Ali Hasanee (former Muslim)
My Testimony of Leaving Islam
Though I was born in California , I spent the first five years of my life in Pakistan. This was roughly from 7 months old to slightly before my sixth birthday. Both my parents are from Pakistan, and are presently devout. According to what my oldest brother has told me my parents were not originally very religious. In 1980 my father stopped drinking and starting going to the masjid more often. Hearing about the revolution in Iran had rekindled Islam in his heart. I don't have any memory of the shift. I was only four years old at the time.
While the change was in my opinion a change for the worst it was not as bad as other families in our area that went devout. I have friends who say their fathers became more religious and threw out all pictures, all silverware, all videos, and became very crazy trying to recreate their home in the model of the seventh century. My family was shi'ite so we did not have the same hatred for even simple photos as the debobandis in the neighborhood did.
In Pakistan many non religious young men who are drug dealers or thugs or gangsters are encouraged by their mothers to become religious and they think the hajj will change them. They go on hajj and it changes them but they come back with the same hatred and mean spirited only now they channel it through Islam. They were angry men before becoming more serious about Islam and they remain angry men after returning. I have heard stories of thugs who only wanted to drink and smoke one year and then suddenly get very religious and go off to Afghanistan to die the next year. I thank God that my father was a good man to begin with so he did not channel hate into his new found enthusiasm for Islam.
A short time later my family moved to the United States and we settled in New York . My memories of Pakistan are very few but I do remember liking our house in Queens so much more. I went to public school and grew up living a very normal life. In the past I have read some stories of those who leave Islam for Christianity or atheism and they say that they left Islam because a family member abused them. This is not my story. I grew up in a loving home.
In school I advanced quickly and even skipped a grade. This was because my father forbid me to hang out with friends and constantly encouraged me to study. In 1993 I entered Queens College and I suddenly had more freedom. My father never questioned me anymore about what I did or what time I was coming home or who I associated with. He worked very hard and trusted me enough not to try and hover over me all the time.
In my first semester in college I made connections with other desis on campus especially Muslims. In those times there were a lot of Christians trying to convert people. So I started talking to them and going to Bible studies. I found their faith very unconvincing. I began reading a lot of books about Christianity and Islam and I would debate with Christians on campus. My father had instilled a religious demeanor in me so I was very convinced about Islam and how it was better than Christianity.
Originally I wanted to be a doctor and do pre-med because my parents wanted me to go into medicine. But I didn't like biology classes so I asked for advice from my father's father who had come to stay with us. Dada jan recommended I do computers since I was "so good with computers". He assumed this because he always saw me on the computer at home. I was very confused jumping from english to mathematics to other possible majors. But I had developed a passion for arguing topics related to religion. I was unsure of my exact major at the time but I knew I wanted to do either religion, philosophy or history.
In college I started becoming more acquainted with scholarly criticism of Christianity. I bought many books on the subject. I would use my knowledge from those books against the Christians on campus who would try to do missionary work. It reached a point where no Christians at school could even keep up with me, so I had no one left to debate with. But the love of the subject kept me reading.
As I started reading more and more about Christianity I started to be less and less hostile towards it. I became aware of how rich the scholarly tradition was in Christianity. Nothing of that sort existed in Islam. Since Christianity first came under real criticism in the 19th century many Christians came to accept the critical methods. Their faith became stronger because of it. There are many Christian intellectuals who also adhere to critical methods to the Bible. This is unlike so many Muslims who are still trapped in the past asserting that the Quran is inerrant.
This is one of the points of becoming a Hafiz - at least among Pakistanis. You memorize a text that is in a language you do not understand. This makes you a robot and worse a fool as you never think about the possibility that the text is something that developed in human history. There is no critical approach to Islam being undertaken by Muslims. The Ummah and the Ulema are intellectually dead in these times I think.
Originally I had only read polemical literature against Christianity. All it did was focus on contradictions in the Bible. Most of the polemical literature were books written by Muslims who had no knowledge of scholarly approaches to Christianity. I had only a foggy picture of Christianity and viewed it through the tinted glasses of Islam. But now I was more serious and my reading continued even after I graduated college. When my study of the subject became more serious I wanted to learn about the historical Jesus and I read many books on the subject. The Muslim polemical works pick and choose verses that agree with their conception of Jesus. This is not how serious scholarship works. The reality that I was confronted with was one I was not prepared for. The Jesus of history was not like the Jesus of Islam. Sure he was Jewish and so he behaved like a Jew. The monotheism of the Jew Jesus is something that Muslims mistake for evidence that he was in fact himself a Muslim in the same sense that followers of Islam are Muslims today.
The first thing I realized was that it was stupid to think that the depiction of Jesus in the Quran was 100% accurate. Many Muslims hold to a bizarre picture of Jesus being a man who actually spoke Arabic and used "Allah" to refer to God and predicted the coming of Muhammad. More intelligent Muslims will admit that Jesus spoke Aramaic or Hebrew not Arabic. But they never ponder the question of how much the Quran should be considered a reflection of the historical life of Jesus. First if Jesus did not speak Aramaic Muslims must at least admit that the quotes put into his mouth by the Quran are not exact quotes but rather translations of what he allegedly said. Once you admit to that you have to ask: who did the translations? Who paraphrased what Jesus originally said in the Arabic language? Allah? Jibreel? Muhammad? The sahabis? The original hafizoon who protected and remembered the Quran?
This will seem to any Muslim a stupid question but it actually delivers the first crack in the image most Muslims have of the Quran. We see the Quran is not relaying history exactly as it was. I will respect any Muslim who says the Quran is not a history textbook but instead only a book of guidance. This is the only safe position for a Muslim because the single point I have brought up already starts to shift the line towards the Quran being theology not history.
But this is a minor point. The more stunning problem was how Jesus saw himself. He obviously saw himself as the Messiah. Islam does not deny that Jesus was the Messiah rather it affirms such. In fact Jesus is the only person given the title al-Maseeh in the Quran. But what does 'Messiah' mean in Islam? It is so obvious that Islam has made 'Messiah' devoid of the meanings it had in the time Jesus lived. This also does not fare well for the Quran because it demonstrates that the book represents a seventh century Arab's understanding of the subject. It does not represent the actual historical facts. Scholarly works on the subject will show how serious the subject of Messiah was. It was not just any title. It was not just a word.
Moreover historical scholarship will show that Jesus considered himself the last major messenger of God. This flies in the face of Islam. Worse yet the historical Jesus obviously considered himself the son of God which obliterates the Quran. The Quran is a text that shows only a limited understanding of Christian dogma at the time. It thought son of God meant literal intercourse between woman and the divine. It also seems to present a view of the trinity that is not at all like the official doctrine.
It dawned on me that Islam was not true. The rigid interpretations of the majority of Muslims were not justified. The Quran represented theology not history. So I pondered becoming an atheist but I could not do it. I have never understood those who doubt their specific faith and then as a result give up belief in God all together. It is like finding out that your girl friend lied to you and then vowing to never date again. The leap is too big.
My love for the history of Christianity and scholarly approaches to the religion kept me reading. I next set out to find out what the historical church was like. After being immersed in Muslim polemics I believed that all of Christian dogma which contradicts Islam was just inserted to the faith by Constantine at the Council of Nicea in the fourth century.
I found out that almost all the books of the New Testament were known by the Church Fathers. I also found out that the belief that Jesus was God stretched back to the first century. The historical church was very much like the modern day Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches. It was liturgical with Bishops and a reliance on tradition.
I wanted to remain religious and all my reading actually made me fall in love with Christianity. I felt deeply troubled that I no longer believed in Islam and at the same time was passionate about another religion which I had doubts about. I started to seriously consider becoming a Christian. But how could I if the religion was as false as Islam? And if I were to become a Christian what Church would I align myself with? I could never join the evangelical Churches that the students I debated on campus belonged to. They were freaks who were as bad as Muslims believing that their book just fell out of the sky as the result of divine fiat.
I wanted a Church that was like the historical Church. I wanted a Church that respected the history of the religion. For this I could never join any of the protestant sects. But I could not become Catholic or Orthodox since those Churches too represented a rigidness that I could not tolerate. So ultimately I settled with the Episcopalian Church .
Don't think that I believe the Bible is inerrant. That is stupid. The Bible like the Quran is a product of history. So why Christianity and not Islam then? Because ultimately Islam is at best a Christian heresy. It became so large that it became its own religion but for me it will always remain just an offshoot of Christianity.
I have simply chosen a sect of Christianity that is the most intellectually fulfilling. A Church that accurately reflects the theology and worship of the historical ancient Church, yet is not so rigid and foolish and exclusive and religiously zealous. A Church that follows a text (Bible) that is more historically reliable than the Quran regarding Christianity and Jesus.
The move for me was very fulfilling but it was not easy. My parents were very loving and I would never want to lie to them. So I told them about my new religious outlook. I was 24 years old at the time and was still living at home. My father listened to me very quietly and looked forward at me in silent disbelief.
After asking a few questions my mother realized I was not joking. Tears began to well up in her eyes and she said "nehi, nehi". Then she burst into full crying and was sobbing with her face in her hands saying "mera dil ka tukra!" It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced in my life. I began to cry too. I put my hand on her shoulder and tried to comfort her. "Ammi jan..." I said but before I could say more my father stood up. He too had tears in his eyes and he looked angry for the first time. I will never forget it.
I looked at him and he stared back. Then he lost control and yelled "don't be stupid boy!" He hit me on the top of my head with a clenched fist and then punched me in my cheek. The hits did not hurt physically but I still feel the emotional pain to this day. It was the first time my father had ever hit me. I covered up. My father stopped and regained control. My mother stopped sobbing at looked at both of us in shock. After a very long silence my father told me he wanted me to leave the house. I began to cry again but he was firm on this so I left.
That night I slept in the park. I was very scared. I did not know what I was going to do. The next day I called a friend from college and he let me stay in his apartment for a few months. I already had a job for a while at that time and I made enough money to support myself. I just needed time to find my own apartment which is very hard in this city.
I remember when I first started staying in my friend's apartment I went back home to get a few of my things. My father did not speak to me. When I got my own apartment and went to get the rest of my things he did not speak to me then either. My mother and my sister and my brother spoke to me though but we never discussed religion.
These last three years have been emotionally very hard for me. In the last year I have started talking with my father again. I love him and I know he loves me but there is a tension between us. The tension is there with all my family and sometimes I wonder if I made the wrong choice.
I do not write this because I hate Muslims or Islam. That is stupid. I have seen on another site testimonies of people who left Islam for Christianity and I think most of the testimonies are fakes made by angry Christians. I have never met another Muslim who has embraced Christianity and that troubles me. But I was happy to find this site and that is why I told my story. I don't have a proof for Islam being false or Christianity being true. But I wanted to put my story up because I know how apostasy can be painful or lonely. So if there are others like me who read this they know they are not alone.