How are you?
I came across your blog about a year ago -- I read one of your posts which lead to me reading another, and another, followed by a handful of others, further followed by going to the public library recently to read 'My Chacha is Gay' (and eventually tearing up after reading it, haha).
All I wanted to say is, coming across your blog filled me with insurmountable amounts of joy. To find a Pakistani who too grew up in a Gulf country, and who possesses the same views as I do, is truly magical.
I was hoping to share my experiences with you, regarding Islam, losing my faith, misogyny etc. I find it easier to speak with strangers, for there's no judgement there -- and there are only so many people who actually understand where I'm coming from. I'd be thrilled if you were able to read what I have to say, but if you're unable to, or unable to respond, I completely understand.
I grew up in a "liberal" Muslim Pakistani family (I'm sure you understand what I mean by that). That automatically confused me regarding my views on Islam. I rebelled, I refused to read the Quran in Arabic because I didn't understand it, and once I read it in English, I had so many arguments against it. My 'Qaari Saab' (Quran teacher) used to hit my hand with a butter knife whenever I pronounced a word wrong as a kid, and that pushed me further away from it. My father calls himself religious, but cheated on my mother multiple times, physically and mentally abused her in front of me and threatened to leave her and take his kids with him (because he could, because of shariah law). When she finally decided to divorce him, he said "what a shameful thing, everyone will look down on you (i.e Pakistanis)". I was ten years old at the time, extremely confused and by the age of twelve, I dropped the religion completely.
In high school, I fell madly in love with a half arab/half Iranian boy, who seemed pretty modern in terms of his thinking -- however a year later he basically tried to convert me back, by asking to me stop smoking, drinking, covering my knees, not wearing makeup etc. it broke my heart and confused me, for a while I became weak and started to believe perhaps I was a 'monster unbeliever', perhaps I was the one who was insane and everyone else was right.
Eventually, I got over that kind of thinking and went back to my initial stance. Then, a couple of months ago, I started dating an Italian-Canadian who I found out, had converted to Islam a year ago. After we had a few discussions on the topic, he'd pass comments like "that's only something an Islamophobe would say" and basically insinuated I was a bigot, even though I possessed more knowledge on the subject than he did (realistically speaking).
I also dated a Jewish guy briefly, which I had absolutely no trouble with nor did my mother (who is non-religious) until his mother flipped out and I ended it. Thus forcing me to reevaluate exactly how accepting certain people can be.
I haven't been back to Pakistan in years and cannot imagine myself going back, simply because the general mentality would feel suffocating in my opinion. Whenever I go back to Dubai, it's very upsetting that I have to keep certain "taboo" topics to myself.
Anywho, I know it may seem like I'm asking you for romantic advice, but my question is, after you started blogging and published My Chacha is Gay, how did you deal with all the hate? How have you been able to stand so strong with your views? Sometimes I feel weak, but I won't ever give in. In my heart, I know what I believe is right (for me), but somehow I keep attracting these external factors that force me to rethink, and I just want to be able to stand stronger against such vices, I want to be vocal freely, and not have to rethink my opinions.
Thank you in advance for your response Eiynah. Keep up the incredible work, because Pakistanis and Muslims alike such as myself find it so great that we can relate to someone like you, who is genuine with her word. It took me a year to finally send this message to you, so I'm sure there are a lot more people like myself who find comfort in what you have to say.
Thank you so much for the kind words. It's always wonderful and encouraging to hear that my work is making a difference to someone. I am thrilled that I can provide some help or some form of comfort. I am so sorry for all the rough times you've been through. Especially regarding religion....really there aren't enough support systems out there for people who doubt Islam. We are quickly branded as bigots, told we are hateful...whilst having to watch other people break out and critique their faith (in the West) and be met with encouragement. It's a bizarre phenomenon, and I don't quite know what to tell you - except, I'm here for you, as are other Ex-Muslim forums if you need them.
The fact that you went to the library to look up Chacha and read his tale about love (which gets so much hate and venom and death threats) is so, so touching. Thank you for taking the time to do that. Every time someone reads it, it's one more drop in the ocean of not erasing Pakistani LGBTQ identities (as well as other identities that don't fit the mould).
I am horrified to hear about the abuse your father put you all through. The hypocrisy, the crutch of Sharia's male superiority, sadly this is not an uncommon tale. I'm glad your mother had the strength to escape. Many don't, because in our culture a woman's worth is often measured by who's daughter or who's wife she is. So kudos to her for taking that on. It's women like her that will change the perception, and will encourage others not to stay in hateful, abusive, loveless marriages...
I remember filling out bank forms in Pakistan, and cringing at the section where I either had to put my father's name or husband's name. As if, on my own, I didn't have a worthy enough identity. I had to be attached to some male figure, to be able to bank. I complained and complained but got nowhere. In the end, I had to fill out that section if I wanted to be able to use that service in the bank. That's how deep rooted misogyny in Pakistan is. That was a few years ago, I hope it's changed...but wouldn't be surprised if it hasn't.
Reading the Quran in a language that you actually understand (compared to what most Pakistanis do and recite it in Arabic without understanding what they pledge allegiance to) will definitely do the trick and help you realize that ideas over 1000 years old, don't work today.
The thing with 'Liberal' and progressive Muslim families is that they don't buy *all* the hateful stuff religion has to sell, but they certainly buy into some very harmful concepts. Like the fact that women are objects, to be covered for honour purposes, female virginity is to be saved for marriage...homosexuality is a sin, heck drinking is a sin - yes these are ideas that are prevalent amongst liberal muslims. Sure their daughters aren't forced into hijabs or burqas, or marriages...but some parts of the 'honour' b.s. still remain - as you mentioned, with being asked to make sure your knees are covered. Knee-length clothing will make you a better candidate for heaven than above-knee-length clothing apparently. And in more religious families you can pull the skirt length lower and lower.
I'm sorry that you had to have a couple of experiences with Islam-inspired misogynists, who felt it was their place to tell you how to dress, behave and be. That kind of male behaviour is not limited to just Islam, however - the more you study religion in general, the more you realize god isn't exactly fond of women.
Also keep in mind that converts often have stronger convictions than those of us born into the faith. Because they knowingly bought into it in adulthood, as opposed to us who didn't have a choice in whether we were going to be Muslims or not. Ugh, what luck, even when with a far-removed Italian Canadian the traditional muslim guy douchey-ness comes out - and the nerve of him to call you an Islamophobe....ffs! Don't you just love it when a bright-eyed convert who views Islam as their new shiny toy tells you, you daren't have an issue with it? As if your entire life experiences with it mean nothing...
As for the Jewish guy and his family's lack of acceptance...this goes to show you that Abrahamic faiths are not so different from one another after all (sure nowadays we have more terrorists, killing and violence in the name of Islam..but intolerance is a theme central to them all, mashallah).
Regarding your question about speaking freely, well... that's something that doesn't come easy in our community. You do have to watch what you say and who you say it in front of I'm afraid. That is something too many people have paid with their life for. One thing I find that's useful is, even if you cannot speak freely about your thoughts on religion.....you can always speak freely about your thoughts on human rights and equality. Speaking about equality on all fronts usually discredits religion anyway, without having to directly reference it :)
And we all feel weak, because of the constant pressure around us. It is not easy breaking away from lifelong religious indoctrination, especially Islam...but hang in there. The numbers of disbelievers in the world are growing, the numbers of ex muslims are growing.
But know that it's hard.
Challenging the masses...swimming upstream, will never ever be easy. But that's really part of what you relish when you make it through. The struggle it takes to firmly plant yourself on the other side - that struggle is part of the beauty. Don't let others make you doubt what feels right for you. Just focus on humanity...human rights...and equality on all fronts. If you make that your focus...religion can't possibly win (if you're honest).
How do I deal with the immense amount of hate coming my way? You know... sometimes I just can't and I'm on the verge of quitting myself, but it's contact like yours that makes me want to not stop. So stay in touch with others who feel similarly as you. Even if its just knowing ex-muslims online....that will give you strength and confidence.
I hope more people like you come out and speak out - even if it's through this anonymous platform. It is healing to be heard and to connect with others like you.
Much, much love...stay strong xx
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