There’s a lot of confusion as to just why people leave religious groups–and especially what leads ex-Muslims out of the faith. It’s not, for example, abusive parents, or cultural alienation, or even “hating God.” So what are the main reasons people leave Islam?
1. CONFLICTS BETWEEN ISLAM AND SCIENCE
Yes, it’s that simple. Unsurprisingly, religious incompatibility with observable reality and the scientific method is a common beeline into questioning, and eventually leaving the faith. This is even less surprising when we consider that ex-Muslims about three times more likely than the general population to have a STEM degree.
Of the respondents in the Apostate Report, 28% reported conflict between Islam and the scientific view of the natural world as the most important factor in their apostasy, while for 65% it was a contributing factor.
2. LOGICAL AND SCRIPTURAL CONTRADICTIONS
People who leave Islam aren’t the ones who know the least about it. In fact, it’s often the most inquisitive about the religion who do so–sometimes, after very deliberate study.
In our Apostate Report, respondents were asked about their reasons for leaving the faith. When asked about the logical problems with Islamic doctrines and teachings, nearly one in five (19%) called these concerns the most important factor in their apostasy, and 68% called them a contributing factor.
Before they make the difficult choice to leave, ex-Muslims first double down into more rigorous theological study, in search of something they might’ve missed. Perhaps, they think, the flaws lie not in the texts, but in their incomplete understanding.
But the more they read, the less sense things seem to make.
Three quarters of respondents shared that it was realizing internal contradictions in Islamic scripture that factored most heavily into their decision to leave.
Those who know Islam the most are those most convinced of its falsehood.
“If anything [anti-Muslim bigotry] allowed me to examine my beliefs, but it never made me feel forced to leave the faith. It made me examine it by making me cling onto it harder which caused a domino effect where I began learning more and questioning more.”
3. CONFLICTS BETWEEN ISLAM AND HUMAN RIGHTS
To be clear: being a religious person and supporting human rights are not mutually exclusive. There are moral religious people, amoral atheists, and everything in between.
Addendums aside, religion is all too often used as a justification for bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination–and this is protected by godly decree, and shielded from criticism under the pretext of “religious freedom.”
Religion is necessarily exclusive: if one set of beliefs is ultimately and unquestionably true, it often follows that those unlucky enough to have not been born into the in-group, or foolish enough not to have converted, are regarded with disdain at best and violent hatred at worst. As people who were part of, and then willingly chose to leave this community, atheist ex-Muslims are prime among those Islamically treated as subhuman, in which their deaths are not just called for, but celebrated.
“One of the first things I recall being told was that all non-Muslims were going to hell. I was the only Muslim in my class at public school, so that pretty much did it.”
Islam makes all sorts of claims against non-Muslims, women, homosexual people that, “true Islam” or not, are part of a reality in which individuals and governments alike use religious law and custom to strangle human rights and dignities.
So it intuitively follows that, in fact, one of the common motivations of leaving the faith is a concern for the tension between unquestioning belief in an ancient, biased text, and real issues of human rights. Ex-Muslims report feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the claims taught to them as fact–about women, non-Muslims, and other minorities.
In EXMNA’s Apostate Report, 35% of respondents cited conflict between Islam and human rights principles as the most important factor in their apostasy, more than any other factor. Almost six in ten (58%) called this a contributing factor, and only 7% said it was not a factor.
“As a gay man, I could not align my sexuality with how the Qur’an talked about gays and women. It was especially hard to accept Islam’s view of women.”
“It is important to note that the conflict between religion and science caused me to stop believing a long [time] ago. Still, I kept practicing it because I was unaware of all the human rights issues."