Homeless in the Atlas Mountains, I Sought God — and Found Myself Instead
Now, I can speak freely about my lack of belief
My name is Itto Outini, and I am a Fulbright alumn from Morrocco. I am completely blind and currently an asylee in the United States.
I was born of a Jewish Berber father and Muslim Arab mother in the Atlas Mountains of Morrocco. My parents died when I was little. I was shoveled from home to home, abused, neglected, deprived of my childhood and the warmth of love that a normal child receives from loved ones.
I started to question my existence in this world as soon as I was aware of it. I didn’t attend school as a young child, and as a result, I didn’t know how to read or write. I wasn’t taught my birthday or my last name.
I was raised Jewish mixed with an ancient religion that would pray to fire. When I was about twelve, I was shifted to my mother’s family where I was introduced to Islam for the first time. I was converted and forced to practice things I never understood. I was sexually abused. In addition, I was forced to accept that as a female I wasn’t worth anything and that I would be treated like trash.
My uncle’s wife blinded me when I was seventeen. I was neglected yet again and this time I became homeless.
I was sleeping in the snow of the Atlas mountains, smelling food I never got to eat. Though I was sexually abused again by strangers while living on the street, I tried to pray harder so that God would save me from the abuse; but my prayers were in vain. It continued to occur and it led to three abortions.
I started to think about my future, and I imagined the snow I lay on was a pillow and bed.
I was searching for an avenue to change my life and I decided to attend school for the first time at age seventeen. Education is free in Morocco, so I only needed help with food and other things. Some people helped me by giving me money on the street. I also worked various jobs, and I used most of that money to buy my books. I remained homeless for six years until American friends rescued me from homelessness.
Though I slept in the snow, and went hungry, I knew the cure to my pain was education.
I was delighted to learn how to read and write. I dove into research to understand my upbringing and the superstitions I was raised on. I wanted to understand the concept of God. Especially Allah, the god of Islam.
As I studied I saw how religion, specifically Islam, does not give me any rights, and it made me conclude that it is man-made. The journey was painful; at first I was not able to stop believing, due to my fears of society’s reaction and God’s punishment for disbelief.
Finally, I freed myself psychologically, emotionally, socially, and culturally. I decided to give up on God and continue to rely on my own hard work to overcome the difficulties I was facing.
I never dared to admit that I didn’t believe in God — it would have cost me my life.
When I came to America I felt free. I started expressing myself on social media and this caused me to lose my Moroccan friends. They were taught and believed that I was their enemy; however, I felt I was not harming anyone in choosing not to believe.
I hope that the world will come to understand that faith or lack of faith is a personal choice. I can’t imagine myself believing in a god who excluded me from my rights as a disabled woman.
I am aware that religions also offer good things, like providing community and psychological comfort for those who need it. But religion is sometimes the reason for hatred, exclusion, neglect, and abuse; it even costs some people their lives.
Though I have suffered, my choice not to believe in any god is due to my education and the fact that there are many opposing religions that claim to be the truth. Of course, the silence I received in response to my severe suffering is more evidence that there is no loving God as I was told, but the main reason for my lack of belief is what I learned in my studies.
I hope that one day I will not face people who blame my atheism on my disability or my past, as that is a wrong conclusion. I am the only one who has the right to conclude why I don’t believe in any god. I also oppose assumptions that I am unhappy or evil without God.