(Editor's note: We are delighted to welcome the newest Freethought Nation guestwriter, Farhan Qureshi, a brave and thoughtful young man who likes to debate and who has an important voice and experience to be shared in the public arena and supported by all freethinkers.)
Confessions of an ex-Muslim
by Farhan Qureshi
First and foremost, I want to extend my appreciation to Acharya S/D.M. Murdock, who in my view is an outstanding author, researcher and expert in comparative religious studies and mythology. As a former Muslim and former Muslim apologist, comparative religious and philosophical debates have always interested me.
After spending so much time, energy, effort, finance, thought and devotion to the religion of Islam, I finally had the courage to admit to myself that this religion is not the ultimate reality behind our existence, and I left the religion altogether. It was certainly a grieving process for me and I’m not so sure that I am over the fact that what I dedicated my life to all those years is not the truth as I thought it was. It's heartbreaking! I still love a lot of things about Islam. I think there are many things beautiful about the Muslim Ummah and the Islamic religion. Yet, there are detrimental, dangerous and delusional aspects to this religion too. I've always been an optimist though, purposely focusing on the positive in things. I think when one focuses on the positive in things, they see beauty in everyone and in everything. Experientially, optimism is an amazing lens to perceive reality from.
My education in Psychology from the University of Maryland and subsequent work in Mental Health guided me in a whole new direction in life. I realized that I was attached to my identity as derived from positive and spiritual experiences with Islam. I realized too that I was a victim of what social psychologists call "confirmation bias," where a person digs themselves deeper and deeper into their preconceived notions. I further realized what indoctrination, attachment, brainwashing and conditioning of the human psyche means, not just theoretically - when I actually observed it in society, it hit me like an epiphany. This state is precisely what confirmation bias looks like! It's what indoctrination does! I saw it for what it was in human behavior. Upon introspection, contemplation, prayer, research, I could no longer hold back, and I publicly announced my apostasy from Islam. I should note that, prior to coming out publicly on Dr. Ali Sina’s Faith Freedom International website, I used to debate theology with Christian missionaries.
Long story short, I was born and raised in the United States to a Pakistani family that followed the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. The Ahmadiyya believe that their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India, was a Prophet and Messenger of Allah, the second coming of Jesus, the Imam Mahdi, the Promised Reformer (Mujadid) of Muslims and fulfillment of many other prophecies and labels. Ahmad established a new sect of Islam in 1889 that has since grown and spread throughout the world.
"I found myself amazed and uplifted by a global Muslim culture."
My grandfather was an ordained missionary for this sect of Ahmadiyya Islam and spent 20 years in West Africa spreading its theology. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a missionary just like him, but at the age of 17 I went in a different direction and converted to mainstream/orthodox Sunni Islam. At this point, I no longer believed that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad fulfilled any prophecies as he claimed, and I found myself amazed and uplifted by a global Muslim culture. In orthodoxy, I found scholars who had a sound understanding of classical and traditional Islam. I found a multicultural presence instead of a Pakistani-dominated congregation of Ahmadis who I grew up with. Point being, there were many factors or "peripheral routes of persuasion" that guided me to Sunni Islam.
I spent 10 years as a Sunni Muslim, and during those 10 years, besides worshiping at the mosque and learning Islam directly from different scholars, I also spent a lot of time in daw’ah (invitation) and muanazara (debate) directed at Ahmadis to convert them to Sunni Islam. I debated Ahmadis on topics such as the second coming of Jesus and the finality of Prophethood (mainstream/orthodox Sunni Muslims believe Muhammad was the last Prophet and consider anyone who denies this doctrine a "heretic").
Six years into Sunni Islam, I found out that there was an Ahmadi Muslim whom I'd known who not only converted to Christianity but also decided to become a Christian missionary. It was at this moment that I decided to expand my efforts, and I confronted this former Ahmadi turned Christian missionary, Nabeel Qureshi (no relation), and eventually we would have our first public debate on the deity of Christ.
Looking back, I can see how I was so stuck following and debating theology. Everything I knew was based on theology. So, that was the premise from which I thought and functioned as a human being. Now, as an agnostic, I find myself spiritual and scientific and not religious and theological.
Escaping hellish conditioning
The main reason I left Islam was because of its doctrine of Hell (Jahanam). As a Pakistani American, I experienced diversity and plurality, and fell in love with it! I couldn't possibly believe that all these amazing people deserve to go to Hell. I couldn’t face a person and tell them that unless they believe what I believe that they deserve and will go to Hell, a cruel, fiery, endless torture. Knowing what I knew about human behavior and why each of us behaves the way we do, I couldn’t believe that Hell could possibly be a just retribution. So instead I embraced agnosticism and universalism. I began studying Buddhism and Hinduism and also started to meditate. I refuse to become dogmatic though. I don’t find the need to be an adherent of an organized religion. I think all religions have aspects that are beautiful. They have wisdom and universal truths. But at the same time I find it necessary to confront evils wherever they come from, including evils that arise from religions that posit exclusivity doctrines.
"The main reason I left Islam was because of its doctrine of Hell. As a Pakistani American, I experienced diversity and plurality, and I fell in love with it! I couldn't possibly believe that all these amazing people deserve to go to Hell."
As I say, when I was involved in Islamic apologetics, I had the opportunity to engage several Christian missionaries in public debates, ranging from Dr. James White, David Wood, Sam Shamoun and others. I also had the opportunity to meet and converse quite deeply for a good period of time with Mike Licona (who was critical of Acharya S’s The Christ Conspiracy – I side with Acharya S in reference to their dispute) during my participation at a Christian convention. Since leaving Islam I've continued to periodically engage in public debates, but I think the experience of human interaction is a far more worthy pursuit and is far more superior pursuit.
For more Information on the Journey of Farhan Qureshi, see his Youtube channel.