Harder than saying a last goodbye to her mother, father and five siblings that morning. Harder than the two years since as she tried to make a new life, alone, in a strange city.
Now 20, she asked to go by the name Samya. If her true identity were known, Samya believes, her family would seek her out and possibly kill her. They would certainly try to persuade her — if not force her — to come home.
Her parents, she said, think she is guilty of two serious crimes: She rejected a marriage arranged by her father, who came to the U.S. from the Middle East when Samya was an infant. And perhaps more serious to her parents: She has become an atheist.
In Samya’s homeland, an apostate can be put to death. It is also culturally acceptable to kill a child who family members believe has shamed them — a practice known as honor killing.
In the United States, changing or abandoning one’s religious beliefs is a personal and even common decision. Nearly one in five Americans say they adhere to no specific religion, and of those, 3 percent consider themselves atheists. But Samya’s story illustrates what some women in religious traditions — particularly Muslim women from strict, culture-bound traditions — risk when they abandon their faith.