by Huma Munshi 

As a Muslim woman, I have some things in common with atheists. I wonder where God is when people are being murdered and brutalised. Where is God when the young girls in Nigeria were kidnapped? Where is he when young people all over the world are being abused? The vulnerable being exploited shakes my faith to the core.

The case of the kidnapped Nigerian young girls is gut-churning horror played out in real-time on rolling twenty-four hour news scenes. They have been taken by the militant group Boko Haram who have threatened to sell these girls into slavery. It makes me wonder (for the umpteenth time) how it is possible to misunderstand the meaning of being Muslim and use it to legitimise the oppression of the most vulnerable.

It has got me thinking about faith and being a Muslim feminist, something I alluded to last week. It is not often I write about being Muslim. To be honest, I struggle with my faith. I struggle with my relationship with God, with religious observance and with the idea of a God that metes out justice.

My faith has been a journey: from a time when I felt spiritually connected to God to a time when observing my faith felt progressively harder and harder. I struggled most when I went through the trauma of a forced marriage. It was at these times that I wondered where God was; why did I feel so abjectly alone; why was God not protecting me or saving me from this fate

In the months leading up to that wedding, I lost my faith. It is in my isolation that I realised that I could trust no one, rely on no one. When I finally left because I felt that my life, my personhood, was in danger, I did it alone. There was no saviour; I had to – and I did – save myself.

Many years later, as I have become more involved in activism, through blogging, writing, volunteering and becoming a trade unionist, I realise that my alienation from my faith was a reflection of my alienation from humanity. If your family can treat you this way, what is left of humanity?

So when I ask again where God is when young girls in Nigeria are kidnapped, it is my expectation that an omnipotent being should intervene. If he doesn’t, does that mean he doesn’t exist? Again, it shakes my faith.

What restores my faith is the understanding that there is more to humanity than this. There are people mobilising: from those marching, to those lobbying and campaigning to support groups to speak out within Nigeria and help find these girls.

But this has to continue. Irrespective of faith, it is humanity that saves people, the humanity we show ourselves and the humanity and kindness we shows others in times of acute desperation.

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Huma Munshi started the #fuckhonour hashtag to express her anger at the oppression women have experienced. She is a writer, poet, blogger and trade unionist. She is a regular contributor to Media Diversified, F-Word and Time to Change.

She has written widely on honour based violence, mental health, film and intersectionality. This column will reflect her passion for activism, a feminism that reflects her own experiences as an Asian Muslim woman, film reviews and current affairs. Read more of her articles here


21 thoughts on “As a Muslim woman, the kidnap in Nigeria has shaken my faith

  1. I’m a Muslim and I feel It’s totally understandable for something horrible like this to raise serious questions about ones faith, I think it’s too easy to say that Boko haram are not muslims etc. Yes they are more like a guerrilla crominal insurgence .They are and they aren’t muslim , they are appropriating some powerful already established symbols and principles of Islam in their thinking, afterlife, sharia, etc. I think this is a lack of humanity on their part, people are free to do evil. Just an observation , We never question when something good happens to us. Finally as you’ve noted, the humanity, goodness and Godliness shown by ordinary people in and out of Nigeria , many who are motivated by their faith should be some comfort , their are far far more of those.
    Hopefully the girls are brought back soon and safe, and these men face justice. It’s a sad state of affairs .
    With solidarity


  2. This is one of the quotes that started me ‘really’ questioning religion. I think it is applicable to your article.

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    – Epicurus

    The more thought you give religion, the more ridiculous the whole concept appears to be. I just can’t believe it took me 20 or so years to start thinking for myself.


    1. Interesting points. I guess these are some of my struggles as well. And in painful times the irrationality of suffering gets me to the core.


  3. If there is a god he ought to get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness. He should never be called merciful or loving.
    What was he doing during the holocaust & Rwandan, Bosnian, Armenian, Kurdish, Papuan genocides? Why does he send mudslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, famine & drought?

    Where is he when poachers slice half the face off elephants & rhinos but don’t kill them, only leave them to wander mutilated, hurting, frightened, blind.

    Oh these poor, vulnerable, frightened girls, sold into slavery to be raped & beaten by their ‘husbands’ who see them as property bought & paid for, to be done to as they see fit. Their souls and spirits and dreams and ambitions crushed and thwarted. Oh those children and their stolen childhoods.

    Has the power to stop it all but doesn’t.
    A monster. A tyrant. Evil. He deserves no adoration, only condemnation for allowing atrocities & monstrous torture of the defenceless to continue.

    Prayer is just meditation, which is supposedly good for health, but you might just as well be doing yoga or feng shui your home for all the difference it would make to an external situation.


  4. Dear Huma, I was very interested to read this piece. I was raised Christian (but not devoutly) but always had questions questions questions for the chaplains at school. My questions were similar to yours: why does God allow suffering? Why, if God is all powerful, does He not stop these things from happening? And if He is not all powerful, why do we worship Him as such?

    As an adult, those questions have persisted and as a feminist who wants equality for all people, I now feel that religious faith and feminism are incompatible. Religion promotes the idea that some people are better/worth more than others: men are worth more than women. (In Christianity we see men of colour rising to positions of power, but no women have any access to power in the church). I have believe that religion is used by the patriarchy to oppress women.

    It has taken me many years to come to this viewpoint and I know not everyone shares this view but I would be very interested to hear more from you about how your faith and your feminism interact.


    1. I have spent so long unpicking and trying to understand the events of ten years ago and I wonder what role my faith and God played. Interestingly I thought recently that the strength i got to leave, something I would have never have predicted, was perhaps something God helped me with. And the work i do now- using what happened to help others and raise awareness – is all part of a journey. I don’t know whether that is helpful but I think that faith is a complex and personal journey, unique to each individual.


  5. I think it is very helpful for religions to talk of life being a test. This encourages tolerance and respect, which enables people to accept other’s differences in order to then understand them. The problem comes when family, peer groups and the wider community seek to control others by demanding tollerance for their controlling rules/decisions/actions, using the test analogy as a vehicle for manipulation and power. So the ‘test’ should then always been seen as something that can be questioned and learned from, and if we are not allowed to question it then that should be seen as a sign that something could be quite wrong.


    1. I agree with you. Life is a test. There are number of verses in quran that tell the same thing. For example in verse 2 chapter(surah) 67 (67:2) and many other verses, sorry that can’t list it all here as i cant remember all. Life is just a test. No matter how bad or how good our life is, there is nothing better than His paradise and there is nothing worse than His hellfire. So there is always hope. If our life is so tough, remember that He will not test us with something that we can bear with. Just be patience and ask Him to grant you with paradise. For those who are doing bad things but it seems like this world is always on their side, remember that this worldly life is not eternal. They will face their consequences eternally in thereafter. Clearly, God is always waiting for us to repent. Of all the bad things that we did and of all the bad thought that we have on Him, He never punished us straight away. He always gives us chances, gives us time to come back to the right path. May Allah bless you all.


    2. I agree. Without questioning oppressive practices in the name of faith and culture it puts individuals in danger and makes the faith irrelevant. I think the tacit acceptance by others is what put me at risk.


  6. Why pray to god if god made us in his/her image….well then don’t we have the power to do something? And second point is this….why is this such a big news story in America, and why is America trying to help…fact is we only help when it’s in our interests, that’s our foreign policy….My questions are these
    1. who is funding these so called terrorists (like most rebels these days, it’s either Israel, America, or both)
    2. What are the demands?
    3. Why is Nigeria becoming the face of sex traffic
    4. why is the Nigerian gov. being made to look powerless
    5.why do these tape keep surfacing, are they real?
    U.S intervention is the worst thing that can happen…just ask Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc….300 girls is sad but the future of an entire people/entire country under U.S/imperialism/corporate control is worse.


    1. I agree, US intervention is fraught with difficulty and perhaps the point is that supporting groups on the ground will help build the capacity of civic society against these acts.


      1. People need to really ask questions and look at history before they start supporting any type of foreign intervention….simple question when has america ever gave a d@mn about women in africa, hell it’s 200 missing black women right here in america. The only reason America wants to go into Nigeria is you guessed it oil….the goal is to make the current administration look incompetent so the US can take over….because Nigeria has the oil but doesn’t have the resources to frack the oil out the ground like these major corporations would like….so (peep confessions of an economic hitman) the plan is to send in the jackals and stage a 200 girls missing campaign. The evil islamic men that the Nigerian Gov. is powerless to stop, so the christian American military must come in…..there’s even been reports of fake videos…..this has gone down time and time again d@mn near the same way, so through observation and history I assume the same thing is going down now.


        1. Agree it’s not all black and white.

          There is a link in my piece on the concerns around US intervention and why it is much more important to support Nigerian organisations on the ground. The premise of Nigeria as the bogeyman and the US as the saviour leaves a v bitter aftertaste.


  7. Hmmmmm….a God that intervenes……how would that work? Where would his cut off be…….”I’ll intervene for 200 girls but not the millions of kids who die of diseases each year” and if he intervenes and stops kids dying,perhaps he can stop any being born with physical and mental handicaps……it just wouldn’t work which is why prayer (whether there is a God or not ) is a waste of time


    1. I wouldn’t say that faith or praying are useless but the only person that either helps is the person with the faith or the person praying.But as for helping anyone else….well no


      1. i don’t think i can ever convince who doesn’t believe why they should believe, it is an intensely personal experience and even those with the strongest faith are shaken.

        though there is something to be said for faith as the humanity we show each other and ourselves


  8. Thank you for the post Huma. I am sorry that your faith has been shaken by the kidnapping of these girls and the forced marriage that you had to endure. But as I understand my religion, these kidnappings and forcing a woman to marry against her will, are not of Islam.

    But that still does not help really. You wonder why Allah (swt) has not saved these girls, or even saved you. From what I understand is that life is a test, it is like a dream we will wake up from and then have to stand and face judgement on the choices we make. It seems to me a very individual journey and some have safety, wealth and beauty, while others have a terrible struggle. Each situation is a test. I do believe this.

    As a woman myself, I have felt anger and dismay at the situation with those kidnapped girls, with FGM, with forced marriage. But I recognize that it is not about Islam, it is about ignorance and following ‘culture’. And Boko Haram, well, they know what they fight for, but I do not recognize Islam in it, or I should say, not Islam as I know it. They are like strangers to me. They are humans who I believe are in error.

    So they have shaken your faith. Then this is the time to pray to Allah (swt) to strengthen your faith and ask for patience, to be steadfast and that you and all the believers persevere in these trying times for surely we are being tested. And we have to depend on Him. Really depend on Him to get us through it and learn lessons from what is happening around us.

    Anyone can say they are Muslim, but that does not make it so.


    1. Really fair points. I guess my point is that faith is often a feeling and at times of desperation you can feel stranded in many ways. I recall being alone v acutely and wondered for the longest time why that was the case. Though recently I think fighting alone was a really important step in the journey as well and it has made me who I am today, for better or worse.

      Thank you for reading and writing such a thoughtful comment.


  9. Good post Huma. There are a lot of Christians who also question their faith. A growing number of people are starting to accept that religious wars are the result of blind faith, and that it is morally correct to question faith. The holy books were all written a long time ago as guides to educate and keep order, but today they are failing us because they lead us to misunderstand. To answer your question ‘Where is God?’, we must first ask, and come to understand, ‘What is God?’ Then, as you say, we need to take responsibility for our humanity, because God is everything, including us. If we do not respect one another or our environments, we do not respect God. I believe this is what our holy books needed to say.


    1. I really strongly agree with the comment: “we need to take responsibility for our humanity, because God is everything, including us. If we do not respect one another or our environments, we do not respect God.” I think the idea of a shared humanity, irrespective of faith is critical. It makes us realise that we are the keepers for all.

      Thank you for commenting and giving me food for thought.


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