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Why an apostate’s essay, “On Leaving Islam,” was censored at Berkeley

with 4 comments

On Leaving Islam II

“This opinion blog has been retracted because of personal safety concerns.” Kimberly Veklerov, editor-in-chief, The Daily Californian

The following essay,”On leaving Islam,” by a Berkeley student, was censored. At first, I thought the reason was from domestic pressure, and I wrote, “Apostates are being killed and threatened for speaking out, highlighting her words and others like her protects them from future oppression and bigotry. We cannot self-censor. The more that speak, the more that will speak.”

My rush to judgment:  After correspondence with the author, who will return to visit Pakistan, I understand why the post was taken down. After the Bill Maher flap, and other PC issues at Cal, I jumped to a conclusion. Here’s the essay that a Pakistani woman, even in America, could not write:

On Leaving Islam

If someone had told me six years ago that I would leave Islam and end up an atheist, I would never have believed him. Kimberly VeklerovI was born and raised as a Muslim. I grew up in a Muslim country — Pakistan — surrounded by other Muslims who were convinced that their religion was the one true religion. My family, in particular, followed moderate Sunni Islam, which is a more liberal approach based on the “Sunnah,” or Prophet’s teachings. That was the path I set out on. But now, as a Muslim apostate and atheist, my journey couldn’t have led me any further from what I once knew to be true.

Until I was 14, I simply accepted everything I’d been told about Islam. I was taught that being born into a Muslim family is a blessing and is the greatest gift that Allah can bestow upon someone. I initially thought the Sunni path I followed was the one true path, just like my Shia, Bori and Ismaili friends adhered to the teachings of the sects their families followed. I noticed how everyone around me claimed to have a monopoly on the truth, which made me question who was actually right. I started to view Islam — and religion in general — as something dogmatic, irrational, unscientific and, most of all, completely sexist.

A feminist since age 10, it’s always been hard for me to reconcile my feminism with my faith. Even though the Pakistani society in which I grew up was sexist, my family has always been very progressive. As a result, I never accepted the male superiority and traditional gender roles that were part of my society. For most of my teen years, I felt torn apart by my contradictory beliefs. On one hand, I was a radical feminist who supported gay rights. But on the other hand, I was a practicing Muslim whose religion was clearly homophobic and placed men above women.

At that point, I still believed in an all-knowing God, and I felt that if I learned more about Islam, I would be able to understand why it stated the things it did. I read the Quran with translation and countless books on Islamic jurisprudence. I started taking classes at Zaynab Academy and Al-Huda, two traditional Islamic organizations. The Islam they preached was not the liberal, fluid Islam of my parents: Instead, it followed the Quran very rigidly. While the moderate Muslims I knew never encouraged hijab or gender segregation, these institutions differed in their views. I started to follow a more ritualistic Islam, going as far as giving up listening to music and wearing the hijab.

Stifled by orthodox Islam, I decided to turn to a more liberal approach. I embraced Sufism, which is the mystical side of Islam, and began to see God as an entity of love. Feminist scholars, such as Amina Wadud and Leila Ahmed, gave me a glimmer of hope that Islam and feminism could be compatible, although I later found their arguments very selective. On the other extreme, I read writers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, another ex-Muslim atheist, whose harsh criticism of Islam was not always justified.

After trying to understand Islam through a plurality of perspectives — orthodox, feminist, Sufi and liberal approaches — I decided to leave Islam, but by that point, I had realized that I didn’t need to look at things as black and white. I could leave Islam without dismissing it or labeling it as wrong.

Going through all of these versions of Islam has enabled me to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the religion. Islam is no monolith, and with more than 1.5 billion followers, it’s impossible to refer to Islam as a single entity. There are Muslim women who cover every inch of their bodies except for their eyes, and there are also Muslim women who wear short skirts. With so much variation amongst Muslims, it’s hard to determine who really gets to speak for Islam.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, Islam is still extremely misrepresented and shrouded with stereotypes. I want to address these stereotypes and portray Islam in all its diversity. I’ve experienced the religion firsthand and have also viewed it as an objective bystander. I probably spend more time thinking about God than most religious people; despite my skepticism, I’ve always yearned for a spiritual connection. I want to share what I’ve learned about Islam over the years. I plan to defend it and give credit where it’s due — Islam, after all, gave women the right to work and own property back in the seventh century — and I also plan to ruthlessly point out areas that need reform (yes, Islam does allow men to have four wives and sex slaves).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Islam, it’s that my former religion, just like any other ideology, has its flaws. Religion should not be immune to criticism. It’s important to have an honest dialogue about religion and identify what can be improved — and that’s exactly what I plan to do. Related:  “Ex-Muslim:  My parents don’t want me to ‘burn in hell'” – BBC


Written by Caleb Powell

June 8, 2015 at 6:32 am

4 Responses

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  1. Islam is NOT a religion, it’s a cult! And the reason it’s one of the fastest growing “religions” is because either Muslims have a shitload of children to indoctrinate into it, or they establish Caliphates, like they are trying to do throughout Europe and the rest of the West. Regardless, one thing is certain about Islam… it is pure, unadulterated, evil! It was created by a pedophile, and is propagated by pedophiles. And if you went from Islam to Atheism, you only jumped out of the pan and into the fire, moron!

    Jeff Sanders

    June 9, 2015 at 11:52 pm

  2. Maybe if more of these brainwashed ritualistic cave people would read they would leave the horrible freud fraud too and then there would not be “good” people gotten rid of with is slum?
    It’s only “fast growing” because of $$$ and murder. Thats not religion or faithful just trash for greed or cowardice.
    it’s a rat cult and real rats are more acceptable in human society


    June 10, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    • Uh, oh, and here comes the “education will cure them” wishful thinking.

      Sadly, I have to disappoint you.

      A poll in the UK a few years ago found that 49% of the Muslim population supported Sharia law, i.e. hacking off hands for theft, stoning women etc.

      Among university students, the support was 75%!

      In Pakistan, it’s the middle- and upper class that are most fanatic about Islam. The lower class doesn’t really care much.

      During the first period of cartoon violence, I debated a Pakistani medical student who advocated the use of ABC weapons against Denmark – because of cartoons, yes.

      Just a few months later, 4 medical doctors in the UK and Australia launched terrorist attacks against airports. They had very good incomes and were supposedly “integrated” into their new host societies.

      More educated Muslims are simply able to rationalize their faith.

      What DOES help, for smart people, based on my experience, is the continuous exposure to arguments with non-believers who question everything about Islam.


      June 10, 2015 at 5:35 pm

  3. I was able to retrieve all the comments, before they, too, were deleted:

    Glen Wishard

    Retracted at the request of the author? Because of concern for the author’s personal safety?

    Sohan Dsouza

    Anyone else see “No, Muslims are not terrorists” among the article links in the sidebar on the right?


    You can find it here:

    But I’m sure this will be taken down before long, too.


    If you’re not willing to put your life on the line for freedom of speech you don’t deserve it.
    Free speech wasn’t free. It was paid for in the blood of those that came before us.


    Just because it was paid for in blood in the past doesn’t mean it should continue to be paid for. Free speech should be free. It is a right, not something you have to pay for. No one should have to fear for their personal safety when they express their ideas.

    Mark Moore

    The religion of peace is at it again.



    Comparing Jewish or Christian behavior to Islamic behavior as you have done
    makes a basic mistake, in that it compares medieval or 1AD or BC Jewish or
    Christian behavior to Islamic behavior in the 21st century. You either lack the
    education to know, or dishonestly leave out of your post a basic change that
    has taken place in Christianity and Judaism since those distant times. The vast
    majority of membership in both of these religious groupings now views such
    strict punishments as killing or threats to keep people in your religion, or to
    force conversions, as very wrong and illegal. Sadly, not so with Islam in much
    of the Islamic world.

    Islam has modernized such that many Muslims who live in the west speak as
    most Christians and Jews do about keeping people in your religion, or to force
    conversions. Sadly, in most of the Islamic world, such talk is risky and thus
    rare. It’s mostly done in English, when English isn’t the national language,
    and not in the local press. Many cases exist of an Islamic spokesperson
    speaking peacefully in English, and provocatively and harshly in the
    non-English local language. Denial of the strictness in many Islamic countries,
    that was only common in Christianity and Judaism in the far past, is so
    dishonest that it can only be caused by genuine lack of knowledge or simple
    Omar Patel

    Wow, this is so sad. Berkeley is where I left Islam as well. This is so sad. Good luck to you and hit me up via Facebook if you want to talk (Omar Salim Patel).

    Oh Islam, you peaceful religion….

    This is absurd. You’re letting the fundies win their war against free speech and inquiry!

    This is absurd. You’re letting the fundies win their war against free speech and inquiry!
    Dan Foreman

    Google it: “On leaving Islam Unveiling Islam By Shanzeh Khurram” Copies are going up on all the discussion boards. Free speech will not be defeated.


    Good luck to you, I was unable to see your post before it was removed. I sincerely hope that such fears are unfounded and soon blasphemy and apostasy will be put into their proper place as highly regarded rational thinking.

    WTF, religious extremists. WTF.
    Kieran Black

    Good on you for taking responsibility for your own thinking.

    Congratulations for escaping your childhood and cultural conditioning (e.i. brainwashing) and thinking for yourself. Wisdom is not contained in old books, muttered by prophets or defined by gods. Wisdom is just three things for which all humans have the capacity: empathy to realize that we all have similar essential feelings worthy of recognition, compassion to show that we all have struggles and may need each other’s help, and reason to separate fact from fiction and help guide our actions.

    If You are So called Ex- Muslims then why you are using the word Muslims?…instead you should use Atheist or Non religious..Even you should Change your name to Ex Something to be on Restructured Position..

    In details there are two types of So called Es Muslims exist at Present one who is not following any Islamic Principles (Namaz, Quran, Fasting ) but remain in its own will but not Create any Hypocrisy but on the other hand there are Ex Muslims who even not following any Islamic principle but have the excuse to discuss the stupid dogmas to Just Create an Hypocrisy….
    Doing such things Can only bring Few happiness moments for You in your life but at the end you will not achieved any results..

    The young refugee from religion essentially notes that “Islam isn’t all bad.”
    Here’s one major flaw: the central text, the Koran (the “Muslim
    Bible”). To paraphrase a Muslim from the past: the minarets are the
    helmets of my soldiers. He referred to the militaristic elements of the Koran that
    prompted male Muslims to respect and have a desire to be holy warriors (Jihad’s).
    This was a factor of religion that Christianity developed to, in our era of “Christendom vs Islam.”

    The Christian ideal was honesty and justice, with “cheaters” being despised
    by most and most cheaters trying to hide that. In contrast, the Koran contains
    statements that lead some of the worlds’ millions of Muslims every year to lie,
    cheat, steal and murder as long as they can justify it as being done in pursuit
    of “advancing Islam.” One specific example is that Muhammad betrayed
    a treaty to win a great victory-this is one of the main foundations-as an
    example-for the idea of betrayal and dishonesty being acceptable if it advances

    Along with other military references, the Koran had-1400 years ago- a modern
    version of rules of engagement (ROE). This use of a modern concept back then,
    plus other military ideas are what gave Islam the aforementioned nickname
    “barracks religion.” It is designed to grow through warfare,
    dishonesty, and the now well known threat of execution for leaving the

    Yes, young lady, Islam has some issues.
    aneel jahangir

    Hello everyone
    I would like to start with a quote “you can run but can not hide”. Like most of u i also struggled my way till now, i am born of a Muslim family but no body in my home is religious its a typical modern Muslim family with no compulsion of saying prayers , observe fast etc etc. My last 4 had been so painful for me when it all started and i really became confused whether there is god or not, before that i was a kind of both atheist and a believer or simply confused. I did not really liked the whole of Muslim concept like praying in mosque keeping beard, wearing trouser above ankle etc i was becoming more and more confused day by day , i used to waste most of my time thinking and researching Islam which also affected my studies to a large extend, since that time till now i have been in so much of pain as i could not concentrate on any thing and i also failed my exams because of this situation of mine. I used to offer prayers some times in secrecy and used to pray my lord and Allah that if ur there than help me . I am ready to become ur servant but at least show me some prove of ur existence to me, since those days till now i had beeing researching Islam, i also researched Christianity , Hinduism, Sikhism and many other religions on the face of each open minded just to get to the trust. As i promised my self what ever the trust is going to accept it because it would the trust and what i came across till this date is that Islam is a true religion like other religion which are mentioned in quran but islam is universal while others were for a specific people and era,you would think its a typical Muslim thinking that it is written in Quran and so i believed in it, my answer to this is no, i believed in Quran because i researched on it and found it a word of Allah , so what makes me think it is a true word of Allah so plz read a book “The bible, Quran and modern science” by Dr maurice bucaille the examiner of Pharaoh’s dead body- pharaoh of prophet Moses time. I now believe in my lord my Allah and i testify that prophet Mohammad is the last messenger send by Allah. I would like to advice all those who are in pain like i was that don’t give up seek the truth and the truth will seek you. Islam’s path is difficult but it is the truth and truth should be accepted whether one likes it or not. “”””””Do seek guidance in ur prayers from ur lord Allah””””” as there is no barrier between we and Allah in our prayers as it is that gift of Allah only given to muslims 🙂 do remember me in your prayers. Thankyou.

    Thank you for sharing your experience Shanzeh! I cant imagine how hard all this process was for you and your family/friends.

    I used to be agnostic and then I accepted Islam, and there are many questions that came up in the process. I can see you tried very hard (more than many Muslims) to try to understand your own former faith and culture.

    I wanted to share two things from my short experience in Islam.

    First, many stuff related to Islam are actually more related to the culture itself of the people who is practicing and not from Islam (Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Libia, Palestine, etc). That explained to me a lot of things that I did not agree with, and I used to think it was from Islam.

    The other thing is that I really encourage you to go and share your experience in Islamic forums/seminars at Berkeley, it is such a good experience. I encourage you and any other person (religion or not) to go to the talks and seminars offer by religion and not religion communities. Berkeley is a great source of knowledge and we all need people from different opinions and background to go and share their questions and doubts. It would be great that you share with the Muslim community your concerns,because I feel the community is evolving and needs a lot of improvement. 🙂

    Shanzeh, you should join us in the Berkeley Atheists and Skeptics Society! 😀

    Shanzeh, you should join us in the Berkeley Atheists and Skeptics Society! 😀

    Interesting piece, but it seems that so much is left hanging unsaid. I’m not exactly sure of why you made the break. Also left unsaid are the repercussions from family and other Muslims. Apostasy is punished by death especially if the apostate speaks out against Islam.That is considered treason.


    I encourage you to read a wikipedia article about Apostasy penalty in Islam, so you can known the actual situation (depending on the country) before given an opinion 🙂

    OK, Juan. I’ve read the wikipedia article (as if that’s definitive). What is your point? That Muslims scholars disagree or that it is enforced differently in different countries?

    I have listened to several Islamic leaders in the US tell me personally that there is no death penalty for apostasy in Islam (Maher Hathout, Salaam al Marayati and Muzammil Siddiqi.) I have posed the question to them personally in So Cal. over the past two-three years. Hathout and Marayati denied it to my face. Siddiqi told me that there is disagreement and that personally he doesn’t care if someone leaves Islam. Then I asked him about apostates like Nonie Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Wafa Sultan, who in addition to leaving Islam, publicly criticize it. “Ah ha” he answered. “That is treason just like the Muslims who fought for the Russians in Afghanistan” and walked away.

    Incidentally, the occasion for these exchanges was when i presented each of them with their copies of the “Freedom Pledge” a letter from Former Muslims United asking them to sign a simple statement that American Muslim apostates should not be harmed. In 2009 that letter was sent to them and 100 leading Islamic leaders in the US and again to 200 of them in 2012. To date, only two have signed and none of the above.

    Apostasy is included under the section of sharia called Hudud sharia (Crimes Against God). It is affirmed by the leading schools of Islamic thought.

    Wikipedia’s Islam related articles are written by Muslims, any Muslim, scholar or not. They are not of any value whatsoever. Wikipedia itself has no credibility, it can be edited by anyone and has a long history of bias.

    “I rely on Wikipedia, except when my half-informed opinion disagrees with what is written.”
    Omar Patel

    Damn, I wish I knew you during my time at Cal. It felt so weird leaving Islam on my own. Good on you.

    Muhammeds first wife, ran a trading company and had men working for her.

    Women could already own property and Work. Persian women, also served in their armed forces and were treated equally.

    Sorry, but Islam did not give women rights, it took them away.

    Thank you. That is according to Islamic historians a fact.

    Exactly, and the ‘perfect’ Mohammed didn’t like one of his wives because in his ‘perfection’ he missed that she had ailments, and thusly cast her out into a life of selling camel manure for the rest of her days. Swell, guy. Why didn’t he get the Islamic Cheerleader version of Jesus to lend a healing hand’s beyond me.

    Well said Annie. It’s sad that even though this woman has left Islam she has “feelings” for it and looks at it from her own POV, which is the wrong view.

    There are no different interpretations of Islam, Islam is Islam. It instructs murder, theft and rape. The different versions of Islam are all based on Islam. What is the meaning of different versions of it? None. If you change an idea then it is no longer that idea, so if you think the love that exists in Sufism originates from Islam then you need to keep reading and researching. The good parts of Sufism is from Persian culture. It tried to survive in a world ruled by Islam, in a world that apostasy would and will get you executed.

    “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Islam, it’s that my former religion, just like any other ideology, has its flaws.”

    Unfortunately, that reduces Islam to dust since it is built on the entire concept of it being explicitly from Allah and perfect in every way. I am glad that you’ve moved on to a wider, much more creative and interesting world of possibilities.

    Caleb Powell

    July 16, 2015 at 2:53 pm

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