By Blake Neff
An opinion piece written by a student at the University of California-Berkeley explaining her decision to leave Islam has been pulled from the school newspaper’s website over fears for the author’s safety.
The opinion piece, titled “On Leaving Islam,” recounted the personal story of the narrator (whose name we will withold) growing up a devout (though moderate) Muslim in Pakistan, but later abandoning the faith as she learned more about the world.
“If someone had told me six years ago that I would leave Islam and end up an atheist, I would never have believed him,” the author writes to open the piece. “But now, as a Muslim apostate and atheist, my journey couldn’t have led me any further from what I once knew to be true.”
According to the author, her departure from the faith was driven substantially by her inability to reconcile it with her increasingly liberal personal beliefs.
“I never accepted the male superiority and traditional gender roles that were part of my society,” she says. “For most of my teen years, I felt torn apart by my contradictory beliefs. On one hand, I was a radical feminist who supported gay rights. But on the other hand, I was a practicing Muslim whose religion was clearly homophobic and placed men above women.”
The author made several attempts to find a way to couple Islam with her personal beliefs, but ultimately it was not to be.
“After trying to understand Islam through a plurality of perspectives — orthodox, feminist, Sufi and liberal approaches — I decided to leave Islam, but by that point, I had realized that I didn’t need to look at things as black and white. I could leave Islam without dismissing it or labeling it as wrong,” the author said.
While the author’s rejection of Islam is in far less harsh terms than those used by other apostates, such as Ayaan Hirsh Ali, her willingness to state her beliefs has apparently still exposed her to a backlash. A few days after the article was posted, it was taken down and replaced by a note from Californian editor-in-chief Kimberly Veklerov that reads “This opinion blog has been retracted because of personal safety concerns.”
The precise nature of these safety concerns, and whether they arose in reaction to direct threats levied against the author, is not clear. The Daily Caller News Foundations reached out to both the author and Veklerov for further details, but only Veklerov replied and she declined to comment.
There is an element of irony that the author should be so imperiled by writing the article, because it has a moderate tone and offers substantial praise for the Muslim world.
“Islam is still extremely misrepresented and shrouded with stereotypes,” the author writes. “I want to address these stereotypes and portray Islam in all its diversity. I’ve experienced the religion firsthand and have also viewed it as an objective bystander… I want to share what I’ve learned about Islam over the years. I plan to defend it and give credit where it’s due — Islam, after all, gave women the right to work and own property back in the seventh century — and I also plan to ruthlessly point out areas that need reform (yes, Islam does allow men to have four wives and sex slaves).”
Intolerance of apostasy is widespread in the Islamic world. More than 20 countries treat apostasy as a crime, and several, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran punish it with death. A Pew survey of Islamic countries in 2012 found widespread popular support for these punishments, with several countries having a majority of Muslims endorse the death penalty for apostasy.
This isn’t the first time that viewpoints critical of Islam have struggled to be heard on campuses. Last year, ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali had an invitation to attend Brandeis University’s commencement revoked after protests erupted over strong anti-Islam views.