Ask Richard: Teen Atheist Daughter of Muslim Parents June 7, 2010

Ask Richard: Teen Atheist Daughter of Muslim Parents

Dear Richard,

Both of my parents are Muslim. They were born and raised Muslim, and they have decided to continue this tradition with their children. The problem is, though, that I am an atheist. Even better, I’m a 17-year old girl. I live in the U.S. It took me a long time to even admit to myself that I was an atheist. My parents often use religion to deny me things, such as hanging out with my friends, having a boyfriend, etc. I’m not allowed to dress as my friends, and every weekend they drag me off to Madrasa. Madrasa is a Muslim school that I spend roughly seven hours in every weekend. It’s really tedious and I hate going. It’s unfair to make me go through hours of something I don’t believe in. I’ll be sitting there and thinking, why am I going through this if it makes absolutely no difference in my life? I’ve never told anyone in my family about my being atheist, and I’m really scared to do so. I highly doubt my parents will be accepting of me, and will probably either ship me to relatives in other countries or kick me out. I disagree with what my parents hold dear and I feel as though I will not be able to have a relationship with them when I grow up. How do I deal with this? I hate this, and I don’t know what to do about it.

The Atheist Muslim

Dear Atheist Muslim,

It greatly saddens me to give this advice, but I must because I think that your freedom and well being could be in serious jeopardy. I strongly, strongly urge you to not let your parents know at this time, either deliberately or accidentally.

Your parents are not your enemy. But their beliefs will tell them that you are their enemy, and their beliefs could compel them to cause you grim hardship, adversity and privation.

If you were born in the U.S. and are therefore a citizen, then you will have a little more protection than if not, but either way as a minor, you could still very well find yourself sent to a country where, depending on the culture, you could be treated as a combination of a criminal and a slave. Without persistent and influential people fighting for you, you might never see the U.S. again.

Make absolutely certain that your atheism will not be revealed to your parents until you are completely ready. Seriously consider telling none of your friends. If you must tell anyone, tell only your most trusted friends, and make sure that they understand how extremely important it is that they not reveal it to anyone else, even if they trust those people. The more people you tell, the more likely it is that one will be indiscreet. I imagine that Muslim communities in the U.S. are small and tightly knit. Once even a hint of suspicion reaches one member of the community, it will quickly reach your parents.

Delete anything about atheism from your Facebook page, and delete any links to friends or groups that might imply atheism. Even if this information is behind the “friends only” barrier, this is a very serious risk for exposure. Do not mention this on Twitter. Social networks are no place to keep secrets.

Do not write any emails to friends about this. Emails are forever. Delete the one you sent to me, and empty the trash. Change your passwords now. Be very careful with instant messaging, which records the entire conversations unless you take pains to be certain they are deleted. The other person’s instant messaging is recording it also. Do not text about it on your phone. Your phone records it and so does the other person’s phone.

There are several blogs and online forums for young atheists. It’s understandable that you would want to vent and to have some camaraderie with like-minded and similarly frustrated young people. BUT if you visit these sites, use a pseudonym different from any other username you use anywhere else, and create a separate email address to register for those sites. When commenting, do not reveal details about yourself or your home that could lead to identifying you. Do not use a picture of yourself. Cover your tracks in every way. Teen atheists are not the only people who read those sites.

Assume that you don’t have any privacy. Assume that people snoop in your room and on your computer. Get into the habit of deleting your browsing history every time you use your computer. Do not keep any atheist literature in your home, or any other materials or objects that might cause a problem. Your parents have probably noticed your resistance and resentment to such things as attending the Madrasa, so they may already be suspicious of your tendency toward independent thinking.

When you turn 18, depending on the state where you live, you will have more legal rights as an adult, but you will probably not have financial independence from your family for quite some time afterward. You will probably have to hold your tongue and do the minimum religious things if you want to stay at home, or have them pay your rent or pay for college. Look at the Madrasa as a cultural observation project and you’re an anthropologist.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, then when you turn 18, quietly begin applying for your own separate immigration status, and perhaps applying for citizenship. These processes take a long time, so start as soon as you can.

I understand very well how difficult it is for a 17-year-old Americanized girl to have to put up with the social and personal suppression that you have described, but the consequences of this reaching your parents before you have legal and financial control over your own destiny could be far worse than what you are enduring now.

I also understand your frustration at having to conceal your opinions and views from your family. Unfortunately, freedom of speech includes the freedom to get the consequences of speaking freely. Sometimes the consequences come down like a ton of bricks.

Patience is not something for which 17-year-olds are famous. They are famous for their passion, their idealism, and their uncontainable energy. But you must develop this grownup virtue of patience now, or those three youthful traits, which are both blessings and curses, could be smothered before they have a chance to blossom into wise and bold actions to make a positive difference in your life and in the world.

Whenever you feel frustrated and impatient, take deep, slow breaths and channel that energy into preparing for your financial, physical and emotional independence. Save your money, learn marketable skills, and study hard. Let your quiet preparations give you hope and comfort, knowing that you are making progress toward one day having the freedom to fully be yourself. If you don’t use that emotional energy constructively, it might burst forth impulsively with regrettable results.

When you are an adult with personal power coming from within, from your assets, and from the law, you can gradually build a more truthful relationship with your parents. They may be upset, they may eventually accept, or they may completely reject you, but you will be negotiating from a position of strength, from a life that you have built into something they can still be proud of, if they can rise above their preferences and prejudices about religion.

Atheist Muslim, believe in yourself and safeguard yourself as if you were your own beloved child. Your ability to have thought your way out of your indoctrination is rare and precious. I’m sorry to have to advise a young person full of vitality and love of life to be so very cautious, but I want to see you grow and prosper and have a chance to offer your clarity to the lucky people who will know you.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. All will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a very large number of letters; please be patient.

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  • Mel

    This one hit so close to home! I have a 17 year old cousin who is Muslim, and while she is not an atheist, the horror stories she has shared with me regarding women who go “against the grain” are the truth. There is no fiction in the advice that was given to her, even though she is a US citizen, there is little protection for minors, much less if they are sent away to a Muslim country. I hope she sticks it out.

  • Canadiannalberta

    Atheist Muslim, do not give up. It will be hard, and maybe while you are taking steps to make your life better, you will feel discouraged, but remember it is worth it. Do what is best for you!

  • lurker111

    If you must tell anyone, tell only your closest friends? I remember the Well-Dressed Man (X Files) telling Fox Mulder, after the WDM has just killed his driver, “Trust no one, Mr. Mulder!” And I think this advice applies here, too. A secret ceases to be a secret when more than one person knows about it.

  • Claudia

    May I also reccomend this site:

    There’s a useful document there for covering internet tracks. Its a UK site, but a lot of the information (and emotional support) is applicable to ex-Muslims of any stripe. There are other ex-Muslims out there that understand the risks and the need to be closeted.

    I can’t even imagine how hard this must be. Go through the motions of the religion. Resist the urge to scowl at the idea of going to Madrassa, it’ll only make your parents more suspicious. When you go to college you’ll have some more freedom (try for a college FAR from home) and when you’re a financially independent adult (which I’d start striving for now) you can be free.

  • qwertyuiop

    Isn’t it just disgraceful how our country allows people to act this way toward their own children? Creating that kind of fear in them? We should be ashamed.

  • Lukas

    The only thing I would say is that even if you *have* to tell somebody, don’t. Religion is often stronger than friendship, especially if people believe that they are helping you by denouncing you.

  • Justin

    Deleting the browsing history is not enough. Cookies still remain, and there are plenty tools to check for them that can be used by minimally computer-savvy people. Most modern browsers (Opera, Chrome and Safari definitely, not sure about IE and Firefox) have a private browsing mode, that removes all traces left in the browser once it’s closed.

    And if your internet connection comes with it’s own router (for sharing internet between several computers), it’s not unlikely that your parents may learn to check the router logs – which reveal what sites were visited, which computer was used to visit them, and when. By-passable by using proxies, or better yet, not using the internet in your home (again, this is if you have a personal router in your home).

    And get a good system to detect keyloggers – there are some that are totally free, require little computer-skills, and are even marketed as a way for parents to spy on their kids. Install an antivirus system (Look for “AVG Free”, it’s a good general antivirus system, i.e., not actually suspicious, and “Malwarebytes”, a good malware scanner, also free, and also unsuspicious)(I really recommend you use them both) (Or, you know, use internet cafes or something. Maybe your school library or your local library are an option?)

    Always remember, you were strong enough to come to terms that there’s no dude in the sky looking out for you, and that this is it! More people than you would believe aren’t. Know that you are strong, and that strong people CAN do what they set out to – all that is needed is to keep at it until the very end. I wish you success.

  • kevin

    Just be strong. I know it must suck to go against everything you believe. But your eventual freedom is more important than expressing your beliefs right now. Don’t worry though, when you do get in a position to control your situation you can be a regular Christopher Hitchens if you please :)!

  • SickoftheUS

    I agree about laying low until age 18, and that citizen/non-citizen status might be an important factor here, but I also think Richard is reacting and writing as if he’d just come off a caffeine-fueled weekend movie marathon of “Not Without My Daughter”.

    Most American Muslims, despite popular belief, are not evil wretches intent on keeping their children in bondage to the point of kidnapping them back to the homeland (or even forcing clitoridectomies on them). And I grimly suspect that this blog entry will be a vehicle for another anti-Muslim pileup.

    If the girl is worried about a re-educational stay back with the relatives, she’s in not too different a situation than many American teenagers are, when the parents abdicate responsibility and threaten the kid with a summer with straight-laced Aunt Erma who goes to church every day, or with bible camp, or with military school if the family has bucks. These are all bad situations which are likely to harm children emotionally, mentally, and/or physically, but I can’t picture Richard or others reacting with quite the same…alarmism…to these possibilities. There’s something about the idea of Muslim families moving *their* children around based on *their* religious or moral beliefs which triggers something deep and unsettling in the Western psyche, and I wish people would examine why that is.

    Against the backdrop of the previous, I’m on the kid’s side. By her age I had reached my atheism, too, and I think a person of that age is generally old enough to have these beliefs respected. Let’s just not turn this into more cultural war.

  • SpencerDub

    I just finished reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, so my perspective might be a little skewed, but I think Richard’s reaction is justified. While we can’t be sure how strict Atheist Muslim’s family is, when you’re dealing with a subject that could potentially get a 17-year-old killed for apostasy, it’s probably better safe than sorry.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Most modern browsers (Opera, Chrome and Safari definitely, not sure about IE and Firefox) have a private browsing mode, that removes all traces left in the browser once it’s closed.

    Firefox 3.6 (and I *think* Firefox 3.x in general) has a private browsing mode.

  • Jessy

    Good Luck to her!

  • jose

    “There’s something about the idea of Muslim families moving *their* children around based on *their* religious or moral beliefs which triggers something deep and unsettling in the Western psyche, and I wish people would examine why that is.”

    I think that is because she said “other countries”. Other muslim countries, like, say, Afghanistan. Or maybe Somalia.

  • KeithLM

    If the girl is worried about a re-educational stay back with the relatives, she’s in not too different a situation than many American teenagers are, when the parents abdicate responsibility and threaten the kid with a summer with straight-laced Aunt Erma who goes to church every day, or with bible camp, or with military school if the family has bucks.

    If it were strictly limited to moving her around the US, you might be right. However, this girl is scared of being sent to another country. She is the one that brought that up, not Richard. If she hadn’t mentioned it Richard would come off as alarmist. The fact is if she were sent to certain countries she could be in real danger, an honor killing could be a real possibility. It’s just too risky without more details.

  • JulietEcho

    @SickoftheUS: The difference regarding worries about being shipped off to relatives is that she mentions hers are out of the country and she judged the chances of this happening as “probably.” It’s wise to take her word for it and advise conservatively, since many countries with high Muslim populations have barbaric laws regarding both women and apostates (she is both) that could ruin the rest of her life.

    Yes, there’s a lot of assuming the worst in Richard’s advice, but it’s the smart thing to do in this situation. I would want a Mormon teen worried about being shipped off to a religious indoctrination camp to take the same steps to ensure their privacy and safety, and that situation is much less serious than some of the potential situations a Muslim-raised, minor girl could find herself in if she’s caught professing non-belief.

  • stan

    The newest IE (version 8 ) also has a privacy mode. Good luck in all your endeavors and stay strong.

  • cypressgreen

    If you aren’t already, consider using internet access at your local library when you’re there to “study”.

  • Icaarus

    Atheist Muslim

    I hope you are reading these comments. I wish you the best of luck.

  • Epiz

    I agree about laying low until age 18, and that citizen/non-citizen status might be an important factor here, but I also think Richard is reacting and writing as if he’d just come off a caffeine-fueled weekend movie marathon of “Not Without My Daughter”.

    I don’t think he’s overreacting at all. There was a story in Canada a few years ago of a father whose daughter decided that she no longer wished to wear her headscarf at school. Everything was fine until her dad found out about it and promptly killed her. For not wearing a piece of clothing. Not even something as massive as Atheism.

    When the police came he said “it’s ok, I’ve taken care of the problem” and readily admitted to performing an “honor” killing on his daughter.

    Overreacting? I think not.

    Oh, and I should add (if you are reading this Atheist Muslim) to definitely pay attention to your computer history. A good alternative is to go to the library and use the computers there as that might be less traceable as long as it’s a big enough library. Also, use browsers like FireFox and Chrome which have private browsing abilities that fix the cookie and history problem mentioned. If you want to go even further, look up TOR which is an anonymous routing system. And good luck, it’ll be difficult but better safe than not.

  • cj

    This saddens me greatly, but I must concur with Richard on this one, and I agree with Lurker above….Trust No one. Unfortunately, I think that’s the reality this young lady finds herself in until she IS able to support a life on her own without the risks associated with apostacy in the Muslim world. I truly hope she is able to keep the silence until it’s safe to ‘come out’.

    hang in there!

  • Aaron

    You mean this girl?

    I think she should be cautious.

  • Greg

    I don’t have any knowledge of things to suggest or the right words to say, so I won’t. I’m too scared of saying the wrong thing.

    Let me, however, say this:

    I sincerely hope that you manage to extricate yourself from your current situation, and go on to live a wonderful life. You have my utmost sympathy, as much use, or as little, as that moral support will give you.

    Take care – this is your one and only life.

  • Epiz


    Yep, that’s the one. It scared me quite a bit because it happened in my metaphorical back yard (I live in Toronto which Mississauga is part of.)

  • Evilspud

    Muslim Atheist, you are wise enough to understand the possible dangers of your situation. It takes a level of foresight that I am certain will help you develop into a capable, empathetic human being. My advice is to find a friend or relative you can trust so that you do not have to get through this alone, but if cannot or are unable to find the support that you certainly deserve, take heart in this:

    What has happened has happened, and you are allowed to make what you will of the circumstances of your life.

    Good luck

    P.S. Even though you are an atheist, do not be afraid to seek out Christian groups in your community for friends or a sense of community.

  • Claudia

    @SickoftheUS as others have stated, the situation is different. She herself has stated that she thinks its probable that she be sent to another country. Presumably she’s not thinking of Denmark. Its at least moderately likely that she end up in an officially Muslim nation, where her rights as a female will be more likely to diminish and where she may not know the language and will be totally dependent on Muslim relatives who are taking her in the knowledge that she is rebellious.

    Even if there is only a 10% chance of this, its an unacceptable risk. Likewise the probability that her parents react violently to her nonbelief may in fact be very low (though still higher than a Christian teen in the same situation, no?) but the risk is there and warrants precaution.

    Its a matter of weighing consequences. Even if we accept that most Muslim parents in the US wouldn’t dream of harming their daughter no matter what, the consequences if she belongs to the minority who would (which I’m guessing is enriched in parents that force daughters to cover up, control friendships and forbid boyfriends) are too high to risk. She’s 17. Hopefully in 3 or 4 years she’ll be financially independent and living clear accross the country as an American citizen. Then she’ll be able to use the freedom that is her right.

  • I don’t understand why you are giving advice to a child to turn against her parents. You recommend stifling her personal beliefs and pretend to go along with religious indoctrination. This will never work as she can not be true to her self and can cause severe emotional stress if she continues this way.

    A more practical approach would be to approach her parents, perhaps with a third party to mediate. I am sure her school could provide a guidance counselor or teacher for this purpose. A healthy and open relation between parent and child is much more beneficial for an underage person rather than constantly being on the defensive looking over her shoulder, afraid of being caught.

    17-year-olds are famous for rebellion, as well. Has it ever occurred to you that she may be lashing out at her parents because of perceived injustices? Rather than reconciling her relationship with her parents you drive a wedge into it. Do you want her to end up a runaway? What I see here is a lack of understanding; she feels her parents are denying her “things”. However in their eyes they are protecting her from social evils.

    The best thing for this family would be family counseling; so that some kind of balance can be reached. And to paint her parents as some crazed mullah is unfair. Enough of this cloak and dagger talk, it is wrong.

  • pinksponge

    Atheist Muslim, I wish you good luck and hope that your family are big-hearted enough to love and accept their daughter no matter what. One of my local atheist groups has an Iranian ex-Muslim. He was Muslim, then Christian, now atheist, and his family is fine with it; unfortunately, not all religious believers are, and not everyone takes surah 2:256 seriously. 🙁

    In addition to the UK ex-Muslim site, you might look into Ex-Muslim Meetup groups and Apostates of Islam. Also, The Godless Monster, who comments here sometimes, is an ex-Muslim, so perhaps he will have additional advice.

    You don’t mention in your letter what sect you come from, or how religious your family is — are they “secular” Muslims who don’t practice very much, or are they extremely devout? That may make a difference in your outcome. One thing that may help (in the long run, after you are on your own and your parents know that you aren’t practicing or don’t believe) is to remind your parents that you still love them very much and want a loving relationship with them, and that your beliefs are personal to you, not a rejection of your family, your identity, or your culture.

    Take care, Atheist Muslim. I hope the best for you and your family.

  • Andrew Morgan


    Have you read any of this at all?

  • Stephen P

    Deleting the browsing history is not enough. Cookies still remain, and there are plenty tools to check for them that can be used by minimally computer-savvy people. Most modern browsers (Opera, Chrome and Safari definitely, not sure about IE and Firefox) have a private browsing mode, that removes all traces left in the browser once it’s closed.

    Yes, Firefox does. However these private modes unfortunately do not remove all traces, thanks to the infernal Flash, which pollutes the disk with its own cookies. Worse, it provides a supposed management console to remove these cookies, which only partially removes them.

    So either disable Flash, or learn how to wipe out its droppings. Macromedia have done their best to make it difficult to find them: they are buried in
    C:\Documents and Settings\(user name)\Application Data\Macromedia\Flash Player\\support\flashplayer\sys

  • Darwin’s Dagger


    That all works out fine in practice, until some girl gets strangled by her so-called father. And while I’m sure you can find examples of this kind of violence in an religion, Islam has gone out of the way to make itself the poster child of violent overreaction to trivial nonsense. No one posting here can be blamed for erring on the side of caution.

    “Be silent and safe–silence never betrays you.” – John Boyle O’Reilly

  • Cobblestone

    Being a minor who is, say, 9 years old is different than being a minor who is 17. At 17 you can make your own choices and have a fairly clear sense of self. Legally, just because one is a minor does NOT mean one must live under the tyranny or duress of one’s parents. I apologize in advance for the caps, but MINORS HAVE RIGHTS, and the older the minor the more liberally courts recognize these rights. What I’m saying is, there are legal remedies here that don’t have to destroy the familial relationships. Indeed, they might save them.

    If this person were my friend and asked my advice, I would say two things. First, try move out as soon as you can and get on your own. It might be tough to do, especially financially, but try. Second, your integrity matters as much as your parents’ integrity. Therefore, you should not practice or pretend to believe in a religion if you do not believe in it. You should be honest with those you love about this. And go in with your eyes wide open, recognizing that this forthrightness may likely affect the quality of these relationships. Not to be glib, but life is not perfect. Many of us have damaged relationships, or lost them entirely, because those whom we love—while they meant well—did not wish to recognize our autonomy and love us for who we were. It’s really quite sad when this happens, but one has the right to live one’s life as she chooses.

  • Unless MAs parents are technophiles, I’m sure private browsing will be good enough. How old are they, and what fields do they work in? There are few people who have any idea how to check a router’s history. If these folks work at Microsoft, they and know how to do this crap, they probably aren’t going to ship their daughter to a scary country. They would then be surrounded by atheists, and a non-religious culture.

    My point: Don’t panic. Just take reasonable care. Even at 17, I knew who my trustworthy friends were. I’m imagining she lives in a city, because immigrants typically do. There is someone she can trust. Probably plenty of them.

  • @Andrew Morgan

    Yes I have I am Muslim myself. I grew up in the US and consider myself to be Americanized. Although I haven’t renounced my religion, Western Ideals that I acquired often clashed with my conservative parents.

    However we were able to discuss them in a rational manner I never felt the need to hide anything from them they are very loving. I very much want this girl to have a chance at this kind of relationship.

    @Darwin’s Dagger

    I believe an open dialogue with proper precaution is in order. I doubt society will let anyone get away with murdering their children. And if it comes to that social services can and will step in.

  • Robin Ann Morris

    I live in Irving, Texas. Three or four years ago, two young Muslim sisters disobeyed their Muslim father and went out one night with friends. He got them in his car and slit the throats of his only two daughters, then raced to DFW Airport and bought a ticket back to the Middle East. He will never be prosecuted by our courts for MURDERING his two normal teenage girls. Yes, there are extremists in this religion, which is infamous for extremism, more so than even the horrors of Christianity. The advice giver was wise in advising exactly what he did. Muslim Atheist girl, as soon as you can get into college and work part-time, take out Pell grants, get a degree, start a career and be free of your family’s contributions, then admit all to them and either they accept or they do not. You’ll be fine as I was when I told the Mormons I was an atheist. DO NOT listen to Saqib. He just has no idea what he is talking about or maybe he is a Muslim extremist hoping you will be corrected by Allah.

  • Josh J

    I believe an open dialogue with proper precaution is in order. I doubt society will let anyone get away with murdering their children. And if it comes to that social services can and will step in.

    This is an unusual viewpoint. Whether or not society lets someone get away with murder or not, you can’t undo a murder. “If it comes to that [murder]”, it’s already much too late.

  • Erp

    My parents often use religion to deny me things, such as hanging out with my friends, having a boyfriend, etc. I’m not allowed to dress as my friends, and every weekend they drag me off to Madrasa

    On the face of it not too different from what many Christians would state (and the Madrasa is possibly a combo of religion and culture (many immigrants send their children to weekend schools to maintain language and culture)).

    However her immigration status if not a citizen does change things regardless of religion. Though even multi-generational Americans (Christian or otherwise) have been known to ship their kids to reform camps or relatives outside the US, US citizens once they turn 18 can return to the US (assuming the school doesn’t illegally hold them after they become adults).

  • Silent Service

    Atheist Muslim,

    Something else to look into is how you will begin building a financially stable life once you turn 18. If you go to college you may find yourself dependent on your parents for several more years. Consider Peace Corps, Job Corps, or Military Service. Each provide a path that can help set you free financially once you’re 18 and help you separate yourself from your parents while you begin building a life.

    Peace Corps may be acceptable to your parents as a life of service to others so long as you continue an outward Muslim life for a time.

    Job Corps helps young people get the training and skills they need to find employment and build a life.

    The Military can help with job training and provide money for college. You don’t even have to violate any beliefs you may have if you are up front about them. Medical assistants and chaplain’s assistants as well as several other fields exist that even most conscientious objectors can serve without issue in. If you have any foreign language skills they could also help you both in and out of the military.

    There are paths for people who, like you, are trapped in a possibly dangerous conflict of ideologies. But patience will win through if you are careful. Once you’ve made your own life then you can begin the process of opening up to your parents if you feel that is important. Until then, tell nobody. Not even your closest friends. You can open up to them as well when you have the resources to cope with any rejections that may arise.

  • Moxiequz

    @Saqib (4:05pm):

    “However we were able to discuss them in a rational manner I never felt the need to hide anything from them they are very loving.”

    Then have you considered the possibility that Atheist Muslim’s situation is not the same as your situation?

    “I very much want this girl to have a chance at this kind of relationship.”

    I’m sure we all do but that has no bearing on the *reality* of the relationship. Based on her letter, it is perfectly reasonable to assume a worst case scenario and offer advice that will protect her from being shipped off to a country in which her personal rights and freedoms will be essentially nil.

    When Atheist Muslim is of legal age AND when she has established a life outside of her parents’ control then we can talk about how to deal with her parents and her atheism in a more open manner. But for now – given the potential consequences she faces should she be outed – her highest priority must be self-preservation.

  • littlejohn

    I agree. Christians just shun or otherwise annoy people who leave the fold; some Muslims kill apostates. I can’t know how fundamentalist your parents are, but under Sharia law, they are required to murder you. They probably won’t, but another relative might.
    Lie low (Don’t “lay” low – those posters are illiterate) until you are fully free of your parents’ influence. That will likely be a few years, especially if you’re going to college.

  • gwen

    QUOTE:Saqib:I believe an open dialogue with proper precaution is in order. I doubt society will let anyone get away with murdering their children. And if it comes to that social services can and will step in.

    It doesn’t help her much if she is dead, does it? I worked with an American who married a muslim. She’s told me that her husband would kill his daughters if they rejected his religion (she converted),or choose not to marry a man he chose for her. She was serious. He would send her back to his country of origin under a ruse, and have it done there.
    Atheist Muslim, just hang on there, I’d take to heart everything ‘Richard’ had to say.

  • SimplySane

    Regarding home routers or local ISPs, check out

    Regarding family relations – if someone is insane and willing to use force against you to achieve their own goals, then being a parent is no f***** excuse. Parenting is for grown-ups. A parent unwilling to recognize his daughter as an autonomous sentient being is anything but mature, and is not to be pitied when he comes crying that he lost her.

    Too many people allow to have their lives ruined in the name of ill-understood loyalty.
    Some people are just not worthy of you, and you should be ready to acknowledge that it may be true of your parents, should their godly efforts indicate this.

    Hang in there.

  • It isn’t often that I disagree with Richard but in this I think he’s making Muslims out to be much worse than they typically are. Granted that precaution and privacy are probably good general advice but I would not advocate dishonesty. Silence certainly but not dishonesty. Unless AM’s parents are radical extremists then they are just concerned parents who want the best for their child. They may have values that differ somewhat from a typical American teen but then when was that ever not the case?

    If this was a fundy Christian family would the same advice apply because honestly I don’t see much difference.

  • gwen

    I wonder if ‘Saqib’ is a troll trying to root out apostates? I have never heard a former muslim give the advice he is giving. That is something that should be considered here.

  • Dear Atheist Muslim:

    I’m also a female atheist from a Muslim family. When I was younger, I very briefly went to an Islamic version of Sunday School (until my parents stopped telling me to go). I found it annoying and disagreed with many of the things taught, and I can’t imagine how it must be for you.

    It all depends on how strict your family is. Based on what you’ve said, it sounds like they are strict. If the threat of being sent to another country is real (and especially if they themselves have actually said something along those lines) be extra careful.

    I’ve found books to be a great source of knowledge and comfort. If you feel your parents may look in your room, then read in the library. (I used to go to the school library during lunch.)

    Try to go to college and get a good education so you can get a good job. If you have financial independence, you may later on be able to say “no” (if you want to) to suggested arranged marriages while still being able to support yourself, have a place to live, etc.

    Remember that you’re in this for the long haul. I hope to see you on the other side. Keep up hope.

  • I just wanted to add that you should try your best to act maturely and responsibly.

    In addition to this just being the right thing to do, it’ll also have an added benefit. If and when you do tell your parents that you are an atheist, you can point to your good behavior in order to argue against any claim they may make about a person having to be Muslim to be a moral person.

  • Beth

    She says she is frightened of their reaction and that she fears they will ship her out of the country if they learn the truth. How exactly is Richard overreacting?

  • You don’t have to wonder if I am a troll or an exterimist. I asure you I am not. I am just a concerned citizen not unlike yourself. I am relating my life experience in the hopes that it will help. I understand not every situation is the same and it is wise to err on the side of safety.

    But if we can salvage their relation we should. You know 7 hours of Madrasa is too much. And I find AM’s parents at fault. They should now that after a week of regular school the weekends are needed to unwind. Typically Sunday Schools only do 2 hours of religious studies per week. Perhaps this can be a starting point? Here’s to hope.

    obviously intervention will have to be taken at the first sign of trouble. And who is apostates and why am I trying to root out him/her? And no I never said that I am a former Muslim.

  • mousefeathers

    @ Saqib

    You say your parents are quite conservative; ask your father, or an uncle, or another older male relative how he would respond if HIS daughter came to him and told him she was now an atheist (while making very sure he understood this to be a COMPLETELY hypothetical question, unless you have no female relatives).

    Muslim men IN THIS COUNTRY have killed their daughters for less—for dressing wrong, or choosing the wrong friends, for trying to live like non-Muslim American girls. It frightens us, as humanists and as people, to think that Atheist Muslim’s family could react similarly.

    Emotions can drive people into horrendous acts. Religious motives can lead people into some of the most destructive actions of all. We ALL hope that Atheist Muslim’s parents are not among them, but some of her statements make us wary of acting on that hope, when we might if her parents were completely Americanized themselves. They do not seem to be, by her own report.

    We don’t want to see her name in some headline, whipping up even more anti-Muslim sentiment than already exists. I work in science myself, and have met many Muslims (although I have been close to none of them simply because it wasn’t warranted—one is never close to EVERYBODY!), who I am sure would, at worst, cast her off without trying to hurt her in any other way. I am sure that men and women like that ARE the majority of Muslims in our country.

    It is the all-to-real possibility that they may be inclined to cut her throat, or run her down with an SUV, or strangle her, or any of the other ways that distraught Muslim fathers have used because they think they MUST, that makes the preponderance of advice here sound so dire. We want to prevent the worst outcome, at least for this one girl. All the girls—all the boys and women and men—are precious, and we don’t want to lose even one if our words can prevent that.

  • OK fine. At the end of the day its AM’s decision.

    btw I have children of my own and I couldn’t imagine doing any of the things you describe.

  • Les amis de Robespierre

    It would not be a problem in Europe. I m Belgian living in uk, Middlesbrough. Great university with secular tradition . You would be protected by law . Think about it when you are eighteen.

  • Killer Bee

    They sound like they’re afraid you’ll wind up becoming one of those awful Americans, Allah forbid!
    Fucking hypocrites move to a country for opportunity but regard the rest of us as diseased with a contagion:

    My parents often use religion to deny me things, such as hanging out with my friends, having a boyfriend, etc. I’m not allowed to dress as my friends, and every weekend they drag me off to Madrasa.

    If there’s even a small chance that you’ll be “shipped off” to some theocratic hellhole then do NOT tell anyone about your atheism. Don’t tell your closest friends, either. Why give them leverage over you? Friends don’t stay friends forever, and teens will do positively evil things to each other when their own egos are threatened. (and teens’ egos are ALWAYS threatened for no reason you can discern)
    Bide your time and get your independence as fast as you can. Get a job, live with roommates, get college loans if you go to college, whatever it takes. Paranoid? I’d say that Richard et. al. are not willing to gamble with your life for the sake of being polite.

    You can always be honest later, when you’re on your own.


  • Jack Psyco

    It is so sad T_T. We should create a charity like most religionists have had. To save people from Religious Abuses. Since the numbers of Atheist are so small, If there is one it couldn’t reach out to every Atheist.

  • Peregrine

    Some Christian denominations and other religions as well have a policy on providing sanctuary to anyone who feels that they are in need, including those who may fear for their lives. Some of them might even go so far as to overlook things like atheism, for the greater good of providing protection until such time as the situation is resolved. In many jurisdictions, the law recognizes this precedent, and law enforcement are not allowed to physically remove a person under the protection of sanctuary.

    Perhaps this is a policy that secular organizations should consider adopting, if they haven’t already, for this kind of situation.

    I would like to hope that by and large, this would be a last resort, and in this case, completely unnecessary. But hypothetically, a person in a similar position who feels that the situation has escalated to the point that they may be outcast, threatened, “sent away”, or worse, would at least have some place to go for shelter and protection.

  • Just curious… are there shades of gray in Islam? (like an equivalent to Unitarian Universalism in the Islamic faith?) Just wondering. If there is something like that, perhaps you could voice some solidarity to that movement. I agree, though, with the general advice not to do anything that might get you sent back to a Muslim country. You will have greater opportunity over here for a better future.

  • Richard Wade


    I sincerely thank you for your earnest and patient participation in this discussion. Your concern for the well being of the family is valid. So is the concern for the well being of the girl. We are left to guess which is more at risk when all we have is a single brief email.

    We can only go by what the letter writer tells us. It seems reasonable to assume that what she describes is basically accurate, and that is disturbing. We have no reason to assume that the situation she has described is the very distorted exaggeration of a rebellious teenager, simply because some teenagers have been known to rebel. I can’t imagine what she would gain by spinning a tall tale and sending it to me.

    Above and beyond the handful of awful stories involving Muslim families that we have heard here or on the news, there are many thousands of incidents that have nothing to do with Muslims at all or religion at all, but where people didn’t take seriously a child’s plea for help. They assumed that the kid must be exaggerating, and they did nothing. The outcomes have been tragic. We must take children seriously, even when on rare occasions they might be “crying wolf.”

    Saqib, I fully share your hope that this family will be able to handle this situation with the open-hearted positivism that you experienced with your own family, and I hope that you are able to pass on that outlook to the family you create.

    I also hope to see you adding your viewpoint to this blog’s various conversations in the future.

  • DSimon

    Tizzle, you’re right that most people are not tech-savvy enough to do things like check router logs or install cache-tracking software. However, there’s nothing stopping AM’s parents from getting a friend to set these things up, particularly under the guise of “protecting my children from those porno websites”.

    And even without such a friend, there are numerous easy-to-install software packages out there that can defeat any browser privacy system, without being visible to the user or to software like AVG.

    Atheist Muslim:

    I would advise simply not using the computer at home for any kind of atheist research. This is much easier than trying to make sure that your home computer is secure… and you’ll never know for sure. There are numerous tricky ways to track your browsing that even the excellent advice in the comments above would not be able to stop or detect.

    As other people here have said, use computers in school libraries and Internet cafes, anywhere your parents or their friends are unlikely to be. If you need to send private communications from those computers, use a separate email address (you can get a free one from gmail) with its own password, and don’t reveal any personal details.

    Memorize this keyboard shortcut: Alt+F4. It closes the currently open program in Windows. Use it if you suspect that someone you’re hiding your atheism from might be about to walk in and see your computer screen.

    And finally my most important piece of advice: Stay strong, and don’t lose hope. When you eventually move out of your parents’ house, you’ll be free and clear to be whoever you want to be. Until then, play it as safe as possible.

  • @Jeff P
    Yes of course! We are not the mindless drones you have been led to believe. Freedom to think for yourself is encouraged, nay it is a duty. How do you explain the two major sects? And then the various schools of thought within each sect? Offshoot religions that have been inspired by Islam (e.g. Sikhism, Ahmadis)?

    If you listen to Muslim thinkers debate current affairs and what our official stance should be you will find a myriad of ideas. There is even a procedure for updating the religion to be inline with the times. So we are able to challenge even long held beliefs, but again through due process. It was no accident that Islam became the foundation of a great civilization that lasted for a thousand years and produced such illuminaries as Rumi, Ibn Battuta, Abu al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi, Abu Hanifa al-Dinawari, Idrisi, Ibn-Khaldun, Al-Muqaddasi, Al-Jazari, Abu Ali Al-Hasan Ibn Al-Hasan, Ibn Sina, Ibn Khaldun, Al-Ghazali, Muhammad bin Musa Al-Khawarizmi, Ulugh Beg, Zheng He etc. These people laid down the foundations of the modern world as we know it.

    I accept your invitation. I’ve been lurking on the site for quite sometime and decided to “decloak”. I consider myself to be a theoligian and wanted to understand an agnostic point of view. I find your arguments to be alien, yet stimulating at the same time.

  • mel

    I would encourage thigirl toseek socail or welfare services to be removeed from the home. I fear her parents already know or suspect and she may be at real risk of harm.

    If this girl reads it, pelase get some help immediatelty tell social services and get help I fear you may be harmed.

  • mel

    I would encourage this girl to seek socal or welfare services to be removeed from the home. I fear her parents already know or suspect and she may be at real risk of harm.

  • mousefeathers

    @ Saqib,

    I am glad you are here, and spoke up. I hope you keep contributing to discussions; you sound like a kind and thoughtful gentleman. There will never be too many of those in this world.

  • Chaoticag

    Speaking as an ex-Muslim myself, and using my experiences as a meter stick, I don’t think that Richard is over-reacting here.

    My parents were not as strict about religion, but I was still given a death threat by my mother when I said I don’t want to be a Muslim. I’m lucky she took it as a mindless statement that comes out of stress.

    I really don’t think Atheist Muslim will even get a warning over it, given how strict her parents are.

    I know you mean good, and I’m glad you want to understand the atheist/agnostic stand point. I don’t mean to be offensive to your beliefs, but in the same way there can be scary Christians, there can be scary Muslims. Remember, that the same beliefs that built the 1,000 year old empire of knowledge later turned it into ignorance. Religion and religious beliefs can be a double edged sword.

  • Nakor


    I just wanted to say that I totally understand your point of view, and I’m sorry you were accused of being a troll. I think that when Atheist Muslim is of age and in her own custody (and a citizen if she is not already) — effectively safe from being deported by her parents — then such avenues as you suggested wouldn’t be a bad choice at all. It just worries me, as I think it worries most others here, that she has said in her letter that she feels the odds of being sent to family in another country to be probable. Waiting that one year, though it surely will feel long, seems to be the safest bet, and will ensure she can stay in the country as she seems to desire.

    Welcome aboard, by the way.

  • Dan W

    I think Richard Wade and most of the other posters are spot-on with their advice to Atheist Muslim. They’re not being unnecessarily alarmist at all. In some majority-Muslim countries today, apostasy (rejecting Islam for another religion or no religion) is punishable with death. It would be very dangerous if her parents found out about her atheism, and potentially sent her to live with relatives in one of those countries. I have to agree that, in the case of Atheist Muslim, extreme caution is important so that her parents don’t learn of her atheism until she is living independent from them.

  • T Ray

    Do not trust your friends. Sometimes teenage girls say things they wish they could take back. Sometimes teenage girls share with someone who doesn’t deserve their trust “But I only told Nori.”

    You probably shouldn’t even be talking about it. Maybe the worst case scenario for you specifically is you don’t get to watch TV and spend more time at madrasa. But the worst case scenario in general for muslim juvenile apostasy is grimmer even than Richard describes. Focus on preparing for independence. Now is not the time to be brave, not overtly.

    While I generally do not recommend deception, you are (potentially) facing facing a harsh and unjust system of beliefs that does not deserve your life or your candor. Avoid the subject. Be evasive and vague if you cannot lie. But in this case, when pressed, I strongly recommend lying. Being alive and in a position to ask for forgiveness (once you’re independent) is better than the alternative.

    Your parents probably love you. But if you make them chose between you and their beliefs… between you and acceptance within their community… they may not be as strong as we would like. We all have our breaking point.

    Maintain your cover. Stay safe.

  • SickoftheUS

    I think that it’s indicative of US society, and to a somewhat lesser extent Western society in general, that the default assumption on this topic is that some kind of major harm will come to the child if she is allowed to remain under the control of her Muslim parents. It is repeatedly urged and considered wise that the minor take extreme measures to “protect” herself.

    This default assumption of possible-to-likely harm would, I am pretty sure, not be made by a Western audience if the minor were not Muslim. Most Americans don’t realize to what extent they have been propagandized against Muslims, for a long time now, going back to at least the Embassy incident in Iran. Our media and our government have been viciously unfair dealers when it comes to Muslim countries. This seeps throughout our culture in often subtle ways.

    I see commenters here making what they consider to be reasonable estimates about the likelihood that harm will come to the girl if she comes out to her parents. A few commenters claim this or that anecdotal evidence of “a Muslim friend they knew” to back up their positions. Other commenters are ex-Muslims, and thus with an obvious bias. I think the truth is that almost all of us are ill-equipped to be making good estimates of the likelihood of harm, and there’s a high probability we significantly over-estimate that likelihood, because a.) we don’t have a good data set, good knowledge of Muslim culture, beyond what we see portrayed on our news and in our movies, which, again, are highly propagandistic, and b.) we tend to extrapolate from small examples, and we tend to filter out what conflicts with pre-conceived beliefs.

    I’m curious what people would recommend in these hypothetical situations. I’m changing each parameter for a specific reason:

    1. Everything is the same but the minor is 15.

    2. Again everything is the same but the minor is 10.

    3. Everything is the same but the family is Orthodox Jewish and the assumed threat is that the girl will be spirited away to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel.

    As a coda: is the US acting morally if it wars against the Taliban because the Taliban are evil people who abuse women and children? (I’m not saying that’s actually why we war against the Taliban, but it’s often given as a sort of justification).

  • Alice

    Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead. If you don’t want your parents to find out, you can stand to hear one more time that you should TELL NO ONE.

    Also, you didn’t really imply that your parents are being anything more than overbearing and protective. They seem to want what’s best for you, even if they are being unfairly strict. They love you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking they don’t, or they wouldn’t love you if they knew you were an atheist. I still wouldn’t let them know, of course, but it’s important to keep in mind that they’re being the best parents they know how to be. They aren’t the enemy, you don’t have to sever ties with them completely when you leave home, once you’re on your own you might even be able to be honest with them. Even if you can’t go that far, you don’t have to define yourself by your atheism. Not knowing about your religious views doesn’t have to mean they can’t know you as a person. Hang in there, we’re all rooting for you. 🙂

  • Chaoticag

    It doesn’t matter who is being ultra-religious SickoftheUS, anyone who sends their kids to seven hours of religious school, and refuses to let them live anything but a religious life, then there is a real possibility of either death by parent,severe depression and even suicide. In these cases you need to go the extra mile, and assume the worst things that can happen will happen. This is just cautionary, and I know that these people are a fringe. In fact, none of the Muslims I know would think that this arrangement is in any way normal, with a possible exception or two.

    The point is though, these are incredibly religious people, who may do something to their daughter, and that is enough for taking precautions.

  • Beth

    She says she is frightened of their reaction and that she fears they will ship her out of the country if they learn the truth. How exactly is Richard overreacting?

    Potentially overreacting. The vast majority of Muslims aren’t nut jobs who’d ship their daughter off to Pakistan for a forced “marriage”, they are ordinary people who happen to hold different beliefs in gods to you and I. They are equivalent to Christians in that regard and there are awful Christians and some who are lovely.

    Taking AM at her word it seems that she is apprehensive of her parents’ reaction and probably has cause to feel that way. How is this different to that of a teenage daughter of strict Christian parents? Sure the tabloids throw around a story every few years of a father who would rather murder his own daughter than let her live her own life but these are mercifully rare aberrations.

    Perhaps Richard’s advice is spot on but the details in AM’s letter don’t really tell us enough to know that and I’d prefer a policy of truth over deceit unless there is a strong reason to lie. I don’t see that strong reason and I feel as if the word “Muslim” has made us look at the issues only in the worst case.

  • Claudia

    @sickoftheus, note that of the ex-Muslims commenting, though Saqib dissented, the others think that Richard IS being reasonable, including the ex-Muslim female. Godless Monster isn’t around today, but he’d probably concur.

    Can you honestly say that an atheist teen is just as likely to come to harm in a Christian family than in a Muslim one? I think the data doesn’t bear out on that one. Yes the chances are low, and probably most families are like Saqib’s, but the consequences for the minority can be devastating, and its key to note that she is the one bringing those fears up. You’re probably right that even if she was just worried about making them mad many of us would be worried about more dire consequences, but the fact remains that her worries are a lot more serious with no prompting from us.

    I’d advise a 15 year old much the same way as a 17 year old. I would feel wholly unqualified to advise a 10 year old in the same situation and in that case I think they would really need to confide in a trusted non-relative (like a teacher). Absolutely nothing changes in my book if it was an Orthodox Jewish family, particularly an Orthodox Jewish girl. I don’t know that they are inclined to be violent neccesarily, but they are at least as restrictive (and far more so than many many Muslims) on female behavior. Anyone who wants you shipped out of the country, regardless of religion, is someone who is seeking to limit your freedom by placing you in a situation where you are captive and dependent. This must be avoided.

  • Claudia

    Oh and before I forget I’d like to welcome the now not lurker Saqib. I don’t think you’re a troll and certainly don’t think you’re an apostate hunter, for goodness sake. I do differ from you in the evaluation of the situation, but its great that we can get different perspectives. Not a lot of theists are willing to look at what atheists actually think, kudos 🙂

  • SickoftheUS

    Chaoticag wrote:

    It doesn’t matter who is being ultra-religious SickoftheUS, anyone who sends their kids to seven hours of religious school, and refuses to let them live anything but a religious life, then there is a real possibility of either death by parent,severe depression and even suicide. In these cases you need to go the extra mile, and assume the worst things that can happen will happen.

    The point is though, these are incredibly religious people, who may do something to their daughter, and that is enough for taking precautions.

    To help unscarify “madrasa”, see:

    and especially

    This Wikipedia article also illustrates the important contribution Muslim culture has made to the world’s educational systems.

    This girl is being forced to go to a religious school 7 hours a week. I was forced, between Catholic mass and school religious instruction, to sit through about 6 or 7 hours a week, for 8 years on end. I estimate I lost about 5000 hours of my childhood to this. Countless millions of other Catholic and Christian American children have gone through the same thing.

    It’s not a good thing, at all. But people usually don’t make extreme assumptions about the parents of these kids, like “there is a real possibility of either death by parent, severe depression and even suicide”, or that because they are “incredibly religious people”, they “may do something to their daughter”.

    The girl didn’t say her parents are forcing her to not “live anything but a religious life”, which conjures up images of children in bondage in a clay building constantly watched over by swarthy men with big mustaches. She’s had some big restrictions laid on her that come from her parents’ religious and cultural values. This indeed sucks, and she’s going to have conflict with her parents over this sooner or later, given her personal beliefs (again, as millions of American kids do), but it’s alarmist and unreasonable to jump from that to “DANGER!”

  • Nash

    Just one minor thing: To the commenter implying that in Europe these things would not be a problem, I sadly disagree. I’m from Germany, we also had some cases of “honor killings” check out to get a sample.

    And to SickoftheUS:
    You say “I think the truth is that almost all of us are ill-equipped to be making good estimates of the likelihood of harm,”. True. Valid point.
    Then you go on make the estimate you just have said is impossible: “and there’s a high probability we significantly over-estimate that likelihood”
    That doesn’t say “insufficient data to make an estimate”, that says “My estimtate is the only correct one”.
    Apart from that, I don’t think the commenters are more biased than somebody with the handle “SickoftheUS”…

  • trixr4kids


    You continue to ignore the fact that the child said this:

    “I highly doubt my parents will be accepting of me, and will probably either ship me to relatives in other countries or kick me out”

    in her email. We don’t know what other countries she might be in danger of being shipped to. Women in some Muslim countries do not have the same rights men do.

    What part of this do you not understand? We are erring on the side of caution here.

  • T Ray

    The old testament may require death for most of the same things as the quran. But honor killings and other cruel and unusual measures are far less likely among backwards the jewish orthodox than they are among the backwards muslim zealots.

    While a horror story ending is unlikely, there is enough plausibility and range of possibilities to make EXTREME caution a reasonable response. Knowing a victim was open-minded offers little comfort.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    The truth is that there is a lot of prejudice in the responses to this post. The question is whether or not that prejudgment is justified based on the facts. It’s probably true that 95% or more of American Muslim families would not respond with violence to this situation, and that we only are exposed to those who make headlines. But those headlines are real, they do exist, and even if there is only the slightest of chances that Atheist Muslim will come to harm, it is a chance most of us are unwilling to take.

  • Thanks to everyone for welcoming me on board. I must admit I felt nervous with all the accusations flying around (I am sure SickoftheUS would attribute this to conditioning by the media, as do I). But then you guys turned it around and put the “friendly” back in “Friendly Atheist”. For that I thank you. Nothing like intellectual jousting to get you going!

    I totally agree the current state of the Ummah is dire indeed and only a pale shadow of what it once was. This was brought on by the natural cycles of civilization all of which go through periods of Golden and Dark ages. For us we are in our Dark ages. Most Muslim countries also happen to be third world countries with impoverished and illiterate populace. They are easily taken advantage of by corrupt leaders and corrupt religious leaders. But rather than chastising them it would be better to work with NGOs and other Societies to educate and enlighten them. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t be easy. But the payoff would be them being able to take a stand and take back their countries from despotic regimes.

  • jemand

    I think this advice would go to anyone of any religion who is a minor with the chance of being shipped back to a country without her consent, which does not afford much legal protection to women. That her entire life would basically be the perpetualization of the status of being a minor. If there were no such country on the planet, or if the countries she is talking about don’t do that, than this advice would be overreacting.

    But that’s not the case. There are girls from Christian families I would give the same advice too– one of the people in my ex-church was nearly killed for leaving the traditional Christian faith of his family, and joining the SDA’s. It’s not really a Muslim thing at all, but country’s which have little legal protection for leaving a parent’s religious group, AND country’s which have little legal protection for women’s freedom.

    Sue, nobody wants to damage a relationship between these parents and their daughter, but the truth is legally she is completely an an unequal position. And she could end up in a perpetually powerless position– one in which healthy relationships aren’t really possible with the more powerful who are acting as captors.

    This advice is simply to hold off on these discussions until they can be held on a position of legal equality– where the law can’t be used to back the emotions of one side before they have come to terms of the humanity and free will of the other.

    If the law protected more teenager’s rights, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, either.

    Children are the *last* group in the US which people think should be legally treated basically as property. However, that’s a temporary status, and the question writer is female– there are countries on the planet where being a woman is legally treated as basically property.

    Edit to add, she didn’t specify which countries she was thinking of. This advice only applies to cases in which these countries are less safe to independent women than the country she is in. This is an assumption, it is true, but I do think she should be careful.

  • Saqib,

    Welcome here as well,

    As you will discover, atheists are a diverse lot. Some view religion as inevitable and wish only that religions moderate. Some of these atheists actually participate in churches such as the Unitarian Universalists. Other atheists take the position that religion should be let go of entirely and become “atheists evangelists”. You will see both viewpoints expressed here, but probably more of the “atheist evangelist”. We have a few moderate Christians who comment here and welcome you as a moderate Muslim.

  • Hitch

    Saqib, I think you will find lots of support for suggestions that bring positive change. I certainly support the idea of strengthening NGOs and outreach on the ground. It’s long hard road from teddy bears getting teachers into trouble to a more open system.

  • jemand

    oh and btw, welcome Saqib!

    I guess my question is, what advice to you for this girl to protect herself from the legal disadvantage she is currently temporarily saddled with? Wish for the best, because it’s family? That’s advice I’d shy away from, regardless of the religion or lack thereof of the family. Unequal legal power can corrupt and warp relationships out of healthy boundaries, and I think it’s something to keep in mind.

    I know it’s tough to consider involving the legal system in a family dispute– but the fact that it *is* there, backing you, can be a tremendous help to building healthy lasting relationships.

    And lastly, parents really need to stop and think sometimes, every passing phrase they make, every intolerant statement, is listened to carefully by their children. If they want their children to come to them with any problem or issue, they need to make sure they are portraying themselves as open and welcoming people, who won’t judge or condemn or blackmail.

    And a general statement:
    If your child thinks you’re going to blackmail them– it’s kind of nobody’s fault but your own. I’ve seen this a lot though, parents making extreme statements about, say, gays or abortion, and then being extremely indignant their child made their own choices without consulting them.

    Well DUH! You made it very clear it wasn’t ever going to BE a consultation, but a couple edicts from the dictator!

    So yeah, parents need to stop being idiots on this subject, too. It isn’t right to expect the person who’s legally disadvantaged to take the first step which may be dangerous for them, to fix something the parent could have done right very easily from the beginning. So in that context, a parent has *NO RIGHT* to be upset that a child may have kept something from them for a year or so, and in that context, a future good relationship with the child is entirely on whether or not the parent is going to be reasonable or not. A lasting bad relationship can never rightly be blamed on a child being secretive for a year, and I tend to think that any parent who puts forward that argument wasn’t interested in a relationship with the person their child turned out to be *ANYWAY.*

  • jose

    “3.Everything is the same but the family is Orthodox Jewish and the assumed threat is that the girl will be spirited away to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel.”

    That would depend on whether or not Jewish people from that community stone a 13 years old girl to death because she has been raped and a Jewish judge says she has committed adultery. Do they?

  • jemand

    @jose, do you have any example of that EXCEPT the one story out of Somalia? Do you think that if… say, 25 Middle Eastern countries were Orthodox Jewish, you wouldn’t get stories like that out of countries where the secular government literally nonexists?

    The fact is there are just MORE countries with Islamic sharia law, and more opportunities for it to go bad, and still I only know of one or two cases of stoning 13 year old rape victims.

    HOWEVER, ultra-orthodox Jewish communities are good at building insular societies which imprison women. So yes, my advice to a girl from such a family would be identical to my advice for Atheist Muslim here. Control for population size and Orthodox Judaism is as dangerous for women as Sharia. After all, I’m not aware of Muslim men LITERALLY praying aloud every day their thanks to god for not making them women– which is in strictly orthodox Judaism.

  • Silent Service


    I have given exactly the same advice to teens in fundamentalist Christian homes. Stay quiet and stay safe until you can speak as an equal and are financially independent enough that the parents can’t yank support out from under you as a punishment.

    It doesn’t matter if the advice is being given because of religious belief or sexual orientation. An overly fundamentalist parent’s fear of sin can be so great that it overrides any logical or reasonable thinking and makes them potentially dangerous to the child who no longer conforms to the fundamentalist’s ideology.

    The worst part isn’t that the parent stops loving the child; it is that the love becomes subsumed into the radical belief and twisted out of recognition. I don’t for one moment believe that Atheist Muslim’s parents have stopped loving her. I believe that there is a potential for that love to cause undue harm to a child because it has been subsumed by radical belief. It is not an automatic belief that this has happened. It is a belief that the consequences are too great if it has happened. Personally, I hope that Atheist Muslim’s parents, while disappointed and possibly upset by her belief will continue to be loving and caring parents for many years to come. But I won’t bet her life on it.

  • jose

    that link was just a random pick from Google for my comment. There’s plenty of other links to news sites reporting honor killings, stoning and the like, if you want more.

    If this girl can be sent to a country where such things happen, I think that justifies all paranoic measures in the world. I don’t care about what religion–if there were a country where Catholics, or Jewish people, or secular humanists allowed such things, I would be afraid of that country too. (By the way, I’m amazed the US still put people in the electric chair.)

    It’s not islamophobia, it is realchancestoloserightsand/orgetkilledphobia.

  • Greg

    Jose – phobia means an irrational, intense, and persistent fear.

    This fear is not irrational – it isn’t a phobia.

    Atheist Muslim has just one life. Even if the chances were 0.01% that she would get shipped off to another country where she would lose her rights or life, caution is still the best choice.

  • Stephen P

    It would not be a problem in Europe. … You would be protected by law.

    I wish. There are “honour” killings every year in the Netherlands, for example. Not many, but they happen. And there are houses for girls/women like AM to run to, but they are currently full. I suspect on balance that the protection in a lot of Europe is better than in the US, but complete protection is unachievable.

  • Miki

    I agree with Richard’s advice to the letter. I’m not one to hope for the best from the inherently irrational.

  • Richard Wade

    You’re not arguing with me, you’re arguing with the girl. She’s the one who brought up the possibility of being shipped to relatives in a foreign country or being kicked out of her home. So if anybody is being “alarmist” or “Islamophobic,” or has been duped by anti-Islamic propaganda in the media, it is her. Say all that to her.

    To disregard the importance of her concern, I would need a substantially convincing reason somewhere else in her letter, and I see nothing. If you think that you know her situation better than she does, if you think that your assessment of her family’s potential reaction is more accurate than hers, then present to her the source of your more reliable information.

    Like you, I’m sick of many things in the U.S. too. I’m sick of the great variety of bigotries, I’m sick of the sensationalism in the media, I’m sick of the intellectual laziness and anti-educational backwardness in a large portion of the public, I’m sick of the demagogues and the sheep-like fools who fall for fear mongering and hate mongering, I’m sick of the widespread superstitious paranoia, I’m sick of the American chauvinism in our dealings with other countries, I’m sick of the shirking of responsibilities, blaming everybody else for our individual and national messes and blunders, I’m sick of the people with fat, lazy, spoiled-brat attitudes that they are entitled to a good life without having to pay for it, I’m sick of a lot of things about the U.S., but I’m not sick of the whole thing. I’m staying right here and chipping away at all that, trying to make things better. Sometimes it seems like I’m using a plastic spoon against a granite mountain, but I’m not going to give up and write the whole thing off.

    All the stuff I’m sick of is real, but none of it says with enough certainty that what the girl told us is not real. So all I can in good conscience advise is caution, discretion, restraint, patience, and long-term preparation.

  • Peregrine

    I remember in 10th grade, when I had a “disagreement” with my father about whether or not I would continue attending religion classes, even though I was in high school, and supposedly old enough to make some of these decisions on my own. And he made the implication very clear that my continued habitation and parental support rested on my acceptance of attending religion classes. A couple years later, another shouting match with my mother over whether to attend Easter mass, was answered with the implication that being “part of this family” was contingent on not just going to mass, but my acceptance of my family’s religion.

    Rebellious teenager? Definitely Idle threats from my parents? Perhaps. But vividly remembered nonetheless. And I wasn’t even Muslim!

    So perhaps my reaction to this situation is coloured in part by the media’s portrayal of Muslims, and my own prejudice in spite of myself. But only slightly. From my own personal experience, I can’t honestly blame Richard for having the reaction he had, and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he one day had to give similar advice to a former Christian.

  • Aj

    Shipping someone off to relatives in another country to isolate and control them would be bad for anyone, regardless of religion. I’m sure there are Christians and Jews that are just as bad as these parents (but not as great a proportion of the population of those religions). However, lets get real, Muslim countries (I am aware this was not stated) aren’t like the West. It’s much worse if you’re a woman, they’re virtually slaves, and you simply can’t declare yourself an ex-Muslim. Just because you’re ignorant or stupid, doesn’t mean we have to take outrageous suggestions that we’re bigots or unmindful.

  • Chaoticag

    It’s not that in Muslim countries, it’s much worse to be a woman, take a look at the UAE for instance. There are quite a few women who have say in the government, and act as ministers and so on.

    The problem is that third world countries generally tend to be bad when it comes to women’s rights. The Fundamentalists of any religion tend to reflect this view, no matter the origin.

  • Heidi

    I can’t believe anybody on here is willing to bet this girl’s life on the chance that she’s overreacting. If there was a room with a million people in it, and one of them was going to be shot, would you let your kid go in there?

    Forget honor killings and the violent side of Islam for a second. One of her probable scenarios was getting thrown out of the house. How safe would a sheltered 17-year-old girl be on the streets? I know a girl whose Christian parents kicked her out of the house for getting a tattoo (she was 18 or 19 at the time). Once she was homeless, she lost her job, lost her car, had to drop out of college, and ended up living on someone’s couch. This stuff happens.

    Maybe she could approach the subject from a “look at this thing that happened in another country, do they really do that sort of thing??” kind of way. A parent who thinks honor killings are justified would react in a totally different way to those articles than Saqib did. (I’m late to the party here, but welcome, Saqib!)

  • Jessica

    I’m going to go a step farther than Richard and say you may already not be safe. You are 17 years old and nearly an adult. This will be taken into consideration in court. In your situation, if you are a citizen, you are probably a candidate for emancipation. Go to school and talk to your counselor. Tell them you have been threatened with being sent to a Muslim country and that you fear for your life. Get yourself removed from your home for your own safety. If you are going to be 18 very soon, then you can leave and stay at a womens shelter and they will help you get on your feet. Just from what I’ve seen in your letter I’m afraid, you may have already put yourself in danger of being discovered. Stay safe, don’t tell anyone until you are out. Don’t use the computer at home.

    To the people that claim we are making too big a deal out of this, shame on you. You are putting the life of a teenage girl in grave danger. Do you want to see an honor killing on the evening news and wonder if it was her? It does happen, in this country. If she is shipped off to relatives in a Muslim country, she will likely be killed as an apostate.

  • Joe Bigliogo

    I say tell them and be proud. Whatever they try to do to you, give it back twice as hard. If they yell–scream back. If they hit you, hit them back twice as hard. If your father beats you up, pick up a baseball bat and beat him senseless. Let these fuckers know that the use of force will be met with swift and decisive retaliation.

    This after all is what the US government did after the death of 3500 Americans in the 2001 terrorist attack. The American gov’t has killed approximately 150,000 Afganis and Iraqis.

  • Fizzle337

    I too am a 17 year old (almost 18) atheist Muslim female in the United States. THIS BLOG IS JUST WHAT I NEEDED TO PREPARE. Thank you so much Richard. Your advice does make a lot of sense. I guess waiting definitely is the best option for now. I will have to check my passion and impatience. I hope others in this situation find the courage to carry through as well.

    The only thing I am afraid of is losing contact/ respect/ relations with my family after I finally DO let them know about this. I guess it is for the best though. If they lose that much respect for me, well then they don’t deserve mine.

    I will definitely carry these ideals of freedom of belief to my children. I will try to get into a college far away from home so that I can be a bit more independent. I really hope no arranged marriages come along, if they do, I will have to stand my ground and perhaps let them know about my atheism as well. Hopefully I am financially stable by then. I will try not to be rash. That whole “be an anthropologist” thing is clever and helps my limit my frustration.


  • Richard Wade

    Thank you for your feedback. Hearing that I make a difference helps.

    Stay strong, stay patient. When your frustration or anxiety bubble up, take several deep, slow breaths. There’s nothing like oxygen to give you back your self-mastery. Combine patient waiting with quiet, diligent effort like your left foot and right foot to take you to your goals. They need to be balanced. Left, right, patience, diligence, and you will eventually reach your freedom and independence.

    Even if your family relationships completely collapse, don’t permanently write them off. Sometimes they can regrow after years of estrangement. You never know.

    I wish you the very best. Let us know about your journey from time to time. Your progress encourages and guides us too.

  • Fizzle337

    Dear Richard,
    It’s Fizzle337. I’m 19 now. I still come here from time to time to get inspiration from your posts. I’m in college now and have indeed gone out of state (was super tough convincing the parents, but they finally relented to my stubbornness- that and my financial aid package). There are totally religious tensions between my parents and I, I’m sure they know I’m not a devout Muslim. My mom especially is pretty nervous about me- she sees I’m reluctant to pray or go to the mosque and my parents are suspicious about some Salman Rushdie literature I have. Also, I’m not afraid to tell them about many of my liberal convictions- the bullshittiness of the “subservient wife role”, sharia law, theocracies, arranged marriages, etc. I think in her heart, my mom agrees with many of my viewpoints, although she won’t outright admit it. It’s complicated. But you can trust that I’ll be safe. I doubt anything too drastic will happen unless I make a complete confession, which will have to wait till some financial independence-not for several years. Anyway, this is a quick update, sorry if it’s not too coherent. Also, don’t worry about my parents catching this, they’re not tech savvy at all.

    Thanks again,

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