My atheism is what led to my feminism, in ways I never quite realized until now. When I was a practicing Muslim, I was still very much bounded by the limitations that Islam puts on feminism. I knew that I was equal to men – this was a message I had heard many times, but then I had also been told that there was a limit to how equal to men I could be. So I was equal, but men were still superior in certain ways – like physically. I was equal but only in so far as the glass is only ever half full. Equal parts empty, equal parts full, and the empty portion was for me. Equal, but empty.
My atheism allowed me to not always feel this obligation to reconcile my religion with my feminism, I was finally free to be as feminist as I wished to be. I no longer had to convince anyone that I believed men’s needs come before mine, even though I believe in my equality as well. I no longer had to temper with the idea of equality, no longer had to believe that I was only ever as equal as a man decided I was. I no longer felt obligated to pursue that equality by maintaining my “modesty”. I realized that I was worthy of all the respect, even if I did not maintain my “modesty”. My atheism allowed me to acknowledge the misogyny of my religion, and it felt incredibly liberating to see the misogyny for what it was. I knew now that the concept of protection in religion sees me as a possession rather than as an individual person with individual needs, that the concept of protecting women was less as an assertion of my value and more and affirmation for the egos of men. When I left religion, feminism no longer had to mean that I was some delicate pearl who had to be protected by a man.
Atheism lifted all the limitations that religion had placed on my feminism. I realized that the feminist struggle is really an all-or-nothing struggle. I was either equal or I was not, there is no in-between there, no compromises. You either believe that I deserve to have all the rights of a human being or you don’t. There is really no in-between. And that’s the in-between that my feminism, as a practicing Muslim, was always trying to pursue. That place in-between is a purgatory. You want to be seen as equal to men but you don’t want to betray God by fighting for all the rights that are rightfully yours. You want to be free but you know your freedom will contradict everything your religion is about. You think all this time that there is a compromise that can be made, that you can compromise your humanity and still be considered human. You think that if you compromise with religion, religion will compromise with you, but it never does.
Leaving religion and getting out of that purgatory was the single best decision I ever made. My feminism no longer comes with a set of caveats. It is uncompromising, brave and relentless. I feel free. And none of this would have been possible had I not left religion.