I wish I can write my story more openly but unfortunately, I have to be anonymous. I am a 22 year old female born in the middle east to a central Asian family. I am an ex-Muslim atheist and also a lesbian which makes it a triple threat to my family if they ever find out.
Hijab was forced upon me at the age of 12 but it wasn’t my parents’ decision, it was my elder brother’s decision that my parents didn’t oppose to. I never wanted to wear it because all my friends didn’t wear it until they came to age of puberty but being a helpless 12-year-old, I couldn’t oppose. However, growing up in an extremely religious environment I started to become more practicing and started to pray the daily 5 times prayer at the age of 14. I would justify how hijab is really important because it was supposed to protect us from the gaze of the men and it was commanded by Allah and that he knows the best for mankind. I started preaching to friends how hijab was necessary for all girls and that those who didn’t wear it would be punished by Allah in the worst way possible. I read the hadiths where it went something among the lines ‘the women who don’t wear hijab would be hung from their hair into a fire pit’ and was scared sh**less to show even a single strand of my hair after that (keeping in mind I am just a teen here).
After becoming religious, I tried so hard to never miss a single prayer and wanted to learn more about Islam. My mother opted to send my sisters and I to Islamic madrassas where females of all ages would come and be taught the Quran as well as ahadith. As soon as I started to go to madrasa, my sisters and I became more and more irritated every day because of how harsh the rules were and how misogynistic it was. We had to wear long black skirts, long-sleeved white shirts and black scarves in the madrasa even though there weren’t any men around. They had internalized misogyny running deep into their veins and wanted to brainwash the younger generations.
My sisters and I studied in a private international school rather than the public schools where most foreign girls went (girls like us where were born in this middle eastern country are always considered as a foreigner). Our schedules were different than theirs, we would come home later than the public school girls therefore, out of pity, our mother decided to take us out of the madrasa.
Being born and raised in a middle eastern country to a central Asian family who upholds the Islamic standards that was imposed upon them during the Islamic conquests, there was never a question whether to wear the hijab or not. It was always required for the females in our family. Every time my sisters and I would see a celebrity or a non-Muslim female walk around freely we would judge them according to Islamic rules without knowing that they were something called “individual freedom” because we were deeply brainwashed thinking that this is the only way of life. The men in our society, whether it was Middle Eastern or Central Asian men, roamed around freely judging and harassing females who had her individual freedom. They would say nasty things about her family especially her brothers and her parents (the male guardians). This society is so focused on enslaving and controlling women that they couldn’t even see their own problems. A woman showing her face or even a single glimpse of her skin was worthy of being a news headline. Every fatwa issued was always concerning the female body and how she should live her life according to Islamic rules; it was never about men. Men would never blamed in the cases of rape or harassment that women face every day in their homes, workplaces or even just walking down the street.
Reaching the age of 17, I had to beg my parents to send me to University outside of the country; it wasn’t easy. All my friends would be talking in the class about what universities they were applying to and whenever the question turned to me I never had an answer because I didn’t know if I was going to be continuing my studies. So being the religious girl that I was, I start praying extra night prayers to Allah so I could go to a university. With sheer luck I was able to continue my studies abroad in Turkey. This experience absolutely changed my perspective about the whole world and how narrow minded I was. Turkey is a secular country where you would find hijabis and non hijabis walk around the streets without stares from men. I was fascinated by how individual freedom works. My University experience was extremely different than other university students. For me it was all about discovering myself while others bothered about partying and having fun. So I started to read more religious books ranging from the Quran to the Bible and whatever was between. Something was off when my questions and doubts were not being answered.
To keep this short, I will not go in depth of how I became an ex Muslim. I had to go through a lot of emotional labor after having researched about Islam and all the different sects that it had and all the philosophy surrounding it. Putting the pieces together it still didn’t make sense. Leaving Islam was not easy because I was so into the religion it was a part of my identity. It took a year and a half to finally become myself rather than what my family or society or what the so-called God would want me to be. The process was gradual not an overnight decision. To be precise, it was the concept of hellfire that slowed down the process, questions like “What if…” kept on taunting me; “what if I am wrong and there is Allah”, “What if I didn’t research proper enough and I get burnt in hell” “What if my family goes to hell with me” and so on.
Although I’m an ex Muslim atheist living in Turkey alone with my sister and not believing in hijab I still have to wear it. I hate it. I hate every second of it. I wish to be free of it but it’s not even my decision to remove it as it would cost me my education and my very limited freedom. It bothers me when I see Muslim girls living in secular countries like in Europe where they push the notion that ‘hijab is a choice’ not knowing how millions of girls across the world are being forced to wear the hijab. I can say this with certainty because I have lived and still continue to live in a middle eastern country. Girls here have already internalized misogyny as the only way of life and are always kept hidden from their society, even their names must not be known.