This week we talk to two free-thinkers. One is from the UK and the other from the USA and both are trying hard not to be defined by the religion they were born into and have subsequently rejected. Shire Network News senior religious affairs correspondent Tom Paine speaks to two ex-Muslims - Sheila (not her real name for reasons which are probably obvious) who lives in the United States, and Adil Zeshan from the United Kingdom. They talk about why they left, and why the fear the reaction from their former compatriots.
Download the podcast here.
My experience is significantly different, in two ways, than the paths taken by Sheila and Adil Zeshan.
1. I wasn't very religious before leaving Islam. I only prayed when my relatives dragged me to the mosque on either Friday or Eid. I have never fasted. I've enjoyed listening to music since 1988. I don't hate dogs. And so on.
I convinced myself that all these things weren't important because on Judgment Day such rituals won't make a difference. In fact, I thought that most of the tiny Islamic regulations were asinine. Things like: men not allowed to wear gold, divorcing a woman by uttering a few words, the ban on photography, interest being forbidden, gender apartheid...all of it just didn't make any rational or moral sense.
So, I simply neglected almost all of the rules. The crucial synapse didn't click till my late teenage years when I asked: Why do I call myself a Muslim?
2. I have visited a Muslim-majority nation after 9/11. Saudi Arabia, to be precise. There, in December 2001, I was saturated with hatred and loathing for the US. In my dad's workplace, everyone celebrated the news of 9/11 as if the Saudis had won the soccer world cup. Everyone except one Arab. This Saudi was sad because the Twin Towers didn't fall sideways which would have caused more death and carnage.
Here was an event where thousands were instantly obliterated and numerous families were fractured forever. The overall reaction from the center of the Muslim world? Pure, unadulterated joy. I knew then that these Muslims will not genuinely oppose the future atrocities committed by Islamists -- for why would they stand against the evil that brings them so much pleasure?
By January 2002, the final synapse had clicked.
There's another critical factor which comes into play: Proximity to Muslims. I went to an American high school in my mid-teens and later to a Canadian university. I was surrounded by infidels and I liked it! I wasn't close to my family before but then the connection thinned even more. Upon leaving Islam I didn't have to worry about being cast as an untouchable by both family (they don't know) and society (Canadians don't care about my religious views).
However, many unlucky ones who reside in the Muslim world have to live a dual life. One can imagine that such apostates still go to the mosque and listen to ridiculous sermons. They continue to praise the wretched life of Muhammad as the pinnacle of perfection. They sing the praises of the black hole called sharia while personally finding it abominable. Their minds had imploded on fully realizing the sham of Islam but publicly they don't, nay, they can't share their "impure" thoughts. For in doing so, they would lose their entire support structure -- family, friends, society -- and possibly their life.
For this reason it's important for ex-Muslims in the free world to share their experience and act as shards of light for Westerners who don't have the visceral feel for the evil at the heart of Islam.
It's the least we can do.