to infidels (“Kill them where ye find them!”)? Perhaps the terror Muslims invoke, when we draw cartoons of their Prophet, or the death-threats when a Teddy-bear is named after him?

I want us all to be amenable to change, criticism and open to ideas. This is a grownup way to look at the world. But the neotony inherent in our species finds vent in that which is itself a product of our mind’s infancy. Consider this bounder, called Abdus Subhan, who “[was] prepared to lay down his life, if necessary, to protect the honour of the Prophet [against Hari]” and Hari should be sent “to hell if he chooses not to respect any religion or religious symbol … He has no liberty to vilify or blaspheme any religion or its icons on grounds of freedom of speech.”

But why not? We need to all grow up and face the fact that many things will “offend” us. We are diverse and diversity inculcates a sense of realisation of many different things.  So, using “that offends me” as a reason and argument to cease that which causes offence, is no grounds at all for it to cease. Before you think me venturing into the territory of cultural relativism, I mean it simply according with what we understand to be human rights, personal autonomy, the right to liberty, freedom of thought, and so on.

I stand by what I write here as I stand by Johann Hari. Muslims should be more horrified at me, someone who was once Muslim, now admonishing them; I deserve their scorn and outrage more than someone who won the Amnesty International Newspaper Journalist of the Year (2007). Please let us all grow up, face the beauty of the world and time we have. Muslims must realise that we are fighting for them and their freedom as much as anyone else. The ones who suffer the most from the dogmatic assertions of clerical bullying are other Muslims.

We want everyone to be free, we want everyone to have the right to liberty and freedom. Let the ashes of dogma settle to allow some growth of a newfound liberation and reasoned tolerance. If we hurt each others feelings so be it. But that does not mean we are allowed to kill, arrest or maim each other. Growing up and opening our eyes means we see and experience more, which means more opportunity for pain. But it also means more opportunity for growth. Like trees entwined at the roots, our growth rests in each other. The faster we all severe our ties from celestial propitiation, the faster our own lives can be rendered to soar with freedom and openness

I know this will do nothing to stop or cease Muslim’s anger. It might incite more. But, I will quote Paine again to finish. Immediately after the first line I quoted above, he says:

But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

Let it be so.

A Preface: Bullied No More

We have played into the hands of clerical bullying for too long, with every religious group demanding special attention because its feelings are hurt. We, in Western democracies, are quick to ape mewling mothers and suckle them to our breast of quiet platitude, so that they might feast on our milk of tolerance. But tolerance of people does not extend to their ideas and, in what is indeed a great enlightenment value, our toleration has become our own demise.

The tawdry lies and clerical bullying, so long dominating our society, must now cease to hold our lives in their clutches. Whilst the rest of the world would reach for the light of reason, mullahs would usher in a new dark age. They would rather fool themselves with ghosts in the darkness and call it god than banish such shadows into the memories of our species, where it belongs.

Many great modern writers are attempting to find bridging gaps between Islam and modern thought; yet no one sees the double-standards of not doing the same for the ancient Norse, Greek or Sumerian religions. People like Irshad Manji, who wrote The Trouble with Islam Today, and Reza Aslan, the author of No god but God, are attempting just such mental gymnastics. The sinuous undergrowth of tortuous theological pap obscures any form of rationality; it is an undergrowth so mangled, one can almost see these writers bending over backwards to somehow reconcile universal values of happiness and equality with mullah-mindsets of a backward past. Indeed, if their minds were bodies, Manji and Aslan would look like mangled corpses after a tornado.

I do however understand such importance in bridging gaps. People like Manji and Aslan would be those parachute-instructors who gradually raise the bar, allowing the students to slowly reach a greater height and thus not be afraid when told to let go.

I see no such time for small steps, comforting noises and the occasional nod to Islamic history as somehow apropos to its legitimacy now. I would rather we square up and ask a simple question: Is Islam ready for today’s heightened secularism and universal humanism? Is it appropriate for running a society, lives and interactions? Is it really necessary for children to learn the entire Quran to be better people in the future? Is it entirely necessary for average Muslims to develop neuroses over whether its OK to perform simple actions, like touching a dog after praying, with their only solution to write long letters to their local imam?

The answer is NO.

Islam – and all religions – should no longer have a dominating place in this world. They are childish, impromptu explanations of things we knew little about in the infancy of our species. We need to take a stronger stand against the rising tide of dogmatism.

If you don’t believe that clerical bullying, Islamic stupidity (which is the application of Islam to cohere with secular, enlightened values), and blunted minds can effect you, have a look at the recent developements of the UN. If even the largest body of human rights is being poisoned by the mullah-mindsets, what hope do we have?

It will take the actions of ordinary but passionate people to lower the bar of tolerance. Yes, lower. Because we are tolerating too much: We have taken toleration so far that we tolerate ideas and see them as, somehow, “sacred”. But we should not respect ideas. As Johann Hari indicated, we can respect each other so much as human beings that we won’t respect our bad ideas.

Any idea taken too far, from tolerance to equality, can be disastrous. If tolerance is taken too far, we have many religions squaring their shoulders in our tolerant society, demanding that their own rights supersede those of the civil society in which they dwell. If equality and respect are taken too far, we have cultural relativism, and no standards by which to judge whether genital mutilation on Muslim girls is just “another view of happiness”. We can not impose if that is what brings their families happiness, that is simply arrogant. But, that view too is extreme and extremely wrong! If we don’t work in absolutes, then even the notion of “there are no absolutes” (i.e.: the premise of cultural relativism) becomes bizarre, since it is an absolute statement. As Karl Popper said: “a theory that explains everything, explains nothing.”

We need to have some notion of right, wrong, happiness. And the idea that everyone should be treated equally, without regard to race, creed, culture or country and judged according to this blindness of human attributes, is so far the best form of governance we have. That does not make it perfect or right. But all counterarguments and ideas thrown against it, have withered under the light of reason.

Yes, we might be wrong. But so far we haven’t been. Equality and respect for people work: equality and respect for their ideas does not. Muslims need to understand this. They do not need to respect it but certainly they need to point out how their ideas – treating women like cattle, preventing the stunning of animals so that more pain is caused and therefore they can perform their Bronze-Aged ritual, and so on – is better than the current standards of science and secularism.

They will and do find it does not. That is why they must kill and threaten to make their points; they understand that the Quran does not hold up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and created their own (governed of course by the rather bizarre shari’ah).

Life is incredibly beautiful. We need to grasp it and remove it from the hands of gods, mullahs and others who claim to have a hot-line to god. Like puppets with all these millions of strings tethered to shifting celestial fingers, if we severe them, we can see the beauty of the sky, the horizon and the endless wonder of human existence.

We require no permission to do this. It is our right as human beings. We will be bullied no more into thinking and respecting. Ideas are won by their strength alone and not the impacts of bullets and the loudness of voices. Once we all learn that, we can be stronger in our defence of reason against the mullah-minds and Islamist-insanity quivering in the shadows of ancient gods.