What It’s Like Being An Atheist In Saudi Arabia

William Bauer interviews a Saudi atheist:

“Please bear in mind, that people are witch hunting for us…so be careful which details you use,” Jabir begins. He is right to be concerned, for he is an atheist in a country where advocating beliefs other than those of a Sunni Muslim engender imprisonment, possible torture, and a theoretical possibility of execution.

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.

“I usually get a few copies of English language books that no one can understand, but I had to cover “God is not Great” with a bag as I went through customs, that was too obvious…”

Then comes another complication, the hiding of these books. The process is so time consuming that Jabir notes: “…if you want to joke with a Saudi atheist ask him “where’s your special book stash?”” Beyond the humour, however, the issue is very serious, and if found with such books, Jabir would be in deep trouble.

In the past ten years, new means of communication have opened doors for many in the Kingdom. Whether it is a young Saudi looking for love, a budding political analyst spoiling for debate, a seasoned writer looking for an audience, or an atheist searching for kindred spirits, the Internet has possibilities for all.

“Facebook and Twitter made it easy to find people who debate and are interested in secular values. We ‘non-believers’ have meetings and groups in a lot of Saudi cities. Although it’s really hard to notice them, if you go into them, then you will be shocked by the numbers and elements of society represented,” Jabir notes.

As encouraging as it is to read about the conscience, resolve, and germs of community of these Saudi atheists, Jabir does not see a cultural transformation coming, describing the attitude of his countrymen as follows:

they don’t care how many people are killed for simply refusing to believe in the religion they were born into, as long as the oil keeps pumping.

Read More.

On related notes, in June, I interviewed a Moroccan atheist about her experience and a gay Pakistani about his experience. Both are friends of mine who are wonderful people with fascinating and frustrating experiences.

H/T: Riyadh Bureau, Max Fisher, and Rob.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • smrnda

    Wow, it’s like living under the Grand Inquisitor.

    Now and then I run across American Christians who tell me that, as an unbeliever, I’m not being fair since I pay attention to acts of GLBT or atheist persecution and don’t specifically advocate for persecuted Christians, but what they don’t seem to notice is the same places that persecute Christians persecute atheists, the GLBT population, and anybody from any minority religion. Also, outside of a totally secular government I don’t think there are any answers.

    The way that tin he US, both politicians and business turn a blind eye to the oppressive Saudi regime (mostly so they can gain access to oil) is totally shameless.

  • Paul Susac

    “We poor Christians are persecuted too!” is the cry of privilege blindness.

    Privilege blindness is the idea that people who have privilege are ignorant of the fact of their own privilege, simply because it never occurs to them to think of what life is like for someone else. The classic example of this is male privilege and rape. As a man I don’t think twice about going outside after dark, because I know the chances of me being attacked and/or raped are pretty slim. Not so with women. My safety is a privilege that I take for granted, and have to stop to think about.

    All groups enjoy some privilege – this is what being a member of a group is about, but some groups (like X-tians) have more power and privilege than others. In Saudi Arabia the privilege of Muslims is so great that being a member of the out-group can be fatal. This is done by privileging some ideas and then making it a crime to disagree with these ideas.

    One of the values that I think we need to focus on as a movement is the value that ideas should not enjoy privilege – the bible and Koran are wrong about a lot of stuff. We need to get people USED TO having their beliefs challenged. The fact that we are right in our beliefs is not good enough – if we are going to make a difference as a political movement, we should focus on ending the idea that some ideas get privileged – let’s call BS on BS, and let’s call BS on privileged ideas.


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