Sixth place (tie): Students of color essay contest — Mahum Haque

Mahum Haque

FFRF awarded Mahum $1,000.

By Mahum Haque

I have grown up in an extremely religious Muslim family. I believe that this is a core reason why I am not religious. I have all too many times seen religion being used as a way to make excuses for unjust behavior. Bombings, murders and wars have all been accepted and encouraged under the premise of religion and the idea that this is God’s plan. The “words of God” in holy books are so easily misconstrued into justification for these horrible acts. 

This is why not being religious benefits me. I am able to step back from the cloud of religion that blinds everyone and look at the facts. And, most often, the facts are that one group of people has opposed the words of a supposed “book of God,” and for this reason they must be killed. Who is to say what is truly the word of God? Who is to say that there even is a God?

Religion is a pathway to justify and execute horrible tragedies. 

As a girl living in a Muslim family, I am told that the Quran says that my job is to serve my husband and my family. The sexism in our religion has become cultural. Even today, mothers-in-law and husbands want wives who can cook and clean. A woman’s education only serves as a way to make her family look better because education equates to money. However, after marriage, she is expected to only cook and clean — her one true Islamic purpose. After hearing this my entire life, I cannot imagine supporting a religion that does not support me. 

Muslim countries say that this idea that I have — of women’s freedom and individual development — is an idea that has been imposed upon me by America’s “Western thinking.” I do not believe this is true. Western thinking is not why I believe in values that disagree with Islamic values. I hold these ideas because I am separated from the cloud of religion that captivates everyone’s mind. With the ability to think with a clear head, I have become my own woman with morals who values all lives, regardless of their religion. 

The secular community must find ways to offer its support. Oftentimes, when a girl like me renounces her religion to her entire family and community, she is marked as an outcast and even kicked out of her home. We have no support or freedom to share our beliefs. The Asian-American community, especially South Asian communities, are extremely protective of their image. If someone does something to tarnish their name, they can be killed or kicked out of the family. I have heard so many stories of young Muslims who are gay but cannot come out to their family because they would be disowned. It is against Islamic beliefs to be homosexual. One of the great embarrassments of the family is having a gay son or daughter. How can we tell our families that we do not believe in our religion’s principles if they are willing to disown or even kill us over the supposed words of God? 

For this reason, I think that organizations should help young South Asian teens like me, who have no way of leaving their religion. We need a community of like-minded people that will be able to support us. For many people who have been kicked out, getting a good education, food, and even a place to stay, can be a struggle. The secular community needs a better forum from which we can discuss all of these issues.

Mahum, 19, attends the University of Iowa, majoring in finance and on the pre-pharmacy track. “I am involved in the Women in STEM Ambassadors organization on campus and the Pakistani Student Alliance,” Mahum writes. “I will also work as a peer mentor to other business students on campus and join the executive board of the Business Student Ambassadors.”