That iERA Is Wrong About Ex-Muslims May Be a Good Thing

Thanks to EXMNA, I have been able to meet many ex-Muslims, something I could only dream of a few short years ago. One of them, who only left Islam a year ago and is mostly closeted (for now?), asked me why I am so adamant about being publicly out as an ex-Muslim atheist. My personal reasons have to do with who I am and who I used to be, but those only explain why I initially declared my apostasy from Islam to those who know me. I continue to talk about it to the general public for many reasons, one of which is a pet theory of mine based on observations of the changes that have occurred within my own community: that open defection from a group drives reformation and progress within it.

Also thanks to Ex-Muslims of North America, I have found that there is some vindication for my theory. It comes via a highly unlikely source: a group that EXMNA’s British counterpart, the CEMB, has criticized as a hate group: the iERA.

Britain’s Islamic Education and Research Academy has published a letter of advice by Shaykh Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi, the Dean of Cambridge Islamic College, entitled Apostasy Among Muslims in The UK. Aside from having a lot of titles for a single human entity, the good shaykh makes the usual assumptions in terms of addressing ex-Muslims.

  • We are media-hungry types who hate Islam for the attention.

    A few make a point of publicly declaring their apostasy and their hatred of Islam, which the media then happily popularise.

  • We represent freedom Gone Too Far.

    Freedom of thought and belief is an important ideal that deserves to be respected by all communities [but] the ideal is less impressive when it is a passive, uncaring and careless, indulgence, which lets anyone think and behave as they please

  • We are products of the ignorance of authority figures.

    It is a serious failing on the part of Muslims, of their families and their teachers and their institutions, that they are unable to deal with the doubts and questions

  • We are victims of a clique mentality.

    Those who doubt and question are either told that they “do not belong”, or they are made to feel that they “do not belong”. Then, sooner or later, publicly or in secret, the feeling of “not belonging” matures into actively “not believing”.

Of course some apostates leave Islam without having full knowledge of it, just as many Muslims claim to follow Islam without full knowledge of it (if there even is such a thing as knowing everything about Islam). Of course at least some of us would not have become apostates without the intellectual freedoms afforded to us by living in less authoritarian societies, though apostates exist in cultures far more hostile to intellectual freedom. Of course social rejection makes people more likely to question their affiliation with the group doing the rejecting. Last, but not least, of course some of us seek attention for various reasons.

That doesn’t mean that every ex-Muslim’s story is the same. More importantly, none of that somehow makes Islam right and we apostates wrong for leaving it, whatever our reasons might be. The iERA’s broad generalizations and crass infantilization of ex-Muslims are very common tactics taken by Muslims when they are no longer able to deny that we exist — and that’s where the iERA statement, as annoying as it is, gives me some hope for the Muslim community.

As a quasi-public figure, I can’t control the narratives that people concoct about me. This is true of the anti-feminists who fantasize that I am only a proponent of equality because I was taken in by social justice warriors after being thrown out by the Muslim community. It is true of the Christians who are convinced that I left Islam because Allah is mean and that all I need to hear in order to convert to Christianity is how nice and loving they think Jesus is.

It is also true of the Muslims who believe that I left Islam because my parents were too harsh, or because I was teased by other Muslims as a child, or because the interpretation to which I was exposed was too strict, or because I tried to follow the deen “too literally.” These Muslims go on to behave more compassionately and promote a less hardline version of Islam in order to avert potential apostasy in their children.

I’ve witnessed this transformation before my very eyes in my own community. Similarly, the author seemingly advocates for some pretty astonishingly progressive-seeming things.

  • An end to hypocrisy.

    we should ensure that, in our homes and in our public life, there is a correspondence between what we say and what we do.

  • More overall humane behavior on the part of observant Muslims.

    one who does all his or her formal obligations rigorously and strictly but otherwise behaves horribly, is selfish, self-righteous, arrogant, impatient with the lapses or shortcomings of others, will not inspire respect for the religion that he or she claims to adhere to.

  • Less emphasis on strict adherence and more consideration taken of practicality.

    It is not practical to require that the ways of dress, speech, walking, sitting, standing that need to be observed when (for example) attending prayer in a masjid or in a private place, must also be observed when going about everyday business, like shopping or going to work and the like. To demand, of oneself or others, what is not practically possible, is a form of tyranny.

  • More tolerance of questioning.

    It is necessary that the teacher should indicate the limit of his or her knowledge, should not claim certainty where there is none, and agree that disagreement on certain matters is manageable within the community.

  • Less imposition of particular interpretations.

    Finally, it is worth stressing what is so obvious it never gets mentioned: that we distinguish the duty to say clearly and courageously what is right, according to our knowledge and understanding, from the duty to impose that understanding on whoever disagrees with us.

  • More acceptance of intracommunity disagreement.

    Our differences, within and between confessional communities, are [Allah’s] means of building in us a sense of proportion about our own sense of righteousness and our capacity to accomplish our aims.

While it is intellectually infuriating to me that my philosophical, intellectual journey away from theism is treated as if I were still a teenager in rebellion, results like the ones I see in my community, as well as in the iERA letter, make the misconstruing at least somewhat worth it. I may not be able to control the narratives concocted around ex-Muslims, including myself, but I’ll take the hit to my pride if they manage do some good in the world.

That iERA Is Wrong About Ex-Muslims May Be a Good Thing

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