Third Place College Essay Contest for Students of Color winner: By Bahram Sherwani

Raised to value science

FFRF awarded Bahram $1,000.

By Bahram Sherwani

I remember the day I began questioning. People across the nation were in shock as the Twin Towers in New York were destroyed. I was then an 8-year-old who went by “Zack,” because somehow, even as a child, I knew that a name of Persian origin wouldn’t be as welcome in the majority-Caucasian suburb where I resided. Regardless of this moniker, my heritage had eventually become known, and the effects of the anti-Muslim sentiment in this country haunted the rest of my younger years.

It wasn’t long after those attacks that I felt the need to educate myself on the religion I was born into. I never understood why I was going to mosque a few times a year, why I couldn’t eat pork, or why I was shown hate, even at a young age, for a belief that I never asked to believe in.

In this diverse nation, I was exposed to many other monotheist religions from my peers in school, Little League and Boy Scouts. Even in all of these traditionally American activities, I felt like I was considered an outsider by those around me, and a constant theme of exclusion rose from my rejections to their attempts of conversion to whatever faith they blindly followed. While discovering many outrageous descriptions of holy stories, choral worship songs and divine beliefs across multiple faiths, I realized that religion was never a choice for most people. Some found strength and comfort in submitting to their faith in a God, while others had only known and followed what their families have wanted them to. Some converts also chose to benefit from social inclusion aspects, and the support system a faith community usually provides. I seem to have been born with an understanding of logic, rather than a belief in blind faith.

I left Islam in my late teens after I had comfortably researched enough to understand the reasons people believe and the lack of evidence behind popular organized religions. Fortunately for me, my mother was a school teacher and my father was an air force captain in Afghanistan before escaping to the United States as refugees. Because of their higher levels of education, my parents kept an open mind on beliefs, and encouraged me in learning about anything I chose, especially in science-related fields. This is uncommon among immigrant Muslim families.

As a student raised to value science, where the indisputable evidence shows evolution, the lack of a geocentric universe, and the existence of predated stories of origin, I had no reason to believe in an all-powerful god that created these aspects of life. I had no reason to believe my life was dedicated to serving this deity, and that I’d be punished after death if I did not. As selfish as it seems, I made the choice to live for myself, to gather experiences, and to maybe one day change the world. Organized religion has changed the world in more negative ways than positive. I refuse to let an ancient text that contradicts itself and exerts power over people dictate how I live my life.

For all of my brothers currently in the Muslim faith, wondering if you should have to be apologetic for the crimes against humanity committed in the name of your religion: It is never too late to open your mind to a new way of thinking that is based on law, logically consistent theories and solid evidence. I challenge you to reject the certainty in your beliefs. As we continue in our destined path of discovery, I hope more people of color accept the proven ideas of science, and successfully escape beliefs that are responsible for many of the atrocities of this world.

As an agnostic, I personally don’t deny the possibility of a god. But I can honestly say that there is much more evidence to disprove the existence of a being that provides society with hate, sickness and war. Science, law and love provide a good moral foundation. This is why I am a freethinker.

Bahram, 23, is studying political science at San Francisco State University in California. He is the youngest child of two refugee immigrants from Afghanistan who left everything in their war-broken country as a last attempt to secure a better future for their children. He grew up in the suburban vineyard town of Livermore, Calif. He hopes to finish school as a transfer student at San Diego State University, earning a degree in political science with a minor in economics. He enjoys playing with his dog Jake, writing music or watching informational videos.

Freedom From Religion Foundation