The Muslim Atheist

So I haven’t blogged in a while. That’s because I am currently on holiday from university and, while I would have much rather preferred to stay in residence, I am forced to vacate and am now at home for the next 6 weeks – which sucks, obviously. Not only is there no Internet at home (which makes it really difficult to upload new blog posts), but my family are all Muslim and it is now currently the holy month of Ramadaan, where all Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. Now, you may ask, if you’re an Atheist, why should this bother you? You don’t share their beliefs, so you have no need to let this affect you, do you? Well, yes. Yes I do.

You see, my family do not know that I am an Atheist. They know that I’m gay – but they refuse to acknowledge it, so I might as well be in the closet for that as well – but they are completely oblivious to the fact that I no longer believe in their or any other god. So I am forced to observe their rituals and to pretend as if I am a good Muslim young man. This may seem like nothing more than a slight bother, but I assure you, it can be quite an oppressive environment.

It would be completely different if they knew I was an Atheist and expected me to respect their beliefs – which I would do, because they are my family. But now I am expected to participate in and revere their beliefs, traditions and rituals as if they were my own, and – I cannot emphasise this enough – in the traditional Islam that my parents subscribe to, you are not allowed to ask questions. Maybe to anyone else, this may not be such a big issue, but, to me, this is stripping me of one of my innate qualities, one of the things that make me me.

There are stupid traditions that not only my family but almost all of the Cape Malay Muslims follow, such as not playing music while the Athaan (the Islamic call to prayer) is being sounded five times a day, or even just greeting in the traditional Arabic instead of English, and immediately looking down on anyone who doesn’t do the same. For instance, my mom handed me something the other day and I said, “Thank you,” and her eyes widened and she replied with, “Why are you saying that? Say shukran,” and I completely refused to use the Arabic word for “thank you” when the English one worked well enough. It made no sense, and when I pointed this out to her, she completely lost it. She told me something that I had heard all my life, and that I will continue to hear for the next six fucking weeks: that I must not allow university to strip me of my faith, and that Allah knows what is best, and we must follow his benevolent guidance. What infuriates me more than the fact that someone – I don’t care if they’re my mom or a stranger – felt the need to tell me what is right and never to ask any questions about it, was that I couldn’t respond to that statement. Once a Muslim invokes Allah’s name and says something about how all-knowing He is, another Muslim cannot argue with that. You can not say, “Yeah, but what if…” no. Nothing of the sort.

So, because my parents and family believe that I am Muslim, I have to shut my mouth when she or anyone else tells me that I shouldn’t question – that I shouldn’t think – about what I’m doing, saying or eating because Allah knows best. At moments like these all I want to do is scream, “NO HE FUCKING DOESN’T!

It must be clear by this point that I am upset. There were things that happened to me about two years ago that were horrible, that I will never ever forget, and they were almost directly caused by the unquestionable, autocratic regime that Islam has on my life. The joy that I feel in Stellenbosch, in Wilgenhof, away from home, is unimaginable. Wilgenhof is not the best of places, and there are imperfections, but when I’m there, I can be myself – unapologetically. I can question, I can think, I can say what’s on my mind, and I can step on fucking toes – but guess what? It’s okay! It’s okay to speak about something controversial, or to criticise someone’s deeply held beliefs, because if you really hold them that firmly and deeply, then one angry teenager shouldn’t be enough to destroy them.

And that’s not even my intention; I don’t want everyone around me to renounce their faith, to become Atheist. I don’t want to tell anyone what to think. All I want is for people to respect my democratic right to disagree, as I respect their democratic right to practice their religion.

What bothers me is that those whose rights I respect do not hold mine in the same esteem. They force me to believe what they believe, to act as they do and think like they do. If I don’t… Well, let’s not get into that.

My blog posts will be much shorter and less frequent now than they were before.The Student Life posts will be on hold while I’m on vacation and I’ll resume them when I’m at Wilgenhof again. I have another blog post planned for sometime soon regarding the feminist movement in the Middle East. Watch this space.



The Student Life – part 5: The Cultural Shock

I can’t count how many times I had been told by my family and friends before coming to university that I was going to have to undergo an enormous transition as I adjust to living with people of so many different backgrounds and beliefs. They were right, but they were also wrong. Let me explain.  Continue reading

The Student Life – part 4: Finding My Niche

Everyone has that one weird habit, hobby or interest that they don’t really want anyone to know about. Maybe it’s something innocent, like your 3000-card Yu-Gi-Oh collection that you told everyone you threw out but still have hidden in your cupboard; or it could be something more taboo, like the weird kind of porn you don’t want anyone to know you watch. Whatever it may be, we all have an aspect of ourselves that we keep veiled from the general public for fear of judgement or ridicule. This is the story of how I decided to share something with the guys in Wilgenhof that I had never shared before. Continue reading

The Student Life – part 2: Moving Into Res

This might be a long post. I apologize in advance.

Discovering Wilgenhof

Wilgenhof Manskoshuis (Wilgenhof Men’s Residence, for the non-Afrikaans folk). My new home. To be honest, I was a bit daunted at first. I had only been in Stellenbosch (a town outside of Cape Town with a very rich history, where SU and Wilgenhof are situated) once before in my life. My opinion of Stellenbosch – and all its male residences, not just Wilgenhof – was that they were filled with these ultra-macho, rugby-playing, beer-drinking, rich, daddy’s boys. Also, I was bullied into believing that this place is super racist; that anyone who isn’t white is just a lesser person. So when I pulled into the parking lot of Wilgenhof Manskoshuis, with all my belongings stuffed into a suitcase and a few bags, ready to start a new journey, I was scared shitless. Continue reading