Yom Kippur and my escape from Islam

I apostatised because of Muslims as people. Everything I know today about the horrific set of ideas we call Islam and, indeed, how Islam turns Muslims into the people I ran away from, I have learnt since leaving Islam. Through leaving Islam, I began to see Islam.

Yom Kippur and my escape from Islam
The antidote to the poison Islam puts into the minds of Muslims is embracing the Jewish people, in love, openness and humility, and learning from them and the amazing country they're building. That is when you will know that you have truly escaped Islam.

Our neighbour, a gentle Christian lady, assured me that we all pray to the same god. Perhaps as little as a week after that conversation, the Yom Kippur War broke out.  It was 1973 and I was sixteen. In my secular state school, we all assembled and the Principal led a (Christian) prayer asking God to help Israel prevail against her enemies. That evening in mosque, the imam led a special prayer asking Allah to grant the Muslims victory over the Jews. Thus, with both warring sides appealing to the same God in absolute certainty that he was theirs to appeal to, began my six-year journey from religion to atheism.

Over that period, “but” became the most important word in my inner struggles, as I tried to defend Islam and preserve my Muslim faith against the rising onslaught of my own awakening mind and sharpening perception. I could only find comfort in more tenaciously repeating to myself that I believe in Allah and that Muhammad was his messenger. Over the following six years, I became consciously more devout, even going to mosque for fajr, and attending madrassa without resentment.

Those were years when many earlier experiences came up for revisiting. From my childhood madrassa traumas: questions shut down or fobbed off with answers that made no sense; my failure to manage a single sentence of the Qur’an without breaking down in tears; being puzzled that children were admired for reading Arabic that they did not understand a word of; the howls of that boy having the bare soles of his feet caned; my drunken aunt and uncle, and my criminal cousins (Muslims all) considered better people than our kind Christian neighbours; the books that my father’s Jewish employer had given us; the full-on brawl in our half-built mosque after someone suggested a Christian architect be engaged to finish the job that the Muslim architect had abandoned; dirt-poor Muslims extracting hard-earned cash from their dirt-poor Muslim relatives so that some vain aunt or uncle could go on hajj; my Muslim friends learning that I was making new Christian and Jewish friends at university and their first concern, without fail, being, “How do you know what they eat?”—all this and more, until the first big jolt in 1979.

Even before I had started doubting Islam, Muslims have always struck me as more than a little weird, but after the Iranian Revolution, they went positively insane. Some of my closest friends went to Mecca, or Cairo, or Islamabad, and came back a year later, totally MUS-LEEM. The most intense was an acquaintance who had gone to Iran and returned an altogether different person, and not in a good way. The Muslims I grew up amongst, descendants of Malay slaves, started substituting Arabic words for the Malay words still surviving in their cultural and religious vocabulary. Of course, none of us thought of this as cultural imperialism. But it was most certainly an Islamisation of discourse and an Arabisation of culture. Everything was now viewed through an Islamic lens. Elsewhere in the world, a similar transformation was taking place.

The Islamization of knowledge is jihad of intellect, or intellectual movement in attempting to response to the scientific development which is secular-based and positivistic in nature that of resulting and leading to the Muslim lost of their real vision and purpose of life; lost of adab. Al-Attas asserted further that Islamization is seen as a solution for the arrangement of the science in order to conform to the moral message of the Qur’an that does not know the dichotomous.[1]

It was also a time of intense debate during which Islam threw the spotlight on what people are capable of when they abdicate reason for faith, and abandon their innate sense of ethics in favour of a god dictating what they must and must not do. In my city, the seeds had been sown for what would two decades later become full-blown Muslim terrorism.

In the midst of this sensory overload came an incident in the madrassa, in which my teacher so savagely beat his daughter for holding hands with a boy across their gate, that splintered bits of plank littered the floor. During that poor girl’s screams, something inside me snapped, “Enough!” It was not a matter of being persuaded by arguments or evidence. I cannot even honestly say that I was filled with horror and revulsion (sometimes I doubt whether I actually remember what I felt while that girl screamed under her father's blows and roars, against the backdrop of her mother's hysteria, and wonder whether I did not subsequently fill in the blanks to try to make sense of that moment).

My first conscious thought after witnessing such brutality, was that I was done with religion—not from that moment, but from before; I had been done with religion for some time, but had only just become aware of that fact. There was no argument to consider and no decision to take. I had numbed my senses for years just to remain Muslim. Quash the human, save the Muslim. How many Muslims are unaware that deep in their hearts, they have already left Islam? How many Muslims right now are their own jailers and torturers, yet have no idea? Being Muslim is sometimes bad for the kufaar; but being Muslim is always bad for the Muslim.

When I left Islam at the age of twenty-two, more than forty years ago, I knew nothing of the craziness in the Qur’an, or its ridiculous scientific claims, or its screwball historic accounts, or its wholesale plagiarisms, or its tedious repetitiveness, its contradictions, its non sequiturs, its inconsistencies, and so on and on, no. I knew nothing of the barbarism that is Shari'a. I did not know that Muhammad is an idealised barbarian warlord. I did not even know about jihad. I was never abused, except psychologically, by the sheikh who made me "read" the Qur'an every day in madrassa, despite my invariably going to pieces before I got halfway through a verse for want of understanding what I was reading. Eventually everyone, even the sheikh, felt sorry for me.

My teacher shattering a piece of wood on the body of his daughter crystallised years of experiences with Muslims into that one, clear emotional insight. It was the cruelty of Muslims (e.g., boasting about how they batter their children), the ignorance of Muslims, the deceitfulness of Muslims, the supremacism of Muslims, the racism of Muslims, the bigotry of Muslims, the misogyny of Muslims, the boastfulness of Muslims, the shallowness of Muslims and, quite frankly, the cognitive embarrassment of Muslims that I could no longer take. I can name people in my past to match any of the tragicomic characters featured on MEMRI. All these people were my extended family, friends, acquaintances and “the community” around me, of which no more than a handful of individuals stood out as free of most of these terrible traits. Many of them were people I loved.

My point here is that I did not apostatise because of Islam as a set of ideas, or because I was persuaded by some argument; I apostatised because of Muslims as people. Everything I know today about the horrific set of ideas we call Islam and, indeed, how Islam turns Muslims into the people I ran away from, I have learnt since leaving Islam. Through leaving Islam, I began to see Islam. And that learning continues. Every time I think I've seen all Islamic horror, more horror emerges. No liberal sentimentality, or political expediency, or charge of anti-Muslim bigotry, will induce me to abdicate my critical faculties vis-à-vis Muslims. I trust my innate sense of right and wrong. Intellectual honesty is everything, even if it leaves me standing all alone.

After Islam, I have gone out of my way to avoid Muslims. When this is not possible, I pretend to be from Hindu-Christian parentage. This always throws them. Because I know how their minds work, none of them ever gets a chance to try their nonsense on me. Today, on Yom Kippur, I remember my kindly Christian neighbour and the long process of escape and recovery from Islam that she had set in train all those years ago.


  1. M. Firman Maulana, “Islamization Versus Deislamization of Language: a Case of Indonesian Vocabularies,” AICLL, 1st Annual International Conference on Language and Literature, Volume 2018, Conference Paper.