I was born in London into a Pakistani Muslim family. As most kids from Muslim families I knew I was Muslim, although I did not know why. To be honest Islam had very little to do with my life growing up. I knew I had to go to madrassas on the weekends or after school. My Mum moved me around because I used to get into arguments with teachers. When I was about 5 or 6 a teacher slapped me at our local madrassa. I wasn’t wearing my head scarf properly so she pulled me close to her by my ear and slapped me with her massive hand. My mother removed me as soon as she heard this.
After this I went to a woman’s house in the evening after school, and then another madrassa. I don’t think I cared about religion or God at this age. I just knew I was Muslim, and that I had to follow some rules that my friends didn’t. Still, my mother wasn’t strict with me. I used to go to the park with my cousins, fall in love with travelling boys and dance with the music channels on full blast.
My life consisted of ignoring drama in my family home, skateboarding, roller skating and convincing the boys at school to let me play football. I watched extreme sports as much as I could, and dreamed of being able to do motor cycle tricks as soon as I was old enough.
Then my parents dropped a bomb shell on me when I was ten. I was to be whisked off to an Islamic boarding school. I cried, and I begged them to not send me away. My mum cried with me and I know she has always felt guilty about it. She believed getting me out of the family home which was turbulent would be good for me. She also is devout so couldn’t have been able to see how disastrous this decision would turn out to be.
I have spoken elsewhere about the school in some detail, but now would like to focus on the factors which led me to finally abandoning the Islamic faith all together.
I found myself aged 17 back in the UK from my year in Pakistan studying the Quran. Out there I had become completely dedicated to Islam, took on the veil and cried in the night about all the people who would burn in hell. Back in the UK my heart was full of religious zeal. I had started college, and was teaching Quranic interpretation in the prayer room of the college. I was also teaching young children Islamic studies and Arabic. I now found myself with full access to the internet, something which I had not had in years. At school we had the internet in class, and that was about it. Newspapers and novels deemed inappropriate such as Harry Potter were banned or not provided. Television was also banned, although they like to claim that they gave us some limited television which is not true. Back home I started to browse the internet with ease. My parents were fairly strict with me but they always encouraged me to read, and go to the library. It was the acquisition of knowledge which crushed my belief in Islam in the end. I guess the Imaam who told me to stop reading so much when I presented my questions to him as a teen was right all along.
I had also started studying sociology where we looked at religion from a sociological perspective. I was introduced to feminism and Marxism. For the first time in my life I learnt that some people view religion as an apparatus for social control. With the feminist perspective of religion I began to think about religion as an apparatus to control the bodies, sexuality and lives of women. I had always learned that Islam had given women all their rights. For instance Muhammad stopped the practice of female infanticide and Aisha his wife had been a scholar after his death. Before I began studying feminism I thought the hijab was there to benefit women as it protected them. I hadn’t thought of the way that the hijab could be used to control women’s bodies.
I found myself thinking about Islam and women in a way that I had never dared to before. I did not like wearing the hijab as a young teen. I never wanted to wear it in the first place. By the time I was approaching my late teens I would have felt naked without it. I became fully conscious of the suffocation which had followed me for years. I saw my own submission to Islam after years of sometimes silent, and sometimes open rebellion. I remembered how I had said I didn’t want to wear hijab even though I was going to this school. So when did wearing it full time without complaint become a reality? When did I stop resisting?
I was in the library one day and had the tips of my fingers caressing the edges of books. Then a title jumped out at me and my jaw dropped. The God Delusion was staring at me. I had never imagined that belief in God could be a delusion. I genuinely believed that people who did not accept Islam knew it was the truth, but they themselves are rebelling because of their desires. I know.
I grabbed this book, and took it out feeling a mixture of excitement and fear. I had heard of evolution before reading Dawkin’s book. At Islamic school we didn’t learn about it. In Pakistan I read all about it in Harun Yahya’s excuse for a book where he tries to pin Nazism and Stalin’s actions on Darwin. Now I began reading about it in a different way. A lot of what Dawkin said didn’t slot into place because I didn’t really get evolution at all. I put The God Delusion down and decided to focus on evolution for a bit. I looked it up in the library catalog and was amazed at how many books came up. Here I was thinking it was a tiny fringe theory. I focused on that for awhile, and was convinced by all the evidence laid out before me.
I moved on from evolution to cosmology. At this point I was beginning to show cracks but I still clung onto God. I mean it could have been God who actually did evolution right? I tried to ignore Adam and Eve. I came across Carl Sagan’s The Pale Blue Dot. I confess I could only take in chunks of it. My science education was lacking, but one thing did penetrate my brain: how tiny we are. I saw a picture which changed my life forever which was mentioned in this book. It was a picture of a beam of light with a tiny blue dot, and that was earth. My heart stopped for a second when I saw that picture.
My fear of hell, dying, God, the hijab all vanished for a second. I stopped thinking about whether Islam was true or not, and just sat in awe about the magnitude of the universe we live in. I reasoned, and continue to do so, that even if God exists, he/she/ it would be magnificent enough to not care which foot I put in the toilet first, or if a drop of urine catches on my clothes which I was taught could lead to punishment in the grave. He/she/it couldn’t possibly be so petty as to punish us forever just because we didn’t worship correctly or were born into the wrong religion.
I know many believers are not convinced by the reasons I give as to why I don’t believe in God which is fair enough. They can believe whatever they like, and if they were convinced by the arguments against God’s existence then they would be skeptics also. Many will say that instructions on putting your foot in the toilet a certain way is not really what religion is about or that I have misunderstood religion. Perhaps I have done so after many years of studying it, but I doubt it. It is all well and good to speak about religion and God in the abstract but that is what religion is about to millions of people. Little instructions on how to live, eat, marry and so on. Eat with your right hand, say bismillah before hand, make sure to clean with your left hand and if you laugh during prayer start all over again.
I used to sit on the roof of our conservatory with my spider man blanket watching the stars. When I realized that God may not exist I felt a lightness the like of which I have never experienced again. I was finally content realizing that someone was not reading my thoughts, deciphering my dreams and measuring the width of blackness in my heart. There was so much else which made me reject Islam. The rampant homophobia, the half testimony of women, the legitimization of wife beating in the Quran, and slavery of non-Muslim women after war.
I accept some people are willing to ‘contextualize’ the wife beating verse, but sorry if the Quran is the last guide for all of mankind to follow don’t you think Allah could have put a note saying that women should not be beaten in any context, at any time? Also the Quran calls itself clear which doesn’t seem true to me. This is not to suggest that I am not aware that there are so many interpretations of Islam, and that it means different things to millions of people. This only suggests to me that Islam is a product of human invention and creativity and not from a creator. That Islam and the other religions in the world have come from us does not in anyway demean them for me. Rather I see religion as the end result of humanity’s need to understand the world around it. Now with science, the enlightenment and philosophy I don’t feel that belief in the supernatural is necessary to explain the world around us. However I do respect people’s right to believe whatever they like, and to practice however they like as long as it does not harm others.
I have now been Godless for around six years. I now dance, listen to music, go out at night, wear whatever the fuck I like and do as I please. I spent all of my teen years in a mental cage, and I have done my best to burst free from that. I have never regretted the decision to leave Islam, and to choose my own path. As an ex-Muslim I have dealt with a lot of difficulties which I’ll discuss in another blog. My immediate family knew from the start. At first they did not understand, but as time has gone on they have respected who I am even if they don’t agree with me. As my mother told an extended family member recently, “all my daughter is saying is that she wants proof. I took her to imams”.
I have spent years alone as an ex-Muslim feeling isolated, guilty and ashamed because of prejudice within the Muslim community towards ex-Muslims. I had to re-wire my brain, and unlearn the misogyny that was ingrained in me. I have now found others out there, and I know things are changing for us. Sometimes we need to be told that not only are we not alone, but that there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Being faithless is becoming reality even in conservative Muslim communities. No matter how much religious leaders bleat that we are misinformed our numbers are growing. Prepare for the storm within.