The following is an interview with “OC Apostate,” a former UC Irvine student who made the decision to leave Islam and the Muslim Student Union at UCI. Though as OC Apostate describes it, the two decisions were not related.
This interview provides a unique firsthand description of the MSU from an insider’s perspective, something usually unavailable to the outside community. As readers will see, OC Apostate did not have an easy time disengaging from the MSU.
Why did you decide to leave Islam and the Muslim Student Union? Were the two decisions related?
My parents were not religious before; they kept the bare minimum. When I was 5, my mother became more religious after meeting a religious teacher. We moved to London to get a better religious education for a year. The Muslim community there is a lot more fundamentalist. No music, avoid non-Muslims, no assimilation, women can’t cut their hair, all kinds of rules. That’s the brand of Islam that influenced me. We came back; I became very active in the Muslim community. I became involved with my high school MSA.
By that time I had exhausted my parents’ supply of religious books, so I began reading secular books and began being exposed to other viewpoints. I soon began to realize that it was not OK to impose my religion on other people.
When I still wore the hijab, I took a class where there was no homework, tests, or anything. Just discussion and debate. This particular class included classmates with very different views, and I found myself having my mind opened on topics on which I thought I had set views. Once, the teacher touched my shoulder and said to me: “So young and yet you know what your whole life is going to be.” That little remark would come back to haunt me.
After I began college, I joined the MSU at UCI. I wrote articles for them, and everyone loved them. I got promoted to the position of section editor — and that’s how I learned about the dark side of the MSU. My writers never submitted their work on time; their excuse was they were always busy protesting or building the apartheid wall. Yelling about Israel and calling in speakers no one liked was more important to them than serving the community. They let a prominent magazine that everyone loved become obsolete because they were too busy hating Israel.
I grew disillusioned with them after that. By that time I had to admit I no longer believed in Islam; I left Islam first, and then left the MSU. It seemed ridiculous to me to continue to represent a religion on campus in which I no longer believed. It was tough but I had to admit it to myself. I felt it was important. I thought I was the only one in the whole world who had ever converted out of Islam, but I started looking around and found a lot of Muslims have converted to Christianity or even to atheism, humanism, and agnosticism. I started a blog in the hopes of helping other ex-Muslims to see that they weren’t alone.
Although I didn’t attach my real name to it, the blog ended up being a bad idea. The MSU figured out who I was. I had one friend left in the MSU; she let me know that, to them, I was an item to be brought up, a nuisance, a problem. People had started talking. It was obvious I wasn’t Muslim — my headscarf was off. I was getting dirty looks from people I didn’t know. I had friends with me who noticed this. One time by the UCI bookstore some woman was staring me down. My friend said, “Look behind you.” We walked away. I didn’t know this woman. How did she know I was an ex-Muslim? I grew uncomfortable. My father told me that people told him that his daughter ought to shut up.
So I shut down the blog for my family’s safety.
Were there any differences in the way people, friends, family, MSU members, or community acted towards you after your decision? Did the MSU’s behavior differ from non-affiliated Muslims at all?
My true Muslim friends weren’t hostile to me. As for the people I knew through the MSU, sometimes I got obviously faked friendly greetings where we used to have good conversations. My interactions with them grew pretty cold and disheartening. I thought I was well-liked by the MSU crowd, but I guess I was only when I was a Muslim. I had friends with me who noticed this.
I had family members ask me if they should even talk to me anymore and wonder to me whether they should let me around their kids. To them, someone who rejects the truth is worse than someone who never knew it. According to their beliefs, people who they think are awful — Zionists, homosexuals, racists, murderers — have more of a chance getting into heaven than I did.
Anyone who doesn’t agree with them or fit into their world doesn’t exist. As shown by the Michael Oren incident, they think that they shouldn’t be allowed to exist or speak.
They have lost touch with what the MSU used to be. I have talked to MSU alumni from the ’90s. Their experiences were different; the MSU was like every other religious or ethnic club on campus, a place for like minds to come together and socialize with each other. It’s now all about political action. They don’t make new students feel welcome. It’s pretty depressing for everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims. They’re too busy building walls and bringing speakers to actually serve as a place for Muslims to meet and socialize.