What is an Agnostic Muslim?
Reply #3 - April 07, 2015, 03:29 PM
Two of the most influential people in my life in regards to Islam had been extraordinarily lax followers of the religion--so much so, that for at least one of them, I'm not certain he believed at all. Both were born in relatively poor Muslim countries. One never visited the masjid, and the other knew everyone there but only visited on occasion. They both had sons, and those sons were free as birds, one with pictures of his bare chest blasted all over the internet and his father was quite proud. I had spent enough time with both of them throughout the day and saw some of our companions periodically leave to pray in a carpeted room, and neither of them ever joined.
When I think back on my time with them, I remember stepping into cramped houses packed with books in Arabic and English, old photographs of Palestine one had collected, ornate furniture and trinkets from their travels back to Muslim countries, and the way my house often smells now, like cardamom and cooked coffee or perfume. And I remember traveling with them to see Islamic art, to see museums, and I remember going to the local theater to see Egyptian films, and I remember summers filled with Abdul Halim Hafiz blasting through the rooms and long talks about Islamic history, about Muslim issues, about how I should take care to avoid those Saudi students at the school.
When I left Islam, it was really easy. It was like a light switched on in my head. And I, the pastiest of white Americans, had little to change, anyway. I tossed my beat up, coffee-stained translation of the Quran in the closet, I changed all my hijabs to fashion scarves, I recently used a khimar to quickly blot up a bleach stain because, although pretty, it was the closest thing nearby, and there's no need for me to keep it. There's still some relics around: the prayer mat looms over us on the wall as we sleep, and my mahr, a pretty copy of the Quran, is still always dusted and carefully restored to a prominent place on our shelf, and I'm left with, at most, a distant nostalgia for passing through the homes and lives of my mentors, where Islam was at once everywhere but unseen and unheard and unmentioned.
If either of them were to leave Islam, I suppose the most honest thing to do would be to come outright and say it: I do/do not accept that there may be a god, but the god of Islam isn't him. And then they'd move on. They'd keep the furniture and keep the relics, they'd still be passionate about the history of Islam, about Muslim artists, about Muslim literature. Abdul Halim Hafez would still be blasting through the halls, they'd still engage in the same discussions. And I suppose that would be ideal.
When my husband left Islam, he also left it quickly, and he's told some friends but kept it from others, and he dropped all habits and superstition immediately and he's gone on with his life. But I remember one day when he came to sit next to me, he complained of this feeling of loss, and it wasn't because he was without an identity now and needed to build a new one, but it was because there was this whole side of himself that identified with no one but other Muslims. Hassan was definitely in my mind when I told him that some people prefer to call themselves cultural Muslims for this reason, and yes, there are better and more complicated and more honest labels for what he is, but it still comes with the side effect of placing him in this new, narrow group with the same loneliness.
I couldn't have had it easier, but still, when I hear people nearby speaking about Islam, I get that same possessiveness and energy, and when I see someone insulting Muslims I still take it as an attack on myself, and I still have more in common with the hijabi in my lab than anyone else and I still sigh, "Alhamdulillah!" to her when the experiment works and "apostate" is not great enough of a word to describe these conflicting parts. I also imagine a void and some loneliness if it happened to my old mentors, and I wonder if "history buff" would be enough to describe their complicated identities, or "person who left Islam but still really finds it interesting."
Nor would I think it would be enough to describe my husband, whose greater identity is not just formed by any particular national culture, not formed by anything uniquely Saudi, but actually formed by Islam, and most of the people whom he loves and feels closest to are Muslim, and when someone speaks about a Muslim his ears perk up, when they call he answers, when he's in the masjid he's comfortable, when he's in the company of Muslims, he's home.
I understand the criticisms of labeling yourself as a Muslim, however, after you've left the religion. This isn't lost on me. But especially in cases like this, I'm not concerned. For one thing, this gradual shift is nothing new; reform of many religions and ideologies happened in increments, with more and more people occupying the foggy spaces in between. And I believe the more people we have who identify as non-religious, the more who identify as culturally among a group of people but not ideologically, the easier it will be for other people to step down.
But this is perhaps the most important thing. If someone wants to go so far as to say they identify with Muslims but they are agnostic, more power to them. It is, in my opinion, a wonderful statement, but yes, an uncomfortable one. It says that I know you, I know your culture, I love it and I was myself a product of it, but you kind of lose me on the theology; it's just not for me. And as someone who heard, as a religious person, someone I knew understood me say, "You can believe this, but it's just not for me," I can tell you that shit is haunting. And it's especially no less powerful if the person can and does engage in honest criticisms of Islam--which Hassan does. And my husband, who now calls himself a cultural Muslim, is now a way-too-vocal critic on the internet, himself.
I can imagine some people trying to pin any of the potential drawbacks of still identifying as a Muslim on someone, and it's a fair concern. But particularly with Hassan, I'd say it's not. He's contributed a tremendous amount to the ex-Muslim community, he's undoubtedly helped scores of people with their apostasy, and created enough doubt in countless others. To demand that people compromise their relationships and their comfort to be champions of a cause is unfair already. To ask Hassan to change this label would be ultimately worthless: with or without it, he has and will continue to be a force in the right direction.
Obligatory apologies to anyone who even scrolled by that.