Why I'm struggling As refugees from Idi Amin's Uganda, my family and I settled just outside of Vancouver in 1972. I grew up attending two types of schools: the secular public school of most North American kids and then, for several hours at a stretch every Saturday, the Islamic religious school ( madressa).
I couldn't quite reconcile the open and tolerant world of my public school with the rigid and bigoted world inside my madressa. But I had enough faith to ask questions -- plenty of them. My first question for my madressa teacher was, "Why can't girls lead prayer?" I graduated to asking more nuanced questions, such as, "If the Quran came to Prophet Muhammad as a message of compassion, why did he command his army to banish an entire Jewish tribe?" You can imagine that such questions irritated the hell out of my madressa teacher, who routinely put down women and trashed the Jews. He and I reached the ultimate impasse over yet another question: "Where," I asked, "is the evidence of the 'Jewish conspiracy' against Islam? You love to talk about it, but what's the proof?" That question, posed at the age of 14, got me booted out of the madressa. Permanently. At this point, I had a choice to make: I could walk away from my Muslim faith and get on with "emancipation," or I could give Islam another chance. Out of fairness to my faith, I gave Islam another chance. And another. And another. For the past 20 years, I've been educating myself about Islam. As a result, I've discovered a enlightened side of my religion -- in theory. But I remain outspoken for change because of what's happening "on the ground" -- massive human rights violations, particularly against women and minorities -- in the name of Allah. Moderate Muslims insist that what I'm describing isn't "true" Islam. But these Muslims should own up to something: Prophet Muhammad himself said that religion is the way we conduct ourselves toward others. By that standard, how we Muslims behave is Islam, and to sweep that reality under the rug of theory is to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for reforming ourselves. That's why I speak out. That's why I'm passionate. And that's why I call myself a Muslim Refusenik.