My Journey to Freedom
by MA Khan
When on the otherwise fine morning of 9/11 (2001), I switched on the TV and witnessed two planes hit the WTC towers with the elegant building falling apart like a pack of card: I was amazed, stunned, somewhat delighted. A fitting response for the evil US foreign policy, especially toward Palestine. There was no doubt in my mind that it must have been orchestrated by a Muslim group, most likely by Osama bin Laden, but all that played in my mind was that it was largely justified; it was necessary to teach arrogant, unjust America a lesson. Yet, I was never a fan of bin Laden; I would never have wanted his ideology take hold in my country.
My housemate, a Hindu guy, came out to the living room. He had already had a glimpse of event. He obviously discovered a rather satisfying, obviously not saddened, look on face. Glum faced, he went back to his room to get ready for rushing to work. Having known Muslims pretty well, he probably knew it was useless to talk to this fellow; probably he was too depressed to talk about this appalling event.
I spent the next few weeks explaining to my mates and colleagues about how US has been killing the Palestinians, the bad American policies towards the Islamic world: US sanctions on Iraq, US military bases in Saudi Arabia and what not.
I was doing all these despite the fact that I was hardly a Muslim. Although born to religious parents, I was never pressed to follow the religious rituals; I never bother to engage in those stuffs. My only religious devotion was intermittent praying on Fridays, the Juma prayer, and on the two yearly Eid festivals. I would do fasting only on those days I would be invited for Iftar (fast-breaking) party by friend and relatives. Hindus have been my good friends; I kept a Hindu friend as my housemate in preference to Muslim ones. Even then, that was the kind of reaction the 9/11 attacks had created in me. I kind of celebrated the tragic event that occasioned the death of so many innocent men, women and children, who had nothing to do with Palestine or the US foreign policy.
A week after the 9/11 attacks, I called a childhood friend back home. He had failed to pass his 10th grade. I was in a goading mood while discussing the WTC attacks with him. He was rather cold to my zeal. He was, indeed, concerned that the US might start deporting Muslims as rumors were rife. He had depended on me for financial help from time to time. He knew that my family is heavily depended on me financially. He knew that a host of relatives and friends turn to me whenever in financial hardships. All that he said was:
“I don’t care whether Palestinians die or not. Palestinians are never going to come with money for me or your family. Neither are we going to come to help the Palestinians even if they die of hunger. Your staying in the US is important for your family, relatives and friends. Make sure, you don’t get into troubles.”
I was rather disappointed with his cold-hearted response. I had already called my parent the day after the 9/11 attacks; there was an air of satisfaction in tone regarding the bloody event. They too were not so interested. They are not well-educated people. They don’t keep up with the world. They hardly bothered to know what’s happening in Palestine. They reminded me not to get into troubles. “We are depended on you,” they reminded me. Getting a check at the end of the month from me was the most important thing for them; what’s happening to Palestinians hardly bore any importance to them. I was quite disappointed with the callous response of my friend and parents toward our Muslim brethren in Palestine.
I called my brothers; quite surprisingly, they were as elated as me. I felt very good talking to them. My brothers are well-educated in science, unlike my friend and my parents; they are well-respected in the community. I felt quite happy talking to them that my brothers at least cared for the undeserved sufferings of Palestinians. I thought they were educated; their concern for the Palestinian sufferings was a reflection of that; justice mattered for them. I felt proud that they have become truly educated, conscientious human beings.
As Islam and Muslims came under intense attack in the Western media following the 9/11 attacks, I was looking for all sorts of news on the web: I stumbled on the Faith Freedom International (FFI) Website sometime after the 9/11 attacks. That was the first time, I came across such an intensely hateful and anti-Islamic site. I took a couple of days reading; I was extremely angry with Dr. Ali Sina and his contributors for their mindless attacks on Islam, a religion of peace and humanity. I took pennames and started writing all sorts of abusive comments against FFI and its writers.
Initially, I would mainly write abusive comments without making any solid reference to the points raised by those Islam-bashers. But every time, they would come back with references from Islamic sources: Koran, Hadiths and prophetic sira (biography) to shut me down. I thought they were misinterpreting. Some references from Islamic scriptures sounded, indeed, very unsavory. But, I thought there was a special meaning in those verses which human mind cannot comprehend. Allah is beyond human comprehension. Human logic may not fit to Allah’s. And all such kinds of things!
One thing I have to make clear is that when I started writing abusing retorts to these Islam-bashers in FFI, I never had read the Koran or the Hadiths. My knowledge of Islam was from hearsay since my childhood. After engaging in such tug-of-war with the Islam-bashers on FFI for about 6–7 months, I slowly started looking into the Koran and Hadiths, so that I could write more fitting, irrefutable rebuttals to them. I found online Koran (in multiple English translations) and Hadiths. Then I got a Koran in my mother tongue also. I slowly started cross-checking the references cited by the Islam-bashing writers. All the translations were mostly agreeable amongst themselves; they were mostly agreeable to the interpretations of the Islam-bashing authors of FFI.
I slowly became quiet on FFI and kept reading more and more. I read Prophet Muhammad’s biography too. I started questioning what if I wanted to copycat Prophet Muhammad, who, I believed, was the perfect man for all times for 40 years of my life. I started questioning what if I try to be an ideal man and have 10–15 wives, a few concubines and wage numerous wars against the idolaters, Jews and Christians. I always felt, it would be gross injustice to my beloved wife, to the sanctity of my love for her, to take a second wife—even if, I was confident of doing justice to them, able to satisfy them sexually and materially. I thought it would the most shameful thing I would ever do; I thought it would turn my cozy, loving family into a sickly den.
Growing up in close proximity and friendship with the neighboring Hindu community, I thought, if I would model myself after Muhammad, I should’ve waged wars against the Hindus (idolaters) of my neighborhood. Instead, I found many good friends amongst them; they are a nice and honest people. They are more hard-working as compared to my Muslim peers. They have outdone my fellow Muslims in studies, innovations and businesses. Question after question started striking my head. I was loosing my faith; my 40 years’ of belief in my religion was being shattered; I was getting mad.
I started contemplating what the world will be like, if every Muslim today would model himself after Prophet Muhammad and his companions. I wondered how much blood of my Hindu neighbors would flow had all Muslims acted in the same way as did Prophet Muhammad and his disciples (Sahabas)—considered the finest-ever Muslims. Had all my Muslim coreligionists behaved in the same way as did Prophet Muhammad’s community in Arabia, I started envisioning in my mind all sorts of gory pictures in the neighborhood I grew up in. My idolater Hindu neighbors—hard-working, honest and affluent like the idolaters, Jews and Christians of Arabia—whom Prophet Muhammad’s ideal community of Muslims attacked, slaughtered, plundered, exiled and enslaved, the young women being kept as sex-slaves. I started envisioning how those sweet, nice and beautiful sisters of my Hindu friends are falling at the hands of my lustful Muslim peers.
About one year after the 9/11 attacks, I called my Hindu friend one day out to a restaurant for dinner: he ordered chicken; I ordered pork. He was in a daze. To respect my religious feelings, he never brought pork home although I always cooked beef totally disregarding his religious feelings and taboos. I did not know when I had left Islam, but that day formalized and ascertained that I was not a Muslims anymore.