Ex-Muslim Iranian Interview #2: Amin

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 second one, Shayan, one of my best friends. Here you can read the first one.

Let’s begin by hearing your deconversion story.

When I was a teenager I studied a lot.‎ I was alays curious and always wanted to find answers. The sort of books I studied at that time were usually religious books, both holy texts and texts written by religious authorities on or about Islam or religio. I studied all Shariati books,‎ all the books by Motahariand needless to say I read Koran many times, both in Arabic and Persian. I read Nahjolbalaghe several times. This was a period of serious tumult in my life, of horrendous conflicts with family and friends and deep intellectual tumult. It did not take long before I realized religion makes me thirsty; it does not satisfy me. At that time religion and its correctness or wrongness was not solely a matter of logic and truthfulness for me. I needed something that could be water for my unbalanced, rebellious, hateful, and kind soul. Religion failed. By the way,  I had not heard of people like Dawkins or others like him all over the world when I lost my faith. I think that’s all i have to say on this.

So there was no dramatic climax? You gradually lost your faith?

Yeah, sort of, gradually, but maybe gradually is made up of little and big dramas and climaxes too.

Was losing your faith in Islam automatically followed by atheism?‎ There was no deist phase?

 I think I had a brief period when I thought I cannot believe in Islam, but I still believed in a god, yes i think there was such a phase.

So you had not heard of any famous atheists. Did you know any atheists in real life? I remember thinking I’m an only atheist in the world and it made me feel incredibly alone. How was your experience? Did it make you feel alone and ostracized, or did you not care?

 I did not look at lack of faith in the terms of atheism as we know it today. Lack of faith was lack of faith, I did not relate to anybody in my mind, I was curious and I was trying to discover things for myself. My father was sort of an atheist or at least he acted like one in many aspects of his life, and he claimed to have no faith at all in anything. But he was not the sort of person to be considered a role model or even an inspiration of any kind to me. And it might surprise people, but getting lonely and having to confront people on matters of faith not only did not discourage or upset me but also made me feel good about myself.

Oh, and my brother was always an inspiration. He is not the kind of person to tell people what he believes in or not, and still he has never called himself an theist though I’m sure he does not believe in any deity. But he always broke taboos and crossed red lines and I think that had an effect on me.

It did not discourage me as well, but I felt some negative impact because of bullying and the like. Now, since we are close friends I know that your atheism, like mine, is strong. We’re opposed to religion in a way that even most atheists are not. So I wanted to know if your atheism started strong or did gradually became strong.

Everything, or most things, start in me strong. Because I feel strong about these things. Intellect is important for me, and having faith or lacking it directly pertains to our intellect, so yes, it started strong, but it has certainly evolved in many layers and aspects with time. Also I think it needed to be strong, because it is definitely difficult to become an atheist in Iran, even if you enjoy confronting people. The powers of family, society and all its mechanisms, and the government are all against you.

How important is your atheism in general to you? Is it a major part of who you are?

Atheism as a + theism, meaning lack of faith, a negative concept, is very important to me. This lack opens up space for other experiences and opens up new horizons that you may never be able to access with a god on your back.‎ I defined atheism so as to make sure the reader of this interview will not associate the word with any certain social or political stance on anything.

But isn’t there a political and social stance inherent in our atheism?

Nowadays there is. But my political and social stances evolved, sometimes, independent of stock atheistic political or social positions. And I might differ on many issues from the majority of atheists.

I meant it in another fashion. I meant our atheism was social and political in nature. To me atheism was not a matter of evolution or apologetics. It was rejecting a system that I found repressive and authoritarian. Liberty and atheism are interconnected and inseparable to us. Do you disagree?

You are right, atheism is certainly also a reaction to the things going on in our society. I think many people get the bravery and courage needed for defying religion by virtue of an anger that is brought about by suppression.

How “out” generally are you as an atheist?

I almost never hide it except when I know not hiding it will endanger my life in some way. I teach classes and nearly all mystudents know I am an atheist. My friends know, my family know, and I’m not usually scared of letting people not very close to me know I’m an atheist. Maybe one day I’ll regret this, but right now I enjoy the shock I cause in people.

And I guess you have deconverted many people yourself. I have as well.

Yes, you’re right.

 I think being an out atheist has made my life much better. I don’t feel repressed. I feel I express myself and they have not succeeded in making hide who I am. Your thoughts?

I agree with you, it certainly allows one to relate to one’s life more directly, to get involved in life’s mysteries more seriously and to enjoy its wonders more freely. I think a world with an omnicient, omnipotent god against which we are always defeated and always subject to his will is not a very nice place to live in.

Do you think Iran is a fertile soil for atheism? On the one hand we can witness the evil versions of religion better than most of the world, on the other side religious hegemony is so strong there’s no breaking away from it.

Our generation is certainly different from that of our fathers. Nowadays young people have access to the Internet, to foreign culture, and to foreign TV. And these are taking their toll on religious hegemony, though slowly. But I don’t think Iran is specifically fertile for the seed of atheism to grow in.

But religion is deeply rooted in Iranian life. Families brainwash children by the time they go to school in a way they think they were born out of Allah’s womb. Now this might change in the future, but I don’t see any reason why I should say Iran is fertile for atheism.

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