This is the first of a series of testimonies of ex-Muslims or murtads in Singapore. Within the Singaporean Muslim community, a sizeable number of us have had doubts and have started questioning our faith. These are the stories of our journeys.
My story isn’t one of hurt and pain. I was never forced to pray by my mom. I was never forced to believe. To begin with, I never knew I had a choice on what to believe. It was all decided for me. Sow the seed of fear and belief in the child and everything else works by itself. This story is about a child, growing up in fear, fear of eternal damnation in an unforgiving hell by a god I was supposed to love and was told, who loved me too. Truly, fear cannot be an ideal condition for any child anywhere in the world to grow up in.
My story is one of a realisation of having been indoctrinated from an early age. I was robbed of a child’s view of the world. My mind was moulded to interpret and see everything only through the goggles of Islam. Growing up, I developed a a huge “Us vs Them” mentality. That the world was a struggle for Islamic morality against anything Western, that was thought to be corrupt, immoral and wholly funded by the Jews of Israel. I was fed unhealthy amounts of Palestinian conflict pictures. I was told to judge a man not by the wealth he had, but by how many times he prayed. What good after all, is a life full of riches but so devoid of good deeds if it means that I will go to hell forever? One cannot bring his riches to his grave with him.
The Science Day Dog
In Primary 2, during Science Day, somebody had brought a really cute dog to the fair. It was just leashed to a pillar, while its owner went round the fair. I instantly took a liking for the dog, squatted down and started patting it. It felt so good. Yet, I knew it was wrong for a Muslim to touch a dog. I was torn. I held the guilt for years till secondary school when I eventually took some soil and “cleansed” myself. I was taught that dogs were sent as a test to Mankind to see whether Man would obey God’s words.
Linkin Park and the Devil
I recall my brother bringing back a Linkin Park VCD containing their music videos and playing it on TV. Upon seeing the scenes of levitation, my mother ordered my brother to break the VCD. It was heartbreaking. She claimed that was all the works of the devil. Music was the work of the devil. My brother eventually broke the VCD. Our house was pure.
Cheatcodes to Jannah
My two brothers had both gone to Mecca on Umrah with my mom I presume in an attempt to rehabilitate them. Surprisingly, they weren’t reacting well to Islam’s doctrines. My younger brother went twice to Mecca. He was a stubborn kid. Upon returning, he was sent to a Tahfiz school. At 9 years of age, he was whizzed off to a school in Skudai, Johor, that would train him to memorise the Quran. Apparently Tahfizes are guardians of the integrity of the Quran. In the hereafter, they can bring their whole family to Jannah, akin to a cheat code of some kind.
An English Madrasah
In P5, my mom took my brothers and I out of the MUIS Madrasahs and enrolled us in an English speaking madrasah. I did exceptionally well there. I never once stopped asking questions. I suppose, if you believe in God, then you can say God made me that way. Before that, there was a short period of time when my brother and I had gone to this ustazah at Bedok South every week. She would make us memorise all 99 names of God. I always knew something was not right with her. It didn’t last too long. That, or it was too far.
In Sec 2, my mom wanted to bring the family closer to God. I didn’t think she had meant it literally. She flew the whole family, my two brothers, my sister and I to Mecca for Umrah. Finally, I stood in front of the house of God, hoping to bask in its glory and grandeur. I was wrong to think that. I never felt anything. How could all these people be wrong? What was wrong with ME? Did God not shower his grace and hidayah on me? No matter how much I chanted and meditated, trying to soak myself in the holiness, I could not feel anything. I was screwed. It felt weird and ironic, no, hypocritical too that Islam was supposed to be without any idols yet there, right in front of me, stood an empty stone building known as the Kaabah, that Muslims around the world direct their prayers to.
Growing up a Muslim, through my formative and teenage years meant that my primary self identity was one that was primarily a Muslim first and for mostly before anything else. My loyalty lay wholly with God. If God wanted it that way, I’d make it that way. Islam is after all, submission. My existence in this world was purely a test to see how well I served God; my sole purpose in this life was to prepare myself for the next. Every single thing I did would after all, be weighed and judged. I was to seek forgiveness for things I never knew I’d even done.I never knew a “me” outside of that Muslim cloak.
The problems started to surface when I was 15. I started questioning a lot of things. I started getting emotional about issues like my parent’s divorce earlier on and so many other things. It did not help that my hormones were raging too. I started self-mutilating. The more I cut myself, the more I ended up hating myself. In no time, I was at odds with myself. I was torn. I hurtled into depression.
The depression led to a whole slew of other things such as self-loathing, self-mutilation and self-pity. My world turned dark. Ironically, this was to be the start of a new life for me. It was during this depression that a hint of self-identity outside of Islam first surfaced. It dawned on me, that I was an individual separate from my ideas and beliefs and that I was solely responsible for my own life. And by that too, I was responsible for pulling myself out of that dark pit. It was the first hint that perhaps, I wasn’t part of God’s chosen people after all. There was no such thing. For the first time ever, I realised I had a choice.
A new beginning
My transformation had just begun. I was 15. It happened over a very long period. And I reckon it’s still happening. It is like an onion that you have to peel layer by layer to get at its core, assuming there’s even one in the first place.
At 15, I started entertaining blasphemous questions. It was rather frightening. I decided to stop saying protection prayers (dua) as I left the house, something I had done for years. You can imagine the final destination-esque images that must have gone through my head. I’m still alive now, so, thank god?
“You shall not follow anyone blindly in those matters of which you have no knowledge, surely the use of your ears and the eyes and the heart – all of these, shall be questioned on the Day of Judgement.”
– The Quran [17:36]
It came to a point when I figured that I didn’t want to commit to something that I wasn’t sure of. So many religions, which one was right. How was I supposed to have faith in a god that I never really understood? So I started asking questions. Most of the time, I’d be given the typical “I’m not in a position to comment” or “You should go to the mosque and ask an ustaz.” The more I asked, the more I did not receive satisfactory answers. How were all these people going on about their religion being the right one without actually knowing the answers to such questions? I presume the answer to that must have been faith. Well, God surely wasn’t giving me any. So it came to this. I did not have faith. I was wondering why. I was told to have faith in order to have faith.
Some of my realisations so far, now looking back at my former self, having been in both extremes, if you could put it like that, was about how religion especially Islam, suppresses the mind. It cages the mind in mental walls. I grew up in fear mostly. Fear of committing sin I’m not even aware about. Fear of being burnt in an unforgiving hell for eternity. And you’re still taught to love God? And God loves you? How sad is such a love?
Islam is crafted in such a manner, intelligently too, might I add, that it penetrates the individual’s mind. It polices thought. Is he thinking dirty thoughts? God is in on it. The angels would have taken note. God is all-seeing. Surely, you’re incurring God’s wrath. Is he entertaining thoughts that are considered blasphemous? Is he questioning God’s existence? That is the worst of deeds. How could one consider bringing himself to such depths of self-hatred? It is the ultimate example of self-policing.
If god was omnipotent and omniscient, then everything happens if and only if he wills it. Could there have been any other way without him knowing or allowing? No. In fact, god knows everything that is going to happen right to the very end of judgment day and who is going to hell and who is going to heaven. In a way, our free will is such that we will inadvertently, inevitably fulfil our pre-ordained destinies. How is that free will again? Isn’t Satan actually obediently doing God’s dirty work?
My understanding of morality was limited to one that was understood as good or bad in the eyes of God. The morality system in Islam for every deed, is either good or bad. Simple, I thought. If it was decided for me that something was bad or haram, I wouldn’t do it. But if it was good and halal, I just had to do a lot of it. The problems arose however, when morality and faith collided, like when Prophet Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, how am I expected to reconcile with such things? Faith? Blind faith? Am I expected to arrest my own faulty of thought, mind you, something that God himself created, in order to make concessions for God’s plans?
At this stage of having left my faith, it feels like it has brought a sense of freedom unlike anything I have ever felt before. I feel unbounded. Unrestrained. My mind is free to wander to wherever it pleases. Surely, this was what it meant to be human.
God’s Chosen People
Islam breeds an unhealthy degree of complacency. The idea that we’re the chosen people. That this is just a short stint in our eternal life. That I’m guaranteed a place in God’s heaven. I’d better be grateful for that. Just make sure you fulfil the requirements. It’s like a stopper of some sort that restricts your questioning so as to prevent you from sliding down the slippery slope of blasphemy and into the abyss of murtadom.
A conversation with a Muslim friend once ended with him telling me that if he were to back out from a fight with a non-believer, he knew that he’d get the last laugh eventually. The non-believer would be in hell and he in heaven. The funny thing is, everybody from every other religion is telling themselves that.
If there was a God
I suppose if there ever was a God, he’d want us to live our lives maximising our intellectual capabilities. I don’t think he would allow for membership by birth. How could his fan base be reduced to one of a game of birth? Unless of course he is more obsessed with numbers than he is with quality of conviction. If any Muslim were to be truly honest, then let him step out of Islam, let him question and wander and if he eventually found his way back to Islam, then surely, Allah was truly God for him. He would have known beyond doubt by then why he was doing the things he had to do.
It’s strange to think that the things that are supposed to salvage us are precisely the ones holding humanity down at this day and age. If I created a creation myself, I won’t throw it into the pits of hell whenever it malfunctioned. I would take it and try and fix it, instead of just judging it. After all, is my creation not a reflection of myself, the creator? How can I put the blame on my creation for my own shortcomings? God punishing his creations is to me, akin to self-mutilation. Why would he want to harm himself?
It makes sense now why the penalty for apostasy is death. Anyone who found their way out of it would understand how terribly atrocious it is. It’s like lifting the veil, and realising the God behind everything was well, just a man himself. Not just any man, might I add, but a sick old man. Deriving pleasure from seeing mankind kill each other just to be in his good books. Perhaps, that wasn’t his intention even. I may be wrong. But surely, he would have foreseen the negative effects that it would have had. He is God after all but he allowed it all to happen. By His will.
Genocide. Murder. Corruption. As if a life never meant anything at all. Even Muslims kill other Muslims. (Sunni vs Shia) The more questions I asked, the more it seemed to me it was one big lie. A profitable one at that too. Religion is probably the best man-made device to date.
In hindsight, all that time and money and effort spent, memorising the words of God, could have been better spent not to assure ourselves of a better after-life but to make this world here a better place. All that time spent memorising the 99 names of God or memorising the surahs, and praying and fasting could have been better spent. All that energy could have been put to better use to be a force for good here on this earth now. Prayers do nothing than to offer myself a false sense of accomplishment and assurance. I don’t need a modern Allah. I need myself.
I have however, come to the conclusion that, Islam brings peace and meaning to many of my friends and family members and millions of people around the world. It is through religion that they derive purpose to a good life. And for as long as they are at peace and harmony with everybody else, I would have no problem with them nor will I attempt to convert them out of Islam. To each, his own.
لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ
– نور حكيم