Leaving Islam: An Apostate’s Tale
The first time I was challenged on my belief in God was in a science classroom. We were sitting in our after school class, chatting and working on some project. I personally am not a fan of working on a difficult task while talking, so I had my head down blocking everything out. But a question that one of the girls asked my teacher stuck out from the background noise.
Ms. M, do you believe in God?
I raised my head in time to hear my teacher say…
Of course not. God doesn’t exist.
To say this was shocking to me, and the rest of the class, would be an understatement. We all knew about Atheism through Religious Studies, but to have someone proudly proclaim it? It was something new to me. Everyone in the class started quizzing her, trying to understand the mindset behind her proclamation. I shrugged it off back then, but I see now this one moment kind of changed my life.
The same teacher was responsible for the second moment. She gave us a book to read and told us to write a review on it. She gave us 4 weeks and set no other homework for that month. The book? Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. It’s such a provocative title that at first I cringed when I saw it. But I’m not one to shy away from a difficult book, so I read it.
The first paragraph of the preface had the most effect on me.
As a child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave. Years later, when she was in her twenties, she disclosed this unhappy fact to her parents, and her mother was aghast: ‘But darling, why didn’t you come to us and tell us?’ Lalla’s reply is my text for today: ‘But I didn’t know I could.’
I didn’t know I could.
I didn’t know I could either. I didn’t know I could just not believe in God. How do you stop believing in something that you’ve been told since birth was real? His existence was never a question in our family. Denying his existence in our family would be like saying the Sun is ice cold. I could feel my chest getting heavy. It felt like someone had wrapped their bony finger around my heart and squeezed as hard as they could. It was the first time I had experienced heart break.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of leaving a religion, putting aside the fact that my old religion was one not liked by many. The best I can do is metaphors. The closest I can think of is the death of a loved family member. Your life is never really the same. You’re filled with so much anger and sadness, you feel resentment towards the people near you who still believe in the lie that once fooled you. I wasn’t the type of person to argue with other people and try to make them see the ‘light’ that was Atheism. I was just sad for a couple of years, and truthfully I still am some days.
I wanted to share this with you because I wanted you to understand what struggle a religious person goes through when leaving their faith behind. It’s not easy. Even if deep down we know that the book we read since we were 5 may not be all true, we’re too scared to leave, either because of the emotional pain it’ll cause or from the possible loss of a family member (or both). My mother has told me on several occasions when she’s heard me make snide comments about my old religion that she will always put God above everything else. Her exact words were…
Nora, let me make something clear. God is the most important thing in the world to me. If I find out that you’ve decided to leave the religion, I will erase you from my heart and will never acknowledge you as my daughter ever again. And that is my promise to God.
People can’t just up and leave when it’s all they’ve ever known. It takes time and it takes immense courage. Not everyone is capable of taking the step and facing the consequences.
Fellow apostates, I’d love to know your stories and if you had a similar experience as me. I understand not everyone is going to agree with my opinions or has had the same experience as me, but I do hope you got to know me a little better through this post. I am more than pretty eyebrows, believe it or not.