Inside Saudi-Arabia: Becoming an atheist

by Rosilea .M

Since I began to understand the world around me, I have always felt uncomfortable being surrounded by traditions, monotonous everyday life and rules.

Rosilea .M

I loved to express myself differently. I gave myself to daydreaming and writing stories to get rid of my boredom (most of it was in my head). This was my mental escape and a coping mechanism.

There was a time when I wondered why I was neglected? Why was I treated badly, but never as badly as when I was expressing my secular beliefs? I was even treated worse than at the age of 15, when I was clinically diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, after the first symptoms appeared at 14.

And I mention this because there is a huge stigma and injustice here in Saudi Arabia. This is not the way to talk about people in the family who are considered “physically challenged”, “crazy” or “retarded”. They are downright hushed up. Instead of receiving support, they are insulted, belittled and abused, as they are perceived as a burden and daily annoyance. They are seen as a punishment or test from God. In addition, these people are not marriable, which puts them under further pressure.  So the parents are frustrated and take out their resentment on the children concerned, since their very existence damages their “family honor”.

I understood even then that the system we lived in was flawed. But when you are young and don’t know anything else, you can’t locate the core of the problem. You can see the prohibitions of thinking, bigotry and a suppression of logical thinking, a mob mentality, in which individual needs are suppressed in an unhealthy way in favour of an adaptation to the general public. But you do not think too much about these things, because you see yourself as a victim and this “victim-mentality” unites us by seeing the world only as a “us against them”. We are taught that we are only strong together and that we must remember our glorious past when all questions have been answered. This is to be regained by all means. But these are all just promises to hide the desolate situation in which we find ourselves right now.

Human rights are never an issue here. Instead, the emphasis is on faith itself, how to practice it properly, how to make sure that you practice from a very young age and beat the children if they do not pray regularly at the age of 10 for girls and 15 for boys. You are also busy making sure that others practice the faith by belittling and abusing them when they do not do it perfectly and correctly, when they do not follow the religious rules. You encourage them to do it the same way you do.

Women must pray regularly to be a perfect daughter or wife. They must always be veiled around men. The only exception is her husband or father. And it is the men’s job to make sure that this is always the case.

They constantly shout it out into the world, the Sheikhs and the Imams. In all the mosques around me, they are constantly telling people that women should stay at home, how beautiful this life is. How bad and full of temptations life outside is when women move freely among the men. We have internalized this narrative so that it is best for the woman to be protected from this world at home. So it is of the utmost importance for the “honor” of men if the woman is as little visible, audible and therefore “pure” as possible. Fortunately, in recent times these rules are increasingly being disregarded by feminists. In addition, many families have the necessity to let women work for economic reasons. Moreover, the social media opens a window to the world that was previously closed. But there is also a religious-feminist movement, which is met with great reservations and some resistance by the reformers.

All these developments unfortunately have no effect on women like me. We are still on the dark side of society. We are at the mercy of the abuse of power by those who hold the power. For example, we are defenselessly at the mercy of our parents, who see it as their God-given right to exercise absolute control over their children, or our husband, who can decide the fate of his wife. This is why it is so difficult to hear that one should “be patient after all” or “love and honor them. Furthermore, the statement that they are the ones “who have raised you and to whom you owe your life” is very difficult to bear under the given circumstances. I had heard these sayings enough as a child when I complained about how I was treated. I am 27 now and I am still being mistreated. The local organizations that are supposed to help victims of abuse are a joke. Their only advice is to talk to the aggressor. The best thing is to forget about the incident, because if you report it, you would be the shame of the family. You would lose everything, family, friends, loved ones and you would be socially isolated. The only way out would be to document everything and thus get attention for your situation.

For me it was strange that I was only appreciated for my ability to marry. But the quality of this marriage was secondary. Whether this marriage was happy or not did not matter at all. Since I was ill, I could not make any demands. My only role in the marriage was to keep the house absolutely dust-free and to bear at least seven children. Talking to my parents about my health did not make sense. They thought I was healed because they had prayed.

So it was predictable that I would not be taken seriously when I told them about rape attempts in my marriage. Women are not supported here, which explains why many remain in abusive realtinships. The behavior of my parents was exemplary for this.

Nobody cares if men with a different sexuality or female appearance are raped. These men are often falsely accused and have to do slave labor. These people often develop severe psychological problems as a result. Does this interest anyone? No, it does not.

The society is generally not interested in people with psychological problems. God wants it that way to test those who are healthy.

It’s funny, because I always represented the values of secular humanism before I even heard of the word. When I started talking to my family about physical abuse and verbal humiliation, my arguments were dismissed as “European thinking”. This is a well-known reaction albeit slightly different of religious people to criticism of their behavior.

Despite all of this I continued to hold onto my belief as I force myself to live, refusing defeat,  telling myself there is no immediate answer. Just months ago, after finally breaking from my shell and embracing  life, I found my answer, I am an atheist now, a humanist .

Rosilea .M