If you had told me a year ago that I would be a public agnostic atheist and Ex-Muslim activist, and co-founder of a global podcast, I would have laughed in your face.
If you had told August 2018 Saff, that her mental health would be at its most sound, that she would be happy, confident and accepting of herself, I would have cried at the idea of that.
If you told her that she would be working part-time, studying for her masters, writing for publications and living independently in a new city, she would have told you to eff' off.
I think you get the point I am making here.
Mine has changed drastically on my mental health, my religious beliefs and that on my life ambitions and career goals.
This is going to sound like a broken record for those of you who follow me on Twitter, but for those that don't here is a quick recap. A little over a year ago I left Islam. I was born and raised in a liberal Muslim household and my experience with Islam had overall been positive, both in my family teachings and that from my madrasah (Islamic classes) teaching, But my ultimate fault with religion is that I lacked a belief in God. For me, a belief in God is a feeling, something that is deep within you, a connection with the divine. This was something I did not possess and something I had not had from the ages of 17/18. It was not until I tried to convince myself of a belief in God and Islam as the one true to religion, that upon reexamining the Quran and hadiths that I could not be convinced of a doctrine worth following and a God worthy of my worship. It did not ignite a deep connection with the divine, instead, it left me in a state of loss and confusion.
It took a while for me to find the ex-Muslim community, the first faces I saw were Imtiaz Shams and Mimzy Vidz. Without their YouTube channels in my early leaving phase, I would have been incredibly lost. It is through them that I found the Ex-Muslim community, which I am proud to be a part of and to work with. It was not until I came across women like Zara Kay, Maryam Namazie and Fay Rahman that I felt safe and empowered to speak out on Ex-Muslim issues concerning women and Ex-Muslims in the UK and those in Islamic countries. The turning point for me was the Opening a Conversation on Women's Dissent event that really launched me into the public space. I watched the event and wrote my last post on that day. It really highlighted the importance of speaking out as an ex-Muslim and being public about my apostasy.
This importance is the abolition of apostasy and blasphemy laws and supporting the fight for secularism in Islamic countries. I come from a position of privilege living in a Western country that I can criticise Islam, I can criticise Islamic countries and live freely as an apostate. That is the reason why I speak, why I write and why I tweet about these issues. The day homosexuality is decriminalised, apostasy and blasphemy laws are abolished globally, and women are equal before the law to men, that is the day I will be quiet. That is the day I will be at peace.
My mental health in the last year has changed dramatically. I deal with anxiety on a daily basis, but there have been times in the last year that it has got incredibly difficult. There have been weeks where I could not go a single day without having multiple panic attacks. They had become so severe to the extent that I could feel such pain in my bones. I had woken up with a panic attack after an anxiety-filled dream. I still have not quite got a handle on how to deal with it fully, and I am in the process of getting help with managing anxiety. But, in the meantime, I thought I would share some self-care tips that I have learnt and put in to practice.
One - Get a notebook, decorate it how you wish, whether you draw on it or simply put pretty stickers all over it (I did this because I lack artistic ability). Make that you 'therapy diary.' You don't have to write it every day, you can just write in when you feel sad or anxious, but also write in it when you have a very good day. I use it to write out my day, things that caused me anxiety and how I dealt with them at the time and how I will try to deal with problems in the future. If there are too many things worrying you, focus on three. Write how they make you feel and then how you will try to overcome them. Seeing the words on the page makes them a little less frightening.
Second - Do little things that you know make you happy. read your favourite book, watch your favourite film, listen to your favourite songs and dance around to them. Eat your favourite food. Put on a face mask, take a long bath or shower. Have a nap if you are too run down. Switch off social media for a few hours, or even a day if you can manage that. Spend some time with friends or family that make you happy. Go for a walk if the weather is nice. Anything small that you know makes you happy.
Third - Slow down. Take a minute to breathe. Just sit and relax. Even if it is for five minutes, just take that time out for yourself.
Finally, if you have access to help, don't be afraid to take it. Open up to a friend or family member you trust and feel safe around. You will be surprised at how many people will be there for you.
After graduating this summer, embracing my position in the activist community and beginning my masters, it led to a reevaluation of my career goals and ambitions. I graduated with a degree in American Studies and History, and I am now currently studying a Masters in International Journalism. The goal is to work in the journalism profession, but right now I am not quite sure when and where. I have always known that I would love to create documentaries focusing on apostates, from Ex-Muslim backgrounds and beyond, secularists and reformers. But, currently, my heart is with the activism work, podcasting and working with apostasy and humanist charities, which I am in the process of doing so and more information will be revealed soon.
The last two P's to be addressed, Podcasting and Publicity. I cannot talk about either of these without talking about the amazing team I work with. At the end of August, I joined an Ex-Muslim group chat on Twitter and connected with lots of young Ex-Muslims from across the world. The UK, USA, Pakistan, Somalia, UAE and Canada. Most of them being closeted, and a large amount of them residing in Islamic countries, which would call for their death if their identities were made public. In a matter of two weeks, we had art and posters created by team members Luna (@AthenaNights) and Ayan (@90sbabyicon) and launched our first episode. Now, we have two episodes and after shows on YouTube, we are booked for the next couple of weeks and are working on expanding our team.
In that same timeline was the #AwesomeWithoutAllah campaign launched by Ex-Muslims of North America. Through this, they released billboards across the United States with statistics on Ex-Muslims in the U.S. Alongside this, Ex-Muslims from across the world were invited to record video clips and share why they were #AwesomeWithoutAllah. I participated in this campaign, releasing a video about me and my group, the Sinning Skeptics. It gained a lot of traction and has now reached 10.7k views on Twitter. Honestly, I did not anticipate that the level of publicity it had reached.
Overwhelmingly, I received a lot of support both from the internet world and friends and family. I even had people debating religion in my mentions because of my video. I had messages from people I know telling me about their doubts with Islam and that they felt comforted seeing someone they knew out there.
There were a few targeted hate messages, largely from people with no profile image so I tended to ignore them. But my favourite one was a DM from an individual saying "you'll need good AC where you're headed," and it took me a while to get the joke. Joking aside, it has been relatively positive. The reaction has opened up questions and debates with friends, family and the internet. It has also led me to reevaluate my position on a lot of topics and I have learnt a lot in this process.
I am aware there is a certain level of danger that comes with the nature of activism I am pursuing and the fact that my face is very much out there. I have taken personal security measures to make sure I am as safe as I can be. But, ultimately, this work, this campaign against blasphemy laws, against apostasy laws and fight for equal rights for women and LGBT individuals is too important not to speak out on it from my position of privilege. It is cause worthy of my time and speech. Amplifying the voices of the young and the marginalised. It is one I will fight for until the very end.
In terms of the future, I will continue working with the Sinning Skeptics podcasts and expanding into a much larger organisation. I have a new project that I am working with Luna on a more fun and chilled project which I am looking forward to giving more details about later this week. I am working on maintaining and improving my mental health. Finally, I will try and post as often as I can on The Amber Journals, whilst studying, podcasting and working. If anyone has any questions for me, feel free to comment or contact me via Twitter @saffdotcom, and I will try and do a Q+A post.
Sinning Skeptics Twitter (https://twitter.com/SinningSkeptics?lang=en)
Latest Episode - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu8dUTLH_vM
Awesome Without Allah video - https://twitter.com/saffdotcom/status/1169194627368390656?lang=en