It is pretty well known that one of biggest reasons Muslims stay Muslim is the strength of social conformity. The reaction you will face as a Muslim for abandoning your faith will vary significantly from country to country and between different families and communities - depending on how seriously the other people in your circle of family/friends take their religion. Even if you don't live in a country where apostasy means death (and fortunately, that is the exception rather than the rule) at the hands of the state or your family, folks thinking about leaving Islam, (and probably even more so if they are thinking about also following Christ) know that if they do that, they will face social pressure to change back again. It can come in the form of withheld family inheritance, expulsion from the family, loss of a job, divorce and occasionally physical violence. On top of it, they will often feel intense shame for letting their families down - and also bringing shame on their families. The pressures will vary, but from my reading and first-hand experiences with folks who have left Islam (and mostly come to faith in Christ), indicates it is a pretty universal phenomena.
Many of us in evangelical Christian circles may struggle to understand this. We may be sad when people who once were Christians seem to abandon their faith. But our liberal and individualistic societies have taught us that faith is ultimately a personal choice between us and God. We look back at the days of the various inquisitions with embarrassment and shudder. Thankfully, that sort of thing is over now we say.
In the last few days, news surfaced in Western press regarding well known Christian worship song-writer and singer Vicky Beeching. At the age of 35 she has finally decided to let the world know that she is actually a lesbian. You can read about it here. The pressure of keeping her sexuality suppressed and secret while living and working in the conservative Christian scene in America almost certainly led to her developing a potentially life-threatening auto-immune disease that required drastic medical intervention.
Some might wonder why she would keep her secret for so long. But as someone who lived and worked in the conservative American (and not just American I might add) church scene, she knew the probable consequences of letting people know she was gay: job loss, potential rejection from family and friends and a string of nasty comments from the Christian community. On top of that, she was living with the shame of something that she had believed from her earliest years as sinful and wrong.
Interestingly, also in the last week or so, Michael Gungor has "come out" as it were, that he can longer accept the biblical accounts of creation and flood as being historical. Some responses to his admission as such have not been particularly "graceful" shall we say?
Sound familiar? True, no-one was going to cut Vicky's head off unless she pledged heterosexuality from this day forward, but she knew she would face a significant backlash. And Michael Gungor has lost paying gigs as a result of his views. There are of course significant differences between coming out as a homosexual and leaving Islam, but it seems to me that at least on some levels, there are similarities too.
I'm not going to wade in and add my two cents to the vast amount of digital ink being spilled over the relative rights and wrong of homosexuality or creationism. My point is just to help us understand the pressures on Muslims thinking of leaving their faith by likening it to something easier for evangelical Christians to understand. And also perhaps to stop us from wagging our self-righteous fingers too much in the direction of Muslims when we struggle with similar behaviours ourselves...