When an individual apostates, there is immediately a mix of emotions that will come to mind. How do we handle this situation? Muslims ultimately will view apostasy within the context of guidance from God. How does one go about trying to understand when someone who has professed faith in the oneness of God, and then decides to renounce his or her belief? Questions arise that leads one to question how does that happen. Whether we believe it or not, the issue of apostasy in the Muslim community is as real and problematic as it is in other faith communities. Naturally, the first step to tackling this issue is to accept its existence. We have to be brave enough to acknowledge that apostasy is real, furthermore every day there are young and old individuals leaving the fold of Islam.
Classical and legal doctrines of Islam deal with the issue of disbelief and apostasy at some length. Therefore, we should be confident in our tradition supplementing us with the tools necessary to address the topic at hand. According to Dr. Asim Yusuf, “the only thing that can remove a person from Islam is clear denial of what brought them into it. This entails denial of what is necessarily known by every Muslim – scholar or lay-person – such as the unity of God, the Prophethood of our Master Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him and his family), the obligation of prayer, the prohibition of alcohol, and so forth.”
Ultimately, I am not a scholar. I am simply addressing this within the context of being a fellow student and friend to an individual who has left the fold of Islam, however with his permission I am opening up this matter to the public for thoughts from others. Recently, I’ve seen much public discourse on the need to “reform” Islam. Yet, after having sifted through pages upon pages of arguments, debates, papers and articles, it would seem that much of the call for reforming Islam or a “solution” to our perceived issues are steeped within the context an orientalist approach to our religion. Ultimately, should members of the global Muslim community succumb to the fate of our brothers and sisters from the Judeo-Christian tradition? Why should we accept a man made watered-down revision of our faith that was graciously gifted to us by God? Who do we think we are?
Orientalists and secularists of all kinds would have us think our faith is somehow flawed and irrelevant in today’s society, yet an in-depth study reveals the opposite. These so called reformists call on Muslims to essentially leave the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and those before him, while also abandoning our scriptural text. This rhetoric is dangerous, for it leads us as a global community adhering to the Islamic faith to simply become Muslims in identity only. The notion of “Identity” faith communities is something we see in many Jews, Christians and Hindus of today without a doubt.
On a side note, a full copy of the letter from my friend is provided below:
Dear brothers and sisters of the club,
My name is xxxxxxr xxxxxxxx, I’m a pre-junior here at Drexel. You may know me as the kid who just started poking his head around the MSA and showing up to events here and there. I am also very good friends with xxxxx xxxxxxx and xxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx, two people I grew up with and love. Since I have started involving myself with the DMSA and getting to know the people, I feel that there might be some pre-conceptions of who I am and what I stand for that might get in the way of us becoming friends. Also, based on general observation of the social dynamics and politics in the Muslim community at Drexel, I have a few ideas that I would love if you could take the time to read, understand, and consider.
To start, I would like to point out that this letter will contain highly personal information about me and my life. If you are to discuss these things with other people, I urge you to suggest they read the entire letter first, as taking things about me out of context is a sure-fire way to defeat true understanding between people.
Secondly, let me preface the letter with my intentions. I am not writing this to defend myself or my views, nor am I writing to propose that you ditch your values and beliefs and take on my own. I do not intend to compare myself with you or my beliefs with yours, nor do I want you to compare with me. What I do intend for you to do is to simply try and understand me and my beliefs, respect them as they are, and not feel like I am placing them or myself above or below you in comparison. I do not see myself as better than or worse than any of you and I hope you know that is not the tone I am taking.
Thirdly, what I talk about in this letter has nothing to with being Muslim. Rather it has to do with what kind of people we should strive to be in representation of Islam. I do not consider myself a Muslim in my current religious or spiritual standing. I was raised Muslim, and because of that I do contain many Muslim perspectives and values, but I have an embarrassingly low knowledge of the Quran and Hadiths, and I do not align myself with most of the fundamental beliefs of Islam that are required of a practicing Muslim. I believe in God in a sense that does not align with current traditional religious ideas, and I strongly believe that the current state of organized religion exists in a paradigm that is much worse than it used to be and not nearly as good as it can be in the future. However, I have learned a lot about Islam just from growing up in a Muslim household, constantly being around and learning from my Muslim family, and experiencing life with my many Muslim friends.
Fourthly, I see that Muslims in this world are at a very crucial point in time where the rest of the world is struggling to define what Islam really is. ISIS has sparked conversations (I use that word very lightly) about Islam all over the media, and not enough Muslims are involved in the debate. The main question is whether in our current point in history there seems to be a surplus of extremists who have misinterpreted the Quran to such a point that they take the name of Islam to justify their blasphemy and violence, or that there is something inherently about Islam that encourages or justifies terrorism and extremism. This hurts me, not only because I have a fondness and personal relation to Islam, but of course I have close family and friends who are Muslim. Also, at face value, I look pretty Muslim to the untrained eye. So the responsibility falls on me too.
It is because of this (fifthly), that I think it is imperative for us as community of people representing Muslims at one of the most prestigious universities, in one of the most fundamental cities in America, at the forefront of innovation and culture, to strongly assure ourselves and each other that we are doing everything we can to battle the negative connotations of Islam and re-align the world and media’s perspective with what we really know to be true- that Muslim people are not inherently any more bad, evil, extremist, or inclined to become terrorists on the basis of the Islamic faith. Here I will begin to discuss how I think we can do that.
Finally, I hope that after reading all this, you can understand me, and we can be friends! I like friends. And if that works, maybe we can inspire a culture of understanding in our community that extends all around.
The best Muslim people I have met were not so because they were the best Muslims, but because I found that they were the best people. They just happened to be practicing Islam as well. What I mean is that regardless of their faith, they were very good in character. You could feel in in their presence. You could hear it in the way they talked. You could see it in the way they carried themselves and treated other people. And the most important, fundamental practice to their good character was understanding. This is something I have tried to practice myself as much as possible, and I hope that all people try to practice as well.
I have found an odd social dynamic in the culture of Muslims that contrasts to this practice. It seems that everyone is very concerned about the public opinion of how good of a Muslim they seem to everyone else. Because of this there is an abundance of gossip. And I’m not just calling out the aunties. In this culture, we all in our own ways tend to dip off and do some things that might be frowned upon by our Muslim brothers and sisters, not just our parents (smoking, drinking, flirting, etc.). But instead of doing them and expecting everyone to understand the temptation and exposure of that activity in our culture, we hide it as much as possible. And because this information about us becomes secretive and hidden, discussion about it becomes hushed and gossip-like. It becomes scandal.
How can we call ourselves a community if we don’t have open discussion? How can we have understanding amongst ourselves? And how do we ever expect the world and the media to truly understand us if we don’t take the time to truly understand each other? It simply doesn’t exist in the culture of our community. It is lacking entirely and that is causing a rift between people. I know people personally that don’t feel comfortable going to MSA events anymore simply because they did something that was frowned upon by the standards of general Muslim values and everyone gossiped about it to no end. Did they take the time to understand the action? No. Did they reach out to the person and talk to them personally, and try to help them if they felt cornered or lost? Not at all.
I’m going to start by wearing my actions on my own sleeve. Let me go ahead and tell you the story of my vices, what I learned from them, and what I hope you come to understand from me. I don’t feel like I have anything at all to hide, so please read with an open mind and see the method behind the madness (for lack of a better figure of speech).
I personally do not believe that pre-marital sex or dating is what would be classified as ‘sin’. I do not think I am doing anything wrong if I am practicing safe, consensual sex with another person. Don’t worry, I’m not here to boast about it, and I respect people who decide to wait until marriage for the sake of personal purity. But there is something very beautiful to me about the expression of sexuality. I think it bares naked not only (obviously) the body to another human being, but more importantly the soul at its essence. You learn and understand more about another human being in a sexual experience than anything else. If you hold that sacred and only wish to experience that with someone you are sworn in marriage to for the rest of your life, then I respect that. I simply don’t hold that view. That being said, I tend to treat girls very differently than my Muslim brothers. This stems mostly from an initial rebellion from the patriarchal setup of modern Muslim culture in my teenage years.
My late father, who passed from cancer a few years ago, was an incredible man. I loved him dearly. He did wonderful things for me and my family and worked very hard to support us. So when I tell you that he was physically abusive to my mother, I don’t intend to shame or tarnish his image or reputation. He was a beautiful, kind, loving man, who as all people had his flaws. But seeing how my mother and other women in my culture were treated as a young child really turned me away from the structure of the controlling man and submissive woman in the culture of Islam (not the religion of Islam, but the culture- note the distinction). Maybe you have experienced this yourself, maybe you have not. I do not think that all Muslims are this way, but I know that my father justified it in his head because he was abused as a child, and probably all of his fathers and grandfathers before him. It’s just the way he was raised. But I wanted to break that chain. I just went to the extreme in my exploration of something new. I grew up in a mostly white, Irish catholic, middle class suburbia, and it was relatively easy for me to get into some of their cultural norms.
What I hope you understand is that I don’t flirt with or treat Muslim women a certain way as a disrespect to them or their values. I’m not trying to sleep with every woman just because I talk to them a certain way. But I love women, and as a result I do have a tremendous amount of female friends that I have nothing to do with romantically. They are just friends. So if I make you uncomfortable with the way I act, then please take the time to let me know, and I will adjust myself accordingly. Just the other day I tried to shake a girl’s hand and she refused, I had completely missed the point that she might not feel comfortable with that. Things like this are alright and I hope we can be friends anyways.
Watching the decline of my father’s health was a tremendously difficult experience for me in high school. He was my absolute hero and guardian. When he passed away the summer before senior year, reality became increasingly difficult to cope with. As a result of my increased stress and inability to cope properly with my grief and the reality of my father’s death, throughout my high school years I turned to drugs and alcohol. I was a teenager who was, admittedly, a bit lost despite his intellectual curiosity. But that is the fatal misunderstanding for people who are grieving- you cannot intellectualize grief and loss. There is no rationality to death. It simply happens. I regret every drink I had, joint I smoked, and pill I popped in effort to cope with my reality and try and bring myself to a state of mind that might reveal the truth behind the reason my life was the way it was. It never came, and in the process I degraded my body and my dignity by indulging excessively in habits that were extremely dangerous and counter-productive to my grieving process.
But I did spend a lot of time around alcoholics and drug addicts. What I learned from this I do not regret, and it is some of the most valuable understanding of people I that hold dear. Towards the end of my high school career, I reconnected with an old friend who was now addicted to cocaine and selling it. I helped him see that he needed rehab. I waited for him to get out. I went with him and supported him at Narcotics Anonymous meetings. I don’t tell you this to boast about myself- I was stupid enough to do drugs with him at some point. But it brought me to a group of people that I never would have given the time of day to before. My understanding of addicts and drug abusers is so crucial to the beliefs I currently hold, and I hope that more people take the time to truly get to know people in these dire circumstances.
These days I will occasionally enjoy a cigarette or a couple beers with my friends on a monthly basis. It is no longer to cope with stress or my reality, it is only a luxury I indulge in safely to connect with friends and pass the time. That is simply something I see as completely acceptable in my own value system- I don’t expect you to see it that way for yourself. If you feel uncomfortable around me when I am talking about drinking or smoking, or actually doing it, then by all means let me know. I don’t flaunt it, and I have no desire to make you uncomfortable. It’s not that important to me to indulge in these activities. I would much rather your company and companionship.
What I do hope that we try to incorporate into the culture of our community is the effort to reach out to, understand, and support people who are practicing these things. For one reason or another, they are either doing it because they are lost, or trying to cope, or they just feel okay about doing it. But I know that our MSA is hardly involved with anything else on campus than our own events. How many non-Muslims do we interact with and try to understand? How many other faiths to we reach out to and try to mingle with? We are absolutely not integrated in the Drexel or Philly community on a whole. We have absolutely no presence on campus or in the city. I’m not saying you need to hang out with white and black, Christian and Jewish people, and have sex and do drugs. I am saying that we need to make an active effort to get involved with them, for better or for worse, and show that we are not afraid to understand who they are as people. Otherwise they will always feel like they are being judged. How can we expect them to not judge Islam based on general media conceptions if they feel like they are judged by us in their own community and campus? The barrier simply will not come down unless we make the first step, and given the current spotlight on Islam around the world, it is imperative that we start making these first steps. Why can’t we have socials with other organizations and simply drink non-alcoholic beverages? Why can’t we support people at addiction groups and meetings? Why can’t we invite them to our own doorstep, into our world, not for the sole purpose of converting them to Islam but simply to show that we as Muslim people are willing to understand and help them if they need it? Is this not the kind of community we want to be? Is this not how we want the world to see us?
I feel that I am beginning to talk in circles- surely you see my point by now. I hope I have done little to offend you and more to inspire you. Thanks for reading.