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I am marked as Muslim but don’t believe in Allah (October 25, 2009)


When asked to write about my “battle” as an ex-Muslim, I found it to be a very difficult task for various reasons. The most important is that as far as I can remember I've never felt like a Muslim. What makes a Muslim different from all other people is the "shahada" (the Islamic creed), something I've said out loud but never meant.


I do not believe in Allah or God or whatever you want to call him. I believe there is no form of higher power. That makes me different from not only Muslims, but from every believer. But given my roots in Islam I will always be inextricably linked with it. All in all, it doesn’t matter to me, I'm not ashamed of my heritage, and in any case, Westerners are often associated with Christianity though they may not be religious.


But what bothers me is that it is always automatically assumed that I'm Muslim; everyone does it, Muslims as well as non-Muslims. For some reason, just looking like someone from an Islamic country is already reason enough to be marked as Muslim. I, on the other hand, never assume that John X or Mary Y are Catholics.


In our home everyone is deeply religious, and of course clashes result. Muslims cannot accept that someone born and raised in their midst is not religious. I always asked myself why I wasn’t religious, even though I had a younger brother and sister with the same education, who went to the same schools as me, had mostly Flemish girls and boys as friends, and yet are very religious. It was always puzzling to me, but I don’t have an explanation for it.


What I can testify is that within the Islamic world it is very difficult to “out” yourself as non-Muslim. It is unacceptable, and you cannot count on any understanding either. This makes my life far from easy. I cannot tell my parents that I don’t believe, but any indication that I'm even a little unruly is not acceptable.


I cannot explain how it feels for me to have to live like this. I know that the future will lead to a break with my family, because that is the only way my parents and the rest of my family will react to my non-believing. Although it means that I would finally feel free, I will lose my family and all the people who, even though they don’t understand me, are very important and very dear to me.


It was Ramadan recently, and at the end of it the Sugar Feast, and although for me the religious field has no meaning I can compare it with a kind of Christmas. It is a pleasant gathering of relatives, and to be honest I enjoy myself every year. I think that those who celebrate Christmas with their family, even without giving it any religious significance, can imagine how horrible it must be to never celebrate it anymore, or never to be able to celebrate a family gathering again. It tears me up inside, but I know it is the only choice I can make to keep my sanity, to finally obtain my freedom – and that means choosing for myself.


Easier said than done within the Islamic world.