The Consequences of Dissent: When Atheism Lands You In A Psych Ward

The Consequences of Dissent: When Atheism Lands You In A Psych Ward February 17, 2016

A year ago, I wrote about how religious apostasy can result in disenfranchisement and life endangerment. The article contained two interviews with people who suffered social ramifications due to nonbelief. It also featured the story of Mubarak Bala, a man who was forcibly held in a psychiatric ward because he was an atheist. I was able to track down and speak with Mubarak at-length about his ordeal and what life’s been like since this incident.

I first asked about the circumstances surrounding him being placed in a psychiatric hospital.

Mubarak shared that he comes from an extremely religious home environment. His family is Shiite Muslim, and Mubarak characterizes his father as an Islamist who “hates anything liberal, secular, or Christian. His horizon is just within Islamic walls.” He states he began to question and reject religious belief once he entered college, stating “I realized religion insults reason and is in no way sincere. Its logic is circular and restricted. Its pattern of thinking is jargon.”

He hid his atheism from his father but confided in his liberal mother. Though she understood and sympathized with his arguments against religious fanaticism, she couldn’t comprehend the “no-gods-part” and decided to tell Mubarak’s father so that he could minister to him. Upon learning about his son’s apostasy, Mubarak’s father hinted at the need for psychiatric help. Despite this, Mubarak continued speaking out against religious intolerance and Boko Haram’s Islamic terrorism.

Two years passed. Through his father’s coercion and impeding his Master’s program at school, Mubarak decided to indulge in his father’s insistence that he see a doctor about his blasphemy. However, after reviewing Mubarak’s case and the complaints of his father, the doctor told his family the following:

“He said ‘This is normal for educated people to say there was no Adam nor Eve, and to rely on evolution.’ He told them what they need to do with me is prayer and preaching. They said I know the religion better than all of them. I excelled in Islamic courses since childhood. He then advised praying for me would be their only option. He also cautioned me against public disturbance. I told him I discuss things among friends but plan to expand the audience so we can stop Almajiri System, intolerance of Christians, and Islamic terrorism. The doctor wished me luck.”

Furious about this visit, Mubarak’s father stopped talking to him and took away such privileges as his car, phone, and internet. Mubarak also had to give up pursuing his master’s degree due to his father’s restrictions. Eight months later, fearing Mubarak would negatively influence his other siblings by eating during Ramadan and not praying, his father baited him into seeing another doctor.

Mubarak was confident this time around due to the last visit. However, what he didn’t know was this trip was pre-planned. His family had fed the doctors false information such as Mubarak declaring himself to be the governor. On this trip Mubarak was also accompanied by his older brother, who Mubarak states is “as delusional as any fanatic Islamic could ever become. He lives fully in the 7th century, just like my father, uncles and this second doctor.”

This doctor directly told Mubarak “Everyone needs a god. Even in Japan, they have a god. Those atheists you see are all insane.” Mubarak’s father colluded with the doctor to have him institutionalized. The doctor prescribed psychotropic drugs.

“I laughed very hard and told him to take the drugs since he thinks I needed a god. He said if I won’t take them he’ll call security and force it on me. I said ok and we all proceeded to the bed chambers where they had planned for me to stay. As we were going, I bid them goodbye and walked home.”

This is where things turned tragic. After this incident, Mubarak began planning to relocate. He saw this as the final straw and he could no longer endure the threats of his family. But before he could escape, Mubarak’s father, uncles, and older brother had arrived for a “family meeting.” “That’s when they violently confronted me. They assaulted and strangled me. Being overpowered, I was sedated by my brother. I managed a last laugh, thinking this would be my final defiance.”

Mubarak woke up two days later in the psychiatric ward in a drugged daze and aching from being beaten. As I noted in my previous article, BBC reported what transpired after that and how Bala was freed after enduring 18 days of false imprisonment.

Clearly the cultural environment in Kano, Nigeria differs wildly from what atheists experience in the US. I then asked Mubarak what life was like being an atheist where he lived.

“Being an atheist in Northern Nigeria is not easy, but it is possible. I was in the closet for many years and openly atheist now for four years. I walk around freely though I mind where I go, who I meet, what I do, what I write, what I say, where I say it.”

Other things he said is similar to what nonbelievers encounter here.

My previous reputation of being compassionate keeps me connected with those that knew me. They say they will pray for me and other tolerable innuendoes…It appalls me to see all the product of religious delusion manifest everyday around me, and I’m powerless to do anything. More appalling is the inability for the population to dot out the connection and instead continue asking the wrong questions, relying on ludicrous information, hear-say, dogmatic ideology, conspiracy theories, and self-inflicted woes.”

Mubarak shared some of his observations and philosophy regarding religiosity in Nigeria.

“People cry for peace and say they are working toward coexistence yet inter-tribal marriage and inter-religious unions are frowned upon and even amount to punishment by family. I’ve written about why the Almajiri system needs to go. Islamism is what has led to social ills like the maitatsine riots and the threat of Boko Haram. This is mental captivity.

Why worship? Why be a slave to something we never saw and will never see. Why are we afraid of not knowing an answer? Must all our questions be answered by some clueless ancients? When I see the reasons to believe, I see fear, subjugation, indoctrination, and satisfaction with wrongly answered questions.

Still, this is what I call home. This is where I hope to create change. This is a place I hope to ignite some sort of reason revolution, before we become a Somalia, or Iraq.”

Upon asking him what life has been like since the psychiatric ward ordeal, he replied “Life is normal as it can be. I have been working, writing and meeting new people. Real educated people. Not people who fear imaginary beings and imaginary torment. I’m happy, and independent.”



Mubarak Bala is an engineer. He lives in Kano, Nigeria where he is openly atheist and campaigns for radical social and political change. Follow him @MubarakBala


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