by Anonymous

I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over what my life would be like had I turned out like my cousins, never questioning what I was taught and going straight from education to an arranged marriage. I’ve never come out as an atheist to my family and I do my best to make sure that they never find out. For most ex-Muslims, the consequences of denouncing Islam are physical and emotional abuse, disownment or even death. 

I cemented my fate four years ago by falling in love with an English man. Being in a relationship with a non-Muslim — particularly a white person — is forbidden in the Pakistani community. It’s considered one of the worst things you can do to yourself and your family. It's as if falling in love with a white man is akin to discrediting everything that your family has ever done for you. It’s the sign of a whore; a woman with no self-respect or love for herself. Why would you even want to be with a white man? They get drunk, they use you, cheat on you and then toss you to the curb.

That’s what my mother told me, anyway. I still remember the day she found out about him, you’d think that I’d just confessed to murdering a dozen people. I don’t like to think about that year but I do remember having to block my bedroom door with my bedside table to stop her from coming in and screaming at me. I don’t think a single day went by where she didn’t remind me that I had destroyed her life and that she wished she’d never given birth to me. One thing in particular stuck with me, during an argument she told me that she wished she’d died of cancer instead of our family member so she wouldn’t have to deal with the pain of me messing around with a white guy. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive her for that.  

There have been moments where I’ve wondered if what I was doing was actually as bad as she made it out to be. I always came back to the same conclusion: there was nothing wrong with my love for this man, it made me happy, it was beautiful and it was the oppressive stance of religion and culture that was to blame. I did my best to get through that year but eventually ended up trying to take my own life.

I realised that it was an impossible situation and that I couldn’t maintain my mental health let alone higher education. I gave in to her constant begging to leave him and told her that we had broken up. My mother was satisfied and life got a bit better for me. In reality, we were still very much together and two years ago we got engaged. I remember sitting outside a bar a few hours after our engagement, looking down at my ring and realising how bad my situation actually was. There was no way my family were going to accept this and the reality of getting disowned - or worse - kicked in.

My fiancé asked me if I was going to move down after I was finished with my degree. I said yes but reminded him it was impossible for me, an unmarried Pakistani woman, to move away from the family home. No woman in my family has done that, not even for university. My two options were to either lie or come clean. I couldn’t tell them the truth whilst living under their roof because I was scared of the consequences and I couldn’t deal with the emotionally abusive fallout either.

So my fiancé and I eventually decided to put together a lie that would enable me to safely move out and then come out to my family on my own terms, without fear of physical abuse. It’s taken us months of careful planning, even enlisting the help of our friends to help with certain logistics. I’m moving fairly soon and the thought of my family potentially finding out that I’ve been lying has made me physically sick. I feel like I’m in some sort of anxiety-ridden state of purgatory where my personal wellbeing relies solely on my family believing the lies I’ve told them. And for what? My right to leave home, live with my fiancé and live my life the way I please? None of this should have to be so difficult, and it should certainly not be a reason for being disowned. It shouldn't be this hard or scary and nobody should be fearful of their love for someone to the point of wondering whether they’ll end up dead because of it. 

I’m not sure what will happen if I get caught out, but I’m grateful that if the worst does happen, I’ve gone out fighting for my freedom and my right to love whoever I choose. My fiancé reminded me that if this was the other way round and it was his family that opposed our relationship so strongly then it would be seen as completely unacceptable. I have to agree that in our collective quest to stamp out racism and achieve equality, we’ve forgotten about people like me who have to fight for their rights and freedom from the other side. I’m hopeful though that one day my sacrifices and the sacrifices of other ex-Muslims will help lead the way for a more accepting and tolerant generation.