When I told my family I am no longer a Muslim

Coming out as an ex-Muslim

I have disagreed with parts of Islam since I was a teenager in secondary school. I started doubting it whilst at university, and in my early 20s, I realised that I no longer believed at all.

This process wasn’t easy – I was consumed by guilt for a long time. Guilt for not believing in a God I used to believe in so much. Guilt of what my family would think. I also remember doubting myself and fearing what would happen if I was wrong, as well as being convinced there must be something wrong with me because I am the only person to ever leave Islam (how wrong I was about that!). I don't hate Islam, I simply don't believe in it, or any other Religion.

Coming out April 2015

Back to when I told my family – I did this in stages. It is important to note I was not living at home, and would not have came out if I was. First my older brother, then my younger brother, because trusted them the most. They were not happy, but they were understanding. I even remember them telling me that it doesn’t change anything between us. We were extremely close. We agreed we should not tell my parents or sister, because they felt this would destroy the family. I had wanted to tell my sister, but both stated there was a chance she would tell my parents, and that we should not take this chance as it would kill my parents if they knew.

Things changed about a week later. I had a text from my brother, saying I had to tell my other brother I have changed my mind and that I am a Muslim after all. He told me my brother hasn’t been eating and was off work because he was so anxious about what would happen should my parents find out. I said that in time he will learn to deal with things, but he insisted I tell him there isn’t anything to deal with because I got it all wrong when I said I am no longer a Muslim.

So, I called my other brother, not to go back on what I said, but to discuss it. I did think about retracting it all, but I decided if I did that, it would mean I had said something bad or there was something wrong with what I said. When we spoke on the phone, he was angry. Asking me if I think him and all my family are stupid for being believers. I was confused about why he took my lack of faith as an attack on his, but this is how he appeared to have taken it. We didn’t rectify anything. I didn’t speak to my brothers again for a few weeks.

I then visited my sister at her house. She didn’t know anything, and I didn’t plan on telling her, as my brothers had told me not to. I was staying at hers for the weekend. Unfortunately, once I arrived, I found out my brothers had told her. This resulted in a confrontation and some words from her including that she hopes I burn in hell. This was probably one of the nicer things she said to me that day, I don’t feel comfortable sharing what else she said. There was also a physical altercation where I was attacked, and then I left.

Anyway, she promised she wouldn’t tell my parents, because she didn’t want to be the one that would cause them so much pain it would lead to them dying. She told me she has images of me telling my mum, and my mum having a heart attack and dying.

The next day she said she accidentally sent a text to my mother, about me, which apparently was meant for my brother. My instinct at the time was this was no accident, but a warning to me of what she could do if I broke any rules. My brothers had already promised me not to say anything which led to me being ambushed. I wasn’t going to let my her do the same.

May 2015 And so I decided to go home and tell my parents. Something that I had wanted to do from the moment I told my brothers, but now I felt a sense of urgency due to all my siblings knowing and the accidental text message.

Now remember, I didn’t have an ex-Muslim therapist guiding me on how to do it, what to think about and what to avoid. I just blurted it out, something I would very much change if I can go back, although I know that wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

Was it as bad as I thought? Honestly, nothing can prepare you for telling your parents something like this. I expected they’d make me leave, disown me. They didn’t. They told me I didn’t understand the religion, that they would explain it to me. I told them I had made my mind up. Then I was told I had been influenced by friends, and had I not moved away this wouldn’t have happened. I was asked all sorts, am I a lesbian? Do I have a boyfriend? Do I want to drink? It just didn’t make sense to them that someone could simply stop believing in it. I get it, because in the Muslim community, it was unheard of that anyone who was born into it would stop believing.

I left home that night. I didn’t want to stay there so I went to my best friends house. My mum did invite me back to the house that night, she told me to return my house keys because I was no longer part of the family and she wanted to give me a ‘deal’.

The ‘deal’ was to leave my job, move back to the same city they live in, that they would buy me my own house so I would not have to live with them, but I would be nearby. She said this way they will keep me in their lives. She kept asking ‘can’t you do such a small thing for me?’. I didn’t know it at the time, but now I can see it for what it was, coercive control.

The crazy thing is that when I was offered the ‘deal’, I considered it. But then I thought what next? First give up work, then what? I have made a life for myself, why do I have to give up my future for a life I don’t want? I remember thinking, if I had to choose between death or living a life where I can’t make my own decisions, I would choose death. But I didn’t want to die, I wanted a life based on my decisions and choices.

So, I left. It was awful to see how upset my mum was due to my choices, and even now it is the worst memory I have from the whole process. The guilt I carried with me from this was unbearable at times. It’s been 7 years and is still incredibly painful to think about.

Being offered the deal continued over phone for a few months, along with more extreme emotional abuse. I had been told all sorts by this point by various family members. ‘if I were you, I’d kill myself’, ‘you’re worse than a murderer’, you’ve bought shame on all of us’ etc. I was suicidal and extremely depressed. I eventually blocked them all for the sake of my wellbeing. We eventually got back in touch, but of course, things are not and never will be the same again. I have had to accept that they will never accept me.

Anyone who has experienced a big loss knows that the grief never goes, it stays with you, but you learn to live with it, and that’s what I do. So, this was my coming out story. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but as I always say, life isn’t a fairytale. If you are wondering ‘was it worth it?’, yes, despite all the pain and heartache, it was.

To my fellow ex-Muslims who are struggling. I see you. I feel the hurt, the frustration, the guilt, the shame, and the anger. I know how it feels to believe you are doing something wrong, to believe that that you are a bad person, a bad son, or a bad daughter. I know it feels so unfair that the only way for us to have a chance of some sort of happiness, is to do something that we know will lead to heartache for so many people that we care about. We feel bad for lying, but we feel worse for telling the truth. We really are caught between a rock and a hard place.

My family are not bad people. Your family, are not bad people (I mean, unless they are, I don't know them so I am talking generally here). The layers of this are so complex. We are living lives connected to Religion, and its various interpretations, mixed with decades of cultural expectations. Cultural abuse is often the norm within our community, often so much so, that we don’t even realise it is abuse. I've noticed that me and my clients often say things like 'they let me go to university'. We think this way because from a young age, this is how we are spoken to. We are often literally told we should be grateful they bought us into the world and raised us. Therefore, we then feel we must be grateful for anything else they give us permission to do (even as adults), which is what leads to those feelings of intense guilt when we dare do something outside of what is 'allowed'. I hope you have found this blog helpful in knowing that you are not alone, and you are not doing anything wrong.

To anyone thinking about coming out, please ensure you are physically safe to do so. Honour based abuse and honour killings take place all over the world, including the UK, so really think about what you are doing before taking action.

Aisha x

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