The Dating Difficulties of an Ex Muslim

By Aliyah Saleem

Like millions of people around the world, I use online dating.

 

As a Pakistani woman with a Muslim name and a banging nose ring, I attract attention from some Muslim men.  Dating is hard in the best of circumstances but if you are an ex-Muslim, it’s downright depressing. A lot of us try and stay in the closet because of the taboo for as long as possible. It’s okay when you are single but the prospect of a serious relationships and having children puts ex-Muslims in a pretty bleak place.

You have two choices: tell your parents that you are a non-Muslim and don’t have to marry a Muslim (or marry at all) or lie to your future Muslim partner and enter into a relationship built on deceit where your non-religious views will have to be kept private. Neither is tempting as the former could result in being disowned, and the latter in a serious drinking problem.

I have dated Muslims and nothing extraordinary has happened as a result. I did have a particularly traumatic date once when I went out with a ‘liberal Muslim’. I made it very clear that I am an atheist and he said he was fine with that. Three days later we were at a café near my house on a Saturday afternoon. Thirty minutes into the date he raised the topic of religion. I brushed it aside but he kept bringing it up. He then spent the next twenty minutes preaching to me. I ended the date soon after, thanking him for wasting my time when he told me that he agrees with Sharia punishments “in certain circumstances”.

I have decided as a rule not to date Muslims anymore. At first I didn’t want to discriminate and I gave Muslim men a chance. After all a lot are pretty good looking with their hipster beards. In the last year, I’ve been on a few dates with Muslim men.

However I can’t get past a date or two because I know that his family will have to be pretty magical and progressive to be happy with a daughter-in-law like me. Even when I tell the guys that I am quite public about being non-religious, they say it’s a not big deal — but I know that it is. Any chance of me being a serious girlfriend diminishes instantly when they find out who I am.

The in-laws matter, too. I already have an extended family that has largely rejected me; nobody is special enough for me to suffer that again. My future mother-in-law wouldn’t be impressed if she Googled me and found a lot of hits related to atheism and an obese kid in India with my name (seriously, Google it). I’m in the minority, one of the tiny number of women of Muslim heritage who is open about her atheism.

Ex-Muslims are expected to date and marry people who probably won’t accept them in the long term. You can call me sceptical but I think that, until Muslims are less conservative about parenting and relationships, it will most likely result in one or both parties facing the hard truth.

Unlike Muslim women who may prefer to marry a Muslim, a former Muslim would probably do better to not date a Muslim. The reasons are obvious as someone is going to end up comprising or being heart broken when the inevitable reality about family dynamics hit home.

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Relationships are about power dynamics and ex-Muslims are right at the bottom of the Muslim hierarchy. We would struggle to exert our non-religious lifestyles choices and parenting decisions over our Muslim partners and their families. This is not to suggest that it cannot happen but I believe that those would be rare circumstances.

My ex-Muslim friend had a furious argument with her parents because she said that she will never circumcise her son. I hope that her future son appreciates that she fell out with his grandparents over the protection of his bits before he was even born. She regularly argues with them over their refusal to accept her hypothetical non-Muslim partner and uncircumcised son.

Even if an ex-Muslim does find a non-Muslim partner, you may have to live with years of them being snubbed at family occasions, or even worse, but not unlikely, being barred from attending. As my friend said when I told her that I was writing this, “I have accepted that I’m going to be a massive disappointment to my parents”. My mum has pretty much given up on me marrying a Muslim man and has resolved to ask me if I will at least find a nice ex-Muslim — shared values and all that jazz.

It’s not only difficult for ex-Muslim women. One of my friends has never felt the need to tell his family that he is non-religious. He manages to live a double life without many obstacles. Now that he is in his thirties, his family are wondering why he keeps turning down all the good marriage proposals being offered to him. His family are unware that he cannot fathom marrying someone with whom he cannot be honest about his views on religion.

There is also the additional fear of being ‘outed’ by these women if he is honest about his non-religious views. His family expect him to only marry a Pakistani Muslim. The ideal situation for him would be to find a Pakistani ex-Muslim who is also willing to stay in the closet. I found it hard to console him when he told me. What can you say to somebody who is facing intense pressure to find someone to fit specific requirements and also make him happy?

At a Faith to Faithless panel that I chaired in January this year at UCL University, five ex-Muslim women discussed whether leaving Islam is a feminist issue. As I expected, speaker after speaker talked about marriage, boyfriends, clothes, hijab, honour, being able to move freely and feeling suffocated in the knowledge that leaving Islam is not enough.

There is a common stereotype about us, that we leave Islam so that we can do whatever we want — you know, drink, dance and have orgies covered in honey. It’s extremely insulting to assume that we are somehow weak for not wanting to follow Islamic rules. If only we were seen as free thinking humans who have the right to choose how to live our lives. It’s also inaccurate. For many, being a Muslim never deterred them from being able to do what they wanted in the first place.

It did play a part in why I left Islam though. I was so ready for a life of hedonism after cripplingly boring teenage years locked away in religious schools but it’s not that simple. You can go on a huge intellectual journey — exploring evolution, cosmology, philosophy, anthropology, yet when it comes down to it, you can still feel like an outsider and an embarrassment to the family for not conforming to Islamic gender norms.

Sarah, one of the speakers at the ex-Muslim feminist event, spoke about her restrictive upbringing. One night she packed her bags and left in the night when she could no longer cope with her life as it was. The reality is that choosing to live your life as you want does not come easily to ex-Muslims. It’s up to every individual to pick their own battles and to decide when it’s time to say enough is enough.

 

aliyah

Aliyah Saleem is an ex-Muslim atheist, a secular education campaigner and a co-founder of Faith to Faithless. She attended religious boarding schools for six years in Britain and Pakistan before leaving Islam. View her blog here. Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

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15 thoughts on “The Dating Difficulties of an Ex Muslim

  1. ERavi

    You should marry Hindus who are cuturally simlar since your ancestors were Hindus too

  2. J W

    This is a very interesting article. I would like to leave a comment that I hope does not come across at all as distasteful.

    I have thought about this before and as a Non-Muslim male I have to admit that I actually find the idea of dating an Ex-Muslim female ,who has fought heavy odds for her right to say her own words and think her own thoughts, to be very attractive.

    This obviously does not solve the problem with the in-laws.

    From your account it does sound so tricky, but to give a different perspective, there are also many politically correct Non-Muslim females who treat Islamic critics (like me) as heretics, who would rather ‘go with the flow’ than what is right.

    A woman who asserts and defends for her truth and what is right in defiance of odds to me is very rare and probably about the most attractive trait a woman can have to me

  3. Watchman

    Fully agreed. As an ex-Muslim, one feels torn apart by the love for family on the one hand and individual identity on the other. One can manage being single into the mid 20’s, and perhaps even further; but to actually experience the sheer dread, anxiety, confusion ,depression, guilt and panic as soon as the ostensibly playful, typically Pakistani – marriage teasing begins is not something that a person of faith can understand. The best a guy can do is to close one’s eyes to the reality and hope something magical happens within a couple of years (which obviously wont) or just prepare for the storm that has so loudly announced its departure.
    ETA – 4 years.
    Destination – You.

  4. Kristopher Kimberling

    What are the stigma of dating a non-Muslim as an ex-Muslim woman. I am a non-Muslim atheist and would have no issue dating an ex-Muslim, I am genuinely ignorant on this topic. Thanks

  5. Ali

    Oh well. Only if I find a freethinkers with same cultural background.. Only if..

  6. Khaled Hammad

    I’m a 43 years old ex Muslim man from Egypt and I live in the uk. I live with the same problem and can’t find a way out!
    Very complicated case makes me think that people like me should not exist may be or should’ve not used their minds. So you look like a Muslim which puts off ladies from accepting backgrounds like Europe but you’re not a Muslim which makes you not able to even try an arranged marriage. its so depressing like a disease that you can’t cure

  7. azarine94

    I honestly feel this anxiety every single day. I have dealt with it by accepting that I may never be in a fulfilling relationship and may end up alone. In addition, I have withdrawn from dating. I am closeted and would not want anyone to deal with my struggle, and this is becoming very tiring for me. I think you are extremely brave for being open about your non-religious stance – I am from the same background, and cannot imagine my parents/siblings/extended family knowing about who I really am inside.

  8. missbegum

    As an ex Muslim who has come out to my friends and family, I am pleased to see this article in particular. It highlights many grievances about dating and anxiety and about finding a suitable partner as an ex Muslim. I too find myself still confused about who (or what) I will eventually end up with..IF I end up with anyone for that matter. What I have come to realize though, is that it is best to just do what your heart feels at the time and not to think about family or former Muslim friends’ opinions. I truly believe that people should accept each other for who they are and what they believe, and if they don’t then so be it. Perhaps, the non accepting partner just isn’t right in the grand scheme of things. I have also realized that dating Muslim men is a no-go for me, no matter how hard they try to hide their beliefs, they can’t.

  9. EddieGrohlAdams

    Thank you Aliyah for this article, I completely agree with everything you said. Keep up the good work, writings like yours is what keeps many of us ex-Muslims sane. If nothing else, it tells me I’m not alone and there are people out there that can empathize with my ordeals.

    I’m in my late twenties, male, live in the US and am of Pakistani origin. My parents now live with me and I’m the main breadwinner for the family. I became an atheist while in college and for a while I dated non-Muslim women without an issue. But ever since my parents immigrated from Pakistan to move in with me two years ago, I find it extremely awkward to date non-Muslims. I know for a fact that if I marry a non-Muslim, my parents will not fully accept it. I love my parents and am especially close to my mom. And her deepest concern with me marrying a non-Muslim is that I’ll go to hell for it. I know it’s irrational and I’ve tried to reason with her, but it’s amazing how powerful the hold of a 1400 year old text has on people’s psyche. The intellectual journey we as ex-Muslims take to break out of that fear, and that loss of identity we initially go through (until we build it up again), is way too intense for many people out there, especially our parents generation that have suffered from decades of indoctrination in Muslim countries.

    Now, I’ve tried to stifle my atheistic views and talk to Muslim girls, mostly Pakistani, via rishta setups. But I’m realizing that I can’t date and potentially marry a Muslim woman – there’s such a huge cognitive gap between belief and agnosticism/atheism that it’s bound to cause conflict, especially when children are involved. Am I willing to circumcise my future child? Teach him/her all the surahs and duas I learnt as a kid? Take him/her to mosques on Fridays or Sundays? And not be absolutely truthful when, as children often do, I’m asked questions about God? I don’t think I can do all that, it’s simply wrong to pretend to be a Muslim parent when deep down you ain’t. And it won’t be fair to any Muslim girl to marry a man who’s not 100% in sync with her beliefs and the best way to teach her children morals.

    So, yeah, I agree – the ideal dating situation for a lot of ex-Muslims out there, including myself, is to find and hopefully marry other ex-Muslims, whether closeted or out. My parents are very liberal, relatively speaking, and know my views on religion – they tolerate it, believing that I’m going to fully come back to Islam when I hit 40 or something (prophethood reached Muhammad when he was 40 so I’ve got 12 years for sense to kick in). If I have an ex-Muslim girlfriend, that’s much more palatable for them than a non-Muslim because there’s always a chance, in their mind, that I, and her, can become believers again. I’m OK with indulging this fantasy of theirs. I think it’s a good enough compromise.

    But that only leaves the question of where to find single ex-Muslims seeking other ex-Muslims? We ex-Muslims are a tiny minority. And within that minority, there’s a big percentage that doesn’t want to or need to date/marry other ex-Muslims. I know that if my parents weren’t dependent on me, I probably wouldn’t go through the trouble of finding an ex-Muslim – there are plenty of agnostics/atheists out there from a non-Muslim heritage. So the pool of potential dates is small and statistics are not on our side. But I’m optimistic – I haven’t figured out the best way to go about this but I’m thinking of being way more open on OKCupid and other dating sites, explicitly saying I’m an ex-Muslim in the hopes that one day it might randomly catch someone’s eye. Heck, I might even try shaadi.com (just kidding. Or am I?) That’s the best I can hope for right now, I guess.

  10. Sid

    I am a Pakistani ex Muslim girl and no one knows about it. My parents are looking for a rishta for me and want to finalize it by the end of this year. I can’t say no any longer. I live with my parents and can’t simply move away. I’m looking for an ex muslim person like myself, who is somewhat pakistani at heart minus the religion, and I’m okay if you’re still in the closet as I am too. I live in Florida. Please contact me…we can talk and if we like each other, we can have our parents finalize things insha..yeah

    1. Mo

      Hi Sid,

      I am a Pakistani ex-Muslim guy in similar circumstances as yours. How can I contact you?

    2. Abs

      Hello! How are things going, Sid? Pakistani ex-muslim atheist guy here from Canada.

  11. Syed

    Why make a fuss about it. This issue is all too common in all religions. You will find many atheists who share your own beliefs – go and find that one person that is right for you. Live & let live.

  12. Julie Heanan

    I applaud your courage to choose to live your life the way you want to. I genuinely hope you find true love and live a very happy life!

  13. coolboy

    Mullahs never leave any logic thinking in the minds on people who follow them. They are always twisting things in their own favor. It was expected she will run away from religion after such kind of mullah boarding schools. Quran says there is no compulsion in religion.
    If she feels so bad about her muslim name she should just change her name as law allows her to do so , and move on.

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