“Fear Allah ,” they said. Every lecture, every funeral and every religious festival I attended I only picked one dominant theme: fear. Sitting on the stage speaking to a mass of gullible, under achieving, largely illiterate crowd, their lips an inch away from the microphone, sound systems blaring with bass, their voices hoarse, their tones rigid and gazes intimidating, would only convey what seemed unfitting and - dare I say- horrendous.

But it was only me who could question what the speaker was saying. Maybe it was my personality predisposition or better education. As my mind would over flow with thoughts and queries, I would scan the room to maybe find one person, man or woman, adult or child, who would be thinking the same. It never happened. I always hoped to meet the eye with some lost soul in the audience, to bond over the paradox our religion had become, but all I could ever see was people gently nodding, their faces a complex combination of terror and regret and misty eyes - contemplating their sinful lives. Psychologically, we go into heuristic mode, that is, we become more suggestible to a person we know or believe is more knowledgeable than us, in situations like these.

Being born in the last decade of the 20th century, the earliest my memory dates back to is the beginning of the 21st, the post 9/11 era. I guess what I really want to say is, that ever since I can remember I have only seen war on television. War in the name of religion . My religion . And I always thought, if my religion is the religion of peace, why is there so much famine in the world because of it? I am aware of the political agendas and the “lobbying” that has fueled the cause, but if I look at my country alone, my Pakistan, a country made for Muslims, to grant religious freedom to minorities, it makes me wonder- why we are in this state. If Islam is the complete code of life, and most Pakistanis are Muslims, why have we not flourished in the last seven decades? Why are non-Muslim countries doing better than us? They don’t believe in the one true God, we do. Then why? They may or may not have a God, but they have morals.

For me, the ability to think is a sign that my brain, mind, soul and body are in working condition. The human mind is infinitely equipped - you cannot challenge its limits. When I look back at my teen years, when I had these questions brewing inside me, eating my neurons, constantly tangled up in my own confusions, I feel a warm, raging ball of fire in my stomach. Because I had questions that no one would answer. “Why are we to offer Namaz five times a day?” Because if you don’t, Allah will punish you for it. “Why am I supposed to cover my head?” Because if you don’t, Allah will punish you for it. “Why is homosexuality a sin?” Because Allah will punish those involved. “Why is there so much gender discrimination in Islam ?” Because Allah made women weaker than men. “Why is listening to music haram?” Because Allah doesn’t like it. “Why can’t I pray during my period?” Because Allah said women are unclean .These questions were “answered” by our great scholars; that included both men and women, in small madarsas, mosques, religious gatherings, etc. They would come to the location, open their diaries filled with the lecture of the day, deliver a speech on how Allah is the most beneficent and merciful, but he will also throw you in the pits of hell, have samosas and tea, and leave. What would bother me most was that none of the members in the audience would question the how or why of those commands. Well to be fair, they didn’t talk about any religious principles other than a woman’s garment and the consequences of not praying the obligatory fives of the day. They never talked about morals or principles. It always came down to issues of matrimony, gender roles and clothing.

Psychologically, everyone has a preferred representational system; implying that we see and interpret the world in different ways, that is, auditory, visual, kinesthetic and digital. Each person will have their own combination of the four ways, but a person high on auditory will focus more on what she or he hears, while visually oriented people will be more inclined towards what they see. A kinesthetically rich person would lead with their heart, open to thoughts, feelings and emotions while a digital person would be more analytical, suspicious and doubtful until things make intellectually sense to them.

Being digitally liable, I wanted to understand. I wanted answers. And I am quite sure there are many like me out there, who are lost, who have given up on religion- as I did once.

I wouldn’t say I had denounced my faith altogether, but when my confusions kept on building up with nothing and no one to break the cycle, I had become hopeless. I wouldn’t think about Allah as much as I did growing up, my belief was faltering day by day and life kept on going. Fortunately one day I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a lecture by Nouman Ali Khan, and I have never looked back since. For those of you unfamiliar, Ustaadh Nouman Ali Khan is the founder of Bayyinah Institute, and he delivers excellent lectures on life and religion . He is multilingual, highly educated and qualified, he is a professor and a student, but I started seeing him as a counsellor. Some of my questions were answered by watching and listening to his lectures. I wouldn’t say all, since I still struggle with religion from time to time, but because he didn’t look down upon the “outrageous” questions from the audience, because he did not make me feel like a sinner or a hopeless cause, because he didn’t scare me of Allah but empower me to have faith in not only Allah but myself, so I could think and reason, civilly discuss religion , and find my own answers. He made my digitally, intellectually equipped self free from the madness that was my own thoughts. I found peace. I found strength in something that was once very important to me. Turns out Islam really is a religion of peace, and it makes sense too! Another institute I would like to mention is Zeynab Academy, which has also, in similar fashion, taken a progressive approach towards religion and is doing a remarkable job.

Why am I writing this, you ask? I write this to express disappointment in all the mullahs, maulvis, ustaanis, qaari sahabs, who walked with arrogance and pride, believing they knew everything about religion , when in fact they knew nothing. I write this to unleash my hatred for all the so-called scholars who misinterpreted my religion , turned down thousands of curious adolescents seeking true wisdom. Instead of bringing them to the write path you turned them away. And I say this as an unafraid and unapologetic woman that you played your part in creating ex Muslims atheist apostates. You played your part in sculpting hypocrites. You fueled hatred in the hearts of the youth. You drove them to the point of breaking contact with God because you were not there to sort their confusions. You were judgmental, ignorant, narrow minded and manipulative. This is not to generalise the people working in the similar field, nor to discourage those who want to pursue it, but rather to awaken the ones listening to them. Be careful who you listen to, do not be afraid to ask whatever questions that come to your minds and never give up on finding answers.In times of Islamophobia we do not need people preaching a different, very literal definition of the term, we need them to preach faith.

All principles can be explained and understood if the scholar is educated enough. As for the existence of Allah , believing in him or having faith is what I choose to do every day of my life. I find that believing in a higher being is better than the opposite, it takes the weight off of my shoulders and I sleep peacefully at night, knowing that there is someone looking out for me.