I remember reading something once and finding it difficult and strange to understand or relate to. It was a quote which stated that the people we love the most will often be the ones who will stop us from doing whatever it is we need to do. Often it isn’t with bad intentions that they do this; often it is because of love combined with a fear of the unknown, and their inability to relate to what you are going through. They simply cannot put themselves in your shoes, and because of this they don’t understand and therefore fear the scenarios and life decisions you want to make. It is painful, and it can deter you from whatever it is that you want to achieve. This is something I am experiencing right now. I strongly believe that I am in a unique position to discuss the issues surrounding being an ex-Muslim. I think I have the capacity to understand the intolerance some Muslims have towards change, criticism, and ex-Muslims. On the other hand, I also understand the reasons behind the decisions made by ex-Muslims, and the grievances and criticisms of those in the wider community against Islam. As I have read more around the discourse from Muslims, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims, I cannot shake the very strong belief that there seriously needs to be a change here. So much of it is coloured with a lens of anger, hatred and emotion; everywhere I look I either read arguments to abolish religion, or those who choose to leave it. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the anger and pain ex-Muslims are going through on a daily basis, and no one can justify the violence and intolerance many have had to endure because of their leaving. But I think those emotions cannot paint the lens they use to view solutions to the problem. I know that I am no longer a Muslim and I do not follow Islam. But that does not mean I want to see it slandered or viewed as evil. All that is doing is making it more difficult for those people who choose to believe, willingly and with love. I will admit that there are issues, and there are grounds for the criticism that it receives on a daily basis. But my ultimate aim is to create a system of tolerance, and the tactic of slander and criticism is simply not fruitful or practical. At the end of the day, people will believe and people won’t, what we need to learn is how to just get along and deal with that.
The more I see messages of hatred and evil against Islam, the more angered and determined I become to do something about this. Again, it is not because I am a follower of the faith but because I realise how difficult this negative discourse makes living as a Muslim. I am sure that if I were to read the angry and resentful conversations around other religions I would react in much the same way. But having been brought up in this faith and experiencing things first-hand, my level of understanding is far deeper when it comes to matters of this faith. Further to this, my parents were born in Africa and my heritage is Indian, but I myself was born in England. This allows me to understand the deeper, and more complex culturally-orientated factors and nuances that are at play here which I think are being mistakenly overlooked. The level of understanding I have therefore drives me to want to research more and begin to have these debates, because I realise that all of this is bigger than me. This is what the little voice inside my mind says when it is faced with a doubt that maybe I should just give up; you’ve left the religion, just go and do whatever the heck it is that you want to do, it’s not your problem anymore. It’s such an easy thing to do, especially when I know there is a possibility this may affect my family. Haven’t I hurt them enough by leaving the religion in the first place?
And yet I can’t shake the idea that this is something that I need to do, that I need to have these discussions and do this research, and ask the questions people don’t want to be asked. The primary reason why I left this religion is simply because I did not feel anything within me that drove me to want to follow it. Nothing at all. I understand that others do, and that is something I won’t be able to relate to, much in the same way as they will not be able to understand my lack of connection. If religion helps you, please go ahead and believe. If you feel it isn’t for you, then please go ahead and leave. That is my motto. Everyone just do whatever the heck you want; as long as it is not harming or impeaching on others, quite frankly I couldn’t give a shit. Ironically though I can’t help but feel that my lack of connection and emotion for this faith, coupled with my strong urge to have a society of tolerance, is what puts me in the best position possible to have these conversations and to ask and address the questions that the wider communities are asking but that Muslims don’t want to acknowledge exist. Putting our heads in the ground is a dangerous thing, and as a beautiful Muslim female speaker pointed out in her Ted Talk, Muslims need to be at the table. It will be difficult, and others will ask them questions and make comments about their religion that will hurt them. But in this case emotions need to be put aside and debates need to be had so that they can defend their faith in an intellectual and fact-driven manner. If they don’t step up to defend it, then others will take their place at the table and slander them, using their own texts to do so, which is exactly what is happening right now.
I don’t know where my research and debate will take me, but I hope that this feeling within me to pursue it never falters. Currently it feels like an uphill struggle, and everything is just a hazy mist with no real sense of direction and purpose. Last night though, I went for a walk under clear skies and saw more stars then I have ever seen in my life. I sat outside and looked up, seeing my first ever shooting star and making my wish upon it in an instant, eyes squeezed tightly shut and breath held for a long time after. In that moment, with a blanket of stars above me, the sound of the river and wind around me, and the mountains rising above me, I couldn’t help but feel the overwhelming magnitude of this world. The darkness stretched out into oblivion, and it became a rare moment when I was able to put my troubles and problems into the context of the enormity of this universe. They shrivelled and shrunk into nothingness. Who knows what we are doing on this world, and whether or not we are taking the right steps, whether we’re going the right way, whether there even is a right way. All we really have is this moment, and our mission is to simply be happy within it. As I sat there last night I couldn’t shake the image of us all as ghostly shadows, hunched over dull lamps in the darkness that only manage to illuminate a few steps ahead. Sometimes we bump into others, other times we walk miles alone. Throughout it all though, we just keep walking. It was a sombre image, and it has stayed with me all day through the rain and fog that has enveloped us up here on the mountain. Today I feel there is not much I can do, except sit and hope that soon, the mist will clear.