Imagining atheists in the Middle East: if you're a non-believer, you're not the only one

Published December 13th, 2012 - 19:49 GMT

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Anti-Islam film protests and prosecution
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Image 1 of 12: Anti-Islam film: This week saw the continuing legal fallout of the anti-Islamic film 'Innocence of Muslims', when Egyptian Alber Saber, a Coptic Christian-turned atheist activist, was sentenced to three years in jail for circulating the movie online. This comes on the heels of Egypt's sentencing in absentia of the creators of the film.

Saudis deal harshly with non-believers and atheists, administering capital punishment
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Image 1 of 12: Punishments for crimes of apostasy in the Islamic world can be harsh, ranging from small fines to capital punishment. At least 7 states still hand out death sentences for blasphemy, although it is rare that they are carried out. Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Sudan & Afghanistan do not deal lightly with atheist 'offenders', carrying the death penalty.

Morocco can be stern towards its non-religious and 'atheist' members
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Image 1 of 12: Morocco frowns on atheists as much as the next Muslim monarchy. Cases as Kacem Ghazzali, author of Atheistica.com, show that non-believers fare better abroad. Outed atheist blogger Mohamed Sokrat, arrested for criticizing politics & religion in the language of the Quran, could be an example of religious laws being used to stifle political dissent.

Lebanon tolerates variety- with its churches side by side with Mosques
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Image 1 of 12: In a handful of majority-Muslim countries atheists can carry about their business relatively safely, if they keep their disbelieving on the down-low; Neither Turkey nor Lebanon deem atheism a specific crime, although there have been recent cases of prosecution for anti-Islamic insults in Turkey. But the Lebanese are free to party on, undeterred.

Jowan Safadi, a controversial Palestinian singer offends the faithful
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Image 1 of 12: Mess with religion in song and you will do time: Jowan Safadi, a provocative crooner from Nazareth, has been described as both controversial & creative. While touring in Jordan, he was apparently a little too much of both. After a concert, the Jordanian government deemed his edgy lyrics a threat to religion and threw him in the slammer.

Hamoud Saleh Alamri is the Pastor of Mecca
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Image 1 of 12: Hamoud Saleh Alamri goes by the moniker Pastor of Mecca but could be called Mecca Monsoon for all the waves he made with his controversial tweets. In 2012, Rev. Monsoon dropped more than a few snide remarks about Muslim’s most revered Prophet over twitter and a storm of hate and death threats rained hard on the Saudi convert to Christianity.

Two Tunisian atheists, Jabeur Mejri & Ghazi Beji serve time for crimes against God
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Image 1 of 12: Balancing the demands of its deeply religious and secularist populations, the moderate Islamic government in Tunisia has also come under fire for a crackdown on freedom of religious expression. In March, two atheists, Jabeur Mejri & Ghazi Beji, were arrested & sentenced to nearly 8 years for posting naked caricatures of the Prophet on Facebook.

In Iran, being dis-believing is a hanging offense
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Image 1 of 12: Iran’s use of blasphemy laws against dissenting citizens has been rebuked as serving a political agenda. In 2009, in full Green Revolution-mode, liberal academic Hashem Aghajari and loose-canon cleric Hassan Yusefi-Eshkevari were sentenced to death for apostasy. The cases mark the struggle between liberals & hard-liners in the Islamic Republic.

Kuwaiti Blogger Hamad al-Naqi
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Image 1 of 12: Kuwaiti blogger Hamad al-Naqi, a Shiite who used Twitter to criticise the monarchies of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, was accused of insulting the Prophet, his wife, and several followers. He was sentenced to 10 years, though some MPS called for his execution. An Arab human rights group said that he was a political pawn, used to “gag” opponents.

Kareem Amer serves time for insulting Islam and Mubarak
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Image 1 of 12: You may have met Alia Elmahdy, who made a name for herself, posing nude on her blog in protest at rising Islamism in Egypt, but her live-in boyfriend's notoriety precedes hers. Kareem Amer has insulted religion and President Mubarak in one breath and has served a three year sentence for Islam-insults and a token one year for Mubarak-slurs.

Iraqi emos persecuted
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Image 1 of 12: As well as avowed non-believers, Middle Easterners practicing ‘alternative’ lifestyles including punks and ‘emos’ have been targeted for perceived anti-Islamic behavior. In 2012, the Brussels Tribunal, an NGO, said between 90 and 100 Iraqi emos had been killed in recent years after the Interior Ministry branded the culture ‘Satanic’.

Nude calendar in the name of being an ex-Muslim founded by Maryam Namazie
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Image 1 of 12: A movement to counter harsh treatment of atheists began in Europe in 2007 with the founding of the Councils of Ex-Muslims by former Muslims. The British branch, who paint Islam as inherently fundamentalist, have initiated anti-persecution campaigns, including a ‘revolutionary’ nude calendar in support of (atheist) Egyptian blogger Aliaa Mahdy.

If you are 'out' as an atheist or a self-professed 'Kafir' (Arabic in an Islamic sense for unbeliever or infidel, or in some cases not-believing enough) in the Muslim or Arab world, chances are you're hiding low about it. Putting your head above the parapet is likely to invite the powers that be to come down on you like a ton of bricks.

Being a non-believer is a dangerous business in the Middle East, according to a new report which has prompted the spotlight to be cast once again on how “unbelievers” are treated around the globe. Atheists and other stripes of religious skeptics face persecution all over the world, the report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union found, with Islamic (or majority Muslim) countries meting out the most severe punishments. By and large, there is no room at the inn for out and out atheists, who are shunned and left out in the harsh cold of the Middle East.

Punishments can range from the denial of certain rights, such as the ability to travel or seek medical treatment, to physical sanctions, including flogging and the death penalty - as in Saudi Arabia. Despite capital punishment being handed out to apostates, the sentences seem to be rarely carried out. In many countries which ban religious expression deemed “blasphemous”, such as Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait, free religious expression is also stifled, and citizens may have to register as a believer in an officially-recognized religion. 

While the region is awash with a political resurgence in Islamism following the Arab Spring protests, another movement on the ground has also gained momentum — the secular blowback. While some Muslim-majority countries do not make atheism a specific crime, most do not make it very hospitable for these none-practitioners, either. Atheists can be prosecuted under criminal law and legal loopholes, for blasphemy or for inciting hatred.

Today, in times of economic hardship and political instability, we are witnessing a religious resurgence. And there may be a surge in atheism and secular strains as a backlash to the religious climate. But the question remains, does Islam intrinsically encourage intolerance of religious dissidence? 

Some argue not – though the case can certainly be made. Arguments that advocate for the death penalty are usually based on a Hadith, a saying of the Prophet, that leaves little doubt: “The Prophet said: whoever discards his religion, kill him.”

On the other hand, the Quran’s notably tolerant Sura 109 includes words to the effect of ‘to each his own’ - literally, “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”

The rise to power of Islamist parties since the Arab revolutions is likely to make life more untenable still for those who leave Islam's gates. New rulers in Tunisia and Egypt have already thrown several young people into jail who have been outspoken about their lack of belief. Still, other monotheistic religions of the Middle East are no more understading to the disbelieving. Egypt’s Coptic church does not take a kind view to atheism either. 

Some non-believers chose to live in exile, but many live in fear of the fatwa that might come knocking at their door.

 

Have your say: should atheists or lesser-believers in majority-Muslim parts of the world be protected from persecution? Do infidels or Kufar need to flee their states if they refuse to keep their renegade heads low?

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Yes they should like everyone else. Everyone has their own personal beliefs of the world and we should not force them to death to believe in something they don't. Even if you enforce laws to kill nonbelievers, they will still practice their ways regardless. They are only human and have the same blood as us. Whether you're a non believer or not, you deserve to be protected as a human being, not a religion.

Anonymous (not verified) Sat, 02/23/2013 - 10:37

Islam has a well developed doctrine of abrogation, where later verses carry greater authority than earlier ones. Sura 109 is an early chapter
"revealed" when the muslim community was still small & vulnerable. The last Sura is most likely Sura 9, which is extremely warlike & intolerant, equating dissent with unbelief, justifying violence.

Anonymous (not verified) Sun, 12/16/2012 - 03:04

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