Ex-Muslim Iranian Interview #1: Shayan

This weblog is some kind of megaphone for me, a single Iranian ex-Muslim atheist. I thought I could use it to tell the story and amplify the voice of other Iranian ex-Muslims, so from now on I’m going to interview some Iranian atheists anonymously and ask them to tell their story. This is the first one, Shayan, a friend of mine. I have asked the questions and he has answered them.

Since when you are an atheist and tell me your deconversion story.

It was in the late 2008 when I was 19 years old. I was never a very devout person but I was afraid to obliterate god and religion from my mind but I never really practiced as well. I had a friend who was an atheist and he was also very conservative about his atheism and I found his atheism too controversial and didn’t want to engage him in debates. I had another friend who was very religious and also a Satanist friend. At that time me, my atheist, and my Satanist friends were close but we avoided debates on religion, until I introduced my devout friend to the circle. My devout friend likes to argue rather than chit chat, so we gathered in a ghahveh khaneh (a traditional tea-house) and the debates on religion began.

My atheist friend began defending atheism. I didn’t take my Satanist friend really seriously. This took place on a weekly basis and they engaged in fiery debates. There was never bad blood between us friends and my religious friend was very tolerant of our atheism and we are still friends.

This goes on for about a year. I felt trapped between the two. My atheist friend seemed logical and my religious friend sugar-coated some concepts that I was taught since childhood so I sometimes took his side and was more emotional. I usually remained quiet and only asked questions.

After a year my atheist friend had become a better debater and could provide a lot of evidence. One day after a walk in the park I asked him “What is the guarantee that there is no god” and he answered me quite convincingly: “I’m not religious and I can’t give you any guarantees. There’s only probability and the probability of the nonexistence of god is much more likely.”

At that night I had an epiphany and I decided that I’m an atheist.

How did you feel at the moment of your deconversion?

Some people feel nihilistic and emptiness when they think there is no god and no afterlife. But, I felt a sensation of euphoria. I was happy that there is no heavenly overseer who judges me and punishes me. I was in my room, about 1 or 2 AM, when I came to this conclusion I was walking around my room with a stupid smile on my face.

So do you think you are happier as an atheist in comparison to the time that you were a Muslim?

Now that I compare myself to the years that I was nominally Muslim I feel angry at myself and my family and those who have indoctrinated me with these thoughts and I feel I have been abused. And now I feel useful for myself because I feel I live for myself and not for someone in the sky or some religious leaders who claim to be god’s representatives.

One of the good things about atheism is that I feel happy that there is nothing after death and I feel happy to be in the same boat as other animals who also have no afterlife. And this feels good.

Does your family know that you’re an atheist?

Certainly not. I love my mother very dearly and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. She just thinks I’m not a good Muslim and she hopes that I get better. I never reject her and I only keep silent. My brother knows to some degree but he thinks that I read on atheist stuff but he thinks I’m a Muslim. I know that my family will ostracize me if they know I’m an atheist.

 But how does that feel to you to hide such a great part of your life from the people who are closest to you?

I have a very comfortable house back in our city and I have a very comfortable life there but I live in Tehran because religious topics are brought up instantly and being quiet makes me uncomfortable and on the edge, therefore I live in Tehran and far from my family because I can’t stand this atmosphere for a long time.

Sometimes when my mother brings up religion, on very rare occasions I cannot help and give a short answer and I can see anger and disappointment in her face, and I don’t find those remarks very atheistic even, so I cannot bring up religion at all.

Some religious people say that shooting stars are meant to disperse the Djin and when my mother said that I laughed and disagreed but she did not even tolerate this much dissent because it’s written in Quran.

Apart from family, how do you feel, as an atheist, living in a society like Iran which is deeply religious and at the same time theocratic?

Very clearly it’s hard. You know that you can never talk about these things unless among the atheist or agnostic friends and I find talking about atheism among religious friends is too dangerous and I don’t think Iran will change enough to be tolerant of atheists for hundreds of years so I feel I need to leave. I feel like a hypocrite among people because I have to pretend to believe in something yet I don’t believe in it at heart, that feels very terrible.

But you were changed by an outspoken atheist in debates, I don’t mean to tell you what you should do, but as an idea, don’t you think that there are many religious people who could become atheists if more atheists came out in spite of the dangers?

Well… yes. Everyone can tempt others to become atheists but I feel someone like you who can talk to people who don’t know about atheism, most atheists can share it only with their close friends, but I feel it’s very good if atheists like you exist as well who are very audacious and are out to everyone and are never afraid of how the society views them and considers them the enemy. But,  I personally think that even if there are more atheists they society won’t change and they will not have power and the right to speak, they will remain at the bottom and more of them will leave. Unlike you I don’t think that Iran will fundamentally change with the addition of a lot of atheists.

The most we can hope about Iran is that their religiosity is softened and they become a bit more moderate.

Do you think that religion still has some hidden influence on you?

Long after I was an atheist I still had many questions and unfixed bugs. For many years later I couldn’t think very critically of major religious figures like the Prophet and although I knew that there is no god I couldn’t insult the nonexisting god.

Right now all traces of religion are eradicated but I still think that for his time Mohammad was a progressive and a good reformer but he has fucked us now, but I don’t have any strong feelings towards him.

But if we want to think of tradition, since tradition and religion are linked, I sometimes still think that I’m traditional in a way that is rooted in religion, and my brain goes on a virus scan mode and I eradicate these influences. But a few years ago I lived easier in Iran but as I purge the tradition the life becomes harder.

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About Kaveh Mousavi

Kaveh Mousavi is the pseudonym of an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, subject to one of the world’s remaining theocracies. He is a student of English Literature, an aspiring novelist, and part-time English teacher. He is passionate about politics, video games, heavy metal music, and cinema. He was born at the tenth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. He has ditched the Islamic part, but has kept some of the revolutionary spirit.

  • colnago80

    Right now all traces of religion are eradicated but I still think that for his time Mohammad was a progressive and a good reformer but he has fucked us now, but I don’t have any strong feelings towards him.

    Examples needed. I don’t think that someone who has sex with a 6 year old girl and marries her at age 9 is being very progressive. But what do I know. As far as we know, the only woman who Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth might possibly have had sex with was Mary Madelene, who was a mature woman.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      In depends on how you define it. He was a violent warlord, but his contemporaries were much worse than him and the society before and after him had changed a lot for the better. That’s why Shayan calls him a progressive.

      • colnago80

        Speaking of Mohammed and 9 year old girls, apparently the folks in charge in Iraq are at one with him. It is tragic to watch the Muslim march back towards the 14th century.

        http://goo.gl/FdxwDC

      • abear

        Were Mohammad’s contemporaries worse than him?

        Didn’t Mo work for his first wife Khadija, a successful business owner? Before his time women didn’t have to be veiled, freedom of religion was tolerated?

        I read claims of Mo being progressive but his actions seem contrary, also claims that Arabs were much more savage before Islam are made by the conquerers, the voice of pre-Islamic Arab society was silenced long ago.

        As far as his stopping Arab infighting, he did that by force and then directing the violence beyond the Arabian peninsula. He made no plans for his succession, neither did he establish a clear theology, and the ongoing Sunni-Shi’a battles demonstrate these failures.

    • Kilian Hekhuis

      That should be the other way around, right, marrying at 6, sex at 9? But still that’s pretty sick. Also, afaik there’s not that much evidence for Mohammed actually having existed, not that much more contemporary historical evidence than for Jesus, who has basically nothing going for him as far as reliable evidence goes.

      • Kaveh Mousavi

        No, that’s entirely false, Mohammad started an entire empire, there’s no way he didn’t exist.

        • Kilian Hekhuis

          That’s circular reasoning along the lines of “of course God exists, he created the universe, so there’s no way he doesn’t exist”. See e.g. here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Muhammad for some background information. As I said, there’s not much evidence even a Muhammed existed, let alone the Muhammed of the Quran.

          • Kaveh Mousavi

            No, it’s not the same reasoning. I agree that everything we know about Muhammad might be wrong, but there’s no doubt that he was the founder of the Islamic empire. Omar and Osman, the caliph who conquered Iran, Egypt, Syria, and much of the Islamic world, were his sons-in-law. Before him the Arabs were scattered and warring tribes.

            Also, the lack of contemporary evidence doesn’t mean much. Most of our figures, like poets and scholars and the like, don’t have contemporary evidence, but some centuries after their deaths. With that line of reasoning no human existed in Middle East before 19th century.

            Again, I agree that 99% of what we think was the life of Mohammed might be legend, but the fact that he existed is not up to debate, and I don’t care what is written in a book.

            Also, I consider sharing that Wikipedia link an indirect and subtle insult – I’m going to assume it was not meant as such.

          • Kilian Hekhuis

            “but there’s no doubt that he was the founder of the Islamic empire.” Well, perhaps there’s no doubt in your mind, but I would urge you to apply a healthy dosis of scepticism to that believe. Unless you’re an actual scolar on the subject, you likely propagate what you’ve been teached, and as with all teachings, scepticism is advisable.

            As for the Wikipedia link, I didn’t know anyone could be insulted with a mere link, but my apologies if you have been.

          • Kaveh Mousavi

            I will read the book, but I still find it very very VERY unlikely.

            I wasn’t personally offended, no, but to post a Wikipedia link which leads to a very short article is like claiming someone knows nothing about what s/he’s talking about, it’s to assume things.

          • http://infidel753.blogspot.com Infidel753

            Wasn’t it Ali bin Abi Talib who was Muhammad’s son-in-law, and Osman the ancestor of the Umayyad dynasty? If I recall correctly, that was the original issue of contention between Sunni and Shi’ah — whether the Caliphate needed to remain in Muhammad’s family or not.

          • Kaveh Mousavi

            Fuck, they were both his FATHER-in-law. A bit of mindfart.

  • http://infidel753.blogspot.com Infidel753

    This was interesting and I hope you’ll post more such interviews.

    Wouldn’t a person who publicly “came out” as an atheist in Iran be in danger of being arrested? Even if the theocracy doesn’t enforce the Islamic law on apostasy, I’d think you could be charged with blasphemy.

    On his last paragraph, it’s a common experience of people who deconvert that traces of religious thinking remain long after belief is gone. I like the “virus scan mode” concept.

    The possibility that Muhammad didn’t actually exist is discussed in Tom Holland’s book In the Shadow of the Sword, though I imagine this book is banned in many Muslim countries. Basically, he contends that the Arab conquest of the Byzantine and Sasanian empires was just an ordinary opportunistic barbarian invasion without a religious motive, and that the Islamic religion and its early history were concocted under the Umayyad dynasty to help consolidate the new Arab empire. I’m not saying I’m convinced, but it’s more credible than one might think.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      Coming out atheist is very dangerous, but Shayan comes out ONLY to other atheists, while I come out to everyone. :P

      There is some credibility to claiming that Muhammad wasn’t religiously motivated, I personally think that he never intended to found a new religion. But, you can’t claim he didn’t exist.

      • lancifer

        But, you can’t claim he didn’t exist.

        Sure you can. Read Holland’s book. Very little credible evidence exists for a Jesus of Nazareth either

        It sounds to me that, like your friend Shayan, you have some emotional attachment to the idea of Muhammad, at least as a great leader.

        • Kaveh Mousavi

          I still haven’t figured it all about him as a person – he might have been a great leader at his own time – but I really dislike that people follow his example 1500 years after him.

          I will read that book, but you have to realize I’m not ignorant of the history of early Islamic period.

  • Scr… Archivist

    Kaveh,

    Thank you for this interesting post. I look forward to more interviews, so long as everyone can remain safe.

    I do have a question, though. When ideas such as atheism are shared in Iran, is it only through word-of-mouth? Do people pass around samizdat (written materials re-typed by hand and distributed in person) about topics such as this?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      There is a Persian translation of “The God Delusion”, but as far as I know, yes, atheism happens through either word of the mouth or social media.

  • lancifer

    I just realized that you are still living in Iran. I thought I was brave for coming out as an atheist as a teenager to my Mormon (at that time) family and friends.

    At least I didn’t have to fear the death penalty if local authorities found out.

    You sir, are a brave man.

    • colnago80

      Second that accolade.

      By the way, does Kaveh have any comment on the brouhaha over at Brandais Un. over their awarding an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and then, after criticism from Muslim groups in the US rescinding it?

      http://goo.gl/UO7kke

      • Kaveh Mousavi

        I didn’t know about this, it’s pathetic, disgusting, and cowardly.

  • sh3baproject

    hey kaveh, a recent reader here and first time poster. really enjoying your blog, so keep it up. :)

  • abear

    Interesting interview

    Something stood out for me:

    I had another friend who was very religious and also a Satanist friend. At that time me, my atheist, and my Satanist friends were close but we avoided debates on religion, until I introduced my devout friend to the circle.

    You have Satanists in Iran? Where do they get their theology from? Book of Job? Christian New Testament? Quran? Death Metal album covers,lyrics?

    • Kaveh Mousavi

      I don’t have any informed opinion about this, sorry. I had a friend who followed LaVey, but she became an atheist.

      • abear

        I’m surprised that people in Iran have heard of Anton LaVey.

        My understanding on LaVey’s version of Satanism was basically atheism slanting toward hedonism, with some rituals stolen from gothic horror movies for dramatic effect. Your friend later identifying as an Atheist didn’t make much of a leap.

        • Kaveh Mousavi

          Yes, we both knew English very well, so you can’t really generalize that to people in Iran, they haven’t heard of him. LaVey was very crucial in my own atheism too. I never identified as one, but I was very influenced by him.

        • Kaveh Mousavi

          She’s a phenomenal girl, she became an atheist when she was 8, and she was the daughter of a fundamentalist cleric. (Then became Satanist, then atheist again).

          • http://www.thomaswebb.net pinkboi

            I’m strangely heartened to see that someone could be a Satanist in Iran. I, too, never was a Satanist but was influenced by LaVey. It was I guess my way of rebelling against the very religious authorities at the public school I went to (but nothing like Iran of course).

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