Follow-up to A More Reasonable Rage: What Made Me Angry at Islam
After I first left Islam, I was subjected to some rather poor treatment. As a result, I let my self-imposed standards for my own behavior slip. It was only after I had extricated myself from the worst of it that I was able to look in the mirror and realize that I was peering at the image before me without recognition. I decided to reevaluate my approach.
It took me time to leave Islam, more time to get to a place where those around me accepted that I’d left Islam, and even more time to figure out my place in the world as an ex-Muslim. How and why I decided on my particular approach is ultimately a matter of practicality and the specificity that practicality requires.
One of the most common questions I am asked when I reveal that I am an ex-Muslim atheist is what I believe the purpose of life might be. I can’t presume to say what the purpose of all life could be, but I try to be thoughtful about what my own life’s purpose.
Before I could figure out what I was going to do and who I was going to be post-Islam, I had to figure out what was most important to me: actionable harm reduction. I asked myself in what ways could I do the most good and prevent the most harm in the world. I had to take my talents, my weaknesses, my experiences, my position in life, what I was most likely to finish doing, and many other navel-gazing factors into consideration when making my decision.
I have always had both talent for and inclination towards the written word. I thrive on attention paid to my writing — even the negative kind, to some extent. As long as I know someone is listening, I will happily put effort into what I say. I’ve also never had the ability to blend in very well or to lie very convincingly (i.e. why I couldn’t get away with a single thing as a child).
It came down to practicality. Using my talents, inclinations, and abilities, I knew I could call attention to issues that I felt mattered and perhaps entertain some people and enjoy myself along the way.
I took a similarly methodical approach in deciding how to approach Islam and related matters.
When I say that dogmatic religious beliefs enable and support abusive and potentially abusive situations, I speak from lived experience. At the same time, I was able to publicly leave Islam; I enjoy immense privilege as a Westerner and native-born American in that way.
I know from experience that painting all Muslims and all practices of Islam as equally harmful is alienating and doesn’t reduce harm in the world. I also know that pretending as if progressive branches of Islam represent anything approaching a sizable minority erases the experiences of those of us who have been harmed by Islamic practices.
I accept that leaving religion was the right choice in order for me to have the best life possible. I simultaneously accept that certain aspects of religion have enabled a better life for others, and also that the vast majority of people in the world, Muslim or not, aren’t going to leave the religions into which they were born.
I can be angry at the ways in which Islam is practiced without unhelpfully condemning all Muslims. In fact, refraining from the latter enables my message to be heard by those who wouldn’t otherwise bother to listen. It is far more important to me to end abuse, structural inequalities (sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, transmisogyny, homophobia, monosexism, etc.), and violence than it is to eradicate religion from the world. While religion facilitates much of the aforementioned wrongs in the world, recent history shows us that those without faith are still quite capable of perpetuating them.
In the interests of practical harm reduction (as well as my own well-being), I keep my anger very specific.
I raise my voice primarily to demonstrate three things: that atheism isn’t necessarily a white man’s game for privilege perpetuation; that atheistic criticism of Islam and Muslims doesn’t have to be simplistic or racist and can empower and engage with, rather than deride or dismiss, progressive movements within Islam; and, very simply, that someone like me can not only exist, not only survive, but also thrive and flourish.
To answer the original question, I don’t seem angry at Islam because I’m not angry at Islam or even at religion in general. I’m angry at the elements of religion that enable wrongdoing. I’m angry at fundamentalists who hurt people in the name of religion. And yes, I am angry at the NALTs who are more angry at criticism of their religion than they are at the wrongs that lead to said criticism.