Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Fourth place — Persons of color essay contest: Mika Kat

Vol. 36 No. 08 October 2019

The meaning of freedom

FFRF awarded Mika $2,000.

By Mika Kat

Free is an adjective, defined as “not or no longer confined or imprisoned.” But freedom is defined for me as the ability to live my life within the mandated rules, as being grateful for the different roles dictated by holy text, to worship without question, and stand in awe at the sheer perfection of what it meant to be a young woman in Islam. Freedom was to find joy in the caged world of Islam, while staying within the lines, never questioning the faith, and trusting in divine law because surely the god in question knew more than us mere mortals.

As I grew older, I discovered an alternative version of being free — one that meant I was allowed to be curious, to ask questions, to speak, to act and to live as an individual. Being free means I am no longer bound by esoteric rules that were seldom explained or justified. It means I make my own rules, I alone am responsible for my actions and decisions, and that I can create the life I choose to live.

The two alternate versions of freedom seemed mutually exclusive. The cognitive dissonance and mental gymnastics I used to justify my waning faith were exhausting. The more I looked into Islam, the more I realized that the inequalities present in the religion were incompatible with my emerging beliefs as a feminist. My cultural background had always taught me to tread softly, to never overstep the boundaries enshrined by the religious texts. Being an immigrant and woman of color were labels I already bore on my shoulders. Adding atheism could have meant ostracization within my community and my homeland. My whole identity was shaken.

Thankfully, liberation from the shackles of religion proved worthy. I

could indulge in the little freedoms enjoyed by my peers that I had been robbed of. I loved the way the sun kissed my skin as I stepped out, no longer bound by the dress code of sexist text. My life was finally my own.

Islam prides itself on being a totalitarian religion, with rules for every aspect of one’s life, enforced through the tools of guilt and shame. The relief of no longer feeling the shame of using my own rational mind, and the peace that came with opening up my thoughts to support my own actions, far surpassed the delusional comfort of religion.

Leaving religion and embracing atheism meant losing the piece of my identity that harbored my insecurities, shame, fears and regrets. It was time to carve my own identity, and step into the unknown world.

Although we are like-minded peers, I have always felt that I stand out in the secular community. While we share similar beliefs, my appearance and background are dramatically different.

Atheism is often a generational movement, but I believe I am part of the first major wave of ex-Muslims and have a new trail to blaze.

This contrasts with most secular-minded people in the West, who have a tradition of secularism and an identity that they can adopt. Being an ex-Muslim woman, however, involves navigating a new world and carving a new identity for myself. There are few role models or leaders to follow and look up to, and among the greater secular community, there exists this level of pity for those who have taken my path, there persists an idea that we “need saving” from Islam and its oppression. But change must come from within one’s own community. I have altered the ways that Muslims around me think, and a larger understanding of the issues that we uniquely face would greatly benefit the ways in which we can be better supported. Being an atheist has given me the courage and strength to tackle what this vast universe has to offer. I am no longer imprisoned, and no longer confined.

Mika, 20, is from Miramar, Fla., and attends Nova Southeastern University, where she is majoring in biology. She enjoys photography, reading, writing and traveling. Mika plans to attend medical school after graduation.