Nour (former Muslim)
Testimony of Leaving Islam
I came to Islam during a period in my life when I felt aimless and was searching for the Truth. Being raised in a non-religious environment I had not had the experience that many of my contemporaries had of being made to attend Sunday church services and having my life determined by a set of religious edicts. It started when I was in my early 20's and felt the need for God in my life. I started out by studying the Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism and even attended a Hindu temple on a weekly basis and participated in their festivals for about a year but after a while I came to realize that I would never be fully accepted into the Hindu community as I was neither born-Hindu nor was I of Indian descent. Plus, I started to have issues with the various different gods and goddesses and the pervasiveness of the caste system.
So, I decided to delve in to the religion of my mother's family, Judaism. I found out that according to Jewish law if one's mother is Jewish, even if the father isn't as in my case, then one is automatically considered a Jew and having grown up with grandparents who had been though the Holocaust in Germany I had always felt an affinity for my Jewishness. It was at this time that I befriended a group of Muslim students at my college and started having lunch with them every day in the college cafeteria. When we inevitably got around to discussing religion they would always ask me for the Jewish perspective on different tenets of faith. When I explained, with my limited knowledge to them what I thought was the Jewish perspective they would comment on how similar Judaism was to Islam and always commented that I would make a wonderful Muslimah!
It was at this point, a year or two after 9/11 that I started reading the dawahganda literature which paints a rosy picture of Islam and I was especially attracted to the concept of one god and how Jews and Christians were considered People of the Book. So, in late 2002 I went with some of my close Muslim friends to a local mosque where I recited the shahada and became a Muslim.
While I was still a single woman, living on my own I was able to practice Islam in the way I felt was best for me. I endeavored to do as many of the 5 daily prayers as I could, shunned pork, took up the hijab and immersed myself in the South Asian Islamic life as much as I could as the majority of Muslims in my city were from Pakistan, hence the South Asian influence in my Muslim beliefs. Although I had read the Qu'ran (in English)long before I became Muslim and had found certain ayats, especially 4:34 repulsive I tried to ignore the less appealing and overtly misogynistic elements of Islam for as long as I could and told myself that I could be a good Muslim without having to believe in the medieval cultural aspects of the religion and that these were just things carried over from the 7th century, Arab culture from which the Prophet had emerged.
So, once I was a Muslim I knew that I needed to fulfill the other half of my deen by getting married. At first I agreed to allow my close friends from Pakistan to arrange my marriage with a boy back in Pakistan who would then come to live with me in the U.S.A. However these plans fell through when the boy's family found out and arranged a quick marriage to a local girl. This turned out to work in my favor in the end as I know now that there would have been the inevitable clash of cultures between me and my Pakistani husband and I am not one to submit to authority easily, especially male authority purely for the sake that it is a male.
So, my arranged marriage having failed and there being few eligible Muslim bachelors where I lived I decided to look online for a suitable match. This is where I met my future husband who happened to be a born Muslim of Bangladeshi descent who lived in England. We thought it was the perfect match! He was having trouble finding a suitable Muslimah in Britain and did not want to go back to Bangladesh to get married and I was eager to marry a good, open minded Muslim man who would allow me to be who I was as an individual whilst still being a practicing Muslimah.
Only after I got married and moved to England did I realize what I had gotten myself into. I was terribly homesick and missed my family but my husband quickly grew impatient with my homesickness. I quickly learnt that I had married into a culture and adopted a faith in which the woman is supposed to make all the sacrifices, from leaving her family and home to eschewing a promising career in order to stay at home and raise a family or even to work unfullfilling temp jobs in order to pay the rent whilst the husband was still deciding what he wanted to do with his life.
I also grew quickly tired of being treated like a child since I was a 'revert', even having supposedly well-meaning people lecturing me on how easy my life has been when they didn't even know one iota about my life and how I had come to be a Muslim. Then there were the endless rules I now had to obey such as being fastedious in observing hijab, eating only halal food, so no more Quarter Pounders with Chees from McDonalds or the Colonel's Secret Recipe chicken to only swimming in pools where there are no males or male lifeguards. I also quickly tired of constantly checking my watch to see if it was time for salat and having to interrupt whatever I was doing whenever my husband called me for prayers.
I came to realize that the Islam I was introduced to through my American Muslim friends and the dawah literature I had read was nothing like what I was seeing in reality. I was expected to stifle my personality, change my wardrobe completely, give up my dreams of being a graphic designer in order to sit at home, be a Stepford Wife and produce as many babies as possible in order to increase the numbers of the Ummah. I found that the majority of mosques in Britain did not accommodate women and that those that did, even the big ones in London had substandard facilities for women including a lack of clean wudhu facilities!
It became clear to me that if I continued with this life which I had chosen for myself I would be spending the rest of my life living a circumscribed existence which was completely foreign to the way I was brought up. I observed the wives of my husband's friends who always wore their hijabs even inside their own homes, were relegated to the kitchen whenever any of their husband's friends came over and were constantly accompanied by their children whereever they went. Didn't they know about babysitters? I could now imaging spending the rest of my life sitting in the kitchen with the other 'sisters' their screaming, ill-behaved children and talking about such insipid subjects as who was getting married to whom, who was going on Hajj next year and who was having another baby. I much rather wanted to sit with the men as I was used to as they seemed to have much more interesting conversations than the women.
I also couldn't resign myself to raising any children I may have as strict Muslims, sending them off to madrassah where they would be taught god-knows-what as I would not be able to speak to the imam since I was a mere woman. I saw how many of my friends would get bullied by their religious children into donning the hijab and being strict Muslims because this is what they were taught at madrassah, along with abjuect hatred of Jews. How could I raise my children in such an environment when their own mother comes from a Jewish background and they themselves would be one-quarter Jewish?!
How could I live with myself if I had to spend the rest of my life denying half my family history and heritage of which I am proud of? Of having to defer to the male, whether it be husband, father-in-law or even my future son purely becaus they're male?
So, after two years of observing hijab, I finally took it off even though my husband wasn't happy about it. I started to cut my frizzy hair shorter and shorter even though the Prophet cursed women who immitated men. I secretly went out and ate haram food and started smoking behind my husband's back. I also realized during this period that my beliefs were no longer Islamic. I was fed up of reading online fatwas from mullahs who insisted that as a Muslim I HAVE to believe in a physical heaven filled with hoors and a physical hell over which the Shaytan reigns (pictures of Satan from South Park spring to mind here)that as a woman I am lesser than any man and that my duty in life is to pleasure my husband and produce as many children as possible and to deny myself any individuality all in the name of the Umman. It was at this point that I realized I was being a hypocrite and that I as no longer a Muslim but that I had been an agnostic all along and I just didn't know it.
So, I asked for a divorce from my husband citing religious and lifestyle differences and we split on amicable grounds. This caused me to be ostracized by his family who would have nothing to do with me any longer but I was okay with that. My ex-husband and I are still friends today and we speak often but I am glad that I was able to break free from a thought system and a life style which was, at it's core detrimental to my development as an individual. I would not be a sacrificial lamb for anyone any longer!
So today I still have many Muslim friends, some who know that I have left Islam but are open minded enough to accept me as a murtad and some who still believe me to be a Muslim but I am happier and feel freer than I did as a Muslim. I am able to live my life as a normal human being, able to use my artistic talents without fearing the wrath of God for creating images or going against the injunction to stay in my house and be know only as the wife-of, or mother-of someone else.
Even though I am no longer a Muslim I do not regret my years as a practicing Muslimah as I feel that this was just another step along the path of life and my evolution as a human being and as a soul who is one with the cosmos.