Both of my parents are Muslim. They were born and raised Muslim, and they have decided to continue this tradition with their children. The problem is, though, that I am an atheist. Even better, I’m a 17-year old girl. I live in the U.S. It took me a long time to even admit to myself that I was an atheist. My parents often use religion to deny me things, such as hanging out with my friends, having a boyfriend, etc. I’m not allowed to dress as my friends, and every weekend they drag me off to Madrasa. Madrasa is a Muslim school that I spend roughly seven hours in every weekend. It’s really tedious and I hate going. It’s unfair to make me go through hours of something I don’t believe in. I’ll be sitting there and thinking, why am I going through this if it makes absolutely no difference in my life? I’ve never told anyone in my family about my being atheist, and I’m really scared to do so. I highly doubt my parents will be accepting of me, and will probably either ship me to relatives in other countries or kick me out. I disagree with what my parents hold dear and I feel as though I will not be able to have a relationship with them when I grow up. How do I deal with this? I hate this, and I don’t know what to do about it.
The Atheist Muslim
Dear Atheist Muslim,
It greatly saddens me to give this advice, but I must because I think that your freedom and well being could be in serious jeopardy. I strongly, strongly urge you to not let your parents know at this time, either deliberately or accidentally.
Your parents are not your enemy. But their beliefs will tell them that you are their enemy, and their beliefs could compel them to cause you grim hardship, adversity and privation.
If you were born in the U.S. and are therefore a citizen, then you will have a little more protection than if not, but either way as a minor, you could still very well find yourself sent to a country where, depending on the culture, you could be treated as a combination of a criminal and a slave. Without persistent and influential people fighting for you, you might never see the U.S. again.
Make absolutely certain that your atheism will not be revealed to your parents until you are completely ready. Seriously consider telling none of your friends. If you must tell anyone, tell only your most trusted friends, and make sure that they understand how extremely important it is that they not reveal it to anyone else, even if they trust those people. The more people you tell, the more likely it is that one will be indiscreet. I imagine that Muslim communities in the U.S. are small and tightly knit. Once even a hint of suspicion reaches one member of the community, it will quickly reach your parents.
Delete anything about atheism from your Facebook page, and delete any links to friends or groups that might imply atheism. Even if this information is behind the “friends only” barrier, this is a very serious risk for exposure. Do not mention this on Twitter. Social networks are no place to keep secrets.
Do not write any emails to friends about this. Emails are forever. Delete the one you sent to me, and empty the trash. Change your passwords now. Be very careful with instant messaging, which records the entire conversations unless you take pains to be certain they are deleted. The other person’s instant messaging is recording it also. Do not text about it on your phone. Your phone records it and so does the other person’s phone.
There are several blogs and online forums for young atheists. It’s understandable that you would want to vent and to have some camaraderie with like-minded and similarly frustrated young people. BUT if you visit these sites, use a pseudonym different from any other username you use anywhere else, and create a separate email address to register for those sites. When commenting, do not reveal details about yourself or your home that could lead to identifying you. Do not use a picture of yourself. Cover your tracks in every way. Teen atheists are not the only people who read those sites.
Assume that you don’t have any privacy. Assume that people snoop in your room and on your computer. Get into the habit of deleting your browsing history every time you use your computer. Do not keep any atheist literature in your home, or any other materials or objects that might cause a problem. Your parents have probably noticed your resistance and resentment to such things as attending the Madrasa, so they may already be suspicious of your tendency toward independent thinking.
When you turn 18, depending on the state where you live, you will have more legal rights as an adult, but you will probably not have financial independence from your family for quite some time afterward. You will probably have to hold your tongue and do the minimum religious things if you want to stay at home, or have them pay your rent or pay for college. Look at the Madrasa as a cultural observation project and you’re an anthropologist.
If you are not a U.S. citizen, then when you turn 18, quietly begin applying for your own separate immigration status, and perhaps applying for citizenship. These processes take a long time, so start as soon as you can.
I understand very well how difficult it is for a 17-year-old Americanized girl to have to put up with the social and personal suppression that you have described, but the consequences of this reaching your parents before you have legal and financial control over your own destiny could be far worse than what you are enduring now.
I also understand your frustration at having to conceal your opinions and views from your family. Unfortunately, freedom of speech includes the freedom to get the consequences of speaking freely. Sometimes the consequences come down like a ton of bricks.
Patience is not something for which 17-year-olds are famous. They are famous for their passion, their idealism, and their uncontainable energy. But you must develop this grownup virtue of patience now, or those three youthful traits, which are both blessings and curses, could be smothered before they have a chance to blossom into wise and bold actions to make a positive difference in your life and in the world.
Whenever you feel frustrated and impatient, take deep, slow breaths and channel that energy into preparing for your financial, physical and emotional independence. Save your money, learn marketable skills, and study hard. Let your quiet preparations give you hope and comfort, knowing that you are making progress toward one day having the freedom to fully be yourself. If you don’t use that emotional energy constructively, it might burst forth impulsively with regrettable results.
When you are an adult with personal power coming from within, from your assets, and from the law, you can gradually build a more truthful relationship with your parents. They may be upset, they may eventually accept, or they may completely reject you, but you will be negotiating from a position of strength, from a life that you have built into something they can still be proud of, if they can rise above their preferences and prejudices about religion.
Atheist Muslim, believe in yourself and safeguard yourself as if you were your own beloved child. Your ability to have thought your way out of your indoctrination is rare and precious. I’m sorry to have to advise a young person full of vitality and love of life to be so very cautious, but I want to see you grow and prosper and have a chance to offer your clarity to the lucky people who will know you.
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