the non-muslim muslim

This is an anonymous guest post by ‘kaddu’.

I have in discussions called myself a “non-muslim muslim” much to the chagrin of both my Muslim and ex-Muslim friends, though not all of either. I’ve also used the term “muslim-humanist” much to the same response.

Some ex-muslims (and muslims) will ask why I’d want to associate as Muslim at all. Of course, I am not out of the closet, as it were, so that association is not something I want to disassociate yet. One must keep up appearances. But then why in honest company would I continue to use these terms?

There are many reasons for this. I grew up Muslim. I was a believer the first 26/27 years of my life. The muslim aspects of you aren’t something you can just wash away with a wudhu or two. And there are some aspects that I don’t care to wash away, and some aspects that I even appreciate. And hey! Some of my best friends are Muslim! =P

Another factor is the external perception of me. This will remain largely muslim, given where I was born, where I grew up, and how someone who looks like me is seen, etc. And in this way I’m Muslim when I’m walking down the street, I’m Muslim when I’m on the subway and I’m Muslim when I’m boarding a plane. People aren’t thinking, “oh, there’s a person who once believed but now does not.” They’re thinking, “there goes a muslim.” That is if they’re thinking about it at all. When I’m boarding a plane, they’re probably thinking about it as some level. Given the number of times I get selected for “random” searches, I will assume that they do.

Still, there are many ways that we can see and understand the word “muslim.” I can pull a Hamza Yusuf and etymologize y’all. Muslim comes from the root word aslama, which is to say “he submitted” or “he resigned.” In particular when it comes to faith this submission is to the will of Allah. When we create this strong association of a muslim who completely submits to the will of Allah, we start to judge the Muslim identity from that perspective. And here I can see why “non-muslim muslim” would irk people. Apart from its inherent contradiction.

But it’s not so contradictory when you step away from just etymologies and make other associations with the word. I could say that there is a cultural association with being “muslim.” This culture is rich and varied. The association to this cultural muslim requires no belief, faith or submission (to Allah or to whoever else). You may cry foul at that and I’d ask you for a river. But the word has taken on more meanings, and will continue to do so. Those who submit simply have to deal with that.

So with this, the contradiction is no more. I am a non-believing “muslim.” I lack faith, I lack belief, and good lord, I certainly do not submit. But the muslim environment is around me. It still persists and I cannot pretend that it doesn’t.

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