Leaving a religion can be a life-altering experience, especially for Ex-Muslims who often face severe consequences. Faithless Hijabi’s mental health program offers therapy and support to help them heal and find themselves again in a world that can be very harsh.
Leaving a religion can be a deeply transformational journey, from unlearning toxic beliefs to forging a new path towards personal meaning. For many of us, it came at a larger cost than we had bargained for; sometimes, it was our families, our own sense of identity that we left behind and most times it was our safety.
Dissent within religious communities is seldom tolerated, but leaving Islam carries particularly severe penalties. In over a dozen countries, apostates live in constant fear of the death penalty, while many others are threatened by incarceration and ostracization from their families. This harsh reality often forces Ex-Muslims to remain in hiding, concealed not only from the world but from themselves. Even within Western nations, where freedom of expression is protected, a substantial number of Ex-Muslims continue to live in concealment Closeted Ex-Muslims, living under the constant shadow of secrecy, face a unique set of challenges. They must continuously wear a mask, pretending to adhere to beliefs they no longer hold. This dual existence exacts a toll, leading to heightened anxiety, depression from religious trauma.
Religious trauma, also known as religious abuse or spiritual abuse, is a term that encompasses the psychological and emotional distress experienced by individuals who have been subjected to harmful religious teachings, practices, or environments- and can manifest in the form of guilt, anxiety, and fear of divine retribution.
Primarily, women often endure a disproportionate religious burden, leading to religious trauma. This includes adherence to modest dress codes, male guardianship and rigid gender roles that limit their autonomy. Patriarchal structures within these religious contexts exacerbate these challenges, reinforcing traditional power imbalances and stifling women’s voices and agency. The cumulative weight of these demands can cause significant emotional distress and psychological turmoil for women striving for autonomy and equality within their environments.
Faithless Hijabi’s mental health program, aims to be a beacon of hope for Ex-Muslims seeking healing. Our program offers free therapy to those in need, providing a safe space to confront their trauma and rebuild their lives. We’ve onboarded trauma specialists and therapists experienced in working with Ex-Muslims, offering therapy in English, Arabic, or Farsi.
Since September 2020 Faithless Hijabi’s mental health program has supported over 110 individuals with at least 8 sessions of therapy from a licensed specialist. Over 65% of these individuals hail from the Middle East and North Africa regions, where the cost of dissent can be particularly severe.
Faithless Hijabi stands as a crucial lifeline for these Ex-Muslims, offering them a safe harbour to navigate the turbulent seas of religious trauma, secrecy, and self-rediscovery. As we continue this vital work, our goal remains clear: to empower Ex-Muslims to heal, thrive, and forge their own paths towards authentic and liberated lives. However, our work is reliant on donors like you. Your contributions enable us to provide essential mental health support and resources to those navigating the challenging journey of leaving their faith.
One individual who has greatly benefited from Faithless Hijabi’s Mental Health Program is Mariam Aliyu Oyiza. Growing up in a conservative Sunni community in Nigeria, she often questioned her religious teachings, leading to floggings at the age of 14. Her ongoing religious questioning resulted in a loss of identity and depression. Connecting with Faithless Hijabi allowed her to work through religious trauma with a psychologist, helping her find herself again.
“Faithless Hijabi’s commitment goes beyond therapy. They supported my asylum relocation from Nigeria due to my apostasy and work with girls & women in the region, showing unwavering dedication.”
Through our mental health program, therapists have shared their insightful observations, noting that it’s truly heartening to witness how ExMuslims enthusiastically embrace the newfound possibilities that arise when they step away from their former faith. In many ways, they embark on a journey of world-building, redefining every facet of their lives, from relationships and friendships to hobbies and self-perception. This process often leads to a world that is remarkably distinct from their upbringing within Islam, allowing them to carve out their unique identities and voices. The experiences within the faith have, at times, stifled their individuality, making this journey of self-discovery even more liberating.
Zara Kay is a Tanzanian-Australian ex-Muslim activist and the founder of Faithless Hijabi. Her work centres around addressing the distinctive yet interconnected experiences of ex-Muslims, advocating for the rights of Ex-Muslims, and speaking out against the systemic degradation of women in Muslim-majority societies.