Religious Autonomy

In Exit West, Saeed says that “He asked to learn [prayer] before his parents had yet thought of teaching him” (201). This sentence struck me because it was the first time I have read or heard of parents choosing to wait to indoctrinate their child into their religion.

Most people I know who are religious have been religious their whole life, and they have practiced the same religion, which is usually the religion their parents practice as well. Religion is such a strong influence on people’s actions. Most parents pass their religion onto their children without considering the child’s agency because that is “how it is done.” Children grow up knowing only the one religion and are not given a chance to experiment with what religion they connect with. If they question their inherited religion, they run the risk of being shunned (to varying degrees).

In Exit West, Saeed and Nadia respect each other’s religious expression. Nadia rejected her family’s expectations and Saeed followed his family’s practices, and they are both happy with the way they choose to express their beliefs. Saeed is happy with his choice to continue practicing his religion because it strengthened his bond with others. Nadia chose to not follow her family’s religion because she could not find a reason to keep practicing it. Why should she lose her family for that?

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