Lately I’ve been discussing with some of my Muslim friends on why I left Islam and I began to muse about how much I’ve changed over the last 4 years. For starters, I was an ardent follower of Islam and most importantly a hijabi. My world view, my life….everything was tied to the religion and now it’s like I’m unrecognizable; I feel reborn in a liberating sense but it’s still a lonely feeling having to leave everything you believed in. My journey to becoming an atheist and feminist is a long one filled with excitement, confusion, anger, happiness, and a whole bunch of other emotions that have made me a tad bit wiser in life.
For many years I never thought much about the religion, I was Muslim simply because my family was too. I wore the hijab at the age of 9 much against my father’s will; he felt that I was far too young to make such a rash decision and he was right. Girls are supposed to wear the hijab when they begin menstruating/hit puberty because they are now being judged by Allah. In reality; however, they wear it when they are much younger. It’s a good way to practice what awaits you. I was attracted to the concept of the hijab when I went to visit my mother’s family in London for the summer at the age of 8. There, I saw many girls my age wearing the hijab and my aunt never hesitated to remind me about how special they were and how I could be like them. I began to equate self worth with wearing the hijab. To be a respected member of my family, to make my family proud, to make especially my mother proud, I had to wear the hijab. And so I decided to become a hijabi. My mom was so happy but my dad saw right through my decision and knew that it was not something I should take lightly; the hijab is a lifetime commitment. Stubborn, I pleaded with him until he allowed me to wear it (my grandpa kind of forced him to let me wear it too). I never felt more excited as I wore my one piece hijab with my green T-shirt and jeans as my back to school outfit. I was looking fly as ever for a third grader. As soon as I walked into school; however, I could feel many stares on me. La Fontaine was very small and everyone knew each other. Wearing the hijab for the first couple of weeks was embarrassing and awkward but I persisted and it in the end became part of my identity.
7 years would go by and I would act in plays and sing in choirs with my hijab in defiance of the constant discrimination I would face for choosing to veil myself. Whether it was the lady at the gym ordering me to remove my hijab or Mrs. K. calling me a towel head in front of everyone, I moved passed it and thrived in the name of Allah. It wasn’t until I went to a Catholic high school that I started to question the hijab; after all, many of my Christian friends would ask me why I wore it and my response would always be the same: “it’s a religious prescription ordained by Allah.” Here’s the thing, I never knew the history behind the hijab nor the verses in the Quran that discussed it, and one day I was debating with my World Religions teacher about the hijab and he mentioned that the Quran does not really discuss the covering of hair. I was taken aback by his statement and the seed of “what if” was planted in my head. I remember that my High school trip to an Islamic school in Toronto made me notice the gender dynamics of my religion. My friends began to ask me all sorts of questions that I could not answer such as why women pray in the back; visiting that school made me uneasy the whole time, perhaps it was because I began to see the religion from the perspective of my friends and I did not like it one bit.
A couple of months later, I stumbled upon a website called submission.org; there, I learned about the hadith as well as the sexism that exists in Islam. My discovery of this website led me to research about all things pertaining to women in Islam and I realized that we were oppressed. Everything was a sin when it came to women; we could not dress as liberally as the guys, wear nail polish, wear too much makeup, pray when we’re menstruating, sing or dance in front of men, become Imams, divorce, and the list goes on. I realized that much of these restrictions originated from the hadith, a collection of sayings by the prophet narrated by fellow Muslims 250 years after his death; upon learning that, I rejected the hadith and began to solely follow the Quran. I was a Muslim that followed the message of Allah, which was the Quran and not a collection of sayings privy to Chinese whisper. The Quran in of itself was not as restrictive against women; it preached modesty but not the covering of hair for example. We could be imams, sing, dance and do whatever we wanted. Becoming a quranist made me feel free. It’s important to note that my family is Sunni, meaning they follow not only the Quran but also the hadith. As a quranist I followed only the Quran.
Rejecting the hadith gave me the opportunity to interpret Islam in a more female-positive way and after completing my first semester of university, I found the courage to take off my hijab for good (this is a whole other story that deserves another post). But even then, I kept finding more and more sexist verses in the Quran and there seemed to be no other way to interpret them. My mind was filled with questions ranging from why men can marry girls that have not began menstruating, to why it is necessary to stone the people of Sodom and Gomorra. What’s so bad about being homosexual anyway? They’re happy Allah. And why must we flog/imprison people for committing lewd acts? How is it that the Quran mentions repercussions for lewdness but not rape? Speaking of rape, is having sex with your slave consensual? Why are slaves allowed in Islam but alcohol and pork is prohibited? I had so many questions but so little answers. In hindsight, I was ripe for de-conversion.
I never found any answers and by my second year of university, a good friend of mine left the religion all together. I was stunned. Yes we have so many questions about the religion but we have plenty of time to study it and find our answers! Despite all my efforts to bring her back to the religion, she changed my life. She gave me a way out. She showed me that leaving the religion was an option. A scary one, but nevertheless it was still an option. I don’t remember all the steps involved in my de-conversion, but I can tell you this much: I gradually stopped praying and caring about the religion, I wasn’t an ex-Muslim but I was on the edge of the cliff, as my friend called it, about to fall into disbelief. One April night, I made the jump after watching this video:
It was like a fog in my mind cleared up and all I saw was clarity. Leaving Islam gave me dignity; I was now free to face the truth about who I am as a woman: I am equal to man. My mind was now able to wonder free and critique the gender binaries in our world, I could now explore my sexuality, and I could now be fully accepting of everyone especially my gay buddies without having to feel like I was sinning. As of right now, I consider myself atheist simply because I don’t believe in any kind of deity and I guess it’s because there’s just no evidence. My life has definitely become more complicated, my parents don’t know that I’ve left the religion…it would break their hearts but I know that in the near future I will have to come out. But that’s a long time from now; right now I’m just going to live.