I was born in a Muslim (sunni) family in 1962. Throughout my childhood I was programmed to believe that there was a supernatural being (allah) who watches and records our every move, and will punish us for being bad. As a grew older, I had a gut feeling that my dad (deceased) was a closet atheist. He never encouraged any religious rituals and kept quiet when religious matters were being discussed by my family members, even though he had memorized the Koran and had graduated from one of the most prestigious islamic universities in the middle east, and was a highly regarded intellectual in my country. Not only that, my dad totally withdrew from the social-religious obligations/rituals and spent most of his time in his library at home and with a limited number of 'liberal minded' friends.
When I was a teenager, I was given an opportunity to visit Mecca & Madina in a mini Haj called 'Omra'. I thought that by visiting these holy places my belief would be strengthened. The opposite happened. When seeing how uncivilized the people were behaving in this supposedly holy place (e.g. I was whipped by the religious police for shopping during prayer time); and in participating religious events; it reminded me of of many backward cultures throughout history and around the present world. We revolve around mecca seven times chanting the same thing over and over again with certain pauses at one corner, then going back and forth seven times in the path taken by Mohammed and chanting some more gibberish. It was quite ridiculous, and exhausting. It was one of the worst experiences in my lift at that time, and I never wanted to experience this again.
Upon returning home, I was confused. But I convinced myself that I will eventually 'see the light' and become a 'proper' muslim (if there is such a thing). After completing my high-school diploma I obtained a scholarship to study Engineering in the USA. I was warned by my friends and family about the 'culture shock' of the west. There was no culture shock, it felt so normal. I did not pray or fast if I didn't want to, and there was no shame in it. Nothing happened!
For more than four years the only 'culture shock' I experienced was when I went home for vacation. Moreover, the biggest culture I got was when I returned home after obtaining my degree in the mid 1980s, and seeing my country being transformed from a 'moderate' muslim country to a radical religious one. Allah is included in every daily event of life in this country. Actually, a person cannot speak properly without using this word several times in a sentence. To handle this severe culture shock, I travelled to the west whenever I had a chance (about four times a year) to rub shoulders with 'civilized' societies and buy & read books that were uncensored, without any repercussions from anyone. A friend of mine told me about your book 'The God Delusion' and another book 'God is Not Great' by Christopher Hitchens. So I had another friend buy these book for me and smuggle them into my country. I could not order them by mail because if I was caught I would be thrown in jail.
WOW! These two books changed my life. They translated what I had felt all my life into beautiful eloquent words of reason. As a result, I became comfortable with my self as an atheist and felt that a huge load was lifted off my shoulders. I started googling to obtain every piece of information on atheism I could find. And since I could not order hard copies of books on this subject, I started buying and downloading audio and digital books. I even found a website for a wonderful arab lady who became an atheist in the USA and is working hard to change the mentality of the arab-muslim world in their own language, Dr. Wafaa Sultan http://www.ahewar.org/m.asp?i=881.
It is impossible to openly declare my atheism in this country which is overwhelmed by radicalism (for the fear of being sentenced to jail or worse) due to the fact that Islam is one of the most violent religions in history (e.g. to become a muslim a man must be circumcised and if he leaves islam he is beheaded). Nevertheless, a few like minded friends know about my relief form this horrible bleief and are quite supportive.
Thank your Prof. Dawkins for changing my life, and I wish that scientists like you and others eventually change the mentality of arab world and force it towards secularism and make it catch up with the civilized free world.