While most of the articles on this topic have been from ex-Christians or people born to non-believers, my story is quite different.
I was born to religious Muslim parents (in one of the various sub-sects of the Ismaili sect in the Shi’ite branch) in a small rural town in India. This caste is very similar to the Roman Catholic Church setup, where there is a religious leader who claims to be the god’s representative and has a network of priests spread over the world wherever the leader’s followers live. This leader and his coterie also need a lot of money and keep track of everything happening in the followers’ life and family.
Right from childhood, we were drilled with the notion that we are not only superior to people following other religions but also to other Muslims. In addition to school, I was required to attend a madrasa (Muslim religious school) daily. We lived in a colony surrounded by people of the same caste with a mosque and community hall in proximity. Now, when I look back, I sometimes wonder, how I did manage to break these shackles!
The only avenue where I could interact with people with different outlook (even if that only meant people with different religion) was school. My school friends (and some of them are still my friends) were never from my caste. I always wondered why we were taught that they are inferior or their customs are wrong, while I always used to enjoy their company. That’s when the first seeds of doubts started taking roots.
Also, I hardly used to understand anything at the madrasa, because almost everything was in Arabic. One day, I decided to run away from the madrasa, and my mom decided to home-school me in the religious education. I kept looking for religious text in a language that I could understand. Luckily, I found a translation of Quran in a pile of books at a house one of our relatives had recently purchased. I had to keep the book hidden at home and read it secretly. (NOTE: In the Ismaili sect, it is believed that the Quran has a hidden meaning and only a very religious learned person can decipher it. Hence the commoners are discouraged to read a translation.) I used to think reading the book would have profound impact on my life, but I was disappointed. I was too young to understand the implications of all this, but the roots of scepticism were getting stronger.
The real change came when I read a book called “Great Religions of the World”. I was 15 then and didn’t know much about other religions. Though I still didn’t question the existence of god, in my mind were several questions that nobody around me could answer. If I prodded too much, I was labelled “kafir”, equivalent to heretic. At 16, I moved from my small rural town to a city for studies. Even here, the questions didn’t leave me. Though most of my time was spent studying, I also pondered over these questions about religions. However, questioning the existence of god was still unimaginable. I tried to pray regularly, visit mosques and listen to religious sermons. However, I never felt any connect and it all felt superficial.
As nobody around me answered my questions, I resorted to internet. I questioned the reason of plethora of religions and each claiming to be the supreme one. I questioned the love of god while there is suffering all around. I questioned the tendency of people of attribute everything good to god and everything bad to misfortune. After reading a lot of books (including books of other religions), speaking, debating and chatting with many people, and reading various blogs and forums, I could answer all my questions. I could move on to start questioning the notion of god. Now, I can proudly say that I am an atheist who does not blindly believe in religious fairy tales.
However, I still cannot tell this to my parents or siblings, as not only will this hurt them sentimentally, the religious brigade will force them to disown me publicly. They are old and I don’t want any kind of trouble for them. For them, I have to pretend that I still follow the religious customs. I am open to my friends and my fiancée and I might have to continue this charade for a long time. Yet, this is probably a small price to pay to remain connected with my family.
As I look back now, I feel the freedom from the religious dogma that still corrupts so many minds. If I may, I am finally out of the religion “matrix”.