Around a year and two days ago, I have joined the organization called The Ex Muslims of North America (EXMNA). This organization is a community organization where Ex Muslims in different parts of North America host networkingbonding events. The networking events can vary: from getting together and having drinks to skiing together. It is all about creating friendships and solidarity.
Regardless of one’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof), people have a need for community because we are social animals. Humans have survived and evolved because we are social animals, and require a collective to thrive in. Humans have banded together and achieved things like protecting community against bad weather, potential predators, other human groups etc. Gangs, Honor violence, country clubs, national armies etc., humans have banded together in various ways. Because of the 21st century technology, entire human populatons have grown dependent on non-vital materials such as social media. In this reality where humans are biologically dependent on being social animals, EXMNA fulfills that void.
You see when you first lose faith in Islam, if your family and friends hold collective identities based around religious faith, you do not fit into that mold and become isolated from the pack. One example would be your siblings, parents, and relatives gather and discuss Muhammed flying to heaven on a horse and sometimes go as far as to debate about whether that was Muhammed’s divine dream or a physical reality. There you are thinking “this is clearly made up” and saying that out loud isolates you from this group so familiar to you. And there you have EXMNA, a collective of people who do not believe that nonsense, aren’t afraid to mock it, and understand where you’re coming by having lived it/living it themselves.
Post Islamic Life Before EXMNA
I have been an apostate of Islam for about four and a half years. The first few years were really miserable. I had to completely distance myself from my family who is really religious. Let’s measure my stages of apostasy through my Ramadan experience.
In 2012 and 2013 Ramadan I was living far from home for work. I was in a different city with nobody on my case, had access to plenty of happy hours and too much money to spend. They were fun except for when I would return to my family’s home on mini trips.
Around 2013 I moved back to my family’s home. In 2014 the Ramadan was miserable. During my apostasy, I had rarely experienced this level of religiosity. Everybody becomes really religious during Ramadan and you are socially shamed/frowned upon if you openly break your fast. Everybody and their dog’s cousin’s mothers (okay that’s an exaggeration Muslims don’t really own dogs) would Islamize their Facebooks, write loathsome statuses about how great Muhammed was. Some even randomly cherry pick verse that seemed noble in face values (but nobody bothers to look at the context). Here I was, completely nonreligious, not at all interested in participating in this, but forcing myself to in fear of social condemnation/shaming. It was depressing.
2015 was very similar except I grew evenmore resentment because my family became even more religious this year. Characters like Nouman Ali Khan, and The Deen Squad became normalized in my home and I would hear them daily. Their collective identities have become more dependent on Islam. Every large gathering had to include some form of prayer. The five daily prayers for Muslims, also known as Salaat, would disrupt entire social gatherings and all the men would gather and pray. If you sat out, the entire collective would judge you, shame you, and think you have some form of spiritual disease for not going. In other families they think it’s an actual mental disease that requires psychiatric treatment. Basically you have no choice but to be a fake believer.
I can only imagine what it’s like for an Ex-Muslim woman who grew up wearing a headscarf everywhere and wants to take it off. Her family and community would shame her and think she is going mad for taking off the hijab.
In 2016 I had joined EXMNA. While I had the same isolated Ramadan experience in my Muslim circles, I at least had a community of people who were going or had gone through the same. It was good to not feel alone. There were people who had to go through Taraweeh (nightly Ramadan prayers that are excruciating and long), wake up before sunrise to eat for the rest of the day, be around intense religiosity, etc.
The EXMNA Experience
EXMNA is a very discreet social group. The group has hundreds of members scattered throughout North America. Members are shown where they can find their nearest Ex-Muslim gathering and through these gatherings friendships, business relationships, or even romances/marriages are formed.
EXMNA And Critical Thinking.
Through my engagement and discussions with Ex-Muslims from EXMNA, my intellectual capabilities have grown tremendously. You can even see the differences in my thought processes between earlier and recent articles. Through feedback and critique from my friends and peers in EXMNA I have been able to constantly improve my thought process and writing. I am now capable of hearing someone’s arguments and assess whether there’s a conclusive leap applied to appease their ideological leanings.
My curiosity for the nature of ideological commitments (such as religions) grew. And I was able to critically analyze what my family was going through such as why each individual has his/her relationship with their faith, etc. Being able to critically analyze what you and those around you are going through is quite empowering. It provides you deeper context and you can see the larger picture behind this trend. You realize your family has a social and emotional dependence on religion, and your resentment turns into sympathy merely laced with hints of the occasional irritability. That was the effect for me at least. This analytical framework was therapeutic for me in many ways because sometimes the larger social context behind your personal issues make you feel less isolated.
I also became much more intelligent in matters of religion and ideological trends. I was able to identify what is dishonest Islam apologia, and which is literal Islam and how to navigate conversations with people who believe in either. The people I have met in EXMNA have constantly pushed me to think deeper and more critically on these matters. People say “you left Islam because you never really learned about it.” They should actually say that to themselves for not honestly reading scriptures and identifying its flaws. If you think Islam is a feminist religion of peace, you only know a minority of scriptures or you read large chunks of it very dishonestly. Ex-Muslims have shown me this reality. You’d be surprised at how much Ex-Muslims know about Islam and its history.
EXMNA And Friendships
I surprisingly found new friends in EXMNA, despite irregular attendance. When you speak to someone in EXMNA it’s like “okay, he/she gets it.” There’s a degree of an innate intuition and understanding between EXMNA members because of shared dilemmas, values, existential processes, reflections etc.
There was a gathering in 2016 where EXMNA members from all around the continent attended. It was my first time meeting many online friends, people I interact with in forums, as well as those I never interacted with, in person. When we all met, friendships and bonds were formed almost instantly and there was a great feeling of solidarity, and head nods of “I get it” with each other.
People who have been regular readers of my blog here approached me and told me they read my work/watch my channel decorated with much praises. After keeping The Secular Brownie a secret from most people in my life, it was rewarding to know that people out there are actually consuming my material. It was inspiring as well to produce content knowing you have a community of friends and acquaintances from all around the country who support you and connect to your content.
Through shared experiences, values, and commitments to rationality, EXMNA has provided me the necessary community to share my deeper frustrations, thoughts and concerns because everybody “gets it.” My apostasy and feelings of social isolation become much more tolerable and easier to cope with when I know I have a community of people behind me.
May Allah bless EXMNA InshAllah. May we find the path of the Prophet together and rejoice together in Jannah. May Allah help EXMNA President Muhammed Syed be like his namesake: Prophet Muhammed. InshAllah. Amee…
EXMNA is an excellent community. If you’re an Ex-Muslim located in North America, you should certainly join. There is no ideological commitments you need to have, other than being committed to respecting open inquiry on religion/politics/social issues, against Anti-Muslim bigotry, etc.
Click here for more information on joining.
Click here to donate to their organization to support their community building/outreach efforts.
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