When I Leave

This article was first published at

Dear Dad,

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I look up to you. I know we argue a lot. I know I haven’t always listened to you and my unwillingness to conform to your image of the perfect family has, at best, puzzled you. But I do want to tell you that I do look up to you. I look up to you because I have yet to meet a more caring, hardworking, and faithful man than you. On the nights I forego sleep, I hear you waking up on the other side of my wall. I always have to check the time, because it seems that no matter how many times you tell me, I still can’t believe you wake up at four in the morning for work. For us. For me. I still can’t believe you work seven days a week and never utter a complaint. I know for sure that if I was in your shoes, I would have given up a long time ago. But that’s another reason why I look up to you, dad, you’re stubborn. Once you’ve made up your mind about something, you stick to it. I probably got that from you (the stubbornness, not the hardworking aspect, unfortunately.)

You have always been my role model. Whenever elementary school teachers used to ask us who we looked up to, I always wanted to say it was you but I didn’t want to seem strange for being the girl who wanted to be like her dad. Once I hit middle school, I modified my message and instead said I wanted to marry someone like you rather than be you. I even remember telling a classmate of mine how much I respected you. “He’s so religious!” I’d told her at the time, before promising that I would marry “A good Muslim, just like him!”

Funny how things change.

Your devotion to Islam had always been comforting to me. Even though by seven, I understood enough about Islam to know what I was supposed to do, I never followed through and you never forced me to. Instead, I would watch you pray while thinking and hoping that your prayers would count towards me, too. I thought maybe there was some way to reason with god so I could share some of your good deeds. You had more than enough to cover your path to heaven. When I was nine and learned of the Day of Judgment and the Dajjal (anti-Christ), I was so scared for myself. I thought surely I would be caught. I would be caught and I would be sent straight to hell for my many misdeeds. But then I was told that good Muslims would never fall for the Dajjal’s tricks because they would be able to read the word Kaffir on his forehead. And just as suddenly, I was relieved! What did I have to worry about? My father was a good Muslim! As long as I was with you, I knew I would never fall victim to the anti-Christ. You would protect me.

Your faith was what bridged us together. Your faith was what made me feel special. I even remember a time when we were reading through one of our many Islamic books. I was sitting on one side of the couch, barely seven years old, my sister was sitting on the other side, and you were sitting between us. As we thumbed through the book, you told us how there were people who once thought (and still believe) that daughters were worthless. You told us how it was once a common practice to kill girls and the prophet had put an end to it. And then you reached over and hugged me and my sister, and said, “I am so proud to have daughters.”

It should come to no surprise, then, that when you asked me to take on the hijab almost a year later – not just on Saturdays for Saturday school anymore, but every day – I didn’t disobey. I took it on. I wanted to make you proud.

And as I write this, I want you to know that I still want to make you proud, that everything I do is for you, just like everything you do is for me. I want you to know that my leaving Islam is not because of you or anything you did.

This is for me.

Because, dad, as much as I respect you and love you, I know in my heart that I cannot follow this religion anymore (or any religion for that matter). Dad, I’m sorry. I know this is breaking your heart, but I cannot stand beside you anymore. I wish I could. I really do. Because standing where I am right now feels so lonely. Because the second I realized I was in the process of leaving Islam was the second my world fell apart. And honestly, dad, if I could have anything in the world right now, if god existed, I would ask him to return me to my childhood. I would ask him so I could get the chance to hear your car pull up in the driveway once more, so I could see you standing in the entryway, so I could hear your voice calling out to me, hoarse from working all day, “Where are my princesses?”

I want to go back so I can record the tired joy on your face when my sister and I raced down the stairs and into your arms. Because those guys they show on the TV now, dad? The ones that are grouchy and have a permanent scowl on their faces? The ones that abuse and marry off their young daughters without their permission? The ones they call “Muslims”? They’re nothing like you. They’re monsters who hide under Islam’s archaic laws and use them to protect themselves. They are not Muslim monsters, they are monsters who are Muslims. They are not you, dad. And I wish I had that recording of you, smiling and hugging us, so I could show it to the world. So I could show them that it wasn’t you who made me take the first step towards apostasy, it was me. It was my own hypocrisy.

When I leave Islam, dad, I hope you don’t become angry with me or hate me or feel sad. Instead, I hope you remember the little girl I was. I hope you remember the little girl who left cookies for you on your pillowcase and the one who fell asleep that night on the couch, who tried so desperately and failed to stay up with you before you left for overseas. I say this because I want you to know that just as I have changed from that little girl, I was bound to change from the ten year old girl who prayed and informed you of her decision to wear long sleeves without you having to tell her first. I was bound to change from the teenaged girl who searched for Islamic videos online and memorized passages of the Quran. But change isn’t a bad thing, is it? You yourself worked hard to take my mother out of your warring homeland and to America. You changed your plan of having your family live in the same neighborhood you did as a kid. You said you did it to give us a better chance at happiness. So I want you to know that I, too, am doing this to give myself a better chance at happiness. No longer will I relegate myself to the status of a second class citizen because of my gender. You taught me that, didn’t you, dad?

If you are still reading this, you are probably wondering why I’m leaving this out for you. I am doing it so you know that I didn’t leave Islam because of Shaytan (devil). I didn’t leave Islam because of “Western Influence”. I left Islam because you taught me to be better than what this religion thinks of me. I am doing it because, just like I did as a child when I first wore the hijab, I want to make you proud.

After all, everything I’ve done in my life was to make you proud.

Love, E

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