Why an apostate’s essay, “On Leaving Islam,” was censored at Berkeley
“This opinion blog has been retracted because of personal safety concerns.”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:
If someone had told me six years ago that I would leave Islam and end up an atheist, I would never have believed him. I 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