STOCKHOLM/HELSINKI – “Religion is normally inherited among Christians, Jews and Muslims. It is, therefore, usually not viewed as a choice. I abandoned my religion when I felt freed here,” said a Kurdish woman living in Sweden.

An abandonment of religion is on the rise among Muslims living abroad. The phenomenon is most common among Iranians.  The Kurds come second. It is also common among Arabs and Afghans living abroad.

The Kurdish woman now considers herself a disbeliever: “I am not alone in this. Many people would renounce their religion if they had the freedom, which we have here,” she says. “The time has come that we ourselves determine what faith to hold.”

However, she doesn’t think encouraging people to abandon their religion is her business. She thinks that this is what missionaries and political Muslims do, promulgating their religious beliefs and ideologies.

In eastern communities, people normally commit to the faith their families follow. Imposing religion on children is a “crime,” said Alan, a Kurd who had identified himself as a disbeliever when he got his Finnish citizenship. “I didn’t fill out information about religion on my son’s identity card. He himself can decide what faith to hold when he turns 18 — whether he becomes a Muslim, a Christian or a disbeliever is up to him.”

He didn’t allow us to ask his five-year-old son questions about religion.

Parents living in diaspora do not like their kids being asked religious questions. Religion is studied in European schools, but promoting a specific religion is not allowed.

However, some teachers indirectly talk to kids about religious matters, said Jalal Ahmed, a Kurd who lives in Sweden.

One day his daughter Nawa had come back home, talking about belief in God and doomsday. This, said Ahmed, angered him a lot. He then realized that one of his daughter’s schoolteachers had talked to the class about these matters.

Ahmed filed a complaint against the teacher.

Nawa’s teacher had advised the class not to eat pork, saying that eating pork is a sin and the habit of disbelievers, Ahmed detailed.

The Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter’s report on this issue has recently drawn national attention.

Ahmed is a practising Muslim, but considers “Islamifying” his daughter a danger. “I regard encouraging people to renounce their religion and encouraging children to embrace a particular religious faith as crimes,” he explained, adding that he, too, will leave the question of religion as a choice for his daughter to make.

There is reportedly a movement that encourages people to either renounce their religious faith or convert to other religions. “These movements and a number of Islamic groups work on the kids born here. One group tries to encourage people to abandon their religion, the other tries to convert them into Islam or Christianity,” said Nawzad Ahmed, a teacher from Stockholm.

“You pray for atheists too,” said an angry Sheikh Ahmed, from the Medborgarplatsen mosque, who is also on the Islamic Council in Sweden. His anger appeared to be due to the question being repeatedly asked by journalists. “He expelled a Reuters reporter who had come for the same purpose a few minutes before you came,” said Haji Ali Binawi, assistant to Sheikh Ahmed, adding, “we have information that diaspora people abandon their religion, some of them do it for financial gains.”

“Iranians are at the forefront of this, then Kurds, and then Arabs and Afghans. Unfortunately, many Kurds emulate Iranians and Arabs,” Binawi added.

The Swedish humanist organizations deny that they are encouraging people to abandon their religion. Rudaw has learnt that the High Council of the Swedish humanist organization includes two Kurdish women from southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan. The deputy of the Finnish Anti-religious Movement is also a Kurd from southern Kurdistan.

“It is still early to comment on this. We do not want to hurry in revealing our work,” Alan added.

“Encouraging people to abandon their religion is not our business. However, we work on systems that restrict individual liberty and impose religion on people,” said Hans Enderman, an activist with humanist organisations in Sweden.

“People renounce their religion and become humanists and disbelievers in countries where apostasy is punishable by death,” Hans detailed.

“People who publicly declare their atheist beliefs will be killed in most Islamic countries. We want people to be free,” said Fayed Jiburi, an Iraqi Arab who works with organizations that promote renunciation of religion. He does not think that what he does promotes renunciation of religion. He sees it as “promotion of individual liberty.”

[This post was originally published in Rudaw (Kurdish news portal) and republished here with permisison.]