By Taner Edis
Atheism is rare in Muslim populations. Moreover, even more than among Christians, atheists are distrusted and associated with immorality. Public expressions of nonbelief often risk prosecution, and nonbelievers who escape blasphemy laws face severe social disapproval, risking livelihoods and family ties.
Still, there is a Muslim tradition of religious skepticism, particularly among intellectuals with a modern education. Most Western nonbelievers know little about Muslim atheists, who have typically been leftists or secular nationalists, fans of the European Enlightenment but critics of Western imperialism. Much of what they have said, therefore, has not been interesting or acceptable to a mainstream American audience.
Ali Rizvi’s The Atheist Muslim presents a more relatable version of dissent from Islam. Coming from an educated, prosperous, and liberal Pakistani Shia family, Rizvi grew up with the experience of being a religious minority both in his homeland and in Saudi Arabia, where his parents worked for some years. Both Shia and conservative Sunni practices shaped Rizvi’s perception of Islam. He eventually trained as a physician and settled in North America, and though many applied scientists gravitate toward religious nationalism or a mushy liberal spirituality, Rizvi went in a more skeptical direction.
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