By Sabeena Mozaffar
Throughout my life in Pakistan, the US and Australia, the discussion of one’s self-identity has been a prominent topic in the media and among my school and university peers. I’ve often heard stories about people struggling with their sexual identity, gender identity and even cultural identity. However, in my 22 years, I have yet to meet another person who’s struggled with their faith or religious identity. Even the people who have admitted to leaving a religion often talk about the experience as if it was a trouble-free process, requiring little time and effort.
Personally, my decision to leave Islam was among the most strenuous decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I can still recall the countless hours spent studying the religion, its history and its core text to decipher whether I found Islam to be truly as righteous, rational and correct as its avid followers claimed it to be. Even as an adolescent, the claimed existence of “fake texts” and “propaganda media” didn’t hinder my journey of reflection and reason.
My journey started at a young age. My first step was probably when I was twelve years old and was diagnosed with epilepsy. My parents’ initial reaction was to tell me to “pray to God to forgive me for my sins and cure me of this ailment.” My immediate response to this statement was to ask, “If God is the one who will take away my epilepsy, is He also not the one who gave it to me, through His action or inaction?”
My parents stood in silence; they were clearly angered and agitated by the question, yet at the same time had no response for me, because they themselves didn’t know the answer.
Were these questions truly offensive? Were they an insult towards my family, friends, or the religion and its followers? Or, were they in fact valid questions –you are preaching your religion to me and asking me to follow it, yet I don’t understand the concept behind it. I can’t believe in something I don’t understand: that is the very definition of following blindly.
In the end, my decision to leave Islam came down to two questions:
1. “Do you believe in God?”
I honestly don’t know. I don’t believe my prayers have ever been answered by a higher power. I don’t believe it was a superior being who cured those with cancer.
Yet I still feel that there is more to this world; a greater form unlike others present on this Earth created this universe. I could have these thoughts because I was raised in a religious environment that promoted worshiping higher powers. Or perhaps it’s simply because of a hope that justice will be served for those who’ve wronged and remain unpunished in this unfair world.
However, I’ve never felt that a being created us in order to demand our fear and worship. For what does it say about someone who demands the constant fear and praise of others? What should I think about someone who prompts and threatens others by stating, “If you worship and adhere to me, I will reward you, and if you disobey me, I will punish you.” Should I think a being is just when they demand worship, not as necessary for their own survival, but for praise and glory?
2. “Do you believe in Islam?”
I don’t. I admit to opposing various Islamic beliefs and practices. I disagree with the disproportionate rights and responsibilities of Muslim men and women. I disagree with Muslims’ expectation to thank God for the free will the Angels in Paradise never received; the same free will that could lead humans to enter heaven or burn in hell while the Angels remain unhindered in their stance by the Creator’s side. I disagree with humankind’s expectation to resist worldly temptations that God, as the divine Creator, took a role in creating. Lastly, I disagree with a human life’s submission to God, all based on the mere hope that He exists and will reward them in the afterlife.
I came out to my family as an Agnostic in 2015. Their initial response was quite brutal. My parents accused me of being a disgrace to the family, while my relatives claimed I was only leaving Islam so that I could be free to “whore around and drink alcohol without any fear of consequence.” Even today, my family is in complete denial about my Agnostic status. My relatives assume I’m experiencing a brief period of rebellion and will revert sooner or later. They’ve even tried to guilt me back into the religion: “Your callous decision has derided your parents’ reputation and caused them much pain. God will punish you if you don’t ask His forgiveness.”
Never did they once consider that I genuinely don’t believe in Islam or its values, and so should not be forced into practicing the religion just because it is our family or cultural norm. Neither should I, or anyone, be criticised for asking questions about the religion and its rationale, when all we are trying to do is understand it.
You be you, and let us be us.