Why Are They Leaving Islam?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/matley0/2969939802/By Matthew Longacre

Whether it is in the masjid, on the street, or online, these incidents are too numerous to count. If you haven’t heard these stories, then you haven’t been listening. Every day, time and time again, a troubled Muslim reaches out and communicates to someone, in one way or another, that they are thinking about leaving Islam. They explain that they have been in a troubled state for a while. They say that they pray and they feel nothing; that when they sin, they no longer feel guilty. They talk about how tired they are of the rules and the restrictions and being boxed in.

Every time I hear this story, I feel a deep aching in my heart. I ache because I realize that, by this time in the conversation, it is often too late. I ache because, while this person is so far removed from their Lord that they feel Islam is the root of their problems, the real problem is that they have never truly been exposed to the beauty of their deen (religion) at all. I ache most of all, though, because this is our (the community’s) fault. By failing to properly teach and explain our deen to our youth, we have failed them and set them up for disappointment and failure.

Teaching Our Ummah—Where We Have Failed

This failure begins at the very core of what we teach young and new Muslims alike. When we begin to teach our children about our deen, we focus almost exclusively on the outward actions. We teach them that they must pray, that they must make wudu (ablution), that they must grow out their beard, that they must not eat pork or drink alcohol, that they must never date, and much more. When a new Muslim makes shahadah (the testimony of faith), the mission of the community seems to inundate the new brother or sister with a torrent of rules. I have even been present for a number of shahadat that are immediately followed with people either criticizing the new Muslim’s dress or trying to teach the person how to read and write in Arabic!

Eventually, if our new Muslim brother or sister hasn’t already been driven away from the masjid (mosque) by our torrents of dos and don’ts, they eventually ask about Iman (faith) and how it differs from Islam. This discussion is possibly the most critical point in the development of a Muslim’s deen, yet the same people who had so much to say about rules before have very little to say here. The majority of the time, we refer them to Hadith Jibril. While Hadith Jibril is certainly an excellent starting place and a primer for beginning to understand this distinction, it is a Hadith that requires a greater depth of understanding to truly appreciate. If Hadith Jibril were the end-all be-all, then Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (Glorified is He) would not have bothered with the grand elaboration on this conversation that occurs all throughout the Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him).

Beyond this, most Muslims can only readily cite one other passage concerning the relationship of Iman and Islam:

The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts.” [Qur’an 49:14]

Thus, our ad-hoc shaykh reasons, Iman means “faith,” and faith will only come after you have Islam or “submit.”1

Then the conversation is turned back to dos and don’ts, and an invaluable opportunity is lost.

Islam, Iman and What We Ought to be Saying

When we have the chance to sit down with our children or a new Muslim and teach them these critical concepts, we need to be comprehensive, we need to use analogies and examples, and we cannot underestimate the value of reasoning and reflection. A conversation could go something like this:

In the Hadith Jibril, we see that Islam is described through a set of actions and Iman is described through a set of beliefs. This is why you will oftentimes see Islam translated as “submission” and Iman translated as “belief.” But these translations don’t do the terms justice.

For example, Anas bin Malik radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleases with him) relates that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself,” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]. The love described in this hadith is not a passive thing; it is in fact very active! In the Qur’an, Allah (swt) also almost always pairs a description of a believer or mu’min with an action. For example:

“But they who believe and do righteous deeds – those are the companions of Paradise; they will abide therein eternally.” [Qur’an 2:82]

“This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah – Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them […]” [Qur’an 2:2-3]

Additionally, when you look at the description of Islam in Hadith Jibril, you see that the very first act is to “witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,” the witnessing of which requires not just belief, but an unwavering conviction in two of the principles of Iman (Allah’s Oneness and Messengers).

So… what does this mean? It means that your Islam and your Iman are in a mutual symbiotic relationship. An example of this is if we were to place a tree sapling and a young boy into two separate, air-tight rooms. Both the tree and the boy require certain provisions to survive: for the tree, you need sunlight, soil, and water; for the boy, he needs food, water, and affection. However, even if we provide all these necessary things, the tree and the boy will not survive while separated. Eventually, the tree will run out of carbon dioxide and the boy will run out of oxygen. To solve this problem, both the boy and the tree need to be placed into the same room. With their outside resources and each other, they can both live, grow, and develop. Our Islam and our Iman are the same way. To develop our Islam or submission requires hard work, regimentation, and focus. To develop our Iman or our utter conviction, we need sincere reflection, humility, and gratitude.

However, if we try to survive with our Islam alone and don’t combine it with Iman, we are ultimately hypocrites. Each day, we bear witness to and worship a Lord we doubt exists and we take action for a wide variety of reasons that have nothing to do with pleasing Him. If we do this, we ultimately share the ranks of those who joined Islam for political gain, for convenience, or simply because they were told to. Conversely, if we try to survive with our Iman and no Islam, we are ultimately rejecting the very Salvation we believe we’ve been given. Essentially, we are saying that while we know Allah (swt) is our Master, and we know He has sent us a Message, and we know we will be judged by how we follow that Message, we shall not follow that Message and we shall ignore our Master.

Thus, while you can build your Islam through practice and regimentation, and you can build your Iman through reflection and gratitude, either one is stunted from the start without the other. For the system to truly work, your Islam must become the Iman of your limbs, and your Iman must become the Islam of your heart. For ultimately, the greatest form of submission is the submission of your heart, and the greatest conviction is the one that emanates through your actions. Therefore, regimentation and toil alone will not do; you must also reflect, become humble, and increase in gratitude.

Ihsan and Taqwa– The Sweetness

This journey is not without its perils. While we grow in our Islam, we will most certainly be tested:

“You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse […]” [Qur’an 3:186]

Indeed, people will witness your actions and your demeanor change, and they will not be happy. Your friends may abandon you because you no longer engage in the questionable acts they participate in or because they feel embarrassed to be around you. Your family may begin to accuse you of becoming “extreme.” Additionally, you will be tested by Allah (swt) through your possessions and by Shaytan through whisperings in your heart. This is because this life is meant as a test. The verse continues:

“[…] But if you are patient and fear Allah- indeed, that is of the matters (worthy) of determination.” [3:186]

This is where our deen truly becomes unlike any other. As we continue to carefully provide for our Islam and Iman with their necessary ingredients and as they continue to meld and grow together, our increasing level of submission and our growing conviction and faith begin to bear fruit.

These are the seeds of Taqwa growing deep within our souls. Taqwa is oftentimes described as “God-consciousness,” but it is much deeper than that. We are beings whose only true sustenance comes from Allah (swt)—the closer we are to Him, the more directly we experience Him, the more sustenance we receive and the more we feel at home. Taqwa is when we are gifted with feeling and experiencing the presence of our Lord. As we gain Taqwa, we begin to see the world for how it truly is—the blessings and Mercy of Allah become joys and splendors for us, and the sins of the world become like thorns which we see and avoid. In fact, one of the Companions of the Prophet described Taqwa as akin to walking through a path filled with thorns while trying to leave your clothing unscathed.

This is the sweetness of our religion: because of our sacrifice and because of our devotion, we begin to feel absolute peace and tranquility through our submission to Allah (swt). Not only do we feel joy and felicity as a result of our prayers, we begin to crave worship and no longer feel toil or burden from it. The joy is infectious, and it emanates from our very being. Unless your heart is covered in darkness from sin or a seal from pure arrogance, simply being around a person who has strong Taqwa is a transformative and joyful experience. This is Ihsan (excellence), and it is beautifully summarized in Hadith Jibril.

In sum, as you begin or continue your journey in search of Salvation, please remember these things. First, that you need both Islam and Iman and neither can be neglected. This means you must toil and regiment your worship as well as reflect and grow in gratitude. On your journey, there will be times when you will feel more connected to your Lord than others, and there will most certainly be tests and challenges thrown at you from all sides. However, by being patient, the greatest reward you can possibly imagine awaits on the other side, both in this life and in the Hereafter.

Having this conversation with a Muslim, no matter what the age, is a fundamental part of preparing him or her for a successful journey. All else must come secondary: just as a journey is doomed to failure without a map or destination, a person’s life journey is doomed to failure without knowing the Straight Path and their desired Destination. May Allah (swt) empower us to guide our youth and new Muslims aright, and may He guide all of us upon the Straight Path.

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  1. This is, in fact, a dangerously incorrect interpretation of this verse. Not only is the meaning of Iman far deeper than the English term “faith,” but this particular verse was revealed in response to a group of bedouins who declared shahadah once they saw the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was about to be victorious and saw gain in becoming Muslim. As such, this verse does not dismiss the likelihood of a person having Iman before Islam or having both simultaneously. This is a critical illustration of how interpreting verses without referring to scholars can lead to perilous consequences. [Ma’arif Ul-Qur’an, Maulana Mufti Mohammad Shafi] []


  1. j b says:

    The article was fine but I felt like so much was missed, people leave for so many other reasons than conflicts of faith. There is no love in the community for converts, as much as converts are touted as “better” than the born muslim for their having accepted it and not being raised in the environment. The reality is far different, the reality is converts are treated usually as fake, doing it for marriage or to “fit in” somehwere or we’re treated like idiots who dont know anything about Islam unless some born muslim tells us something. We’re typically engrained with more cultural practices than Islam. I see many fellow converts who grow the beard,wear the thobe and kufi, eat dates, speak broken Arabic and yet know nothing of Islam. They enjoin into politics and conflict with their brothers over things they do not know anything about and within a couple of years they typically get burned out and it starts out slow, they miss a prayer then two, stop using arabic,stop reading the Quran,stop going to the mosque then they dont care altogether. This indifference stems from not cultivating our converts. We focus so much on dawah and shahada numbers but almost nothing is spent on retention. Muslims run from Islam because they arent taught to learn their religion from the ground up, as the article says its nothing but institutionalized doctrine for a convert with no reasoning behind it. You are simply told “do this and be a good muslim or dont do it and be in the hellfire” For the new converts this can be extremely disturbing and gives the impression that Islam is a religion of rigidity and doom instead of love and compassion. So I implore you if you participate in dawah efforts and give shahada to converts spend the same amount of time cultivating them or your efforts mean absolutely nothing.

  2. Shadaan says:

    There is no peace in any organised religion, and Islam could mean peace. There cannot be any peace when the religion has blood in its hands and there is so much or violence in the Koran itself. Being a convert is like going into a realm that is showing a different face and has a hidden agenda which will surprise you. The Muslims treat the converts badly because they themselves are like any other humans who have no compassion for the other. In the first place there is no absolute proof that Islam or any other Abrahamic religion is from God. Muhammad’s claim that he was a messenger of God is really absurd. Multiple sources exist to prove directly and explicitly that 51 year old Muhammad got himself married to 6 year old Aisha, and consummated the marriage with her when she was nine. Muhammad and his army sexually enslaved women, a tradition that continued with all Muslim armies. God may or may not exist, and if you believe God exists, perhaps he decided to reveal no religions on Earth. However If a religion make tall claims that it is from God, there must be solid irrefutable proof for it. All religions somehow produce doubtful evidence for the truth of their religion. You need external non-biased sources of information to prove that Islam or the other religions are really true. Islam views non-Muslims with a lot of hostility such as Qur’an 48:13 which says non-Muslims will burn in hellfire and similar verses are spread all over the Quran. This applies to your family and friends who are from the old religion. This information above tells you that there is so much of disorder in religion. How are you going to get order from converting into a disorder? Organized religions are organized beliefs with their hoopla, conversion, claims compulsion, and so on. Organized religion may engulf, enmesh truth, but the organized religion itself is not true. It separates humans and pitches us against each other. You are a Muslim, I am a Hindu, another is a Christian or a Buddhist and we are wrangling, butchering each other. We are not discussing religion as the pursuit of truth, but we are considering if there is any truth in organized religion. We are so conditioned by organized religion to think there is truth in it that we have come to believe that by calling oneself belonging to a religion one is somebody, or one will find God. To find God, to find reality, there must be virtue. Religions rob you of your freedom to think and act in a manner that gives you comfort thus inflicting fear into you. Only through freedom can truth be discovered, not when you are caught in the hands of organized religion, with its beliefs. And is there any truth in theories, in ideals, in beliefs, you will agree because beliefs give you security, comfort, safety, a guide. In yourself you are frightened, you want to be protected, you want to lean on somebody, and therefore, you create the ideal, which prevents you from understanding that which is the absolute truth. An ideal becomes a hindrance to true action. If there is God one will never find this God with 100,000,000,000 galaxies and each Galaxy has about 100,000.000 stars. One can be good without this hidden God and one do not need anyone to tell him who this God is if he exists especially if it is unknown.

  3. Ruba Qewar says:

    there is always a chance to back alhamdulillah

  4. Shadaan says:

    There once was a time when all people believed in alhamdulillah and the religions ruled. This time was called the Dark Ages. Which one of the following is immoral?
    a) Raping someone
    b) Treating women as objects
    c) Men allowed to marry four wives
    d) Genocide
    e) Infanticide
    f) Killing someone for having different views to you
    g) Slavery
    h) Forced conversion

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