I confess myself to atheism, yet it will always be expected that I outwardly behave as a good Muslim
The following story is a translated article from the danish newspaper "Information" February 28th 2015. The story is told to danish journalist Lærke Cramon. Note, Haifa is a fictional name, her real name is known by the editors. Link to original article here
I always have to be ready with a lie
25-year-old Haifa is living a dual life. One as a Muslim and another as an atheist. She no longer believes in God, but she dares not renounce her beliefs openly in Islam. Therefore, she lives a double life, where she is lying about where she is and who she's with. With the hope that leaving Islam will one day stop being a taboo she shares her story.
“I am condemned to this double life. I do not believe in any religion, but cannot tell my family. When I'm alone, I confess myself to atheism, yet it will always be expected that I outwardly behave as a good Muslim. I can live without God, but I cannot live without my family”, Haifa says.
I was born in Denmark, yet neither went to nursery nor kindergarten. So I started in elementary school without knowing a word of Danish. My classmates were all immigrants –maybe there were one or two Danes in the group. When I later switched to an Islamic Private School, I had only Arab classmates and most of the teachers were Muslims. Twice a week I had Qur’anic classes in the local mosque, where I had to memorise the Qur’an. Every time I learned a new verse, my parents would reward me with a gift. In the Private School teachers said that it was imposed on them to teach us about evolution and the Big Bang, but we should remember that it was only a theory, and that obviously God had created the earth. I remember that I went home from school and (excitedly) told my mother everything I had learned about the beginning of the world and of man, who was in fact a developed ape. She was furious. "We do not believe in this!" she said and made me promise that I would never mention Darwin and monkeys again. I did not, but I then began (out of intrigue and curiosity) to look into books that dealt with science.
Both my parents are extremely conservative and religious. They come from a small town that is heavily Sunni and moved because of my father's political engagement. The fact that they practice their religion here in Denmark has maintained their connection to the Middle East. The more they dedicate their lives to the faith, the closer they feel to their home country, they say. They assess themselves as parents by looking at how good a Muslim I have become. A good Muslim does not believe in evolution and does not question his/her faith. A good Muslim dedicates his/her life for Islam, a concept of honour which the Danes could never understand. I felt distant from everything that I came from when I started to believe in science and asked questions to the Qur’an: Did the semen truly originate from (in between) the spine (and ribcage)? Why is a man's testimony worth twice as much as a woman’s? Why shouldn’t women participate at funerals, and why does the Qur’an allow men to keep slaves?
All the girls in the class started wearing the scarf when they were 12-13 years. I waited until I was 14. I did not want to wear a headscarf, but thought I would have more in common with the girls in the class if I did. Everyone was so proud of me and said I looked so beautiful covered. I also stopped wearing tight pants to school. Outwardly I looked like someone who was confident in faith, but inside doubts were building. I told a friend about all the things that Islam did not explain, and she gave me a book on the scientific miracles in the Qur’an. It's a book you tend to give to doubters. I needed to believe what was written in it, since apostate Muslims are not worth anything where I reside. The fear of hell was sown in me from the time I was quite small – the destination of the renegade – and every time I was wondering about something, it was considered the whisper of Satan in my head. When I left home and started an education that was in another city, the doubt had room to mature. I re-read the Qur’an with a critical insight and for the first time in my life I stopped identifying myself as a Muslim.
The secret boyfriend
Rumours spread quickly. People I've never heard of called my dad and asked why he let me leave home without a husband, and why he allowed the removal of the scarf. He had real difficulties with the latter. For weeks he did not speak to me, but I defended my decision to remove the scarf, saying that nowhere in the Qur’an does it say that women must wear headscarves. I said that I still believed in God, but the reality was that I had started a long and lonely process. Leaving Islam was a totally new concept for me. No one I knew had done it before me. I no longer believed in God.
I got a boyfriend who moved in with me, but it was very secret, and no one knew anything of it. He had a Muslim background like me and did not believe in God anymore. We started life as atheists. We ate bacon to prove that we were no longer Muslims, and I drank alcohol and had gay friends. My boyfriend's family were not as faithful as mine, so he chose to tell them that he is an atheist, whilst I continued to live a dual life. In many ways he was a huge support to me, even though we did not go through the same experiences. I will never be able to tell my parents that I have left Islam while he could be open about his atheism. I was very careful of my Facebook activity and how I presented myself on it, since all my family are my 'friends' on facebook and keeping an eye on what I'm doing. My family never makes unannounced visits, but if one day they do, I know that I have two minutes from the ring of the doorbell to clear the inside my apartment of that which they should not see, and send people they should not meet out on the balcony. I am always on the alert, yet a day came where it all went wrong…
I never lend my computer to anybody and am usually very careful to erase my digital tracks. But one day, when an old friend was visiting, and she wanted to show me something on the Internet, we started the computer up and an English article on Muslim apostates appeared I had not closed prior to closing the computer. I closed the page down and said that I had not read the story, but just clicked on it, because it was in my Facebook feed. She said nothing, but subsequently went to my parents and asked if I had left Islam. They dismissed it as pure nonsense. Why would their daughter be ex-muslim? Why would anyone leave Islam? In the local environment rumours continued to swirl, and the men demanded that my father take ‘action’. This could either mean that he must personally beat me or move me to somewhere else where I could face such punitive measures. I have seen my father being violent and know what he is capable of. So I said that the rumours were false, and that I was still a good Muslim. My father breathed a sigh of relief. Someone was obviously envious of his skillful, clever daughter, he said.
Life is greater outside of Islam
Last year I was hospitalized with anxiety and depression. I could not take having to live two different lives and got a panic attack. My family were out travelling, so they did not know that I had been admitted to a psychiatric ward for several months. I wanted someone to sit and hold my hand and say that I was a good person. Twice I tried to take my own life with pills. I know it's a stupid way to die, and I also know it may not have been successful but just resulted in liver damages. But for me it was a way to ease my mind. When I was hospitalised I only had to lie in bed and focus on getting better. It was simple. Outside it was complicated – I had become a minority of the minority. An immigrant without religion.
In Denmark, there is no forum for ex-muslims, so I spend a lot of time on a British online community for people who have left Islam. Recently I discovered another Dane there, who wrote that he had had enough of life. In a private message, I wrote that he should call me, and he did. We met a few days later. He told me that he used to be affiliated with a Muslim congregation in London – eat, sleep and live life under the same roof. Until recently, he was deeply religious, had a long beard, did not listen to music nor talk with girls. Like me, he stopped reading the verses of the Qur’an which he found it hard to believe. Today, he lives in Denmark and no longer see his family. They will not see him and think their son is going to burn in hell. He has repeatedly considered to say that he has become religious again, so he may be allowed to see them once more. Had we known each other a little before, it might not have been so difficult for him. We could have proven to each other that there is more to life than Islam. Letting go of the foundation of one's whole life is an extreme feeling and hard to describe to those not experienced it, and I still, when I am alone, think to myself: Have I made the right decision?
A hard life
I am stuck with this dual life. I do not believe in any religion, but cannot tell my family. When I'm alone, I submit to my atheistic beliefs, but it will always be expected that I outwardly act as a good Muslim. I can live without God, but I cannot live without my family, and although I do not believe in the Qur'an, I recognize the importance of honour for my parents. I will not be able to convince them that without Islam I can still be a good person and a good daughter. If I came out (with my current beliefs), people would be ashamed to know my family. They would (once more) put pressure on my father; the mosque, family and neighbours, and if my father did not react (as they wish for him to do so), it would be up to the others to 'act'. Such is their mindset. In their world you have to set an example to show others that what I’ve done is not okay.
I dream often about moving far away. This life is too hard. It's hard to be the odd one out, but more people choose to deny their faith, it may be that in the future there will no longer be a danger in breaking up with Islam. Until then, I always look over my shoulder and lie about everything. Where I am, what I'm doing and who I'm with. My father tried to call me the last two days, but I have not picked up the phone. I have not had a good lie ready.
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