Once upon a time, I had just come out to my family as an ex-Muslim. Believing me to be under the influence of a a heathenish social group or malicious atheist man, my folks dragged me to mosque after mosque all over California. The miles were clocked in the hopes that some imam or sheikh would manage to “answer my questions” (though I was long past questions, really). I went along with it, since I had been successfully gaslit into feeling guilt for my choices and had learned that there were rewards to giving into their “requests” instead of resisting them (i.e. I’d be left blissfully alone about it for a longer while if I yielded instead of standing my ground).
One such excursion was up north to see a religious leader my father knew and liked. That my cousin’s Gaye Holud was to take place that evening was no deterrent. The entire family piled into the van and we made the 150-mile trek up to the Santa Barbara area. What ensued was an hours-long conversation that involved lots of discussion and point-counterpoint but absolutely no eye contact between the imam and me, bless his devout heart.
The imam made the typical apologists’ arguments, ones that justify secular deism but not the theism that most apologists espouse: that the universe is perfectly designed, that it’s illogical to think that something came from nothing, that people have believed in deities for most of human history. Eventually, I said something along the lines of “let’s pretend I’m a secular deist. How do I logically go from that position to being a Muslim?”
He may have been trained in theology and a religious leader, but his defenses of Islam weren’t much different from the ones that I had heard many average Muslims, including my past self, making and using. I would have completely tuned out from boredom had he not brought up someone I would have never thought a man like him would cite. To my surprise, he brought up Irshad Manji. As in the lesbian-identified, married to a non-Muslim woman, Muslim progressive and reformer Irshad Manji.
I smirked and asked him if he really thought that the verse about Allah having created the world excellently overrode many of the other verses in the Quran, a premise that lies at the heart of Manji’s views:
The Koran says that everything God made is, quote, excellent, and that nothing God has made is, quote, in vain. If the creator did not wish to create me, a lesbian, then why didn’t he create somebody else in my place?
His reply was that at least Manji remained within the house of Islam, even if she chose to stay in “the basement.” In short, he was willing to bring up someone whose very life was a sin in his view as long as she continued to affiliate himself with their shared religion.
I don’t suppose it was reasonable for me to be appalled at his promotion of hypocrisy. Even back then, members of my family and community unfavorably compared me to the non-practicing Muslims in our lives. I was told, over and over, that at least the hypocrites stayed in the faith and made token attempts at practice. I was told, over and over, that my choice to be open and honest about my lack of faith was the less moral choice as compared to blatant hypocrisy.
I knew there was no point in taking him to task for that (or anything, for that matter), so I let it go. He droned on until it came time for us to leave.
Despite having spent so much time laying out the intellectual arguments that allegedly backed up his faith, his final argument was an anecdote about a long-dead Muslim intellectual who, on his deathbed, lamented that he had agonized overmuch over his faith and wished that he had stayed content with the “simple” faith of his mother.
Implicit misogyny aside, I wondered at his complete lack of self-awareness in closing out our long conversation with that point. I wondered at his celebration of hypocrisy. Most of all, I wondered why he thought I would find living in the basement of a house I’d already left to be anything approximating an appealing option.