Leaving Islam: An Apostate's Tale

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.

Nora Ralph

Student, worker, and Co-Founder of the #Killstream. You can also catch me on TheRalphretort Rundown.

  • Quanta T

    I had one close friend in high school who was a Muslim. He was from a generation that didn’t take his parents beliefs too seriously. I didn’t really stay in contact with him except through Facebook and he drank, smoked and had lots of girlfriends at university. I don’t know if his parents knew. Then when I left school I worked in a couple of Bangladeshi restaurants and I met one guy who was the most relatable in terms of city-life in Manchester, he drank a lot and had a non-Muslim wife. He was a very funny guy. But sometimes he would post on Facebook about how sorry he was that he’d let everyone down in life when paying his respects at a funeral or some other thing, presumably because he felt very separate from everyone or maybe they judged him. He talked about going to a school in Bangladesh where he was always getting into trouble with teachers about not being faithful, he said they made him hold bricks in each hand while standing. He seemed like he had issues deep down about adapting to the people around him and remaining with his community. I eventually changed my mind in regard to the Israel/Palestine conflict and decided that I supported Israel’s occupation, this came up in a conversation on Facebook and we never really spoke after that because he was angry about that. Him and one other person were the only relatable people in the restaurant that I worked at, the rest were deeply religious. Looking back at my experiences with those people I decided that I don’t really like deeply religious people of most faiths, especially Catholics and Muslims. It’s a scam to oppress people, just look at the Vatican compared to the message of Christ. The best spiritual ideas I have experienced come from yoga. I think a lot of religions, even if their initial intent was genuine, have become twisted into institutions that have very little to offer individuals or societies now, but who really knows.

  • Silence Dogood

    Being gay I had the difficulty of squaring how an “omni-” anything deity could so immensely loath me for something that I knew in my heart I had no control over. Then again this was the same god that invented original sin (we were born sick and commanded to be well – thank you Hozier); yes, I was “raised” Catholic. Lapsed Catholic, but Catholic none the less. It’s actually funny because the more I think about it, had I been in one of the many wishy-washing “good deeds” not-so-much-into-the-dogmatic-ritual Protestant sects, I might not have rejected religion. Initially I was a “soft atheist” or as people in denial like to put it an “agnostic.” Eventually I just realized how both impossible and more importantly how UNNECESSARY (yes that deserved all caps) a god is, at least as far as the “big 3” faiths are concerned. I suppose the Deists could be right, but just as Democritus and Epicurus put it a couple thousand years ago – what exactly is the point?

    • fnd

      God doesn’t exist, because i’m gay.

      “Eventually I just realized how both impossible and more importantly how UNNECESSARY”

      I suppose some unbelievers doesn’t need a god, but when i look at atheist folks i’m looking at a dysfunctional group most of the time(the ones that aren’t doesn’t seem to be raging anti-theists or con men), and that includes you i guess.

      • Silence Dogood

        Functionality and Dysfunctionality have nothing to do with it. The fact you can both explain the universe in naturalistic terms, without the need for a god, and the fact that EVERY last claim ever made by any religion regarding the nature of reality has been debunked, vigorously, is what makes the atheistic world view reasonable and frankly non-delusional.

        And no, simpleton, the argument wasn’t “god doesn’t exist, because i’m gay,” it’s “the god of the bible CAN’T exist because it’s full of contradictions.” I don’t care how all powerful this imaginary friend is supposed to be, but nothing can be two opposing things at the same time and you certainly can’t claim a god is omni-benevolent (a pillar of monotheistic religions when they make their inevitable appeals to authority on the subject of morality) when, in it’s own chronicled adventures (the bible, torah and quran) it does some pretty twisted, petty shit and seems all too thrilled with itself “because supreme being.”

        As I previously stated, the Deists could be correct and there very well could be a god or gods that exist outside the function of reality and serve no purpose other than to be both dispassionate creator and regulator of universal laws, but as I’ll repeat the famous dead philosophers again for you, what exactly is the point of worshiping them?

        • fnd

          “Functionality and Dysfunctionality have nothing to do with it.” Yes it does. Always see the face of someone claiming an argument, to see their real intentions. Works for feminists. And no, you can’t explain the universe, at least not 100%

          “but as I’ll repeat the famous dead philosophers again for you, what exactly is the point of worshiping them?”
          Placebo effect for sceptics, or as the bible says, “the kingdom of God is inside you” (not just for curing illness).

          P.s. S’cuse me for the strawman but that was the first thing i tought after reading your reply.

          • Silence Dogood

            You don’t need to see someone’s face to see their real intentions – you’re arguing for intuition, which is bollocks. Arguments are rational or irrational, based on how they’re structured. And while an irrational argument can be right rarely, they are often not since they are motivated by base things, such as emotions and desires for the world to be something other than it actually is.

            “The kingdom of god is inside you” is a platitude and a cop out. The religious not only demand that people worship their god, but that all people must bow to the demands of the religious, because in their mind, tolerating non-believers is heresy. Look at Islam if you want a religion that views “heresy” and “apostasy” in the same breath – absolutely haram and punishable by death. If the religious could keep their delusions to themselves there wouldn’t be a problem, but unfortunately that’s not how religion works. : /

        • SonofaGlitch

          ” and the fact that EVERY last claim ever made by any religion regarding the nature of reality has been debunked, vigorously,”

          Well that’s just untrue. I mean, really. EVERY claim? You’re arguing from a position of wishful ignorance here, Dogood.

          Many things stated in the the old text regarding shellfish are damn good advice in a pre-refridgeration society.

          • Silence Dogood

            Platitudes and Cliches are NOT what I’m talking and you’d have to be either daft or willfully ignorant to miss my point. The religious text of the big “three”, really ANY religious text, has offered a variety of explanations for NATURAL PHENOMENA, which have all been proven to be untrue and simple that, natural occurrences. Then there’s the matter of all the “prophesies” they all foretell, none of which have come true (and I’ll just cut you off before you insist at me that “many of them have” – wishful, abstract thinking do not count; so-called prophets were referring to events that would happen during their lifetimes or in the not-too-distant future).

  • Thanks for sharing, Nora. I’ve heard Islam treats those who leave very badly. Courageous of you.
    I dispensed with my religion when I was in grad school. It was more of a slow burn, rather than a watershed moment. I didn’t go to mass while away, but did at home. When I went, I felt uncomfortable, like I didn’t belong. I only prayed as a formality, since I never “felt the presence of God” or anything of the sort. Over time I watched some Hitchens videos on YouTube, then concluded “This (religion) isn’t worth my time anymore.”
    As Nassim Taleb wrote: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” That said…
    A) I’m not holding my breath waiting for evidence. I doubt any will surface.
    B) I doubt I would worship/pray if evidence came to light.

  • Maintenance Renegade

    I was raised Lutheran, I stopped believing when I was thirteen. Parents treated it as if I’d confessed to being a serial arsonist with a pig fucking fetish, and they just wouldn’t drop the matter for about another four years though. Me and my dad came to blows over it several times. They dragged me to church with them every week all the way through highschool and I repaid the favor by being a giant prick there. They soon kicked me out of the youth program so my dad just forced me to sit next to him through the services so he could jab, slam or slap me whenever I started cracking jokes or singing the hymns wrong deliberately.

    Funny thing is in his heart of hearts I don’t think my father actually believes in an afterlife, I’ve watched him tell himself all kinds of stories his whole life in order to give himself false hopes. I’m different, I subsist on bile and negativity if anything and I’ve got an obsession with reality that borders on masochism.

  • KLLRFRST

    I was adopted by my grandmother’s parents 3 weeks after I was born. My biological father tried to sell me on the black market for drugs under my mother’s nose, but luckily the authorities intervened and arranged to have my mom’s parents raise me. My grandmother was a Jehovah’s Witness who dragged me to the 2 hour Sunday service, the weekly 1 hour book service, and another 2 hour service on Thursday or Tuesday night. This was in addition to readings of the bible and various other religious materials provided by the Witnesses. (My grandfather was a lapsed Baptist who stayed home while me and grandma were at the Kingdom Hall).

    Even as a young boy, the story of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, and the death and resurrection of Jesus sounded far-fetched, even to someone who loved comic books and sci-fi shows. How would all those animals fit into the ark? How was there room for the food or the biological waste? How did we not all end up inbred like carnival freaks if we all descended from the direct inbreeding between Adam & Eve’s children? How was it fair for their offspring to suffer for the sin they committed before they were even conceived?

    All these questions were shrugged off, ignored, or answered with a glib “It shows a lack of faith to question Jehovah. That leads to apostasy, and disfellowshipping”. Disfellowshipping was a 4 letter word in the congregation, said in low whispers when someone in the flock had an affair or was caught in some other lurid sin terrible enough to have the sinner kicked out of “The Truth” (as they called it). It is the modern day equivalent of shunning, as the Amish did – the disfellowshipped person becomes non-existent. Ignored by all other members and treated as if they are afflicted with spiritual leprosy, avoided lest you catch their sinfulness too. As a teen who secretly had feelings for other boys, I also learned to keep that a secret, since homosexuality was deemed “unnatural” and “against God’s law”.

    Fearful of being shunned by my grandmother and the friends I made in the local congregation (some who attended school with me), I faked harder than a bored porn star and went along with the bullshit until I left my home state to attend college. After that, I dropped all pretense of believing in that fuckery and stopped suppressing my sexuality. I’m 1000% happier without all that nonsense weighing down my heart, mind, and soul.

  • Dubs Check’em

    My father was raised Lutheran with no particular zeal, and my mother was not raised with religion. I went to the local preschool, run by an Episcopal Church, but otherwise was not immersed in any religion growing up. I had encounters with various faiths through classmates and Boy Scouts, but was never directed by my parents or friends to commit to a particular faith.

    I was told I certainly had the freedom to adopt a formal religion, but what my parents really imparted on me was the virtue of having a set of ideals to follow and a sense of morality and compassion. Kindness and altruism can be “payment” for receiving the gift of life, so to speak.

    Some of the things that kept me from adopting religion were some of the beliefs held by others. I’d been told that it’s “impossible to raise a moral child without religion” (despite me being the contrary), that someone’s God is “compassionate and loving” and yet would condemn people to an eternity of suffering because of who they loved or their lack of faith, or how my Jewish friends in college would be disowned by their families if they married a non-Jew. I simply could not place my faith in a religion that encouraged or allowed such immoral actions or ideals.

    I’m a fan of giving a child knowledge of major religions (many have fascinating histories and sometimes espouse some very admirable virtues), but not forcing them into one. Give them the freedom to chose their spiritual path in life, but do your best to raise them to be kind and compassionate regardless.

  • Mr0303

    I never was religious. Parts of my family are somewhat devout Orthodox Christians, but they never forced me to learn any of the Bible stories or fast whenever the dogma demanded. Early in my life They did make me to say prayers in the morning and before bed, but after a family tragedy even my child mind understood that that was all useless and I simply stopped.

    My father is an atheist and I took after him. Years later I understood how powerful and dangerous these religious cults are. Perhaps I too would’ve been religious if I was indoctrinated from an early age. After all I believed in Santa far longer than I believed in God.

  • fnd

    Teenagers becoming atheists, while reading edgy try hard nu atheists like Dawkins, i’m kinda seeing a pattern here, both in the article and in the comments section. Just fyi converting to atheism in your teenage years while reading innacurate Dawkins doesn’t exactly make for a rational position.