Atheists and Islam: No God, not even Allah


A MOB attacked Alexander Aan even before an Indonesian court in June jailed him for two and a half years for “inciting religious hatred”. His crime was to write “God does not exist” on a Facebook group he had founded for atheists in Minang, a province of the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Like most non-believers in Islamic regions, he was brought up as a Muslim. And like many who profess godlessness openly, he has been punished.

In a handful of majority-Muslim countries atheists can live safely, if quietly; Turkey is one example, Lebanon another. None makes atheism a specific crime. But none gives atheists legal protection or recognition. Indonesia, for example, demands that people declare themselves as one of six religions; atheism and agnosticism do not count. Egypt’s draft constitution makes room for only three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Sharia law, which covers only Muslims unless incorporated into national law, assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. Thus ex-Muslim atheists are guilty of apostasy—a hudud crime against God, like adultery and drinking alcohol. Potential sanctions can be severe: eight states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty on their statute books for such offences.

In reality such punishments are rarely meted out. Most atheists are prosecuted for blasphemy or for inciting hatred. (Atheists born to non-Muslim families are not considered apostates, but they can still be prosecuted for other crimes against religion.) Even in places where laws are lenient, religious authorities and social attitudes can be harsh, with vigilantes inflicting beatings or beheadings.

Many, like Kacem el-Ghazzali, a Moroccan, reckon the only solution is to escape abroad. The 23-year-old was granted asylum in Switzerland after people found out he was the author of an anonymous blog, Even in non-Muslim lands ex-believers are scared of being open, says Nahla Mahmoud, a 25-year-old Sudanese atheist who fled to Britain in 2010. “Muslim communities here don’t feel comfortable with having an ex-Muslim around,” she says, noting that extremists living in the West may harass non-believers there too.

Facebook groups for atheists, mostly pseudonymous, exist in almost every Muslim country. Social media give non-believers more clout—but also make them more conspicuous, and therefore vulnerable. But the real blame lies with religious intolerance. In the 1950s and 1960s secularism and tolerance prevailed in many majority-Muslim countries; today religion pervades public and political life. Sami Zubaida, a scholar at London’s Birkbeck College, speaks of increasing polarisation, with “growing religiosity at one end of the spectrum and growing atheism and secularism at the other.”

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  1. I guess attacking him wouldn’t be considered religious hatred.

    No, see, that’s not what they mean by “inciting religious hatred.”  Being hated is the crime.

  2. I fear for atheists in Muslim countries very much.  Attacking mobs baying for blood sounds terrifying to me, living as I do in the safety of a much more tolerant West;  how much more awful it must be to live in fear of real violence from those barbaric ignoramuses.  The horror  is truly unimaginable.   
    I always believed  (in the good old days before 9/11) that being religious meant quiet prayer and contemplation;  in the case of Muslims, attending the Mosque, praying on the mat, ablutions etc.-all peaceful pursuits carried out by God-fearing people.  How the world has changed!  Or maybe I became more aware, more informed.  Nowadays, I am appalled at the utter intolerance and hatred of those I once believed to be God-fearing, appalled at whole nations, and  their governments who actually support such horrific attitudes.
    It seems that policing  whole sections of society, be it atheists, homosexuals or women ‘inadequately’ dressed, is the main occupation of those Muslim mobs, all in the name of Allah.  Have they really nothing more important to do for the betterment of their countries, their standard of living?  These are, for the most part, poor countries lacking in not only proper education but  social care, hospitals and all basic amenities.  It is totally inhumane of their leaders to allow such intolerant behaviour towards entirely innocent people while the idle energies of a mob or religious police could and should be better employed towards the real improvements that those societies are crying out for. 
    PS. I’m sorry for ranting and raving while all the time stating the bleeding obvious.

  3. aquilacane, I totally agree with you assessment of Saudi Arabia and Kentucky.
    Would you care to comment on Texas and Louisiana? I would be grateful…LOL

  4.  Hey don’t forget Tennessee, West Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, and a few other states.

  5. i live in iran and there are lots of people who have religions removed from their minds! mostly between educated people.

    but as this is a highly restricted religious society and the government is a pro-islamic dictatorship, people worry about talking about their religious ideas in public. 

    many of the young men and women are tired of all sorts of religions and the religious stupidity running the country. most of the people are against the current political ideology ruling the government, but unfortunately religion’s influence on the people’s minds is highly effective that religious leaders actually use it to rule the whole country and stop any kind of resistance before it has a chance to start! freedom of speech has become a dream here and among the remained media it’s highly prohibited to write against religions (like a taboo). the radio and tv are all under direct control of the religious leader and having a satellite dish is illegal (but nearly everyone has a stellite dish!)…

    the only place the people find to talk about their thoughts is the internet and unfortunately most of the people don’t have that much information about how to make themselves more secure online. because of this, every now and then news gets out that the government captured a cyber anti-riligion or political activist (political issues in a religious society are not separated from the religion)… recently one of them died in the prison (Sattar Beheshti) and there are lots of unknown people who nobody knows that they’ve been imprisoned for what they call “cyber crimes”, “activity against national security”, and “Mohaarebeh”. Mohaarebeh means fighting against islam and that means even if you say one word against islam or religious laws, you shall be punished as a Mohaareb…

    anyway, this country and whatever happens inside of it is real bullshit!

    here are some online Persian atheist societies:….

    and also maybe this one 😀 :….

    And is actually blocked in iran (alongst so many other websites; even fb, tw, youtube)

    i’m using some layers of encrypted tunnels to access blocked websites securely…! lol @ my life

  6. and i have to say Thank You Richard Dawkins;

    because nearly most of the atheists i’ve ever seen around here have read your book “The God Delusion” and it had so much effect on them.

    Thank You for your great work

  7. Thank you for showing us some of the work of atheist societies in your part of the world – great work!  Great effort of very, very brave people!  Free speech and education, combined with ordinary human goodness and compassion are the only solutions to combatting ignorance and intolerance anywhere in the world.  

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