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The Lifting of the Veil of Blind Faith

Sophia (Pakistan)

My reason for leaving Islam was the lifting of the veil of blind faith from my eyes. I am a Pakistani-born Muslim woman. I was raised in an liberal atmosphere and nobody pushed Islam over me, I adopted it myself. My mother died when I was a child, creating feelings of insecurity and being lost. I wanted a security blanket, which was Islam.

There is a search in the human heart to know the truth, and I thought the ultimate truth was Islam. Sure, there were unrealistic teachings in Islam but I attributed them to cultural reasons, to make Islam more acceptable during medieval times, but since then Islam has allowed ijtihad so these matters can be taken care of. Basically, my attitude was of those millions of Muslims who can see the unreasonable things in the Koran but justify them in every way possible. It is called emotional inertia: we don't want to change our emotional beliefs for the fear of losing identity. I wanted to preserve my faith in every way possible, so I lied to myself. The change started happening when I came to the United States to study and my psychology class introduced me to Freud. When I read his book The Future of an Illusion, everything made sense. God is an infantile fantasy. We, as humans, need it because the idea of facing this world on our own without any mystical help is traumatic. Ancient civilizations invented gods to look after them, parental figures. I saw religion as it was, a manipulative device engineered on socioeconomic basis to control. All major religions hate women because before Christianity and even Judaism, in the ancient world of Mesopotomia, the current Middle East, Mother Goddess was worshiped. Those were matriachal societies, where women were priests and rulers, so along came a religion with its divine patriarchal order that women were inferior and evil, thus ending the age of Mother Goddess. A simple question: If god* made women why is he so afraid of them that he wants them either in homes or in veils?

So when I understood the psychological compulsions for religion and god, I undertood Islam, a religion manufactured to impose ignorant Arab tribes on the world, a religion of men so horny they had women veiled from head to toe because they could not trust themselves not to pounce on them if they were unveiled. And when the blind faith was lifted from my eyes I also saw the man I sacredly used to call the prophet to be a narcisstic psychopath with illusions of ruling the world. He was charismatic, of course-so was Hitler-an expert in mass hypnotism, so grand were his illusions that every prayer not only sends blessing on him but also on his descendants, and he is above reproach, above question. Islam and the sayings of Muhammad are as divine as the rantings of a madman. It's more than a coincidence that the most confused and weak minds gravitate toward religion, the same way lost souls will gravitate toward some cult, in search of identity and a holy power above who tells them what to do, because these weaklings can not decide for themselves what life is. They need to be spoon-fed. If you have the misfortune of being born a Muslim, it becomes a part of who you are or who you perceive you are.

But now I am an atheist, or perhaps an agnostic. I believe religion, and Islam in particular, to be the biggest misfortune humankind had a chance of coming across. Islam is a sick and vile religion of which I was captive for twenty-one years, and finally-finally-I am free, and it feels good.

MY JOURNEY TO LIGHT

My name is Sophia. I am a twenty-two-year-old Pakistani woman of Muslim origin. I was born and raised as a Muslim. I am currently studying in the United States. I decided to walk away from my ancestoral faith and I believe it is perhaps the most important decision I have made in my life, and the most significant one, too. Islam was a very important part of my life, and being disillusioned by it and adjusting to the changes this disillusionment brought is an intellectual and emotional metamorphosis I am still going through. I was raised in a very liberal atmosphere and Islam was never imposed on me.

I was brought up in what can be considered to be the most common mode of Islam these days, modernism combined with the very essential elements of Islam. Veil and prayer are not essential, but you must marry in a traditional way and live within certain parameters that Muslim society establishes. But I was not an indifferent Muslim; that is probably why I was disillusioned by it so bitterly. To disbelieve you must first also believe. I was raised on the Islamic mystic and Sufi literature, Rumi and Omar Khayyam, and I believed that the true spirit of Islam was humanitarianism. And all the ugliness that I saw around me, the persecution of women, mullahs claiming that a woman belongs in the home and that one who crosses it deserves whatever she gets. The sudden rise in Islamic fun- damantalism in Pakistan and, alarmingly for me, even in the so-called uppermiddle class shocked me. I had one discussion with a newly converted fundamentalist who said that there is no such thing as moderate Islam, which is just a cove- nient idea made up by people who do not want to follow the book and their lives accordingly. So I read the Koran. You see, I had read only parts of it and that which I had read had been pretty mild, sublime stuff. When I read it all with Maulana Mawdudi's translation, it was a mind-blower. Everything in it was so against the very modern and humane ideas I had grown up with and believed Islam was about. But I was pretty thoroughly conditioned. I talked with my professor who had a doctorate in Islamic studies and he told me that I should not take the Koran literally as a lot of it is symbolic and allegorical. That is why Islam has provision for ijtihad (the use of one's personal effort in order to make a decision on a point of law not explicitly covered by the Koran or the sunna). Needless to say, I was convinced and thus remained in the comfortable but self-deceptive state of neither believing nor disbelieving in which so many Muslims exist. They live their lives according to the idea, and the book they have never questioned or thought about. Sheep following sheep. That is how I look at them now.

My first rebellion was against a culture that teaches me to be subservient, to accept social sexual harrassment, and even to be killed. I worked with an organization in Pakistan where I witnessed acid being thrown over women because they married men they chose or they left men they chose to leave. Women were killed for disobeying, and thus dishonoring the family, beaten because they raised their voice against a man. Yes, all these things are directly related to religion. Islamic preachers will tell you all that is cultural and that Islam has played no role in this. Coincidentally, this culture seems to repeat itself in almost every Muslim country from Asia to Africa. The fact is that Islam particularly originated in the male-oriented lands of Arabia, to fulfill one man's dreams of glory and play to the fantasies and convenience of countless generations of men, pretty much explains why Muslim women are considered subhuman creatures. Four wives, countless mistresses (if you can afford them), and women who are just going to stay home as Allah thinks it is the best thing for them. If Allah so created women and sup posing we are his creation, then why this division? Creators never choose and discriminate among their creations. It is not logical. I will not debate the fine points of Islamic Shari'a because I am not educated enough for it, but I do have enough sense and self-respect to refuse a religion that gives me the status of property and defines my identity with relation to a man.

Human rights do not exist in Islamic societies. They cannot, as Islam specifically and religion generally do not believe in humans having the right to make choices. They tell you this is right and this is wrong. As for moderate Muslims, they just want convenience. Many of them do realize the idiosyncracies of Islam, but they lack the courage it requires to question their roots, the decisiveness to reject something that has formed the fabric of one's self. I, on the other hand, was very attracted to Islam's spirtual side. It provided an answer to great mysteries of life and made my decisions for me, giving me a strict guidelines to follow so I would not have to think and make my own choices, which would have been hairsplitting. Leaving your religion is a rebellion, and if you are in a Muslim county this rebellion can cost you your life.

I actually favor fundamentalism in one respect: Fundamentalists are honest, unlike so-called moderate Muslims. My reasons for leaving Islam were a combination of disillusionment coupled with the understanding I gained as to why we as humans need god and organized religion.

THE PRESENT

So now about my journey to freedom. I came to the United States for my studies as a psychology major, and that is where the unravelling of my faith started. The institute of religion is against the science of psychology, and with good reason. Understanding the dynamics of the human mind removes many cobwebs, the foremost being that of god. I refuse to use capital letters. Now I don't know whether I am an atheist or an agnostic, but I think all this is oversimplification of a very big mystery.

The truth of this universe is not so easily quantifiable that any aspect of it especially something as wonderous and amazing as the creation of it can be labeled as "god."

God exists for three reasons:

(1) To explain what cannot be explained easily, existential crisis, as Sartre called it. In our mortality and vulnerability we see the face of god.

(2) To fulfill a spiritual longing.

(3) To have someone to whine to and about when things go wrong.

In fact, god is quite similar to our mothers, isn't he? At least the father in all traditional religions, who created us and will now take care of us: all-knowing, allseeing caretaker. An extremely comforting concept. Freudians call god an infantile fantasy, an adult replacement of another figure. So even if there is a supreme being who is the creator, from the way the world works he has pretty much left the world and us alone. This world runs according to its dynamics and so do we humans. There is no place for a god to be, unless you want to delude yourself.

Now after I resolved the conflict of god, everything else pretty much came apart. I understood religion to be what it was, why it is needed, and why it appeals to people. I have nothing aginst religion and god if it works for you, terrific. But I have a lot against Islam. When I was in college in Pakistan, my psychology professor discussed atheism and mentioned Freud's book The Future of an Illusion, which led to a discussion among us about whether god existed or not. We for a moment forgot we were not allowed to indulge in the luxury of rationalism. The next day men with beards and diapers over their heads threw stones at our class, shouting "Murtads (apostates) should be burned." You get the picture?

The more I read psychologists, historians, and philosophers, the more my belief strengthens that religion is a socioeconomic manipulation geared to take advantage of man's vulnerabilities.

Now more than ever it is important to speak out against Islam, especially if you are a Muslim. There are people living in subhuman conditions: millions of women living in the medieval age because thay believe that is the way of the world and that is their place, behind their husbands with heads bowed down. That is how the prophet intended it to be. Islam is a stifling chain around the neck of millions; it barely lets them breathe. Their lives and ideas are a hostage to this religion. If you are a gay man, you are condemned to a living a lie for the rest of your life. If you are a woman, your body, your soul, your thoughts are not yours-they are your father's, husband's, or other male relatives'. You will live the way they will want you to. I have nothing against believing in god or having a religion; most of us need it. Life would be very enigmatic, even traumatic, without it. Religion and god are the security blanket that a child clutches and goes to sleep with. But my security blanket also happened to be stifling in every way possible. I, as a woman, had no place in Islam. Women are supposed to be wives or sisters or mistresses; being human is not a right Islam grants them. I was raised in a culture that was hypocritical in its double standards, sadistic in its treatment of women, women were stoned and killed or harassed and the sublime religion provided it with a name and a justification. I believed at the time that Islam didn't have much to do with all that; there was a cultural Islam and there was a mystical Islam. How could that belief be so vile that had given birth to Sufism, Rumi, and all the mystic poetry? I had yet to make the distinction between spirituality and religion. Reading Saint Augustine's Confessions is a surreal experience, but should that be a basis for converting to Christianity? The answer would be no. I choose to listen to myself, to let all the doubts and my logic ask questions, rather than live a lie.

The end was my leaving Islam. I am quite vocal about my beliefs because religion might be a personal issue, but when your religion is Islam it is more than just a personal, spirtual choice. By being a Muslim in whatever form-liberal, moderate, or just as a namesake-we are in countless ways denying ourselves the right to be us. I often wonder what I would have been as a person in ideas and myself without Islam. If I had not been born a Muslim, I would have been a free woman in mind and spirit; now I am stifled. I have thrown away the choke around my neck, but I still have a long way to go toward being myself.

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