An ex-atheist Muslim and four more days

I met the brilliant Irish sociologist Tom Inglis for lunch in Dublin a few years back. It was yet another of my foiled attempts to finalise a topic for a PhD. During our chat he made the point that, in Ireland, not all atheists are viewed equally – in Ireland it’s better to be a Catholic atheist than a Protestant one. It made me laugh at the time.

Last week I met a Muslim atheist. An ex-atheist. It was a chance meeting at the Clongriffin-mosque gathering in north Dublin. She happened to sit beside me as I sat on the floor eating my food. She was wearing a pink and white hijab and she was from Kazakstan.

Alina came to Ireland 12 years ago. She is around thirty. She was brought up in a non-practicing Muslim family and had always described herself as an atheist.

In Ireland she married a Muslim man. He was also from Kazakstan. He was a believer and a practicing Muslim. She wasn’t. He used to fast a few days during Ramadan. When they met he stopped going to the mosque so often and they “gave up on talking about religion”.

They had a baby. “It was such a miracle to experience birth and pregnancy and all the amazing things about breast feeding” she tells me. “Did you know that in a hot country the mother’s milk is more watery so the baby doesn’t get dehydrated? There are so many miracles in breast feeding. I started to question things.”

“A lot of atheists see people as just biological beings” she tells me. She pauses, fishing for words. She talks about science and photosynthesis and the value of science. “A lot of atheists” she starts again “think we are purely living from our reflexes and act in a certain way because we were raised in a certain way”.

Last Ramadan, when her husband was fasting, she started to research Islam. She didn’t tell her husband. She listened to lectures on Youtube and read articles on the internet. “Every time I listened to a lecture I thought “yes, this is definitely for me” and in the last few days of Ramadan I decided for sure that I wanted to be a Muslim and that I wanted to wear hijab”.

She was walking down a street in Dublin with her husband and baby daughter when she told him. He was happy. She smiles, telling me that she recited the shahada (the Islamic creed ‘there is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God) there on the street in Dublin in front of her husband and since then she considers herself to be Muslim.

I ask her how did her family react. “My parents at the start were extremely worried” she tells me, laughing, “but the other day my mother was reminding me I had to pray so I was like “woah”. They don’t want me to wear hijab but it’s been a year now and they see how I’ve changed and I’ve become a better person. Even though they are Muslim they still have negative perceptions of Islam because of the media. I think it’s because they never looked into it.”

“When I was young my identity was related to Islam” she says. “When I was around seven my mother became religious for a while but when I reverted I didn’t know how to wash before prayer, I didn’t know I was meant to face Mecca when praying and I didn’t know how to put on the hijab. I learned it from the internet.” She laughs and tells me her first attempt wasn’t very good.

The women I spoke to in Clongriffin that night were from all over the world – Morocco, Turkey, Somalia, Australia, Libya and even Brunei. They nearly all spoke about missing their families and countries of origin during Ramadan when there is such a focus on families. They are all wearing head-coverings of some sort.

I notice a few women wearing the same cream-coloured hijab with coloured writing on it. Ebru from Turkey tells me that they belong to a group called “Happy Muslim Family of Ireland” – “we are trying to come together as families and do picnics and Eid parties and have fun for the kids”.

Ebru, who came to Ireland nine years ago, tells me she still feels homesick but she has settled into life in Dublin where she now works in a playschool. “The kids sometimes ask if I have ears and hair” she tells me, laughing, “so I show them sometimes”.

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Happy Muslim Family of Ireland – hijab

This is the last blog post about my interviews with the woman at Clongriffin. It’s Saturday morning now. The 3rd of August. The 25th of Ramadan. My period is nearing an end so tomorrow I’ll be back to the last four days of fasting. I feel grumpy even thinking of it, which defeats the purpose really, but I’ll enjoy my food and drinks today. Tonight I’m back to Al Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown for an almost-all nighter of food and lectures and prayer.

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Happy Muslim Family of Ireland – detail from hijab

Most of the people I’ve interviewed over the past few weeks have told me that the first few days of Ramadan are the difficult ones. Getting used to the hunger and thirst. I realise that women have to go through the difficult days twice during Ramadan and once again when Ramadan is over and they have to make up the lost days of the fast. Tomorrow will be difficult again. But only four more days to go.

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Ramadan Mubarak poster at Clongriffin gathering

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Posters in an empty shop unit at the Clongriffin shopping centre

8 thoughts on “An ex-atheist Muslim and four more days

  1. Just a small note…a veil is a piece of cloth that covers the face,the hijab is the headscarf.Ebru is wearing a headscarf(hijab) and not a veil.

    • The Veil is the Niqab.Really like reading your experiences of Ramadhan.
      By the way has the experience changed your views of muslims or Islam?

      • Thanks! I’m still exempt today so the last days of fasting are postponed until tomorrow. Really finding the thoughts of going back to the fasting very difficult. It has definitely changed my views – broadened my horizon and added depth. Although Ramadan seems to be a very unifying experience I’ve also become more aware of the myriad levels of diversity within Islam – particularly in terms of interpretation of the Quran (which I’m still reading) but also regarding the different schools of thought and sects. Are you fasting yourself and where are you in the world?

      • Colette, I live in Ireland, I introduced myself to you when you were talking with Lorraine, i came over and said was loving reading your blog!hope you remember me.
        With regards to the various interpretation of the Quran that certainly is a problematic issue as verses of the Quran are often taken out of context, and people choose to follow their whims and desires to interpretate verses of the Quran. In one of your blogs i remember an ‘Imam’ saying the Quran says that there is no compulsion in religion and therefore you cant force one to fast(i hope i remember this correctly).The verse in the Quran does say that but his interpretaionbis in correct…the verse is talking about forcing people to accept Islam,this not not permissible as guidance is only from Allah, however once a person accepts Islam all the pillars of Islam become obligatory upon that person and anyone leaving an obligatory act is a major sinner.

      • Hi Sajida – yes, I do remember you. It was lovely to meet you. And you brought me the dates too 🙂 There are so many interpretations and it seems that each interpretation is believed to be the correct or true one by some. It makes it very difficult for me, as a non-Muslim, to understand. Except to understand that there are many versions. The Imam who spoke about apostasy also did say that fasting is up to the individual and is an issue between the person and God. I have heard of Muslims in Ireland who aren’t fasting and it seems to be accepted by the Muslim community rather than condemned. Thanks for making contact – lovely to hear from you 🙂

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