The 5 Stages Of Apostate Grief
I remember browsing the internet a few years ago when I stumbled
upon the Reddit exmuslims page. I still considered myself muslim at the time, and I remember feeling a combination of anxiety, disgust and fear as I scrolled down the page; I simply could not wrap my head around the idea that the very people who were ‘blessed’ with islam insulted its god openly — not only denouncing his religion of ‘peace’, but also actively attacking it.
As my curiosity would have it I couldn’t help but go back for more — justifying my subsequent visits as attempts to educate myself so “I could respond to these bigoted idiots.”
Over the next 3 years, layer after layer started peeling off the islam-onion and a nasty core was revealed in all its absurdity, primitiveness & deception.
I’m willing to bet that most apostates go through a similar experience or derivation thereof. One thing becomes clear almost immediately: it won’t be easy. It doesn’t matter if you’re out or closeted — you still find yourself fighting this battle on some level. Weather it’s fundamentalists, ‘moderate’ apologists, ‘politically-correct’ liberals, or just your own guilty conscience, your life is now headed down a path of perpetual struggle. It is here where giving up seems most appealing; it is also at this stage we must remember why we choose to stick to our convictions.
Even as a very loosely practicing muslim, it was still hard letting go of what was left of my faith. I didn’t really understand the moral implications of what I believed, yet I defended my belief in the same ways an abused partner protects their abuser; pretending to subscribe to a belief was less scary than an alternative I didn’t even know existed. And similar to an abused widow grieving over her husband’s death I found myself going through the 5 stages of grief (Kugler-Ross model) as I lost my faith. Although no two de-conversion experiences are identical, almost always the first thing we do is deny.
Our first instinct is to employ every mental-gymnastics trick to deny, deny, deny…luckily the same instinct that drove us towards the truth helps us overcome our denial.
Realizing that you have been lied to your entire life by those you trusted the most generates a type of anger I can’t really describe. Everyone deals with anger differently — in my personal experience sometimes the anger was so severe I scheduled days off in order to drive up to my parents house and just let them have it. But I knew none of that would result in anything positive and settled when I realized that the only thing within our control is how we choose to feel about the things that are not. Easier said than done, however, which is why we find ourselves at the next stage.
We do it constantly amongst ourselves by conceding certain principles or behaviors in return for long-term emotional stability. “What if I just give in? This isn’t worth it,” or, “god is merciful, he’ll forgive me,” or, more commonly, any variation of the “it’s just a phase” — all questions we ask ourselves when attempting a bargain. Alas this doesn’t last too long because at this point we know all lying does is prolong the inevitable — resulting in what is arguably the most dangerous phase of grieving.
I’m willing to bet that the majority of apostates faced or still face some form of depression. If you feel like it may be negatively impacting the quality of your life, please seek out a reputable mental health professional — the ‘counselor’/’therapist’ at your local islamic center does not count. You will want to do whatever is necessary to see that you overcome it because once you do you will have achieved your goal.
Oh, beautiful acceptance. Not from outsiders but from yourself. This is the moment we thought would never come; and the euphoria is intensified when you realize it wasn’t all in vain after all. We accept our new identities as they gradually take shape and give birth to new aspirations. As we shed the primal myths of our ancestors we make room for more meaning in our lives. Slowly, islam and its pagan worshipping rituals become distant memories — a fading reminder of our innate need to explain the unexplainable, and the myths around the lies we tell ourselves when we can’t find a rational explanation.
For a muslim, rejecting islam necessarily entails losing your identity. Forming a new identity can be a lonely, surreal & scary experience due to the intense alienation experienced by the apostate.
Fear is a powerful emotion — so powerful it makes us rationalize the irrational. This is just as true amongst exmuslims: there are those who end up returning to their cult, and there are those who have been brave enough to throw themselves into the pits.
The movement is in its infancy, yet apostates are at a crossroads. This is both scary & exciting. Scary because we have never been in this position before: up against a system that is imbedded in almost half the world and has every incentive to maintain the status quo. And exciting because we have a chance to lay down the foundations for a better future — perhaps even one we live to see ourselves. Until that day arrives it serves us well to remember that we are not alone.
As time went by I realized I was actually quite lucky — luckier than most it seemed. I managed to escape (mostly unscathed). I am probably one of few examples where someone in the worst possible situation ends up being in the best possible scenario.
And for a while that knowledge was enough for me to be content.
Part of what makes us human is our capacity to empathize. One of the very first things a muslim parent does in order to raise a muslim child is inhibit their empathetic response system. Islam is perfect for the task because if the parent does their job right, the child grows into a mostly apathetic adult, reserving empathy for the subscribers of their mythology only — essentially a bigoted racist.
I was never warned nor prepared for any of this — I had to face every painful and traumatic experience on my own. But as vocal as I wanted to be, I refrained in order to avoid any harm or harassment that may be directed at my family as a result.
Only a handful of family members know about my apostasy — my immediate family cut ties with me almost as soon as they found out; followed by my siblings and extended family members. If losing my religion was hard, losing my family was a devastating blow that almost drove me to suicide — if there was a rock bottom to my story that was surely it.
I often look back and try to identify the reason why I’m still here but it’s impossible to identify just one. The reason became less relevant as time went by and I began asking myself a different question: now that I am here, what am I going to do about it?
Up until recently the answer would have been, “absolutely nothing.” But things are different now: there’s nothing left for me to lose — and more so to gain.
When I reflect on my journey and where I am today, it’s almost impossible not to think about the future. In my future I aspire to be someone that jump-starts empathy in the mind of a believer.
This is my role.
I want to ignite the skepticism in their heart, not by arguing scripture but by jolting their empathetic response back to life. I have found this to be the most effective way of appealing to those who have been severely indoctrinated.
What is so alluring about this approach is that it requires no scientific arguments, no theological debates, and eventually gives the believer no choice but to recognize the ultimate truth:
I am my only master.
There is nothing more soul-crushing to a “slave of allah” than seeing other ‘slaves’ get emancipated, all the while their master refuses to acknowledge their existence.
Of course this is nowhere as easy as it sounds. Most people are not equipped to handle the weight of watching a person break and helping them pick up the pieces — only to relive the entire experience with the next person—and do so while coping with the possibility of utter failure.
In addition to a solid understanding of the traditional anti-theist arguments, a certain level of emotional “numbness” and the ability to invoke empathy in others are required in order for this approach to work — neither of which are commonly found in people — and even less so among muslims.
An apostate with vision, drive and ambition combined with a firm grasp of islamic theology will undoubtedly prove to be an asset to the exmuslim community, essentially becoming the apologist’s worst nightmare.
Fifteen to twenty years ago the biggest obstacle for aspiring exmuslims was the restriction around the flow of information. Thanks to the digital age of the internet this is no longer the case.
The toughest obstacle standing in the face of potential exmuslims today is unleashing the psychological capacities necessary to help them deal with the implications of their apostasy — a task best suited for someone who’s been through the same experience.
Let us help those still questioning themselves by empowering ourselves, first. Let’s be exemplary apostates, leading free, fulfilled lives — in the hope that others may draw inspiration and reclaim their potential.
For those of us forced to live under the tyranny of religion, hang in there. You are not alone, it will get better — no matter how hopeless it seems and how much your world seems to be shrinking — the day will come when you reclaim your life.
Unlike a god who has yet to answer a single prayer — I believe in a better life for all of us. We have to start somewhere, however.
I, for one, intend on doing my part.
I’m a guy in my late 20’s; Egyptian by blood, born in Saudi Arabia and immigrated to California 15 years ago where I happily reside. Native Arabic and English speaker, raised on the traditional, “moderate” sunni interpretation of islam. Both the “eastern” educational model of Arabia and the “western muslim-immigrant*” model of the US played an integral part in shaping my ideologies. I do not identify as Egyptian, Saudi, or even American, any more than I identify with a flock of seagulls. You see, a curious thing happens when you lose the shackles of faith and reclaim your innate, natural human freedoms: you grow a disdain for authority and coerced allegiances, especially those based on arbitrary traits like skin color, birthplace, ancestor’s religion, etc.
*The “western muslim-immigrant” model is your typical government-mandated, Monday-Friday public schooling in combination with a parent-mandated islamic education via private lessons & weekend islamic school.
This article was adopted from an original reddit post.