The Economist on Ex-Muslim Atheists: A Bigger Sin Than Murder

The Economist covers the struggle of being an atheist in Muslim countries:

In a handful of majority-Muslim countries atheists can live safely, if quietly; Turkey is one example, Lebanon another. None makes atheism a specific crime. But none gives atheists legal protection or recognition. Indonesia, for example, demands that people declare themselves as one of six religions; atheism and agnosticism do not count. Egypt’s draft constitution makes room for only three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Sharia law, which covers only Muslims unless incorporated into national law, assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. Thus ex-Muslim atheists are guilty of apostasy — a hudud crime against God, like adultery and drinking alcohol. Potential sanctions can be severe: eight states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty on their statute books for such offences.

People like Alexander Aan and Alber Saber Ayad are currently dealing with the aftermath of authorities discovering their atheism. But one bright side, if I can call it that, to their struggles is that they have alerted a lot of us in the west to what it means to be an atheist in their countries. We’re still trying to figure out how best to combat the persecution, but I’m optimistic the tide will turn soon if we keep fighting. We complain about Christians overstepping their boundaries in the U.S. all the time, but seeing what those atheists are up against puts it all in perspective.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Mommiest

    Would American religious communities ever support offering refuge for persecuted atheists in our country? I have to wonder.

    • Pedro Lemos

      One would say that´s the governments job, not religious communities…

    • kaydenpat

      If atheists are fleeing persecution and even the death penalty, the US government should allow them to come here as refugees, just like they allow those persecuted for other reasons (religious, political, etc.) to do so.

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      They would probably view it as a conversion opportunity. Try to get those heathen ex-Muslims over to Jesus…

  • Stonyground

    Atheists often get criticised for smugly asserting that we are more intelligent than those silly theists. But then we have this:

    “ Indonesia, for example, demands that people declare themselves as one of six religions; atheism and agnosticism do not count. ”

    So among the theists there is not one single person with the intelligence to work out that, since these religions contradict each other, only one of them can be true and therefore, at least five of them are false. By law you are better following a false religion than no religion. Presumably this has something to do with the idea that religious people, even those who follow a false religion, behave better than those who have no religion at all. The fact that this idea is demonstrably false is of no consequence. 

    • Lee Miller

      You make the mistake of thinking that religious people care about truth.

      • Cheepak Dopra

        You make the mistake of thinking that religion has something to do with “truth” or “belief.” It doesn’t. It’s all about the holidays.

  • Godlesspanther

    I’m afraid that there is a population of fundie Christians in the US who believe that the death penalty for merely being an atheist is a good idea and should be enforced. 

    • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

      Yes, there is. But the fact remains that they are in the extreme minority (maybe 1% or less of the population is Dominionist? – no figures, just a random guess). In Muslim countries, the people who think that we deserve to die for being atheist is the majority of the population. Even the “moderates” there tend to think that apostasy should at least be a crime.

      Major, major, difference.

      • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

         

        “In Muslim countries, the people who think that we deserve to die for being atheist is the majority of the population.

        The majority of the people living in Muslim countries think we deserve to die? As in be put to death? Really?
        Former Muslim, ex-U.S. military and ex private military with some time spent in several Muslim countries and family in Hezbollah controlled Lebanon. Which countries are you referring to?

        • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

          Well, let’s see: you have anecdotal evidence on your side, and I have…numbers.

          Pew Global Research: http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/

          Death Penalty for people who leave the religion:

          Egypt: 84%
          Jordan: 86%
          Lebanon: 6% (yes, Lebanon is “moderate” – however, I dare say that 6% in America would cause absolute outrage here if they were Christians)
          Indonesia: 30%
          Pakistan: 76%
          Nigeria: 51%

          Those numbers are not trifling. I’m sorry, but it looks like a hell of a lot of people in some countries *do* think that Apostates should be killed.

          Now, if you have numbers on your side countering this, then I’d be happy to see them. However, I’d say that mere circumstance is not on your side. The Economist article makes it clear how atheists are treated. We all have seen how most Muslims who leave the faith are far more afraid of speaking up about it than Christians who do.

          So yes, please post some positive numbers which would actually give me hope. I’m absolutely in favor of hearing new evidence – especially if that evidence is one which points to far better times ahead in the world. I sincerely mean that.

          • The Godless Monster

             Apostates? !!!
            You never mentioned apostates. You mentioned ATHEISTS. An apostate can also be someone who converted to another religion. You DO know that, right?
            That’s not the same as those who are atheists and always have been.
            There is a huge difference in the eye of a Muslim.
            Someone who was once a Muslim and then becomes a non-muslim…yep…the overwhelming sentiment would be for death. Absolutely. Of that there is no doubt.
            HOWEVER…if I was never a Muslim to begin with and just walked into a mosque and proclaimed my atheism, they’d likely just tell me to get lost and ignore me.
            It’s all about betraying Allah and your fellow Muslims.

          • The Godless Monster

            One more comment. If you have any degree of life experience, intelligence or education, then you are aware that polls can be quite misleading. I’m not stating that the poll you quote is misleading, but it is not the final word. In addition, the poll you quoted was entirely (as in 100% irrelevant) to this discussion as apostasy is not the same thing as atheism.
            Not even close.

      • Godlesspanther

        Yes, but the dominionists are not the only population that believes atheists ought to be put to death. There are some more “mainstream” fundies who believe that. We also have to consider that in the US people are more likely to keep such opinions to themselves and shy away from publicly stating them. One has to wonder — if they are up there shouting that atheists have no morality and are just really bad people by their own nature — then how much farther do they need to go to come to the conclusion that such people ought to be eradicated?  

        • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

          This is exactly what Sam Harris means when he talks about our own liberal side, of which he and I are a part, apologizing for Muslim extremists in the most gratuitous ways possible.

          Look, nobody is saying that Christian extremists can’t be bloody dangerous. Most atheist blogs and activism in the western world are a reaction to Christian extremism. I understand that – it’s what affects us the most in our daily lives.

          But we have to be absolutely frank here: our societies don’t tend to execute or imprison atheists, gays, agnostics, or apostates. There may be some more people who think that society should, but by and large the vast majority of the population – and the laws themselves – don’t permit it.

          That’s an enormous difference. The fact that we don’t stand up and recognize that, that we have to consistently point out every single little aberration and pretend that it is the norm like it is in some Muslim societies, is absolutely ludicrous.

          The very fact that those who think we should be killed, and are too bloody ashamed to say it, should be a huge mark in our favor. By all means, continue to castigate those that do advocate the killing of atheists in our societies. But please be just as loud  and as clear about how better off you are than if you were living in most Muslim countries as an atheist, scared for your very life because you could end up in jail or on the chopping block.

        • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

          This is exactly what Sam Harris means when he talks about our own liberal side, of which he and I are a part, apologizing for Muslim extremists in the most gratuitous ways possible.

          Look, nobody is saying that Christian extremists can’t be bloody dangerous. Most atheist blogs and activism in the western world are a reaction to Christian extremism. I understand that – it’s what affects us the most in our daily lives.

          But we have to be absolutely frank here: our societies don’t tend to execute or imprison atheists, gays, agnostics, or apostates. There may be some more people who think that society should, but by and large the vast majority of the population – and the laws themselves – don’t permit it.

          That’s an enormous difference. The fact that we don’t stand up and recognize that, that we have to consistently point out every single little aberration and pretend that it is the norm like it is in some Muslim societies, is absolutely ludicrous.

          The very fact that those who think we should be killed, and are too bloody ashamed to say it, should be a huge mark in our favor. By all means, continue to castigate those that do advocate the killing of atheists in our societies. But please be just as loud  and as clear about how better off you are than if you were living in most Muslim countries as an atheist, scared for your very life because you could end up in jail or on the chopping block.