Photo by Lenna. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France.
Okay, technically I am an “ex-Christian,” but I certainly don’t identify that way.
There is an “ex-Muslim” whose story is circulating, demonizing Islam and Muslims. That is what has got me thinking about my own status as a Muslim who left Christianity.
Being an “ex-Muslim” is a great option for attention seekers. Especially in the present climate, where offering reasons to hate Muslims is a popular (and possibly lucrative) gambit. Personally, even if the climate were ripe for “ex-Christian” testimony, I would not be out sharing a sob story. I wouldn’t expect people to feel sorry for me.
First of all, I’m suspicious of people who insist on identifying as what they’re not.
Fixating on what they left behind, instead of where they want to go. What would you think of someone who, instead of saying, “I’m an adult,” proclaimed, “I’m an ex-child”? Then this person went on to tell you about his or her childhood trauma?
Maybe that person did have a traumatic childhood, and that’s sad. But what’s the point of wallowing in whatever bad experiences you’ve had and making it part of your personal identity? I would feel bad for such a person. I would also view this fixation on the past as a sign of possible mental illness!
It’s not as if that person’s experience is an indictment of childhood anyway. Many of us have had happy childhoods. Similarly, one person’s bad experience as a Muslim (or dislike of Islam) isn’t an indictment of Islam or the Muslim community as a whole.
Second, there’s nothing unique about having some difficulties when you leave behind your faith.
Some families accept this more graciously than others. It’s not as if Muslims are alone in sometimes feeling very hurt or angry when their child departs from what’s sacred to them.
In fact, I once had a co-worker who left the Jehovah’s Witnesses. When you do that, you become a “disfellowshipped apostate,” he told me. That means you are shunned and cut off by the entire community, including your own family (if they are observant JWs). For a time, he did identify as an “ex-JW” and was in a support group for others who had also left.
But after some time, he moved on! He isn’t years later identifying as what he left behind, and spending his time denigrating those who are still JWs. He’s now an atheist, though open-minded enough to consider various ideas. He’s moved on!
As for me, my family was mixed on my conversion to Islam. Some of them are none too thrilled and have made that known.
At one family gathering, one of cousin’s said in front of everyone that I should “take off that hood” and find a “proper” (read Christian) husband. On another occasion, that same cousin decided to confront me on the issue of terrorism, as if I endorse violence (which I DO NOT). Some of my other relatives defended me and Muslims more generally, while I remained silent, not wanting to further stir the pot.
Other relatives continue to invite me to church, sometimes perhaps just to keep them company, but in other cases, to lead me back to the “correct” path.
Am I complaining about this? No!
It’s just part of my experience. When I was a child, we learned in Sunday school about how early Christians were persecuted and were sometimes tortured and killed. A miffed relative here and there hardly amounts to “persecution”!
I love my family, and I’m sad if my decision makes them feel hurt or angry, or if they have a hard time understanding. I’m not going to deepen and widen the rift by demonizing them and their faith to everyone I can find who will listen!
I’m too busy trying to build a bridge to all of them, through love, patience, and mutual understanding.
Third, I don’t “hate” Christianity, nor do I resent the Christian community.
I do sometimes explain some of the problems I had with Christian doctrine, but I will also tell you what I love about Christianity, and how that I appreciate the way it has shaped my childhood experience and worldview.
In fact, I defend Christians against what I see as unfair criticism. Even though a good share of them react to me with hostility. I went to a Disqus channel once to defend Christians against a militant atheist. The Christian allowed the atheist to stay but kicked me off. I had made just one comment, but she said they don’t want people there who are “Muslim or Islamic or whatever.”
I’m still going to defend Christians against what I feel is unfair criticism. I spoke up for Christianity in my own way just yesterday.
In fact, it was only AFTER I converted to Islam that I gained the strong appreciation for Christianity I have today. The doctrine makes more sense to me through an Islamic lens than it ever did from a Christian or agnostic perspective. Of course, we have differences of opinion, especially regarding matters such as the Trinity but that isn’t a reason to go around vilifying Christians!
If you’re an “ex-Muslim” who’s had a bad experience, I’m sorry. You’re not the only person in the world who’s had a bad experience. Your bad experience is yours. There is no reason why you have to cast a shadow over all of us, including your own family and community.
Fourth (and finally), I see an element of self-hatred in this “ex-something” identification as well.
I grew up in the American heartland, beneath the Midwest stars and my Christian mother’s twinkling eyes. I grew up loving Jesus..and pop tarts and hot dogs…and Hank and Willie and Waylon. 🙂
This is part of who I am. I’m not going to disavow or denigrate the people, places, and ideas that shaped me. No matter where I go from here.
So “ex-Muslims” (and ex-WhateverElse), please stop nursing your grudge, and join me in moving on to what’s next. You’ll be happier, and so will everyone else