Being an Atheist Parent: Let Them Choose

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I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How would I, an ex-Muslim atheist, want to raise my children? Like most Pakistani atheists, I am married to a Muslim spouse who is very sensitive about my atheism.

It goes without saying that I will not be able to keep pretenses about Islam with my children. That would be unauthentic and wrong. Perhaps it would make sense to let my children be indoctrinated with Islam. If nothing else, they would be better adjusted, socially. However, I need to earn my sleep at night and indoctrinating my own children with a known falsehood would be morally problematic for me.

I have therefore come to an agreement with my spouse: She will guide and advise them as she prefers, as Muslims, and I will not contradict her messages to them, until they are at least of an age where they can judge for themselves. Then it will be up to them whether to debate me to death, or see the light.

My duty would be to instill an innate sense of skepticism, an appetite for objective inquiry. I am positive, that Islam itself, with its teachings and its history, will do the rest!

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52 thoughts on “Being an Atheist Parent: Let Them Choose

  1. I am having similar trouble these days but your solution hardly seems a solution at all. Is there really an age when children start to “judge for themselves”? What age do you have in mind? Three, five, or ten? I would rather get at my children before they start school for that is where I first met the most ferociously religious of my fellows. Also I don’t think you can passively watch while someone (even if its her mother) indoctrinates your child with Islam of all religions!

    But I still haven’t figured it all out either. One of the things I am thinking of doing is coming out; to be more open about my atheism and let our daughter openly know of my lack of belief early on.

    Another thing I want is to let our daughter know from the start that Islam is what her mother ‘believes’ and is not necessarily the only truth. You cannot do that from a passive position.

  2. It is most common problem in Pakistan and really needs more discussion for solutions as father has also an equal right to teach truth to the children.

  3. well honestly,

    i have the same problem in a way!

    but you know, i give my spouse a lot of credit. i mean, it is extremely hard to wrap your head around the fact that i am an atheist. you know, people ask questions when they don’t see me going to say my eid ki namaaz three years in a row!

    but about kids; i’m damn worried. not about my spouse actually, she’s got a solid head on her and does know that i will (inadvertently) influence their view on religion.

    so we’ve decided to come to terms with it all; i’m not gonna talk to them directly about my atheism until they’re 14, till which point neither of us will try to force either of out beliefs on them.

    lets see how that works out!

    i’m glad i found this site waisey.

  4. Hi,

    I am also an atheist living in Pakistan. I am glad that you have setup this blog. I was wondering if you could help me out with some questions. You have said that your wife is a Muslim and knows that you are an atheist. How can that be. As you should know, in Islam it is not allowed that a Muslim marry a non-Muslim. How did you tell your wife about your belief. Did you become an atheist before marriage or after marriage. Did you tell your wife before or after marriage. I am asking because I will be getting married soon. I don’t know what I should do. Should I just pretend to be a Muslim and spare my future wife the trouble. Should I tell her about my belief and risk losing her forever. It’s an arranged marriage so if I do tell her and she backs out of the marriage then she will surely have to tell our parents about her reasons for doing so. This would be a nightmare. My parents are strict Muslims and at their age they simply can’t handle this kind of situation. Please give me some advice.

    Thanks.

    • To the commenter immediately above this:
      I think you should come clean with your wife-to-be. Do not say flat out, that you are an atheist, but say something like, “I am not really sure there is a God and I am not religious at all. I am telling you this upfront so that you know before we tie the knot.” It’s important for you to do this because, down the line, she might blame you for not being honest about your secularism. Telling her upfront is the morally right thing to do here.
      -P.A

  5. @pakistani atheist:

    regular updates my man! this blog is kinda picking up, isn’t it? 🙂

    @zeeshan:

    you’re kinda right about the “passive position” bit. but like i said, what worries me isn’t the mother of my child, but other kids. they can be so mean and can totally alienate other kids for the slightest of reasons. that is what really scares me.

    but what is the age of reason? i think it all depends on the child. honestly, i’ve met some 10 year olds who’re pretty darn smart, and some 25 year olds who’re as dumb as a ton of bricks. all comes down to the child and what kind of environment they’ve grown up in.

    @anonymous:

    either you can keep everyone else happy by lying to yourself and other and thus keep yourself totally unhappy….

    ….or you can tell your wife. you will be spending the rest of your life with her, therefor you can’t lie to her forever.

    come clean as soon as you can. like that bandaid you need to pull off 🙂

  6. I am in same predicament. I am married to a Pakistani woman who is Muslim. I have been married for over 25 years now and my kids are grown up.
    I am an atheist since I was in my early teens and before marrying my wife I told her about my beliefs. As a matter of fact everyone in my family knew so it was not a hidden thing. But I knew that if I stayed in Pakistan sooner or later I would get into big trouble that is why I moved to North America.
    As for raising my kid I never forced religion on my kids as that would have been very hypocritical of me. But to respect wife’s wishes I did not stop her from teaching Islam to kids either. It turned out that both of my kids are not religious at all.
    Sometimes I feel very lonely among the Pakistani community and can not find any other atheist Pakistanis to talk to.

    • Need to talk? Let me know anytime! It is very lonely and I find in my experience agnostics or atheists can lack very much in offering a supportive network where you feel part of a ‘brotherhood’ so to speak.

  7. Whatever you do you would still be brain washing them just like your parents did to make you a Muslim. If you dont do anything the culture and your spouse would brain wash them. You just have to decide which brain washing is right for the kid. He may or may not grow up to be smart enough to combat religion later on in his life.

  8. Even though I am still single, I have thought about this issue a few times. It can be hard to see your children being indoctrinated once you have broken free yourself. Wish you all the best with them.

  9. Hello,
    We present our site

    Have a look to
    http://www.islam-documents.org

    (which is the improvment of the other islam-documents.com, once based in Tunisia).

    There is thousands of texts (around 20 000) about the origins of islam, with a critical, humanist, and scientific view (and even ironical). It is now the bigger “sourcebook” on that subject, with often unpublished documents: Muhammad biographies (SIRA), the main books of traditions (HADITH) , muslim chronicles (TABARI…), companions biographies (TABAQAT), quranic verses, quranic commentaries (TAFSIR).7

    A new version is now available, improved and corrected: around 3700 pages. We are working for a new version published every year.

    All is in french. so sorry. but you need to read it to understand muslim thinking and acts.

    Bye. Take care.

    PS: just dare to do the same in your own language!!!

    • I would love to read it if it’s in English. Isn’t it ironic that it takes a nonmuslim to analyze the Muslim faith? Wait.. it’s not ironic at all given all the threats upon doing so..

  10. I would prefer if children, from an early age, are taught real human values like compassion, critical thinking, and an appreciation of reason & logic in order to fully understand themselves and society as a whole.

  11. I’m a Pakistani atheist living in Canada. My wife was a moderate Muslim, but eventually she saw the light (mind you, it took close to 5 years to “convert” her to an agnostic).

    I figure that the bottom line is that you’re either stupid or self-delusional to believe in Islam or any other such nonsense.

    Children:

    None of our kids believe in any invisible deity in the sky and therefore don’t follow the ridiculous practices.

    Since day 1 (when they were ready to understand… 4-5 years old), I told them there were a lot of people out there that believed in an imaginary being. As they grew older, I taught them about the religions of the world (in much the same manner you would tell them about Goldilocks and the Three Bears)… as fables.

    I have provided a strategy to my kids in dealing with overzealous muslins (because the Christians, Hindus, Jews, etc. generally don’t get upset that we’re not following their faith) looking to convert or threaten them.

    You cannot maintain your typical Pakistani lifestyle with this method. You must not compromise your principals… anything less, you might as well go to Friday prayers.

    Now, I come from a very Muslim family so what we have done is break ties with all but the most open-minded members of our family. Our friends tend to be non-Pakistanis.

    I hope this helps someone out there… if you have any questions/comments, please reply back. I have gone through about many years of emotional torture with family friends/community to arrive at the stage where I can be happy with myself/family and genuinely not give a shit about what other Pakistanis/Muslims think.

    Take care and good luck!

  12. A roaring applause for you my Pakistani brothers. While I personally fail to see the modern “Atheism movement” as something more than a somewhat expensive exercise in semantics that promotes separatism (and hence shall only lead to mankind being segregated even further), I wholeheartedly agree with shedding the bronze age idols forged over the ages in the limited imaginations of poorly educated power mongers with overgrown facial hair. Visiting this site was one of those extremely rare occasions where I felt any pride in being a Pakistani. May the enlightenment in your thoughts lead you and your loved ones to better lives.

  13. Raising kids in Pakistan without fanatic ideas is difficult.I have however been successful.When they are young,only refute main misconceptions and tell them not to discuss those with anyone.At the age of 17/18 tell them the truthie religion is a fraud.Give them books of Karen armstrong,the god delusion etc.My kids are now married but athiests.

  14. I have spent 50 years on research on religion.I have answers to all of yuor questions.If any one is not listening to your arguments,let me know. i may help.

  15. let them choose?
    what a nice senence with sence of freedom?
    let them choose to adopt secularism in this secular age with forced enviroment of secular science.
    is it right to free teen on their intellect to choose or reject faith for himself or herself.
    i think it is not right and possible for parent to truly free their childern without any biosness.
    free thought is not free , ….
    secular humanist parent never provide their childern free enviroment to adopt any religion. infect they try to produce critical thinking with clear inclination toward sthiesm during looking after their childern.

  16. Are you just an Atheist or a humanist too? I am asking this question because most of the Pakistanis I have met online are rabidly anti Hindu and still show the classical traits of Muslims.

  17. I have to say this Internet revolution really amazes me. Specially blogs like this. Every time I think that I am among a few I get surprised to find out that there are others like me. Alot more than I think for sure.
    It is weird that I was running around to other agnostic atheist sites and posting this very question.
    I had so many answers but none of the folks that answered were Pakistani and hence they probably didn’t understand the intricacies of being a Pakistani Atheist.
    So I too am in the same predicament.
    In my case I have been married for several years and have told my wife about my being an atheist a few years ago.
    We sort of have an arrangement where she does her own thing being a Muslim and lets me be. With the kids she is raising them Muslim which really pisses me off. I am sick and tired of her narrating these ridiculous fairytales to them….

    My kids are very young so I am not sure if I should intervene at this stage….

    Any additional advise would be greatly appreciated.

    Nadeem

    • You should intervene! They are your kids too. This is the time your kids will remember the most. Whatever you tell them now is what will remain with them. It will take a life changing experience for them to alter their mindset in regards to religion. You will have to show your wife how being an atheist is far more moral than being a muslim. Your best weapon is the Quran itself. If you have read it and know it you can refute her claims of better parenting with Islamic belief system. Non religious people are far more moral than religious ones. You have to prove it to her that your way of parenting will make your children far better people than her indoctrinating them. I can understand how you feel because I feel horrible when my older sister (who I don’t see much of) recites the verses of Quran t her 2 year old daughter. It makes me feel sad for my niece! I don’t say anything to her because it’s none of my business and my sister feels very strongly about her beliefs. Also, you have to talk to her about GOD, ALLAH she prays to. Ask her who is he and what is he? Who is sadistic power in the skies that created us, and unleashed all the underworld monsters on us to TEST us?! Discuss Allah with her. I have noticed, most muslims are most offended when you speak against the character of the prophet Muhammad. However, they don’t feel much when you debate about Allah with them. What is this personal relation with Muhammad? It seems to me that what they are worshipping is their prophet! Allah only fills the void for them. Ask her how would she like if a 50+ old man asked for her daughter’s hand in marriage (who i am sure is a child, right?) In what world of morality, is this a behavior of a prophet? What kind of parents test their kids, sadistics ones right? Why should this Allah you pray to test its creation and for what reasons? Is it worth praying to? ASk her how scientifically hell is even possible? Is it fear of hellfire that’s talking through her? Also, ask her how many people have seen, felt, smelled, spoke to this so called ALLAH? The only person who has ever claimed to have spoken to Allah according all abrahamic religions is Moses (Musa). It’s 1 one person against all those men, women, children, that have walked this earth. Is this evidence enough? I don’t think so..

  18. oh god (pun intended) am i glad or am i glad at finding this blog….ive been goin insane for the last 3 hrs looking for something that’l help me with my questions!
    see, u guys r lucky…ure men! im a woman, n an atheist to top it all…married 15 yrs, to someone that doesnt necessarily practice islam but is a firm believer nonetheless…i converted to atheism about 6 yrs ago…n am quite vocal about it as well! luckily, im ‘mostly’ surrounded by people that would rather hold a debate than judge me based on my (lack of) religious beliefs! (that list does not have my husband’s name on it, as he disapproves of it, much to my annoyance)
    my only issue is this, as raised previously on this very page…hes a muslim n according to shria law, u cant be married to an atheist, NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, is how intensely one gentleman felt about the matter…now…i might not b a believer myself, but he is…n im tormented by this very useless piece of info (for me, atleast) that can threaten the very existence of our marriage. if raised, it can result in my marriage being considered as ‘void/invalid’ by the court of law!

    what am i to do!?

    • Hello Tak,
      I have no advice for you, I’m afraid, as I think only you and your husband can sort this out. I am also an outsider and its always dangerous to comment from this perspective and lack of understanding. I do not know to which “law” you refer, but in the west, I do not believe diverging beliefs would be a cause for calling a marriage invalid. However it may cause such strains as to become unbearable – does your husband want you to pretend and live alie for the sake of appearances? Does he realise how unfair to you this would be? While I have little first hand understanding of Pakistani culture, I am female and relate to your dilemma because of that.

    • Hello Tak .. you have no idea how relieved I felt after reading your message. I’ve been married for four years now and have two boys. My husband is a very staunch believer and I have been atheist since I was still doing my undergrad. I am so confused as to how to answer the questions regarding raising the kids and recently he said something about how it renders our marriage null and void. Now, I love my husband .. .I just don’t know what to do.

      • Life is too short to waste. Think long and hard and come back to the right path. May Allah guide to the straight path.

      • You love your husband and kids and still you are an atheist: it is a paradox. Both love and atheism cannot co-exist. The universe is mechanical in nature. It does not depict any love in its working. So where has this passion come from. Can you tell.

  19. btw, 3 hrs is just for tonight!
    ive been looking for an answer to this question since i slipped out of the realms of belief into that of indifference!
    so thats quite a few hrs of fruitless research in total!

  20. Thank you for the interesting conversation. My spouse and I are both atheists. We have brought up two children , now adult atheists. We live in Ireland which is probably the Christian equivalent of Pakistan in terms of tolerance for atheism, so we understand the pressures you face. We kept our opinions on this subject private and discussed it only with trusted friends. I took our children to church quite regularly believing that it was part of their education to understand Christianity and to appreciate the art and literature that flowed from religion. We never pretended to be Christian with our children and we would have accepted their decision had they decided to be Christian (or Muslim or whatever). However, they are both true and talented Scientists and they did not convert to supernatural beliefs. We think what is really important in child raising is the example you set them. If you are a kind, caring and honest person and an atheist, this will have more effect than all the religion pumped into them by their society. Keep up the great work Pakistani Atheists. You make me feel there may be hope for your beautiful country.

  21. Nice to see another Pakistani Atheist blogging. I too have thought about this, and I have to say your approach seems a little odd. If children are taught about religion from an early age they are essentially being indoctrinated into a particular faith which would make it alot more harder for them to ‘see the light’ since I’ve had these kinds of “debates” with grown up rational adults who have been indoctrinated into Islam and despite seeing the absurdity of it all, still hold strong to Islam.

    I am also married to a Muslim spouse and I have thought about how I am going to raise my children, and I have decided that secular education will hold precedence over religious education, and when they are old enough to make an informed opinion then they can learn about Islam and join it if they want. My logic behind it is, as long as they know what they are getting into, then that is for them to deal with.

    You see I don’t see it as my job to de-convert someone, I just don’t do that for reasons of principles, I will quite happy to debate a person why I am an atheist and why I don’t believe in a god, I can present the information of why such and such faith is false etc, and then it is up to the person to accept it or not, I would not in a sense try to de-convert them.

    Ultimately, once you learn the truth, you can’t unlearn it.

  22. Hi King Tut, Not sure if your blog was for me or more general. Anyway, rather than “indoctrination” I would use “vaccination”. Children grow into teenagers and teenagers often rebel against their parents. If religion is a mysterious, forbidden force , about which they know nothing, they are easily misled by evangelicals and drawn into sects. It may not always work – but that was our opinion and it worked for us.

  23. Hi Pakistani Atheist
    It is our common humanity that binds us all together. We all love our families, we all love our children, and we all want to ensure the best of everything for them. A humanist mindset is what links us together. Religion is a ‘them’ or ‘us’ proposition. It does provide the right kind of setting for people to constructively talk together. I wish you well PA and your blogspot.
    Cheers from Australia

  24. Interesting and amusing discussion. Nietzsche in one of his books writes “.. every atheist is half believer at night” and I found Julian Barnes comment on NPR “.. I don’t believe in God but I miss him” even more amusing. Actually,being in the same boat as you all, I understand your predicament.
    Personally, I think religion is like an incurable infection – once infected, symptoms reappear just when you thought to have cured yourself. Good luck guys!

  25. I cannot belive that I have meet other Pakistanis who are atheist. You have no Idea what a relief it is. I can finally say that I am proud of being a Pakistani. I grew up in a christian home being drilled with an unimaginable hell if I do not submit to the almighty .. and to contradict it all, this thing was suppose to be a loving person …. anyways ,… I am living in Dubai and Would love to get in touch with all of you and chat some more… If any of you have time check out Christoher Hitchens on youtube. And dont be afraid to contact me on baraketh@gmail.com.

  26. Irish Atheist, I agree with you 100%!

    Llike most of you, my spouse is also Muslim, but a doubtful muslim (thanks to me!) I was fortunate enough to have rational parents and a husband. I carefully planted the seed of doubt in all of their minds. And I am not sure if this is an achievement I should be proud of, but both of my sisters are now agnostic and my dad is now an atheist! My mom is a doubtful muslim like my husband. I guess what I am getting at is you have to plant the seed of doubt in your spouse’s mind. You don’t have to force it on him/her but you would have to continue bringing up scientific discussions. Perhaps discussions about different religions and show them in such light that will make them question their own. What I did with my hubby is to simply watch the Science channel, talk to him about the great scientific discoveries and watch the History channel. Since I am not a parent, I would hate to advise you on how to bring up your own child. However, I made a deal with my husband, that my child will not go through the mental abuse other pakistani children go through. He/she will not read the Quran until he/she can understand it with full translation and decide what to believe in. He/she will not just be exposed to Islam but will be exposed to all famous religions of the world! He/she will have a chance to explore each religion. I am sure that way, he/she will know that none are true since they all claim to be true. None can be right but all can be wrong!

    • Science brings a man closer to Islam but for that, you must be free from prejudices and keep an open mind to accept the reality even if you don’t like it.

  27. Wohoo!I thought I was one of the few in PK.Little did I know there are many of us here.Though Iam only 17 at the moment,I used to be a devout muslim 2 years back when I was giving my islamiat exam.I feel so foolish when I look back at what I was then and now.Iam a much better human being as an atheist then I was as a muslim.And let me say this,It is impossible to follow Islam without fanatical ideas.You are wishing deep in your heart as a muslim that I die for Allah someday.

  28. I stumbled across your blog because I am also an atheist/ex-muslim from a Pakistani background. I grew up in Canada but my family comes from a very tight knit, under-educated, rural population in Northern Punjab. I am not married and I do not have children yet but I am concerned about this issue too, because it will be a problem one day for me. I love my family to death but they are fairly religious, though not extremists or anything of that nature and I know if I am to ever children that they will want them to be muslim and will try to influence them with their ways. There’s no way I can prevent this without alienating myself from them, and that’s something that would be terribly heartbreaking for all parties. So how do you make due such that your children are free to become rational thinkers with open minds? I want them to know their family, know their village back home in Pakistan, etc. I don’t think I have it in me to do what AKAtheist said he has done by breaking with all of my relatives, so I will need to compromise in some way. Even in terms of finding a partner, I will need to find some tolerable to them, and doesn’t result in a family crisis. It is very tough.

  29. Leaving Islam is the worst thing any Muslim can do!! Do u guys think that u have been created without purpose?! Seriously read the Quran’s translation!!! Read in the name of your lord Allah, supreme creator of the entire universe, Ruler of the Day of Judgement!!! Read about His beautiful names and attributes to attain a firm grasp of your One and Only Merciful Creator!!! Have fear of Allah before a dreadful punishment comes down on you!!!

  30. I’m not an atheist but I follow no religion so I had a problem. The man I wanted to marry broke up with me when he realized that this is who I was and that I wanted our future children to decide their religion (or lack of) themselves. I essentially had to convince him that I would be Muslim and let him raise our children as Muslims for things to go back to the way they were. Part of the issue was that he said the mother is important in instilling religious values and he knew I could not. He is very religious. Not an extremist but one of the few who actually try to follow Islam and pray five times, etc. I don’t know. I’m already a cultural Muslim so I figure I can keep up the pretense. I would have had to no matter who I married since they would almost certainly be Muslim as well so I’d rather do it with someone I care about. Religion is not important to me. If it is to him, so be it. For my part, I will instill values in my children that I think are more important than anything else such as empathy, compassion, and tolerance. If anyone has any further advice, it is welcome.

  31. Quite agree with Irish Atheist. I have a young one too and want to make sure that religion does not become the crutch that he uses to rebel once he is a teenager. Better to just let the kids grow up skeptical and open-minded. That should hopefully suffice to inoculate them against silly superstitions.

  32. i have been a Pakistani athiest for over 50 years. i believe my people are held back by these ancient belief systems. i have given my children the wonderful gift of free choice which was unfortunately taken away from my childhood. i have led a very happy, satisfactory life. i hope more of my fellow Pakistani see the light and stop believing in this pixies in the sky stories.

  33. So you guys think we are all here by chance. It’s all a coincidence eh?
    I am sure the question “if there is a God and I have to answer him when I die” must bug you when you lie in your bed at night.

    Hope you guys see the light.

  34. What might be a good idea is rather than teach them about Islam alone teach them about all religions. That all religions claim to be the one true religion. In the process everyone, you, your wife and your children will come to realise that far from each religion being the one true one, all are equally false. It is then a very short step to the reality of atheism/humanism. This method will open up minds and all sorts of discussions and prevent the closing of minds that teaching only one religion induces. An excellent book is the God Virus by Dr Darrel Ray. He explains how all religions try to inoculate their children for their own religion and against others at an early age.

  35. All atheists !!!!
    Let’s wait for the day of judgement, no no no, even before that, just wait for your last breath and you will know; who, what, and where God (Allah is).
    SAL

  36. so all you guys are believes of a big bang theory ? let me give you some examples . walmart , google , microsoft , all these companies were creator by someone right. each big or small compañies , businesses , shops , universities were created by someone or were they created by big bang too? if you agree these busineses were created by someone , how can u not agree that this complex universe was created by someone . a human being is created by someone and we will have to go back to him one day. Yes , we have not seen God but we have not seen our future too. still we work day n night for our future n career . dont be foolish. stop kidding yourself that you were born from pure accident . you will die one day and will look stupid dying as a âtheist beleiving all those big bang stuff . Get Real

  37. Sal and the other believers here trying to instil fear don’t forget that technically if ure a non believer in Christ you go to hell. So it’s a choice of Muslim hell vs Christian hell . The truth being there is no actual concept of heaven and hell.

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