I was born into a Sunni Muslim family in a northern city in the UK. The city is home to a large Muslim minority from Pakistan. I come from an educated and broad minded family with middle of the road type of values. Religion was never really a huge issue but I did the usual cultural thing of learning how to read the Quran in Arabic till I was 10 years old.
At around the age of 14, I became interested in Islam and joined the Young Muslims UK. This was my first real exposure to practical Islam. We would attend camps and have weekly meetings usually to discuss the Quran and the Hadith of Muhammad. For all intents and purposes everything was going well and my family was happy that I had decided to take it upon my own back to learn about the religion of my ancestors. I remember walking two miles to a shop from school to hire Ahmed Deedat debates and shouting “Allah-hu-Akbar” whilst watching other less worthy opponents beaten to a pulp.
It gave me a great sense of joy and self-confidence knowing that Islam had the right tools to do the job. I had only just heard of the “big bang” and “evolution”. This was also the first time I had heard of the word “atheist”. At that age the very notion of people denying the existence of God was very alien to me and I always wondered how and why would someone deny something that seemed so self-evident? It was at around the same time that a thought occurred to me.
It was “If God created the world then who created God?” and “Why does he need to be worshiped for doing acts which occur to him naturally?” This was really the start of a very doubtful journey through Islam which would eventually make me into the person I am today. I would ask the “naive” question about who created God and was always told to remember Surah Ikhlas and Ayat-ul-Kursi. This would apparently answer my query. From what I could recall I was told that the question was the wrong type of question to ask and that I had to re-adjust my perspective. That question was never answered.
There was a hiatus in my investigation whilst I concentrated on my exams and did other things that a 16 year in the late 80’s early 90’s does. Around this period I met someone a few years older than me who was in this same organisation and was either going through or had already been through the same dilemma as I had been through. It was a fleeting memory for me but I do recall that his friends had shunned him for his doubts and his questions. I think he went to university and I didn’t have any contact with him for a number of years.
After my GCSE’s I became a practising Muslim, prayed 5 times a day, fasted during ramadhan and did all the obligatory things that a Muslim is supposed to do. I used to read books by Maududi and Syed Qutb which were more the rather radical and harsher side of Islam. I also got back in touch with this Muslim youth movement and became involved in attending circles and talks etc. I have always been an introvert so never took part in any activities where I would need to speak or become the focus of attention. Again at this point, the same question resurfaced, who created god? and what if all this is just mumbo jumbo?
Whenever these questions would occur I would simply think to myself that Allah likes me and is testing my faith or that Shaytan is whispering doubts into my heart and that given time these doubts would pass. They didn’t.
I got married fairly young and soon got into the routine of married life and not giving a second thought to my doubts. Pretty soon I seemed to have had an epiphany and thought about all the usual things such as why are we here? where do we go? Etc… I was around 25 at this point and said to myself that I’ve gotta take this seriously if I’m going to bring up a healthy Muslim family. But guess what those questions and doubts just kept coming back.
I really thought that I was suffering from OCD and would try to drown out the questions by doing more prophetic sunnah’s. I was told that my good deeds, actions and imitating of the prophet would increase my iman. Earlier I had been to Pakistan and had spoken to a cousin of mine whom I really respected and who is sadly no longer with us. I spoke to him about my doubts and concerns and he frankly told me that he was an atheist and knew what I was going through. The conversation didn’t end with any conclusion but the advice he gave me was valuable. He told me to keep investigating and never to accept an answer that sounded as though it was evading the initial question. I never saw him again because soon afterwards he died.
At the same time I was aware that someone very close to me showed scepticism towards religion. We would obviously meet at family gatherings and I would try my best not to bring up religion into the conversation but somehow it would always come up. Ironically the very same scepticism that he was posing was the very same questions I had but was trying to cover up. The only difference was, was that he had been through the whole thing 15 years before me and the only reason he raised it again was out of concern for me.
I know that when he reads this, he will know that it is him to whom I’m referring. What I also did was in the disguise of this relative I would email questions to very well known and respected Muslim scholars in the west. So in a way I was trying to alleviate my doubts in a covert way. Sometimes they would respond and sometimes they wouldn’t. I even went out to see the scholars thinking that if I saw the best of them my doubts would be resolved. What I did find in the answering technique was that I was either told that the premise of the question was incorrect and that I was using the wrong terminology such as being “objective” or that my questioning had no basis in reality and that the questions that I was posing were really questions to which “I” knew there were no answers to, or better still my questions were circumvented and instead rather than answering the question directly, I was answered with a question to go back and ask my relative. I would humbly go away feeling numb and empty thinking that I’d been snubbed but nevertheless giving the scholar the benefit of the doubt. I also started reading and listening to scholars such as Hamza Yusuf and others like him hoping that my answers would be in their writing and talks. I did realise soon enough that their writing and talks were fairly much preaching to the choir.
I started taking a different angle this time and started reading intelligent design material by people like Harun Yahya and others. I got a slight boost from it but it was still empty because it just wasn’t answering my basic question, which was the very existence of God on which all these assumptions depended. The mistake I made at this time was shutting out material evolution and all the arguments and books against the existence of God because I didn’t want anymore doubt to penetrate and do more damage. I wanted to resolve the issue and be able to believe. I concentrated on Islamic sources and it was there that I found that Islam was not as water tight as what I was led to believe. There were two things I found and it was the scholars were always doing apologetics and squaring the circle to justify the absurdities written in the hadith and the events in the sura. This was also coupled with the possibility that the hadith and sura literature had the possibility of being back projected to make sense of the Quran. This suspicion was raised due to the amount of time that had passed between the events recalled in the 7th century and the time it was written down. There seemed to be a sudden surge of when all this collection of hadith and sura was being written down. I was told that there was oral tradition etc, but again this was coming through the hadith and sura literature.
The science of isnad was shown to me as a method of supporting it. But it still wasn’t good enough due to the huge lapse in time, not to mention that shia and sunni sources were at odds with each other and how on earth were you to falsify them against each other. There were also issues of abrogation and technicalities which for a religion that was claiming to be the “final” and unalterable word of God was posing more questions for me than it was answering. There were many other things regarding Islam that were simply left unanswered. My friends thought that I was barking up the wrong tree and that I should “trust” the scholars’ hard work and piety. This just didn’t answer the question and I immediately thought that this is the same excuse that the Christians use, so why should I take this excuse from the Muslims? Using excuses like Imam Bukhari prayed before adding the hadith into his collection was simply begging the question and thinking along those lines didn’t cut it in the academic world.
At this stage I would have considered myself an agnostic but still hopelessly clinging onto Islam in the delusion that at least it was more watertight than any other ebrahimi religions. I never considered any other religion. I eventually realised that my real problem was the existence of God which I quickly addressed and read all the old and new arguments for and against the existence. I found that by reading works by Bertrand Russell and David Hume. Also reading the new stuff like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris. There were also other more technical works by people like Victor Steinger, George Smith and Michael Martin. I found that the arguments for God’s non existence were far more coherent and could also point out the incoherence of the opposing argument. I also read books on evolution and went out to museums etc to look at the evidence myself. Evolution really was self evident and destroyed any creation myths I had. I still read works like this and other ideas now that I have freed myself from Islam. Hope this wasn’t too long a rant. My journey was a very long and difficult one, but I’m glad I went through it. It was the only way I could be made certain of my atheism.
Omar K, United Kingdom