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Faking Muslim: I live in India and was born in a religious Muslim family. Since childhood, I was a nonbeliever. But, as you must be expecting, my family started to worry about my attitude. My mother used to blackmail me emotionally, so that I’d go for prayers (namaz).Then I began to pretend I was going to prayers, but instead I would go with some of my non-Muslim friends (they too were nonbelievers of their own religion). Many times I was caught by one or the other relatives or family friends. Now I am 22 and still the same game continues. I act as a believer in front of my family as well as some of my believer friends. However, most of my close friends are aware of this fact and they keep it secret for me.
Now I am irritated with this game. I don’t understand how to handle it. I love my parents and would do anything for their happiness. If I disclose my secrets, they will get hurt. What shall I do?
—Don’t Want To Pretend Any More
Recently I answered a similar question from a college student in the U.S. I advised him to keep his non-belief to himself for just a bit longer rather than risk backlash that could cost him his degree and his family.
Your case is different is several key respects. Although you are just two years older, the previous letter-writer was still legally a minor and financially dependent on his family, while you are an official adult. And while he had never told anyone about his lack of faith, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who knows you doesn’t already know about yours, given the many times you’ve been busted. Surely you are not the only one pretending you are a believer.
Some readers took me to task for not telling the younger writer to stand up for his beliefs and accept the consequences. I stand by my advice in his case, but I suggested he keep his views to himself only until he finished college, at which time he’d be 22—the same age you are now. In your case, it’s time to stop pretending and start owning up. Since your parents know you’ve been faking faith, it’s more an issue of control and appearances than belief. Everyone has to separate from their parents in some respect in order to become fully adult. You are old enough to be contemplating marriage. Do you want to continue to pretend with potential mates, or do you want to find someone who appreciates the real you? Do you want your children to continue the charade, or to be free to express their own views?
You say you are concerned about hurting your parents, but you already did that when they had to blackmail you into praying, and every time it got back to them that instead of praying you were playing hooky. Unless refusing to continue the game would invoke more financial, physical, or emotional duress than you are willing or able to bear (and I admit to know little about what it’s like to ditch your Muslim faith in India), I say it’s time you embraced your own identity and autonomy. Inform your parents that you don’t believe in their religion and you will no longer pretend you do. And then start living according to what you do believe, openly and honestly.