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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Seventh place (tie) — BIPOC essay contest: Sumaiyah

With your faith and my lack thereof

FFRF awarded Sumaiyah $750. 

By Sumaiyah

Dear Mom and Dad,

Initially, I was extremely hesitant writing this letter. Through late-night conversations and tiresome lectures, I have pieced together your views on nonbelievers. Safe to say, it isn’t positive or constructive. I find that you teeter between the line of ignorance and patronization. More often than not, your feet are planted firmly in both. 

I suppose you had your suspicions about my atheism far before you had read this letter. In retrospect, the signs of my apostasy were clear. I gradually ceased praying five times a day (a habit I barely developed), I rolled my eyes in a not-so-subtle manner at Islamic traditions, and concerning religious verdicts, I often angrily interjected “Why?” Perhaps, mentioning my atheism may only be a confirmation (and a disappointment) for you, but it feels liberating to say it out loud. I am an atheist. 

When you shuffle to the side of ignorance, I find much of it is fueled with fear. You fear that, with my atheism, I will only amplify Islamophobia. I understand your fear. Discrimination and prejudice driven by non-Muslims is too much to handle. The thought of losing a member of the Ummah due to their misinformation and hate is painful. I am here to assure you that my separation from Islam is not at all related to their hateful words. 

Although I grew up in a relatively quiet Long Island neighborhood and you grew up in the bustling streets of New Delhi, we both come from countries whose governments have increasingly adopted right-wing policies catering to a specific group. Our difference in location falters when we speak of our experiences with hateful people. While you faced hostility from Hindutvas followers, I faced hostility from white students. Our religion became a reason to bully, mock and harass us.

In America, when you identify as a South Asian Muslim, you’re subjected to racism and Islamophobia. The paper planes, mocking “Allah hu Akbar” and terrorist jokes do not escape my mind when I recall high school. The shame still courses through my veins when I think of my second-grade teacher’s question of whether or not I had a bomb in my backpack. (It was a toy). The eyes of my non-Muslim peers never left me when teachers spoke of terrorism. 

I have lived the pain that comes with being a Muslim in a non-Muslim community. So, how can you believe that I have sided with my abusers? 

When you patronize, I find that you pity apostates for dabbling in “worldly” activities. To you, sex, drugs and alcohol are the only reasons why anyone has left Islam. Other reasons need not apply. I am here to assure you that I wasn’t sold on these promises. After being exposed to alcoholism, I doubt I will ever even sip beer. After being exposed to the devastating addiction of drugs, I doubt I will ever smoke a joint. As for heavy indoctrination, you will not catch me with that, either. 

Lastly, I have always questioned the importance of family in an individual’s sexuality. I believe these issues only concern those who are directly impacted by it. I have learned to mind my own business. I hope you learn, too. 

The only difference between us is the matter of faith. While you possess belief in Allah, I simply lack it. This, however, does not change what is ultimately true. In this tangible life, I’m part of a family that should thrive on mutual respect and love. A promise of an afterlife cannot change that. With your faith and my lack thereof, I hope we can coexist. 

“I am passionate about the separation of church and state, particularly concerning reproductive rights,” Sumaiyah writes. “I hope to obtain a medical degree and specialize in reproductive and abortion care, primarily serving women of color.”