Apostasy Project: My Apostasy Story: Zafar Choudhary
As part of our series of stories from those who have left religion, Zafar Choudhary describes how he found leaving religion fairly easy but it was less easy to leave behind the positive aspects of Muslim culture
Leaving Islam is not just recognizing that Islam, like all the other religions, is obviously the work of men, it is also very much about leaving or attempting to live within a very conservative and inflexible culture when one no longer wants to be identified as a Muslim. The consequences (or at least the perceived consequences) of announcing one's apostasy from Islam can be dire. These can range from threats of physical violence, even death to excommunication by family and friends leading to feelings of alienation and isolation.
Leaving Islam, the religion, was not such a big issue for me, as from an early age I realized that the stories I was being told were just that, stories. The stories seemed to be disconnected from reality, such as the stories of Mohammed flying to heaven on a winged horse or the one about Mohammed splitting the moon in two and then rejoining it. I just didn’t find them believable and had no desire to pursue them further. Science and mathematics, on the other hand, I found absolutely fascinating. Having had the privilege of seeing the live feeds of the Apollo 11 mission and in particular Neil Armstrong landing on the moon had a very profound effect on me and I knew then that I wanted to learn more about science and mathematics.
Although I had stopped taking the rituals of Islam seriously from about age 6, the concept of Allah was more difficult to ignore. In my early 20s I went through an intense period of time where I tried to find any sign of there being a god. Of course I found no evidence. On the contrary everything I looked at or studied suggested that it was impossible for there to be a god as defined by Islam or by any of the other religions I knew of. This completed my transition to an atheist.
Losing my religion, although rather disorientating and disappointing, was probably easier than trying to be accepted as an apostate or an ex-Muslim by the Pakistani / Islamic culture. There are many aspects of the culture that I like and condone (with caveats) such as showing respect to parents, etc. There are, however, many that I dislike and do not condone such as the status and treatment of women.
A large part of this difficulty in breaking out of the cultural expectations had to do with those aspects of the culture that I actually liked. It was things like the requirement to respect my parents and their wishes that probably caused the most anxiety and heartache. I was torn between the desire to please my parents by going to the mosque, praying five times a day or by “reading” the Qur’an and between not doing these things as I felt they were a waste of my time; time I could better spend on studying science or mathematics or indeed going out with my friends for a drink or two.
I am now at a stage in my life where I am very comfortable with having left Islam and being considered an apostate or an ex-muslim. The only sad thing is that my relationship with the rest of my [religious] family is not as good or as close as it used to be when I had lived the lie of still being a Muslim.