It’s like taking off a very old and dusty mask – leaving Islam in Yemen

More and more people in the Islamic world are leaving their religion. Many do this in silence, but some write about it. A particularly fascinating example is the blog of a young woman from Yemen. It takes a lot of courage from this conservative country, which has also been at war for almost four years, to express criticism of Islam.

We have succeeded in making contact with this extraordinarily courageous woman. We were interested in who was behind this Facebook page. However, when we questioned her, we were anxious to preserve her identity and did not ask any personal questions.

You live as a young woman in Yemen. What is the situation for women there and how has it changed in recent years?

The situation for women here is absolutely terrible, and has become even worse in recent years. Yemen has become very unsafe specifically for women. There are now more than ever, abductions and rape cases, followed by honor killings. Many women choose not to speak up for themselves in fear of mistreatment, embarrassment and judgment by the people around them, because this brings shame to their families. Women are forced into marriages that they do not want and make them unhappy. People here believe that marriage is the most important goal that women can reach, and that it is more important than education. Some families don’t even allow their daughters to go to schools. Child marriages happen in parts of the country. I have personally known and seen young girls who were married to old men, some of them were my classmates in elementary school. I have read online that child marriage has even been on the rise in recent years because of the war, as families sell their daughters into marriage for money because they are poor.

What would you wish for your country?

First of all, for the war to stop, since it is causing so much suffering. Secondly, to witness the day when my people start accepting the idea that change is not bad and that breaking habits and traditions sometimes has its own advantages. Everyone knows that Yemen is facing a war at the moment but how many of them know something other than that? Yemen has a very important history and unique culture but instead of repeating the same historical events, we need to finally let go of those bad habits and traditions and stick to the good ones. We’re already in 2019 but people are still living in the past till this day and to be honest, it makes me quite sad.

You are no longer religious. Why do you no longer believe in Islam? And since when?

I might not have been a strict Muslim, but I believed that Islam was perfection at its finest and that there weren’t any flaws and holes in it for anyone to criticize. However, ever since I was a kid, I’d still feel guilty for not following what my religion has taught me, in fear of burning in hell forever. I remember one time I took off my hijab for the first time in my school’s bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and started checking myself out but couldn’t fathom why I still felt super guilty about it and scared of anyone suddenly knocking on the door at the same time. So I started reading more and more and meeting different people online and getting mixed feelings from them about Islam until one day, I had a wakeup call and realized some things. For example, a few questions popped up in my head such as,”Why would people hate Islam if it were a peaceful religion?” and why would Allah punish me for not following his rules? Why does this Allah care more about women’s hair and bodies and why do people kill in the name of this God? Is he even out there and if it’s true, why is he going to burn those who don’t believe in him? I started finding many flaws in what’s supposed to be the “One and Only God” out there as Muslims say, so I stopped praying to him. I wouldn’t deal with such unforgiving, angry and narcissistic humans, so why would I worship a God with those traits?

»I no longer see black and white, my insides are full of beautiful colors now.«

How has life changed for you in Yemen since you left Islam?

Mentally, a lot. I felt like I was reborn in the same exact place. It’s like taking off a very old and dusty mask I’ve been forced to wear for years. Although I’m still forced to wear the burka, the woman behind it is no longer the same woman as before. I no longer see black and white, my insides are full of beautiful colors now.

It is very dangerous to leave Islam. Articles 12 and 259 of Yemen’s penal code provide for the death penalty for apostasy. How do you deal with it? Can you hide the fact that you are no longer a Muslim?

Like many other Ex-Muslims, I have no choice but to hide my identity and be careful of revealing any details that may cost me my life. There was a period of my life when I felt extremely lonely and depressed that I didn’t even care about anything anymore, so I would post my pictures on social media platforms and stop praying at home and that wasn’t smart of me, to be honest. But like I said, I simply didn’t care whether I was alive or dead the next day. But as people whom I met online were on my side and assured me that I wasn’t alone, I’ve decided to be more careful and think about every move I make because one wrong move and it’s the end for me.

Is there not a great danger that your family will find out that you are no longer a believer?

My family knows that I’m different from other typical Yemeni girls who are supposed to behave good and be very religious. But none of them know that I no longer do my daily prayers, that I have left Islam and that a couple of internet friends have seen photos of me. The males in my family are very controlling of us women and if they ever find out about this then I’ll be in huge danger, at great risk of punishment for my apostasy and possibly at risk of honor killing. My sister is also no longer religious. Thankfully, her and I are very close so we’ve always got each other’s back.

You run a Facebook page that is critical of religion and about freedom, especially for women. Why do you take such a risk to be discovered?

Most people in my society were forced to believe in something they had little choice in. I want my people specifically to open up their hearts to new things and ideas from another Yemeni and for them to think outside the box. My page is like an open door for anyone who seeks answers outside the context of religions and wants to know what it’s like being a free thinker.

What would happen if your family found out that you were running this Facebook page?

Absolutely horrible and unfair things would await me. This includes me being physically beaten, emotionally and mentally abused, as well as arranging marriage for me without my consent. Because as people in my society always say, a woman cannot be set free or else she’ll end up doing sinful things and that’s why she needs a man in her life to control her. Even just thinking about what would await me is terrifying.

What do you personally want for your life?

I want to know and feel what it’s like being in a healthy and safe environment and I want to help others in need of help and support. I want to be able to speak up for myself without fearing the consequences. I also want other people to know that Yemen is more than just the war that you hear about on the news and to share information about the lives of ordinary women here. There are individuals like me who want to make a change and do better for our society. I’m not by any means religious but I want to send a message that Yemen should be for everyone; religious or not, Muslims, Jews or Christians and that if we can all live together and accept our differences, we can rise again.

Thank you so much for your time. I wish you all the best and that all your wishes will come true one day.