Ask Richard: Atheist Muslima in Europe Feels Trapped by Family Ties

Note to readers: I usually don’t publish letters that are this long, but this letter is so poignant, so articulate, and so thorough that I couldn’t bring myself to shorten or paraphrase it. It depicts dilemmas similar to those that young atheists from devout families face in the U.S, but the main difference is the severity of what is at stake.

Dear Richard,

I’m writing to you from Europe where my family came to live before I was born. While my parents are very religious Muslims and I was raised according to their beliefs, with the age of 11 I started to seriously question the teachings of Islam and religions in general. A time of research, thinking and struggling followed and was concluded after three years with the realization that I came to a point of no return. Some thoughts you can’t un-think. This realization depressed me at first because Islam had been a big part of my identity. All my life I had been involved in the mosque, the success and admiration I earned there gave me confidence. Now I had to come to terms with the fact that I would lose everything dear to me if I revealed myself to people who should love me unconditionally. Not only would those people stop loving me, they would also believe me to deserve death.

I decided to run and never look back the first opportunity I had, because a coming-out was always a non-option. I never doubted that their reaction would be beyond horrible and maybe even violent. The following years I was driven only by planning for my future life. I cut off connections where I could and did my best to not form new ones, I tried to educate myself on the topic of morality without religion and worked on building a new system of values for myself while clearing my mind of old prejudices.

My parents saw how I distanced myself from religious life but they never realized the true dimension of what was going on with me and even today I think I could have made it. I was ready to live with all the consequences of my decision, I knew the price of freedom and I was more than ready to pay it.

So it was all the more bitter for me that I was ultimately forced to abandon my plans. My father got deeply depressed because of a few family dramas including the way I was changing and he tried to take his own life more than once. The last years my first priority was to help him to get better as I am the one that has the best relationship with him and being a part of what caused his condition made me feel deeply guilty.

Against all odds he got better and better and is almost as cheerful as he was before his depression now, although he remains somewhat unstable even today.

Now I’m of age and ready to attend college this autumn. And still I find myself trapped, playing a role, living a lie. The dilemma I find myself in is where to go from here.

As I see it I have two options and I despise them both.

The first would be my original plan of running away. But I know what a severe damage that would cause at his point. Before all this happened this kind of decision wouldn’t completely destroy my family, partly because my parents had a good relationship with my other siblings then. That isn’t true anymore. Somehow I unintentionally managed to become the only hope of my parents, the only child they rely on. Also me running away became a life-or-death situation for my father that it wasn’t before. And I don’t think that I can live with risking someone’s life and happiness this much even if my feelings of responsibility may be displaced.

The other option is to pretend as I did until this day. In a way this is easier and I wouldn’t have to live with the guilt of causing death and misery. But I fear that this kind of life threatens not only my happiness but also my mental stability. I feel trapped if I imagine living like this for any length of time. It’s not even that I want to adopt an extremely different lifestyle. I’m not about living life on the wild side. It’s about being able to be honest about what I am and what I believe or not believe in. As a female “Muslim” I always carry around the sign of Islam with me, a system of values I would never want to represent. I can’t openly criticize Islamic beliefs, I can’t stand up for things I believe in like tolerance and equality of all sexualities and lifestyles and have to suffer through all the discriminating, sexist, judgmental, hateful teachings – and even pretend to agree. I have to live with people who believe me to be one of them but who would hate me for what I really came to be. I don’t think that I can live like this in the long run. Just moving to another place peacefully is a non-option, too, because I’m not allowed to move out before marriage.

What would you advise me to do? Am I being irrational and unnecessarily dramatic about all this?

Thank you for reading and suffering through my English – which I sincerely apologize for. English isn’t my first or even my third language.

Yours,
A faithful Reader

Dear Faithful Reader,

You stand astride a chasm between two worlds, with one foot in the East, and one foot in the West. The diverging cultural values of each world threaten to tear you in half.

In the East, (often though not always) loyalty to family, to clan, to culture and tradition tends to be emphasized over an individual’s responsibility to be true to her own conscience. In the West, (often though not always) the opposite is true. Individuals are encouraged to seek their own paths and to be true to the values and ideals that they thoughtfully choose, rather than those they unquestioningly inherit.

In both worlds, the pressures of social expectation vs. individuality are frequently in conflict. In both worlds, sometimes family loyalty wins out, and sometimes individual self-responsibility wins out. The only constant is that there are never ever any painless solutions to these conflicts, and often precious things are damaged or destroyed.

So I’m afraid that no matter what you do, in the words of Sixx: A.M., This is Gonna Hurt.

You’re going to have to make a choice. You were born and live in the West, so I advise you to choose to follow the values of the world in which you will probably live out your life.

The choice you must make is to whom does your life belong, and to whom does your father’s life belong. From my Western bias, I say that you and you alone own yours, and your father owns his.

You are not responsible for your father’s mental health. That is his responsibility. You are not “a part of what caused his condition,“ even if he attributes it to you. It is not your duty to keep him sane by denying yourself your own freedom, and putting your mental and physical health in jeopardy.

A series of failed suicide attempts begins to look more like he is trying to manipulate people around him rather than actually trying to end his life. This is blackmail, extortion, holding someone hostage by pointing a gun at himself instead of the hostage, and counting on guilt to bind her to his will.

This ploy was comically portrayed by Redd Foxx in the 1970’s television series “Sanford and Son,“ as a selfish old man who clutched at his chest, faking a heart attack whenever he didn’t get his way. Nobody fell for it except for his son, who usually gave in out of an inappropriate and undeserved sense of guilt. This tactic is only funny on TV. In real life, it’s ugly.

I suspect that your father realized the direction you were going, and that you “knew the price of freedom and were more than ready to pay it.” So he simply raised the price. It might not have been an entirely conscious decision on his part, but it’s a manipulation anyway.

It’s apparent that you intellectually know that your feelings of responsibility for him are misplaced, but that does not immediately relieve you of the emotional bind you are suffering. You must patiently use your rational thinking to coax yourself away from clinging to this false idea that it’s all your fault, your blame, and your duty to fix it. No, it isn’t.

As you say, somehow you ended up being the only child left. I suspect that your siblings have distanced themselves from him out of self preservation rather than selfishness. Your admirable compassion and caring have been exploited, and you have fallen into the role of being a parent for your father. He doesn’t need that. He needs to be an adult.

While I think you are irrationally taking blame for your father’s difficulties, I do not think that you are being overly dramatic in your concern about the possible violence and even death that you might face from your family or religious community when they learn of your atheism. I say “when” rather than “if” because in your present situation, it seems inevitable that it will come out.

To be clear, it would be sad if your father eventually killed himself, but that would be a choice he had made, and it seems that he would be trying to hurt others by his action. It would not be your fault. A far worse tragedy would be for a conscientious young person to live as a slave under such a tyranny, or to be killed by her family or zealous community members, because either one is a robbery of her life against her will.

You say that you can’t just move away because you’re “not allowed to move out before marriage,” but that was your original plan. You’re living in Europe, not the Middle East. You’re a citizen of that European country, and are bound and protected by its laws. If you have reached the age of adulthood, the only power that your family has over you is the power you willingly give to them. “Not allowed” is in your mind, and you can change your mind. Do not, do not give in to any marriage that will pull you deeper into this.

You need a long term escape plan and an alternative short term escape plan in case of emergency. In the long term plan, do whatever you must to start and complete your college education. That is your ticket to greater independence. In college, you will find supportive friends who share your views, and with whom you can vent your frustrations. Use the internet, carefully protecting your identity, to make connections with other ex-Muslims who will have particular insights and advice for you. You are not alone. Find your allies. In these ways you will better preserve your sanity. Finish college, start a career and move far away, perhaps to another European country. Do not live in or near any Muslim community, but assimilate into the generally secular European society. I’m sure there are complicating factors that I don’t understand, but you must think in terms of possibilities and break the spell of your hopeless/helpless thinking.

The alternative short term escape plan, prepared before you need it, will be if your atheism is fully revealed and your physical well-being or life is in jeopardy, or if you are too strongly pressured to marry someone who will be a barrier to your freedom. Dust off your original escape plan and use some of your ideas. You will need money secretly set aside, contacts who will help to shelter you yet not exploit you, and means of transportation, all available at a moment’s notice. It will be difficult, but you will be alive and your life will still be your own.

I think what you have needed is for someone to give you permission to take care of yourself and to act in your own best interests. I have no particular authority to give you such permission, yet I do so anyway, and I hope that many others will too. You have the right to live your own life. Self-respect is not the same as selfishness. You are a brave, intelligent, caring and worthy person, and you deserve to be able to live according to your own principles. With the right combination of patience and courage, you can. Plan for it, work for it, fight for it, and run for it if you must. A challenging life of freedom is preferable to a predictable life of servitude. My very best wishes for your success. Please keep us informed of your progress.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Cailia

    Dear Faithful Reader,

    Don’t apologize for your English. It’s far better than mine, and it IS my first language. More power to you for that.

    Richard is right. You can -and should- do this on your own. You are an individual, as are they, and you are responsible for your own happiness, as are they. 

    Hugs from across the sea,
    ~Cailia

  • Anonymous

    You read things like this, and suddenly the prejudices of American Christians seem almost quaint by comparison. It makes my blood boil how people can retain the prisons of religious fundamentalism even when they go to secular countries. They partake in the advantages of civilization, while denything their children, especially daughters, of any of the freedoms of advanced societies…

    All of what Richard said. Then some more. If there is even the slightest possibility you get forcibly shipped out of the country to marry a stranger you need to put mechanisms in place to prevent that, including procuring some method of communicating with authorities. Get a prepaid phone and keep it hidden and close.

    Then get out of the house as soon as you possibly can. Usually I would say grit your teeth and make it through college, but in this case I’m not entirely sure that’s the best idea. If there’s any credible chance of leaving the country to continue your education elsewhere, even if it takes longer and requires you to work, take it. Its not a matter of if they will find out, it’s a matter of when. Do you really expect your father to become old and die without ensuring his daughter, who he has manipulated into compliance, gets a “proper husband”? You will never choose a man your father approves of and he will be sure to choose one able to enforce the rules you despise, which you say can include violence. Don’t get sucked into that. You love your father and that’s admirable, but he has no right to demand (even unwittingly) that you sacrifice your life and freedom for his satisfaction.

    Best of luck!

    • Anonymous

      You read things like this, and suddenly the prejudices of American
      Christians seem almost quaint by comparison. It makes my blood boil how
      people can retain the prisons of religious fundamentalism even when they
      go to secular countries. They partake in the advantages of
      civilization, while denything their children, especially daughters, of
      any of the freedoms of advanced societies…

      I’ve been reading up on girls who have escaped the Quiverfull movement in the US.  Sadly, the situation is not much different.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    “A series of failed suicide attempts begins to look more like he is trying to manipulate people around him rather than actually trying to end his life. This is blackmail, extortion, holding someone hostage by pointing a gun at himself instead of the hostage, and counting on guilt to bind her to his will. ”

    - I couldn’t agree more.

  • Neurolover

    “I think what you have needed is for someone to give you permission to take care of yourself and to act in your own best interests. I have no particular authority to give you such permission, yet I do so anyway, and I hope that many others will too. ” I also grant you permission to take care of yourself and to act in your own best interests, my lack of particular authority to do so notwithstanding.

  • Mommiest

    You need an emergency plan in place. In addition to Richard’s advice, it may be worthwhile to look into shelters for abused women. If you suddenly find yourself in danger, know how to contact them. They can get you to a safe place quickly if you need to escape a threat.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    I quite often disagree with at least some of Richard’s answers in these posts, but not this time, not even a little.

    Additionally, I would say that the Reader’s wellbeing isn’t purely a matter of acting in her own best interests – if she can make it out she’ll be able to make contributions to society as a whole, and particularly by setting an example to others following the same path, and we need people like that.

  • Anonymous

    having served my family as caregiver to two older sick relatives for several years, i feel your pain. all i can say is that duty ends when it becomes something that denies your the ability to live your life the way you need and want. and while i don’t know your father and don’t want to insult him, let me say that it’s an old, old game any professional caregiver or person who has had a similar experience with a family member will know. guilting you into not doing what you want because “he can’t live without you” is actually pretty well documented by psychologists and medical professionals who deal with geriatrics or others who rely on family for their care. 

    Richard is right. make a long and a short term plan. find some ex-Muslims who are also European born. there are more of you out there than you know. and Claudia is right, the beauty of the EU is that you really can leave the country fairly easily. if you were here in the US we’d say “choose an out of state college” and it’s mostly the same thing over there, these days. whatever issues your father has, they aren’t yours. you don’t deserve to share in his suffering just because he’s not willing to suffer alone. i will say that in my case, once i learned to stand up to my father about the issues he was making my life hell with, our relationship improved. i was like, “you have to take responsibility for this, and if you don’t, i’m not going to clean up after you anymore” and you know what? he did. parents are just as human as their children, and it’s a sobering, clarifying moment to realize that you are just as much an adult as they are, and you deserve the rights and freedoms of an adult. you’re on the verge of that and trust me when i say you will feel 1000% better, once you’ve established that your father, nor your family, do not get to tell you how to live your life. 

  • Rich Wilson

    Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  There’s a huge community out here ready and willing to help.  There might be difficulties in how we can safely render aid, but we can also be creative.  It doesn’t hurt to ask, and no request is too big or too small.

  • LKL

    I second that you do not need to apologize for your English.  You are better-spoken than at least half of the people raised with English in the United States. 

    I would only add two suggestions to what has already been said:  first, you might consider overtly asking/demanding that your siblings take on some of the responsibility of caring for your parents.  Their self-preservation is important, but it is not fair that it comes at the expense of yours. 
    Second, you might consider, at least for a few years, something that is far, far from ideal:  a marriage of mutual convenience with a muslim man who is also looking for a way to escape his family due to homosexuality or other reasons (hopefully, your admirable independence of mind has spared you from the bias against homosexuality that so many religions around the world share).  It would mean continuing a distasteful charade for both of you, at least for a couple of years, but it would give both of you some breathing room to get away from your families and start your own lives.  You wouldn’t have a real marriage, but you would have independence and you would have a friend. 

    That option would merely be delaying the inevitable outing (you will hopefully fall in love for real and then need to divorce your original ‘husband,’ with whom you will have planned for such an eventuality), but it would mean that you were in a much stronger position when that outing occurred. 

    • Anonymous

      Yes, I’ve found that the better someone from another country is at speaking English, the more likely they are to apologize for their English skills.

  • LKL

    I second that you do not need to apologize for your English.  You are better-spoken than at least half of the people raised with English in the United States. 

    I would only add two suggestions to what has already been said:  first, you might consider overtly asking/demanding that your siblings take on some of the responsibility of caring for your parents.  Their self-preservation is important, but it is not fair that it comes at the expense of yours. 
    Second, you might consider, at least for a few years, something that is far, far from ideal:  a marriage of mutual convenience with a muslim man who is also looking for a way to escape his family due to homosexuality or other reasons (hopefully, your admirable independence of mind has spared you from the bias against homosexuality that so many religions around the world share).  It would mean continuing a distasteful charade for both of you, at least for a couple of years, but it would give both of you some breathing room to get away from your families and start your own lives.  You wouldn’t have a real marriage, but you would have independence and you would have a friend. 

    That option would merely be delaying the inevitable outing (you will hopefully fall in love for real and then need to divorce your original ‘husband,’ with whom you will have planned for such an eventuality), but it would mean that you were in a much stronger position when that outing occurred. 

  • Villa

    I think it might be helpful to look at the long-run results of your choices.

    Suppose you decide to not come out.  It would be marriage and perhaps children.  We can see self-sacrifice as a noble thing.  But would you bring a child into the same situation?

    If forcing another generation to live-a-lie for family is unacceptable, then the problem becomes not, “if you should leave” but rather “when”.

    There might be some value in waiting until you’ve started school.  But once you have the opportunity to leave, it seems like you should do so.   You will get more of a chance to live your life as you want.  And the sooner you leave, the sooner there is the chance (however slim) that you will be able to have an honest relationship with your parents.

    It sounds like a very painful decision, and I wish you the best with whatever you should choose.

  • Villa

    I think it might be helpful to look at the long-run results of your choices.

    Suppose you decide to not come out.  It would be marriage and perhaps children.  We can see self-sacrifice as a noble thing.  But would you bring a child into the same situation?

    If forcing another generation to live-a-lie for family is unacceptable, then the problem becomes not, “if you should leave” but rather “when”.

    There might be some value in waiting until you’ve started school.  But once you have the opportunity to leave, it seems like you should do so.   You will get more of a chance to live your life as you want.  And the sooner you leave, the sooner there is the chance (however slim) that you will be able to have an honest relationship with your parents.

    It sounds like a very painful decision, and I wish you the best with whatever you should choose.

  • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

    Dear Reader, 

    I do understand the problem you face. 

    See in our cultures (I am Hindu and know some of the issues you face in the expectations of family) family and honour are more valuable than the individual. When I am seen in public it’s less about myself and more about what people will think about my family. During a recent funeral I started a feud by accident by telling people off to let my father grieve openly at his own mother’s side and I did the rites for her rather than him because he was so grief stricken (It involves setting fire to the body and crushing the skull after it’s been burnt. It’s very emotional and remember real men do not cry). But this was seen as an insult and there are large sections of my father’s family who don’t like me a lot due to this.  

    And it is ludicrous and silly. It’s like our parents think like school children. All the while we are told to not care what bullies think and to not care about peer pressure. Yet our own families fall prey to a different kind of bully and peer pressure, often because it is expected from our culture and religion. They straddle two worlds and face pressure from both so have to deal with our relatively western ideals. And the ultimate irony about shame is that there is none. It’s something entirely in our culture’s head that our actions somehow will make people talk. The ultimate joke is that no one is talking about us. This attitude is a canker sore in our culture, something that drives deep into and it’s something that hurts us. It mutilates the very beautiful things about our cultures and tarnishes it. Many people associate Hinduism and Islam with forced marriage and abuse of women, and it is true. We do have a problem with it that no one is willing to stand up for. 

    Your issue is that your family may infact rationally think that the appropriate response to apostasy is violence rather than acceptance. It’s quite common and police are often called to provide security if you go back to collect your things from your family. 

    My suggestion is contingency. It’s horrid but you may have to make a clean break of it because your choices are to live a lie for the rest of their life which is not particularly great since like my culture you will be expected to get married at some point (and unlike mine there will probably be no leeway in who you chose). In effect you will pretend to believe for all time which is something you cannot do. You may have to make the break before all of this comes to a head (which will probably be when they try and marry you off which may be sooner rather than later. People are notorious for trying to marry off women who are interested in further education in order to ensure that they are “pre-stuck” to some man rather than independent. 

    My suggestion? Keep some actual money on you at all times. I assume you have a debit card but that itself is probably a leash. Remember the statements come to your house and that payments to it are probably controlled by your family. Anyone with an ounce of brains can hunt you down with that as the places you take out money will show up. All they have to do is wait for two months, compare the statements of where you are spending your money regularly and just hang out there. I am almost certain that your money situation is heavily controlled so saving up money is going to be hard. The first step is the hardest and that step is making the clean break. My suggestion is to be as normal as possible. If you are getting to a shelter, do not leave from your house. Do not tell anyone, not even your best friend. Leave from your college or when you are expected to go out for a while. This will buy you time. 

    What generally happens is if you do go to a shelter, they will find you (It’s not hard as I said. That’s what cops exist for.) Then the calls will begin, they will try to get you to leave, they will try to get you to come back. Love, threats and everything. They may even entice you with a holiday. You have to say no to all of that which is hell itself. Both our cultures try and force women to be as weak and helpless as possible. Yes there are exceptions (my family on the mother’s side is extremely liberal while my father’s side is undergoing a culture shock). Normally the first few days are depressing, you will probably stay in your room as you get used to the new life. But the women who run these shelters (us men may crew phone lines and provide security but the shelters are exclusively run by women often victims of abuse and fear themselves. There are many brave women who have walked the same path as you who will help you. It’s kind of like a family, everyone supports each other. Everyone there knows what it’s like and they will try their level best to keep you safe. There are men and women who have gone through what you have (remember a lot of men are forced into these marriages too). There have even been cases of families hiring out private detectives to find you, the shelter can atleast provide you a safe ground and can keep you away from them. 

    Your mother may actually support you, many a time the person who will slip you information about what is happening in the family will be your mother. Remember she is as much a part of the oppression as you are. You probably did something she had thought about in her youth. She may see it less as an escape from islam and more as an escape from the society that oppresses women. That you can make something out of yourself rather than be a prisoner. I am familiar with a few cases of women escaping arranged marriages whose mothers openly abused them but silently supported them often by sending money and letters and phone calls when no one was around. 

    Under the protection of a shelter you can request to go collect your personal items. That may be the worst of it all as you will remove them while under police protection. The insults are painful, my suggestion to avoid this is to simply abandon your stuff. 

    If you are a citizen the issue becomes clearer than if you are not. Don’t worry about money as most of europe has extensive systems for women’s shelters that are state funded and/or are charities. 

    You will feel depressed, you will feel alone and that is normal. It’s a product of our cultures which encourages that kind of attitude. But remember that “It Get’s Better”. But at a shelter people will help you face that loneliness and fear. They will help you be stronger, but that first piece of strength has to come from you and that involves making the gesture of leaving. 

    If you are from the UK you may want to try out Karma Nirvana (it’s in Derby but they will link you to other services mainly aimed at muslims and hindus. Their number is 0800 599 9247). Don’t worry about money, just get to one and be strong enough to not go back. 

    It will get better, you will build a real life and you will not have to be shackled to the horrid culture of worrying about face and shame and how hard you believe as much as what you do. I know what it’s like on two fronts as my culture (hinduism) is similar in some ways to islam and because I have lived in a muslim country for a fair while before I went home to the UK. The most important thing is your safety.

    And a little word about mental health and eastern culture. We don’t have any. The very idea of mental health is abhorrent to us. A psychiatrist or therapist isn’t a fact of life, it’s a social death sentence. Your father may genuinely have a problem, but that problem is not something you can be responsible for. You can feel sympathy, but for your actions to produce a depressive state which can produce a suicidal response indicates that there are deeper underlying problems. A bad cricket/football score, an argument with a friend, a bad day at the office or just a plain rough day at the office could set him off. It’s not your fault, it’s not your siblings faults. You cannot be responsible for the actions of others, they are grown men and women and their decisions are their own to make. It is tempting in our culture to show a solidarity but it doesn’t help you and it certainly doesn’t help your father’s state. 

    So don’t feel blackmailed by the threat of his previous suicide attempts. The guilt trip suicide attempt is a classic occurence in eastern cultures. This week alone in my casualty posting I have seen 2 suicide attempts and a suicide whose suicide notes blame the actions of a family member as having brought shame or somehow forced the person. I would go so far as to declare this kind of action a cultural delusion that somehow the actions of your children speak of your honour with a perceived audience that simply does not exist. 

    In short, be strong, be vigilant, be careful, be safe and most of all don’t stay in a situation where your well being is at risk. 

    Hope you find your way out, keep us informed. 

    Avicenna 

  • Lina Baker

    This story breaks my heart. I have friends from the Bible Belt here in the USA who were completely ostracized from their families because they went against their families’ strict religions values – they got divorced, or, they came out as gay. The family’s initial reaction often felt threatening, resulting in them having to practically flee their family home or their families presence in a few cases, and the ostracism was painful and, often, permanent – I have friends that have never been able to speak to their families again, never able to see their beloved cousins, nephews, aunts, uncles, etc. (though a few extended family and siblings have dared to stay connected, quietly), and they mourn this to this day. This can and does happen in the USA. And it hurts. But if I were to ask them if they would like to continue to live a lie if it meant still being able to be with their families, they would all say no.

    Take the advice that has been offered: open a bank account of your own and put all of the money you can into that account. While you are still living at home, have an escape plan in case you need to flee to a women’s shelter (know the address of such and have a plan for getting to such if a situation turns threatening). Be careful regarding using the Internet; from home, don’t write emails or visit web sites that could betray your true feelings – save that for Internet cafes. A good way to put off your family about knowing the truth about your feelings is to ask them lots of questions so that they are talking, not you – about whatever (the weather, their day, cousin so-and-so, whatever) – I do this with my own grandmothers, who are in their 90s and would be heart-broken if they knew I was an Atheist. You may even want to get some Koranic or Haddith verses, or some facts from Islamic history, to support whatever it is you are wanting to do that your family is not wanting you to do (there’s verses and historical incidents that support a girl’s education, that support her taking a community leadership role, etc. – I used these when I worked in Afghanistan to support some of the things our organization was doing).

    Your ultimate goal is to move out of your home as soon as possible, and when you do, it needs to be sudden, so that there is no way your family can stop you. And it will be a dreadful time at first, for sure. But it WILL get better if you get out. And I hope so much that family members who are initially unsupportive or hostile will, eventually, accept your decision and maintain a relationship with you. 

    I hope you will write Richard again soon, and tell us your reaction to this advice. I also hope you will post in a few months and let us know what is happening.

    • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

      Lina, it won’t work. 

      The issue isn’t that she is working in so much as that she doesn’t believe and is forced to live a double life. 

      Some muslim families are liberal and don’t mind. Reader implies that it’s not. Many muslims have responded to this kind of thing with threats of murder. 

      In the UK a charity I give money to reports roughly 300 to 500 calls of asian domestic issues a day. The threat to women like this is very real. 

      And remember your family appreciate and value you to the point they are willing to listen to your opinions. Hers may not and may even attack her physically or worse. Ship her off to somewhere were she is effectively a slave. 

    • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

      Lina, it won’t work. 

      The issue isn’t that she is working in so much as that she doesn’t believe and is forced to live a double life. 

      Some muslim families are liberal and don’t mind. Reader implies that it’s not. Many muslims have responded to this kind of thing with threats of murder. 

      In the UK a charity I give money to reports roughly 300 to 500 calls of asian domestic issues a day. The threat to women like this is very real. 

      And remember your family appreciate and value you to the point they are willing to listen to your opinions. Hers may not and may even attack her physically or worse. Ship her off to somewhere were she is effectively a slave. 

    • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

      Lina, it won’t work. 

      The issue isn’t that she is working in so much as that she doesn’t believe and is forced to live a double life. 

      Some muslim families are liberal and don’t mind. Reader implies that it’s not. Many muslims have responded to this kind of thing with threats of murder. 

      In the UK a charity I give money to reports roughly 300 to 500 calls of asian domestic issues a day. The threat to women like this is very real. 

      And remember your family appreciate and value you to the point they are willing to listen to your opinions. Hers may not and may even attack her physically or worse. Ship her off to somewhere were she is effectively a slave. 

  • Gmorris44

    a stunning reminder that freedom from religion isn’t free in many cases

  • Bryan Elliott

    Is she technically a “muslima” if she’s no longer muslim?

    /pedantry

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      Seconded — kinda want an answer, it’s been bothering me all day.

      • Rich Wilson

        My wife was not born in the US, and used to answer ‘Muslim’ to ‘religion’.  She’s an atheist, but the question struck her more about ethnicity than what you pray to.

        Likewise ‘Jewish’ covers a wide range from orthodox to secular.

        I’m just hazarding a guess.  I wonder if the ‘Muslima’ came from Richard or the letter writer.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          “Muslima” came from me. I pondered over it for the reasons that Bryan Elliot and you have mentioned. Would it apply only to a devoutly believing Muslim woman, or would it include someone simply from that background? I looked around the internet and found nothing specifically excluding the second category. I got the feeling that it would all depend on whom one asked, kind of like asking a Christian about what is a “true Christian.”

          I try to make the titles of these posts self explanatory and to use germane words that will attract people using search engines, yet I also try to keep the titles from getting too long. “Atheist Young Woman From Muslim Family in Europe Feels Trapped by Family Ties” was just way too long, so I took the chance on a word that got the basic predicament across, even if it’s not exactly correct in some people’s opinions.

          Any umbrage caused is not intentional. I hope someone with a well-informed opinion can illuminate us about this term.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    It’s time for those other siblings to step up and take on their share of caring for her parents.  Even if they are only emotionally dependent now, in time they will be physically dependent.   This happens all the time, even in families where religion is not an issue.   The child who “everybody assumes” will bear the brunt of senior care must give an ultimatum to the other siblings about what she will do, and what she will not do.
      The worst thing she could do is to marry somebody in order to get away from her family.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    There is an old Christian prayer

    “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    the courage to change the things I can, and
    the wisdom to know the difference”.

    In your case the challenge is in the wisdom in knowing the difference. If you can’t know the difference, your only option is to run away and leave it all behind. If you can
    find that wisdom, there might be a way to both be true to yourself and keep your
    family ties. Only you can determine what you can change and what you cannot. I
    wish you all the courage in the world.

  • Biogirl

    Your courage and your situation both leave me breathless.  I second much of what has been said. Keep a pre-paid, untraceable cell phone. Keep your money in cash form, and on your person at all times. Ditto for your passport and identification. I would also recommend memorizing emergency phone numbers rather than keeping them written down. Keep nothing on your phone or computer that could be traced–phone numbers, names, places, dates. Prepare a short-term emergency plan–think of routes to shelters at all hours of the day and night, with and without public transportation. Be very wary of trusting your family members after you leave–too often a young woman is lured back in by promises of forgiveness, only to be trapped when she arrives home. 

    I do have a sense of what it is like to feel like you are your father’s last chance at happiness, that by choosing yourself over him you are abandoning him. I felt intense guilt for escaping from my violent family, feeling like I doomed my mother and was too unforgiving towards my father. It wasn’t until the mother of my husband hugged me and told me I wasn’t responsible for the happiness of others that I believed what my friends had been telling me all along. I dearly hope you find a similar friend in your life to help you believe that you are doing the right thing by leaving, that you are a champion and an amazing woman, and that your parents are trapped in their culture and religion–tragic, yes, but you cannot free them. That is something they have to do for themselves. I wish you luck, love and freedom. Please keep in touch. 

  • sassydy

    With due respect to the writer’s love for her father–if she claims her father is indeed, a “religious Muslim”, suicide should be out of the option. Suicide is like one of the irredeemable sins for them (excluding jihad suicide bombings of course).

  • Nick Andrew

    I think you should make a clean break of it before the situation becomes even more complex (i.e. married, even if a marriage of convenience). Plan it out – what funds you will need, how will you exit, where you will go, who will support you. As soon as all components are in place, do it. Don’t hesitate, don’t “test the waters” with your family’s reaction.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    Everyone has pretty much covered anything I could suggest, but I still wanted to put it out there for the writer that I wish her the very best and hope that she can find the strength inside herself to get out while she’s still sane.  I’ve been suicidal myself, and  nobody is to blame for it but my own brain.  You are NOT the cause of your father’s depression and suicide attempts.  Please, NEVER think that you are the cause of something like that because it’s just NOT true.

    • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

      Someone close to me tried to threaten me with their own suicide. Thinly veiled emotional extortion.

      I said that would be very sad, and I hoped they’d reconsider. But that if they were really committed they should consider researching on the effects of overdosing on over-the-counter painkillers and stimulants, because mechanical suicide – gun, noose, bridge, running in front of a car – or taking poison would probably be a very painful way to go, and there must be peaceful ways of doing it.

      This person did not threaten me with suicide again.

      • Greg

        I’m kind of uncomfortable with the above two posts.

        I just want to make the point here that not all people who commit suicide – or threaten committing suicide – are trying emotional extortion. Nor are all people who consider suicide only in that position because of chemicals in their brain.
        The writer of the letter has my every sympathy – the only reason I haven’t written a reply is because I haven’t a clue of anything I could offer that might help. I’m completely out of my depth.

        However, in trying to reassure her, can we please not demonise another already stigmatised group?

        Incidentally, I think it is clear from the letter that the writer has nothing to begrudge herself about when it comes to her father. I’m not disagreeing with that one iota.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Greg, thank you for pointing out the importance of not lumping all suicidal people into either nothing but manipulators or entirely helpless victims of neurochemical imbalances.

          There can be many factors that can contribute to many other  characterizations of an individual’s suicidal behavior, and so they should be considered on a case-by-case basis. In one way, people are brains living in bodies. In just as true a way, they are an amalgam of their past and present relationships with others and with society. We have to use both macro and wide angle lenses to get a picture that can guide us toward better ways to respond to them.

          • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

            @bc60828428ebaa9bf07541b2a485e246:disqus 

            I was commenting in the context of using threat of suicide as a form of emotional blackmail.

            I certainly did not intend to trivialize the kind of severe depression that can lead to suicide, nor credible and non-blackmailing suicide attempts themselves.

            I also did not intend to trivialize related subjects, such as assisted suicide for terminally ill people – although in that context ‘sucicide’ may not even be the right word. Eric McDonald discusses this issue far more capably and persuasively than than I, so I add the link here.

            If I came over as callous or trivializing on these related subjects in my earlier comment then I was very, very mistaken to have worded things the way I did.

            If you feel that my post above and this elaboration here are insufficient to establish my intent clearly, then I am very willing to go back and re-word my initial comment on this subject. It’s an important one to get right.

  • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

    While the situations aren’t the same one of my best friends escaped from an emotionally abusive family arrangement around your age.  While a lot of people are talking about your stuff and needing cops to help you get it out, the best thing to do is forget it; you can always get more stuff.

    What you need to focus on is the essentials.  My friend made two piles, stuff I need and stuff I want and he kept the “need” pile small enough that it could be moved out at a moments notice.  Some clothes, treasured childhood items, etc…  Nothing larger than a large knapsack.

    Anything extra he put into a rented storage locker, that way he could go back and get it at some point down the road and know he didn’t have to be stressed if he had to leave in a hurry.

    Then one day, when his parents went out grocery shopping (it was rare for them to both go at the same time), he left.  Just packed up and moved, didn’t tell anyone (I didn’t hear about it until the frantic phone call from his mother 5 hours later).  And he didn’t move to a location in town either, he went far enough away that they couldn’t find him; I didn’t even know where he moved to until almost 3 months later.

    So I’m going to suggest you do something similar:

    * If you parents leave for an errand, or send you on one and you know you’re not expected back for a while.  Just go.  Don’t announce it, just go.

    * Keep a small bag of “needs” ready to go (store it in the storage locker if you have to).

    * Get a pre-paid travellers credit card with enough money to live cheaply for at least 2-3 months.  Make sure you select the “online billing” option so the bills go to an e-mail address that only YOU know about (don’t tell anyone what it is).

    * Do the same thing for a bank account, have all statements go to your private online account that only you know about.

    * Don’t use your real name or address, get a Post Office Box if you can, on either the credit card or bank accounts.  If your parents have you declared a missing person the cops can use those bank records to find you.  If they’re busy looking for your real name they aren’t looking for the fake name you’ve registered your accounts with.

    * Have a small amount of cash available to live on for at least the first day.

    * Go to the Train / Bus station and get a one way ticket for two to three cities over, particularly if they don’t have a large Muslim community.  Reading earlier up in the thread leads me to believe that your parents will ask the “community” to look out for you, stay away from it.  To really confuse them hop a few more one ways, you should be pretty safe and if you get an overnight ride you can always sleep for a few hours on the bus/train.

    * Use some of the cash from above to pay for the bus / train tickets, cash is nearly impossible to track.

    *  If you have access to your passport, see above but go a country or two over.

    * Look into youth hostels and try and blend in with the backpackers, lots of young people backpack through Europe and they tend to congregate in Hostels because the rates for staying are quite low.  Hostels are also good because your family will probably expect you to head for a woman’s shelter, don’t hide where they expect you to go.  You might even be able to find a group of women who are backpacking who wouldn’t mind a tag along for a few cities.

    * If you can afford it get a Netbook.  Not only can you keep an eye on your finances via Coffee Shop / Library Wi-Fi but you can also research your next moves.

    After a couple of months you should be sufficiently “lost” that your family will have a hard time finding you.  Then you have to start implementing the next part of your plan: long term security (what you tell people about your family, if anything, to minimize their ability to track you), job, housing, future education plans.

    For eduction, I remember watching a documentary that it’s not uncommon for some European countries to provide a College / University eduction for their residents / citizens, you should look into see which countries offer this and how many years you need to be a resident / citizen before you’d qualify.  Doing this could save you from having to make the choice between freedom / eduction, you could have both, even if you have delay your education for a while.  

    Ultimately you have to decide just how “lost” you want to be.  How willing are you to cut all ties with your family and potentially never talk to them *ever* again.  Because personally, with the threat of death over my head, I’d change my name, tell everyone I was an orphan, and get as far away as possible from my family as I possibly could.

    • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

      I am sorry to correct you on this Rob but there is a problem.

      Women in eastern cultures (I speak both of Hinduism’s practice of Purdah and the Islamic practice of Niqab) ensure that women are as weak and incapable of caring for themselves as possible. Remember you need confidence in your skills to use them, so many muslim women are talented but due to the culture are beaten down to not believe in their own capacity of independence. 

      Her main issue is that many such families ensure she is kept on a tight monetary leash by not giving her much money or letting her keep a job. Women are expected to be dependant. Many a hindu family has stated “What use is a job for her when she is going to watch a house?” (My mother is a surgeon and this statement angries up my blood!) I assume muslims make the same excuse to keep their women chained to the kitchen. 

      Her passport is a problem too, her parents will usually keep that safely and out of her reach. She may have to search the place to find it. 

      Single brown women from conservative families don’t blend in. It’s very easy to track us. The reason we encourage shelters is that during the 70s and 80s women were encouraged to do what you suggest. The problem is that this is often the first time these women are away from home and the safety of it. They often lose hope and go back. The shelter gives you backbone. The ones aimed at muslims and hindus (both suffer the same sexist issue) are a bit more understanding of what she faces.  Not many women come to a shelter dressed in hijab and/or salwar kameez. Think of it as tracking a man who wears utilikilts. Rather easy to make a few enquiries. 

      For instance a couple of people here suggested trying to talk her way out. Her parents don’t seem the type to take such a statement without going completely nuts. 

      But the thing I know is that most shelters are run by people who may not understand the cultural situation you are in and encourage you to seek an agreement and reconciliation which is a terrible idea in this case. Her parents may either declare her “dead to them” which is the best option or declare her as someone who should be physically dead to them. 

      Women have died in the past after a shelter misunderstood the actual danger the girl was in. 

      Shelters are generally better since they are actually hard to find. You don’t advertise and they generally are a series of non-descript houses with good security and good police coverage. I would suggest that because money is an issue and running out of money is bad. With this you are part of a system that will protect you and can set you up with the ability to earn more money. 

      One of the main roles of shelters is to rehabilitate women into realising that they are capable of living by themselves and not having to rely on the family structure or a man. It sounds silly but it’s something that is a problem. 

      They will help her setup a life more effectively than simply roughing it on the streets where she may not have the ability to fend for herself. It sounds condescending but that’s how eastern cultures ensure women stay in line. The shelter is the best option. Even if they track her to one, they cannot get inside and they cannot harass the staff. She is effectively safe and they cannot stop her from leaving. 

      A

  • Corbin Dallas

    I agree that you need to run, not walk out of the situation before you are trapped deeper.  I would only add a few points.

    An “untraceable” cell phone is a good idea.  They are not truly untraceable in some respects because the police can get stuff like what cell towers the calls are coming from under some situations.  But they will only do that if they believe that there is a crime involved.  So I would consider making it a point to contact a local police office to advise them that you left of your own free will and you were not kidnapped as your family may claim in order to get the police involved.

    Setting up cell phone is not that hard.  At least here in the US.  Things may be slightly different in the county you are in.  But in case you don’t know the steps, here they are.  First, set up a new e-mail account, like G-mail or some other free mail service.  Do this from a public library.  The IP address used to set this address up can be traced later under some circumstances.  You don’t want anything on this account to be linkable to you.  Then buy a pay as you go cell phone in a department store.  Pay cash.  Buy a time card for the phone and pay cash for that as well.  You can register the phone on line.  Again, do this from some public use computer.  You then go to the phone’s web site and enter a name, a fake name.  You enter the e-mail address you set up and then enter the serial number from the phone and the time you bought.  Bang.  A phone that can not be traced back to you personally. 

    Using the family computer for any of this will compromise your secrecy.  The family will reach out to the community and someone may know enough to recover the computer’s history or view the websites visited.  Everything you see or do on a computer is saved to the hard drive.  Some of it gets erased over time.  But if you register the phone or set up the e-mail from the family computer, then  someone who knows enough may be able to recover enough info to allow them to call the phone or hack the e-mail account.  If they find the right people to talk to, they may be able to recover your letter to Richard or view some of the responses here if you used the family computer to write the letter or view the replies.

    Getting yourself a net book would be a great idea if that is something that is practical for you.  If you get one, keep it with you at all times so that when you have to run, anything on it goes with you.

    Good Luck.  I hope you make it out.

    • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

      Starting a format on the drive of your family computer as the last thing you do before leaving the house for the last time might be a good idea.

      With very advanced techniques it’s still possible to retrieve data from a cleanly formatted drive, but even there it will seriously slow things down.

      They key benefit here is that your history – including anything viewed on sites like this – will be difficult if not impossible to recover.

      Only downside is it’s something of a red flag – it might tip people off to the fact that you’ve actually run sooner than if nothing appeared changed.

      But I think that in this case the benefit of wiping out your computer history far outweighs any time penalty.

      • Parse

         If it’s that critical to cover your tracks, and you have the time, just take the hard drive with you.  They’re designed to be easy to take out, and they can’t recover files from media they don’t have.

        • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

          *facepalm*

          Yeah. Of course. Silly me.

          I’m clearly revealing my software bias again.

          *slaps own wrist*

          Bad programmer! Bad!

  • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

    Starting a format on the drive of your family computer as the last thing you do before leaving the house for the last time might be a good idea.

    With very advanced techniques it’s still possible to retrieve data from a cleanly formatted drive, but even there it will seriously slow things down.

    They key benefit here is that your history – including anything viewed on sites like this – will be difficult if not impossible to recover.

    Only downside is it’s something of a red flag – it might tip people off to the fact that you’ve actually run sooner than if nothing appeared changed.

    But I think that in this case the benefit of wiping out your computer history far outweighs any time penalty.

    (I said this elsewhere, but thought I should add it to the list on the main thread so it’s more likely to get noticed.)

  • Selfification

    I agree with Richard but wish the emphasize that the long term plan is probably the most sensible outcome.  I didn’t get from the letter whether the siblings were older or younger.  If they are indeed younger, there is a double-whammy of endangering your siblings should you run away unless you absolutely have to.  They may have a harder time escaping this relationship in a more rational manner.  Completing college seems to be the best option right now.  When I first entered college, I had never been allowed to cross the road on my own before.  I was always driven to and from school.  I never had friends outside of school and never went anywhere unescorted.  I was rarely left home alone.  But yet, here I was, in college, far away from home!  I still had no money of my own, and my parents knew the passwords to all my email accounts, financial accounts and student accounts.  I made friends on my own and eventually gained a sense of independence.  I could live on my own, hold my own job and could demand independence and privacy from my parents.  I created fresh email accounts and opened my own accounts and started over.  And I actually *like* my parents!  I just consider them an extreme case of helicopter parents.  My father took a long time to understand atheism but he’s come to terms with it after careful reasoning.  He has shifted to an almost deist view himself but he still has “spoken with” the hindu gods and hence believes in some of the mythology.  My mom on the other hand simply accepted my views as a product of immersion in US culture and doesn’t push it too much.  She’d rather have me still talking to her than piss me off by forcing religion on me.  Once you have independence, then you have leverage.  You can make an easier transition, one step at a time by saying things like “I don’t want to go to mosque” and later “I don’t want to pray every day” and even later “I’m going to date a boy”.  Your dad’s bouts of suicidal thoughts can be considered manipulative, but you can also see them as someone genuinely not knowing what he’d do if he thinks he’s failed as a father.  Everytime you get strong and independent, that is him failing at his goal in life of raising a proper muslim girl.  He is chained into that role as much as (if not more than) you are.  My father is similarly confused about me, now that I married someone white who he didn’t select.  He feels like I’ve robbed him of purpose, which is a pretty cruel thing to do and yet I needed to stand up for my independence.  He’s still getting over it and its hard, but because I did this gradually and he could see that I was still successful and hardworking and virtuous, it made the burden easier to bear.  It’s different for you seeing as you’re female.  Single successful women aren’t seen in the same light as single successful (but perhaps deviant) men.  But your father might still love you and it might work out.  He’s being immersed in western society too and all these little things have cumulative impacts.

    Brave it through college.  Make sure your siblings have similar exit opportunities.  Then move out and start a career.  You may be told that you aren’t allowed to unless you are married, but you’ll have far more leverage and confidence and independence by then.  It may just tip the situation in your favor without you having to resort to running away, dealing with cops, having to deal with your community etc.

    • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

      Mate, you are like me. The issue is that our families are often highly educated and don’t follow a lot hinduism’s crazy. Thaipussam for example is a big giant festival of radical piercings and the kind of self flagellation that makes the abrahamic faiths look sane. We don’t see hindus piercing themselves and dancing about Birmingham or California. 

      They changed a lot of what they believe and only nominally follow the more restrictive parts of Hinduism. They are liberals. 

      A lot of muslim families are not that. A lot of hindu families are not that. In the UK there have been Sikh honour killings. Hindu families tend to use incredible guilt, threats of suicide and coercion instead of violence. But the “your dead to us” is the ultimate sanction for us. 

      The problem is for a lot of muslim children seeking to be a bit less like their parents the “You are dead to us” is a bit more literal. Forced marriages are common enough in both hinduism and islam but in the west our problem with wife abuse is a lot rarer than the kind of abuse seen in islam. 

      Declaring her lack of faith makes her a potential victim. We have to trust her judgement on what she thinks her family is like. An educated family is less likely to threaten to kill her. A more traditional family however… 

      I am a man (I assume you are one too) and so we are actually automatically granted a bit more freedom than women. A lot of shelters have made the mistake of making their own judgements on situations when they should make the judgement on the woman’s point of view. From what she implies, she is at risk and needs to protection of the shelter rather than an method of open communication. 

      A

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

    Dear Faithful Reader,

    I cannot add to the practical advice given here, but I can hopefully assist you with the guilt and duty you feel for your father’s situation.

    I have been a sufferer of severe depression in the past, and as other’s who have been through it can likely attest, I still must monitor myself closely, and use certain skills to avoid going down that road again. In college I was suicidal, and during the last year I was in college (I never got my degree because of these issues), I twice decided to go through with it. First time with a knife to the wrist, second time with pills and an alcohol chaser. I was alone. 

    There were many things that I pointed to as contributing to my depression, but what loomed large in my mind were issues with one of my roommates. Intelligent, thoughtful, caring, artistic, and fun — I loved her. But we had problems with our friendship, conflicts that tested our friendship almost to the breaking point. Some of it was my fault, some of it hers, some of it no one’s fault at all. Sometimes I didn’t think she was doing enough to support me with my depression. Yes, I admit that I sometimes tried to manipulate her and others. Eventually, she decided that she didn’t want to be my roommate anymore when our lease was over. Despite our issues, I’d thought that living with her was the first time I’d felt at home, so to be kicked out? Hurt, to put it mildly. 

    So, when I put the knife to my wrist, or when I swallowed those pills? Not her fault. She had pushed me away and refused to be responsible for my depression, and she was right. I made the choice, not her. It was not her choice, or my mother’s, or the school’s, or anyone else’s. It was mine, and only mine. Maybe some of those stressors contributed, but in the end if I had finished making the cut, or swallowed enough pills to do the job, it would’ve been on my head and mind alone. No one else can make that choice for you.

    The reason I’ve put this out there in public is because you need to know, from one who’s been there, that if your father ever commits suicide (and I hope that never happens), there is no blame that can be laid on you. That choice is his. Don’t fear him spiraling further into depression if you leave, because the skills to deal with that are his as well. There are resources out there that can teach him those skills if they are somehow lacking. You have been there for him, and deserve honor and respect for that. You do not deserve to be trapped as you are. 

    By the way, being kicked out by that roommate? Best thing she could have done. It kicked me where I needed to be kicked.

  • gsw

    Re: Passport (*  If you have access to your passport, see above but go a country or two over.)

    She does not say what part of Europe she is living in – however,for most of Europe a birth certificate and/or Staatsburgerschaftnachweis is as valuable as a passport.
    As soon as she is 18 y.o. she can obtain copies of these documents locally and apply for a passport. 
    While it is possible to travel through Europe on a driving licence, applying for a new passport due to her old one being stolen/lost will automatically mean that the old passport is cancelled. This will make it that much harder for her family to get her out of the country against her will.

  • Rob Grikmeer

    One thing that worries me when I read this letter is the perennial reports of despicable ‘honour’ killings of young women who defy their Muslim parents. They hit the news fairly frequently in Britain, where I am from. If a decision to run is made then it is very important to ensure that you have somewhere to go, where your parents wouldn’t be able to find you. The commenter who recommends doing a complete format of your computers’ hard drive(s) before leaving does have some merit as it would erase all of the correspondence you would have had preparing your exodus. A secret phone is also a good recommendation.

    The reader doesn’t say which European country she lives in (for good reason). I wish I could do something to help…

  • Jack M.

    If you insist on imagining that you have a duty to your father, who would kill you to protect his “honor,”  then consider whether your highest duty to him is in fact to stop lying to him, after first getting a safe distance away from him.

  • Kat

    Dear Reader,

    Please do keep us updated on your situation.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    Dear Faithful Reader,
    There’s not much I can think of to write that Richard, Avicenna, and Selfification haven’t already written.  I especially agree with the suggestions to get an education and to make plans for the future.  If there’s been any violence or if you’re in immediate danger, leave right away, of course.In my own experience (and this is, of course, not universal) some parents try to get their daughters married right after they feel their daughter has completed enough education.  So, if they’re not interested in girls getting a college education, they may try to get her married right out of high school.  If they support girls getting a college education, they might get her married right out of college or engaged even  before college ends.  If your parents are supportive of you going to college, maybe that will give you more time to plan as well as giving you the education you need to support yourself once you leave, etc.  but you’ll still have to make a stand at some time — the moment can be delayed, but it’ll come sooner or later.  (Until that time does come, be careful who you share secrets with, especially within the community.  I once told a secret to a couple of family friends, whose parents are friends with my parents, and now I worry that my parents will find out.)There is this absurd version of family loyalty in our culture that demands that children be loyal their parents but does not expect parents to respect their children’s rights.  You’re being given great responsibility but not the rights and decision-making power that should go along with it.  In the ideal situation, you’d want to both be honest and stay close to your family, but that’s not always possible.  You’re the best judge of how you think your family would react, so you have to make your decisions accordingly.  Please know, though, that if you must leave in order to get away from a family that’s manipulating you, they’re the ones who caused the problem, not you.I sympathize with your feeling of responsibility for taking care of your parents.  My parents are ill, and I’ll probably be the one to take care of them in the future.  The main thing to remember, though, is that your father’s own actions aren’t your fault.  Rather than appreciating that he has a daughter who cares so much for him in his time of need, he’s manipulating you.  It sounds like you know what you believe but are having trouble acting on those beliefs because of feelings of guilt that have been instilled in you by your religion and family.  I wish I could tell you some magical formula that will give you the courage to act on your convictions, but lacking such courage myself, I don’t know what to say except please stay safe and all the best.

    (On a more personal note to Richard, Avicenna, and Selfification:  Your advice has given me a lot to think about for my own life as well.  Though my situation is not as bad as Faithful Reader’s, some of your advice is relevant, so I just wanted to say thanks.)

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    Dear Faithful Reader,
    There’s not much I can think of to write that Richard, Avicenna, and Selfification haven’t already written.  I especially agree with the suggestions to get an education and to make plans for the future.  If there’s been any violence or if you’re in immediate danger, leave right away, of course.In my own experience (and this is, of course, not universal) some parents try to get their daughters married right after they feel their daughter has completed enough education.  So, if they’re not interested in girls getting a college education, they may try to get her married right out of high school.  If they support girls getting a college education, they might get her married right out of college or engaged even  before college ends.  If your parents are supportive of you going to college, maybe that will give you more time to plan as well as giving you the education you need to support yourself once you leave, etc.  but you’ll still have to make a stand at some time — the moment can be delayed, but it’ll come sooner or later.  (Until that time does come, be careful who you share secrets with, especially within the community.  I once told a secret to a couple of family friends, whose parents are friends with my parents, and now I worry that my parents will find out.)There is this absurd version of family loyalty in our culture that demands that children be loyal their parents but does not expect parents to respect their children’s rights.  You’re being given great responsibility but not the rights and decision-making power that should go along with it.  In the ideal situation, you’d want to both be honest and stay close to your family, but that’s not always possible.  You’re the best judge of how you think your family would react, so you have to make your decisions accordingly.  Please know, though, that if you must leave in order to get away from a family that’s manipulating you, they’re the ones who caused the problem, not you.I sympathize with your feeling of responsibility for taking care of your parents.  My parents are ill, and I’ll probably be the one to take care of them in the future.  The main thing to remember, though, is that your father’s own actions aren’t your fault.  Rather than appreciating that he has a daughter who cares so much for him in his time of need, he’s manipulating you.  It sounds like you know what you believe but are having trouble acting on those beliefs because of feelings of guilt that have been instilled in you by your religion and family.  I wish I could tell you some magical formula that will give you the courage to act on your convictions, but lacking such courage myself, I don’t know what to say except please stay safe and all the best.

    (On a more personal note to Richard, Avicenna, and Selfification:  Your advice has given me a lot to think about for my own life as well.  Though my situation is not as bad as Faithful Reader’s, some of your advice is relevant, so I just wanted to say thanks.)

  • Alice

    Maybe youcan convince your parents to let you stay in a dorm at your college. Phrase it less like moving out and more like you’ll be staying at school to be close to your classes and study without distractions and you’ll be back home often. Wean them off the idea of keeping you home until you get married. Say you want to learn to cook/clean for yourself, it’ll make you a good wife or something. Granted, I don’t understand your situation at all, these people would kill you sooner than have you believe differently than them, but it’s worth a try if you have an otherwise normal relationship.

  • Alice

    Maybe youcan convince your parents to let you stay in a dorm at your college. Phrase it less like moving out and more like you’ll be staying at school to be close to your classes and study without distractions and you’ll be back home often. Wean them off the idea of keeping you home until you get married. Say you want to learn to cook/clean for yourself, it’ll make you a good wife or something. Granted, I don’t understand your situation at all, these people would kill you sooner than have you believe differently than them, but it’s worth a try if you have an otherwise normal relationship.

  • Mokso

    Studying in Europe you should be able to transfer to another country and another university/polytechnic to study as long as you have your records from the place you’re studying in now. If you don’t want to leave the country you’ve grown up in there are plenty of safe houses for women and at least some countries have specialized homes for victims of religious persecution.