In Her Own Words: Escaping Islamic Fundamentalism
This is the story of Water Spirit. At her request, we will not reveal her real name. In her own words, she describes how she lost her faith and found herself in danger. It's stories like these that are the driving force for our flagship initiative, Secular Underground Network (SUN). If you want to help save people like Water Spirit, please consider donating here.
My journey out of religion started during a summer break. I decided to enroll in a religious faith school for a short term basic level course (40 days). I expected it to be a beautiful journey to a spiritual and moral world but it turned out to be my introduction to a source of suffering to millions of people. I used to think those old age men marrying pre-pubescent girls, men beating their wives, taking multiple wives were acts of uneducated people in my country, and, propagandists use these examples to insult my religion. But, there were multiple references from scriptures in front of my eyes containing the age of prophet of Islam which was 52 when he married a minor, wife-beating verse in Quran, polygamy, and sex slavery. Those people were not uneducated. I was uneducated. I never bothered to study the religion and assumed it was a source of morality and truth without ever knowing it. It was my chance to learn it but I was disgusted by its contents. The mere thought of not liking the word of God pushed me into depression. It was a time when social media and the internet were not so commonly used in my country. There was no community of like-minded people around. I used to think there are so many Muslim countries around the world and no one has these objections. Maybe there is something wrong with me.
I spent the coming years studying Islam along with my college and university education. There were a lot of phases when my focus was on one specific issue of religion. The Internet was becoming a thing in my country and with the internet came the opportunity to learn about all the religions of the world. I started with Christianity because the world’s largest religion by population is Christianity. There are so many issues with all religions. But I think the main thing at the end of the day was that I was not convinced these books were divine. Religions seemed man-made to me. Muhammad and all other prophets seemed like fake faith healers or patients with hallucinations etc. We have so many cases of people seeing God these days but they are all diagnosed with some mental illness. One woman even killed her kids like Abraham, claiming, she was ordered by God to kill them. If those prophets were alive today, they could have been diagnosed with mental health issues also. It’s a much more convincing explanation than supernatural stuff. We don’t have any evidence for the supernatural. We have plenty of evidence of people making claims similar to those ancient prophets having some mental health problems. We also have evidence of people making up these stories to get power, fame or sex as a cult leader.
All this time, I couldn’t confide in my family. I had to live a fake life, pretending to pray and fast for them. Punishment for apostasy in 13 Muslim majority countries is death. Honor killings and mob violence in such cases are common too. And they say religion is a source of morality. I heard derogatory words about women from friends and colleagues all the time and smiled at them because I was pretending to be a Muslim in front of them. My manager at work joked about how women are dumb and how he is offended that a department in our firm has given a women decision making power and made her head of department( a prophetic saying claims women are deficient in intelligence. Another one says that a nation with women leader will never do well). I fumed inside but nodded when he said how people who ignored the words of the prophet are doomed.
It was a very lonely life. Never being true to myself and always acting in front of everyone. No one knew who I was. When people talk about women’s rights in Islam, they usually talk about inheritance and testimony laws. I think the biggest problem of a Muslim woman is lack of autonomy. Men make decisions for women. They are slaves to the directions of men. They cannot work, travel, or even leave the house without permission from the husband. There are two kinds of sins in Islam. Major and Minor. Leaving the house without permission from the husband is considered a major sin. Even if these women get double the share of the inheritance, they are still slaves to men. They live in a jail full of money.
My family was not very fundamental relative to a lot of other people in my country. I got a STEM degree and was allowed to work. But liberal in a Muslim majority county is very different than liberal in a Christian one. I was not allowed to go shopping alone. I never went to my university or my workplace alone. I even didn’t know how to go there on my own. A lot of women in my country usually take up some courses in summer break because a summer break without a course means a summer break confined in the house. After all, good women don’t go out of the house a lot. They don’t mix with the opposite gender also. I had already decided never to get married. I couldn’t marry a Non-Muslim because in my documents I was a Muslim and a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim according to Islamic law. I couldn’t change my religion in documents because of the apostasy punishment. My family was getting impatient. Having already used the excuses “ Let me finish my education” and “ Let me work for a while, I don’t know if my husband would let me work”, I didn’t know how to delay my marriage. Celibacy is not considered good in Islam. I had never heard of any celibate woman in my life back then. I couldn’t discuss it all with anyone. I decided to turn to social media. I started visiting atheist groups and pages and confiding in online friends. The virtual world was a relief. That relief didn’t last long though. I commented on a post of an atheist page. They had a page and a closed group with the same name. I wasn’t paying attention. I mistook the page as a closed group and commented. A former class fellow read that comment, took a screenshot, and shared it with the whole class. I started getting a lot of phone calls and messages from my class fellows.I said I didn’t know what they were talking about. I never commented that, maybe my account is hacked and stopped using that account. Some of them bought it, some didn’t. I never stopped getting threatening texts and emails from one particular girl though. My country is notorious for mob violence in blasphemy cases. I couldn’t confide in family or any friend about this issue. My family was already threatening me with forced marriage.
I decided to leave the country as soon as possible. I contacted some international secular and atheist organizations. I got in touch with Gail. Gail discussed options to leave the country with me. She also provided a referral letter. I applied for a country where chances of getting a visa refusal were negligible and I could afford the travel expenses to that country. I am in that country now. My first appeal for asylum is already rejected, the case is in court now. I have spent all my savings. Gail helped me financially as well. I am learning the language, trying to find work. COVID 19 has worsened the situation. But I have never felt as free and hopeful as I do now. I don’t have to worry about that online blasphemy issue, stalking, and threats from a class fellow or forced marriage. For more than 20 years of my life, I was in a situation resembling house arrest. I have never been to a park alone. Now, I can go for a walk whenever I want without having to ask permission. There is nothing more beautiful and precious than freedom. It is worth fighting for. It is worth living for.
Water Spirit, although in a far better place than she was before, still faces danger. She is currently in a country with a population of over 90% Muslim people. When she first arrived, things were okay. She had her freedom and felt much safer. But in the last year, fundamentalism began to take hold of this country. Bloggers, activists and human rights defenders have been arrested and charged for blasphemy and apostasy. Post-secondary education must now include compulsory religious studies.
Water Spirit remains here, increasingly worried that she may get caught up in and become a victim of the growing religious fervour.
We are glad to be working on Water Spirit's case and others like it. It's frustrating and slow and sometimes terrifying, but we are committed to helping her live without the threats she faces now.
If this is something you believe in, please consider donating now. Click here. Thank you, Water Spirit, for sharing your story.