The ins and outs of being Muslim and ex-Muslim by Jennine

It wasn’t shoddy ‘scientific miracles’ like the moon splitting in half or jinng stories that made me finally throw in the towel when I was a teenager. It was the hypocrisy of people I was taught to look up to and being unable to reconcile my humanitarianism and my sense of justice with Islam.

Islam’s attitudes towards and stances on women’s rights, sexuality, LGBTQ, the individual, and life itself in almost every aspect do not mesh with how I understand the world today.

I learned many great values growing up Muslim. I developed a strong sense of empathy and charitableness. But I did not, and do not, need religion to be compassionate.

I hate the notion that anyone who isn’t a Muslim or a person ‘of the Book’ will be damned to a hell we don’t even know exists, or needs to go through Mario Kart-level jumps and loopholes to avoid it.

I mean, yeah, we’re encouraged to invite the non-Muslim neighbours over for dinner and sing kumbaya here on Earth together, but if everyone is going to be separated into a Hell and a Heaven in the Hereafter anyway, what’s the point? It’s an illusion.

I hate that as a young girl growing up, I had to stand behind the men and boys to pray with the women — if we weren’t already segregated— because we were taught our figures were objects of desire we had to fiercely guard (from the men supposed to protect us), even while we were meant to be prostrating in worship. I still find it difficult to deal with the shame that has cloaked my body for years — until this day.

I also hate that I was taught that my future husband had to be Muslim, whereas Muslim men are able to marry non-Muslim women. For years, I floundered, finally accepting Tribe ruled over Love, as it was Written.

I hate that in Islamic law, a woman’s inheritance from her father should be half the amount of her brother’s, and that her testimony in court is worth half a man’s, because women are unreliable witnesses.

I was told Islam viewed us all equally, but it did not seem or feel very equal.

I also stopped caring about rules that were made for the sake of rule-making, drawing lines in the sand, or guarding the male ego, because most of it was and is illogical to me.

I was over lengthy lectures discussing whether music is allowable or forbidden, and what instruments are allowed, and I was through with concepts of haram and halal dictating my life, and being told what I could or could not wear and that my afterlife depended on it.

And I wondered, every day, how god could be so hung-up over his creations not covering up their hair or missing prayers?

Everything is structured. Formulaic. Crafted. Admittedly, religion helps to give a person a sense of purpose, hopefulness, security and stability. But the promise of a higher purpose stopped being alluring when I began to question almost all of it. I started to feel like a child with very little freedom; following rules by the carrot and stick.

Times have changed. And some people are able to negotiate changing times with their faith, or overlook parts of the religion and pick and choose or gloss over the ugly stuff, but I can’t. I’d rather not stress myself out by stretching and reaching with wild mental gymnastics and rationalising and convincing myself that I can sincerely work around it.

I have treaded carefully for a long time, cautious not to ruin the visage of this liberal, cultural Muslim I harvested, but also careful not to invest too much of myself into all of it. I used to believe deeply, but when I stopped, I never pretended to pray or fast, like some people I know do.

I’ve been to the mosque a handful of times wilfully as an adult, simply to appreciate beautiful architecture. I’d go along to events, or fundraisers with my practicing Muslim friends out of some strange sense of obligation and duty I had manufactured, enjoying their company, yet still quietly feeling very out of place.

I’m fortunate to live in a secular society, where I have at least been able to perfect the liberal Muslim performance, and be silently dismissed as a lazy worshipper still finding her way.

I didn’t have to share any of this — I do not want to open myself up to any patronisation or pity prayers or hatred. I’m not interested in anybody making me his or her missionary project. But the reason I am writing this — saying this — is to shed this burden of representation that keeps smothering me.

When you identify as Muslim, you are expected to represent the global Muslim community. It’s your family, your brotherhood, your sisterhood, and you should not dishonour it. You should not step out of line. Particularly now, at a time when there is rampant, growing Islamophobia towards Muslims in response to terrorist acts carried out by other Muslims. Your words must uphold a particular social and political edge. Resisting Islamophobia becomes your edict, usually at the expense of addressing both internal and broader issues that you care just as or more strongly about.

Even among seemingly progressive Muslims, there are concerning apologist attitudes. For some, protecting the name of the Muslim community is paramount, even if it means paying a bit of lip service to issues surrounding women, homosexuality, or sectarianism. But that’s where it ends.

It’s not fair or logical for anyone to carry that kind of burden. When a Muslim commits a terrorist attack, they don’t represent all Muslims. By that token, no Muslim represents all Muslims. Faux, real, extreme, liberal, ex, or otherwise. But that’s not the reality. People are programmed to generalise and pigeonhole and we like figuring out who is with us and who is against us. And Islam dictates that Muslims are one unit.

Which is why I’m putting it on the record that I am formerly Muslim. Of the ex variety. Because it’s doubly harder as a journalist, and as someone engaging in public discourse, to keep pretending. Muslims may expect me to represent them, in all contexts and under all circumstances. But that’s not my burden.

Because I’m out.

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