Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interview of a Former Muslim Student Union Member of UC-Irvine-Cross-Post

Gary Fouse

Hat tip to Patriot's Corner and Wayward Infidel

I am cross-posting the below interview of a former female member of the Muslim Student Union at UC-Irvine, which is appearing on Patriots Corner, with the permission of the author, Aaron Elias-also a former UCI student. I had been previously aware of this person's existence though I don't know her name-nor would I publish it if I did for obvious reasons.

Interview with a former member of the MSU at UC Irvine: OC Apostate
by Aaron Elias


Why did you decide to leave Islam and the Muslim Student Union? Were the two decisions related?

My parents were not religious, they kept the bare minimum. When I was 5, my mother became more religious because of a teacher. At that time I discovered I was a bookworm. 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 part of the MSA in HS.

By that time I had exhausted my parents’ supply of religious books, so I began reading books outside my home and being exposed to other viewpoints. I soon saw it was not ok to impose my Islam on other people.

Once in a class (when I still wore a hijab), the teacher touched my shoulder and said to me, “So young and yet you know what your whole life is going to be.”

I got into the MSU in UCI. I wrote articles for them, and everyone loved them. I got promoted to a section editor and that’s how I learned about their dark side. 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 likes is more important than serving the community. They let a prominent magazine everyone loved fall into obscurity because they were too busy hating. By that time I was disillusioned. By that time I had to admit I no longer believed in Islam. 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 people have converted to Christianity and so on. I started a blog to help people see they weren’t alone/ I didn’t attach my real name to it. Bad idea. The MSU figured out who I was. I had one friend left in the MSU; she let me know 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 got uncomfortable. My father told me people told him to shut up his daughter.

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 toward 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. The people I knew through the MSU, sometimes I got a very false greeting where we used to have good conversations. It grew pretty cold, disheartening. I thought I was well-liked, but I guess only when I was a Muslim. 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 had family members ask me if they should even talk to me anymore, should they let me around their kids.
Someone who rejects the truth is worse than someone who never knew it. People who they think are awful Zionist, homosexual, racist, murderer has more of a chance getting into heaven than me.

Anyone who doesn’t agree with them or fit into their world doesn’t exist. Like the Michael Oren incident. They shouldn’t be allowed to exist or speak.

They lost what it used to be. I talked to MSU alumni from the 90s. Their experience was different; it was like every other religious or ethnic club on campus. For like minds to come together and socialize with each other. It’s now political agency. They don’t make you feel welcome. It’s pretty depressing for everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims. They’re too busy building walls and bringing speakers.

What exactly happened in regards to the threats you began receiving? What did they say? Do you believe they were in response to your blog, to leaving Islam, or to leaving the MSU?

Father said: people at mosque said people are talking about your daughter, she needs to keep her mouth shut, and there might be trouble. My family is still Muslim and part of that community, they may have not been able to get to me, but they could still shun or hurt my family. My teacher might tell the kids not to play with my brother, my father not allowed into Friday prayer. I asked my parents if they wanted to disown me and tell everyone they did, but still talk to me in secret. They said no, they wanted to be my parents. So why should I drag them through the mud with me?

Was there anything about the nature of the threats that led you to form an idea about who was threatening you?

Islamic center of Irvine, Sheik Abu Makan is a Progressive. Recently he got removed, I think its because he was progressive and liberal, like men and women should be allowed to shake hands. Perhaps he let something slip about how progressive he is. Censored MSU privately, didn’t want mosque to be affiliated with them. So its probably not mosque, but maybe people who attend it, like the MSU.

Did you ever experience or hear about similar violent behavior within the MSU while you were involved in it?

The war is a war of words. Free speech is what we say and what we agree with. Hate speech is what everyone else says. The Mohammad cartoons incident. That is still a part of the MSU. I disagreed with the majority opinion. Yeah, they were stupid, but they had a right to publish them. We don’t have a right to tell them what they can publish. We say stuff others may not agree with, and we should afford them that right too. This probably started my unpopularity in the MSU.

What would you say is the general political and religious attitude within the MSU? Docile, Radical?

There’s a battle for the soul they’re not addressing. They’re busy ensuring that others have the correct political opinion; mainly, Israel sucks. I made friends with a girl after ex-Muslim; she told me her Indian bf. It turned out to be a MSU member. Having sex with Asian girl parents didn’t like. Girls wearing the hijab with tight clothes, men with no beards. There are those who are religious, those who aren’t. They may hold the correct political opinion, but may not be as religious. I was concerned with battle for our souls, people go out and drink on weekends and are more concerned about Israel.

I know 3 or 4 people who said I was sympathetic towards Palestinians, but MSU made me not give a f--k. It sucks that extremists like that are quashing the politics. It’s not black and white.

They let a great publication everyone loved die in order to protest Israel. So much so that their social activates are limited to eating and praying together. “Yeah, we’re an oppressed minority. Let’s be friends.” Not much of a deeper connection anymore. They do dinners twice a year, I didn’t much focusing on the members who just joined and could have been brought more onto the group. They’re too focused on Israel; there are members who are tempted by alcohol, sex, and drugs.

I got judged for being a secular humanist. They break their own rules and look down on me when I'm not even religious.

A friend told me not to suggest outreach or interfaith events. The people aren’t very engaging, not their priority. After Mike Oren, I saw they haven’t changed a bit. They don’t believe in free speech for anyone but themselves. For them to whine about free speech is pretty disingenuous. They even say on their website, Mike Oren should not be able to speak.

People died in riots about Mohammed cartoons. I wrote a poem about how embarrassing it is. Some stupid drawing comes out that no one cares about if you didn’t make such a big deal about it. To them it’s holy fire, not personal emotion. Emotions from God.

Since 9/11 a lot of Muslim outreach groups have been working overtime to make Islam seem more normal, but when someone says or does something stupid, all that work is crushed, all those years, all those volunteers, may not as well have exited. All those reactionaries and hotheads ruined all that work.

Regarding anyone who would claim you are lying, is there something you can tell them to prove you’re telling the truth? Something only an MSU member would know about?

I’m told when I was member in 06 and 07, that interfaith and outreach was a bad word.

What do you think should be done to ensure that nobody else has to endure what you did in case they wish to leave the club or their religion?

What the university needs to do is be more supportive of people in my situation. My situation grew pretty emotionally abusive with my parents when they were at their most confused.. When I went to financial aid office to get aid for being an independent student, they asked me if I had a religious community. If I didn’t have bruises or police report, I was fucked. I had to get private loans on my own, live in debt, live near the poverty line to get thru school. That’s why I’m so desperate for work. It was a big hindrance. My GPA went from almost 4.0 to a 2.5. There was no more for me to go. My mother often cried. A little more outreach and assistance would have helped.. But I don’t expect them to step up to the plate. That’s why im part of a humanist organization to help people in this situation.

How has the whole experience influenced your life today?

It’s made me a lot more cynical about people and their motives. When you’re that religious, and that willing to be awful to people because of their religion, it redefines faith. And they’re not doing it for Allah, its so Allah wont burn them forever. What they do is pretty ridiculous. My family member were asking if they should associate me because it might be a sin to say hi to their cousin. People really are out for themselves. Its made me an indentured servant to my loan companies in a shitty economy. I’ve based my life around repaying this stuff.

It’s made me realize what real friendship is. There were MSU people I could have been real friends with and people who loved me regardless of whether I wore a hijab or not. It’s made me more hesitant to call people friends.

If you could say something to the MSU today, what would it be?

Get your priorities straight. Serve your community. I don’t think they should be dissolved or criminalized. They can keep yelling about Israel if they want, but they need to grant other people the space to express their views and then let people decide.

As I have previously stated in regards to people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan and Nonie Darwish, this young lady shows a lot of courage. It is up to us to support people like her. Thanks to Aaron and Patriot's Corner for allowing me to post this important message. And a special thanks to the young lady who shared her story.

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