Death (former Muslim)
Testimony of Leaving Islam
Both my parents are Muslims. They weren’t really religious from what I remember, but the teachings of the religion came to me through my maternal grandparents, my paternal grandmother and my aunt (my father’s sister). They used to provide me with books about all the prophets; Adam, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and the rest - and I enjoyed reading them. I was always fascinated with these stories and the idea of hidden knowledge and the adventures of the prophets. I remember watching Indiana Jones movies – about the Holy Grail and the Ark of the covenant- and asking a lot of questions about whether there was really such holy artifacts. I also was impressed by this thing, faith, which binds millions of people together.
the beginning of skepticism
I was never a traditional Muslim. Although I was always observant about fasting during Ramadan, and sometimes prayer (in an on-off fashion - my parents didn’t pray back then), I always questioned many things. When I got older, I had developed some beliefs of my own. I always thought the hijab for women was unnecessary. I thought about how free will and free thought could be compatible with divine foreknowledge, even before I read anything on the subject. I was taught that when a human is born, God writes in a book how long human is supposed to live, so I wondered, why do people live longer now then they did in the past? Did God intend to increase the life expectancy alongside human medical development in order to make it seem as if medicine was prolonging people’s lives?
I deduced that God did not intervene in the workings of the Universe as heavily as I previously thought He did. But why then was God so bent on hiding himself from skeptics? When I was about 14-15, I was a skeptic and I started searching for proofs of God’s existence. I remember the most compelling proof I found: How was it possible for me to obtain an idea of God – the most perfect and infinite – if it wasn’t God who implanted this idea in my mind? From my parents? Where did they get that idea? I rejoiced later when I found an almost same proof by Descartes. I found another proof in that book: God is perfect, perfections entails existence (if something doesn’t exist, it’s lacking something), therefore God necessarily exists. I remember refuting that proof though for its circularity. The trouble with the first proof is that I was not sure I couldn’t have constructed the idea of God from sensory experience.
At that time I started wondering whether or not God’s existence can ever be proven. I decided that God intentionally created the universe and the humans, so that no proof can ever be constructed of his existence. Why? Because true faith cannot be if it was founded on reason; true faith is a jump, and only the brave, only those who were in touch with the divine element within themselves could ever make that jump, only those deserved Heaven. This was fideism. I questioned the existence of Hell too, mainly because I’ve always assumed that that is where I’m going (I’ve been a pessimist since youth ). Everyone seemed to follow the religion of their parents. It seemed unfair that non-Muslims should go to hell. I had non-Muslim friends, and didn’t want them to go to Hell. At first, I thought that everyone would be judged according to their own faith. But what about atheists? I thought that perhaps everyone who acts to help other people and make them live better would go to Heaven. I also toyed with the possibility that upon death, what someone had assumed would happen, would indeed happen to him/her, sort of like it is in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.
Back to Religion / Metaphysics
I felt I had some partial answers, I considered them to be enough, and I became quite religious. Praying regularly and all that. Maybe because my parents became quite religious themselves. I hated arguing with non-believers. I thought it’s because Faith and Reason are incommensurable, like two complementary realms that cannot interact. But I knew deep inside that it’s because my faith was weak. I tried to find miracles in the Quran. I gave up on that in a while. I also tried to investigate the mystery letters that start some Surahs. It was a sort of Kabalistic phase I guess. What I basically believed at that stage was that: 1- people will be judged according to how true they were to their beliefs of what they thought was right, and 2- faith is not an obligation, but rather a privilege, a blessing. I also thought Pascal’s wager is a good justification for faith, though I was aware of the objections against it. But I thought “God must know how impossible it is to deal away with these objections, if he’s fair he should reward people just for trying”.
At that time also (I was 17 years old) I started wondering about the very fabric of reality. I had read a text on perception, I think by Bertrand Russell, and I had a (very confused) knowledge about Kant and his transcendental idealism. I realized nothing can be known for certain, because everything comes to us through the senses. I knew that reality could be very different from what we think it is. If I can’t prove my hand exists, then what about God, since I’ve never even seen Him? I was worried about the moral consequences of not believing in Him: there will not be an absolute source of morals, no guarantees of objective existence, Good and Evil will just be arbitrarily assigned and no distinction could be drawn, there is no purpose to life and suicide seemed the best choice. The questions were becoming more and more crucial, and I wasn’t satisfied with the answers I had. In addition to all that I became more aware of the negative effects of religion on people around me (sure it may have some positive effects, but now the negative ones seemed emphasized). I was beginning to stray away from my faith. I realized people take too many things for granted. Organized Religion crushes people and makes them all alike (that’s how I felt). I was worried about my individuality. I fought to stay away from Nihilism. But deep inside I knew I was already sucked in.
Spirituality and Nihilism
When I was 19 I went on a very subjective spiritual journey. I started reading about shamanism, exploring dreams, getting to know myself better. I also got to know Buddhism. I didn’t understand Buddhism well back then (I think I still don’t get it), but I started to think my beliefs were all wrong. The idea of a personal, moody, envious, vengeful God was progressively changing in my mind into an unacceptable representation of God, I couldn’t see why it could not be a product of human imagination, and I was leaning towards the idea of an impersonal God. I started concentrating on philosophy books, with an emphasis on Existentialism. I would sometimes think “God knows what’s going on with me. He knows Reason will lead me to deny Him. Why isn’t he intervening? Does He want me to go astray? Is it a sin to follow Reason?” I would sometimes ask God to send me a sign. Fortunately, no sign ever came.
“Nothing about the nature/existence of God can be known” is the conclusion I reached, and I became an agnostic. On top of that, I noticed that I was too obsessed with God. I wondered about the reason. Is God really relevant to life? Why do I feel compelled to think about God that much? My conclusion was that there was unconscious guilt which made me attached to the idea, and I couldn’t shake it off. An unconscious God instinct. I wished I didn’t have a choice. I felt very alone and isolated. The thing that worried me most was that I could already sense my moral values changing. I was afraid that I would fall into apathy, and do horrible things.
My favorite existential philosopher at the time was Albert Camus. Although he was an atheist, I realized his philosophy is still compatible with Agnosticism (I didn’t want to make the jump towards Atheism yet. I thought it’s no better than faith). He advocates embracing life and celebrating its absurdity. If life makes no sense, won’t that be enough reason to live it to the fullest? It’s not an argument, it’s a recommendation, a way of life. He also was a moralist: a pacifist who opposed death penalty. It appealed to me. I was slowly freeing myself from the shackles of religion. A Universe without God didn’t seem so grim after all. However, I was eventually swept with total indifference and called myself a nihilist (which entails atheism).
So far I’ve talked only about the Subjective problems I had with the ideas of God and Religion. But when I started doubting the existence of God, I also took a different approach to this problem, an Objective one, which dealt with the other facet of the problem: Religion. I read many books dealing with the history of Islam, the origins of the Quran, the life of Muhammad, and they all made it very clear to me how artificial Islam is, it became very obvious how full it is of pagan rituals and Judeo-Christian apocrypha, and the true reason behind every utterance recorded in the Quran which lost every last peace of divine glitter that I’ve ever seen in it, in fact it appeared so childish with all its unbelievable fables that I couldn’t believe I once trusted in them to decide what’s right and what’s wrong (though I have to say there’s a certain charm in them no doubt). I went on to investigate Christianity and Judaism, with the same results. I’ve researched some Islamic philosophy too and found out that prominent Muslim philosophers weren’t as religious as one would think.
I’ve also read works by philosophers including Descartes, Spinoza, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre and Camus. I’ve read works of psychologists such as Carl Jung. I’ve read works on modern physics theories, including General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Cosmology, and proposed Theories of Everything. All these went parallel to my Subjective rejection of Faith, and also added to it. I don’t hold any particular Faith. I revere Buddhism, at least in its earliest form, because it stresses the importance of doubt, challenging “ready-made” beliefs, critically examining scriptures, taking emphasis away from God and giving it back to the human individual. However, I was disillusioned with it because it is too passive (and also one quote of Buddha about women that I didn’t like). I’ve accepted that Death is THE END. I have no problem with it, and though almost certain of it, if it’s not the case then it would be ok too. The reality that I would like to be true is Eternal Return. I can almost imagine that my life when it ends is going to rewind and start all over again, in exactly the same way. I don’t “believe” that, I just think the idea is very attractive. It’s a simple solution to everything. But it is also possible that variations of my life will occur too. I don’t believe in souls, so reincarnation in that sense is nonsense for me, but it’s possible that a being with similar thought patterns and genetic make up to me could appear one day (in a different universe maybe).
As for Islam, I have come to realize the danger of it. Something which is by the very definition immune to change, thus immune to progress, inflexible towards reforms, will never allow any progress. I see it invading Europe and the poor folk there can do nothing because of their democracy. I think of Kierkegaard’s analysis of Abraham’s story when he went to sacrifice his son. Such a supremely pious act is basically a suspension of the Ethical. Sartre commented on this and said that he knew a woman who had schizophrenia, and she told him that God talks to her on the telephone. God could have told her to sacrifice her son. Is that really a supremely pious act? Abraham should have explained himself to the child’s mother, to the child himself, to everyone that saw him. What God commands after all is morally correct since he sets the standards, otherwise Good and Evil are nothing.
This reliance on the Beyond is what drains all value from this life and throws it into the “Afterlife”, which turns out to be just the trashcan. But I’m still not willing to go around preaching the death of God like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra or trying to prove to random people on the street that Religion is wrong. I think that despite everything that might be wrong with it, people have become so addicted to religion that I don’t even dare to imagine what their withdrawal symptoms would be like. It’s rather easy to get someone to doubt but when that happens, there’s no turning back for him and it might be very dangerous. I’ve only told very few close friends about what I think, and even with them I haven’t tried to convince them of anything, because I don’t want to influence them, because I’m worried it will hurt them. I think everyone should follow their own path. I haven’t told anyone of my family, though I think my mom knows. Mothers feel these sort of things. However I’m also worried it will hurt them if I tell them. I might someday, and I hope it will go well.