Muslims and Atheism

by Ibn Warraq (March 2016)


The occupation of God in our minds is one of the most oppressive types of occupation.
-- Abdullah al-Qasemi,  1907-1996

One could call the present age as the Golden Age of Atheism in the West. I have already cited the Pew Research Center’s polls about the large change in the number of people in the USA who describe themselves as “non-religious.” The American Religious Identification Survey [ARIS] gave Non-Religious groups the largest gain in terms of absolute numbers - 14,300,000 (8.4% of the population) to 29,400,000 (14.1% of the population) for the period 1990 to 2001 in the USA.

Books that overtly promote and argue for atheism have been best-sellers in the USA, works by such scientists, and intellectuals as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, A.C. Grayling, and Victor Stenger. There have been surveys of atheism by Peter Watson,[1] Mitchell Stephens,[2] Michael Martin,[3] Julian Baggini,[4] and Stephen Bullivant and Michael Ruse,[5]

Surprisingly, there is a similar mood or change in the Islamic world, for we find individuals born into Islam but who do not believe in any deity, let alone Allah. It is surprising since “unbelief” is considered by Muslim jurists as the greatest of the great sins (kabirah) as opposed to the little ones (saghirah). There are seventeen great sins, beginning with (1) Kufr, or infidelity, that is unbelief, while murder comes way down the list at (15).[6] There are several words used for those in a state of infidelity, with different nuances of meaning, kafir, mushrik, mulhid, zandiq, munafiq, murtadd, dahri, and wasaniy. The most common one in modern accounts and media is mulhid. Classical Muslim jurists, as I have already indicated above, are agreed that a male apostate from Islam is “liable to be put to death if he continue obstinate in his error; a female apostate is not subject to capital punishment, but she may be kept in confinement until she recants”.[7]

There have been dozens of articles, both in the Arab media, and in the Western press, on atheists in the Islamic world in the last five years.[8] According to a recent article for Associated Press by Diaa Hadid, it is still very rare to find people in the Arab world who openly declare themselves as atheist, since the Arab world remains deeply conservative. It is perfectly acceptable socially not to be religiously observant, for example, if you decide not to pray or carry out other acts of faith, or to have secular attitudes. But to out onself publicaly as an atheist would lead to ostracism by family and friends, and you can expect trouble from Islamist hard-liners or even the state authorities.

However things are changing, as Diaa Hadid explains, there is now a small number of courageous souls who have dared to step out of the shadows, “Groups on social media networks began to emerge in the mid-2000s. Now, the Arab Spring that began in early 2011 has given a further push: The heady atmosphere of "revolution" with its ideas of greater freedoms of speech and questioning of long-held taboos has encouraged this opening. One 40-year-old Egyptian engineer, born a Muslim, told The Associated Press he had long been an atheist but kept it a deep secret. The 2011 uprising in Egypt and its calls for radical change encouraged him to look online for others like himself. "Before the revolution, I was living a life in total solitude. I didn’t know anybody who believed like me," he said. "Now we have more courage than we used to have.”

However, it was evident that there were limits as to how far an atheist can go. The above mentioned Egyptian spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals, and estrangement from family, friends and colleagues. He went “public” only on-line.

The article gives two recent examples of atheists in the Islamic world who were sentenced to prison for insulting religion. In 2012, Egyptian Alber Saber, a Christian who confessed to being an atheist, was arrested when neighbors denounced him for posting an anti-Islam film on his Facebook page. “Though he denied it, he was sentenced to three years in prison for blasphemy and contempt of religion. Released on bail during appeal in December, he moved to France. Similarly, a Palestinian atheist, Waleed al-Husseini, was arrested in 2010 in the West Bank town of Qalqilya for allegedly mocking Islam on the Internet. He was held without charge for several months, and after his release also fled to France.”

However, according to Diaa Hadid, “There are some 60 Arabic-language atheist Facebook groups — all but five of them formed since the Arab Spring. They range from “Atheists of Yemen” with only 25 followers, to “Sudanese Atheists” with 10,344 followers. There are pages that appear dormant, but most maintain some activity. An “Arab Atheist Broadcasting” outfit produces pro-atheism YouTube clips. There are closed groups, like an atheist dating club in Egypt.”[9]

ARAB ATHEISTS IN GENERAL AND THE INTERNET

A quick google search for “Arab Atheists” will give many facebook groups devoted to arguing against religion in general, and Islam in particular. “Arab Atheists” on Facebook proudly announces, “I’m an Atheist…I believe in hospitals before churches, good deeds before prayer, and reason before faith.” (“Churches” but not “mosques”; is this a failure of nerve?) There are links to “Iranian atheist/agnostic movement,” “Egyptians without religion” (in Arabic), and “Arab Atheist Network” (largely in Arabic). Arab Atheists Union is on Facebook, and has nearly 3000 likes.

In an article by Thomas Friedman, we learn the reasons for, and the extent of the reaction against Islam, or at least Political Islam, on the internet. According Nadia Oweidat, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation who closely follows how young Arabs use the Internet, says the phenomenon “is mushrooming — the brutality of the Islamic State is exacerbating the issue and even pushing some young Muslims away from Islam.” Then there was a piece on BBC.com in November, 2014 discussing the growing trend in the social media in Arabic which called for the abandonment of Shariah, or Islamic law, “Discussing religious law is a sensitive topic in many Muslim countries. But on Twitter, a hashtag which translates as ‘why we reject implementing Shariah’ has been used 5,000 times in 24 hours. The conversation is mainly taking place in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The debate is about whether religious law is suitable for the needs of Arab countries and modern legal systems. Dr. Alyaa Gad, an Egyptian doctor living in Switzerland, started the hashtag. ‘I have nothing against religion,’ she tells BBC Trending, but says she is against 'using it as a political system.’ ”[10]

TUNISIA

In 2012, Tunisian court sentenced two young men to seven years in prison for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. Al-Arabiya News quoted the justice minsitry spokesman Chokri Nefti, "They were sentenced, one of them in absentia, to seven years in prison, for transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order." Al-Arabiya News continued the story of the two men, “On March 28, a primary court in the coastal city of Mahdia, sentenced the two men, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, both in their late twenties. to seven years in prison and a fine of 1200 Tunisian Dinars (around USD $800) each over the use of social networks to publish content deemed blasphemous”.[11]

Ghazi Beji has written a book called The Illusion of Islam, where he discusses his views about Islam and religion in an uncompromising way. Beji, who describes himself as an atheist, has said in an interview: "After the Revolution, in March 2011, I said to myself Tunisia is a free and democratic country now and I should try to publish my book. I contacted several book publishers in Mahdia but they all refused to publish it. So I opted to upload it online." [12] Beji managed to receive asylum in Romania, while Jabeur Mejri, also a self-proclaimed atheist, was released, 3 March 2014,  after having served two years in prison.

SAUDI ARABIA

Human Rights Watch has taken up the case of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger accused of inslulting Islam. A court on July 29, 2013, convicted the liberal activist of violating Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law and sentenced him to 600 lashes and seven years in prison. Raif Badawi, the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, was found guilty of insulting Islam through his website and in comments he made on television. Oddly enough three months were added to his term for "parental disobedience." “The charges against Badawi were based solely on his peaceful exercise of his right to free expression,” Human Rights Watch said. Badawi established his online site in 2008, to encourage rational debate on religious and political matters, all sensitive issues in Saudi Arabia. Since his arrest on June 17, 2012. he has been in Jeddah’s Buraiman prison. A charge of apostasy, which carries the death penalty, was dropped after Badawi assured the court on July 24 that he is a Muslim. “This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia’s claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A man who wanted to discuss religion has already been locked up for a year and now faces 600 lashes and seven years in prison.”

Then in an update Human Rights Watch informs us, “On May 7, 2014, following a 5-month examination, the Jeddah Criminal Court issued a new ruling for Raif Badawi’s trial, increasing his sentence to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. Badawi will appeal the decision.”[13]

The Saudi authorities were evidently rattled by some statistics about unbelief in the kingdom published in 2012 by WIN-Gallup International, an association in market research and polling. According to the latter organization, 5% of Saudis identified themselves as “atheist” and a further 19% said they were not religious.[14]

The population of Saudi Arabia in 2012 was 28.29 million; thus there were 1,414,500 atheists, and 5,375,100 non-religious. I suspect that the real number of Saudi atheists is even greater since many Saudi atheists would not have dared to tell foreign pollsters of their real beliefs. Furthermore, Saudi authorities consider “atheism and Islamist terrorism equal crimes in the eyes of the law. To the Saudi government, not believing in God, and fighting in his name – although polar opposites – represent the same threat, a challenge to the religious consensus.”[15]

Also another surprising result of WIN-Gallup poll was that “the proportion among believers who say "I see myself as religious" is higher among Christians compared to Muslims and Jewish populations. Hindus score the highest; 20% among the Muslims considered themselves as non-religious, whereas 16% of Christians identified as “non-religious”.[16]

A highly respected website, Your Middle East,[17] has a revealing interview with a Saudi atheist, Jabir, conducted by William Bauer in 2013.[18] Bauer writes, “for many Saudis, atheism – mulhad in Arabic – is far more disturbing than believing in a different religion. Atheism, as argued by many clerics in Saudi Arabia, leads to dissolute lives, carnal pursuits, immoral behaviours, and ultimately, eternal damnation. Atheists are portrayed in Saudi official media as an existential and corruptive threat to society. One cleric even recently spoke of a 'wave of atheism sweeping the country.' This is highly unlikely, but it shows a persistent fear of atheists and ensures that no Saudi ever express such a belief openly.”

Bauer continues, “Jabir is in his twenties, and a successful graduate from a top Saudi university. He used to be highly religious, regularly attending his school’s Qu’ranic classes, and not listening to music until his late teens. But in his final school years, this changed. [Jabir spoke of his journey to atheism]: ‘I found some religious teachings and rules didn’t make any sense. So, I started asking questions about small things like why music is Haram (forbidden) or why women have to cover their faces. Then I started reading about the way Islam scripts and Hadith were gathered … I had a group of people and we would discuss books in regular meetings…After a while I came to believe that the whole of religion is nothing but man’s invention to fight reality and impose order.’”

“Citing works by key Muslim and Arab thinkers, as well as authors such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, Jabir explains that acquiring these books was tricky. Often, he had to smuggle them into Saudi Arabia.” And it is not only the young who are coming out of the shadows, explains Jabir, “I was shocked to meet older people in their forties and fifties who had been hiding their atheism for decades. They said that only recently with the young generation in their twenties had they found other people who think like them and were able to find social groups that they can talk and debate about their ideas in.”

Jabir sees little sign of change in the country, however. It will be many years before Saudi Arabia becomes secular.

IRAN

I think the number of atheists in Iran is probably greater than in Saudi Arabia.

Robert Putnam, of Harvard, says. "The average American is slightly more religious than the average Iranian, so we are a very religious country even today."[19] In an ongoing census being conducted by the Atheists Alliance International, so far 4459 Iranians have participated, out of a total of 263,245, putting Iran in the 10th position within participants from round the world who consider themselves as non-religious.[20] The internet hosts many individual Iranian atheists, such as Bahador Alast,[21] Kaveh Mousavi,[22] a  pseudonym of an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, and also Iranian atheist groups, such as Iranian Atheists, [23]  Iranian Atheist/ Agnostic Movement,[24] and Iran Atheist.[25] Again, one can only guess as to the actual number of atheists or agnostics in Iran; but given that more than 60% Iranians were born after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and are fed up with restrictions on their private lives.[26] I would hazard that at least 10% of that post-revolution population was atheist, that is approximately 4.8 million Iranian atheists. As David Goldman said, “Outside of the governing theocracy, there don’t seem to be many Muslims in Iran - not Muslims, that is, who turn up at mosques for prayers on Friday, Islam’s holy day. Only 2 percent of Iran’s adults attend Friday services, Zohreh Soleimani reported in a 2008 BBC broadcast.” And yet contrast this with the fact millions demonstrated against voter fraud after the 2009 presidential elections.[27]

EGYPT

There has been a number of Egyptians which has come out into the open to declare their atheism. Journalist Khaled Diab proclaimed[28] in an Egyptian paper in 2013, “I am an agnostic atheist, or an atheistic agnostic. Basically, I don’t know whether or not God exists, but religion, in my humble view, is clearly manmade and not heaven-sent.”

He lost his faith in a Muslim country, “I felt perhaps my strongest (and youngest) faith in a non-Muslim country and lost it in a Muslim country, though I did not fully abandon it until I left Egypt again. It began with childhood doubts over why all my English friends would be going to hell when they eventually died, which matured into questions over the status of women and sexuality, as well as the contradictions and scientific errors in the Quran.”

Diab denies it was his sojourn in the West that turned him atheist, “There are those who will dismiss what I say as the ranting of someone who has moved too far away from his roots and lived abroad for too long. Although I do not doubt that the phases I have spent in Europe have exposed me to alternative way of thinking, most of my drift away from religion occurred in Egypt, despite the numerous beautiful aspects I admire about faith here, from the festive excesses of Ramadan to the monastic frugalities of the desert.”

Besides there have always been doubters in Egyptian society, “One of Egypt’s greatest philosophers of the 20th century, the existentialist Abdel Rahman Badawi, wrote, in the 1940s, an encyclopaedia of atheists throughout Islamic history. And there have been plenty of those, such as the Dawkins of the Abbasid era Ibn Al-Rawandi. There are even atheists who speculate that the number of non-believers in Egypt could potentially exceed the number of Christians. If true, that would make non-belief the second largest faith community. For the foreseeable future, we will not know as nobody has bothered to recognise or count them, and the discrimination they face has led many to lead an underground existence. But what is certain is that, alongside belief, non-belief has always been an integral part of Egypt’s social fabric, and denying they exist only breeds hypocrisy. It is time that atheists and agnostics have their rights recognised in full, including their right to freely believe what they want, their right not to be described as a member of one of the three heavenly faiths, and their right, along with other Egyptians, to access civil courts. Above all, we need to be regarded as equal citizens and not as targets for prosecution… or worse, persecution.”

Just two months later, in an article for Salon.[29] Khaled Diab wondered if atheism was the fastest growing religion, “During my recent visit to Egypt, I met so many non-believers that it was almost tempting to think that atheism has become the country’s fastest-growing ‘religion.’  In addition, atheists are becoming more confident, assertive and outspoken. This, for example, is reflected in the daring decision by a group of atheists to submit publicly their demands for the complete secularization of the state — something Islamists, especially ultra-conservative Salafists, passionately oppose — to the committee drafting Egypt’s new constitution.”

Diab was surprised by the warm and positive reaction to the article, quoted above, that he wrote for the Daily News Egypt. Diab discussed various problems surrounding the issue of atheism with many fellow atheists while in Egypt, and along the way dispelled many myths. “There are some who believe that atheism is a phenomenon which is limited to the 'Westernized' urban elite. Quite the contrary. The past three years changed my mind,’ observes [friend and fellow atheist] Ayman Abdel-Fattah. ‘I have discovered that there is a large strata of young people who are not wealthy, who are not even lower middle-class, who converted to atheism.’ I [Diab] personally know people who received a completely conventional Egyptian upbringing and were raised in some of the most traditional corners of the country but still wound up abandoning their ancestral faith.”

Diab gives some examples, “One old friend of mine was born and grew up in Minya, famed as the bridge to deeply conservative Upper Egypt. Despite having a father who was an Azharite scholar and religion teacher — but one who had raised his children to believe in free inquiry — my friend eventually became an atheist, though he never told his mother for fear of breaking her heart. His transformation occurred after he moved to Cairo to go to university in the 1990s. This was at a time when Islamists were in the midst of a wide-scale campaign to intimidate and cow society — including throwing acid in the faces of female students— into following their beliefs.”

In an article by Mounir Adib in the Egypt Independent in 2013,[30] fifteen atheists were interviewed in Cairo: “Despite the risks of coming out, many atheists I spoke to claim their numbers have slowly been on the rise following the 25 January Revolution. The rise in atheism could be seen as a by-product of the revolution pushing the boundaries of commonly-held belief systems and breaking down previous political, social and religious restrictions. While there is no official census of atheists in Egypt, some put their number at more than four million, while others say they are around two million.”

Al-Kahera Wal-Nas, a television channel in Egypt also gives an example of another atheist who came from a very religious background, “Al-Harqan[31] is an Egyptian activist and atheist, who has spent a generous portion of his life as a Salafi ‘Muslim fundamentalist’, but his journey through Islam led him to renounce his religion. Mr. Al-Harqan was a devout Muslim and well versed in Islam. He was educated by Ahmed Al-Burhami a very celebrated Islamic scholar in Egypt. The transformation took its toll on Ahmad Al-Harqan and led him to burn all of his religious certificates and start his education from scratch.” But al-Harqan and his wife faced much hostility from neighbours, were even briefly imprisoned. It is precisely his religious education that makes him a formidable opponent in various televised debates.[32]

Even more remarkable was the case of an Egyptian woman calling herself, Nuha or Noha, who openly declared herself an atheist on an Egyptian television talk show. A frequent contributor to Daniel Pipes’ webpage discussions, Dhimmi No More, submitted this fascinating story on May 18, 2014. “I want to bring to your attention this video of an interview that was conducted by Riham Said or the hostess of the TV talk show in Cairo called Sabaya el-Khair and she interviewed an Egyptian Molheda or Kafira (read this as unbeliever/apostate) and she provided only her first name and it is Nuha who is a doctor and who used to be married to a Salafist and used be a Munaqaba (she who wears al-Niqab) and now Nuha is an atheist. Nuha believes that there was no Gabriel and the Qur'an is the work of Muhammad and not the words of God and it is all the stories of the ancients (read this as fables). She also stated that she would regard Morsi as a victim of Islam and Muhammad and his Qur'an. [Unfortunately, the video is no longer available.]

“Now Riham Said had a meltdown and had to dismiss Nuha in the middle of the program and what is most amazing here was the reaction of the viewers who were very critical not of Nuha the atheist but of Riham Said for not allowing Nuha to express her point of view in full.”[33]

Noha or Nuha told journalist Mounir Adib that “initially [she] accepted her religion happily, learning the Koran by heart and even winning a prize for Koranic recitation 20 years ago. At the Faculty of Medicine, she met Mona Imam, wife of former presidential advisor Essam al-Haddad, son of Brotherhood spokesperson Jihad al Haddad. Mona pressured Noha to wear a niqab, which she caved into.

"At the age of 24, she married a colleague who was three years her senior. As her marriage went on for five years, she began to doubt the existence of God. Part of the reason was her husband. One day, her husband slapped her face. When she complained to her father, he told her God gave husbands the right to beat their wives as stated in the verse of Al-Nisa’ Sura. Then she began to wonder how God could give the right to a husband to abandon and beat his wife, let alone that he could be married to another at the same time. How could that be when Islam forbids beating animals? Are women inferior to animals? Is it because women are physically weaker than men and cannot fight back? How could they be allowed to be so humiliated?”[34]

That Egypt is at the forefront of the political fight to establish the rights of non-believers was underlined by their strong presence at the Religion and Freedoms Forum that took place on 24 March 2015 at the headquarters of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights,[35] moderated by Amr Ezzat, a researcher.[36]

Since 2011, at least 27 of the more than 40 defendants tried on charges of defamation have been convicted in court, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, reported Sarah Lynch[37] after the first forum held in 2012.

Thus the forum in 2015 showed extraordinary courage. The Egypt Independent reported on 2015 forum, “The forum participants have stressed that they would like to go beyond mere defence from the attacks waged against the non-believers, compared by the Endowments Minister to the threat of terrorism and called ‘followers of a Western agenda aimed at threatening stability’ by the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar. Instead, they would like to ask the state and the society: ‘What gives you the right to stand against the freedom of citizens to be non-believers?’”

The forum was an ideal moment for unbelievers to present their beliefs. It was attended by, among many others, Ahmed Harqan, a blogger and founder of the Free Mind TV, Islam Ibrahim, founder of the Atheism Declaration page, Hani al-Mihy, founder of the Egyptians Without Religion page and Ismail Mohamed, blogger and producer of the Black Ducks program.

For Islam Ibrahim, the aim of the Atheism Declaration page is to give opportunities to those who wish to to declare their atheism, in brief, to announce their presence, their existence. They want to unashamedly assert their atheism. They exist in the community, not only on Facebook. "We currently have 450 Arabs who have declared their atheism, but our page has been closed several times because of reports against it," he says. Atheists are often attacked in public, and even in police stations.

Amr Ezzat, the moderator of the forum, advised Ahmad Harqan not to declare his atheism publicly since he would risk prison, but Harqan said society needed such a shock. Ezzat, however, was not sure if that shock would have a positive impact on the rights of non-believers in the long run. Ahmed Harqan, on the other hand, believes shock is exactly what is needed at present, and reckons it would have a positive impact. "If all atheists speak out, the state will no longer treat them as an undesired minority," he says.[38]

Atheists in Egypt are constantly attacked, harassed and even imprisoned on blasphemy charges. Hani al-Mihy, for example, says he demanded that the civil registry write "atheist" and not "Muslim" on his ID card. "Despite the insults I heard, I submitted a formal request and waited for a formal written response. The response was that I must choose between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. This is contrary to the Constitution. Can the state force me into a particular religion? Does the absolute freedom of belief stated in the Constitution mean that a citizen who is not a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew does not exist?", he said.

For Ahmed Harqan, atheism is not a religion. “Islam Ibrahim says atheists are not a closed group or sect, and Amr Ezzat adds that it is deplorable how atheists must lie and say they are Muslims or Christians if they want to marry, since otherwise the marriage contract is illegal.”[39]

As Human Rights Watch reported in January, 2015, a young blogger was accused of blasphemy after he posted some remarks on Facebook, “Authorities arrested the student, Karim Ashraf Mohamed al-Banna, with a group of other people at a café in the Beheira governate in November 2014, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression reported. ‘Atheists are one of Egypt’s least-protected minorities, although the constitution ostensibly guarantees freedom of belief and expression,’ said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. ‘Egyptian authorities need to be guided by the constitution and stop persecuting people for atheism.’ Al-Banna’s sentencing is part of a wider government push to combat atheism and other forms of dissent. It came after police closed a so-called atheists café in downtown Cairo on December 14, and one of the country’s highest Sunni authorities issued a survey that purported to document what religious officials described as a worrying number of atheists in Egypt.”[40]

One of the reasons young Egyptians are turning away from Islam is the way Islamists behaved when in power. “‘I’ve decided to put Islam on hold as a religion,’ wrote former Muslim Brotherhood activist Osama Dorra in his blog post. ‘For the conflict I’ve found between some of its details and what I think is sanity, justice, and logic has reached an inconceivable limit.’" [41]

As Mohamed Abdelfattah wrote in Daily News Egypt in 2012, “The young Islamist dropout was courageous enough to come out with these views publicly on his blog. For days comments and shares continued to fuel the discussion. Islamists and their acolytes, who may have one day been shoulder to shoulder with Dorra, were unable to discredit his opinion as simply a fake conspiracy against Islam. Hence, I guess, they were more than cautious not to take him to court.”

Abdelfattah continued, “You could now find uncompromising Salafi TV preachers legitimising profanity and insults. Or the more bizarre Yasser Borhamy of the Salafi movement rejecting a clear ban on slavery in the constitution because he thinks slavery is not necessarily un-Islamic. Or take his other comment that Muslims should hate Christians from a Godly point of view. The list can go on and on to illustrate why a youth born into the 21st century may feel alienated by the whole religious establishment.' 'Although the Islamist movement managed to reach power, it has been unprecedentedly dethroned from the hearts of many Egyptians,’ so lamented Nageh Ibrahim the founder of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya in a recent article in Al-Masry Al-Youm. Several other preachers have said multiple times recently on TV that Al-Da’wa, or proselytising for Islam, has been losing a lot of credibility as a result of politics.”

The Islamists are clearly out of touch with a large part of the young in Egypt, “Islamists rising to power has not yielded their much-awaited fantasised moment of everything-turning-Islamic. Instead, it’s contributing to an unprecedented wave of skepticism, social secularisation and atheism. Young people feeling alienated by every Friday sermon that lacks substance or labels all non-Islamists as heretics and un-Egyptian are moving away from religion and ‘flying high above.’ ‘The Arab Spring has shaken our confidence in everything that preceded the revolution. And it has become clear that all the fundamental assumptions our life was based on were not completely sound,’ wrote Dorra.”[42]

PAKISTAN

There is good evidence to think that Jinnah of Pakistan, the man considered Father of the Nation was an atheist. Stanley Wolpert in his biography of Jinnah states that “religion never played an important role in Jinnah’s life,”[43] second, we also know that he ate pork[44] and drank whiskey. Scholar Dr. Ajai Sahni[45] describes Jinnah as a “Westernized, wine-drinking, pork-eating atheist.”[46] And according to one historian, had Jinnah been alive today “he would have to be flogged publicly for his personal habits. Mr Jinnah not only chained-smoked Craven-A cigarettes but also liked his whisky and was not averse to pork.”[47] At a press conference on July 4, 1947, a journalist asked Jinnah if Pakistan would be a religious state. Jinnah replied, “You are asking a question that is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means.” [48] Then, on August 11, the day he was elected president of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, Jinnah gave a moving speech that included the following sentiments: “We are starting the state with no discrimination . . . we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as the citizens of the nation.” [49]

Far from being a theocratic state, with over 135 million Muslim fundamentalists, Pakistan once  had a large, liberal, secular-minded middle class, in whose lives religion did not play an important part. Here is how one British journalist and novelist of Pakistani origin, Tariq Ali,[50]  described the social milieu in Lahore (Pakistan), where he grew up:

I never believed in God, not even between the ages of six and ten, when I wasan agnostic. This unbelief was instinctive. I was sure there was nothing else out there but space. It could have been my lack of imagination. In the jasmine-scented summer nights, long before mosques were allowed to use loudspeakers, it was enough to savour the silence, look up at the exquisitely lit sky, count the shooting stars and fall asleep. The early morning call of the muezzin was a pleasant alarm-clock.

My parents, too, were non-believers. So were most of their close friends. Religion played a tiny part in our Lahore household. In the second half of the last century, a large proportion of educated Muslims had embraced modernity. Old habits persisted, nonetheless: the would-be virtuous made their ablutions and sloped off to Friday prayers. Some fasted for a few days each year, usually just before the new moon marking the end of Ramadan. I doubt whether more than a quarter of the population in the cities fasted for a whole month. Café life continued unabated. Many claimed that they had fasted so as to take advantage of the free food doled out at the end of each fasting day by the mosques or the kitchens of the wealthy. In the countryside fewer still fasted, since outdoor work was difficult without sustenance, and especially without water when Ramadan fell during the summer months. Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, was celebrated by everyone.

New Delhi Television on line published a story on September 5, 2010 about Pakistani youth giving up religion.[51] A Facebook group has been created for Pakistan's agnostics and atheists by former Pakistani Muslim, Hazrat NaKhuda[52] [obviously a pseudonym- Hazrat comes from the Arabic Hadrah, an honorific title which could roughly be translated as “His Eminence; and “NaKhuda”  the adopted surname means “no God”]. There are now 100 members. Hazrat, a computer programmer from Lahore, writes, “I used to be a practicing Muslim. I used to live in Saudi Arabia. I have done two Hajs and countless Umrahs. Used to pray five times a day. When I turned 17-18, I realized that the only reason I was a Muslim was because my parents were Muslims.” Another member, Ahmad Zaidi, wrote, “I’m an agnostic simply because I see little or no evidence for the existence of God. Some time ago I decided that I’d never believe anything unless it has a firm basis in reason and as far as I know (and I admit I know very little and that there's much to be learnt), there’s little or no evidence for the existence of God.”

The members of the group are students, some studying abroad, but many are at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. One student, Nawab Zia, says we should ask not “how we became atheists” but “how we became believers.” He wrote, “I was a born atheist like every human being until my parents corrupted me with faith. Every child is born free and pure.” Ali Rana, who loved Islamic preacher Zakir Nair and hated author Salman Rushdie, has had a change of heart too. He now thinks Nair is an “idiot” and Rushdie a genius. Many members describe on the discussion boards how they “wasted” their years as theists.

There are facebook pages for Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics,[53] and Council of Pakistani Apostates,[54] a number of Pakistani atheist blogs,[55] and testimonies of Pakistani ex-Muslims online.[56] There is also the sad story of two Pakistani girls who became atheists, their mother found out and threatened to kill them, ended up locking them up in the house. The girls managed to escape by travelling to Sri Lanka on a month-long tourist visa and are now seeking help in claiming asylum to another country. They are now asking people to raise awareness of their case and help them move to another country.[57] There is evidence that the number of self-declared atheists in Pakistan has gone up from 1% in 2005, to 2% in 2012, that would make nearly two million Pakistani atheists. A further 8% said they were not religious.[58] Once again, the real number may well be much greater.[59]

IRAQ

A New York Times story published in 2008 explains the disillusionment of many young people following all the acts of violence attributed to religious extremism, and the incitement of Muslim clerics, “After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach. In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives. ‘I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us,’ said Sara, a high school student in Basra. ‘Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers.’

“Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, said: ‘The religion men are liars. Young people don’t believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore.’”

A professor at Baghdad University’s School of Law explained, “They have changed their views about religion. They started to hate religious men. They make jokes about them because they feel disgusted by them.’”

A young Iraqi girl felt deep satisfaction at the attacks of 9/11, but the violence was all rather abstract, and distant. But now it was closer, and there was greater religiously sanctioned restriction on her movements and dress. She said, “Now I hate Islam. Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army are spreading hatred. People are being killed for nothing.’... [The clerics] are making a society of nonbelievers.” [60]

A Jordanian based online newservice, Al-Bawaba, recently recounted the story of an Iraqi atheist, known as the Baghdad Converter,[61] 

“Due to rising levels of violence in Iraq, there's been an increase in the number of young people turning to a life without God. Despite its dangers and taboos in the conflict-ridden nation, some Iraqi youth are turning towards atheism. Mariwan Salihi met a few of them. One of the Iraqi capital’s most vocal young activists, who uses the pseudonym Omar Al-Baghdadi for his own security, is often described as ‘Baghdad’s Converter.’ His mission, among others, is to enlighten his friends and other young people about atheism. ‘I became an atheist at an early age, after I investigated my former religion, Islam, in depth. I discovered that my religion is not the only one that exists on earth; there are more than 1100 other faiths and their followers all claim that their religion tells the absolute truth. So religion is a form of Dogma,' the 22-year old engineer and activist says from his home in one of the major Sunni-inhabited areas of Baghdad. ‘My parents know I am an atheist, and so do my friends’. According to Al-Baghdadi, most of the writings in the Islamic holy book, the Koran, are labeled as 'scientific facts,' which he believes are mostly incorrect. ‘It has many mistakes,’ he adds, claiming that even the ancient Hindu scripts from India, the Vedas, contain more accurate facts than the Koran.”

A Kurdish news agency AKnews, published these findings in April 2011: “Ordinary Iraqi citizens were asked “Do you believe in God”? The answers were quite surprising for this Middle Eastern country, home to many holy sites for Muslims, Christians, Jews, and many other religions; 67% answered yes, 21% probably yes, 4% probably no, 7% no, and 1% had no answer.”

“According to Nawaf Al-Kaabi, a 23-year old university student from Basrah in southern Iraq, the number of atheists could be much higher if that poll was held in 2014. ‘The new generation of Iraqis are tired of religious extremists and politicians, who are responsible for the ongoing sectarian divide in the country,’ he says. ‘Young people travel, read, watch TV, and are connected to the internet…with so much out there, they have become skeptical of their own religion now.’ But he agrees that many atheists in his country could be at danger from extremists and militias linked to religious groups, if they are too open about their views. And, that was the case with one of Iraq’s most well-known atheists. The 22-year old Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar fled to the United States, partly due to his conflict with Islamists over his secular humanist identity, but also because his brother, cousin and best friend were killed in sectarian violence in his native Iraq. Growing up in a moderate Shia family, the outspoken Al-Mutar received many death threats from Al Qaeda elements and the Shia Al-Mahdi Army, two influential and powerful religious militias operating in his country. And although it is not a crime to be an atheist in Iraq, religious militias often take matters into their own hands. Today, Al-Mutar leads an international organization and regularly speaks at events. He’s the founder of Global Secular Humanist Movement, which has nearly a quarter million ‘likes’ on Facebook.”[62]

KURDISTAN

The al-Bawaba article thinks Kurdistan is a much safer place for atheists. “…[I]n the northern parts of the country, in the autonomous Kurdistan Region, young Kurds often feel they have more freedom to express their views. Spared from the sectarian violence seen elsewhere in Iraq, Kurdistan portrays itself as a tolerant place, with a semi-secular system. Suzan Star, a 22-year old Danish-Iraqi student, originally from the multicultural city of Kirkuk, and an ethnic Kurd, became an atheist only after she left her parental home and settled in her own apartment.”

“‘My Muslim parents had a big influence on me; they taught me to be a good Muslim. But when I left home, I felt free to choose for myself,’ she explains.

"One of the reasons why Star turned to atheism, is because it gave her different perspectives on her own life, and as she explains, life no longer makes her afraid and depressed, and that it allows her to finally follow her dreams, ‘without religious restrictions’ – even when her parents disapproved her choice ‘and think she will go to hell for that.’ Suzan was soon surprised to find out that there are many other young Kurdish atheists in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the diaspora.‘I know many other Kurdish atheists, mostly in Europe, and none of them have received threats for coming out.’

“In Erbil, Kurdistan Region’s capital, the Canadian-Kurdish Adam Mirani agrees that’s easier to say that one doesn’t believe in God in Kurdistan than in the rest of Iraq, but adds that in the Middle East – like in the rest of the world – people are not in right mindset to accept others who have no religion. ‘When you look at a place like Iraq, where religious divisions are deep and are a direct result of the extreme violence which exists in much of the country, bringing up something like atheism just seems pointless, because progress won't happen in the atmosphere that exists here,’ the 26-year old photographer and program assistant at a local NGO says. ‘Iraq is not ready for a small community of atheists to band together and bring different opinions to the public sphere, and frankly it’s dangerous. I would rather push atheism in countries where it's accepted, yet if people are brave enough, then I commend them for their courage,’ a cautious Mirani concludes.”[63]

EX-MUSLIMS IN THE WEST

ALI SINA

One of the most interesting developments in the West has been growth of associations, and organizations of ex-Muslims. Perhaps the godfather of all these ex-Muslims is Ali Sina, of Iranian orgin, who has been denouncing the inquities of Islam for twenty years. His website, Faith Freedom International,[64] has been active for nearly fifteen years, and contains testimonies and articles by many ex-Muslims. In an interview in the Jerusalem Post,[65] Ali Sina described himself as “probably the biggest anti-Islam person alive.” The Jerusalem Post explains, “To Westerners and moderate Muslims shocked by the radical form of Islam now topping nightly newscasts, the efforts of liberal-minded Muslims like Tawfik Hamid, Italian Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi and a handful of others may seem like the perfect solution. Not so for Ali Sina, who has a different suggestion: destroy Islam…. The publication of his latest book, Understanding Muhammad: A Psychobiography of Allah’s Prophet, will likely cement that position [as the leading Islam basher]. In it, Sina suggests that Islam’s central figure suffered from a series of mental disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy and obsessive compulsive disorder. ‘These disorders,’ he says via telephone, ‘can explain the phenomenon known as Islam... which is nothing but one man's insanity.’ Sina grew up a non-practicing Muslim. Raised in Iran, educated in Pakistan and Italy and now living in Canada, he began jousting with believers in the 1990s.”

On his Faith Freedom site, Ali Sina throws out a challenge, “Sina lists references to Muhammad's actions and offers $50,000 to anyone who can disprove his charge that Muhammad was ‘a narcissist, a misogynist, a rapist, a pedophile, a lecher, a torturer, a mass murderer, a cult leader, an assassin, a terrorist, a madman and a looter.” [66]

Ali Sina explains his reasons for rejecting Islam, “‘Islam is a religion of peace’. This is what our politically correct politicians keep telling us. But what is politically correct is not necessarily correct. The truth is that Islam is not a religion of peace. It is a religion of hate, of terror and of war. A thorough study of the Quran and Hadith reveal an Islam that is not being presented honestly by the Muslim propagandists and is not known to the majority of the people of the world including Muslim themselves. Islam, as it is taught in the Quran (Koran) and lived by Muhammad, as is reported in the Hadith (Biography and sayings of the Prophet) is a religion of Injustice, Intolerance, Cruelty, Absurdities, discrimination, Contradictions, and blind faith. Islam advocates killing the non-Muslims and abuses the human rights of minorities and women. Islam expanded mostly by Jihad (holy war) and forced its way by killing the non-believers. In Islam apostasy is the biggest crime punishable by death. Muhammad was a terrorist himself therefore terrorism cannot be separated from the true Islam. Islam means submission and it demands from its followers to submit their wills and thoughts to Muhammad and his imaginary Allah. Allah is a deity that despises reason, democracy, freedom of thought and freedom of expression.

"I reject Islam a) because of Muhammad’s lack of moral and ethical fortitude and b) because of the absurdities in the Quran.”[67]

ISLAM WATCH - Telling the Truth About Islam

Islam Watch was founded by ex-Muslims many of whom began their anti-Islam writings on Ali Sina’s website: M. A. Khan (USA, Editor); Abul Kasem (Australia); Sher Khan (USA); Syed Kamran Mirza (USA); Mumin Salih (UK). Ali Sina is also considered a founder member. Here is how they describe themselves,

“We are a group of Muslim apostates, who have left Islam out of our own conviction when we discovered that Islam is not a religion at all. Most of us took a prolonged period of time to study, evaluate and contemplate on Islam, the religion of our birth. Having meticulously scrutinized Islam, we concluded that it is not a religion of peace at all, as touted by smooth-talking, self-serving Muslims and their apologists from non-Muslim backgrounds. The core of Islam—namely the Qur'an, Hadis and Sharia—is filled with unbounded hatred of the unbelievers, unbelievably intolerant toward them, and extremely cruel and merciless to those Muslims, who dare to deviate from its doctrines.

“We also realized that Islam is beyond reformation, because Muslims—who attempt to modernize and reform its unremitting bigotry, irrational rituals, and cruel and draconian punitive measures—are targeted for annihilation. Our verdict was that the only way to escape from the tyranny of Islam is to leave it altogether. We have, therefore, discarded Islam from our life, so that we can be free to enjoy a normal, pleasant and humane life in complete harmony with all peoples on earth, irrespective of their religion, race or creed.

“Having thoroughly understood—through our meticulous investigation of Islam for years to decades—that Islam was nothing but a lie, most of us have left Islam silently, because of the mortal threats of Islam on our life. As Islamic terrorism and violence overwhelms the world, particularly in the post-9/11 years, we also felt that it's a responsibility upon us to make world's 1.4+ billion Muslims aware of the falsity of their religion and its cruel nature, so that they can make informed choices and leave Islam to live with love, respect and harmony with the rest of humanity.

“We also felt it incumbent upon us to make the non-Muslim world aware of the reality of Islam, and undertake timely precautionary measures against this religion of terror, hatred and mayhem. We tell the world that the ongoing terrorism, unleashed by Islamic militants, is not an aberration from the so-called 'peaceful religion of Islam'; instead, it is the real Islam preached and practiced by its founder, Prophet Muhammad. A thorough study of the Qur'an and prophetic tradition (Hadith, Sunnah) makes that obvious.

“We, therefore, have launched this website to expose the "real Islam"—the Islam that is determined to replace the modern civilization with the 7th-century Arab Bedouin barbarism, peddled by Muslims as the true Islamic Civilization. Let the world watch Islam through www.islam-watch.org and be warned.

“'Islam Watch' is founded by a few Muslim apostates. Hailing mainly from South Asia, some of us left Islam after the 9/11; others have been apostates since prior to that. We aim to establish that Islam is false invention of Muhammad. We feel that it needs to be emasculated, or marginalized, or eliminated altogether, if the Muslim world wants to come out of its current backwardness and quagmire, characterized by poverty, corruption, illiteracy, violence, misrule and tyranny, in which they have been thrown in due to Islamic indoctrination.

“To learn more about why some of us have left Islam, please read these testimonies: My Journey to Freedom - M. A. Khan;

                   Why I left Islam - Ali Sina

                   Making of an Unbeliever - Abul Kasem

                   Visit our Leaving Islam page for more testimonies.”[68]

COUNCIL OF EX-MUSLIMS

The Central Council of Ex-Muslims was founded in 2007 in Cologne, Germany, by three ex-Muslims: Mina Ahadi, an Iranian women’s rights activist who was sentenced to death in her own country, is the chairperson; Turkish-born journalist, and translator, Arzu Toker is vice chairperson; and Nur Gabbari, the son of an Iranian clergyman, and refugee from Iran, is on the society's committee.[69] “‘I’m a target,’ said Ahadi, 50. She said members of her society had received letters telling them they would be shot in the back. When she went online with a fierce attack on Islamic organizations, somebody circulated a statement suggesting she was fit to be killed, she said.”

The online journal DW quotes Gabbari as claiming, “Other ex-Muslims in Germany and abroad have rushed to join the group. ‘In just a brief period of time, we have grown to more than 400 members and are getting daily contacts from places like Morocco, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and, of course, from Germany,’ he said. ‘A lot of people have offered their help, or have even offered to protect us.’ The society has received assistance from a German atheist organization, the Giordano Bruno Foundation, but also International League of non-religious and atheists, Bund für Geistesfreiheit München, as well as Humanistischer Pressedienst. It is also heeding police advice to rent office space at a safe location.”[70]

Thanks to the courage and initiative of Mina Ahadi, Arzu Toker, and Nur Gabbari, there are now Councils of Ex-Muslims in Great Britain (led by the energetic Maryam Namazie);[71] The Netherlands founded by Ehsan Jami and Loubna Berrada in 2007, with the help of several advisors and other former Muslims and critics of Islam;[72]Scandanavia: “Central rådet för Ex-muslimer i Skandinaven.” [73] Here is a list of ex-Muslims organisations that are affiliated with the Council of Ex-Muslims:

  1. Austria: Council of Ex-Muslims of Austria.
  2. France: Council of Ex-Muslims of France.
  3. Germany: Central Council of Ex-Muslims.
  4. Iran: Iranian Atheists.
  5. Pakistan: Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan (AAAP)
  6. Morocco: Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco.
  7. Netherlands: Central Committee for Ex-Muslims.
  8. New Zealand: Council of Ex-Muslims of New Zealand.
  9. North America: Ex-Muslims of North America
    1. Muslimish
    2. Austin,TX
    3. Atlanta, GA
    4. Chicago, IL
    5. Dallas, TX
    6. Houston, TX
    7. Los Angeles, LA
    8. New York, NY
    9. Philadelphia, PA
    10. San Francisco, CA
    11. Toronto, ON
    12. Vancouver, BC
    13. Washington, DC
    14. Waterloo, ON
    15. Denver, CO [under construction]
    16. Minneapolis, MN [under construction]
  10. Scandinavia: Council of Ex-Muslims of Scandinavia.
  11. United Kingdom:
    1. Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain,
    2. Ex-Muslim North Meetup Group,
    3. Ex-Muslims of Scotland,
    4. Faith to Faithless
  12. United States: Former Muslims United.

    EX-MUSLIMS OF NORTH AMERICA.

I had the pleasure of meeting many members of Ex-Muslims of North America in the Washington D.C. area in August 2014. I was hugely flattered when one of them said that they considered me as their “Godfather.” My vanity was touched further when one young girl, Reem Abded-Razek, who fled from Egypt told me that when she was in Saudi Arabia briefly with her father, my book, Why I am not a Muslim, circulated underground. Reem wrote an award winning piece for Freethought Today, which I shall have a look at in a minute. First let me finish my impressions of the D.C. gathering. Many came all the way from Canada. They were all quite young, both men and women, and two transgender, and many were studying or involved in science, including computers and information technology, in some way; several with parents from Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. I was interviewed on film by the founder Muhammad Syed for their webpage videos.

Reem Abded-Razek has a remarkable story to tell. She asked Allah, “Allah, I can’t understand you! You bless the rape of slaves, wives and children under the guise of marriage, yet you set flogging as punishment for consensual premarital sex! You sentence so many good people to eternal hell because they dedicated their life to worshipping the ‘wrong’ God or no God! Talk to me and help me understand, please. Then it hit me, I was talking to myself.” She began questioning religion in her teens; it was a part of her nature to probe, and demand rational answers.

When she voiced her doubts to her father, he had her thrown into a mental institution, where Reem underwent electoshock therapy. Finally she told her captives that an angel had come to her and taken her to heaven and back; she was saved, she was a Muslim. She came to the USA with her a father, who is conducting medical research. Much to her surprise, Reem’s father changed his attitude once in the United States, and so she now feels free, and wants to dedicate her life to “art and music and dance and love and books and beauty and everything I was told to avoid.”[74] She is at present studying Political Science in New York.

I asked her further about how my book, Why I am not a Muslim, circulated in Saudi Arabia, where she spent ten years with her father. Reem found someone on the internet who told her where she could download Why I am not a Muslim.

She believes that the book was also available online in Arabic. The book was then extensively discussed among the young in her circle.

COUNCIL OF EX-MUSLIMS OF MOROCCO

Perhaps the most surprising Ex-Muslim group in the above list is the Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco[ CEMM], which was created on March 23, 2013. It describes itself as, “the first public atheist and non-religious organisation in a country with Islam as its state religion." Its avowed purpose is, “to break the taboo that comes with renouncing Islam and take a stand for atheism, reason, universal rights and secularism, we call on all non believers, atheists and ex-Muslims to come forward to establish the Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco, the first public atheist and non-religious organisation in a country with Islam as its state religion.”[75] The CEMM was founded by atheist blogger Kacem el-Ghazzali but after proclaiming his atheism in public in Morocco he received death threats and was constantly harassed, and finally had to seek asylum in Switzerland. Though Morocco is often considered a moderate Muslim country, there are laws which forbid anyone to convert a Muslim to another religion or to shake the faith of a Muslim.[76]

EX-MUSLIMS IN LONDON, AND EUROPE

One of the founders of Faith to Faithless is a London School of Economics student, Imtiaz Shams. He has been interviewed many times in recent months.

On the MRCTV, an online media platform designed to broadcast conservative values, Shams said he uses social media outlets like YouTube and Twitter to try to connect Muslims who have left the faith or those who have questions about leaving the faith. Shams estimates that there are approximately 10,000 ex-Muslims who are living in London, not including the rest of Britain.[77] I find this figure perfectly credible since I myself know an informal group of ex-Muslims of at least 350 people in London who do not belong to any ex-Muslim groups but meet occasionally for drinks and picnics. Each member of this informal group knows several people who have lost their Muslim faith but do not belong to any of the British ex-Muslim groups, and are still reluctant to come out in the open.

As Andrew Anthony recounted in a recent article (May, 2015) in The Guardian, “last week the hacking to death in Bangladesh of the blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was a brutal reminder of the risks atheists face in some Muslim-majority countries. And in an era in which British Islamic extremists travel thousands of miles to kill those they deem unbelievers, an apostate’s concern for his or her security at home is perhaps understandable. ‘Oh yeah, I’m scared,’ agrees Nasreen (not her real name) a feisty 29-year-old asset manager from east London who has been a semi-closeted apostate for nine years. ‘I’m not so worried about the loonies because it’s almost normal now to get threats. What worries me is that they go back to my parents and damage them, because that’s not unheard of.’ The danger is confirmed by Imtiaz Shams, an energetic 26-year-old who runs a group called Faith to Faithless, which aims to help Muslim nonbelievers speak out about their difficult situations. Shams has a visible presence on YouTube and has organised several events at universities. ‘I am at physical risk because I do videos,’ says Shams. ‘I don’t like putting myself in the firing line, but I had to because no one else is willing to do it.’”[78]

Anthony cites the author Simon Cottee, “As real as the potential for violence might be, it’s not what keeps many doubting British Muslims from leaving their religion. As Simon Cottee, author of a new book The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam,[79] says: ‘In the western context, the biggest risk ex-Muslims face is not the baying mob, but the loneliness and isolation of ostracism from loved ones. It is stigma and rejection that causes so many ex-Muslims to conceal their apostasy.’”[80]  

Online journal EUBusiness reported from Brussels in November, 2014 that “A number of Muslims in Europe are publicly abandoning their religion to become Christians or agnostics despite their former community’s taboo against such acts. In France, the film ‘The Apostle’ by filmmaker Cheyenne Carron has meanwhile lifted the veil on ‘apostasy’ by telling the story of a young Muslim who converted to Catholicism and how he had trouble getting family and friends to accept his choice. ‘It is time for us to stop hiding,’ said Pastor Said Oujibou, 46, who left radical Islam for evangelical protestantism and who is among the few converts to have publicised his decision in France. He said he is ‘tolerated’ by his former co-religionists, even if he admits to having sparked ‘sarcasm and annoyance’ from them. But he warned against the ‘double talk’ that certain branches of Islam in France close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists use toward apostate Muslims.

“‘Apostasy is a taboo in Muslim culture and if the text of the Koran does not provide for any punishment, prophetic tradition calls for killing apostates,’ said Radouane Attiya, a former preacher trained in Saudi Arabia who is now a specialist on Islam at Liege University in Belgium. ‘In Europe, as in Arab countries, there is a rampant atheism gaining ground. But what is new is the search for visibility,’ Attiya said. He said ‘Islamic radicalism, world jihadism are contributing to the emergence of a reverse radicalism.’”[81]

ARMIN NAVABI

Armin Navabi is an Iranian ex-Muslim of great self-confidence, and the founder of the webpage, Atheist Republic, with subheading, “We are not just atheists, We are atheists who care.”  Atheist Republic describes itself as a “non-profit organization with over one million fans and followers worldwide that is dedicated to offering a safe community for atheists around the world to share their ideas and meet like-minded individuals.”[82]

Navabi is also the author of a highly successful book, Why There is no God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God.[83] His back page biography tells us, “Armin was born and raised in the Islamic Republic of Iran and was indoctrinated thoroughly in the Muslim tradition. After almost losing his life in the pursuit of God's grace, the devastation of that event motivated him to seek a better understanding of the nature and concept of God and religious belief. Armin's journey led him to leaving Islam and becoming an atheist. Wanting to reach out to others like himself, Armin continues to examine religion as well as the notion of God and interact with others to engage in thought-provoking and educational discussion.”

EX-MUSLIMS TV CHANNELS

FREE MIND TELEVISION.

As should be obvious the new generation of ex-Muslims in the West are well-versed in the use of the social media. Several ex-Muslim groups and individuals are now planning to launch television channels that can broadcast to the Islamic world, technology that Christian Evangelicals have, of course, been using very effectively for many years. I was able to interview the creator of such a venture, Mr Khaldoon al-Ghanimi, now living in the USA. He is the founder and CEO of Free Mind Television, which gives its aim clearly, “Free-Mind.TV is a secular online media outlet and news TV station. We aim to provide the people of the Middle East and the world with a secular news source that is free of religious and government-based censorship. Free-Mind.TV is striving to become the Middle East's premier humanist news source and gathering place for secular minds. While we are currently an online only station, but are working towards becoming a satellite-based news channel. We always have and always will be a non-profit secularist and humanist channel. We are supported by the community and a team of volunteers across the Middle East, and world. We aim to empower secular activists and like-minded individuals around the world. If you have a story you'd like to share, or would like to contribute in another way, please get in touch. You can contact us at: [email protected] or call us at: 1 719 473 5900”  

In an interview with al-Moinitor, al-Ghanimi explained his journey to the USA, “Ghanimi, who has Shiite Muslim roots, sold media equipment and was a broadcast engineer for Iraqi TV channels. When Ghanimi's colleagues learned that he had averted from religion, he was forced to emigrate to Syria in 2007 and then to Jordan in 2011 following death threats and other forms of harassment. In 2013, Ghanimi met Harqan online, where they chatted about their shared vision of creating a TV channel. After saving seed money for a station, Ghanimi relocated to a Midwestern state [in the United States], where he rented a small studio, and recruited Arab and American atheists to help him jump-start production. According to Ghanimi, at least 2,000 viewers watch Free Mind broadcasts daily, and the numbers are steadily growing. ‘We started the channel with modest capabilities, but our impact is expanding,’ said Ghanimi, noting that the goal is to have a satellite broadcast within a year.”[84]

Al-Ghanimi is aided by two ex-Muslims in Egypt, as the the Voice of America explained, “On the screen, the presenter appears to be in a sophisticated studio. But in reality, presenter Ahmed Harqan, a former Muslim, sits at a card table in a small bedroom in Egypt, with a green cloth hanging behind him. Activists in Egypt say they hope their online TV programs reduce taboos surrounding atheism in the Middle East. He asked that his location be kept secret, because many of his countrymen consider atheism an insult to religion, making it dangerous to openly not believe. He speaks from personal experience. Harqan said that in one instance, people on the street were trying to kill him and his wife, Nada Mandour, so he ran into a police station. The people followed and told the police that he appears on a TV program, insulting Islam. The couple were arrested. After they were released 24 hours later, they had to move to a different house to avoid threats and harassment.”

Mandour, also a former Muslim, shoots and directs some Free Mind TV programs. Since she abandoned religion two years ago, she said, most of her family has abandoned her. Mandour said they hate her for being critical of religion and ultimately declaring herself a nonbeliever.  She no longer sees her parents and is not allowed in the family home.[85]

When I asked him, by telephone in July 2015, about his path to atheism, al-Ghanimi replied, “it was simply my knowledge of Islam that turned me against it.” For al-Ghanimi, born in Iraq in 1975, studied for seven years in a famous Shiite seminary or hawza (hawza 'ilmiyya): at Najaf, Iraq, that was first established in the 11th century. (Its present head is Ayatollah Sistani.)[86] In the Hawza he studied, Fiqh "Sharia," Usul al-fiqh, Logic, Arabic grammar, Arabic Rhetoric, Philosophy, Kalam, and Tafsir of Quran. Al-Ghanimi has no wish to convert Muslims to atheism, he simply wants the majority who are Muslims to accept and tolerate atheists; and he wansts to be able to give moral and intellectual support to those who have left Islam. Free Mind Television is still very much a project in the making, and is sorely in need of funds.

BREAD AND ROSES: NANO GOLESORKH

A little more sophisticated is the venture launched by Maryam Namazie, and her television channel known as Nano GoleSorkh or Bread and Roses, which she describes as “an important taboo-breaking, freethinking political-social TV magazine in Persian and English broadcast in Iran and the Middle East via New Channel satellite TV and globally via social media. Millions have already seen the programme. It has been extremely well-received and can play an important role in opposing Islamism and promoting universal rights, free-thought and secularism.”[87]

 Here are the programmes broadcast so far:

  1. Mothers of Khavaran and their movement for justice in Iran (with an interview with Iran Tribunal London Spokesperson Mersedeh Ghaedi), English, Farsi
  2. Stealthy Freedom and Unveiling of Women in Iran (with an interview with Journal Editor Keyvan Javid), English, Farsi
  3.  Apostasy and right to belief highlighting case of Sudanese apostasy case Mariam Yahya Ibrahim (with an interview with Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain co-Spokersperson Nahla Mahmoud), English, Farsi
  4. Secularism as a Human Right (with an interview with Philosopher AC Grayling), English, Farsi
  5. Sharia Law is madness (with an interview with Southall Black Sisters Director Pragna Patel), English, Farsi
  6. Nude Protest as a form of resistance to Islamism (with an interview with Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy and Tunisian activist Amina Sboui), English, Farsi

“The programme is hosted by Maryam Namazie, an award-winning secularist and atheist blogger and campaigner; Fariborz Pooya, founder of the Iranian Secular Society and Bahram Soroush, a civil rights activist. Its director is Reza Moradi; programme consultant is Poone Ravi.”[88] Maryam Namazie’s organization is very much present on the social media: Facebook,[89] you can also subscribe to their Youtube Channel,[90] and follow them on Twitter.[91]

BLACK DUCKS

The Black Ducks describes itself succinctly as, “a talk show on YouTube that interviews atheists and non-religious individuals from the Arab world. Inspired by Ismail Mohamed (Egyptian atheist), to achieve a secular society in the Middle East and North Africa. Another goal is to offer solace and courage to those who are atheists in secret so they may know they are not alone in the world.” It is mainly in Arabic but a seems to have 5,802 subscribers, and has had 584,595 views.[92] So far Black Ducks has broadcast 173 episodes or testimonies of ex-Muslims, very courageously speaking in front of the camera. Ismail Mohamed believes that for every ex-Muslim atheist who dares to show his face in public like that, there must be at least twenty others afraid to show theirs. He believes that every family in Egypt has at least one member who is an atheist.

‘ABDULLAH AL-QASIIMI

And Modern Secularists and Atheists

I began this section with a motto from ‘Abdullah al- Qasiimi, and so I shall end with him, and some other atheists and secularists of modern times in Islamic countries.

‘Abdullah al-Qasiimi (1907 – 9 January 1996) was a Saudi Arabian writer and intellectual. He caused a sensation when he moved from Salafism to atheism, and became well-known for his sceptical and secular writings. Al- Qasiimi was very critical of Islam and his books were banned in the Arab world. After surviving assassination attempts in Egypt and Lebanon, al-Qasiimi settled in Cairo where he died of cancer in 1996.

Al- Qasiimi was born at Buraydah in Saudi Arabia, studied at the Sheikh Al Mahmoud school. He worked in the Middle East and India for a business man for several years, but resumed his studies at the Sheikh Amin Shanqeeti school in Zubair in Iraq. He spent some time learning the classical Islamic sciences of hadith, and Sharia. Al- Qasiimi studied at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo in 1927, but he was soon expelled because of his book critical of an al-Azhar scholar. Abdullah Al- Qasiimi was to write several books attacking the scholars of Al-Azhar. His most important books - written after he turned against the Salafi ideology - were: These are the Shackles and Lying In Order to Beautify God. He was even imprisoned for a short while in Egypt when the Yemeni government complained of his corrupting influence on Yemeni students who were deeply influenced by his anti-Islamic thought.[93]

‘Abdullah al-Qasiimi’s writings are a reminder that both atheism and secularism, that is, a desire to separate state from religion, have been around in the Arab world for longer than we think. I have written about the atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers of Islam – figures such as Ibn al-Rawandi, Ar-Razi, al-Ma ‘arri, Umar Khayyam - elsewhere.[94] Here I shall give a very brief account of modern secularists many of whom were in fact atheists.

Secular ideas have been circulating in Arab intellectual life since the end of the nineteenth century. There was the once flourishing Egyptian scientific journal al-Muqtataf, where Farah Antoun, Shibli Shmayyel, and Yacoob Sarrouf openly discussed current scientific and secular ideas. Ismail Mazher translated Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Ismail Adham was able to find a publisher in the 1930s for his Why am I an Atheist?[95] Adham [1911-1940] who committed suicide by drowning at the age of twenty-nine, led a life of fantasy since he falsely claimed to have written many scientific papers and met many famous orientalists.[96] However, Adham did write about science (physics, mathematics, and the theory of evolution), and hoped that eventually science would replace religious belief, “I left religions, and abandoned all (religious) beliefs, and put my faith in science and sceintific logic alone. To my great surprise and amazement, I found myself happier and more confident than I had been when I had struggled with myself in the attempt to maintain my religious belief.”[97]

Salameh Mousa,[98] an early champion of socialism in Egypt early in the 20th century, could discuss the Emergence of the Idea of God, and Mansour Fahmy could publish a thesis on the Women's Place in Islam,[99] that was critical of the Prophet Muhammad.[100] Taha Hussein, one time minister of education in Egypt, questioned the authenticity of pre-Islamic literature, but he also wrote, “the Torah is capable of talking to us of Abraham and Ismail, and the Koran is equally capable of talking of them. However, the presence of these two names in the Torah or the Koran is not sufficient to establish their historival existence; not to mention the historicity of the account that speaks to us of the migration of Ismail, son of Abraham, to Mecca….”[101] Hussein was accused of heresy by the traditionalists at al-Azhar Islamic University, and the book banned. However, he was not convicted and the book republished in an edited form under the title, Pre-Islamic Literature.

Ali Abdel Razek published in 1925 his Islam and the Origins of Government,[102] in which he argued against the Islamic state and for the separation of religion and civil society. Philosopher Sadik al-Azm published in Beirut his Self Criticism after the Defeat [103]and followed it with his controversial Critique of Religious Thought.[104]

In an article dated 1999 which has become a classic, Ghassan F. Abdullah,[105] a lecturer in information technology at the Birzeit University Institute of Law, summarizes Arab secular thought. He further develops the history of Arab secularism, “A scathing and irreverent attack on religious thought and official Islamic history came in the long introduction by Lafif Lakhder[106] to a translation of a collection of Lenin's texts on religion. He criticized ‘Stalinist’ communist parties for their conciliatory attitude towards religion and evoked Marx's dictum on starting criticism on earth by criticism of the Heavens first…. In Syria, Hadi Alawi has been reviving some little known old texts that bring out a rich impious and daring heritage in Islamic history.[107] He is even directing some of his criticism at the classical Arabic language, which he claims was ossified by the Koran and its self appointed guardians, the ‘language clerics’ of the Arabic language academies, and calling for reform of its structures[108]….Sayyed Mahmoud al-Qomni, born, 13 March 1947, is another serious challenger who is questioning the very foundations of the Islamic historical and theological discourse as detrimental to progress and development. He started with a book on the rise of monotheism and the belief in eternity, Osiris,[109] and studied the origin of Islam as the religion of the Hashemite ancestors of the prophet Mohammed and tracing it back to the Abraham of Arabia.”[110] Al-Qomni, whose name is sometimes transcribed as al-Qimni, “controversially argued that the occupation of Arabs in Egypt should be counted as the longest foreign occupation in the world. The backwardness of Egypt came, he believed, from the acceptance of this Arabic occupation and the adoption of the Arabic culture. This view undoubtedly stirred discontent amongst the religious traditionalists in Egypt. Referring to a speech delivered by al-Qimni on the International Book Exhibition in Cairo on Jan 14, 2004, The Muslim Brothers newspaper (al-Akhwan al-Muslmoon) argued that the speech was meant to demolish all the pillars of Islam The newspaper stated further that al-Qimni had said the first Muslim invaders had stolen all the treasures of Egypt and therefore Egypt should not be called an Arab and Muslim country any more. Islam should not be the official religion of Egypt and the Sharia laws should not be considered the main basis for the Egyptian constitution.”[111]

Of another Egyptian branded as heretic and atheist, Ana Belen Soage wrote, “A Secular activist and author Faraj Fawda was assassinated by Islamist militants in 1992 after al-Azhar accused him of blasphemy. His writings, in which he criticized the viability of the Islamist project and urged Muslims to reconsider their picture of the past, stand as a brave attempt to defy those who pretend to monopolize the interpretation of Islam and use religion to further their political aims.”[112]

Iran shows a similar history of modern secularism and atheism. One of the earliest to express his rejection of Islam was the secular nationalist Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani [1854/5-1896]. He settled in Istanbul, and began his writings along two parallel lines. On the one hand, in order not to offend the masses of Iran, he praised religion but in his more scientific works, Kermani blamed all religions in general, and Islam in particular for the ills of Iranian society. As M. Bayat in the Encyclopaedia Iranica summarizes, “Though in his Muslim and Babi statements he asserted that religion is one of the greatest foundations of human thought, in his more scientific exposés he denounced all religions as mere superstitions and fantasies that originate from humanity’s fear and sense of helplessness in a wild physical environment. Wholeheartedly adopting Darwin’s theory, he discussed the origins of the world in materialistic terms novel to Muslim and Babi thought. But a careful analysis of Mirza Aqa Khan’s religious ideas reveals him to be not so confused or inconsistent as one might, at first glance, believe (see Adamiyat, Andišaha, pp. 118-35). His diplomatic choice of terms and formulation of ideas reflects the desire to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, be it Muslim or Babi, and to avoid any accusation of heresy; in this light, his Babi and Muslim pronouncements may be seen as masks of expediency that he could put on and take off according to the situation. His main goal seems to have been the upholding of reason and modern science, both of which he viewed as directly and unavoidably opposed to religion. His lifetime struggle was in the name of Iran rather than Islam, which he came to blame for the political downfall and cultural decline of the Iranians. A chauvinistic, anti-Arab, and anti-Islamic color pervades his major works. He scornfully assailed the religious, educational, and political systems prevailing in Iran. Denouncing the Islamic legacy within Iranian culture, he claimed that Iran’s authentic identity could be sought only in the pre-Islamic past; contrasting the “noble Aryan nation” that belonged to the “civilized Aryan people of good extraction” with the “savage, lizard-eaters,” the Semitic Arab “desert-dwelling nomads,” he vehemently asserted that Zoroastrianism was the religion most suited to the nature of Iran’s inhabitants. In glorifying the ancient past, Mirza Aqa Khan more often than not viewed it in the light of his contemporary western liberal ideal.”[113]

M. Bayat continues, “Unlike some of his contemporary statesmen and fellow revolutionaries in the 1880s and 1890s, he openly denounced Muslim institutions, the political regime, and the educational system as the real causes of national stagnation. At that point, very few were prepared to agree with him; a quarter-century later, his words found an echo in the works of Ahmad Kasravi.”[114]

Another influential figure was the politcally engaged poet Ahmad Shamlou [1925-2000], a Marxist, and humanist. He saw man as a Promethean hero who was able to scale all the mountains, defiant and eventually to throw off the shackles of the Gods.[115]

INTERNATIONAL HUMANIST AND ETHICAL UNION REPORT

Atheists face systematic discrimination in many countries round the world as the International Humanist and Ethical Union Report [IHEU report] makes clear. It is nonetheless Islamic countries where atheists are subjected to the most draconian punishments including execution, as the IHEU report says, “unbelievers... in Islamic countries face the most severe – sometimes brutal – treatment.”[116] Atheists and other religious skeptics can be executed in at least thirteen nations: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.[117]

In their 2014 Report, the IHEU under the heading “Hate campaigns against the non-religious” explained, “There is a long-standing prohibition of 'apostasy' and of 'blasphemy' associated with Islam that is perpetuated by many modern Islamic states in various forms and to various degrees of severity. In the worst cases, people can spend years in jail, or be executed, or murdered extrajudically for these distinctively religious ‘crimes’. History’s familiarity with such illiberal controls must not blind the international community or human rights advocates to the abhorrence of those laws, nor to the reality that sovereign states, today, are criminalizing people just because they ask questions about,vocalise dissenting views on, or offer positive alternatives to, a set of state-sanctioned beliefs.

"In 2014, in addition to laws such as those targeting 'apostasy' and 'blasphemy', we have seen a marked increase in specific targeting of 'atheists' and 'humanism' as such, using these terms in a broadly correct way (the users know what they are saying) but with intent clearly borne of ignorance or intolerance toward these groups. Some examples: In January, Saudi Arabia enacted a new law equating 'atheism' with 'terrorism'. Though the law sought to criminalise numerous things, some already illegal, the very first article of the kingdom’s new 'terror' regulations banned 'Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion.' In May, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak branded 'humanism and secularism as well as liberalism' as 'deviant'. He described these secular worldviews and values, as well as the international human rights framework - which he dismissed as 'human rightsism' – as a threat to Islam and therefore a threat to the state. In June, Egyptian authorities proposed and carried out an organized backlash against young atheists.

"Nuamat Sati of the Ministry of Youth announced a campaign to spread awareness of 'the dangers of atheism' and why it is 'a threat to society', so that young atheists'in particular, who are increasingly vocal on social media, would be given 'a chance to reconsider their decisions and go back to their religion.' This has not been an idle threat, nor an exercise in verbal debate about the philosophical merits of religion! Rather, senior ministers have conflated advocacy of non-religious views with radicalism, and police have detained atheists for voicing their views on religion, usually online, and sometimes in traditional media. This year will be marked by a surge in this phenomenon of state officials and political leaders agitating specifically against non-religious people, just because they have no religious beliefs, in terms that would normally be associated with hate speech or social persecution against ethnic or religious minorities.”[118]

 

[1] Peter Watson, The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God, Simon & Schuster; First Edition (February 18, 2014).

[2] Mitchell Stephens. Imagine There’s No Heaven, St. Martin's Press (February 25, 2014).

[3] Michael Martin, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

[4] Julian Baggini, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (August 28, 2003).

[5] S.Bullivant & Michael Ruse, edd.,The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, Oxford University Press, 2013.

[6] Thomas Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, Rupa & Co., 1988,  [Ist edn, 1885] s.v. “Sin” p.594.

[7] Thomas Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, Rupa & Co., 1988,  [Ist edn, 1885] p.16.

[8] Here is a random selection in chronological order of publication:

  1. Sabrina Tavernise, “Violence Leaves Young Iraqis Doubting Clerics”, The New York Times, 4 March, 2008.
  2. “Ex-Muslims atheists are becoming more outspoken, but tolerance is still rare”, The Economist, 24 November. 2012.
  3. Rana Allam, “A generation of Atheists”. In Daily News Egypt, 7 January, 2013.
  4. “Sudanese Centre says incidents of apostasy, atheism increasing in country” in Sudan Tribune, 15 May 2013.
  5. Diaa Hadid “Arab atheists, though few, inch out of the shadows”, Associated Press, 3 August, 2013
  6. Khaled Diab, “Confessions ofan Egyptian Infidel”. In Daily News Egypt, 15 August 2013.
  7. Mounir Adib, “Atheists call for Reduced Religious Footprint in Constitution”, Egypt Independent, 19 September 2013
  8. Mounir Adib, “While Atheism in Egypt Rises, Backlash Ensues”, Egypt Independent, 30 September 2013
  9.  “Rights groups condemn detention of atheist on blasphemy charges”, Egypt Independent, 30 September 2013.
  10.  Khaled Diab, “A Christopher Hitchens dream: Atheism on the rise in Egypt”, in Salon, October 27, 2013.
  11. Mounir Adib,“Salafi Woman Turned Atheist Recounts Her Journey”, Egypt Independent, 30 September 2013.
  12. Sarah Morrison,“ Allah vs atheism: ‘Leaving Islam was the hardest thing I’ve done’ ”, in The Independent [UK], 19 January 2014.
  13. Alalawi, Hadya. “Atheists in Egypt Say They Struggle to Have Their Views Heard.” BBC News World, February 11, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-26129199.
  14. Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, “Gulf Atheism in the Age of Social Media”, Al-Monitor, 3 March 2014.
  15. “Police vow to arrest Alexandria-based atheists”, Mada Masr, 26 March, 2014.
  16. Nesrine Malik, “In Islam, there's more than one way to be an 'atheist”, The Guardian[UK], 5 May 2014.
  17. EUBusiness, “Muslim 'apostates' come out of hiding in Europe” 20 November 2014
  18. Thomas Friedman, “Islamic State is driving Muslims from Islam” at timesunion.com, 6 December, 2014.
  19. Egypt Independent, “Non-believers express their thoughts at Religion and Freedoms Forum”, 1 April, 2015
  20. Ahmed Benchemsi, “Invisible Atheists, The Spread of Disbelief in the Arab World”, in The New Republic, 23 April, 2015.
  21. Andrew Anthony, “Losing their religion: the hidden crisis of faith among Britain’s young Muslims”, The Guardian [UK], 17 May, 2015.

[9] Diaa Hadid “Arab atheists, though few, inch out of the shadows”, Associated Press, 3 August, 2013, in http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/08/03/arab-atheists-though-few-inch-out-shadows.html

[10] Thomas Friedman, “Islamic State is driving Muslims from Islam” at timesunion.com, 6 December, 2014.

[11] Al-Arabiya News, “Two Tunisian men sentenced to seven years in prison for blasphemy”, 5 April 2012.

[12] Al-Arabiya News, “Two Tunisian men sentenced to seven years in prison for blasphemy”, 5 April 2012

[13] https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/30/saudi-arabia-600-lashes-7-years-activist

[14] WIN-Gallup International: Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism-2012: http://www.wingia.com/web/files/news/14/file/14.pdf,page16.

[15] Nesrine Malik, “In Islam, there's more than one way to be an 'atheist”, The Guardian [UK], 5 May 2014.

[16] WIN-Gallup International: Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism-2012: http://www.wingia.com/web/files/news/14/file/14.pdf, page 4.

[17] Sarah Leah Whitson, Director Middle East & North Africa (MENA) at Human Rights Watch has praised the site saying Human Rights Watch often refers to it.

[18] William Bauer, Interview with a Saudi atheist, in Your Middle East, April 30, 2013, at: http://www.yourmiddleeast.com/columns/article/interview-with-a-saudi-atheist_11146

[19] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/01/14/169164840/losing-our-religion-the-growth-of-the-nones

[20] http://www.atheistcensus.com/

[21] http://iranian-atheist.tumblr.com

[22] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/marginoferr/author/kmousavi/

[23] http://www.iranianatheists.org

[24] https://www.facebook.com/IAAMT

[25] iranatheist.org

[26] I have talked to many young Iranians who managed to get out of Iran in the last five years, and they all tell me how much they hate Islam.

[27] David P.Goldman, How Civlizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too), Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing , Inc.,2011,

[28] Khaled Diab, “Confessions ofan Egyptian Infidel”. In Daily News Egypt, 15 August 2013.

[29] Khaled Diab, “A Christopher Hitchens dream: Atheism on the rise in Egypt”, Salon, October 27, 2013.

[30] Mounir Adib, “While Atheism in Egypt Rises, Backlash Ensues”, Egypt Independent, 30 September 2013.

[31] For more on al-Harqan, and his colloboration with al-Ghanimi see pp.57 ff below.

[32] “Egyptian Human Rights Activist Ahmad Harqan: ‘ISIS Is Doing what the Prophet Muhammad Did’ ”in Al-Kahera Wal-Nas TV (Egypt) - October 21, 2014.

[33] Nuha or Noha recounted at great length her story to Mounir Adib,“Salafi Woman Turned Atheist Recounts Her Journey”, Egypt Independent, 30 September 2013.

[34] Mounir Adib,“Salafi Woman Turned Atheist Recounts Her Journey”, Egypt Independent, 30 September 2013.

[35] http://eipr.org/en

[36] Egypt Independent, “Non-believers express their thoughts at Religion and Freedoms Forum”, 1 April, 2015.

[37]  Sarah Lynch, “In Egypt, atheists considered ‘dangerous development’ ”, USA Today, 2012.

[38] Egypt Independent, “Non-believers express their thoughts at Religion and Freedoms Forum”, 1 April, 2015.

[39] Egypt Independent, “Non-believers express their thoughts at Religion and Freedoms Forum”, 1 April, 2015.

[40] Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: 3-Year Sentence for Atheist.Convicted Under Blasphemy Laws”, 13 January, 2015, http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/13/egypt-3-year-sentence-atheist

[41] Mohamed Abdelfattah “Leaving Islam in the age of Islamism”, in Daily News Egypt, 2013 http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/01/24/leaving-islam-in-the-age-of-islamism/

[42]  Mohamed Abdelfattah “Leaving Islam in the age of Islamism”, in Daily News Egypt, 2013 http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/01/24/leaving-islam-in-the-age-of-islamism/

[43] Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah of Pakistan, Oxford University Press, 1984, p.18

[44] Ibid., pp.78-79.

[45]  Dr.Ajai Sahni is an author and expert on counter-terrorism, and serves as the Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.

[46] Ajai Sahni,“Pakistan”, in ed. Barry Rubin, Guide to Islamist Movements, M.E.Sharpe, Inc., 2010, p.350.

[47] M.J.Akbar, India: The Siege Within, Penguin Books, 1985, p.32.

[48] Ibid.,p.34.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Tariq Ali, “Mullahs and Heretics”, London Review of Books 24, No.3, February 7, 2002.

[51] http://www.ndtv.com/world-news/are-pakistani-youth-giving-up-islam-430109

[52] See also his interview of 2012 here: Ghaffar Hussain, “The rise of atheism in Pakistan” in Commentator, 9 January, 2012, at http://www.thecommentator.com/article/782/the_rise_of_atheism_in_pakistan

[53] https://www.facebook.com/Pakistani.Atheists

[54] https://www.facebook.com/groups/321761541177762/

[55] The Syed Atheist, at https://allahbepraisedlettheglassberaised.wordpress.com/

[56] Confessions of a Pakistani Atheist at http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/report-confessions-of-a-pakistani-atheist-1960368

[57] http://councilofexmuslims.com/index.php?topic=14976.0

[58] WIN-Gallup International Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism – 2012, p.14.

[59]  See also Husain, Irfan (27 Aug 2012). “Faith in decline”. Dawn. “Interestingly, and somewhat intriguingly, 2 per cent of the Pakistanis surveyed see themselves as atheists, up from 1pc in 2005.”

[60] Sabrina Tavernise, “Violence Leaves Young Iraqis Doubting Clerics”, The New York Times, 4 March, 2008.

[61] “A life without God in Iraq: This 22-year-old atheist has been called the ‘Baghdad converter’ “ in al-bawaba, February 5th, 2014; originally published in Your Middle East. See: http://www.albawaba.com/editorchoice/iraq-religion-552638

[62] “A life without God in Iraq: This 22-year-old atheist has been called the ‘Baghdad converter’ “ in al-bawaba, February 5th, 2014; originally published in Your Middle East.See: http://www.albawaba.com/editorchoice/iraq-religion-552638

[63] “A life without God in Iraq: This 22-year-old atheist has been called the ‘Baghdad converter’ “ in al-bawaba, February 5th, 2014; originally published in Your Middle East.See: http://www.albawaba.com/editorchoice/iraq-religion-552638

[64] Faithfreedom.org

[65] Sam Ser, "Muslim Mindset: 'The hatred is in Muhammad himself'", The Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2008.

http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Features/Muslim-Mindset-The-hatred-is-in-Muhammad-himself

[66] Sam Ser, "Muslim Mindset: 'The hatred is in Muhammad himself'", The Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2008, http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Features/Muslim-Mindset-The-hatred-is-in-Muhammad-himself

[67] http://www.faithfreedom.org/ffiprologue/

[68] http://www.islam-watch.org/about-us.html

[69] “Ex-Muslims Get Threats After Forming Society in Germany” on line German journal but in English,  DW [Deutsche Welle], 21 March, 2007.

http://www.dw.com/en/ex-muslims-get-threats-after-forming-society-in-germany/a-2413003.

[70] Ibid.

[71] See their website at : http://ex-muslim.org.uk/

[72] http://ex-muslim.org.uk/2007/09/dutch-politician-sets-up-committee-for-ex-muslims-radio-netherlands/

[73] http://www.exmuslim.net/

[74] Reem Abded-Razek, Memoir of an Ex-Muslim, in Freethought Today, October, 2014, Vol.31, No. 8.

[75] Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Exmuslims.ma/info?tab=page_info

[76] James Kirchick, “Exiled After Threats: Blogger Wants More Freedoms in Morocco” in Spiegel Online International, 29 March, 2013. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/moroccan-blogger-champions-freedom-in-swiss-exile-a-891561.html

[77]Tyler McNally, “These Former Muslims Have Choice Words For Their Former Religion”, MRCTV June 10, 2015. http://www.mrctv.org/blog/these-former-muslims-have-choice-words-their-former-religion#.lc4uoe:fGNf

[78] Andrew Anthony, “Losing their religion: the hidden crisis of faith among Britain’s young Muslims”, The Guardian [UK], 17 May, 2015.

[79] Simon Cottee, The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam, Hurst; 1 edition (July 1, 2015).

[80] Andrew Anthony, “Losing their religion: the hidden crisis of faith among Britain’s young Muslims”, The Guardian [UK], 17 May, 2015.

[81] EUBusiness, “Muslim 'apostates' come out of hiding in Europe” 20 November 2014.. http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/islam-religion.yt3

[82] http://www.atheistrepublic.com/blogs/armin-navabi

[83] Armin Navabi, Why There is no God  Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October 6, 2014)

[84] Ahmed Ateyya “Egyptian atheists launch web video series” May 18, 2015, al-Monitor, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/05/egypt-radio-channel-online-religion-atheism-us-media.html

[85]  H. Murdock. “Activists in Egypt say they hope their online TV programs reduce taboos surrounding atheism in the Middle East”, April 29, 2015, Voice of America.

[86] Marcinkowski, C. Thinking ahead : Shi'ite Islam in Iraq and its seminaries (hawzah 'ilmiyyah). (RSIS Working Paper, No. 125). Singapore: Nanyang Technological University.2007.

[87] Maryam Namazie, “Only 6 days left to support Bread and Roses” http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2014/06/11/only-6-days-left-to-support-bread-and-roses/

[88] Maryam Namazie, “Only 6 days left to support Bread and Roses” http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2014/06/11/only-6-days-left-to-support-bread-and-roses/

[89] https://www.facebook.com/NanoGoleSorkh.

[90] https://www.youtube.com/user/BreadandRosesTV

[91] Twitter: @NanoGoleSorkh.

[92] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQuI0UMM0WaUXnlyEuo-6Ng

[93] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/03/gulf-atheism-uae-islam-religion.html

[94] Ibn Warraq, Leaving Islam. Apostates Speak Out, Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2003, pp.39-100.

[95] Ismail Adham, Limaza ana molhid?, Al-Imam, Alexandria, 1937

[96] G.H.A. Juynboll, “Ismail Ahmad Adham (1911-1940), the Atheist.” Journal of Arabic Literature. 3:1972, 54-71.

[97] Quoted in M.K.al-Khatib, ed. Hurriyat al-I’tiqad al-dini: Musajalat al-iman wa-l-ilhad mundh ‘asr al-nahda ila al-yawm , Damascus: Dar Petra, 2005 pp.267-8; also quoted by Samuli Schielke,”The Islamic World”, in edd. Stpehen Bullivant & Michael Ruse, The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, Oxford, 2013, p.643.

[98] Salameh Mousa, Noushou' fikrat Allah, Cairo, 1924.

[99] Originally published in French, Mansour Fahmy, La condition de la femme dans la tradition et l’évolution de l’islamisme [i.e, Islam, and not Islamism in the modern 21st Century sense] Paris, 1913.In fact Fahmy’s book was republished in 1990 under the title,  La condition de la femme dans l’islam.Paris :Éditions Allia, 1990.

[100] See especially Samuel Zwemer, The Disintegration of Islam, New York, 1916, pp.144-166, for full description, in English, of the Mansour Fahmy’s attack on women under Islam.

[101] Taha Hussein, Fi sh-Shi‘r al-Jahili, Cairo: Matba‘a Dar al-Kutib al-Misriya, 1926, p.26

[102] Ali Abdul Razik, Al-Islam wa Usul el-Hukum, Matbaat Misr, Cairo, 1925.

[103] Sadik Jalal al-Azm, Annakd azzati baada al-hazima, Dar al-Taliaa, Beirut, 1968.

[104] Sadik Jalal al-Azm, Nakd alfikr al-dini, Dar al-Taliaa, Beirut, 1982.

[105] Ghassan F. Abdullah, New Secularism in the Arab World: http://www.ibn-rushd.org/forum/Secularism.htm

[106] Lenin, Nousous hawla al-mawkif mina el-din, Translation by Mohammad Qubba, Revised and introduced by Lafif Lakhdar, Dar al-Taliaa, Beirut, 1972.

[107] Hadi al-Alawi, Al mu'jam al-Arabi al-jadid: al-mukaddima, Dar al-Hiwar, Lattakia, 1983.

[108] Hadi al-Alawi, Min tarikh al-ta'zib fi el-Islam (1987), and Al-muntakhab mina al-luzoumiyat: nakd al-dawla wa al-din wa al-nass(1990), Markaz al-abhath wa al-dirassat al-ishtirakia fi al-alam al-Arabi, Damascus.

[109] Sayyed Mahmoud al-Qomni, Osiris wa akidat al-khouloud fi Misr al-qadima, Dar al-Fikr, Cairo, 1988

[110] Sayyed Mahmoud al-Qomni, Al-hizb al-Hashimi wa ta'sis al-dawla al-Islamiya, Sina li al-Nasher, Cairo, 1990.

[111]  Dr. A. A. Ahmed , Sayyid al-Qimni: Egyptian Muslim thinker and historian, https://unity1.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/about-sayyid-al-qimni.doc

[112] Ana Belén Soage “Faraj Fawda, or the Cost of Freedom of Expression”. Middle East Review of International Affairs 11 (2), 2007, pp. 26–33.

[113]  M.Bayat, “Aqa Khan Kermani”,  http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/aqa-khan-kermani-iranian-writer-and-intellectual-d-1896.

[114] Ibid..

[115]  Samuli Schielke,”The Islamic World”, in edd. Stephen Bullivant & Michael Ruse, The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, Oxford, 2013, p.643.

[116] International Humanist and Ethical Union Report 2012 - You can be put to death for atheism in 13 countries around the world..

[117]  Ibid., and also Robert Evans (December 9, 2013). “Atheists face death in 13 countries, global discrimination: study”. Reuters.

[118] The Freedom of Thought Report 2014: International Humanist and Ethical Union, pp.16-17.

 

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Ibn Warraq's latest book with New English Review Press is Sir Walter Scott's Crusades and Other Fantasies. His webpage is here.

 

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