Human beings naturally seek out like-minded individuals to spend their time with. We form religions and societies, clubs and cliques. We are also social creatures; evolutionarily speaking we need each other to survive in this wilderness. We often form a group mentality and exhibit a profound distrust toward outsiders. Often times, group members bicker amongst themselves. Hierarchies form. Resentments grow. But in the end, its members always have the group to identify with. So what happens when you consciously separate yourself from the group, either physically or ideologically?
One of the things I’ve been grappling with as of late, is the knowledge that as the product of losing my religion, I’ve also lost a good part of my identity. Islam was as much for me an aspect of identity as belief. Early in my exploration, even before conversion, I was fascinated by the idea of a global ummah or identity. I longed to belong to a worldwide group of people who cared about one another and viewed other Muslims as “brothers and sisters”. One of my favorite hadiths was: ” “The Muslim Ummah is like one body. If the eye is in pain then the whole body is in pain and if the head is in pain then the whole body is in pain”. I felt a profound connection to strangers who shared no other trait with myself other than a belief in Allah and the Messenger. Even the hijab for me was out of a sense of identity. I wore it out of a sense of pride and revelled in being recognized as a Muslim, even when that label was looked upon negatively by many.
As so many converts find, the idea of a collective, unified ummah is a myth. I was soon bitterly disappointed by my local community. Many converts know the feelings of alienation when entering the masjid and being ignored or even shunned. Going into the masjid literally initiated a visceral cascade of nervousness and gut wrenching anxiety. I often recalled the few times I went to church and the smiles and greeting of the parishioners. I was bewildered as to why the same friendliness wasn’t expressed by this group, especially given the importance of brotherhood within Islam. It didn’t take long for me to avoid the masjid altogether, but it was by the kindness of a few sweet sisters, and the meeting of a couple of other outsider converts that I slowly began to build a loose cluster of friends and acquaintances I felt comfortable with.
Now that I’ve begun to acknowledge my apostasy publicly, I worry about some of these relationships I’ve formed. I am no longer part of this group. I am now the outsider. In Islam, it seems the apostate is the most hated of persons. Muslims take the rejection of faith personally. Some of my more liberally minded Muslim friends may stick it out and continue to be friendly toward me, at least on a superficial level. Some of them may actually like me for my personality, while some of them may make a conscious effort to show me how open-minded they are with the hopes that I will someday see the light.
Either way, however, I doubt I’ll be invited to many parties.