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My journey to apostasy: Why I decided to leave Islam

What I’m about to share with you isn’t easy for me.

I’m nervous as I type it — it’s the first time I’ll be openly sharing my story, but I’m also excited and I hope that it inspires others, whatever chains they are trying to break free from.

You see, I’m going to write about my journey to apostasy (leaving my religion) and the path I’ve taken to find self-acceptance.

I’ll start by giving you a small snapshot of what has troubled me for a long time, and how Out of the Box, a brilliant workshop created by the shaman Rudá Iandé, gave me the push I needed to make some significant changes in my life.

“I belong to no religion. My religion is love. Every heart is my temple.”

— Rumi, 13th-century poet

A bit of background history — my family is Pakistani-Muslims, and although I was born and raised in England, religion was a big part of our everyday life.

Even though my parents are fairly “liberal” (they didn’t force much on me), something never felt right.

From a young age, I knew I was different from them.

I had too many questions — why was Islam so restrictive in many ways, why couldn’t I openly ask about conflicting messages in the Quran (the holy book)?

And most importantly for me, why am I treated differently, just because I’m a girl?

Now, before we go any further:

I don’t write this with the intention of religion-bashing.

Religion isn’t for me, but I still respect those who have faith and take comfort in following one.

With that being said, I realized how difficult this would be to confess to my family. In some Muslim countries, apostasy is still punishable by death.

(Although it’s rarely enforced, there’s still a lot of community backlash, shame, and even violence towards people who leave the religion).

It would never come to that extreme in my family, but I knew that they wouldn’t accept my choice easily.

Here’s the thing:

Islam isn’t just a religion, it’s a “way of life” so it’s very hard to separate faith from reality. It’s very hard for the Muslim community to accept someone who has changed their views and left the faith.

Essentially, to be an ex-Muslim is to be an outcast (in most cases).

Where my inner-conflict began

Unfortunately, my father and I never had a great relationship growing up.

He couldn’t understand why I wanted to wear western clothes (shorts, skirts, and dresses were out of the question) or why I wanted to hang out with boys.

In return, I couldn’t understand why I was being forced to be someone who I wasn’t.

And the reasons, the few answers I did get to my questions just wasn’t good enough for me.

In my household, it often felt like religion came first, family second.

Any attempt to rebel was repressed, and I started hiding a lot of my life from my parents.

As a result, I grew up feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I grew up feeling like my father resented me for not being religious (and certainly for never showing much interest in religion, either).

But we carried on this way for many years, arguing, and with me living a double life.

Until I finally had enough.

Time for a change

As a young adult, even when I lived away from home, I still tried to buy into the idea of religion.

But every time I tried, I became even more put off.

And the more I tried to rationalize things, or just go with the flow, the more conflicted I felt because I knew the teachings of the religion simply didn’t sit well with me.

I didn’t enjoy feeling like a sinner for every impulse or action that felt normal to me.

I wanted to be open-minded, I wanted to choose what I think is good and bad in the world.

And I hated being told by a religion that I didn’t even believe in that I should have certain views, like homosexuality being a sin or drinking alcohol being punishable.

Isn’t life meant to be enjoyed? (We only have one, after all).

Doesn’t everyone have the right to live it how they want to?

I couldn’t bring myself to condemn all the wrong-doings listed in Islam and I couldn’t look down on people for choosing a different way of living.

I can’t tell you the date it happened, but one day I woke up and realized I can’t keep living a lie.

I need to start facing the truth, start being honest about who I am and how I feel.

I have to start living my life with a bit more integrity.

Now, some might call it fate, others a coincidence, but not too long after I made this decision, I was introduced to the Out of the Box workshop.

Looking back now, I truly had no idea what to expect, and how much of an impact it would have on me.

What role did Out of the Box play in my journey?

I will mention, alongside Out of the Box, I also did a lot of independent reading into apostasy within Islam.

I had countless discussions on morality, religion, designing our own lives, and what the purpose of life is about with my partner, with friends, and even with strangers online.

My mind opened even more, and I’m grateful that I had some great tools around me to support me in my journey (which is still ongoing, of course).

The relationship with my family

One of the first sections in Out of the Box (module 1) is focused on “parental programming”.

Reading this was like a confirmation that it’s okay to branch out and be different. It’s okay not to fulfill your parents’ expectations. As Rudá explains:

“Some of us try to spare our parents the pain of disappointment, which becomes a good excuse for not claiming our individuality. Being a human being means you will disappoint and hurt people, and as soon as you realize and accept this, everything becomes more manageable.”

“Which becomes a good excuse for not claiming our individuality”…this line hit me hard.

How will I ever be myself if I continue to hide from it just to avoid disappointing my parents?

He then mentions:

“Your duty is not to fulfill the dreams of your parents but instead to evolve from the places where their evolution stopped. When you honor your innermost being, your true self, you honor your DNA. To evolve past your parents’ limitations is to honor the seed of life that created you.”

As I read this, my whole perspective started to change.

I want to be more in touch with myself and with my true nature. I want to live a life where I’m conscious and free to think and feel whatever I like, without my parent’s limitations holding me back.

But here’s what stuck with me the most:

Just like nature, like animals, like everything in life, we need to evolve. My parents may have reached their limit (or they might one day also broaden their mindset) but I’m ready to evolve now.

So, I don’t resent them anymore. I don’t feel guilty for being different. I see it for what it is — evolution, life.

And this gave me a much more forgiving attitude — towards myself and my family.

The relationship with myself

Now, even though I was slowly growing in confidence about my life as an ex-Muslim, there were times I’d revert to an old way of thinking.

Or, I’d fall into panic as I’d consider all the punishments surely waiting for me in hell for leaving the religion.

Even now, I still have these moments, but it’s becoming less frequent.

The thing is:

The Quran isn’t all about violence, but the punishments promised for sinners are enough to scare anyone, let alone a young child learning about it.

So it’s no wonder that even though I felt free physically, mentally I was still struggling with the chains that were deeply embedded in me.

Quite simply, I was afraid.

In module 2, “A new approach to fear”, Rudá explains how fear is so normal, it’s essential for our survival, and by accepting it we can make it work for us, rather than against us.

I realized fear was what had been holding me back.

Fear of my family, of the unknown, and of being shunned by my community.

But as Rudá says:

“Insecurity can either keep you stuck in a safe place, or it can propel you forward. It can either keep you in a limited framework or push you into a more expansive mindset. It’s the trigger for change and an agent of creativity.”

Well, it wasn’t long after I read this module that I took a step in facing my fear, using it to push myself forward and take one step closer to create the life I want.

I told my mother.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, she knew how much I resisted conforming to the cultural and religious norms set out by the family.

Yet she was surprised and of course, disappointed.

But instead of clambering back into my safe space and downplaying the whole situation, I stuck to my guns.

I told the truth, unfiltered, for the first time…words can’t even describe how light I felt after that phone call.

I knew she wasn’t happy, but luckily her motherly love is stronger than her love for religion, and I know she’s trying to come to terms with it.

This may seem like a small accomplishment, but for me it was huge.

And it was through Out of the Box that I realized how much I was holding myself back due to the fear, and how much life there is to explore, mentally, physically, spiritually, whichever way you look at it.

Final thoughts

I don’t expect to reach an end goal, this is a journey, and all I can keep doing is growing, expanding, and embracing life.

I still have days where I struggle with my decisions.

I’m still learning.

But I’m in a much better place than I was, and now I’ve taken that first step, I can see a whole, beautiful world of opportunities waiting out there for me.

The truth is:

We all have something holding us back.

Whether it’s religion, society, the dead-end 9-5 job, or the weight of family expectations, so much stands in the way of us accepting who we truly are.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this experience, it’s that acceptance comes from within.

Finally, my journey at the moment is very much about religion and my family. But Out of the Box is designed to help with that and so much more.

From tackling issues like emotions to new perspectives on success and the realities we create for ourselves, it’s truly a workshop for all.

I’ve only covered a snippet of what Rudá has created, but with his guidance, videos, the exercises involved, and the forum afterward, there’s much to be explored.

I’ll leave you with this final quote from Rudá:

“We have been doing so much against our nature, trying to repress and block our emotions and experience, trying to be someone other than ourselves. It creates a split inside, and it takes so much of our energy. When we embrace ourselves and our nature, we create a kind of magnetic field that can attract and materialize new possibilities.”

Written by Kiran Athar

Kiran is a foodie, writer and traveler. She considers herself a citizen of the world, who gets her inspiration from the people she meets along her journeys. She's currently living in Spain, where she spends her time writing, watching the shepherds and eating tapas in the mountains of Andalucía.

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