Mark Oppenheimer takes a look at women who abandon Islam for atheism. Excerpt:

Whereas skeptical Christians or Jews can take refuge in reformist wings of their tradition, religious Muslims generally insist on the literal truth of the Quran.

“I would say it’s maybe 0.1 percent who are willing to challenge the foundations of the faith,” said Nas Ishmael, another founder of the Ex-Muslims group who attended the conference.

So those who do challenge the foundations can feel isolated. According to Ms. Ali and her colleagues in Ex-Muslims of North America, they frequently hear from others, who say, “I thought I was the only one.”

When Ms. Dadabhoy “came out” to her parents, “it didn’t go so well,” she said. “They reacted the way they knew how, which was to freak out. They had never heard of anybody leaving Islam. We were raised with the idea you can’t leave, that nobody can leave. Leaving Islam was something somebody incredibly deranged would do. Or if forced at sword point or gunpoint.”

Critics have accused her of being part of a Zionist conspiracy to make Islam look bad. “I say, ‘If I am, where is my paycheck?’ ” Ms. Dadabhoy said drolly.

Dadabhoy goes on to say that when her parents sent her to talk to imams about Islam, all they offered her were tautologies, e.g., “You should believe because you should believe.”

This reminded me of the Evangelical woman turned agnostic that we talked about in this space the other day. She had embraced such a rigid version of Christianity, one that could not accommodate her doubts, that it broke under questioning. I don’t know enough about Islam to say — so please correct me, you who do — but I’m not sure how Muslims get around believing that the Quran is the literal word of God. Yet Sufis have the reputation for being more mystical and less legalistic. Would some of you readers who know about Islam help me out here?

Many religious people, not just Muslims, find it difficult to impossible to understand how someone simply cannot believe. They think it’s a matter of the will — that is, they will not believe. When I lost my Catholic faith, lots of Catholics accused me of willfully refusing to believe what I had once professed. That wasn’t it. I simply could not affirm it anymore. That was the most painful thing in my life, more painful even than the death of my sister. I am beyond grateful that I didn’t lose belief in Christianity, but that whole experience gave me empathy for people who once had faith but who simply can no longer believe. It is a horrible thing to watch faith slip through your fingers, or in my case, to endure faith being pulled out of you like fingernails at the hands of a torturer.