Ilham is studying in Turkey to prevent deportation to Afghanistan

Ex-Muslim lives a secret life to stay alive – Episode 5

8 mn read

Ilham lives a lie every day of his life so he may stay alive and somehow achieve the freedom he so desperately desires.

Case: Ilham from Afghanistan
Start date: march 7, 2021
Support: living costs and support to get a permit to stay somewhere
Budget needed: monthly €350 for living costs plus budget for a permanent solution

Ilham is a member of this community. If you want to get in touch or have a question for him, you can ask him directly via his profile page.

”I have to pretend i am a Muslim”

“I have to pretend I am a Muslim to be able to have a place to stay,” Ilham told SUN in a recent interview. “I am living in one of the most conservative provinces in Turkey and the university I study (at) try to further pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism.”
Ilham, a pseudonym to protect his real identity, is an Afghan refugee in his early 20s who has rejected Islam. He fled Afghanistan to escape his family and the brutal regime that would kill him for his lack of belief.
He likens his daily life now to a form of psychological torture.
“I am suffering from extreme anxiety and trauma,” said Ilham. “Sometimes it really gets over me.”
While Turkey is “safer” than Afghanistan it is still an Islamic country that has little tolerance for those who don’t believe. “It’s better than Afghanistan but far from freedom,” he said.
So Ilham wraps himself up in the lie that he is a believer in order to survive his daily life in a small, conservative city.
“The landlord thinks I am a Muslim,” explained Ilham. “He has forbidden me from having a girlfriend in house or drinking.”
He constantly parries questions about why people haven’t seen him at the mosque or why he isn’t praying. Ilham gives excuses to them like he was sick (which he often is) or that they must have just missed him.


In order to stay in Turkey, Ilham has to enrol in school. He recently extended his residency permit and he attends classes in public administration. But school presents its own challenges.
While Ilham knows some Turkish he struggles with the lectures which are completely in Turkish. His English is much better and he tries to obtain the textbooks in English. But the exams are in Turkish and lecturers lace all the instruction with pro-Islam rhetoric.
“They are highly Islamized and focused on pan-Turkism,” said Ilham.
His classmates and teachers treat Ilham differently because he is a foreigner. He says they do the same to four students from Africa. The difference, says Ilham, is those students come from wealthy African families.


Ilham relies on the generosity of SUN supporters to assist him with his finances.
Recently he has moved again to a different apartment because it is all he can afford. Ilham says the apartment is livable but his neighbours are loud and of course very religious. He lives alone because for now that is safer. His apartment is sparse without a fridge or washing machine.
Ilham has few friends and has to be careful. He noted that a close friend recently smuggled himself into France. Ilham too thinks of freedom.
“I wish to find a way towards safety and I sure need financial assistance,” said Ilham.

Why he still needs help

For now he struggles to meet the daily needs for food, rent, medical costs, educational costs, and bills like electricity and gas. In his most down moments, Ilham worries that if he died in Turkey authorities would send his body back to Afghanistan.
“Help me at least liberate my body from Islam,” he said.
Ilham holds strong to the hope that eventually he will leave Turkey and other Islamic states behind so that he can live his life free from the grip of the religion in which he doesn’t believe.
You can help SUN assist Ilham to achieve his goal by donating to support his daily needs and eventually give him the freedom he deserves.

In our adoption program we connect sponsors to individual clients. For many of the individuals we helped to escape persecution, a long journey starts to get asylum or a resident permit. Not all the countries they flee to, give support to asylum seekers. In the meantime, they face obstacles to getting paid work and becoming self-supporting. Forming support groups around them to follow helps them with some basic income and some moral support so they get a fair chance to build up a new life. For as much as 5 USD or EURO per month, you can support a client and connect to him or her personally to get regular updates.

School, a Literal Lifesaver for Atheist on the run – Ilham from Afghanistan – Episode 4

Ilham fled Afghanistan to Turkey on a student visa. As long as Ilham can afford to study and live in Turkey, he will not be sent back and have to face the threats of the Taliban. In the meantime SUN is trying to help him to get a visa for the US, since he has worked for the US government.

An abusive father that didn’t accept his doubts about religion, and his job for a US company, that will put his life at risk when the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, made Ilham to decide to leave. On a student visa he is now in Turkey. But that’s only a temporary solution. SUN is searching for options for him to get permanent residence, or flee to a country where he can request asylum.

March 2021 – For many of us higher education is a choice to better ourselves. For Ilham it is a matter of life and death. Ilham, a young Afghan, is registered as a student at a university in a small city in Turkey. If he doesn’t continue his studies he loses his residency permit and will be deported to Afghanistan.

“That means death sentence,” explained Ilham in a recent conversation with IAA. “I would need to pay them and study or they will cancel my residence permit.”

Tuition for Ilham (an alias to protect his identity) is not just necessary for him to continue his studies but necessary to stay alive and away from people who wish to harm him because he is an atheist.
“I am an atheist activist type of person,” he said.

As a young boy in Afghanistan Ilham came to question his beliefs. An abusive father started beating him from the age of 4. He didn’t understand why Allah would allow this type of abuse. Always a bright child, Ilham speaks Pashto (spoken in Afghanistan), Dari (sometimes called Afghan Persian) and English. His linguistic abilities got the attention of the U.S. government, which hired Ilham as a Linguist/Analyst for their operations in Afghanistan. This came crashing down late last year when Ilham admitted his atheist beliefs to his father. This resulted in a horrible physical interaction with is father that left Ilham badly injured. And then the Taliban found out about Ilham’s work for the U.S.

Even Turkey is not safe for ex-Muslims – Episode 3

Update May 2021 – Ilham was forced to leave his job and move to Turkey where he enrolled in studies. But just recently he was overheard chatting about middle eastern politics when other students confronted Ilham and ganged up on him.
Ilham was slightly injured, but was able to escape back to his dorm room. The next day, he and his friends moved from the small university city to Istanbul with the help of IAA. Currently he is in a dorm with five others. It’s a place to rest his head but still he doesn’t feel safe.

“It’s like being in hotel with prostitutes and drug dealers,” said Ilham. “But at least I don’t have people behind my door with knives.”
His short-term goal is to enroll in a university in Istanbul to study social work or psychology which is taught in English. His long-term goal is to live in a free country where he can express himself without fear and to help others who are seeking to leave Islam.
“I want to move to 3rd country as soon as possible,” said Ilham.
Ilham needs your support to help with PTSD issues from his traumatic childhood as well as eventually moving to a safe country that accepts his atheism.

Ilham faces health challenges – Episode 2

Update July 2021 – Health struggles and financial woes have sent this twenty-something atheist back to a small Turkish city after a move to Istanbul proved too costly. “Without school I can’t stay here and without proper health I won’t be able to study,” said Ilham, who suffers from insomnia, allergies, fatigue and issues with the intense Turkish summers (30 + Celsius with high humidity common all summer).

When the Secular Underground Network (SUN) touched base with Ilham in May he had just relocated to Istanbul in hopes of furthering his studies and finding physical safety from those who would harm him because of his atheism. But his health, living arrangements and costs in Istanbul made it difficult for him to continue there. The young Afghan can only stay in Turkey if he remains in school. He returned to the small university city where he first set foot after fleeing a dangerous situation in Afghanistan. Once again Ilham (not his real name to protect his safety) faces a conundrum. He needs to be healthy to study and he needs to study to stay.

“Because living in Istanbul was very costly and in bad conditions I decided to take the risk and return to (this city) since my university is here,” recounted Ilham. “I keep a low profile and try my best not to go out much and not see the individuals that tried to attack and harm me.”

Ilham shares a small, barren apartment with a friend and another roommate. They have no refrigerator, no air conditioning and no fan. Ilham hand-washes his clothes in a bucket in the austere bathroom. He has a few dried goods on shelves for food. Without a refrigerator, he needs to shop each day, which is extra costly.

Ilham needs your help. His short-tem goal is to get healthy so he can study. His long-term goal is to get to an atheist-friendly country so he can achieve his potential and be free from those who wish to harm him because he does not believe in their God.

“I am from Afghanistan, we have been through a lot,” Ilham explained. “Situations like this don’t bother us much but I am not healthy now.” “Physical health is important,” he said. “If you can’t breathe well, can’t eat and can’t sleep and you have to take cold showers to maintain your body temperature. Your pillow feels like a heater and your bed like a cooker.” Ilham’s priority now is to get better. If he is healthy he can study and he can thrive. But he needs money for doctor visits and medicine and his schooling. “I have very poor appetite, I can feel my stomach hurt but I won’t be able to eat,” he explained.

Ilham needs your support for health and school – Episode 1

Update april 2022 – For 22-year-old Ilham he must always temper his dream of living in a free country with everyday life managing challenging health and economic realities in Turkey.

“A country where I wouldn’t have to think twice before saying what I want,” he mused in a recent conversation with SUN.

Ilham (not his real name but an alias to protect him) shares an apartment with friends in a small Turkish city where he goes to school. An atheist who fled his country of Afghanistan and violence against him from family and other true believers, Ilham struggles with making ends meet and a medical condition that adds to his woes. Add to that burden his broken heart over what has happened to his country since the West pulled out of Afghanistan last year.

“I have a rare medical condition,” Ilham explained. “It is when the immune system is overactive and mistakes healthy cells for infection and destroys them.”

No cure exists but there are treatments that relieve the symptoms.

Return to Afghanistan would be fatal but in order to remain in Trunkey Ilham must retain his student visa. He completed a Turkish language course recently and his plan is to continue studies in business administration in September.

His apartment is modest without refrigerator, air conditioning or washing machine. They cook meals on a gas appliance.

Ilham worked with the U.S. government in Afghanistan. But he fled for safety before the Taliban regained control.

“If they find out you don’t believe in Islam, that’s certain death,” he said. “However the Taliban are killing people just for cooperating with non-believers.”

He is safer in Turkey than back home but it is still an Islamic country.

“To be honest my university is having lots of students from fundamentalist Islamic backgrounds and that makes me feel unsafe but it sure is better than Afghanistan.”

He still holds out hope for a move to a free country where he can openly state his non-beliefs and other opinions. He hopes he can also find better treatment for his various medical conditions that hamper his activity.

But for now he tries to get by. Turkish inflation is at a 20-year high, Ilham noted. Food has gone up as well as the cost of medicine he needs.

Ilham needs your help. Please consider helping Ilham with his daily requirements so he can remain in Turkey, study and eventually move to a free nation.

1 thought on “Ex-Muslim lives a secret life to stay alive – Episode 5

  1. I can understand that the situation of Ilham but I don’t know what to do those people who live in Afghanistan under control of Taliban?
    Can you imagine that in which situation I’m?
    I don’t know what to do, I’m in deep depression and i asked from you are to help me but I think the humanity is also dead and there is no one in the world to help, just every person think about there benefits.
    I don’t know why i come to this website and sharing my situation if the information leaked so it means that I’m dead not from others, my own family will kill me bcoz my own Family are Talibans.
    Sorry for my language but I’m in dangerous situation and i asked from you are to help me in The German immigration to take me out of Afghanistan but even none of you answered me.

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