Third place: Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest by Reem Abded-Razek

Memoir of an ex-Muslim

FFRF awarded Reem $1,000 for her essay.

By Reem Abded-Razek

As the daughter of an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood family, I spent many summers at Aunt Sabreen’s apartment. She was one of the “sisters” — women members of the brotherhood — who were in charge of our religious education.

“We should all thank Allah for creating us Muslims. We are all unbelievably lucky. There are billions born into the wrong religion, and Allah chose each and every one of us here for the right one,” Aunt Sabreen said at nearly every meeting. “Why?” I asked curiously. “Why us?” She answered, “You shouldn’t ask these types of questions!” So I stopped asking her and instead asked other grown-ups, but no one seemed to have an answer.

Years passed and theology consumed most of my time. The more I studied Islam, the more immensely I struggled in understanding Allah. At one point I raised my hands to the sky and poured out my heart and soul: “Allah, I can’t understand you! You bless the rape of slaves, wives and children under the guise of marriage, yet you set flogging as punishment for consensual premarital sex! You sentence so many good people to eternal hell because they dedicated their life to worshipping the ‘wrong’ God or no God! Talk to me and help me understand, please.”
Then it hit me. I was talking to myself.

When I announced that I was an atheist, my father believed that either I was possessed by an infidel djinn and thus required an immediate exorcism, or that I had lost my mind and required immediate institutionalization. After he had failed in arranging for an exorcism due to family intervention, he used his connections as a physician to get me thrown into a mental institution.
He said I would leave the institution a believer and that electroshock “therapy” would free me from the “delusions of atheism.” The only way I could get out was by pretending to believe, but I was too proud, stubborn and naïve.

I thought I could get out without compromising my principles. I waited until I thought the guard was asleep during my walk outside the ward. As soon as I ran, he became instantly alert and ran me down.

“You know what I do to people who try to escape?” he yelled. “I break their legs with my bare hands.” He mercilessly began twisting my feet. I screamed as he dragged me across the flesh-tearing ground into my room. A nurse locked the door and said with amusement, “You’ll never get out of here.”

I slept on the floor that night amid tears and blood, waking to the sound of a loud nurse dragging me to get electroshock. I limped my way there, then all colors faded and so did everything and everyone.

After regaining consciousness, I spent hours staring at the ceiling trying to think but not being able to. I felt someone’s presence. I turned my head and saw a nurse standing there. I never learned her name. Her face and figure were hidden under layers of cloth, and her actions for the most part revealed no identity whatsoever.

To my surprise, she gave me a glimpse into her personality. “You haven’t eaten anything in days,” she said. Even though I couldn’t see her facial expressions, I heard concern in her voice.
I endured the asylum for a couple of weeks, then got out through absolute conformity; I lied and said that an angel came to my room and we took a tour of heaven together and I knew, I just knew I was a Muslim. I was out instantly.

Almost everything returned to the way it was before my incarceration. The only thing that really changed was me: I was very scared and terrified of going back to the mental institution. I was also terrified of suffering the torment of conformity for the rest of my life.

I realized that by staying silent, I will most probably live longer physically but die “spiritually.” I decided that living shackled to silly conventions and superstitions is not really living at all, and I started writing about my beliefs publicly.

My father was in Saudi Arabia at the time. My mother lied to him about my devoutness, and through her lying, we all managed to come to the United States, where I became an emancipated minor and filed for asylum.

I am excited about my future without religion, I want to dedicate my life to art and music and dance and love and books and beauty and everything that I was told to avoid. I want to ride a bike and swim and draw and dance and play guitar and work and write and love and speak and act and sing and utilize every second of my existence. I am free.

Reem Abded-Razek, 21, lives in Syracuse, N.Y., and attends Onondaga Community College while studying humanities and professional communications.

Freedom From Religion Foundation