By Amr Ezzat
Toward the end of 2009, an Egyptian blogger announced the imminent publication of his book, A Muslim Atheist. The title is reflective of a concept he believes in, based on his experiences: he isn’t Muslim currently; he used to be, but then he became an atheist. However, after a while, he found himself not entirely sure about the non-existence of God; thus, he was no longer fully an atheist. He is pragmatic, and such pragmatism has led him to live life as he wishes, as if God doesn’t exist, but without completely excluding the possibility that he might. But for Egyptian society, he will always be Muslim. To declare himself an atheist within his social circles would bring about consequences he could not bear; he would be unable to marry a Muslim or a Christian, and would likely forfeit his inheritance.
The issuing of legal documents like marriage certificates and death certificates, as well as things like child custody and inheritance, are all determined based on Egypt’s personal status laws, which are faith based and subject to religious dictates from Al-Azhar and recognised churches. Therefore, anyone who is not officially affiliated with one of the three Abrahamic religions is likely to experience difficulties regarding such matters.
I met Ahmed Montaser (the Muslim atheist blogger) in late 2009 in Tanta. This small town is not far from the city of Damanhour, where Abdel Karim Nabil (writing under the blogger name Karim Amer) — a student at Al-Azhar University, who is known as the “Azhari atheist” — is from. Nabil perhaps wasn’t as pragmatic as Montaser, and the distribution of his writing among fellow students landed him in prison from 2007 until 2010, on charges of insulting Islam and the president of the republic. Montaser and Nabil were among only a few who wrote under their real names and cases such as Nabil’s have since encouraged other atheists to be even more cautious, with many using pseudonyms to avoid meeting the same fate.
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