Until the moment before they pull the trigger

A public Facebook post by Simi Rahman that has gone viral.

Every Muslim humanist is asking themselves a question I first asked myself in September 2001.

How do you tell a radical Muslim from a moderate peace loving one?

And here is my train of thought.

The 9/11 hijackers reminded me of boys I had gone to school with in Dubai in the 80s and 90s. They were the same age, background, and modern enough to have listened to 80s pop and chased girls. Meaning that just like most young people in the Muslim world, we weren’t that religious.

So, I thought, maybe I could locate the differences between them and me, and at some point I would identify a breakaway point. Something they would do that I never would. And it took me a while to realize this, and now with the California shootings, it has reaffirmed for me, that indeed, when it comes to being able to tell a moderate from a radical in Islam, you can’t.

You really can’t tell until the moment before they pull the trigger, who is moderate and who is jihadi. Tashfeen has broken our moderate backbone, by revealing that she lived among us, unnoticed, normal, experiencing motherhood, enveloped in our secure community and yet, had radicalized.

And that’s the problem, that there are many others like her with exactly the same beliefs, who may not have been ignited yet by a radical cleric, but if the opportunity presented itself, they would follow. They’re like a dormant stick of dynamite, waiting for the fuse to be lit. The TNT is already in there.

What’s it made of? Not the 5 pillars, belief, charity, prayer, fasting and pilgrimage. Not the sayings of the prophet as to how to lead a good and just life. Not the celebration of Eid ul Fitr.

It possibly glimmers through in the fealty that Allah demands during the Eid ul Adha, when Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a sign of his superior faith is commemorated in a sacrifice and celebration very much like the American Thanksgiving, with family and food. But without the football. And oh yes, the fratricide.

It is there in the silence one must maintain during prayer, brooking no interruptions, because it would make the prayer invalid. It is there in the severity of the hijab when it is followed to a tee. Not a hair can show. It is there in the forced separation of men and women at social gatherings.

It is present in every act that is performed that excludes us from the mainstream. It is present in the very concept of Us and Them. Because the only way we remain Us is to reject Them. The only way to be an exemplary Us is to reject westernization at every turn. Halal only is a sham, constructed out of this notion of meat that has been cut a certain way. It’s the same meat. And yet there is a magical difference that people will attest to in all seriousness.

I hope she’s not right. It’s a very grim outlook if she is.

She herself got out.

I dropped prayer, stopped feeling guilty for not praying. I drank alcohol, in moderation like most people do in the west, and I didn’t instantly turn into an alcoholic. I dropped the need to cover to my ankles and wrists, and wore regular clothes. Bacon. I mean, seriously, it’s bacon, I don’t have to explain how good it was. I turned to look back at the wall from the other side, and it was…a relief. I relief to lose that fear of apostasy. To realize there was no such thing, it was purely in my mind. The ideas that had worn a groove in my mind, the guilt, the anxiety, the self flagellation for being a bad Muslim, all were gone.

And now, looking in the rear view mirror, I cannot recall what that felt like. I can’t recall what believing used to feel like, because it’s not as if there’s an absence. It’s not like I miss it. No, in its place has come a more robust understanding of humanity, philosophy, history, human nature and yes, even of religion.

A realization that the future is everything. There is no heaven or hell. Or rather, we no longer need a heaven and a hell to curb us into moral behavior. We have evolved. We know more of the universe, too much to be afraid of it anymore. We know more of this earth, and we know that every human being is made of exactly the same material. There is no Us, no Them. There is only We. We need to move on. We need to break free. We need to scale the wall so we can push back against the forces that seek to snatch our children’s minds and bodies. We need to protect them, we need to inhabit our own intelligence instead of surrender it in the service of an archaic structure of beliefs that make absolutely no sense to follow in this day and age.

We have to break the chains in our own minds in order to do any of this. And it is scary. Especially when you’ve believed your whole life in the concept of blasphemy. Especially when you know that to openly come out and reject these beliefs would be to risk alienation, to be ostracized and maligned, rejected and alone. And in many cases, dangerous to your own person.

So maybe that is where we should start. By encouraging Muslims to create safe spaces to challenge the logical fallacies and inconsistencies, not between translation to translation, but between Islam and the modern world.

I think it is. I think we should encourage people to leave their religions, or at least to hold them as loosely as possible. Religions tightly held are not safe for human beings.

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