A man who gave up his religion has spoken of his angst after revealing to his family that he is gay.

Sohail Ahmed was born into a Muslim family in East London and claims being gay saw him being ostracised.

His story appeared as a contribution to the Peter Tatchell Foundation’s on-going LGBT-Muslim Solidarity campaign.

Sohail says he came from an orthodox Muslim family where particular things where frowned upon,“I was brought up in a household where music and TV were not allowed."

Sohail decided to explore Islam of his own accord.

“I became engrossed in Islam, reading Islamic books in my spare time.

"Eventually, I became quite knowledgeable in Islamic theology and was well known in the Muslim community as a person who was religious and very well versed in the teachings of Islam.

“People would come to me with their questions concerning religion and their doubts.

"I explained to them the finer points of Islamic theology, and removed their doubts.

"Later, I went on to lead the prayers during the holy month of Ramadan as my pronunciation and recitation of the Qur’an was highly proficient.

“What I have not mentioned yet is the fact that I am also gay. It was hard enough growing up in a fundamentalist family, but growing up in a fundamentalist family and being gay was even worse.”

Sohail says that he always knew he was “different.”

“When I hit puberty I realised that I had feelings for the same gender. Initially, I didn’t think much of it.

"I thought it was what everyone experienced. Only later did I realise that most people experienced attraction towards the opposite gender.

“It was about the same time I first learned about Islam’s teachings on homosexuality.

"Before that, sex and sexuality had been considered a taboo subject and had not ever been discussed at home.

“I discovered that Islam taught that gay people were transgressing against God and were abnormal.

"Consequently, I never accepted myself as gay. I didn’t even accept that there was such a disposition as being gay.

"I thought that my feelings towards other men were because of the whispers of the devil, and were not reflective of my true nature.”

He says he subjected himself to an incessant internal battle with his feelings leaving him feeling “trapped.”

“Imagine if someone told you every day of your life, every minute, that you are evil. That you are the work of the devil. That you are unnatural and an abomination against God.

"Imagine the effect that would have on your psyche. Now imagine that person was you.

"Imagine you were the person who was telling yourself that you were evil, devilish and an abomination. And imagine you really believed in what you were saying.

“That was what I was experiencing every second of my living and breathing existence.

"I was trapped in a prison set in hell. But instead of this being a physical prison, with physical bars, this was a prison within my own mind.

"No matter what I tried, I couldn’t escape from this enormously detrimental predicament.”

Sohail suffered anxiety attacks induced by the strain of hiding his sexuality from others and lived in dread of his parents find out. This struggle, inadvertently, led him closer to religion.

“My sexuality and the internal struggle I was dealing with as a result drew me even closer to my religion. I was constantly praying, praising God, and reading the Qur’an.

"I would ask God every day to remove my affliction of being attracted towards other men.

"I would beg him to change me so that I could be attracted to girls. I so desperately wanted to be normal. I envied my friends for their heterosexuality. Why couldn’t I be straight like them?”

As well as praying to be cured, Sohail began reading various religious texts that he thought could remove the 'disease of homosexuality'. 

In a desperate bid to rid him of his sexual inclination, Sohail begged his parents to find him a wife through an arranged marriage.

“Thankfully, my parents declined my request, otherwise I would have destroyed not only my life but the life of an unsuspecting innocent girl also.”

It was through this emotional adversity that Sohail began experiencing doubts about his religious beliefs.

“Out of all my peers, I had the most faith and belief in Islam. So when I began to have doubts about Islam it hit really hard.

“My first doubts were within the paradigm of Islam. The Qur’an teaches that magic is real, that angels taught the people of Babylon the dark secrets of black magic with the proviso that they not practice it ever.

“Also I began to doubt the morality of some of the things I believed in. Was it really right to kill apostates?

"Where was the freedom or justice in that? Was it right to stone people to death for any reason, least of all because they had had sex outside of marriage?

"Was it right to chop off the hand of the thief? What if the criminal was a victim of circumstance? Was it right that Islam treated women as inferior second class citizens? These burgeoning questions drew me into a well of confusion.”

Sohail says he fell into a “cycle of despair” deeming himself to be “one of the most evil people on earth.”

He said, “Not only was I attracted to other men but also I had just lost my faith. I was convinced I was being punished by God and that I deserved the torment that came my way.

"My self-esteem dropped. My studies suffered. I ended up having to leave medical school because of the severe depression and anxiety that I was suffering from.”

Sohail says that when he finally acknowledged his sexuality with himself at the age of 21, that was the moment he felt liberated and at peace.

However, this process had led to a deteriorating relationship with his parents and following a volatile discussion, Sohail revealed in an outburst that he no longer believed in God.

He was immediately told to pack his bags and leave the house.

During this time, Sohail’s parents had realised that their son was gay.

Over the next few weeks Sohail was subjected to four exorcisms, or ‘Ruqyah.’

“Every exorcism would send me skidding into a spiral of depression and anxiety.

"Even though my rational mind knew that the exorcisms had no truth behind them, because everyone believed that I was possessed by demons.”

The anxiety Sohail endured as a result of the Ruqiyah culminated in a suicide attempt.

“I was in the process of preparing to hang myself using the wardrobe in my bedroom when my father walked in on me.

"I talked to my father and he convinced me to not kill myself. I thank him for that much, if not anything else.”

After the suicide attempt, Sohail decided to move out of his home and into student accommodation at Queen Mary University.

“My parents didn’t even say a word to me.

“At university it felt liberating being free to tell everyone about my sexuality.

“I met a few other ex-Muslims university, Queen Mary and together we decided we would run the Atheism, Secularism and Humanism society.

“Now I’m an activist and I campaign for ex-Muslim rights against Islamist radicalisation on university campuses and for women’s rights and LGBT rights.

“I refer to myself as an Agnostic Deist and a Cultural Muslim. I am an Agnostic Deist in that I am not sure if a God exists, but if a God were to exist I’m sure he or she would be the Deist’s God.

"I still follow the customs and traditions of Islam for the spiritual aspect of it all, and as such refer to myself as a Cultural Muslim. Hence I am happy, at last.”