Sabeena's conference speech

by Sabeena Mozaffar

My speech: What made me leave islam?

I cant reduce this answer to a single experience or a single day in my life. However, I would state that I began questioning my faith from an early age. It began with my sickness - how i was diagnosed with epilepsy at 10 years old, underwent daily seizures and continuous trial and error of medication. My family’s main response: pray to God to cure it. And thats when I asked: if god is the one to cure my sickness, is he not also the one to give it to me? Neither my parents nor relatives had a response - rather I was scolded for even questioning the faith or gods plan. But it paved the way for me to openly share my unwillingness to accept the irrational beliefs and teachings of the islamic religion: my lack of rights as a woman being on the top of that list - inheritance laws, mandatory modest attire, a womans responsibility to protect herself from the evil male gaze instead of the man controlling his own desires. Relatives, Imams, Islamic scholars all had their own reasonings - some of which were more absurd than others: For example, in 2014 I recall asking a female islamic scholar in Pakistan why a woman was granted fewer rights than a man HER RESPONSE: if you think islam is bad let me tell you about hinduism. In another instance in Sydney in 2015, I asked a male scholar during Islamic Awareness Week at University why a man is allowed to have 4 wives HIS RESPONSE: Well your husband is going to cheat on you anyways, would you rather it be someone you approve of or someone whose infested with diseases

I am also no stranger to the constant apologist claims that though islam does not grant complete equality between men and woman, it still gave women more rights than other religions which existed before it. I must admit such claims are what made me realise how religious preaching and conversion had turned into a marketing contest. I also concluded: partially greater rights makes no religion more desirable than another: I want equal rights

Continuing forward on my journey to becoming an atheist: another major life event that I feel heavily impacted my reconsideration of faith was moving to the US from Pakistan in 2012 . Up until this point, I was indoctrinated to live and view all aspects of my daily life in accordance to islamic principles but was now entering an environment which challenged those beliefs regularly. It was here, that I first met and befriended gay men and women and it became clear instantaneously how they weren't as evil, illiterate or repulsive as described or stigmatised by religious text or Islamic priests - it became evident to me that religious followers were simply being urged to fear, hate and punish their sexual deviance.

Moreover, it was during this time in my adolescence that I became more aware and angered by my parents constant double standards in treatment between me and my brother. Throughout his 20s and 30s, he faced no parental struggles whilst dating women, no harsh comments nor restrictions or threats regarding his sexual escapades whilst i was almost kicked out of the house for dating and sexing a boy, constantly derailed by my mother of being a whore or called worse than a prostitute who at least achieved financial gain in their sexual endeavours. Culture or tradition cannot be used as sole excuses for such abuse: it is reinforced by my lack of rights as a woman in Islam itself.

Yet inspite of all of these occurrences I still must admit that praying to God and my belief in Him gave me great peace at times. After all the concept of a god itself is very desirable: one who loves you infinitely, cares for you unconditionally, constantly looks out for you and is always willing to forgive you. What I realise today is how the indoctrination of a belief in God is the perfect way to control people via fear and manipulation: after all, telling myself that god will be there for me sooner or later was relieving whenever I was experiencing hardships: I feel its at least partly what motivates people to practice religion so as to keep god on their side

Such was my religious mentality up until I was 20. Moving to Australia in 2015 not only enabled me to escape my parental abuse but also to live a much more free and independent lifestyle. In the beginning, regardless of the countless ways I sinned in attempts to rebel against my family, I still wanted to believe in a God. There was nothing inherently stopping me from becoming a liberal or moderate muslim: one who supported LGBT rights, endorsed feminism, wore and ate what I wanted, dated and sexed who I wanted, didn't pray 5 times a day all while still mentally and socially retaining the title of a muslim — EXCEPT I knnew i was lying to myself. I acknowledged what I was doing was not Islamic, neither did i repent for my actions because I could see no rational wrong in them. I wasn't practicing what I preached: or else i would be at least willing to obtain the true islamic punishments for my sin. I was Cherry picking which parts of the religion to follow or which religious text to agree and disagree with. I was being a hypocrite.

Now I must ask, does my behaviour during this time sound at all familiar to you? because it is the behaviour of many of these so-called liberal and moderate Muslim in society today. It was largely via observing their paradoxical behaviour that I came to my own realisation. What better example can I give you than the 24 year old newly engaged Pakistani boy who lived in my dormitory? Coming to complete a degree in engineering - it was his first time in a western country. During the academic year, I saw him smoking weed, drinking alcohol, even bragging about cheating on his fiancé back home by making out with a white girl at a university party - something punishable by lashes if not the death penalty in islam. The ultimate hypocrisy came when he told me 2 days later how he hated jews and gays for religious reasons. He then went on to discuss the arrivals documentary - elaborating the conspiracy theory of how the Israel-based illuminati are attempting to control youth minds via subliminal song messages and defame islam via terror attacks because Islam is seen as the true global threat. I was first taught this conspiracy when I was 9 years old and I must ask, what does it say about a religion, when its followers have to recurrently rely on conspiracy theories as a support system to convince themselves or society that their religion is peaceful and truly not so violent or repulsive.

I feel the liberal or moderate Muslims are not any better than conspiracy theorists in their behaviour and identity paradox, even crisis, as they only contribute to the continued denial from the left that islam and violence are linked. Is anyone willing to dispute that such denial exists? What better example can I give you than the recent postal vote survey - in NSW, statistics showed lowest yes votes/ most no votes came from muslim majority suburbs in the west: the press latched on to this and were quick to react how we should not blame such an outcome on Muslims or their belief: but the lack of YES campaigning in the region. Responses to such articles also showed how people were much more willing to give a free pass to a muslims homophobic views than that of a christians.

And what common reasoning do you hear for such attitudes towards Muslims? They are a minority, unfairly judged and automatically thought of as easy targets for discrimination thus deserving greater sympathy, which consequently involves special societal treatment. I wont deny that I feel this factor makes retaining the title of being a muslim so much more desirable nowadays: automatic sympathy cards.

Am I denying that there are Muslims in Australia who experience genuine Islamophobia? No. Then again I still do strongly feel Islamophobia is a term society will allow Muslims to easily hide behind in order to avoid any critique of their religion, and this will only continue until the left accepts the truth about Islam.