When people leave Islam and then claim they don’t follow any religion, this is simply false. They still follow a religion of some sort, even if it’s not the organized kind with an official name. It’s the hidden religion of liberal self-worship. But it’s still a religion, a code by which to live and assess the world and derive some kind of meaning, a set of metaphysical beliefs. If it makes you feel better to call it “not a religion” then so be it. But you’re only deluding yourself.
I was talking to just such a person yesterday. One of her parents is Muslim and the other isn’t. She grew up without much knowledge of Islam and doesn’t consider herself to be a Muslim in any way, and doesn’t identify with any other religion either. But throughout our conversation, she kept referencing various deeply-held beliefs she had:
“I strongly believe in horoscopes and Zodiac signs,” she said to me at one point. “I know that there are people who don’t believe in these things at all, but I really do. I’m a textbook, Aries. It helps me understand myself better and the people around me, so I completely believe in it.”
“Don’t say that! It’s going to come true! I strongly believe in manifesting destiny. When you think something might happen, you manifest it and it does happen. So don’t think that way or it’ll happen. I really truly believe in manifesting destiny.”
“This life is meant to be about gratitude. We are supposed to live our life to the fullest and enjoy it and use our natural talents and gifts to the greatest extent. The whole purpose is for us to be grateful for what we’ve got.”
“My sister and I fought often about things like dress and drugs and drinking. She was a teenager and she wanted to dress promiscuously and drink and do drugs. But in my book, she was too young for all of that. She was dressing too trashy, showing too much skin. She was drinking as a junior in high school and I was even okay with that as long as she wasn’t drinking and driving, but still–she should drink responsibly! And the drugs. I was okay with her doing, like, recreational weed maybe, but not crystal meth or heroin! There are limits, you know. There are things you should and shouldn’t do.”
This woman had firm beliefs about how to dress, what was a proper showing of skin, and what was an improper showing of skin. She had ideas about the appropriate levels of alcohol to consume. She had clear lines about what kinds of intoxicants to take and what kinds to stay away from. Halal and haram, if you will.
These are all metaphysical beliefs, particular ideas about the meaning of life and the purpose of existence, strongly-held stances about right and wrong, what a person ought to do and not do. Each human being has these.
We, as human beings, cannot escape these kinds of rulings. But the issue always comes back to: where do you derive your rulings? What is the source of your أحكام, ahkam?
As Muslims, our answer is Allah, the Creator.
The answer of everyone else is myself, my desires, my whims, my friends, local social cues, environmental dictates and social trends, my ego.
سَيَقُولُ ٱلَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا۟ لَوْ شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ مَآ أَشْرَكْنَا وَلَآ ءَابَآؤُنَا وَلَا حَرَّمْنَا مِن شَىْءٍ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ كَذَّبَ ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ حَتَّىٰ ذَاقُوا۟ بَأْسَنَا ۗ قُلْ هَلْ عِندَكُم مِّنْ عِلْمٍ فَتُخْرِجُوهُ لَنَآ ۖ إِن تَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا ٱلظَّنَّ وَإِنْ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا تَخْرُصُونَ
“Those who associate partners with Allah will say, “If Allah had willed, neither we nor our forefathers would have associated anything with Him, nor would we have made anything forbidden.” Likewise, those who came before them rejected the truth until they tasted Our punishment. Say, “Do you have any knowledge that you can present to us? You follow nothing but assumption and you do nothing but lie.” (Al-An`am, 148)
We know, as Muslims that there are four main enemies of the human being:
3. The nafs (lower self/ carnal desires)
4. Hawa (ego)
You have to follow something. If you want to be a rebel and not follow the commands of your Lord who created you and all of existence, then you will inevitably end up following a combination of these four deadly things and becoming enslaved, all the while thinking of yourself as having reached some kind of enlightenment, patting yourself on the back smugly for having avoided the irrationality of religion.