Third place (tie) — BIPOC essay contest: Fadima Tall
The worshipper’s daughter of sin
FFRF awarded Fadima $2,500.
By Fadima Tall
Dear Auntie Amina,
I first met you when I was 7 years old. It was three years after my parents, sister and I moved to Ethiopia for Mom’s new job as a diplomat at the African Union. The day you arrived in Addis Ababa, I was terrified. I knew we needed someone to care for us at home because Mom and Dad worked full-time and traveled often, but why someone who lived almost 3,000 miles away? Why separate them from their family? As the years passed, my questions were slowly answered. Your family was financially compensated for your sacrifice to live with us in a foreign country, not only to take care of four young girls, but to teach us our culture and religion. Because of you, I speak fluent Fulani and I am extremely well versed in Islam. I can read Quranic Arabic, a skill I will always be grateful for. I have memorized over half of the Quran, fasted every single Ramadan since age 9, and I instinctively say a prayer when I am in shock. Still, over the last few years, my connection to God has slowly withered away.
I am sorry that you feel a sharp pain in your chest after reading that. I’m sorry you feel like you have failed our family and I’m sorry you lost years of your life to this. I do not regret learning about Islam, reading the Quran, or fasting, and I would be lying if I said Islam wasn’t a quintessential contributor to my character development. However, I have moved on because I cannot believe in a god that would allow the suffering of devout followers to continue. You deserve better after all the worshipping and giving you have done. There are billions of others like you who spend their entire lives refusing to live freely, expecting that they will be rewarded in death, but the only evidence you have is “faith.” That’s not enough for me.
I know you are worried that denouncing Islam means that I am immoral. What you need to realize is that you, not the Quran, taught me to be a good person. I choose to be honest because it always pained me to lie to you, not because I am afraid of hell. I give to the needy because every year we did it together, not because I am trying to get into heaven. I choose not to kill because I have seen you grieve, not because God forbids it. I know that in your God’s eyes I am a degenerate, I am queer, I don’t dress modestly, I do not pray five times a day, and I have committed countless sins without regret. Nevertheless, I refuse to hinder myself from experiencing the full extent of my humanity simply for a chance at eternity in a place I do not believe exists. I don’t know what comes after death, but I do know that you love me infinitely and that my happiness is yours, so, believe me when I say I have never felt more free or sure of myself than I do now. I finally feel like I have full access to my existence, and I am committed to doing good because I value life: yours, mine and all others’. I am thankful for everything I learned from this religion — that I truly believe is beautiful in its own way — but I no longer live to appease God, only for experiences as fulfilling as our relationship.
Fadima, 20, attends Rollins College. “I was born in New York and my parents are Cameroonian and Malian, but I grew up in Ethiopia,” Fadima writes. “I am a political science major and president of an on-campus organization that I started called Students for Revolutionary Change. My goal in the future is to pursue a career in political activism and community organizing.”