Tag Archives: religion

Filling in the Gaps

First of all I would like to wish a very sincere if not belated Ramadan Mubarak to all of my Muslim readers.

When I left Islam, one of the most startling aspects of my new life sans religion was the appearance of what might only be termed an identity crisis. I found myself stripped of my religious identity, away from a community that surrounded me for a great part of my adult life. Gone were all of the rules about how to run my affairs, how to eat, how to behave and communicate, how to dress. I was left with only myself and the intimidating task of creating a new persona; or rather–and maybe more difficult–a persona that is organic and authentic, a true reflection of my Self. I pulled from that young woman I knew long ago and have often found myself giddy in re-discovering an aspect of myself that was buried away by a self-imposed, religiously driven cloister.  I’ve gained an indestructible amount of strength from the knowledge of my struggles and achievements. I have also been humbled by a constant contemplation of my past follies, indiscretions and submission to a completely incompatible belief system and equally incompatible life partner. The questions of “why” still lurk.  And the answers still disappoint me.

For the most part the identity crisis has passed, but what of the spiritual gaps?  The coming of Ramadan this year was a tad bittersweet. For  the first time in eight years I am not observing this month, but I have allowed the memories of  it resurface.

When I remember Ramadan, I think about the early morning eggs and labne followed by the fajr prayer. Still half asleep, I remember placing my forehead on the soft rug whose mosaic designs glow in the dim lamplight. When I think of Ramadan, I think of darkened windows obscuring the rest of the sleeping world and the solemnity of the soul, earnestly striving to commune with the Divine. I think of the sweetness of the date and the cool contentment in a sip of water. How delicious is a simple cup of coffee  or a small bowel of lentils?

There is something pure and meaningful in this ritual of fasting and prayer. When I think of it, I remember in fractured glimpses the beauty that I once saw in Islam and I feel like I just might be able to forgive all of its inadequacies.  The thing is, I didn’t’ see God in any of it.  I remember desperately wishing I could feel something greater while in salat or reading from the Quran, something that would knock me over and proclaim its superior Beauty, its Ultimate Love. I never found that. Can one continue to practice a religion thoroughly out of love for its ritual, its tenets, but without any belief in its beginnings, its foundation, it’s no uncertain claim to the Divine Will? I believe so. I just couldn’t.

So I’ve begun filling the gaps.  My recent contemplations  of this life and God and Beauty and Nature have been the most cathartic of my life. Even though my conclusions bring no answers,  because I don’t believe we can know the answers; I’m not even sure there are  any answers. To some this may seem hollow, or meaningless, but I assure you the very existence of the questions give me the meaning I need and crave. My mind and thoughts have been freed from the confines of religion and yet I’ve taken fragments and added to my experience, my knowledge.

And I like that I still have gaps.  I carefully tend to some while allowing others to open. It’s part of being whole again, if still imperfect.

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The Fate of the Disbelievers

Many claim the Quran is a book of justice, peace and equality. This assertion is often used to promote a kinder, gentler Islam but is rarely backed with examples.  When I read or hear these assertions, I find myself cringing a little because that is not what I find when I open the covers of the book. I’ve been thinking about how I can reach such a different conclusion; how I find a book full of threats and an overtly angry and punishing God.

I’m sympathetic to the modern-day pressures felt by the Muslim community. Justified feelings of humility and the pressures of post-colonialism have colored Islamic thought in the last two centuries and things have gotten even more ugly in this post  9/11 world. The current state of the Muslim world is a complex subject to be explored and deserves an honest introspection.

However, my argument is that Islam and Muslims have always been pitted against the disbelievers. Early on in Islamic history, Muslims tried hard to separate themselves from the disbelievers and the enmity and violent upheaval of those times find themselves into the verse.

Islam does offer  justice to those within a Muslim society and to the believers. The  poor are given charity, the orphans are cared for. Murderers and thieves are punished. Even women have a right to support by their male relatives in all instances, although she may have to share her husband with others, and accept a lesser inheritance. Slavery is acceptable in the eyes of Allah, but kindness to your human property is highly prized and rewarded. Religious minorities are protected, although at the cost of the jizya. The Quran outlines all the things necessary for a functioning society, but at at the heart of this society, Islam must prevail: 

 Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued (9:29).

It’s a matter of debate whether or not living under an  Islamic system of law as outlined in the Quran would be just to those living within it, either Muslim or not. However, it is often the case in religious systems that the concept of justice is carried out in the afterlife. From a purely supernatural standpoint, the fate of those who decide not to sumit to the laws of Islam and reject either the superiority of Allah or his existence altogether will surely be punished in the afterlife.

I don’t think those of us who disbelieve would have so many issues with religion if, in general, it was more universal and accepting of diverse human opinions. Religion creates a sort of tribalism, a dichotomy between us and them. Of course, humankind will tend toward this type of behavior with almost any ideology, but when it is codified into practice by the actual scripture it becomes more problematic because now the hatred and placement of inferiority of the other is sanctioned by God himself.

Yes, the Quran does speak of justice, but it is almost always juxtaposed against the dichotomy of the believers versus the unbelievers:

O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.

To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward.

Those who reject faith and deny our signs will be companions of Hell-fire. (5:8-10).

It was never a universal message of love or justice. It was a promise of rewards to the believer and submitter to Allah. Those who resist, rather in body or mind, meet a terrible punishment, either in this life or the next. It’s difficult to respect a system of belief that essentially declares you are going to burn in hell forever and I don’t find any justice in that.

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Filed under apostasy, ex muslim, god is angry, Islam, religion

Busy Busy

I’m physically and emotionally exhausted at this point. The last few weeks of this semester are upon me, as are exams and pending research papers. When things get this chaotic, I sincerely question my decsion to attempt  grad school at this point in my life. I can only hope, no, I know, that it will pay off for me both professionally and personally in the long run.

Anyway, I’m quite disposed with research and study and writing, intermingled with mopping  floors and cooking meals and scubbing pots while tending to littles and sharing kisses and cuddles, all while still trying to engage in the rare quiet moments with my husband. So, I’ll leave you with this excellent article by tazaqqa entitled “Muhammad’s Misogyny?”

One of my favorite bloggers,  Tazaqqa is always fair and kind and generous. Not to mention thought provoking. I agree so much with closing statement.

my conclusion was that if he had indeed been receiving divine revelations he would have known that all this is not the best moral example for the seal of prophethood since Islam closes all doors to future moral standards by calling Muhammad the “best example” and the last prophet.

So until I have a moment to breath and not one second before I’ve enjoyed a nice long bubble bath, a big glass of Zinfandel, and a long evening date with Netflix, enjoy the article and I’ll return soon for more fun. Inshallah.

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Fitrah: Are We Born Believers?

There is a concept in Islam called the fitrah which refers to the primordial state of belief in Allah. Muslims believe all people are born Muslims, at least in the sense that the human is born with an innate knowledge of the oneness of Allah; We are simply taught something different, Christianity or Hinduism, for example, by our parents or society. Fitrah is often translated as “nature”, as in it is our nature to believe in the one God Allah.

I don’t believe we are all born Muslims. Children are not born into any religion. I view this idea as a simple attempt by organized religion to monopolize the religious tendencies of all humankind, right up to and even before birth. Perhaps the parallel would be Christianity’s claim that we are all born into sin and therefore must have an avenue for redemption. This line of reasoning cements the idea, at least in the mind of the believer, that their particular religion is the correct one; that even all of nature and the very essence of humankind somehow bows to the tenets of religion. This idea is very strong in Islam and numerous verses can be found in the Quran and hadith conforming to this concept.

As I said, I disagree with the idea that we are all born Muslims, but are we born believing in God?  Rather, let’s frame the question in a more universal way. Since true monotheism is a rather new idea on the historical timeline of human religion, it doesn’t make sense to purport that we are essentially monotheistic. Yet, religion does seem to be culturally universal. Is there something in our nature, or even in our very DNA which gives us the propensity to believe? Some researchers think there is. Some articles here and here demonstrate that the human mind has a propensity to believe  in God, or at least to engage in the religious experience. There are even best-selling books written about this concept such as The God Gene. Neuroscientists and psychologists like Andrew Newberg , Michael Parsinger and many others  have empirically studied what happens to the human brain (namely the thalmus, parietal and temporal lobes) when engaged in some type of religious rite such as meditation  or intense prayer along with changes that take place during an ecstatic  religious experience.

As science is showing us, the brain does appear to be structured in a way to allow for religious experience: There seems  to be a correlation between neurological changes and religious experience.  In other words, our brains have evolved with an innate ability to experience religious states. And as evolutionary biologists and anthropologists have pointed out, religion does serve an adaptive purpose.  In fact, research also shows that believers are better equipped to handle adverse life situations and tend to be more happy overall than their atheist counterparts.

But while all of this certainly gives us insight into truths about the human experience, the conclusions one draws from it rely heavily one’s own worldview and beliefs. The non-believer might take a very materialistic, naturalistic position and say that this evidence is further evidence that God can be explained by simple brain chemistry. That God is simply a construct of evolutionary adaptation. Conversely, the believer would interpret the evidence as proof that God exists; That God has built us with the ability to believe in him and belief is natural and intrinsically human.

Thoughts?

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In the Beginning

In the beginning there was a single point in which the entire universe was compressed down into pure, hot energy.  At that first instant, everything sprung out of this singularity. All of the forces were one and as the point began to expand, the forces fell apart from one another and then there was gravity and electromagnetism. Then atoms began to form and as the universe continued to expand and cool, protons and neutrons came into existence. These atoms,  contained within clouds of hot gas, began to fuse and release energy. As a result stars were formed and clusters of these stars formed galaxies.

 One such star was formed around five billion years ago on the edge of a spiral galaxy. As it formed, heavier elements in the cloud of gas formed dust and over time and under the force of gravity rocks formed, and then planets. One such planet was covered in lava, toxic rain and noxious gas. Comets and asteroids continuously bombarded the planet. Despite this hostile environment, amino acids began to form chains. These chains began replicating themselves within protective membranes. These early and primitive life forms began to become more complex and adapted to the changing environment. Over millions of years, these early one celled organisms evolved into millions of different species. One such species, in particular, evolved with a highly differentiated and particularly intelligent brain. This species was, of course, homo sapien sapien.

Some people will read this account and believe it to be complete rubbish, instead preferring the creation myth given in an ancient book. Some people will note the lack of god in this theory and conclude he doesn’t exist. Others will see this account as the best option and not know or care if it all began with a creator. Some people will see and accept the science while still seeing plenty of room for a deity as a creative synthesis.

Either way and no matter how you fall, I think it’s a beautiful creation.  I still see room for the old myths, if not simply for their literary and historical value. I do only wish humans would continue to evolve to see them as simply myths, not belonging to the same realm of  conclusive and authentic facts.

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Leaving Islam

I don’t like the term “leaving Islam”. It connotes  a complete and permanent separation and I don’t believe this can ever occur in my case. I don’t know if it’s that I can never truly leave Islam, or that Islam just won’t leave me.  Certainly I am not practicing, nor do I ever plan on practicing Islam again.  I don’t believe in the most basic tenets and foundational assumptions required to be a part of the religion. I don’t believe the Quran is the word of God. I don’t believe Mohammad had a special relationship with God, although he did have an understanding of monotheism, as have many.  He must have been a tremendous leader and still continues to lead many today.  I don’t believe he was infallible and I question his morality. For now, I will leave that one alone, chalk it up to relativism and leave my own moral and ethical understandings at the door. I don’t believe in angels and jinn and black magic and fantastical miracles. I don’t believe in hellfire for unbelievers and paradise for Muslims. I don’t believe he would create us and then torture us for eternity.

I will never again succumb to guilt for not following the rules of orthodoxy. I won’t question myself or feel any underlying sense of  begrudging anger when listening to music or viewing a sculpture of the human body. I’ve recently cracked open more than one bottle of merlot and sipped a fine cognac. I will never question my worth as a woman in relation to a man and religion. I will speak up and be heard even when it’s “not my place”. I feel liberated with my hair blowing in the wind, although at times my ears get a bit cold.

And yet, somehow Islam will always be with me and I will always love it even as I must divorce myself from it. Islam is like an autocratic, controlling  parent and I am like a newly independent adult who just isn’t going to take it any longer. I have had my arguments and raved and stormed out of the room slamming the door behind me. I’ve thrown the dishes and tried to reason but we just can’t get along.  I may go years in silence without speaking a word to Islam. I may have dark days brooding over the perceived abuses I suffered under its guide. I may go months without thinking about it at all.

But at the end of the night, after I’ve said my peace and I know our relationship is over, I still love Islam. I am like a child who will always love her mother, even when that mother is not the one of kindness and compassion, but instead, callous and manipulative. As much as I would like, I will never be able to cleave her from my consciousness or erase her from the fiber of my experience. As painful as it is,  I will move forward while shedding my tears over what used to be. I will always love Islam but have to leave it now in my memory and find new avenues of happiness in this life.  I don’t believe I can ever truly leave Islam for  it will remain with me in my memory and heart,  but I will continue to seek truth and God without it.

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Where I’m At

I’ve outgrown the other blog. Everytime I opened the thing I just felt like it wasn’t at all representative of my thoughts and opinions.

I’m hanging on to Islam with one hand and that hand is slipping. Perhaps I will let go altogether. I don’t know. This transformation has developed in a relatively short time and I’m not impervious to the fact that I sometimes jump into things head first. So in the name of prudence  I’ve decided to cling on a little while longer and take some time to really deconstruct this thing. 

I may end up being Muslim in name and tradition only.  The Islamic version of the Christian who only attends church on Easter and Christmas, weddings and funerals. Somehow though this seems disingenuous. But then I wonder why belief should be so black and white. Can you believe in the basic principles of a belief system but not the details?

While I’ve always had my doubts about certain aspects of the orthodoxy, I’ve never before had the notion that my own beliefs just can’t be reconciled with Islam or that Islam can’t be formed into something wholly just and reasonable. Until now. Indubitably, we all pick and choose from the texts. But, when we bend and mold the religion in order to elucidate an outcome which satisfies our own inclinations, when does it cease to be Islam and become something else?

After seven years I can honestly say I don’t see anything superior about Islam.

A few things I hope to address:

–Revelation. In Islam, Muslims believe that the Quran is the direct and unadulterated word of God. I just simply don’t believe that.  Even progressive, moderate and liberal “Quran only” Muslims hold this as the foundation. But I see a doctrine specific to 7th century Bedouin culture. It’s harsh. There’s a lot of threat of burning in hellfire. No matter how you reinterpret things there are misogynistic verses there. No semantic or linguistic gymnastics will change this fact in my mind. In the Christian and Jewish traditions it is well known that the Bible and Torah had writers and there are often more than one account of a particular myth or story. However, in Islam to propose the Quran was written by a human  is akin to blasphemy and in almost all circles this opinion puts one outside of  the fold.

There are great truths in the Quran, but no more than any other religious or philosophical text. There are many troublesome things within the text as well.

–Prophethood. Did the “prophets” really have some direct link to God, or were they closer to what is known as mystics? Did God really speak to humanity through them or did they just have some particularly convincing ideas about the divine. Much like a philosopher with a theistic bent.

–Religion. Do we need it? Sure, many areligious folks will try to pose the argument that religion is the bane of human kind. The catalyst for wars and murder. I believe that these things don’t exist because of  religion, but in spite of it. Hitler and Stalin weren’t religious people, but insane power-hungry dictators.  Does a thinking person really need a religion?  What is the purpose of religion if  not to understand the divine and our very existence. Wouldn’t we better serve ourselves in this endeavour through knowledge of all the religions, philosophy and science?

And last but not least, believe it or not I do have other interests besides Islam and plan on doing quite a lot of blogging about those as well. I’m absolutely enamored with poetry. I’ve recently started to study Western philosophy and would like to explore that as well. Often times I’m just sick to death of thinking about Islam and need a break and time to engage in other cerebral activities.

And yet I continue to  hang here with  hand slipping, blisters forming from the friction of it.

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