Leaving Islam – Jordan Peterson – Make the Ummah Great Again

For six years, not only was I an atheist, but I hated religion and God.

Leaving Islam – Jordan Peterson – Make the Ummah Great Again

This is a re-publishing of a piece that was originally published on Muslim Matters back in September 2023. I've been meaning to publish this piece here as a prelude to an eventual piece I've been meaning to write addressing Jordan Peterson and his fall. The Muslim world (and most of the world really) has lost interest and faith in Peterson, but I still believe he is a unique individual, compromised no doubt, but he has awakened a generation to the invisible, and even if he is a shell of his former self, I cannot deny he helped me see. For now, I hope this piece brings benefit.

For six years, not only was I an atheist, but I hated religion and God. Alhamdulillah, Allah guides whom he wills. Till I die, I will regret nothing more than that era in my life. Too often, we make mistakes, and in our haste, we try to rush away from our errors and bury them in time. But unless we sit and reflect on our errors, we’ll be doomed to repeat them. This goes for our communities and us. Unfortunately, the Muslim community has often operated as if acknowledging a problem and reflecting upon it is the same thing as endorsing it, so the problems that plague the Muslim community continue to grow unchecked. Today I am unbelievably humbled and grateful to have found conviction, and as much as I wish I could move on and pretend it never happened, I can’t. I would become the problem if I did that. Islam is not kept alive in books; it is kept alive by Muslims constantly going back to the roots and keeping it alive. As time goes on, everything decays, buildings, companies, and even religions- unless people invest energy & attention in keeping them alive. Islam is the oldest religion; the core teaching of Islam, submission to the one true God, is the common thread in every religion throughout human history; it would be foolish of us to pretend it hasn’t experienced decay. Not in its ideals or teachings – I’m not advocating for anything resembling a reformation. No -Islam’s decay has been in how we Muslims practice our deen. Perhaps I should say it’s not Islam that’s decayed; it’s Muslims.

As I was writing this piece, my wife saw the first line, and she got nervous. I understand why she got nervous; no doubt many people are looking at this piece with deep skepticism, but I ask you this, how long will we pretend that my case is not isolated? We can’t afford to turn a blind eye to this issue the same way we’ve turned a blind eye to many other issues in our community. Every time we turn a blind eye to an issue in our community, a young, sincere child sees hypocrisy in Muslims and conflates it with Islam. Every khutbah that doesn’t discuss the youth dying from drug overdoses hardens the heart of a brother who lost his bro to an overdose. Every sheikh who speaks on men leading the homes but never discusses the epidemic of domestic violence is ensuring more youth grow to hate Islam. When Islam is held up as the most important thing, and it isn’t addressing the most important things, guess what? The Muslims will eventually believe Islam is the problem. We’ve hit rock bottom, so to speak; we can’t run away from this problem. We can’t keep pretending atheism & apostasy aren’t problems. If we’re not going to address Muslims resenting Islam and leaving, what else is there to discuss? I understand your discomfort reading this, but the sickness is worse than the cure. 

The Rationality - Atheism Pipeline

Today we live in an unprecedented era. Science and technology have created doubt in God unlike any in recorded history. The abundance of our era has cut us off from reality and the conception of God. Our ancestors lived in a constant state of insecurity and ignorance; it wasn’t hard for them to believe in God. The abundance we’ve inherited today has fooled us into thinking we don’t live in a state of insecurity and ignorance. We’re one nuke away from game over & we don’t really know as much as we think. We live in an era where we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, giants who believed in God - Newton, Maimonides, even Socrates, but today we are glad to eat the fruits of their labor and not burden ourselves with their belief in God. That’s all God has become to many people today, a burdensome archaic belief not fitting modern people. Our society prizes rationality above all else, and it’s not hard to see why. Rationality has eradicated diseases, gifted us with technology, and allowed us to manipulate and shape our world. Furthermore, rationality never asks for a leap of faith; rationality promises certainty down to the smallest decimal. Unsurprisingly, our age of rationality has shaken the faith of millions as it certainly shook mine.

As I began to view the world through the lens of rationality, I struggled to fit God & Religion into the picture. It all began to look like the approach of those unable to think rationally and critically.

If my dad was sick, I’d rather he didn’t pray and get surgery than pray and not get surgery.

People around the world believed in religion because religion had always been around, and they were raised on it, but surely their religions would fade away into storybooks just like the stories of Thor & Zeus.

Rationality praises skepticism in pursuit of the truth, religion not so much. One approach wants you to think; the other doesn’t.

So gradually, my faith began to fall away, and it was hard. I didn’t want to lose my belief in God or Islam, but I couldn’t trick myself into believing. Walking away felt like the noble thing to do; I was standing with the truth.  What I didn’t realize then is the idea author Donald Kingsbury beautifully stated in his quote, “Tradition is a set of solutions for which we have forgotten the problems. Throw away the solution, and you get the problem back….” Rationality & Logic had me convinced I was rising above the ignorance and blind faith of religion, while in fact, all I was doing was opening pandora’s box. It’s easy to see the restrictions in religion. It’s much harder to see what lifting the restriction will lead to down the line. For example- You can’t drink alcohol. That’s the restriction. Lift that restriction. Now you can indulge in alcohol and the pleasures it might bring you. But now you also have to carry the hangovers, the bad decisions made when you’re drinking, and the weight gain. Let’s zoom out; societally, now you’ve opened the door to fetal alcohol syndrome (the incidence of FASD is 50x lower in predominantly Muslim countries). The US couldn’t defeat alcohol for 13 years during prohibition; Islam’s defeat of alcohol has lasted for 14 centuries (and counting). It’s not a stretch to say this is a modern-day miracle. 

Even more miraculous than its defeat of alcohol is the strength Islam gives the faithful to endure pain. Pain is a reality of life. Everyone is destined to hurt. Our deen teaches us that “Indeed, with hardship comes ease.” But when you’re falling away from the deen, that ayah sounds less like reassurance and more like pacification. Pain in a meaningful life is manageable, even pleasurable, but when there’s no meaning beyond the pain, life becomes unbearable. Unfortunately, most Atheists who take the rational approach arrive at the conclusion that life is meaningless. Jewish Austrian Psychologist Viktor Frankl famously said, “When a person can't find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” I embodied this quote to the T.  Pleasure was the best painkiller there was. At the ripe young age of 22, I felt like I’d cracked the code. Life is painful. Religion is just a way of pacifying the pain. We’ve proven religion is false, so there is no use in abiding by it. Pleasure and enjoyment of life became the highest goal.

My Story

As a Muslim, you exist in the community of Muslims, and the community is self-policing. Sounds pretty restrictive. You can’t do whatever you want around the other Muslims because they’re gonna police you. So now you gotta stay away from the backward folk who are gonna judge you. If only they’d live and let live. Fantastic, now you can do whatever you want. In the beginning, the world is your oyster. Free of all restrictions, whatever your heart desires is yours as long as you can get your hands on it. You tell yourself you’re not a bad person. You have one life to live, and you’re living it to the fullest. The only rule there is, don’t hurt anyone. So, you enjoy everything life has to offer, and it is heaven on earth. Till it’s not. See, here’s the thing no one wants to admit: pleasure is finite, and after a while, nothing is as good as it was the first time. But you’re hooked. You’re still chasing pleasure, but it’s a phantom. The pain you were running away from is still there, and now the painkiller doesn’t work. Depression sets in. Anxiety as well.

Your family is not happy you’ve turned your back on the deen. This isn’t helping your struggle. You won’t admit it, but things are getting worse. You feel broken. You’ve sinned against yourself, your family, and your friends, your single-minded devotion to pleasure and enjoyment has destroyed everything good in your life. You would never kill yourself, but you now understand how people get there. But, it doesn’t stop there. You never realized it, but your approach to life has begun to taint those around you. Perhaps your friends and family aren’t doing exactly what you’re doing, but your audacity at flouting the rules has emboldened them in their own ways to flout the rules. Congratulations, what started in you is now spreading via you. The depression and anxiety you suffered are now spreading to those around you. Time goes on, and you’ve broken your one rule, not to hurt anyone. You never thought life could get this bad. You look at yourself in the mirror, and you wouldn’t admit it, but you hate yourself. The feeling you live with all the time is literally the same feeling you have in a nightmare. You lose your job, your family, and your self-respect, and worst of all, you’ve become weak. Your constant pursuit of pleasure has made planning for the future, impulse control, and doing anything difficult with a reward impossible. You’re broken.

The pain goes all the way down to your soul. You wish you could go back to being a child. You realize you can’t keep this up; you gotta pivot. Back to the drawing board. Let’s analyze this rationally; there’s no afterlife, no objective meaning to life; you create your own meaning, maximize pleasure, and minimize pain.  You read philosophy. You find Nietzsche, the 20th-century philosopher who foresaw the fall of religion and taught that the next step was for men to create their own way forward. He says those who can identify their own ideals and stick to them will inherit the earth. Nietzsche calls the people who do this: Supermen; they’ve overcome their predecessors, the religious. The Supermen aren’t bound by the same rules as the old-fashioned rule followers. So, you go forth. You think you’re ahead of the curve now, philosophy is justifying you, but slowly you start to realize – it’s impossible to craft your own morals. This single realization leads you to a psychology professor on YouTube who kind of sounds like Kermit the Frog. His name is Jordan Peterson, and he’s talking about a lot of the questions you’re now pondering. Peterson’s advice is useful and actionable, and as you apply it, you begin to feel better and more hopeful about the future. Then you find his work on the collective unconscious. Everything you’ve thought for the past few years is blasted apart in 15 minutes. Peterson argues that the fact that people have similar stories across cultures is proof that our fundamental beliefs and ideals are not socially constructed but are biologically and psychologically built in. As you listen to this man, you realize that not only is it impossible to craft your own morals, but that the morals built into religion are universal; if you deviate from them, you will pay dearly; your life was a living testament to this. Slowly, as you listen to this man, you begin to understand you’ve been wrong this whole time. Your dismissal of religion was based on weak points. You had wanted to follow your desires. You sought answers from rationality that were impossible to answer rationally. You took an approach that weakened you over time. Perhaps you couldn’t calculate it in advance, but there’s no question about it; a life without deen is damned to misery. 

Message to Jordan B. Peterson

As I continued on my journey, I was slowly led from Peterson’s studies to a hodgepodge of theologies and finally back home to Islam. It’s one of those peculiarities of life that the master at identifying the problem isn’t necessarily the master at identifying the solution. Peterson and his work led me away from chaos, but they could only take me so far. At a certain point, I only found growth, conviction, and peace in Islam. I may be biased, but I still believe Jordan Peterson is sincere, and I pray that he sees the truth staring him in the face. Worldly success and fame only go so far, Dr. Peterson. Islam encapsulates the ultimate truths in the Gospel, the Torah, and all your studies. I suspect you believe you have the capacity to make a historical impact on the world. I believe Islam is how you can do it.

Make The Ummah Great Again

Our prioritization of rationality over faith is arguably our biggest blunder. We disregard the fact that rationality was nurtured in the womb of religion. Rationality is not fit to serve as the foundation for human existence. A fully rational universe disregards the pain of mourning and the joy of overcoming. We don’t like to consider it, but the foundation that underpins our world today is religion. In the absence of the god given religion, people will create a new religion. We saw this with the rise of Nazism & Communism and guess what – when people attempt to create religions, they wind up destroying the world. Nietzsche’s call to craft our own ideals and become supermen is a unique idea, but it’s impossible. The only way for us to overcome and become Supermen is through Islam. Only by submitting to the master and his plan can we achieve our highest potential. The guidelines of Islam are, in fact, the natural guidelines all humans feel deep down. Islam speaks to the purest aspects of the collective consciousness. Society tends to scoff at the restrictions in our deen, and then as time passes, the consequences of the transgressions prove the validity of Islam. Consider the hyper-sexualization in our society. A skyrocketing divorce rate is nothing to be happy about. Sexual indiscretions between men and women are to no one’s benefit. The ever-increasing gender wars are a threat to everything. As people now begin to consider solutions, many of the ideas proposed sound like Islam, such as the recent call for gender-segregated gyms to prevent men from leering at women. The truth is antifragile. When Islam is attacked, and people stray from it, they inevitably expose themselves to chaos, and in that chaos, as people begin to look for a solution, they come upon Islam. The sickness creates the demand for the cure.

We Muslims are the inheritors of a fallen empire. While the Western World descended into the Dark Ages and labeled Aristotelian logic as heretical, the Muslim sages translated it into Arabic and passed it on to posterity. The sudden rise in apostasy and atheism in the Muslim world is just one indicator of how far we’ve fallen. Humans are instinctively drawn to what is good and pure; the rejection of Islam shows that the deen has been warped in the eyes of many. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” This concept perfectly represents the issue of atheism and apostasy in the Muslim world today. To the credit of today’s Muslim leaders, the attitude towards this issue in the past few years has begun to shift. The fact that a Muslim Magazine asked me to pen this piece speaks volumes. Islam is the truth. Avoiding the topic of atheism and apostasy only strengthens it. A belief system that craters birth rates and breaks families can do no harm to the divine truth on earth. The path Atheism promises is a dead-end; it chokes all “irrational” conceptions of nobility, honor, heroism, love, and passion. This is why in the end; victory will be with Islam. Rationally I cannot explain it, and I won’t because to do so would cheapen it. The hearts that know Islam know it.