As someone who has left Islam before (and come back) I value and appreciate Adil’s gentle and wise exploration of the reasons why some people leave Islam. Thank you Adil!
What Really Makes Muslims Leave Islam
Which conversation topic is likeliest to cause the most exquisite discomfort amongst Muslims? ISIS? Dress codes? Whether our financial transactions are ‘Sharia compliant’ or not? Saudi Arabia? Allegedly Muslim Grooming gangs? All of the above and more can, and do. Often. However, the lofty first prize easily goes to the subject of Muslims leaving the faith. So much so, that it is discussed little in proportion to the immediate importance of the issue. Perhaps, we feel that bringing the topic into the open legitimises the concept or perhaps we feel that discussing apostasy makes us appear weak and defeatist. Regardless, the phenomenon is real, and almost certainly growing. As I Muslim, I do not believe that there exist ‘valid’ grounds for apostasy, but I have to accept that there are some that warrant empathy as opposed to ostracisation. I also agree with the reality of many of the reasons that Muslims who question Islam give, though I may disagree with the conclusions drawn from them.
This is the first of a series of articles where I discuss and reflect on some of the reasons for the rise of atheism and agnosticism in the Muslim communities in the West and worldwide. My hope is that Muslims can recognise these problems and avoid perpetuating one. Meanwhile, I hope that doubting Muslims will re-evaluate some of their reasons; though this article is no debunking exercise.
In no particular order whatsoever (here or in the grand scheme of this series), I discuss my first five reasons for why many Muslims start doubting Islam.
1.) The lack of Muslim representation in modern day science…and the overrepresentation of pseudoscience continues to make young Muslims insecure
The cumulative effect of the scientific abyss devoid of recent significant Muslim influence and the inept pseudoscience peddled by several prominent Muslim apologists is a huge source of insecurity amongst young Western Muslims. Whilst the quality of arguments one puts forward for a particular proposition do not logically determine the soundness of that proposition (i.e. the truth of Islam), should the arguments be dire, the psychological response of a human is to consider the proposition similarly improbable.
Thanks to certain prominent apologists (especially hailing from Turkey and the Indian subcontinent), there are several widespread unscientific facts which are now believed by a disproportionate amount of lay Muslims. This can be illustrated in the ‘why don’t Muslims eat pork’ discourse. According to certain ‘people of knowledge’ (and now lay Muslims) this is for reasons including but not limited to: ‘Pigs have an evil filthy nature, pigs eat tumours, pork has very little nutrition, pork contains a worm which will eat your eyeballs and is impervious to heat, and even that by eating pork you will inherit a pigs shameless nature, just like those Westerners.’
Whilst the older generation, or generally less scientifically literate Muslims might believe the above, one studying biology to A level or higher will correctly identify these arguments the hogwash that they are. They simply aren’t true. Granted, one could probably make a case for Pork being one of the less healthy meats, but the argument that Pork is forbidden for the very secular reasons above is very problematic anyway, not least because there is no Quranic evidence for such reasons. Would a prohibition on such grounds be eternally relevant? Why not eat free range organic pork instead of the revolting steroid bloating hormone infused ‘halal’ chicken that most Muslims happily consume? This whole line of reasoning (apart from generally being insulting; how would such an apologist give Dawah to a farmer who raises pigs in clean and excellent conditions?) smacks of insecurity; it implies that Islam has to satisfy secular criteria for it to be considered valid or true. Thus if the secular criteria is disprovable (and it easily is: pork is not always filthy and dangerous, yet many widely consumed ‘halal’ foods are), the Islamic ruling is irrelevant. This is but one example, and some might argue a trivial one, but I have seen firsthand that it is often allegedly trivial things which just ‘don’t make sense’ that sow seeds of doubt. Whether a core doctrine or a niche commandment, if something a Muslim believes is integral to Islam appears to make no sense, the crisis of faith is the same. A very simple explanation as to why Muslims don’t eat pork, without the huffing and posturing with fake science can be found here.
Whilst the ball is rolling, have I been merely unlucky or are young Muslims far more likely to say that plants feel pain then other people? Few if any plant biologists actually give the notion any credence but Muslims in my experience seem incredibly likely to think it! I am almost certain it comes from some Zakir Naik publication as an ‘argument’ that humans should eat meat (along with the outright insane argument that humans should eat beef otherwise cattle would over reproduce. This might just be the worst argument I have ever heard, and clearly shows no basic understanding of what agriculture is).
Again, I re-iterate that just because the ‘Islamic scientific miracles’ movement is often argued atrociously, the logical conclusion is not that Islam is false, but what is implied? Worse, this movement, has spawned a huge atheist ‘debunking’ movement, which actually includes accurate take downs of some arguments put forth by Muslim apologists! True, debunking a Saudi funded unscientific apologist doesn’t make atheism true and Islam false, but how does it appear to a young and confused Muslim? It says ‘Atheist beats Muslim.’ That is not such a large mental jump to ‘Atheism beats Islam.’
Please also visit a Muslim critique of the ‘science proves Islam’ movement here.
2.) Many Muslims have blatant political double standards which makes educated Muslims distrust their communities
Most if not all humans have some level of double standards when interpreting or discussing politics. Issues with some groups will cause more emotional gut reactions then others; some groups we have more personal empathy with, many people argue for ‘their side’ on principle, and others will argue against what they perceive to be the establishment on principle, others in favour of the underdog, and so forth.
I do not believe Muslims are necessarily more inconsistent than any other group. However, as many Muslims have some level of pan-Islamic identity (which say, an English Christian probably would not), combined with the current political realities in many Muslim majority countries, our double standards are being given more opportunity to surface. Unfortunately, this means that many politically educated Muslims start to lose trust in their community.
Israel. The most unoriginal example conceivable. All but the most institutionalised ‘house Muslims’ in the West have very critical views on Israel, as do I. But why? Is this because of the Qur’anic injunction to do justice, no matter who it is against? Is it because we cannot bear to tolerate any one nation brutally occupying another, stealing land and terrorising the population? Or could it be because the Palestinians are (mostly) the same identity group as us? If the plights of the Israelis and Palestinians were reversed would our responses be the same? Or would the vast majority of us be asserting that the ‘PDF’ is only defending Palestine, and has a right to do so (by flattening neighbourhoods filled with innocent people), that the Israeli resistance were using people as human shields (thus making bombing children acceptable), and that even if Palestine was getting ‘a little boisterous,’ that boycotting Palestine would be Islamophobic? Would we have a silent or complicit majority and only a couple of Muslim Noam Chomskys and Norman Finkelsteins criticising Palestine, and being labelled as sell outs of self hating Muslims for doing so?
Our blatant lack of consistent criticism of Muslim regimes suggests the answer. Even much of the Muslim discourse against morally depraved Muslim organisations or states, say Saudi Arabia is done in a backhanded way i.e. ‘they are bad….but only for selling out to the West.’
Using a parallel methodology to the Islamophobic bigot (with the obvious difference), many Muslims will dismiss, disregard and make excuses for crimes carried out by Muslims. This does not always suggest covert approval, as some Islamophobes and certain ”counter extremist liberal secular non practicing cultural Muslims ”(or whatever they call themselves these days) claim, but it does show that many of us fail to be consistent.
Not for a moment do I advocate relenting from criticising Israel, or American foreign policy, or brutal secular dictators in the Islamic world, or the thinly veiled anti Muslim approach taken by our own Prime Minister (for UK readers). But when our criticism stops there, and we fail to proactively criticise say, the rights of non Muslims in many ‘Muslim’ countries, we create a minority within our communities who either stay silent and resent the community for having a persecution complex, or who are vocal in their dissent and get at least partially ostracised. Either way it boils down to the same: people being further away from the people who practice Islam…potentially another step towards being further away from wanting to practice Islam. If the followers of any particular idea fail to be just and consistent on a widespread level, what does one deduce (wrongly but understandably) about the idea itself?
3.) Many Muslims want to escape the paradigm that all non Muslims are damned…but are browbeaten into believing that Islam unambiguously dictates this
How does one actually interact in a damned society? One which almost solely contains people destined for eternal damnation. With contempt because they are worse than worthless? With compassion because they need ‘help?’ Though of course, it seems likely that a few at most will be saved. How about just like anyone else, because you block out thoughts of their doom? Perhaps with apathy because you know there is no hope anyway?
Unfortunately, even though Islam does not claim that all non Muslims are damned, many Muslims are brought up to face the dilemma above. Non Muslims, they are told or implied are worthless, though this differs from the claims of Islamophobes who insist that most or many Muslims are actively taught to ‘hate’ non Muslims (whilst hypocritically preaching hate against the Muslim population). This problem may not stem largely from theology (though the Saudi funded Wahhabism which has permeated many Muslim establishments clearly doesn’t help), but in Europe at least, the desire for communities (from a particular province of their country of origin, often Mirpur in Pakistan for British Muslims) to remain compact and insular. Thus, outsiders, including the host population are considered unimportant at best, and can only be interacted with on a basic and necessary level. This insecurity and insularity makes views of damnationism and contempt for the host population more appealing, it also leads to other ghastly problems like perpetual cousin marriages, and unsurprisingly it makes some people miserable enough to want to ‘break free.’ Ponder that as you will.
So what happens once a young and confused Muslim goes to say, University and befriends non Muslim who turn out to be kind and decent people; far more inclusive and understanding then his or her own family? Aside from the mental trauma of imagining these good and sincere people being eternally tortured (even though in fact, the nature, duration and inhabitants of hell is very much an open question), they are faced with the intellectual problem of (un)justice. Is it just that people should be damned almost by default, whilst Muslims, however despicable will end up in heaven?
Thanks to the abundance of Salafist websites, an internet search will probably reveal the Muslims worst fears. Non Muslims are indeed damned. And Hell is definitely eternal. And Hell is definitely literal fire. The authenticated hadiths about people leaving Hell are definitely only referring to Muslims. Ultimately even the worst and most murderous Muslims will go to heaven. And Nelson Mandela is going to hell. And there is no debate about this. At all.
Of course, some Muslims will broaden their search, scrutinise their sources, and make a rigorous and scholarly investigation. Such people will find that according to many Muslim scholars past and present, that non Muslims (even ones who have heard of Islam), and not necessarily damned, or that whilst punishment in the afterlife should be taken with the utmost seriousness, the punishment may not be eternal; or that the Qur’an states that people will only be punished for what they have done, or that only the wicked will go to hell.
But will most Muslims do this? Many will simply remain confused, some will reluctantly believe in the ultra damnationist paradigm, but others will outright apostatise. For them, the emotional, spiritual and intellectual burden is too great, and they would rather simply not believe it. Once the desire not to believe manifests itself, it is doubtless easy to reinforce, and can be done so by visiting almost any atheist channel or website, of which there are thousands.
Young Muslims need to be taught theology responsibly; or at least given more chance to do so. Of course, many of the classical Muslim scholars did have very unforgiving salfvific views, but many of the greats were far more inclusive, and supported their views using scripture. The view that one’s own community is universally saved, and the others are universally damned, leads to either fanaticism or apostasy from within, and distrust or hostility from outside.
For more discussion on salvation, punishment and mercy, I recommend the hyperlinks below.
Gai Eaton: When Hell melts away
4.) The failure of Muslims to clearly be better human beings sheds doubt onto the effectiveness of Islam for many Muslims
If Islam is the ‘true’ religion (or the true-er one, depending how far you go on the pluralist spectrum), one thing you would probably expect is that its followers would be, broadly speaking ‘better’ then other people. In the significant absence of this, the value that Islam actually has is questioned.
Truly, there are Muslims who do amazing things, and some polls, for instance suggesting that British Muslims are the most charitable community are most encouraging. However, we can’t claim that goodness or helpfulness is the first thing that comes to mind when the Muslim community is mentioned. What proportion of Muslims are members of amnesty international? How many Muslims work for environmental organisations? How many Muslims are in caring professions? A high proportion in medicine granted, though from personal experience I question how many really did it for altruistic reasons. How many foodbanks in the UK are run by Muslims? How many Muslims are ethical shoppers (ethical shopping by the way means assessing the environmental impact or detriment to human or animal wellbeing as a whole, not just boycotting Marks and Spencer because someone told you they support Israel)? The answer to all of the above is ‘some but very little.’ Probably no larger proportion then in any other community, and in some cases probably less.
Typically, the values ascribed to the predominantly Muslim communities, are not brilliant. Family values at a push. Maybe a sense of community. But we are scraping the barrel here. Tightness. Insularity. Disorganised. Have only a care for their ‘in group.’ Of course, we can claim media bias of underreporting good things Muslims do, and over reporting instances of Muslims being especially unreasonable or belligerent. Such a bias categorically exists, and large sections of the media are indeed run by rampantly Islamophobic provocateurs. But let’s not kid ourselves; many excellent things that the Muslim community in Britain does are reported in the mainstream media, and were some of the negative stereotypes utterly and completely untrue, the gutter press would have a hard time fabricating them whilst retaining any credibility at all. Furthermore, it seems very unlikely that the Islamophobic wing of the rightwing media has any serious direct influence on young Muslims religious convictions, and most young Muslims have the sense to dismiss it. Many non Muslims too, see the right wing tabloids for the incoherent nonsense they are. Thus, instead of burying our heads in the sand and perpetuating the culture of blame (something else many of us have mastered), we should accept the empirical reality that our communities are not filled with paragons of virtue, or even people who measurably display finer human qualities then our non Muslim friends and neighbours. We must then put two and two together to realise that this will clearly lead to a crisis of faith for many Muslims. ‘Judge the religion, not its practitioners.’ Yes, I know; but if Muslims are failing to put the most basic Islamic concepts into practice like justice over kinship groups and helping their neighbours, what potency, one might ask, does Islam even have? This becomes even more emotionally and spiritually problematic if combined with the damnationist view that all of these Muslims, however wantonly ignorant are promised salvation, whilst even the best non Muslim neighbour is damned. I do believe that there are valid answers to these problems; that God judges people by different standards according to their upbringing, that non Muslims who are just unaware of the truth of Islam, or are given a distorted view of it (largely our fault not theirs), will be judged according to the choices they were given and their intentions. Also that non Muslims, even atheists still have a God given sense of morality, diminishing the intellectual problem of ‘why are they are good, or better than us Muslims, without specific religious writ?’ Finally, the failure of many Muslims to put basic Islamic and human values into practice does not stem from Islam not being clear enough, but the compartmental thinking of many of its practitioners. Such people may have a strong faith and observe rituals but be de facto secular when it comes to issues of morality and personal conduct; not even considering what Islam says, especially when there is any room for interpretation; commandments to be kind for instance are more commonly ignored then specific prohibitions on say, pork. This morally bankrupt approach is the fault of the person, perhaps their culture, but certainly not Islam. Not all Muslims find answers however, many of them see this as a reason to disregard and move on from their community. Their community and all that goes with it.
5.) The Marriage culture of Muslim communities is creating miserable relationships, preventing permissible ones, and creating dysfunctional young Muslims who are prime candidates for apostasy
Many Muslims acknowledge that there are problems with our ‘marriage culture.’ When I say ‘acknowledge,’ I mean of course:
‘Do nothing, agree in theory, but say that we have to be practical.’
‘Practical’ of course meaning considering skin colour, race or kinship group legitimate grounds to reject someone, accepting that marriages have to be obscene and vulgar displays of material wealth and fashion, that personality of an individual, or indeed happiness of the couple is of low importance, and so forth.
To put it bluntly, our current rules, unspoken rules and regulations for marriage are destroying the future of Islam in our community. ‘Well that escalated quickly,’ one might think, but I am right. Our ‘marriage paradigms,’ regardless of whether we are talking the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or Arab communities amongst others, are going to destroy Islam in our societies piece by piece, unless something changes.
The way we approach love, marriage and relationships is preventing Muslims from forming functional and suitable relationships, sometimes none at all, as the increasing incidences of reported abuse, divorces, and single middle aged Muslims testifies. What happens when a Muslim ends up single, or in a dysfunctional relationship because of ‘cultural or Islamic’ reasons? They blame Islam. Even if a ridiculous or obscene rule (like the necessity of marrying someone from the same kinship group) is not overtly Islamic, the Muslim will still blame Islam if they have been brought up thinking it is at least compatible with Islam.
What happens when a young, intelligent Muslim girl correctly identifies all her proposed suitors as unattractive, sleazy young men who either slept around at University, or tried and failed because they didn’t have the social aptitude? Or equally bad, if they were hardline Wahabbis (sorry I mean, ‘followers of orthadox Islam,’ the preferred self conferred title of most modern puritans) who would make her wear a niqab and confine her to the house? Or potential wife beaters, unethical business men, bitter, career hating doctors who were forced into it by their parents, ones with controlling parents, the list goes on. What if that same Muslim girl met a boy on her course who was kind, helpful and decent, but wasn’t a Muslim?
Heart-warming and incredible stories exist, there have been ‘dream couples’ where one genuinely converts, sometimes practicing Islam better than their born Muslim spouse, but this is a rare reality. More often, the Muslim youth is browbeaten into doing what their parents want, and either blames Islam for it, or grows up to become a clone of their repressive and unfair parents. Either that, or they rebel, and have a relationship with the non Muslim. Can we not empathise with that, even at all? Most of us accept that our children will interact with non Muslims of the opposite sex whether at school or work. But despite them doing so for hundreds of hours, we refuse to accept the possibility that they may become romantically attached. Then we introduce our children to other Muslims of the opposite sex, and expect them to make a lifelong decision in minutes, and with serious constraints; like the presence of parents! If we don’t train our young men to be less well, ‘chavvy’ or judgemental, or downright ignorant, and more Muslim girls to be less materialistic, brattish, Machiavellian and gossip mongering, we are as good as begging for other young Muslims to prefer non Muslims.
Throughout this section, I have broadly referred to bad marriage rules and approaches without being especially specific; this is because I have discussed many such ideas in detail in two previous articles which I urge readers to go through.
I hope that my first article has given readers food for thought and as always I would love to see constructive critique of the ideas put forth here. Stay tuned for the next in the series and have a blessed day.
Islam and the Destiny of Man (Gai Eaton)
Losing my religion: A cry for help (Jeffrey Lang)
The Message of the Quran (Muhammad Asad; this is a Quran with extensive commentary)
Islam and the fate of others: The salvation question (Dr Mohammad Hassan Khalil)
Hanafi Principles of testing Hadith (Shaykh Atabek Shukurov)