My “Conversion” Story (Part III)

First of all, Eid Mubarak everyone! I hope you had a wonderful time with your family and friends over the past week ūüôā

The post below is the third part of part of the process I have been through as a convert to Islam, reflecting on realisations along that road: from being someone who was becoming a socially conservative bigot controlled by the agendas of others, to where I (thankfully) am today.

High profile convert to Islam Kristiane Backer. Even with all her cultural capital & intelligence, found herself in a controlling situation: "I met and fell in love with a charming, Muslim-born TV producer from Morocco who lived in the US. We had a lot in common and married in 2006. But his interpretation of Islam became a way of controlling me: I was expected to give up my work, couldn't talk to men and even had to cut men out of old photographs. I should have stood up to him, because a lot of what he asked of me was not Islamic but cultural, but I wanted to make the marriage work. Insha Allah my future husband will be more trusting and focused on the inner values of Islam, rather than on outward restrictions." Source & image

High profile convert to Islam Kristiane Backer. Even with all her cultural capital & intelligence, found herself in a controlling situation: “I met and fell in love with a charming, Muslim-born TV producer from Morocco who lived in the US. We had a lot in common and married in 2006. But his interpretation of Islam became a way of controlling me: I was expected to give up my work, couldn’t talk to men and even had to cut men out of old photographs. I should have stood up to him, because a lot of what he asked of me was not Islamic but cultural, but I wanted to make the marriage work. Insha Allah my future husband will be more trusting and focused on the inner values of Islam, rather than on outward restrictions.” Source & image

Two years after my conversion to Islam I was pretty much only hanging out with Muslims. I had let a lot of my former friendships drift because I didn’t like the way my friends were “judging me” and my growing conservatisation.

I reality, my friends were amazingly open minded. It was me who was doing the judging. I had been so influenced by others in the Islamsicisation of my life, I didn’t realise it had happened.

As mentioned in the previous post, I became the local convert home tutor for several Tablighi Jamaat, Wahabi and Salafi¬†families in my city. It was a perfect arrangement for them. I was a woman, and a muslim. I was keen to learn about the islamic faith too, and many of the fathers of the children I was teaching were “Islamic Scholars”. I was an idealistic young woman just wanting to live a good life. The perfect candidate for brainwashing.

My dress changed. I never wore hijab but I started to cover my whole body. My arms and legs were never seen. I look back on photos of myself and realise who weird I look, and how very conflicted I felt. My smile in those photos is not joyous, in none of them.

Whilst theTablighi Jamaat, Wahabi and Salafi¬†community were lovely to work for (as long as I conformed to and never questioned the basic tenets of their lifestyles), their Islam was definitely not my cup of tea and thankfully I kept contact with my “normal or mainstream” Muslim friends.

But, as I became more and more conservative in my ways, my “mainstream” Muslim friends further¬†revealed their true conservative selves. I realised that conservatism isn’t only reserved for the so-called fundamentalists.

It takes a while for it all to come out, but once “the community” knows you are “one of them” and that it is safe to share their socially conservative views, that’s when the indoctrination occurs. They no longer self censor for fear of losing another convert. They begin drilling you with practises you should be undertaking in order to be a “true Muslim”.


By this stage, the only people from my old circle of (non-Muslim) friends who I was still hanging out with with those who were religious or spiritual. Basically those who could confirm, not challenge my world views. And I was always giving them dawah, secretly hoping they might finally come around to¬†being¬†Muslim too. I still don’t understand why.

As mentioned in the previous post, I started attending thaleem, a special Muslim woman’s circle where you talk about the religion and recite Arabic verses until you reach somewhat of a trancelike state.

I was fasting two days a week, because I felt it was making me spiritually stronger.

But as I was “growing in faith”, I was becoming more distant from my family and close friends and was also being drawn away from my old hobbies and passions.


By the time I had graduated from University, I had already been offered a job in the civil service. I saw this as a blessing from Allah.

Even though I was to be “working with the kufar government (as some of my acquaintances in the conservative communities actually said), I could still “help spread Islam by showing how a good Muslim girl can still go to work”.. And so on, and so fourth.

Typical bloody¬†dawah¬†propaganda-drive mentality, right? Everything in these peeoples’¬†lives¬†is so calculated, every act is a potential for dawah. It really is. It makes me shudder to think I was also self censoring to non-muslims in such ways so that I could help “spread the Islamic faith” through example.

But I digress.

I wasn’t wearing the hijab, so no-one really realised I was Muslim around the office (except if I asked to pray or was fasting). But I never made a big song and dance about my faith int he office, just quietly did it. People respected that.

I started to make friends at work outside the overbearing Muslim community. And I started to realise how refreshing it was to have normal conversations again.

Travelling in the “Muslim World”

Then I traveled to a Muslim majority country for the second time in my life.

This Muslim majority country was different to the first country I had traveled too though, which was rather conservative and had a lot of issues with civil conflict and terrorism.

Travelling to this Muslim majority¬†was part of my work and I had a scheduled program to attend throughout the duration of my stay. It is a very progressive, South East Asian nation actually and not marked by religious identity as much as the rest of the “Muslim world” is.

Here I saw Muslim women, practising, non practising, covered, wearing normal “modern” forms of dress. Other who were more religously conservative but displayed progressive and realistic views about the relationship (or non viable relationsip) between Islam and democracy and so on, advocating for the absolute separation between religion and state in their Muslim majority country, and so on.

I met some Islamic organisations as part of the program I was participating in in my then role in the government, and saw Muslims who embraced secularism and modernity whilst maintaining their faith.

I also met people who explained that they are “Muslims” but they were not really practising that much. Much like many Catholics in the West. unthinkable to many Muslims in the community where I was from!

It was eye opening for me and made me realise how incredibly naive and narrow minded I had become.

Feeling kinda embarrassed at myself

I felt quite embarrassed for myself, and then for my family. And then I thought over all the judgemental things I had said to my friends over the course of my conservatisation.

It was kind similar to the feeling of shame that sweeps over you after a night out on the town after you vuaguely remember it all as it washes back to you as you wake again to sobriety then next day.

I ordered a gin and tonic in my hotel room. It was the first alcoholic drink i had had since i took the Shahada.

This realisation that being Muslim didn’t mean I had to be a bigot, a fundamentalist, was strange. I realised that if I was living in a muslim majority country like the one I was currently visiting, I would probably be considered a bit of a fanatic¬†who took the religion (and myself) waaaaay too seriously.

What had I been doing these past two years?

I looked out over at the sprawling city scape, ordering one gin and tonic after another. And what struck me was that the hotel floor didn’t cave in, and my world didn’t crumble.

The Muslims whose lives I was a part of in the West were dangerously fundamentalist. There are social and political reasons for the phenomonon of conservatism amongst these communities, which multitudes of social scientists have examined.

I won’t examine them though. These blogs though are¬†personal realisations for me, and reflection on processes or milestones which have been significant for me throughout my “journey”. They are not all of the story, as that wold be too long to tell.

These reflections are not about leaving a religion, or embracing a new one, not are they about the dichotomy between¬†“progressive” and “conservative Islam” – those debates are constructions and often associated with political movements from within and without the faith community.

These reflections are just a process of naval gazing, I guess.. A way to look back at where my life was heading in contrast with where it is now.

Sometimes I participate¬†in the cultural aspects¬†of Islamic tradition (like I do every Eid, for instance), but I do so whilst not really¬†really¬†believing in it. Just a kind of cultural process of ‘going through the motions’.

Where I am now is definitely a much happier place.

If you call me a “kafir”,¬†if anyone ever does, I just laugh and think to myself¬†“if you only knew my friend, if only you knew”.

Experience and hindsight really changes a lot and, as Jack Keruoac said in¬†On The Road, “a little weariness changes everything”.

I hate to sound cynical, but I say this from a position of experience. f you are a socially conservative practising convert and truly reaaaallly happy, come back to me in five years and tell me how that’s going for you.

To be continued later in part IV


My “Conversion Story” (Part II)

I was reeled in with lovely words about "choice" & "freedom", but once I'd been convinced, the conervatives started to present me literature like this and to basically try to guilt me into changing . Image

I was reeled in with lovely words about “choice” & “freedom”, but once I’d completely¬†converted, the community¬†started to present me literature like this and to basically try to guilt me into changing. I eventually dressed like the girl second from the top, minus the hijab. Relatively pleasing to God, I guess. Image

Whilst I was at university I always struggling for money, so I signed up at the student union as a home tutor for families in the area.

The university admin lady called me one day and said there was a family not so far from where I lived who needed an English tutor for their two children. It was ok money, around $20 an hour. So I called the family and said I was available to begin right away.

This was around the time I had been questioning whether I really wanted to be part of the religion of Islam. Although I was still very much feeling the spiritual high and the buzz Islam and the community gave me.

I was, however, still a believer. And as because of this, I always felt that nothing was ever a coincidence.

When I arrived at the home of the family I was to tutor, I of course felt like this was a sign from Allah (swt).

I approached the door and saw multiple pairs of shoes outside the house, smelt the familiar aroma of incense from Saudi Arabia that Muslims often burn in their home.  I thought, well this must be a Muslim family.

I was greeted at the door by a man in a long white robe, with a long henna-dyed orange beard and a beaming smile. I entered the home, and met his wife and his children.

His wife was wearing all black, and equally beaming. English was her second language. She was well-educated, kind, and very warm and welcoming.

I sat and sipped milk tea with them, and revealed that I too was Muslim. “Mashallah” they said, elated. “Subhanallah, Allah (swt) has plans for us all. Such a sign of his blessings for us that he would send, Mashallah, a revert to teach our children. Subhanallah“.

“Allah is the best of planners”.

As I had been turning away from the faith, it appeared (of course, at the time) that Allah (swt) was bringing me back through the might of his’ will.¬†Subhanallah.

Hafiz Kids

The father was a mathematics teacher at the local Saudi-funded Islamic school, and was concerned his home-schooled children were missing out on the English side of things.

He felt however that it was more important that his kids stay at home for the year to become Hafiz (someone who has memorised¬†the whole entire Quran), because “worldly knowledge, in the akhirat (afterlife) is not worth much”. It didn’t matter to him that they miss out on the local curriculum as it wasn’t really important in the end.

Like, as in the afterlife, end.

Alarm bells started to sound for me at this time, and I probably should have got right out of there and out of their lives. But I shrugged my discomfort off as I really needed the money, they were lovely people, and felt I could possibly have a good influence on the sheltered kids lives.

I agreed to become their family tutor. And subsequently, the tutor for a cross-section of Tablighi and Wahabi Muslim families.

Becoming the local family English tutor for the Tablighi and Wahabi Community

I can see now how this chance encounter veered me, once again, off the path to normality and happiness which I continually craved as a practising, fundamentalist Muslim. But hey, I guess I can put all that down to “life experience” or something now. What else can I do?

The kids displayed signs of missing out on mainstream education and were massive attention seekers. But they were lovely. I was convinced one of the girls¬†who was under the age of ten but wore the niqab was constantly sick because of her lack of exposure to the sun. But it wasn’t my place to comment.

I would come to the house once a week, and the children’s mother would make the most amazing meals for me. I’d always join them at dinner after teaching the kids, and became closer and closer to them.

The mother was a niqab-wearer and rarely left the house, so it was somewhat of a relief for her when I came over as she had company from outside the home.

He was a tabligh, and would constantly preach to me when he was with us at dinner. His arguments were convincing and rekindled my fascination for Islam with stories of miracles and so on which were just about brainwashing me.

It all felt right though. I had been meandering off the path back to the life on an infidel, but Allah cared enough about ME that he would bring close to a pious family.

I later realised that this man¬†was one of the best, and most convincing preachers in his¬†game, and that he felt I had it in me to be a good¬†muslimah just like all the other women in his wifes’ life. I guess he felt that he was getting some great brownie points for heaven out of it.

Back on a majorly religious tangent and losing myself.. Again

As ramadan came around again, and because I wasn’t from a Muslim family, I joined them regularly at Iftar.

After breaking fast, the husband would go out to the mosque and I would stay home with the other ladies and participate in thaleem. Religious remembrance of Allah and re-reading of the hadith.

As usual, we would come across hadith that were outright sexist, almost misogynoustic, but when I asked questions about these hadith I was only told to increase my man (faith) so that the questions would settle.

The more I hung out with this community, the more my world-views changed. I lost myself, yet again and remained trapped in the world of conservative Islam for the next two years.

Black, White, Halal, and Haram

You gradually become influenced by the people you spend a lot of time around, so of course, I began to change.

I stopped hanging out with any of my wonderful male friends. I lost interest in going out to gigs. I stopped spending time with friends who criticised religion, especially my old activist and punk friends.

I weighed everyone up on this very judgemental standard and if they didn’t fit it, I just made excuses not to hang out with them.

I became a spiritual snob too. I lost respect for those of my friends that “didn’t believe in something” and, whilst I never said this to them outright, I asked them on occasion how they “couldn’t believe in anything”.

Of the friends that I didn’t lose during this time and who I still had time for, I constantly tried giving them dawah (preaching to bring them into the religion) by telling them how peaceful and wonderful I felt as a Muslim and how it was the path for us all.

The pretty white girl image of the convert who "finally found peace" shits me a little. It always has. Image

“Islam is peace, guys”.. The archetypal image of the pretty white ¬†girl convert who “finally found peace and liberation in Islam”. Images like this shit me a little. Why? It Because I know that behind the pretty smiling faces, these women are facing real dilemmas. It probably ¬†shits me more because that was once me, the poster girl. Always working¬†to show Islam in a super positive light either¬†in an attempt to bring others¬†to the religion, or¬†to just get people¬†off my¬†back. In my experience, none of the sisters¬†I knew was truly comfortable with everything that was going on in their lives, not even the hardcore fundamentalist ones. They always told themselves they were happy though. IF they weren’t happy, then they’d just accept that happiness was reserved for the afterlife. Image

I lied defending Islam from its bad image, for the sake of dawah. I made my life appear blissfully happy in the hope that other friends would follow. Looking back, I cringe.

But we live and learn, don’t we.

I gained several clients from the niqab-wearing wahabi and tablighi jamaat communities who were all living around the same neighbourhood. For the most part, they were all bbsolutely kind people, but incredibly incredibly socially and religiously conservative. They would truly give the shirt of their back to someone in need.

One day, however, I met a woman in the community who wasn’t so wonderful. I started teaching her “best-friend’s” children, and met her through them.

She shared the same name as me and was also a convert, which people in the community thought was a sign we should meet, of course.

Everything was of course about signs those days.

We met at an iftar that ramadan (ramadan is the month of fasting, iftar is the meal with which you break your fast at sunset).

She was a middle aged, niqab wearing convert. And a poisonous human being.

She was always there, everytime¬†I tutored¬†her friend’s daughters.

She was always in my ear, talking of the beauty of Islam, of how her life changed for the better.

Then about how I should consider finding a good brother to marry, start wearing the hijab, and truly start to live up to my role as a good muslimah.

This woman was, in fact, a psychopath.

I learned later on, long after having distanced myself from the community, that she had been charged with terrorism offences and that she had encouraged her daughter to go and live in Somalia and marry a terrorist. Her own flesh and blood.

Her other children, alienated by their mother’s harsh parenting, went off the rails in other, less islamic ways. Taking of the hijab, going out, drinking and so on.

She cast them out of home and told them never to return.

I tolerated her because I had to. But it was being around this woman that made me begin to question what I was doing and why. But looking back, so many of the things she did still give me chills.

Eventually put off by the Dawah that was designed to entrap me

I continued my work as a tutor, because I needed the money, but I reminded myself again that this wasn’t the life for me. Hell, I didn’t want to turn out like this crazy¬† woman.

This lady¬†wasn’t the only radical convert I came across¬†either.

I met several wahabi niqab-wearing convert (sorry, “revert”) women who had the most black and white world-views.

They always showed cracks though, where their former lives would show through.

There were the ones that had the odd cigarette when no-one was watching, or who still had outfits from their former lives. The women who had tattoos, hip hop music collections they’d never quite been able to bring themselves to give away.

Or there were those that wore make-up around the house (for the benefit of their husband of course), and wore sexy-ish outfits to female gatherings. They all sometimes revealed something of their former selves, as normal-ish types from normal middle class families.

Why on earth were they living the way they were when they had the choice not to? This was a question that constantly crossed my mind as I met them in the homes of the families I was tutoring.

Because of their husbands, of course. Who in most cases they met out clubbing. Handsome, young Arab guys sweeping these bogan/chav/hillbilly-esque women off their feet.

It mystified me. But, thankfully, it also opened my eyes.

All of the preaching gradually turned me off

As it eventually does, the preaching and the nagging eventually turned me off. I increasingly paid lip-service to this community and slowly stopped following the basic tenets of Islam.

I stopped praying (though I would pray at their houses like a good munafiq at prayer time just so I wouldn’t be hassled or gossiped about).

Then I started to reconnect to my old friends.

They were relived. Mostly that they hadn’t completely lost me.

My family were too, though they would never admit this to me for fear they would hurt my feelings. That time kind of remains an unspoken of period. I never have said I’m a non-Muslim per se, they just witnessed me gradually practising less and less. My mum still talks of the positive effects that that faze probably had on my life, because she is such a kind and open minded woman.

I was still always, I guess, a believer of course. I just morphed into a sometimes-practising Muslim. I will explore more about the turning points in the next post however.

I have regrets. The biggest one, is realising what an asshole I had been to my “kafir” friends. Not overtly, but subtley always talking Islam up, and judging everyone. And for what?

The way out is long, and it isn’t always straightforward. But finally, here I am today. Happy, healthy, balanced, and no longer a religious nut job. Alhamdullilah.

Who knows where I would be now if I continued down the path I found myself on. I shudder at the thought..

I will continue this story in Part III. For now, I need to get on with my thesis¬†ūüôā

My “Conversion Story” (Part I)

Dawah or Da'wah, (ōĮōĻŔąō©)‚Äé means the proselytizing or preaching of Islam. As you can see from the poster, this is something some Muslims take very seriosuly

Dawah or Da’wah, (ōĮōĻŔąō©)‚Äé means the proselytizing or preaching of Islam. As you can see from the poster, this is something some Muslims take very seriosuly

I can’t say there was a day or a moment that I was convinced Islam was the religion for me. The process of adopting an absolutist approach to the faith also did not happen suddenly,¬†in much the same way that I can’t say exactly when I veered “off the absolutist path” and back into a normal existence.¬†There are milestones though.

“Life Before Islam”

Like many convert or “revert” stories we hear, at the time I converted to Islam I was “searching for something more” in life.

I was always a spiritual child and was really into theosophy and reading about the religions of the world. I practised meditation daily, and my spiritual views involved something of a concept of the greatness and vastness of the universe and the connections we all have to each other through existence.

I was also a wild child. Part of the punk scene, a musician, a skater, and one of those ragbag activists who stands in front of the police till they read out the riot act. I also had somewhat of a predisposition to melancholiness so I was prone to the odd existential crisis, but I wouldn’t say I was a profound sadsack. Not any more than the average 20 year old.

September 11¬†and Something of a¬†“Convert Narrative”

When September 11 happened I was in my final year of High School. Muslims in our community were under attack from members of the wider community, and I found myself sticking up for them.

I learned more about the religion, not from the Quran itself but from Muslims. I felt it was very unfair for people to black list Islam and Muslims in our community for the acts of terrorism which they had nothing to do with. At this point however, I had no interest in converting to the religion.

A year passed, and in 2002 I moved to a bigger city and began my undergraduate degree.

Whilst I was at University I became friends with some practising Muslims in my course. I was still pretty happy in my ways, and so I continued my own mishmash form of spirituality and kept going on with my life. Until I met a boy (yeah, here we go. She met a Muslim boy. Typical).

We spoke a lot about spirituality and things, and one day when I was drunk he sat me down for a chat. He said he “knew I was searching for something bigger than myself” and that he could see my spiritual struggles. Now 21, I was very of open to powerful forms of suggestion which offer meaning and the prospect of personal change.¬†I was also looking for ways to reduce my binge-drinking habits and was impressed by the ability of Muslims to abstain from drinking.

The Muslim boy told me about Islam, but I wasn’t interested in actually converting or anything. I was, of course, always open to learning new things. He introduced me to some Muslim sisters, who I developed a close relationship with over time. As I became closer to the sisters, I became more distant to the boy.

The¬†Da’wah Strategy of¬†My “New Found Friends”

I used to watch my new friends pray and fast and thought, “wow, they have so much self control and clarity”. I also admired their sobriety which, as I was reeled further in, later became a distinguishing moral point between us.

The girls always talked of the peace Islam offers them, and of a religion offers the perfect balance between rationality and the soul. They even had pamphlets for that, like those from Harun Yahya the well-known Islamic creationist who presents Islam as a “progressive religion” in tune with science.

They always¬†told me how I “seemed like a Muslim, even though I wasn’t (yet), because of my good nature and passion for standing up for what’s right”. And then there was the old “we are all Muslims from birth anyway” line, which lead eventually lead me to believe that in learning about Islam I was just uncovering more of my true self. Very appealing to a rational yet slightly New-Agey type.

With hindsight, I was being targeted by the University Islamic Society’s dawah (preaching) strategy: pretty much a concerted 2-month campaign by my new found friends in persuasion and influence.

At the time I was amazed. “Where had Islam and these amazing people been all this time?”, I thought. With hindsight, I can see what was going on.

It was kind of like what critics of cult dynamics call “love-bombing”, a process whereby recruiters shower a potential convert with a lot of positive attention. The process basically targets the human need for self esteem and acceptance from others and involves giving the potential a lot of positive attention.

This isn’t anything sinister though. These were actually genuinely lovely people. The whole dawah thing happens because the religion places value and reward in the hereafter on successfully spreading the faith. It is more subtly evangelistic in this way though, targeting only those who show interest.

Saying The Shahada

I continued to study more and more, until I had invested quite a lot emotionally into the whole thing and then one day, after completing a reading of the whole Quran, I said the Shahada. Just like that.

All the talk of hellfire, the non-believers and stuff. Well, that wasn’t to be taken literally. “It was just metaphorical”. And, if I just aspired to learn Arabic then I would “understand the true meaning behind such verses” because they “don’t sound as bad in Arabic”.

I devoted so much time to learning as much as I could about the faith and how to practise it. And as my practise grew, I drew the praise and reinforcement of the community. I learned how to pray, I joined study groups, hung out with the sisters everyday at campus and, before I know it, was part of the extended Muslim family.

A year into it, after gaining a deeper understanding of the faith and learning Arabic so that I could understand those gnarly verses, I began to have doubts. But of course, Allah “had a plan for me”, working in the miraculous ways that He does.

My conversion story will continue in the next post (it’s a long-ish story).

The Social structures that ensure obedience and conformity

"Wow Mashallah, you're so pious". What they're thinking: Urgh, why do those converts have to take it so FAR..

“Wow Mashallah, you’re so.. Um.. Pious”. What they’re actually thinking: “Urgh, why do those converts have to take it so far?”.. Image

So what is it that makes someone leave behind a fairly ordinary, everyday type of human experience to adopt an all encompassing, ideological way of thinking? How can one method of thought have so much power over the way someone lives their life?

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Muslim world, and in Muslim majority countries. Something that has always struck me in such places is that the absolutism in religious thinking which I found in Muslim minority communities in the West is not as prominent. In fact, religiously zealous people are considered a little bit batty or just too full on.

In a way, that was another part of the transforming experience for me, a part of the unravelling process. Yes, Muslims in the Muslim world thought that I was a bit too full on (or they would say Mashallah, whilst probably rolling their eyes at my over enthusiasm).

What I have found throughout extensive travels is that religious zealots in some parts of the Muslim world are actually framed in a similar way to which the cult experience is framed in the West. Which is why the parrallels are actually so apt.

Janja Lalich, Ph.D is a Professor of Sociology and was part of a cult in the US in 1970s. For ten long years.

Her work contains the rare combination of both academic knowledge and personal experience. Her descriptions of the experience of religious absolutism and control of thought is so spot on:

Ideological extremism is¬†about the social structure that gets set up around ideology, about the promise of ‚Äúsalvation‚ÄĚ and the recipe for transformation that will take you there, about the institution of systems of influence and control within that self-sealing social structure to ensure obedience and conformity ‚Äď and about the power relations and the power imbalance between the charismatic leader(s) and the followers.

She continues, saying that today ideological extremism is alive and well. Across society. Importantly, she empahsises that the phenomenon of the control of others through religious ideology is happening across society (no, not just within extreme minorities within the Muslim community). As she explains,¬†“a¬†never-ending series of events is calling us”:

‚ÄĘ The recent situation with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) community in Texas.

‚ÄĘ The prophet/leader of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs, convicted last year of being an accomplice to rape for performing a wedding between a young man and a 14-year-old girl, and facing more charges in Arizona.¬†[30]

‚ÄĘ The wildly creative Anonymous protests around the world.

‚ÄĘ The incessant flow of vulnerable individuals into terrorist organizations

And there are plenty of other incidents:

‚ÄĘ Three large ‚Äúdream homes‚ÄĚ set afire by eco-terrorists, the Earth Liberation Front, a group that. along with the Animal Liberation Front, has committed and claimed responsibility for hundreds of criminal attacks in the past decade. This one did seven million dollars in damage.¬†[31]

‚ÄĘ A group of followers (including at least four children) of a Russian cult leader barricaded themselves in a cave about 400 miles southeast of Moscow for more than seven months waiting for doomsday.¬†[32]

‚ÄĘ A media interview with an egocentric cult leader claiming to be the Messiah, who admitted on tape to ‚Äúlying naked‚ÄĚ with three underage girls (one as young as 12 years old), got busted and charged with criminal sexual contact with a minor about a week after the program aired on the National Geographic channel.¬†[33]

Much like religiously absolutist groups within the Muslim community, these dynamics equally “thrive on ideological extremism. Through well-known mechanisms of influence and control

Individual lives become more and more constrained, sometimes gradually, sometimes rather quickly. Minds are shaped to respond in cult [or group-approved ] ways.

But, Lalich emphasises that whilst people “are changed through the concerted efforts of cultic systems of influence and control”, they can of course also find their way out and recover. As she did.

What she drives home here is that the process of indoctrination should not be considered a mysterious and foreign thing. It can be understood, and people can find their way out of it. As I did too.

The original article can be found here, and is adapted from the paper given as the Keynote Address at the annual meeting of the International Cultic Studies Association, Philadelphia, PA, June 27, 2008. Copyright ã 2008 by Janja Lalich. Do not cite or reproduce without permission of the author. Contact: Janja Lalich, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, California State University, Chico, Chico, CA 95929-0445;



The Laughing Heart

Following on from the last post with its’ reference to The Laughing Heart,¬†I’d like to reflect¬†on the power of words to instill hope ¬†and to potentially change¬†the course of ones’ existence.

Around the time my all consuming religiously absolutist world views were beginning to crumble, and I will write more about that later, I came across a piece of poetry by Bukowski that really struck a chord with me.

I scrawled it in whiteboard marker pen across the mirror in the bedroom of the sharehouse I was living in at the time, just so I could be reminded of its’ message every day.

The niggling inner conflicts were becoming like a piece of thread on a woollen jumper. It doesn’t take long for the whole thing¬†to unravel once you start the tugging. Especially if there are loose strands in various directions.

This poem represented the choices I was making, and why. A deep realisation that life was something I could steer to an extent.

Anyway. Here it is.

The Laughing Heart

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Charles Bukowski

Out of The Frying Pan and Into The Fire


Ideology: The Board Game

Ideology: The Board Game. Don’t become a pawn for someone else’s agenda

As mentioned in my first post below, there is little helpful information available online about¬†thinking one’s way¬†outside the prism of religious absolutism in the context of Islam.

I don’t know if that’s because the Christian right have paid for a lot of meta-search space on Google, or if there is actually a lack of info. But most of sites out there offering viewpoints are too extreme and mostly of the politically driven¬†“anti-Islamic” variety, or¬†doomsday Christian blogs just painting Islam as “evil”.

One of the most personable and insightful voices online for those searching for stories on the process of leaving behind religious absolutism can be found in the Sober Second Look Blog. This blog outlines the experiences of a woman who converted to a neo-traditionalist form of Islam in the 80s, and who has “had a lot of time to think about it” since then. I’ll call her “Sober” here.

Much of Sober’s¬†blog is about looking back on her life and seeing, I guess, wasted opportunity. The blog also seems to¬†be a way for her to go through somewhat of a grieving process for a life that could have been.

Her blog is poignant¬†because it took her quite a while to leave behind her neo-traditionalist ways, learning only later in life¬†that this wasn’t the life for her. This was perhaps a process of un-learning.

The thing I find refreshing about her perspective, as opposed to many other on the internet, is that it is “sober”. It is not driven by any mission or ideological sponsor.

Of course not all of us “converts” or “ex-fanatics” have had experiences as traumatic as Sober’s. But I find her intellectual honesty in confronting the ways converts are convinced to swallow the more absolutist types Islam “hook line and sinker” to be the most refreshing I have come across. Particularly¬†when we often only see one of two narratives:¬†the “success stories” of Muslim women who have “found peace” or “liberation” through the religion, or the narrative of the “poor oppressed¬†Muslim lady” . Not all of us felt “liberated” by the ideologies we confronted, and certainly not all of us found ourselves in oppressive situations.

For those of us that found ourselves submitting to an ideologically blinding worldview and wanting to find a way out however, the voices and experiences of others are extremely important.

Some of the so-called “testimonies” of survivors of situations of religious absolutism seem to illustrate situations of people jumping from one absolutist world-view to the next: out of the frying pan of an almost cultish Islamic experience and into the fire of Christian fundamentalism. I also see a lot of “ex-Muslims” playing into right wing political agendas, “exposing the so-called evils of Islam”. This is also not helpful.

It is not Islam or any religion that is ever the problem. It is religious absolutism and its’ political, social and personal¬†implications.

I see a lot of ex-Muslims¬†being used¬†as pawns on the strategic board of¬†someone¬†else’s grander ideological game, be it political, religious, or otherwise. The “testimonies” of these people are not always helpful, and they merely illustrate the vulnerability of someone leaving behind an all consuming way of life for another one.

These are the things we need to be very wary of when going through the process of steping away from religiously absolutist ways of being.

Always be careful of other people’s plans for you because, as Bukowski so eloquently put it,¬†“Your life is your life. Don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission”..



Bentham's Panopticon

Bentham’s Panopticon, designed is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Similar to how one can feel when¬†in religious or ideological communities

There was a time in my life when¬†I followed the religion of Islam in absolutist and utopian terms.¬†Upon ‚Äúthinking‚ÄĚ my way out of ¬†an absolutist left-wing political mind-set in a community of punks, I then found myself drawn to a rigid interpretation of the Islamic faith. All whilst I was still a university undergraduate.

I come from a very secular background. My family is liberal, practical, and anti anything too ideologically heavy or rigid when it comes to life, politics or even personal philosophy. As a teenager I was also very much this way.

So I guess it came as very much of a surprise to my friends and family that I adopted a fairly relgiously rigid outlook. This however was a slow process.

Thinking my way out was equally as slow, but thankfully this eventually happened.

Nowadays I am still, what I guess you could call a nominal Muslim. Maybe even just a cultural Muslim. But I don’t practice anymore. I am not anti-religion, but I am not pro-religion either. Above all, I am a fan of freedom of thought and expression.

A turning point for me in my journey away from absolutist thinking came through a chance reading of Steven Hassan’s book Combatting Cult Mind Control. There was very little on the internet at that time on mass thinking in a religious context (particularly the Islamic context) other than hyperbolic right-wing or Christian run anti-Muslim sites which weren’t helpful at all (another form of fanatacism right there). I found the book in a bookshop and, once I opened it, I couldn’t put it down because I saw so much of myself in it.

I am lucky I also still had the presence of mind to notice that my world-views were changing in a way that, once I admitted it to myself, I didn’t feel comfortable with. But picking up Hassan’s book really was the last nail in the coffin. I began to realise that, to an extent, I had too been brainwashed. Brainwashed by people I considered my friends too. It was a fairly strange feeling, but it is also the most liberating feelings I have experienced.

Following my ideological detachment¬†came the process of slowly distancing myself from the ‚Äúcommunity‚ÄĚ and my ‚Äúfriends‚ÄĚ. I put friends here in inverted commas because, as it turned out, many of these¬†people¬†weren‚Äôt really my friends. As I became less outwardly religious, I realised these people were only interested in being close to me¬†either for the religious brownie points they got for shaping me to the mould of the perfect ‚ÄúMuslimah‚Äú, or for some weird form of validation¬†of a faith they may be internally questioning themselves. But I‚Äôll never really know.

This blog is not about apostasy or ‚Äúleaving the faith‚ÄĚ. This is just about reclaiming my own mind.

The whole Muslim-Non Muslim dichotomy is damaging and thankfully, it wasn’t such a big leap for me because I managed to think my way out of the spiral to fundamentalism before I had to address that. But I did live there for a while.

What changed me was managing to identify the path which I was going down, and recognising I was becoming unhappy, and that a life of submission to religious absolutism was not me. It was someone elses grand plan that I got caught up in.

The most important part of this¬†‚Äújourney‚ÄĚ for me, has been the¬†ability to develop strategies over the years to identify ideologically absolutist ways of thinking. Simply in order to protect myself.¬†I have also developed a bit of a fascination with the reasons people still subscribe (or ‚Äúsubmit) the these ways of seeing and experiencing¬†the world. And I guess that‚Äôs what I intend to share here.