I was a muslim, now I'm an atheist. Should I tell my mom?

I’ll try to keep it short. My family is extremely religious. They dismiss evolution, resent homosexuality and frequently remind me of my duties to god. My country is religious too. It’s laws are based on Islam and being an atheist could lead to execution. I’m not sure if I can carry this burden for the rest of my life. I’m not in my home country now, so life is relaxing at the moment. I’m heading back soon, probably for the rest of my life. I’ve brainstormed my options and ended up with three choices:

1) Go back home, live a lie, and probably keep practicing Islam just to fit in the society. Something I’m not sure I can bear for the rest of my life.

2) Leave home, keep it a secret and weaken the bonds with my family, a thing that means the world to me.

3) Risk it, tell them, and be my true self around them.

Your input would be wonderful!

Posted: June 26th 2010

Paula Kirby www

What a heart-rending situation for you. I am so sorry. Everything I am about to write is simply the way I would approach the problem if I were in your shoes – I’m not trying to tell you what to do, because no one can do that.

Atheism is not a religion, and one of the many things that distinguish it from a religion is that there is no requirement to declare your atheism to the world. This means that you are not a worse atheist just because you don’t draw attention to your worldview.

In a country where apostasy could mean death, it would clearly be extremely dangerous to tell people you no longer accept Islam.

You have said that your family means the world to you. You are afraid that keeping your true views a secret from them could weaken the bonds between you, but it also sounds as if being open with them about your views could weaken them too, if they take the news badly, as seems probable. (Though you will obviously have a much clearer idea than I have of how they would react.)

All those things, taken together, would lead me to the conclusion that revealing my atheism – to my family or ANYONE in my home country – would be the least wise thing to do. By not revealing my atheism, I would be giving myself the best chances of preserving the relationships with my family that mattered to me more than anything else, and of staying alive (not a minor consideration!). And I wouldn’t be being less of an atheist than if I spoke out.

But there remains the problem of how much pretence I could bear to live with, and that is not a minor consideration either. It would be one thing not to draw attention to my lack of belief, but quite another to actively go through the motions of belief, day in, day out, for the rest of my life.

The next thing I’m about to say no doubt reflects the culture of the society I have grown up in, where it is perfectly normal and expected for adult 'children’ to leave home and live independently. It does sound as if that is different in your home country. Nevertheless, it is true that leaving home does not have to destroy or even significantly weaken your bonds with your family. It changes the relationship, but it can actually strengthen it, because you are now able to interact with your family as an adult, rather than as a dependant. There is a part of us that remains forever a child so long as we are living with our parents, I think.

So I think what I would opt for would be leaving home (perhaps even staying abroad, in a country where I didn’t have to hide my true views of life), but staying in as close contact with my family as I could. That is so much easier these days than it used to be, now that we have the internet with its emails and its Skype calls and video conferencing. (I am assuming that your family has access to these things, but that will of course depend where they are.) Doubtless there would be times during those conversations when I would need to bite my tongue about my true views, but that would be a LOT less of a burden than physically having to pray 5 times a day and all the rest of it, for the rest of my life. And I would visit in person as often as I could too, and during those visits I would go along with their religious observances, gritting my teeth and reminding myself that it was only for a few days or a couple of weeks, and then I could go back to my normal life.

It’s not ideal: but I think I would decide this gave me the best chance of preserving a balance between being true to myself and maintaining close ties with my family. It’s not the route I would choose to take if my home country were not Islamic and did not execute 'apostates’, or if I thought my family would just be disappointed but would eventually come to terms with my atheism. But given the circumstances you have described, I think it would seem to me to be the best solution. I’m afraid there isn’t a perfect solution in a situation like this, is there?

I wish you all the very best, whatever you decide to do.

Posted: August 16th 2010

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

flagellant www

Many thanks for your short, heart-rending question. I congratulate you on your bravery and fortitude in having taken the very serious decision to abandon faith in the face of such difficulty. You are going to need all the humour you can manage to come through your problem unscathed.

None of the options you suggest would appeal to me. Based on what I have read, your life could be in danger if you reveal your true beliefs to anyone. I would therefore recommend that you do not tell your family of your slightest doubts, much less your avowed rejection of Islam. Even if they accept your decision, they wouldn’t be able to keep it quiet for long and your secret would soon become common knowledge.

I live in the UK and I am fortunately able to say more or less what I like about all religions. However even here, apostates face great difficulties and I cannot say that a Muslim would be completely safe. From time to time, so called 'honour’ killings come to light – and this is only when perpetrators are caught and prosecuted. This is a clear indication that some Islamic families value some things more highly than the lives of their relations.

You do not say where you come from, nor where you are at the moment, so it’s difficult to point you in the right direction for information. You might try Apostates of Islam or Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain I’m sorry I cannot help you further – I wish I could. On a purely personal note, in your position I would not go home and keep quiet. Nor would I return and tell my family of my doubts. I wish you well, whatever your choice..

Posted: August 13th 2010

See all questions answered by flagellant


There are no good choices there. I think #3 is likely to be a very risky move.

The best advice I can give is to try #1, and see if it’s too much for you. If it is, you could always do #2.

Posted: August 12th 2010

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Eshu www

I’m fortunate not to have experience of your situation.

I’m not sure I would have the courage to tell my family and be “out” as an atheist in a Muslim country.

I think I’d probably run away from home, but write my family a letter explaining how I love them and miss them, but couldn’t stand to live under a religion in which I did not believe.

logicel’s suggestion of a support group for those in a similar situation is an excellent one. I hope you can find such a group.

Posted: August 11th 2010

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Dave Hitt www

Living a lie is hard at first. Then it gets harder. Then it gets impossible, and you’ll snap.

This could be deadly in a country ruled by fundy Muslims.

Don’t try to live a lie, not even a little bit. It won’t work. Which means you’ll have to seriously consider living elsewhere, where your disbelief won’t get you killed.

Posted: August 11th 2010

See all questions answered by Dave Hitt


This is the toughest question in the several years of writing at this site so far for me to answer.

My life experience is totally inadequate to give any advice. The only lame thing I can come up with is go midway. Express that you have doubts (not that you are an atheist), that you need to be honest with them, that you know that they would want you to be honest, and that this is a problematic situation for all since your family and you live in an Islamic theocracy. Perhaps this approach will enable you to keep your relationship with your family and your own self-esteem mostly intact.

You could also see an counselor where you are living now, and/or perhaps you can find a support group with similar problems, with whom you can discuss the in and outs of your situation.

Posted: August 10th 2010

See all questions answered by logicel


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