Atheist Muslims

How are natives of Islamic countries who happen to be atheists treated? I would imagine that they lead a pretty hard life.

  1. They would not be Muslims. They would be Arabs or other ethnicities. That’s like “Atheists for Jesus the Christ”

  2. I don’t really know, I’m just nitpicking.

I caught that after I hit “submit”.

How about “Atheists in Islamic Socieities?”

It depends on the country you’re talking about, and it depends on the situation.

Few (none?) of the prevalently Islamic countries have anything like freedom of speech. So, if you kept your mouth shut, and if you were visibly seen adhering to Muslim ritual, who would know?

On the other hand, if you were stupid enough to try to teach or preach your atheism to others, you’d probably be arrested for preaching heresy (or treason or just being a lunatic) and you may not ever be heard of again. Depends on the country, and on what you’re saying.

These are (by and large) not what you’d call “tolerant” societies. Many of them do not treat non-Muslims well, not even foreign visitors.

CK - As regarding foreigners: I respect what you say in terms of somewhere like Saudi (anecdotally, I haven’t actually been there) but most Muslim countries are remarkably tolerant of other faiths. This is in part because many rely on a lot of expat labour, or have been trading hubs for centuries, and are therefore very used to people of different faiths, ethnicities etc.

In fact they are far more tolerant of other races and religions in certain respects than our “western” nations. No race hate attacks here, in terms of black v white, christian v muslim, etc. I think the fact that Islam is not really a “witnessing” religion (they don’t attempt to convert) also means they are more tolerant of others’ faiths. It’s no reflection on them if they haven’t converted you, if you follow a different faith to them. Remember also that both Jews and Christians have protection in Islam as “people of the book” or whatever.

You are right about preaching - one does not have to hide ones faith, but an Islamic nation is one that has Islam as a religion and a government system (in terms of laws etc), and I think one would be made to feel at least uncomfortable for preaching another religion - atheism included - if not banned. As a visitor or guest, I don’t think it is ever appropriate to start preaching against the heartfelt views of beliefs of ones host. However other religious publications are not banned, nor is open speech or debate. Churches, hindu temples etc - all exist here.

I would very much encourage you to travel to this part of the world, if you haven’t done so recently, as you will probably be as surprised as I was at how welcoming and tolerant the people here are.

Regarding natives: there is no government or religious pressure on any Muslim to attend mosque. There may be social pressure - in the same way there might be in a small town to be seen at church every Sunday - but it is entirely a matter of free choice for the individual Muslim to go or not. So an atheist/ex-Muslim could go about their daily business unpressured, unharrassed, unhassled.

I know an atheist ex-Muslim. Actually, he waffles on the atheist part, but he is certainly an ex-Muslim. He lives in the United States, so it doesn’t have much impact on his standard of living here. However, he told me that in Iran, where he was born, there is “no such thing” as an ex-Muslim. Once a Muslim, always a Muslim, and you are not allowed to renounce that. (The same goes for his Iranian citizenship, even though he is now a naturalized American citizen.) I don’t know what exactly would happen if you started shouting “There is no God!” in the streets of Tehran, but I get the impression that the result would not be good at all.

*Originally posted by smiling bandit *

Atheists for Jesus

Anecdote: my brother (we’re Jewish) visited Pakistan for several weeks last summer and had nothing but good things to say about the hospitality and generosity of everyone he met on his trip. Especially the poor.

I’ve to disagree with iskara. Muslim societies can be tolerant with other religions (at least christianism and judaism), and may tend to be hospitable and generous, but atheism is another matter entirely. The concept itself seems totally alien to most people. Stating that you’re christian isn’t an issue, but if you were to state there’s no god, you’ll face bewildered and puzzled looks (and IME, immediate attempts to convert you, with various “proofs” presented). It’s a topic I would personnally avoid. I don’t know what would happen if you were to climb on a soapbox and try to “convert” people to atheism, but I would guess you would face a strong hostility in most places, and probably could be arrested in several countries.

I must admit i don’t know laws in the various muslim countries. But i’m pretty certain that you could be condemned for apostasy in several of them if you were a former muslim and publically stated you’re atheist. I’m thinking about Egyptia, for instance. There aren’t many “islamic”/“arabic”/“middle-eastern” countries which are really secular (only Turkey and Irak, possibly Algeria, come to my mind). Most include part or whole of the Islamic Law in civil/criminal law.

In Pakistan it’s punishable by death. There was a scholar who was on death row in Pakistan for publicly saying he was atheist, but I think he’s been executed since I last read anything on him.

Istara: What are you smoking? No offense, but no racial problems in Islamic countries? What do you call the tribal divisions that have ripped apart Afghanistan and Pakistan for centuries? Religious tolerance? What do you call Iran putting a fatwa on Salman Rushdie, an Indian writer?

Here’s an experiment. Go out on a public street corner in the following ten countries and loudly proclaim in the vernacular that you are an atheist and that Muhammad and Jesus are both homosexual perverts:

United States
Saudi Arabia

See what happens. Admittedly, some Islamic countries like Turkey have some freedom of speech, but it’s nothing compared to what we have in Western, secular countries.

That will surely end up with somebody beating the crap out of you in a lot of small American towns. I can’t speak for the rest of the world.

Well, I would tend to agree more with clairobscur on this point. Atheism is often viewed as apostasy in the Muslim world which is much, much worse than simply believing in, say, Christianity, which in contrast is explicitly protected under Islamic law. In some countries it is indeed punishable with death ( for example the Taliban were notorious for that extreme read on the issue ). Certainly apostasy ( and generally by extension, atheism ) is at the very least illegal in at least several countries I can think of.

As far as hard facts of how many of the 50-odd countries that have Muslim majorities, or even the roughly 20 countries that designate Islam as the official state religion, treat atheism as illegal, I really don’t know. If I have some time later, maybe I can try to dig through a couple of reports and figure it out.

In point of fact various posters probably correct that in practice many atheists in Muslim countries are simply ignored, unless they get vocal about it. But I suspect it varies quite a bit from country to country or culture to culture.

  • Tamerlane

Oh and Opus1, Yojimbo makes a good point. The West is often not nearly as secular as we might like to think.

But no argument that it is certainly more secular than the rest of the world ( Muslim and non-Muslim alike ).

  • Tamerlane

Okay, I started to pour through this report ( which I’ve already cited in GD ) and try to determine which majority nations believe what, as regards atheism and apostasy. But there is just too much and I know I won’t have adequate time to do this in the next couple of days, so here it is for folks to peruse themselves:

I make no claims as to its accuracy or objectivity, one way or the other. But it is interesting reading.

  • Tamerlane

Err…That’s “Majority Muslim” nations.

  • Tamerlane

hijack/ for accuracy’s sake, I am yojimboguy. There is ALSO an SDMB poster named yojimbo.

Why one needs to make an ignorant statement like

I don’t know, as I have pointed out more than once that it is incorrect.

Well, one more time, as hope springs eternal.
Arab does not equal Muslim.
Muslim does not equal Arab.
Arab society does not equal Islamic society.

Taking the time to inform oneself about non-Arab Muslim dominated states, e.g. Mali, Senegal, Guinea to name just a few West African ones should disabuse some of us of our received unwisdom about gross generalizations about freedom of press and the like in the Islamic world.

Now, turning to the question at hand, Atheists in Islamic societies:

Firstly, atheism is not too commonly accepted outside of Western secular society and even then not terribly enthusiastically outside of the more liberal and urbane centers. Christian Africans don’t find Atheism, in my experience, any more acceptable than Muslims and again in my experience tend to be bloody more pesky about observance. So in many respects the dichotomy Muslim-Christian implied in this sort of question is false, it’s really a question of developed secular world versus, well its opposite where religious belief is generally much stronger.

Now, as to Arab societies. (Muslim and Christian) The idea of being an atheist properly speaking is virtually unknown.

However as Istara noted, going to mosque is fairly optional for Muslims. I’ve known, especially in the more westernized areas, a goodly number of ‘cultural’ Muslims who talked freely –in Arabic mind you – about not going to mosque and not really being observant or devout. Hanif is a phrase used sometimes, sort of deistic. Depending on the milieu and family situation, it really isn’t hard. The Christian Arabs I have known have actually all been rather more hard line in terms of practice, but I suspect that’s an aspect of protecting their identity.

yojimbguy: My apologies for my carelessnes :).

  • Tamerlane

I’m not sure about the Middle East, but I do know quite a few “non-practicing Muslims” who, like many Jews, Christians, etc., manage to go through the traditional motions during the holidays but forget about it otherwise.
“Why I am not a Muslim” by Ibn Warraq is supposed to be a very good book, one I’ve been meaning to pick up since I saw the author speak.