There is a secret demographic of 15 to 32-year-olds who live in constant shame about their identities, fear of being exiled from their communities and the knowledge that they cannot eat, wear, date, think or do what they want. No, this is not a story about LGBT youth or the plight of the invisibly disabled or poverty or marginalization.
It’s about religious freedom.
This story has all the elements of an epic and bitter holy war, except that it happens quietly, in the dark and on personal laptops. This secret demographic has found its way online, to Reddit’s Ex-Muslim board, where “recovering” Muslims can go to vent, ask questions and get advice.
Anonymous user TakeBeerAllahuAkbar says,
It is such a nightmare being in the closet. I have to engage in enormous amounts of deception and self-suppression, and I have to do it in every way possible: with my activities, with my gestures, with my words. I spend valuable time and energy carrying out rituals that mean nothing to me. I lie about where I am going and what I will be doing there. I bite my tongue in the face of ideas that disgust me. Sometimes, I propagate those very ideas, and that is one of the toughest things of all because it has some of the most direct and pronounced effects on those around me.
Amidst the general panic of radical Islamists infiltrating Western culture, it can be easy to forget that Islam has its very own dissidents – from within. Perhaps the ultimate platform to rail against a medieval and archaic religion, Reddit has become an online oasis for disillusioned, confused and curious “X-mooses” looking for answers.
The site mods take care to maintain an air of tolerance and welcome practicing Muslims, but the purpose of the site is clear: r/exmuslim is a place to rant, investigate and commiserate over the sometimes devastating effects of organized religion. The forum’s members skew young, educated and male; under the veil of anonymity, those who had their faith chosen for them can share a community with others in much the same way abuse victims counsel one another to safety and sanity.
An FAQ asks,
Is the Qu’ran compatible with science and morality? The short answer is: no
The forum doesn’t mince around their criticism of the world’s second largest religion: they position the religion’s edicts as backward and anti-progress, “apologists” as hell-bent on mistranslating texts, deluding people and outright lying, and the Qur’an as filled with missives promoting misogyny, slavery and violence.
Then why not just leave? Even within less fundamentalist Muslim communities, followers understand one bone-chilling fact: apostates, or those who leave Islam, are technically meant to be put to death. While the sub has often been criticized for entertaining Islamophobia, the mods claim that there is nothing irrational about fearing for one’s life.
The consequences for publicly denying the faith can be shattering.
Families have been known to ostracize or disown dissident children, engaging in mental and physical abuse. In more zealous countries, imprisonment and death are not uncommon and justified using scriptures that speak of apostasy as an egregious sin. “Some of us are still double-lifers”, the subreddit claims. And with only 10% of members agreeing in a survey that their status is fully known, it’s easy to see why.
With Reddit alternatively viewed as the last bastion of free speech or else an unregulated hate-space (depending on the phase of the moon and whether anything interesting has made its way to the front page), the community will probably linger in the shadows a while longer. The group boasts almost 4,000 members and countless other visitors, which might not seem like a lot compared to the 1.6 billion self-proclaimed Muslims dotted around the globe, but it’s something.
User CadmeusCain writes:
I've been saying to myself recently that the most painful thing we have to endure is not that so many lies have been told to defend Islam, but that Islam has made us into liars.
Who knows the eventual repercussions such a small seed of anonymous discontent could have?