“Not Every Hijab-Clad Woman is a Muslim”
by Warsan Guled (Somalia)
Me leaving Islam was not an easy or overnight decision. It was a long and gradual journey. It started with my views, feelings and ideas changing.
I grew up in a Muslim country (Somalia) and knew nothing outside of Islam. My whole life and everything revolved around Islam. I was brought up by my very religious (Salafi) aunt and uncle. I was made to wear the hijab at the age of 3 the same time I started going to madrasa. I finished the Quran at the age of 10.
After that I became a “mentor” in the madrasa and helped my teacher with the students. I was never sent to school as it was considered baseless and khurafat of my family. But my elder brother went to a 1 hour private school. And I learned reading and writing in Somali (I could read and write only in Arabic) by looking at my brother doing his homework at home.
When wars and conflict worsened in my country we moved to Kenya at the age of 13. There I first saw "infidels.” People with beliefs other than mine. Most of them were very nice, honest, and hard-working people. The opposite of what I was told infidels would be. But still, I held prejudices and hate against them, solely for their beliefs. I thought they were inherently evil, dirty, and actively rebelling against Allah and were all going to burn in hell for it, and that I should never get close to them or feel empathy for them.
But as a person, I was changing, because before coming to Kenya I was very pious, lecturing all the time and being a Quran teacher. But in Kenya, I started watching movies and sometimes even listening to music, which I used to beat my Quran students for doing!
Fast forward to my life at 16 years old. We moved to Sweden. When I first came here I was still a very much practicing Muslim, praying five times a day, fasting, reading the Quran, wearing long hijabs, etc. However, here in Sweden, I had no chance to avoid the infidels. They were everywhere with me. Gradually I started becoming friends with non-Muslims and that minimized my hate and prejudices.
I started being in awe of this country, it's peace, it's justice and fairness to everyone, it's nonjudgmental, nice, understanding and educated people. I started opposing the misogynistic comments and views (which are so very common in Muslim communities, and which I never had a problem with before). I started realizing that being a woman isnot a birth-defect and doesn't make one a third-class citizen. I started embracing my rights as a human.
Gradually, I became a less judgmental “everyone for their choice as long as they don't hurt others, who am I to judge" type of person. I started accepting girls who didn't want to wear hijab, accepting "the whores” accepting gays as people with feelings and rights, Shias as fellow Muslims etc. All this time I was also being introduced to the world of knowledge, education and science. I learned and learned and had mind-boggling moments of discoveries.
Existence and earthly phenomena were no longer mysterious, miraculous, only god's knowledge, allahu a'alam; instead, things were explainable, we could try understanding everything and we should. Rain was not mysterious, neither was the volcano, or the seasons, or the reason why the sky is blue. Earth was no longer flat and stationary, and the center of the universe - instead, it was a tiny rock floating in vast space. Sky was not a physical thing that Allah held with his majestic powers from crashing down upon us, which turned blue and black by his will.
I searched for more and more knowledge and then I stumbled upon evolution. Next I learned about great people like Galileo, Socrates and Darwin, and the struggles they went through with the ultra-religious, ignorant, insecure societies they lived in. I learned many of them were finally executed by their societies, for their differing views that contradicted the words of the lords of the universe. I saw how similar those people (societies) were to Muslims.
And then, I stumbled upon Neil deGrasse Tyson; I watched his series (Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey) and his videos. It made me think, and that is when I started doubting and questioning Islam. After that, I discovered the work of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. I read about other faiths and how the religious stories were copied and pasted with twists from ancient beliefs, folktales and heroes.
Then, it all felt apart. Religion was no longer miraculous; it was more like fables and a cult. Finally, I told myself that I was no longer part of this religion. I was only a human and nothing more, no label should restrict my love for everyone, for science and for knowledge.
I still live with my family and dress just as I did as a Muslim and wish to gain freedom in the near future.
Dear readers, I want you to know that just because a person (like me) is dressed like a follower of a conservative religion, it doesn’t mean they believe in that religion. Not every hijab and abaya clad woman is a Muslim.