Kimberly Winston recounts the moving story of ‘Samya’, a young woman aged 20 in the US, who left her parents and her five siblings and fears that if her true identity were revealed, she might be killed by her family. Her crimes? “She rejected a marriage arranged by her father, who came to the U.S. from the Middle East when Samya was an infant. And perhaps more serious to her parents: She has become an atheist.”
Even as a child, Samya says, she had doubts. She never experienced a certainty of God’s presence. Her parents, she said, used religion as a club. God would punish her, they said, when she misbehaved. Her mother, she said, told her she “had a demon” inside her.
“I was always worried about sin, always worried about punishment and hell,” she said. “Prayer brought some relief, but then it would just start again. There was this constant worry, `What did I do wrong?’”
At 11, she donned the Muslim headscarf. She never left the house unescorted, never went to the movies with friends, never visited their homes. Once, she brought a non-Muslim girl home. Her father threatened to kill her if she did that again.
“At that moment,” she remembered thinking: “I hate my life.”
What caused her to leave her religion? It is that old culprit, the internet, that breaks through the walls behind which religion hides its weaknesses.
One day, her father surprised her with an iPod Touch. He thought she would listen to music. But a new world opened up for Samya when she connected it to the Internet.
In her room, Samya reached out via Twitter. First, she chatted with other Muslims. Then, she talked with several atheists. In covert conversations, they challenged her to think critically about religion.
This was during Ramadan, the Muslim month of daily fasting. One day, Samya remembered, she was hungry, thirsty and tired from rising before dawn to pray. At that moment, she said, “something just clicked.”
She went into the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. A radical thought hit her: “There is no God.” She turned on the tap and took her first sip of water. “I thought, ‘I am free.’”
But leaving home is not easy for anyone who has had a sheltered upbringing. Once again, the internet provided the way out.
Samya’s new Twitter friends encouraged her to contact a school counselor, a social service agency, or the police. A college counselor put her in touch with a social worker, and the social worker — who declined to discuss Samya’s specific case but confirmed her story — helped Samya plan her escape.
For two weeks, Samya wavered: Should she stay, should she go? Meanwhile, an atheist couple she met on Twitter offered a free place to stay. She began to plan a new life in a distant city with people she knew only through 140-character messages.
She now has a new and freer life, saying “I don’t want to let go of this freedom … Number one is that I put my own beliefs in my head. I am free. I am happier.”
A group called Muslim-ish has been started for former and questioning Muslims, again using social networking to reach people.
The internet and the ease of social networking are going to be the downfall of religion.