Sparrow (former Muslim)
Testimony of Leaving Islam
It has been almost a year now since I have left "Islam". Since childhood I had been brought up as a Muslim and was, until a few years ago, a devout one. I would pray 5 times a day and even keep a record of the prayers I had missed to catch them up at a later date. I fasted in Ramadan and read the Koran daily (though I did not understand what I was reading, I read it purely "for the kudos")
In any case, I decided that 2008 would be the year I gained some knowledge in Islam, something I had been putting off my whole life due to school. Up until this time I had gained my Islamic knowledge from the soft and fluffy preachings of moderate imams at the mosques my family attended. I started reading from the back, as most people do, the "Meccan" Surahs, which are for the most part, soft and fluffy, more spiritual and less demanding. However, as I progressed to the front, the Surahs got longer and increasingly more demanding, calling on followers to adhere to strict codes of conduct and punish those who deviate. I wondered why this was the case and after some research found out that the Surahs towards the front of the Koran were the ones that were "revealed" later when Mohammad had established his power and was seeking to set down rules and laws by which to govern the "Ummah" or calling "believers" up in arms to fight the infidels. In any case, I found this quite odd that there be such an obvious and consistent trend in the tone of the verses as the Muslim empire grew. I thought I had better take a small break from all this reading and come back to it in a few months (i.e. I didn't want to think about it). In the meantime I would concentrate on the "soft and fluffy" books on Islam telling me what it was "really" about. The best place to get the knowledge is from the scholars, right? I found that this was an excellent way to learn "what I wanted" about Islam without causing myself more anxiety or distress, so I stuck with this method. And I probably would have stayed this way had it not been for youtube.
You see, I was quite captivated with middle eastern music and was searching youtube for some nice clips. What I came across was videos Muslims had posted protesting against music! (of all things.) I was quite taken aback by this as the moderate community I was part of all enjoyed the nice soothing sounds of their cultural music. (However occasionally there was an odd nutcase or 2 who would say that e.g. "you cant listen to a women's voice" or "the music cant be too excitable") I decided to dedicate some time to rebut these people using Islamic sources, so I checked the hadeeth that these people were quoting from Bukhari, Tirmidhi etc and indeed, they did seem to be condemning music. The majority view amongst scholars did seem to be that Music WAS "haram". I tried desperately to understand and see things from the minority scholars point of view, such as that of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, however I found his logic in interpreting the hadeeth weak and unbelievable. Now I had a major problem, music was a sin and I played the saxophone. This caused me great psychological distress and anxiety to say the least. On the one hand I couldn't agree with the Islamic logic used to prohibit music, but on the other I couldn't deny the word of the prophet!
After much debilitation, I decided to follow the "safer path" and give up my musical habits, at least temporarily while I sorted this issue out. I followed the hadeeth which says "The halal is clear and the haram is clear. Between the two there are doubtful matters concerning which people do not know whether they are halal or haram. One who avoids them in order to safeguard his religion and his honor is safe, while if someone engages in a part of them he may be doing something haram, like one who grazes his animals near the hima; it is thus quite likely that some of his animals will stray into it. Truly, every king has a hima, and the hima of Allah is what He has prohibited." (Found in Bukhari' ,Muslim, and others), and I certainly didn't want to cross such a sacred border with Allah!! I got thinking that I could still enjoy myself in other ways where music wasn't the dominant art form (e.g. video games, movies, books etc).
While verifying these musical hadeeth, I had also become much more knowledgeable about hadeeth in general, which books carried the most weight, how Islamic law was decided etc. I had learnt much about the prophet and how he had lived, the good And the bad stuff which I didn't hear about from my moderate imams. Indeed, when I approached them on these topics, often they did not know about them or tried to explain away some atrocities supposedly committed by the prophet as if they were trivial events! However I had also learnt that some hadeeth, even if they were in the two "sahih" hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim, were not reliable. Although I had read a lot, I was no scholar and didn't have the time try and determine the authenticity of the long train of narrators, so I looked at alternate approaches and returned to my "soft and fluffy" book collections on how good the prophet was and correct Islamic conduct etc.
I also thought if it would be possible to throw out the hadeeth all together and concentrate soley on living as a good Muslim following the koran only. Sure enough, I found a few "koran only" groups online and started sifting through their information about how evil hadeeth were, how reliable a chain of narrators over 200 years long could b (basing religion on "chinese whispers" in a way). I totally agreed that it was very stupid to live your life according to unreliable accounts of the prophet and his followers. I mean, we are talking about how you manage EVERY SINGLE THING that you do in you're life, from making sure you step into the toilet with your RIGHT foot and not you're left, using only your right hand to eat, down to sleeping on your right side, giving up music, not wearing a silk tie, avoiding anything luxurious in case you die in a state of pride and go to hell etc. Not to mention the incredibly ludicrous ideas present in them such as genies eating dry shit and bones, stoning people to death and stories where prophets were seen chasing rocks in the nude (it was moses or noah, cant remember, but he would always bathe separately to his people and they started thinking that he had some bodily deficiency so God, in his infinite wisdom, decided the best way to resolve the issue was to have a ROCK, yes that's right, a ROCK, steal his clothes while he was bathing and have HIS vice garante on the earth run after it naked while people saw that indeed, noah(?) did not have anything wrong with him downstairs)
So I decided to go Koran only, however this did not last long. Why? Quite simply since there is a very great problem with this approach, the Koran does not give detailed explanations on how to perform the "salah" (ie 5 daily prayers) and I found mixed approaches from the various communities online, from not praying at all ("the Koran is salat"), praying using only verses in the Koran or praying in the traditional Muslim manner. I considered taking the using Koran verses only approach, however the problem with this is "how do THEY or I know which verses should b used where and what gives anyone the right to simply select things to use. Wasn't Mohammad the last prophet to set this religion down on its feet? So I decided to take the traditional prayer approach, but this too was fundamentally flawed, since the verses read while in sitting position such as "ettehiyatu" and "allahumesali" are ALL FROM HADEETH! They are not Koranic verses. Oh oh. So, after this short stint in Koran only mode, I decided to return to the "soft and fluffy" books that I had built up this year and basically accept that some hadeeth just weren't reliable.
But even in these fluffy books I encountered the same issues I was running away from such as the age of Aisha upon marriage to the prophet, the Muslim conquests of Arabia and the countless hadeeth of the "greatest" sunni hadith narrator of all time, mr abu hurreira , who only lived with the prophet for 3 years and did not participate in any of the major wars the Muslims had against the pagans in the establishment of Islam. I learnt that indeed, these soft and fluffy books were being dishonest and selectively choosing hadeeth from sources I now considered unreliable. By this stage I was very worn out and confused so I just decided to go along with it and learn what I thought was worth learning. Again, I found the moderate imams lacking in knowledge on such topics, and used very weak defenses to justify their positions. However these experiences taught me a very important lesson. That I was willing and able to do what I thought was right and follow a path different to those around me.
While all these things were going through my mind, I had almost completely stopped praying 5 times a day and my daily Koran readings. All this research and thinking had taken its toll, both mentally and physically. I decided to take a small "break" from Islam while I concentrated on other aspects of my life I had been ignoring (eg holiday fun! I had basically wasted my university holidays researching this stuff!). As the new academic year kicked in, I thought that perhaps reading the translation of the Koran may help me to get back into things. This proved to be the straw which broke the camels back. For in my short break from all things Islam (couple of weeks LOL) I had learnt how splendidly happy I could b without it. I didn't worry about the issues that were plaguing me before, didn't need to defend the actions of the prophet etc. However I had accepted this as temporary as I knew deep down inside these issues had to b resolved. This time I decided to begin reading the Koran translation from the front, and use multiple translations from the most prominent English translators available online ("Islam awakened" site) to help me get the best picture.
It didn't take me long to get to phrases which commanded me to "beat my wife if she continued to disobey me", "chop off the hands of thieves", "whip the adulterer 100 lashes" and my personal favorite "for those who wage war against Allah or his apostle: kill them, CRUCIFY THEM, CUT OFF hands and feet from opposite sides, or banish them. For awhile I tangled with how you could administer such punishments in a fair and just way, how you could implement public lashings in modern cities of over 5million people etc. A number of things struck me:
- Religious police would be a necessity to implement these laws. Where would the bounds be drawn? What constitutes a crime? Would fiction then also need to be outlawed? What about music? What if things got out of hand? (religious police = BAD!)
- Islamic countries which moderate Muslims always complain as being "corrupt" and "unfair" are doing EXACTLY THESE THINGS. Did I want to live in such a society? Did I really want to be responsible for bringing such an abomination onto the earth? If push came to shove, which would I support? Shariah law or western law? The answer was a resounding WESTERN LAW PLEASE
- I never saw women as unequal and was brought up by modern imams preaching equality for women. When I approached them about this issue they gave me the "you can beat them with a feather" response from a ridiculous, unreliable hadeeth. This did not sit well at all
- Severing limbs for petty theft? What is the price of a human hand? 20 dirhams or dollars? We can't even make such a sophisticated machine in the modern world, not even a million dollars is worth the price of a human hand (let alone a foot as well!)
- The thing that really got me were that I could think of a better solution than god. The real issue is with society itself, a better way to deal with the problem is to deal with issues such as poverty, drugs and to help the people to involved to get their lives back on track and teach them how to b valued members of society. God, apparently, did NOT know best!
- Crucifying someone?? This is torture, of course we could always just "kill them" according to the Koran. But then WHY mention crucifixion? Well, for the most serious and heinous of crimes such as rape, mass murder etc. But if we as a society do this to someone, no matter what he or she did, then WHAT DOES THAT MAKE US?
- After reading about Arab society and how tribes worked I found the same ideology present in the Koran! In chapter 2 (Bakara), we are told that "retribution has been ordained for us". "A slave for a slave, a women for a women and a free man for a free man". What is the context of these verses? Well in pre Islamic Arabia, when one man of a tribe was killed, the other would retaliate by killing numerous members of the tribe from which the killer was from. This often resulted in inter tribal warfare and Mohammad or "Allah" thought a good control for this would b to limit the number killed to retaliate. Eye for an eye, its fair right? RIGHT? hmm. "a woman for a woman" = if someone kills a woman, then KILL A WOMAN "BELONGING" TO THE MURDERER. That is the only thing it can mean, otherwise it would not have been phrased thus. similar for a slave for a slave. What this means is that free men have a higher status than women or slaves and that the MURDERER HIMSELF IS NOT NECESSARILY PUNISHED. Needless to say, the excuses from the apologetics such as "God seeked to decrease blood shed" or "this was only temporary and abrogated by later verse saying "life for a life" is NOT GOOD ENOUGH and plain silly. It means that, even for a short time, GOD HIMSELF ORDAINED TAKING THE LIFE OF AN INNOCENT IN RETALIATION FOR A CRIME COMMITTED BY ANOTHER"
Needless to say, by this time I was looking for a way out.
Now the only thing keeping me was the "miracles" in the Koran. As far as I knew, they were almost infallible proofs that God was the author of the Koran. I went to these in order to re-establish my crumbling faith. However, when I went to verify these so called "miracles" I found that what I was reading was always a very far stray from what was being claimed it was saying (e.g. "water cycle? I don't think so.). I no longer had proof or anything to go back on, so I decided to just pray a few times a day and basically put my head in the sand. I decided to focus primarily on the "nicer" and shorter Meccan Surahs towards the back. It was more "relevant" to modern life and more "spiritual". It did not take me long to get up the verse which read "indeed we have decorate the lowest heaven with lamps and we have made them missiles to scare away the evil devils". HANG ON A SECOND! IS THIS TALKING ABOUT SHOOTING STARS???? I had always been told that since the Koran was the infallible word of GOD HIMSELF, it would b clear from error and TO FIND A SINGLE ERROR WAS PROOF THAT THE KORAN WAS NOT THE WORD OF GOD.
I started looking for explanations to these verses upon which I stumbled upon this site. After further reading, VERIFYING (very important) and thinking, it was clear to me. In the context of 7th century Arabia, IT ALL MADE SENSE! And I realized some very important things about myself:
- I DON'T BELIEVE in the "evil eye", that people can get cursed or sick because envious people stare at them with evil intent
- I DON'T BELIEVE in "magic", that things can happen "magically" because some sorceror or magician blabbed a string of verbal diarrhea.
- I DON'T BELIEVE in "genies", that they fly up to heaven to steal secrets and bring them back to soothsayers below
- Shooting stars ARE NOT stars EVEN THOUGH THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT IT WOULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE to primitive societies.
And guess what? If you don't believe in JUST ONE verse in the Koran, then you ALREADY ARE a disbeliever. After a week of anxiety over going to hell, I became at ease with my decision. The worst thing is pretending to still believe and having to go and listen to Friday sermons. However I count myself amongst the lucky ones, I live in a western society where I am relatively free and safe and my family lets me be the way I want at home (no pressure to pray except Fridays). I can do pretty much as I please, and lately I have been enjoying A LOT of music. I would like to say thanks to the following for helping me through those tough times:
- Hardcore Muslims on youtube who posted videos of scholars such as yusuf estes and their proofs against music
- The communities of ex-Muslims online who give the strength and support you need just by being there. It is easier to trod a path previously trodden and you have the knowledge that there are others out there that have been through similar experiences and hard times. The testimonials were immensely helpful and let you know that you are not alone
- Special thanks to Ali Sina and other excellent authors on this site. Although I have no idea who you are, I CAN VERIFY, CHECK AND THINK ABOUT everything that you say.
- Finally a special thanks to my brain, which was able to process and reflect on all those issues and lead me to enlightenment.