Adil returns with a much needed sequel to his previous article on the growing wave of Muslim apostasy…
Please skip the introduction if you have read part 1
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 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. Following the original article in the series, in no particular order whatsoever I discuss a further five reasons for why many Muslims start doubting Islam.
6) Muslims start to distrust influential Muslim speakers who may eloquently critique Islamophobia but show tacit acceptance and complicity towards extreme or intolerant Muslim speakers or activists.
As a discussed in the previous article, human beings have double standards; perhaps this is as inevitable as sin itself, but as Muslims we are clearly warned against them, and told to stand for justice, regardless of who it is against.
O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of any-one lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do (Qur’an 5:8)
O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do! (Qur’an 4:135)
A couple of meanings here are clear and unambiguous; first, the Qur’an recognises that we are not saints and that we will invariably detest people, but it reminds us to be just even to those we hate, equating this with God consciousness. Secondly, we are told to stand for justice even if it is against ourselves or our families. At no point is there small print telling us to give a Muslim whose name pops up on an adultery website the benefit of the doubt if we wouldn’t do the same for a non Muslim too. Making excuses for people who are on ‘the same side,’ is undeniably common amongst most people; secular societies (and ironically named anti extremist organisations) for instance, persistently make excuses in favour for outright anti-Muslim neocon warmongers like Bill Maher, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Douglas Murray, Sam Harris, and others. But how can we cry foul play when we do exactly the same, even though we have a religious mandate not to and they do not?
Many Muslim websites and spokespeople articulately and skilfully de-construct anti-Muslim bias and prejudice in the media; CAGE do, iERA do, 5 Pillarz does; hard-line activists of Hizbut Tahir can be very perceptive when it comes to de constructing Islamophobia too. But where is that perception when it comes to Muslim extremists? Trawl through the pages of certain Dawah carriers (some who laughably fancy themselves as human rights activists) and you’ll see articles on Zionism, Islamophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry, Western foreign policy and critiques of secular liberalism; but seldom if ever, a criticism of Muslim extremists. If pushed, most of these individuals and organisations will denounce ISIS and perhaps Al Muhajiroun (a group of murderers, and a laughable band of moronic provocateurs respectively), but critique of any ultraconservative ‘scholars’ who advocate anything slightly less than mass murder will either be disregarded, or elicit frenzied accusations of modernism and heresy. Criticise Ibn Baz for his excommunication of people who disagreed with his ‘cosmology,’ or still living ‘scholars’ like Haitham al Haddad for calling Osama Bin Laden a martyr (albeit one whose ‘methods’ he disagrees with), or for clearly condoning domestic violence, and at best, you’ll be faced with a mountain of emotional blackmail in the name of ‘unity’. It is indeed ironic that the Muslims who try to stifle criticism of scholars in the name of ‘unity’ are usually defending scholars who advocate sectarianism of the worst kind; often denouncing any non Salafist perspectives, and have such a stringent criteria for what makes a Muslim or even a valid prayer (according to one ‘Dawahman,’ most Muslims haven’t ever said a prayer that ‘counts’ anyway); that they would consider virtually all other Muslims as disbelievers anyway.
But hey, isn’t ‘making excuses for your brothers’ a good thing anyway? Even if Al Haddad is just a little bit on the hard-line side (you know, for insisting that even closet apostasy should be punishable by death, or that domestic violence is okay, or that Jews are the enemies of God, or that homosexuality is worse than murder), he’s a man of knowledge right? Part of the Ummah. Okay, then we can surely give some slack to the chairman of the ‘anti extremist’ Quilliam foundation for defending his ‘sister’ Ayaan Hirsi Ali who thinks Islam should be crushed; or Benjamin Netanyahu for defending his settler ‘brothers,’ or ‘comedian’ Bill Maher for defending anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders. Right? Or are only Muslims allowed to have double standards in defending repugnant views?
7) Many Muslim parents teach their children about Islam horrendously, or not at all
Many non Muslims (including some of my Christian friends who say this as complement) assume that most young Muslims are brought up to be very religious by their parents, and are given a thorough religious education (or ‘indoctrination,’ for many militant secularists who see any form of religious upbringing as such). The reality of the upbringing of your average Muslim child is very different however; and more akin to a sponge like absorption of ideas and practices rather than actually being taught very much of note. Children simply see their parents doing ‘Muslim things,’ and copy them. It is not uncommon for a parent to teach their child how to pray, and perhaps sprinkle their children with whatever hadiths appear to fit their parental wants, but this is usually where it ends. I genuinely struggle to think of any of my Muslim peers who have meaningful theological conversations with their parents, or have been taught anything remotely academic by them. At best, parents will often tick the ‘teach the children about Islam’ box by sending their child to a Qur’an class, often led by an uneducated village elder who can barely speak English.
We will pay dearly for this lack of education whilst living in the West. In a Muslim majority country, the ‘Muslim ideas,’ and the general belief that Islam represents reality, will generally be absorbed by young people growing up in that society, even if parents give their children scant religious education. In Western countries however, the general sense that Islam represents reality is clearly absent, so young Muslims will only be absorbing the general idea that Islam is true at home, and the general notion that no religion is especially worth following outside. Living in such a society need not be problematic, provided the individual has a reasonable understanding of why his/her faith at least adds up, or is relevant to daily life. However, the unfortunate reality is that most Muslims are philosophically and theologically illiterate, and simply following Islam from learnt behaviour, which provides no defence should the individual be faced by his/her own self or others with ‘why’ questions.
(Two outstanding books for young Muslims living in the West are the excellent Struggling to Surrender and Losing my Religion by Dr Jeffrey Lang)
8) Many Muslims are brought up hating going to the Mosque, often for understandable reasons, and they stop going at the first opportunity
Unfortunately many mosques in the modern age, for want of a better term, suck. It is unsurprising therefore, that many Muslims who are dragged there as children, cease to attend at the first possible opportunity. This is not necessarily accompanied by abandonment of their faith, but the alienation from the religious establishment increases the probability, if not with the current generation, then the next one. It is very common for mosques and Islamic centres to have awful or non-existent provision for women (who, if anything should be given greatest priority as they have the leading role in raising the next generation), and are a boring at best environment for children. Unlike in the days of the Prophet when the mosque would be characterised by the happiness and playing of children, many mosques in Britain are a child’s worst nightmare. On a good day, a children’s ‘Islamic class’ may only be boring, with the children learning how to scribe Arabic words (which naturally they are never told the meanings of). Other days however might feature being scolded or beaten by a barely literate village elder who was appointed as ‘maulvi saab‘ because he originates from the same village as whichever family has the dominant position in the mosque.
What are the implications for otherwise intelligent Muslim kids, who are being ‘educated’ by unintelligent ‘teachers,’ and learning about things which they can’t understand in an unintelligent manner? At school they learn about the mind expanding and multifaceted sciences. They learn about drama, love, tragedy and war in English. They learn to think critically in History, they learn about people and culture and customs in geography. Their teachers (generally) know how to connect with them, and explain, and compassionately try to help them learn from mistakes.
Then they go to the mosque; learning very little, by someone who can’t teach, can barely reason, has very little critical thinking ability, and even less compassion. Of course, this is not a logical proof that Islam is backward (just as having a numerically illiterate maths teacher with anger problems and progressive neurodegeneration would not prove that maths sucks), but to put it mildly, negative associations are made, and ‘Islamic education’ becomes synonymous with backward, boring, pointless and judgemental dogma.
Furthermore, many mosques show worryingly little interest in actually doing ‘good things,’ i.e actions which will positively impact on other human beings. Many of them are completely apolitical and are content with being pointless and irrelevant to the world around them, even with global ‘Muslim issues.’ Others which supposedly raise for good causes will on principle only do so with typical ‘Muslim causes’ (i.e. Syria or Palestine) and show little or no interest in additionally helping their non Muslim neighbours. Unsurprisingly, common khutbas [sermons] tend to be pointless (such as making the Jummah Khutbahs nothing more than sermons on how important Jummah is) , irrelevant, dogmatic (like raving about Christians celebrating their festivals by getting drunk) and sometimes spoken either in another language; or by someone in broken English, who is clueless about life in their host country.
By contrast, the last church I visited put just about every mosque I have attended to shame; they counselled youths with mental health issues, they raised food for a local foodbank, they had leaflets about corporate tax fraud, human trafficking and racism amongst other things, and they had material promoting ethical lifestyles. Tragically for them, like most churches they have a relatively small following, most of whom are older, whilst our mosques (almost in spite of what happens in them) often have a much larger one. But how long for? How many more people can we alienate before we see a complete exodus from the next generation?
9) The decline of Christianity and rise of atheism means that Muslims share a far more different notion of reality to their neighbours
Few Muslim – Christian debates in the West end in conversion from the Muslim side. The number of Western Muslims who convert to Christianity has been fairly minimal, even when Christianity was followed by a higher proportion of the populace then it is today. The number of Muslims who have turned to atheism or agnosticism (that is, beyond merely lacking certainty or harbouring a few doubts; which I believe is still compatible with considering oneself a believer) however is far greater. Both Islam and Christianity share many paradigms; the existence of God, the reality of revelation, and the general sense that we serve something higher. I argue that a Muslim population living in a majority practising Christian society is generally unlikely to convert en-masse to Christianity as to do so would require more than merely drifting from Islamic teachings, but actually embracing specific Christian doctrines. Even should an individual become somewhat apathetic with regard to Islamic teachings, chances are, they would remain Muslim; as they live in a society that holds that God is a reality, and on balance, the Muslim notion of monotheism appears more intuitive for most people then the doctrine of the trinity. It seems unlikely that being in a predominantly Christian society would make Muslims ‘drift into’ embracing specific Christian beliefs, but far more likely that they would drift into non-theistic beliefs in a more atheistic society.
Of course, it is very possible for Muslims to thrive in an atheistic society, and to make their friends and neighbours open to the possibility of God. This however would require seemingly sparse concepts like a common understanding of basic philosophy and Islamic theology; some significant Muslim representation in science, more progressive Islamic scholarship, and more human decency and proactiveness from the Muslim communities as a whole.
10) Violent extremism committed by Muslims, regardless of disingenuous media reporting, is a reality, and causes Muslims to have doubts
I hesitated before including this one at all, because I have pondered as to whether violence carried out in the name of Islam is actually significant direct source of apostasy. Whilst the internet is full of strident voices claiming to have left Islam after discovering that the Qur’an tells you to decapitate non Muslims, feast on their bone marrow and drink their spinal fluid, I have yet to meet an ex-Muslim in real life who actually considers Islam to be terroristic. Some have I have spoken to have thought it to be austere and possibly harsh (an unsurprising result of effectively being told that harshness and difficulty in Islam = authenticity, a point to be discussed later), but not inherently violent.
That said, I still believe that violence committed by adherents of any religion including Islam can potentially facilitate apostasy. When violence is (or appears to be) everywhere, the presence of God is harder for people to see, and the appeal of the emotional problem of evil becomes increasingly credible. People become jaded when seeing killers claiming to represent their faith and inevitably ask the question ‘is this really worth it?’ Would God send down a revelation which is so easy to abuse or misinterpret that any sort of violent interpretation is plausible?
We can say that one should ‘judge by texts’ and not a few bad apples, but even a few fractions of a percent of the entire Muslim population represents tens of thousands of people, who currently get a disproportionate amount of airtime.
Sure there are credible responses to these doubts; that many violent Muslims are theologically (if not completely) illiterate, that many reasons for violent extremism are actually secular dressed in religious garb, that Islamophobia, Neocon foreign policy and Muslim extremism are all part of one vicious positive feedback cycle, that it has been non-Muslims have committed the worst genocides of recent history, that much of the media is disingenuous, and so forth. Regardless of this, and the fact that other forms of violence often get swept under the carpet or attributed to non-ideological factors (like mental illness; the standard get out clause after a Caucasian goes on a shooting rampage); violence and oppression carried out by Muslims exists, and even ill-intended motives of those who report it does not somehow diminish its reality. Just because the Daily Mail is an Islamophobic rag doesn’t mean that Mohammad Emwazi (‘Jihadi John’) didn’t join ISIS nor that this wasn’t somehow alarming…just because the Mail had lots of coverage on it!
Yes, sections of the media are Islamophobic, they might distort, misreport and even outright lie; but they need something to work with. If there was no ISIS, no Boko Haram, no Taliban, no Al Shabaab and no Al Qaeda, this would be much harder. Would some especially twisted Islamophobes try anyway? Of course, but the vacuousness of their arguments would be exposed with pitiful ease. Ultimately we must accept that whether we have a monopoly on violence or not (and I believe the latter is true), unless we make a concerted effort for peace, starting from our homes, then our communities in humanity, and ultimately the world around us, more Muslims will become jaded, distrustful, cynical and resentful towards more and more of their co-religionists, and ultimately Islam itself.
I hope that my second 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)
Reasoning with God (Khaled Abou el Fadl)