Nazim | Afghanistan | exMuslim Stories
At 13, I knew I was different. My family didn’t believe in academic school, but I always knew I wanted to do something with my life. I went to both academic and religious schools and worked in a clinic because I wanted to become a doctor.
I was the top student, so I was captain, and given tasks after school. But one day, my teacher asked something different — about liking boys, about being his “friend”. This teacher was the most “religious” of all — he wore a long beard and would travel to preach Islam for 1 month, four times a year. He began to touch me, kiss me on the cheek, and molest me.
*This is common practise in Afghanistan because you must pay a large dowry – around $10,000 dollars – for a wife. While women are locked in their homes for domestic duties away from men. Thus men take out their urges on young boys or animals.
At that time I got very depressed. I couldn’t tell my family because it would be a big shame for everyone. Plus, they were all against me going to school from the start, and I wanted to do something with my life!
I told the teacher to stop or I’d tell. Instead, he performed these acts in front of other “friends” — boys my age to humiliate and blackmail me. After this, I cried so much because now if I told anyone, no one would believe me.
He then tried to take me and other boys to a house by motorcycle, but I jumped off and injured myself instead. By the end of the year, I couldn’t take any more abuse, so I left school at 13. For two years I just roamed the streets.
I used to be a very religious man, and i didn’t know it back then, but the sexual abuse was a huge turning point in my life.
When I was 16, my 20-year-old brother died in Iran fighting for the Taliban. My parents were grieving, so they were softer to my new request to ask to go to Kabul to study — I promised to make them money and then work for the mujaheddin (Taliban). Back then, I was a Talib.
In my culture, if your brother is engaged or married, and he dies, that woman needs to be given to the other brother. If you refuse, it would be a big shame for you and the family. So I told my parents, if you want me to marry that girl, I have to study.
That was the leverage that worked, so off to Kabul I went. For context, at the time, I still believed that anyone who opposed the Taliban or didn’t do jihad should be killed…
So the next biggest turning point in my life was going to school, and becoming friends with an atheist (but I didn’t know he was an atheist at the time). I began to explore the library and discovered the internet. I’d always been insatiably curious. The library was an incredible place for me to experience everything that I yearned for as a child.
My undercover atheist friend brought me books to open my mind, help me evaluate information, and think for myself. After 3 months, my mind had drastically changed. I was more compassionate, and open-minded. At this time, I was a free man and I was no longer a Talib. I was a regular Muslim.
My transition over 3 months…
As a Talib, I thought:
As a common Mulsim, I was thinking:
Everyone in the village where I grew up was supportive of the Taliban. So when I returned home I told my family that my beliefs had not changed, but it became impossible to hide. I began to argue with them and question certain topics that I knew were wrong. They were mad, but they couldn’t do anything because they desperately needed me to marry my late brother’s wife. Otherwise, this would bring public shame to the family. So they allowed me to go back to school to finish my last year.
In my final year, I completely changed again. I became a full atheist and began to write anonymously online. For me, the biggest change came from the hypocrisy of religious leaders.
What the religious leaders say:
Then I would think about this man who abused me. The things he preached did not align with his actions behind the scenes.
In addition to the hypocrisy, I learned about progress and the concept of democracy and it really opened my eyes.
Once I started school in Kabul everything was smooth, and I felt free, but now that I was finished my parents expected me to go back to the village to marry my brother’s wife. But I no longer wanted to be a doctor, I no longer wanted to be a Talib, or to help them and marry that girl. I told my eldest brother (still living) I wanted to be an engineer and take an entrance exam to university, but he and my family said, “no, you cannot study.” I wondered why they were so adamant all of a sudden, but later found that a man from a neighbouring village would come and spy on me and report back to my family that I was not praying.
Next, my brother came from the village to take me by force. I had to hide, and with a little bit of help, I fled to another city. For 15 days I had to hide and beg for money to evade my brother, but then my uncle came and caught me. I had to pretend to go back with him willingly for him to relax, but as soon as he let his guard down, I fled!
I fled to Jalalabad, a city near Pakistan. I had two atheist friends now and they helped me with money, and to get a passport. I also applied for a scholarship to study in Pakistan – and I got it! I was so happy because I so desperately wanted to leave the country.
Now it has been 3 years since I’ve seen my family, and my friends from home. I created a whole new life here in Pakistan, but my friends here (all Taliban supporters) often ask – why don’t you go home, why don’t you talk with family? So I began making fake calls in front of them and saying that my mum or dad called. I have to hide everything from them. I try to pray in front of them, but they can still tell that I’m different. Everyone calls me “secular” as a dig.
You can try your whole life to hide who you are, but who you are will always seep through. As a result of myself seeping through, I have changed a lot for my friends. I started to give lectures about progress, and how progress does not come from theocracies. I began to outline the history of China, Russia and the west, and how the institutions work. The theocracies of where we come from are not teaching about progress, they are teaching about jihad and prayer. Eventually, they agree that theocratic rule is not the answer.
I push the boundaries with them, and I make it playful. I have one friend who I told playfully, “you should listen to music because it is healthy and good. Come on, it’s good”, and he responded, “man, come on, don’t try and make me a secular man.” Now I laugh, but I wasn’t always able to.
When I was a child, I was very extroverted and playful, but after the abuse, I became very introverted. Now, I have changed again because of Free Hearts Free Minds.
Before therapy with Free Hearts Free Minds, I was very lost. I used to chain smoke to deal with the stress of holding onto all these secrets. Since therapy, I no longer smoke, and I meditate every day. I was in a very bad situation, but now I see myself differently. I see myself as good. I had lost myself, but now I have found who I am. I am open-minded and curious. I am someone who wants to experience everything life has to offer and am always seeking something new. I am someone who does not set limitations on himself. So now that I have found myself, I am very happy.
Help more people like Nazim.
Need help? Click to apply for our program.