There is no compulsion in religion. The correct way (the truth) is clearly distinct from the falsehood, thus whoever disbelieves in the false deities and believes in God he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Qur’an, Surah Baqarah, Ayah 256)
The statements in the title are a general summary of what many say when leaving Islam. Almost every person who leaves Islam that I have met and spoken to or heard their story they all cite the same general principle: “Islam and Muslims are horrible. Sunnis and Shia kill each other. They blow themselves up. They kill people for leaving Islam. They suppress their women. They don’t educate girls. They hate Jews and Christians. They wage Jihad wherever they go against anyone who doesn’t believe in Islam, etc.” and the list goes on. I will share my personal thoughts on how I react to these statements. I myself think about this and look at how some Muslims are. I hope it benefits those who are having trouble dealing with Islam and thoughts on leaving Islam.
The Ages of Religion
Let’s take a step back for a minute and look at the history of religion and humans on Earth. According to modern day science, the age of the Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old. It is important to note that that means the Earth went around the Sun 4.54 billion times. This is what we call a year. There is nothing definitive in the Qur’an or Islam that defines the age of the Earth. We only know that God created the Earth in six “days”, but these “days” are not our definition of a day. It’s more like six “periods”. We don’t know the date Adam, on whom be peace, was created or put on Earth either, but as Muslims we believe he was the first human being.
So from the time Adam, on whom be peace, was placed on Earth to today’s date, a lot has happened. Moses, on whom be peace, came with the Torah. Jesus, on whom be peace, came with the Bible. Muhammad, on whom be peace, came with the Qur’an. According to our definition of years, Judaism is estimated to be around 3,800+ years old. Christianity is obviously around 2013 years old (current calendar is based on the Christian calendar). Islam is the youngest being around 1432 years old. Age of the religion matters historically. Judaism has gone through many transformations. Some might call it deviated or some might say adopted to that time period. The same with Christianity. It was transformed many times and divided into different groups. In fact when Christianity was at the age of 1432 it was far more violent and barbaric than anything going on in the Muslim world today. Public hangings were common. Several wars were happening. The world of Christianity was split between the two major groups: Roman Catholic and the Byzantine’s Greek Orthodox Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition didn’t even happen yet. Even in the chaos and destruction there were events of innovation and scientific discoveries were made. The renaissance was just starting in Europe. During this time the Islamic Calendar year was around 835 AH. The Ottomans were about to become an empire.
The point is at 1432 years old as a faith, one could say that Christians were violent and divisive. They were fighting each other in the name of God and calling each other heretics. Does that sound familiar? Christianity has had a very long bloody history. It was not only recently that it ended. Although some would say it is still going on in parts of Africa (Lord’s Resistance Army, etc.). It’s not just Christianity or even any other religion. Buddhism has a very bloody past. The Buddhist rulers of India would go to war and pillage for resources. Buddhism might claim to be a peaceful non-violent religion, but many of their practitioners especially rulers were violent and destructive. Atheism is no better either. Just because you do not believe in God does not make you non-violent or your system of government fair. Look at Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong and their oppression.
Nature of This World
It does not matter whether there is religion or no religion. There will still be wars, oppression, criminal activity, terrorism, etc. Humans will still kill each other for whatever reasons and by whatever means. This is the nature of this world. In Islam there is a word in Arabic, “dunya“, which is commonly translated to as “world” or “this world” or “worldly life”. This is the dunya. The dunya is not suppose to be easy. The dunya is not suppose to be peaceful. The dunya is suppose to test your faith in God. The dunya is temporary. God is permanent. The afterlife (heaven) is permanent. The more you rely on the dunya the more unsuccessful you will become. The dunya is unstable, full of chaos and distractions. Once it is realized that this world is temporary, then it becomes easy to accept God. God is the destination and the goal. We want to go back to our original source. God created us so it is natural for us to want to return back to God. The dunya is an illusion of success and security. Success and security is only from God.
History of The West and the rise of the Modern Muslim Nation
The modern western nation is relatively young. America is about 230+ years old whilst most countries in Western Europe are around 300+ years old with minor exceptions of France being around 200+ years old. During this time many of these nations were engaging in colonization of other nations and areas of the world. Many of these places were in the Muslim world. After World War II most of the Muslim world was controlled by several European nations. A few decades after the War, most of the colonized countries were gaining independence and finally starting their own independent country. All of the Muslim countries in the world today are less than 100 years old. This is very important to note, because America is around 230+ years old. Only 150 years ago in America slavery ended, only 100 years ago women were allowed to vote, and only 60 years ago civil rights were granted. Put that in context with the age of Muslim countries, then they are doing really well. All modern Muslim countries abolished slavery within the first 50 years of their existence. Very similar picture with Women’s suffrage. It took America 130 years to allow women to vote, whilst Muslim countries who have allowed it all under 100 years.
Clearly Muslim countries have developed a lot faster in terms of rights and freedoms compared to it’s criticizers. We have to be patient because each country is unique and has unique customs and cultures. Muslims are not monolithic. The Islamic practices are different from country to country. The laws of how the government should govern the people are also different. There are still some Muslim countries who have not even started. Egypt only recently was able to establish true independence. Yemen is still in transition. Libya has literally just started. Syria is pregnant meaning there is a civil war and no one knows it’s future. Afghanistan is a late term baby and needs to be a cesarean section meaning it’s still trying to recover from decades of wars. You have countries like Qater, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and others who are still ruled by royal family monarchies. Countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh didn’t live up to their revolutions. In other word’s, what happened if George Washington became King George Washington of America? Would Americans fight another revolution and rebel against King George? We can’t expect Muslim nations and countries to instantly become 2013 or 2012 or 2011 or even 2000 America. Let the people of those countries decide for themselves how they want to be governed. Let them work out there differences on their terms and on their time. Nothing should be forced on the by foreign entities.
The practices of Islamic Law are brutal and barbaric
Indeed this is true. Islamic judges from history to the current day have passed some brutal punishments for crimes that are considered free to do in Western nations like America. But again it is relative. One hundred years ago Black Americans could be arrested or even killed for simply using a White man’s bathroom. Remember the Jim Crow Laws and the lynchings? That wasn’t too far back. We are talking about up to the late 1960s. So again this is relative. Lynchings of Black people and White people occurred from the birth of America up to the 1960s. That’s 170+ years of brutal and barbaric laws. How old is a country like Iran or Saudi Arabia? Iran is 34 and Saudi Arabia is not even a democracy. How can we expect things to change so fast?
Regarding the actual evidences in the Sharia for the harsh punishments it is there. The application of it is questionable. There is a common theme in many of the evidences where the punishment is prescribed. Mercy is that theme. The people came to the Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, asking for the punishment because they committed the sinful act. The Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, told them to go away and even asked why they were even telling him their sin. He did this several times to different people. These people kept persisting and coming back even after years of being ignored by the Prophet, on whom be peace, for the punishment. The Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, is known as the mercy to humanity. Islamic judges should judge based on mercy, but like I said this is the dunya and things are not easy. There are corrupt judges and there are good judges. No judge is perfect just like anyone else.
I support a moratorium on these type of punishments. The Muslim world has unofficially done it for slavery. Slavery is no longer practiced but it is still legislated in the Qur’an. We could do it for the harsh punishments such as stoning and lashing. Umar ibn al-Khattab actually did it for the punishment for the thief for a certain period based on the famine that was occurring at that time. I say we should judge based on mercy. Those who want to commit adultery, fornication, theft or any crime that is punishable with physical harm should be forgiven and should be required to repent. Those who decide to leave Islam should simply be challenged on why they want to leave Islam. Have them debate it with our words. We should not have to instill fear for those who aren’t sure Islam is the right way. If we truly believe Islam is the correct way we shouldn’t have to kill those who want to challenge it. Those who want to leave Islam should be debated not killed. If they want to leave Islam then let them. There were Muslims who left Islam when they went to Abyssinia and they were not killed.
I believe that the ruling of capital punishment for the person who leaves Islam is for the one who leaves Islam and joins the opposing side fighting against the Muslims. An example of this in a different context would be Benedict Arnold. He apostatized from the American way and joined the British who were fighting the Americans. This is where the capital punishment of apostasy is truly applied in Islam, because Islam is not just a religion but can also be a system of government. So if the Muslims are fighting an enemy say the Mongols, and one Muslim leaves and joins the Mongol side, then they have apostatized from Islam. Most modern governments and classical governments have some sort of law for this. In modern English the person would be called a traitor. An apostate of Islam is a traitor to Islam and Muslims in the context of joining the enemies side. If they left Islam purely for personal reasons then this should not be a reason for the death penalty.
Bad Muslim = Good Business, Good Muslim = Bad Business
How many of you heard of Abdul Sattar Edhi? The Pakistani philanthropist who has helped tens of thousands of orphans, saved infant babies (babies that people don’t want) and housed homeless women/mothers all for free. He doesn’t charge any one in need anything. How many of you have heard of the 16-year-old Yemeni girl, Wafa Al-Rimi, who is the CEO of her own company which creates solar lamps in her rural town in Yemen. How many of you have heard of Asma Hanif who houses Muslim women and single mothers in her shelter, Muslimaat Al-Nisa, in Baltimore. In fact she herself is homeless and lives with them too. Maybe you have, but how many Americans have heard of this? Did CNN or Huffington Post cover it? If they did cover it, did they put it on blast? On the front page? How many people know Osama bin Laden versus Wafa Al-Rimi? How many people know Anwar al Awlaki versus Abdul Sattar Edhi? How many know Al-Qaeda vs. Muslimaat Al-Nisa? Imagine if it was the reverse? How much funding would Abdul Sattar Edhi get or investors interested in Wafa’s company or Muslimaat Al-Nisa expanding? The reality is good Muslims doing good things do not make money for news. Bad Muslims are more profitable in the news. This is just how it is.
When Muslims commit a crime, Islam is automatically by default included. Some random link to some random Arabic group name is added to the article. When a white man commits an exact same crime, he is called crazy and mentally unstable. Apparently it is impossible for Muslims to be crazy and have mental issues. This has happened many times. There was a shooting spree in 2012 in the Empire State Building in NYC. It was committed by a non Muslim thus he was insane. If it was a Muslim I guarantee you terrorism would have been mentioned and the reason was that he was “angry at America for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”. What about Jared Lee Loughner, the Tuscon shooter in 2011? He was declared insane. Guess what would have happened if he was a Muslim and nothing else in the crime changed. You better believe it, he would have been branded terrorist and probably shipped off to Guantanamo. In December 2012, a Muslim mother killed her child for not learning the Qur’an. She was sentence to life in prison swiftly and all the major networks picked it up. In that same week a couple killed their child for not reading the Bible but barely any news network covered it. Same time period. Same crime. Same reason. Only difference was religion.
Khilafah is not perfect and never was
Look at what happened right after the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, died. There was the “War of Ridda (Apostasy)” where you had Muslims who left Islam or Muslims claiming to be false prophets. Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, had to fight them in battle. There were Muslims who believed in Allah and Muhammad but did not want to pay taxes to Abu Bakr’s government. Remember these were all people who lived during the time of the Prophet and were among the Sahaba (companions of the Prophet).
Look at what happened under Uthman’s government. There was disagreements and accusations of corruption. We do not know what was true and what wasn’t. There were accusations that Uthman’s government was favoring his family over others. This caused the first civil war among the Muslims. The Prophet died in 632 and the first civil war started in 656. Within 24 years after the death of the Prophet there was a major war between Ali and his supporters and Aisha, Talha, al-Zubayr and their supporters. This is shocking because all of these people from both sides are Muslims and were among the sahaba. They are both respected and loved by all Muslims today. So what should this tell us? Khilafa and the Islamic government is not divine. It is not perfect. It is not sound. It is human. The Khilafah is not perfect and will have mistakes. It can be corrupted and it can lead to disunity. The Khilafah is not and should not be the savior nor solution of the Muslim ummah.
The whole concept of a one united ummah under the Khilafah and ruled by one Khalifah is not from our history. The only time this ever happened was under Prophet Muhammad. After he passed away it ended. The ummah was never united after that. There were always dividing into groups throughout history like the Kharijtes and others. After the first civil war there was a second one starting in 680 with death of Muawiyah. Again the two sides were the same and both were fighting for power. At this time the Ummayads were in power (Yazid the son of Muawiyah was the Khalifah) and they were challenged by the supporters of Ali (the Shia). They opposed the Ummayads saying that Ali’s son, the grandson of the Prophet, al-Husayn should be the leader of the ummah. The Ummayads massacred them in Karbala. During this time Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr son of one of the companions, al-Zubayr, was recognized as his own caliph in Mecca. So you see there were actually three different Muslim groups ruling over Muslim lands at this time. And this was the late 600s not even 100 years after the death of the Prophet.
This is just a drop of disunity and civil wars among the Muslims in our history. We have to realize that the governments today in the Muslim world are not so much different then the Khilafah of the past. They are not perfect. There are good aspects of the governments but there are also not so good. This whole idea and concept of a perfect beautiful just and equal Islamic state is a myth. It never existed after the death of the Prophet. You just have to look at our history to see the evidence of this Just look at how the Khilafah treated our great scholars of Islam. Imam Abu Hanifa was tortured and died in prison under the Khilafah. Imam Ahmed ibn al-Hanbail was tortured and imprisoned under the rule of al-Mam’un, the son of Harun ar Rashid. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, and other scholars were tortured or imprisoned and some died due to the Khilafah’s oppression of them.
Conclusion: The Interpretation of Mercy
We should realize that Muslims are vastly different and diverse in many aspects of this religion. Claiming that one way is the only way and all others is wrong is arrogant. Also claiming all Muslims need to be one and the same and all follow the same way is ignorant. Unity not uniformity. Accepting our differences and uniting upon common goals and fighting common problems is what will help us improve ourselves, our families, our communities and our societies. Often many define Islam as a religion of peace, but I think the better definition is Islam is a religion of mercy. My evidence for this is in Surah al Fatiha and the basmalla we recite before any surah. Ponder upon that for a moment? Why are we always constantly reciting and reminding ourselves that Allah is the most merciful? Why did Allah say that Muhammad, on whom be peace, was only sent to be a Mercy to the Worlds (Quran, Surah 21, Ayah 107)? Think about that for a few minutes. This is the epitome of this religion. This is the solution to many of our problems. This is what we need. This is what we yearn for from Allah. This is what we need to exhibit.
Forgiveness is a pivotal point to mercy. If you want mercy from Allah then you ask Allah for forgiveness for your mistakes. If we truly want to seek mercy from Allah then we will forgive others and that includes non-Muslims. I am not saying forgive war criminals or murderers but those who insult Islam or mock Islam for lack of knowledge we should forgive them. Muslims who do not practice particular aspects of the religion you feel they should be practicing, forgive them. Even those who want to leave Islam or have left Islam we should forgive them and ask Allah to guide them back to Islam. Instead of fulfilling our whims and desires to get angry and shout slogans while screaming Allah hu Akbar. This is not the merciful way. It is very easy to condemn, attack, and yell at those we dislike but it is much harder to restrain ourselves and ask Allah to forgive them. Look at the way the Prophet mercifully responded to Umar ibn al-Khattab before he converted to Islam. Look at the way the Prophet responded to the rulers of Quraish. He didn’t demand sharia. He didn’t shout “Allah hu Akbar” while protesting and holding up signs saying “behead Abu Sufyan”. He didn’t pass a fatwa on Hind for insulting Islam. His dawah was of mercy. His speech was of mercy. Even in the battlefield it was of mercy. He reprimanded a sahaba for killing an enemy on the battlefield even though the enemy had recited the shahada and surrendered. Even in dealing with government policy he respected the agreements even if it meant Muslims would be punished. During the cease fire truce between Madinah and the Quraish, part of the agreement was that if anyone defected from Makkah to Madinah must be returned back. The Prophet respected the agreement and sent back those who had left Makkah to come to Madinah at that time knowing that they might be punished upon returning to Makkah.
Islam is a religion of mercy. We need to instill this within our hearts and minds. We need to live it with our family and friends. We need to spread it within our communities and societies. This is what will bring people closer to Allah and this is what will help people get to jannah. You can find any interpretation of Islam these days. The Quran can be quoted from right wing extremists all the way to left wing extremists all coming up with different explanations and understandings of the same Arabic text. You can just do a simple Google search and find such articles and explanations of Islam. Which one is correct is irrelevant, because the correct explanation will not be determined by me or anyone. It is determined by Allah who is the final judge. Everyone will have to answer for you own actions. The way I see it is, mercy is the way out. You can’t go wrong with mercy.
O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful. (Quran, Surah Az-Zumar, Ayah 53)
Do not despair, Allah can forgive anyone no matter their sin. Forgive others so you can be forgiven. It has been narrated that the Prophet is said to have said, “Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to the people” (Narrated by Imam al-Bukhari).
Seek forgiveness from Allah and forgive others.
1. Oxford History of Islam, John L. Espisito
2. History of The Arabs, Philip K. Hitti
3. Wikipedia for dates in American history and Religion history