Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Leaving Muhammad Behind

A commenter at this blog recently asked me if I had personally met any Muslims who abandoned their faith in Muhammad and Islam. By chance or good fortune, since then I've met three. Each of their stories was unique.

The first was at a restaurant in California, where I met for the first time a young man from Yemen. When he introduced himself as "Dave", I assumed that either he was from a Yemeni Jewish family or had taken the common practice of anglicizing the Arabic name Da'ud. To my surprise, he informed me that he had been born and raised Muslim. Nine years in California, however, had been enough to completely change his way of thinking. He described himself as non-religious, an agnostic at best, but one who no longer believed in Islam or Muhammad.

At one point in the conversation, he queried why Muslims couldn't just "get along with Jews". "We are cousins," he said, "And even in Arabic we describe them as Ibn 'Am (the son of my uncle). Why can't we just live together in peace?"

My response to him was, "The reason you think this way is because you no longer believe in Muhammad. You've left him behind. That's why you think differently about the Jews." He agreed.

A few weeks later I was on a boat on the Mediterranean, just off the southern coast of Turkey. A young lady from Istanbul was also on the boat, and told me of her plans to go to London at the end of the summer for a two-year university course in creative writing. I asked her, "Suppose in London you fell in love with a British man who was not a Muslim. Would you consider marrying him?"

Her answer was immediate. "Of course," she replied. "I'm Turkish and my ID card says I am Muslim, but I don't believe in any of it. I don't think Muhammad was a prophet, and I don't believe in the Quran."

A week later I was sitting with my daughters in a lovely outdoor restaurant on the Asian side of Istanbul, overlooking the Bosphoros, and struck up a conversation with an elderly Turkish man who had spent his childhood years in Washington DC and still enjoyed speaking his American-accented English. His story was similar. He said that as a young boy his grandfather warned him against the men who came out of the mosque, describing them as "bad people". Since then, he told me, he has not believed.

Kamal Ataturk, the secular leader of Turkey following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, also tried to leave Muhammad behind. But there's a problem with that. Unless you really make a clean break with Muhammad, he always catches up to you and wraps his arms around you. Ataturk might have made the break personally, but he was unable to influence his country to do the same and, sure enough, Muhammad is alive and well in much of political Turkey today. It takes a lot of courage to really leave him behind.

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