Listen to RFI News
Expand Player
 
Listen Download Podcast
  • Paris Live PM 14h00 - 15h00 GMT
    News bulletin 03/22 14h00 GMT
  • Paris Live PM 14h00 - 15h00 GMT
    News bulletin 03/21 14h00 GMT
  • Paris Live PM 14h00 - 15h00 GMT
    News bulletin 03/20 14h00 GMT
To take full advantage of multimedia content, you must have the Flash plugin installed in your browser. To connect, you need to enable cookies in your browser settings. For an optimal navigation, the RFI site is compatible with the following browsers: Internet Explorer 8 and above, Firefox 10 and +, Safari 3+, Chrome 17 and + etc.

Female and atheist in Saudi Arabia

Female and atheist in Saudi Arabia
 
Rana Ahmad author of 'Here women don't dream', Paris Rfi / Anne-Marie Bissada

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, remains one of the most conservative and rigid countries, particularly for women, and for anyone who goes against Islam. Rana Ahmad knows all too well those constraints as she fled her home country after declaring herself an atheist and after having endured the hardships of a woman under the strict control of her family and government.

Although the country appears to be going through reforms at the behest of the Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, such as allowing women to drive, these reforms have seen female activists imprisoned, often threatened with the death penalty, and none have tackled the root problem of the country: the Guardianship system. This is the system that forces every woman to seek permission from a husband, brother, father or other close male family member to do simple tasks such as travel, go to school or go to work.

Ahmad says such efforts by the Crown Prince are simply “propaganda”, and only give the appearance of change.

After fleeing Saudi Arabia, Ahmad claimed asylum in Europe and now lives in Germany, where she is studying physics; a topic that she laughs has become her new religion as it offers pure data on cause and effect, unlike most religions including Islam.

Childhood

Growing up in the Kingdom, Ahmad says she had a happy childhood. She rode her bike freely, felt the wind in her hair, bickered with her siblings and thought nothing more of the future. That was until the day her grandfather came and took her bike away. She was then told to start covering her hair with a scarf and to act like a woman, not a child. “Even if I am 14 years I looked around me but I felt my body was still young, why do I have to cover it?” she says as she remembers the moment.

From that point on, her life began to change.

While she struggled with the changes imposed upon her, Ahmad says she wanted to be “a good Muslim girl and accept what my family said to me” and didn’t resist. Finally she was married off at age 19.

Marriage

Ahmad says during this time, she went through the motions of being a married woman, but questioned her role. She eventually fell into a depression that led her down a path of more self-reflection and questions about her religion and her need for freedom. In an effort to answer these questions, she began to spend more and more time on the internet where she discovered philosophy and atheism. It was also during this time that her husband turned abusive and she eventually sought a divorce; a move that often taints the reputation of a woman in such a conservative society.

Following her divorce, Ahmad says it became even harder for her to do much as she was under the strict surveillance of her family. Eventually they allowed her to start working. On the side, she continued her research into atheism, often with a heavy heart as she began to realise that the religion of her childhood was not for her.

Atheist Republic

A photo taken by Ahmad at Mecca, in front the Ka’bah during the annual pilgrimage shows a sign stating ‘Atheist Republic'. At that point Ahmad says while she was supposed to be enjoying herself at the event with her mother, she realised she could no longer play the role of a good Muslim girl and a girl who knew she was now atheist.

She had put into motion a plan to leave the country without telling anyone. And after two to three years, she managed to flee, leaving behind her family, her friends, and the only life she had ever known.

Book

Her escape to Europe and her story are told in her first book entitled ‘Ici les femmes ne rêvent pas’, which translates into ‘Here, women do not dream’. Arriving to Paris for her first book event, Ahmad smiles, while sipping a glass of wine, dressed in western clothing. She explains how in addition to writing her book, she has started an organization with other activists in Germany to help refugees arriving who have left their country of origin because they are atheist or formerly Muslim. “When I arrived to Germany I didn’t get any help...I [thought] if you are atheist you will find a lot of organizations but it’s not [really] there. I find if you are Christian, it’s easy to get help, if you are Muslim, it’s easy to get help. But if you are ex-Muslim or atheist, who cares? Who will say hello or welcome or something like [that] to you? From this moment I promised myself to help other people when they come to Germany.”

Since her arrival to Germany, she has had to change her name. “Rana Ahmad is not my real name”, she explains adding she changed her real name to protect her family and to protect herself from death threats from certain members of her family and possibly the Saudi government.

Despite the hardships of leaving her country and her family, Ahmad says she looks to the future now since she can live freely. “I only miss my dad. I cry a lot when I remember that I had to leave my dad because I want to live my life. I miss my mom but she [doesn’t] want to talk to me because I am atheist, because I left Islam…I can’t do anything now but I can enjoy my freedom”.


Related

  • Mid-East Junction

    Peeling back the layers of Yemen's civil war

    Learn more

  • Mid-East Junction

    Escape from Aleppo: one man's journey

    Learn more

  • Mid-East Junction

    Iranian women go online to protest forced wearing of hijab

    Learn more

  • Freedom at any cost: Saudi woman escapes to France

    Freedom at any cost: Saudi woman escapes to France

    In this week's Mid-East Junction, we meet Julia*, a young woman who escaped her life and marriage by force in Saudi Arabia to find freedom in France. 

  • Retracing Bahrain's activism

    Retracing Bahrain's activism

    On December 31st, Bahrain’s high court upheld a five year jail sentence against human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.His sentence was in response to posts he made on social …

  •  Egypt's arms fair boosts military's image as regional superpower

    Egypt's arms fair boosts military's image as regional superpower

    Earlier this week, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi opened the country's first international security and defense expo. The event, which took place over three days, …

  • Why defining security in Israel is such a challenge

    Why defining security in Israel is such a challenge

    Over the weekend of 11 November, tensions between the Gaza strip and Israel peaked once again, when the Israeli Defense Forces, the IDF, led a botched raid in Gaza. It …

  • Peeling back the layers of Yemen's civil war

    Peeling back the layers of Yemen's civil war

    For nearly four years now, the civil war in Yemen has raged with no end in sight. Civilians have fallen victim to the fighting with some 15,000 killed or injured, while …

  • Escape from Aleppo: one man's journey

    Escape from Aleppo: one man's journey

    From Aleppo to Paris. A freelance journalist who posted a video of the evacuation of the Syrian city as Bashar al-Assad's forces took control of it recounts his journey …

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. ...
  5. next >
  6. last >
Features
 
Sorry but the period of time connection to the operation is exceeded.