This is a piece I wrote back in 2020 in the subreddit Ex-Muslims. Back then, I was slowly making my way back to faith. Today I'm a proud Muslim, and my faith is not wavering; I'm grateful to have found conviction, Alhamdullilah. I was stumbling blindly trying to find the next step when I wrote this piece, I'm grateful that where I am today is not where I was then. Between the time I wrote this piece & today, I traveled a long and brutal road. I believe all of us walk this road. On this road, there is no going back, only moving forward and getting stuck. If you move forward, you will be tested beyond what you believed you were capable of, but with each step, there is a reward. If you sit still, your soul will not let you rest, you will wrong yourself, and you will not find piece. I intend on eventually writing about what happened after I wrote this, but for now, I hope you enjoy this piece. I believe telling these stories is a valuable way to help everyone walking the road. I've benefited considerably from other people's stories; I hope the reader finds benefit in my story.
I'm an Egyptian guy living in the metro NY area and grew up in a super religious community. I never really had a problem with it until I did. Growing up, being Muslim was a pretty large part of my identity, and I liked it - I felt like it gave me something my non-Muslim friends didn't have. The community gave me everything I needed, structure, friends, and purpose, and I had no qualms. Yeah, I asked hairy questions every now and then, but it was OK until I was about 21. At that point, a few things happened where I realized that women had considerably less mobility than men did in our society, and I couldn't find a way to make that mesh well in my mind. Well, that was it; it was like a loose strand in a sweater, I began pulling on that, and I started losing faith fast.
Why was Music Haram? Why did women have to cover up? Why can't you draw pictures of the prophet? If Charlie Hebdo draws some pictures of the prophet and people get shot, why are millions, if not billions, of Muslims thinking, "well, they shouldn't have drawn that" instead of being outraged at the violence?
Here's the thing, though, as I began losing faith, I was horrified at myself. I didn't want to see what I saw. I didn't want to lose faith. I was terrified, but I couldn't make myself believe what I didn't rationally accept, so I carried on seeking the truth quietly.
I didn't feel the need to tell anyone what I thought because I knew it would be a mess, so I kept my mouth shut, but my thoughts must have been imprinted on my face or in my mannerisms. Maybe I didn't utter the Alhamdullilahs enough, or maybe they noticed that I stopped going to the mosque. Whatever it was, eventually, my family realized and it was horrible.
Random people began calling me at random hours of the day, trying to "fix" me. I was called ignorant, evil, devilish, a corrupting force in the community, and much more. Some very clever people even tried to blow up my marriage by exposing me. Naturally, I got angry, angrier and angrier. I got so angry I began detesting anything that even vaguely resembled Islam, but then I got a little itch in the back of my mind that I couldn't quite scratch.
See, I grew up in NYC, and in NYC, everything is multicultural, and inevitably you wind up incorporating some of that culture internally. In NYC, everyone visits the Christmas tree in Rockefeller center and knows Jewish/Yiddish words like "schmuck." I don't know why I realized this, but once I did, I realized that I had some Jewish and Christian in me but no Muslim because of my rage.
Once I realized this, I had to be honest with myself, I didn't and still don't hate all of it, but I'd thrown out the baby with the bath water. For example, I liked the idea of fasting/abstaining for a month during Ramadan to reset yourself; no matter what you believe, the benefits of fasting are real. Slowly my anger began to fade, and as it cleared, so did my mind.
I began seeing the connections between Islam and other traditions throughout time.
- The Stoics preach Amor Fati loving your fate, and Muslims preach Alhamdullilah, being grateful for your circumstances.
-The Japanese have a teaching called Hara Hachi Bu, which advices eating 8/10ths full, and the prophet advised people to eat 1/3, drink 1/3 and leave a 1/3 empty.
-Early letters from the 1900s would be signed "deo volente," which means God Willing, which also happens to be a phrase in Islam - Inshallah.
I was forced to re-examine my biased perspective of Islam because I realized it was just another tradition like Judaism or Zen Buddhism. I was biased because of the negative experiences I'd had.
In Nietzsche's work "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," Zarathustra essentially challenges the people to create their value systems if they're going to walk away from religion, and that if they built their own systems and abide by them, they'd be supermen. As someone on this journey, I can tell you firsthand that in the pursuit of building my own value system, a few Muslim teachings inevitably found their way in, and that's OK.
For many of us on this journey, our minds become clouded with rage, which is understandable. Challenging Islam usually invites rage and death threats a lot of the time. However, if we stay mad, we deprive ourselves of clarity and peace. I wish all of you on this journey safety, happiness and peace. Stand your ground, don't let anyone move you, not by fear, guilt, or force, and remember, if you hate the idea of your identity being entirely defined by your religion, then don't let your lack of faith, agnosticism, atheism, whatever define you now.