Original translation by Liberty Dk
I always have to be ready with a lie
25-year-old Haifa lives two lives. One as a Muslim and one as an atheist. She no longer believes in God, but does not dare to leave Islam. This is why she leads a double life, one where she lies about where she is and who she’s together with. She tells her story in the hope that, some day, it will cease to be a taboo to leave Islam.
Told to Lark Cramon:
I was born in Denmark. I didn’t attend either nursery or kindergarten, so I started in elementary school without knowing a word of Danish. My classmates were almost all immigrants – maybe there were one or two Danes in my class. When I later switched to an Arabic free school, I only had Arabic classmates, and most of the teachers were Muslims. Twice a week I received Koranic teaching in the local mosque, where I had to learn the Koran by heart and every time I learned a new verse, my parents gave me a gift. In the Free School teachers said that it had been imposed on them to teach us about evolution and the Big Bang, but told us that we should remember that it was only a theory, and that God obviously had created the earth. I remember that I went home from school and told my mother everything I had learned about the beginning of the world and of man, who in fact had developed from apes. She was furious. “We don’t believe that” she said and made me promise that I would never mention Darwin and the monkeys again. I did not, but I began to read books that had to do with science.
Both my parents are extremely conservative and extremely religious. They come from a small town that is heavily Sunni and moved away because of my father’s political engagement. The fact that they practice their religion here in Denmark means that they have maintained their connection to the Middle East. The more they dedicate their lives to the faith, they say, the closer they feel to their home country. My parents assess themselves based, first and foremost, on how good a Muslim I have become. A good Muslim does not believe in evolution and does not question their faith. A good Muslim bases their life on Islam and the Islamic concepts of honor, something the Danes could never understand. I started to felt distant from everything when I began to believe in science and asked questions of the Koran: Is semen really created in the spine? Why is a man’s testimony worth twice that of a woman? Why should women not participate in funerals, and why does the Koran allow men to keep slaves?
All the girls in the class started wearing the headscarf when they turned 12-13 years old. I waited until I was 14. I did not want to wear a headscarf, but thought that I would blend in more with the girls in my class if I put it on. Everyone was so proud of me and said I looked so beautiful, covered up. I stopped wearing tight jeans. Outwardly I looked like someone who was confident in the faith, but inside the doubts remained. I told a friend about all the things I did not understand about Islam, and she gave me a book about the scientific miracles written in the Koran. This is a book that that you give people who doubt the faith. I needed to believe what was written in this, as apostate Muslims are not worth anything where I come from. The fear of hell were sown in me from the time I was quite young because this is where the fallen end up, and every time I wondered about something, it was almost as if Satan was messing around in my head.
When I left home and started my education in another city I allowed these doubts to grow and gave them room to grow. I re-read the Koran with fresh and critical eyes and for the first time in my life I stopped identifying myself as a Muslim.
The secret boyfriend:
Rumors spread quickly. People I’ve never even heard of called my dad and asked why he let me leave home without a man, and why he had permitted that I had “thrown” the headscarf. That last bit he had a real hard time with and he didn’t speak to me for weeks. I defended it by saying that it wasn’t written anywhere in the Koran that women had to wear a headscarf. I said that I still believed in God, however, I had, in truth started a long and lonely process. Leaving Islam was not a concept that I knew anything about. No one I personally knew had done this, but, I no longer believed in God.
I found a boyfriend who moved in with me, but it was very secret, and no one was allowed to know about this. He also had a Muslim background, and he, like me didn’t believe in God anymore. We started our life together as atheists. We ate bacon to prove that we were no longer Muslims, I drank alcohol and got friends who were gay. My boyfriend’s family where not as devout as were mine and he chose to tell them that he was an atheist.
Meanwhile I still lived a double life. In many ways, he was a support but in other ways our individual experiences were very different. I would not, nor will I ever be able to tell my parents that I have left Islam. Meanwhile he would be able to live life free as an atheist. I began to be extremely careful about how I appeared on Facebook simply because all of my family are my “friends” and they keep a watchfull eye on what I am doing. My family never visit me unannounced, but, if they do, I know that I have two minutes from the time they ring the doorbell until they stand in my apartment. I have two minutes in which to hide all the things they should’nt see and/or send the people they shouldn’t see out onto the balcony. I am hyper vigilant – but even so one day it almost ended badly.
I never let anybody use my computer and I am very careful about erasing any digital tracks. But one day, an old acquaintance was visiting. She wanted to show me something on the Internet and my computer started up on an English website with an article about Muslim defectors (apostates). I closed the page down and said that I had not read the story, but had just clicked on it, because it was in my Facebook feed. She said nothing, but she subsequently went to my parents and asked if I had left Islam! They dismissed it as pure nonsense. Why would their daughter become an ex-Muslim? Why would anyone leave Islam? The rumors continued however in our community and the men demanded that my father “do something”. This means that he either disown me or put me in my “place” with violence. I have before seen my father be violent and I know what he is capable of. So I said that the rumors were false, and that I was still a good Muslim. My father breathed a sigh of relief. Someone was obviously envious of his accomplished and clever daughter, he said.
Life is greater outside of Islam:
Last year I was hospitalized with anxiety and depression. I could no longer handle living two different lives and I had a panic attack. My family were traveling at the time so they did not know that I had been committed to the psychiatric ward for several months. I just wanted someone to sit and hold my hand and tell me that I was a good person. Twice I tried to take my own life with pills. I know it’s a stupid way to leave life, and I also know that one does not necessarily die, but only succeeds in destroying their liver. But for me it was a way to get away from my thoughts. As a patient all I had to do was to lie in bed and concentrate on getting better. It was simple. Outside life was complicated. There I was a minority within the minority. An immigrant without religion.
In Denmark, there is no forum for ex-Muslims, so I spend a lot of time on a British online community for people who have left Islam. Recently I found another Dane in the forum, who wrote that he had had enough of life. In a private message I asked him to call me. He did and we met a few days later. He told me that he was affiliated with a Muslim congregation in London who all eat, sleep and live under the same roof. Until recently, he had been deeply religious, had worn a long beard, heard no music nor talked to girls. Like me, he then stopped reading those verses of the Koran he found it hard to believe. Today, he lives in Denmark and no longer sees his family. They refuse to see him and think that their son is going to burn in hell. He has often considered telling them that he has become religious again, just so he may be allowed to see them. Had we met each other before it might all not have been so difficult. We could have confirmed each other in that life is bigger than Islam. Letting go of the foundation of one’s whole life is an extreme feeling, and I still, when I am alone, have doubts and think: Have I made the right decision?
A hard life:
I am condemned to this double life. I do not believe in any religion, but cannot say it to my family. When I’m alone, I am an atheist, but it will always be expected that I outwardly act as a good Muslim. I can live without God, but I cannot live without my family, and although I do not believe the words of the Koran, I recognize the important role the concept of honor plays for my parents. I would not be able to convince them that even if I left Islam I could still be a good person and a good daughter. If I came forward with this, people would be ashamed to know my family and everybody would put pressure on my father. The mosque, the family, the neighbors and, if my father did not respond, it would be up to others to ‘act’. Such is their thinking. In their world they would have to make an example of me to show others that what I have done is not okay.
I often dream about moving far away. This life is too hard. It would be very hard to be one of the few who comes forward but if we were more, perhaps some day in the future it might no longer be dangerous to break free of Islam. Until then, I will always be looking over my shoulder and have to lie about everything. Where I am, what I’m doing and who I’m with. My father has tried to call me these past two days, but I have not picked up the phone.
I have not had a good enough lie ready.
Haifa is an invented name. Her real name is known by the editors