Irreligion in the Middle East

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Though atheists in the Middle East are rarely public about their lack of belief, as they are persecuted in many countries, including Saudi Arabia where they are classified as terrorists,[1] there are some atheist organizations in the Middle East and Arab world. In the Middle East, one branch of religion dominates the geographical demography: Islam. Within these population, nonetheless, reside the small margin of those who are without faith, and who often face serious formal, and in some cases informal, legal and social consequences.

And in terms of atheism and apostasy Islam does condemned the practice within the Quran, as it categorizes non-believers as kafir.[2] Middle Eastern nations with some form of Sharia Law in court punishes non-believers in varying ways, however, many outspoken atheists claim the punishments in most cases are severe. Ironically, in the Quran there were no demands to criminalize (also known as hadd) apostasy; nonetheless, many Muslims believe it should be penalized.[3]

Background[edit]

In the World Values Survey conducted from 2010 to 2014, results show that in Yemen, Jordan, and Iraq less than 0.5% of those surveyed self-defined themselves as atheists; meanwhile, the highest percent of self-define atheist within the Middle East was at 5.5% in Kuwait.[4] A condition for Kuwait's comparatively high ratio can be explained by when in 2011, Kuwait Parliament passed a legislative amendment that would have made it a capital crime to commit blasphemy but was ultimately rejected by the Court of Ministers. It is still, however, a punishable crime to commit blasphemy in Kuwait, especially for journalist.[5] Despite the relatively low number of publicly atheist individuals in the Middle East, some media platform have claim that the Middle East is witnessing a new rise of outspoken secular and irreligious citizens. In one BBC News article that highlights a recent Arab Barometer surveys on Middle East and North African citizens, Egypt was shown to have a comparatively significant increase, from 2013 to 2019, in the proportion of people who say they are not religious.[6] Some of these citizens who come from a state with severe punishments for atheists, like the death penalty, have reported to living in fear.

Irregardless, transparent data on how many citizens in the Middle East are atheists, apostasy, or of other form of irreligious identity have been challenging for researchers to discover. In one report by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, atheists residing in Kurdish region of Iraq also have difficulties expressing their disbelief publicly -- despite Kurdish government generally considered to be secular.[7]

Rise of the "New Atheists"[edit]

One of the rising form of non-religious sectors within the Middle East have been labeled as the new atheists. This organization essentially retaliates against religious institutions by claiming they are violent and unnecessary, though some argue that they are mostly criticizing the Islamic faith and community.[8] The new atheism popularly rose from the U.S. following the 9/11 attacks and widespread coverage on Islamic extremists, and it found a number of followers within the Middle East.[9]

Ismail Mohammed, from Cairo, is a new atheist who utilized social media platform to vocalize atheism. The same article that interviewed Mohammed, also added that some atheists supporters have estimated that Egypt has 3 million atheists in their population of 90 million.[10] However, the exact number of apostasies or atheists in Egypt have not been most accurately measured, and the validity of this estimate has not been proven.

Persecution of Non-Believers in the Middle East[edit]

Like other non-Muslims, atheists suffer persecution in the Middle East.[11] 64 percent of Muslims in Egypt are reported to approve of the death penalty for those who leave Islam.[11] In one report by the International Humanists, in Article 121 of Iranian law, homosexuality is punishable up to death for a non-Muslim subject, while the Muslim active party is punished through 100 lashes.[12]

Though persecution of blasphemous atheist are often carried out by law in the Middle East, some states like Turkey and Lebanon do allow atheists to live rather safely though withstanding any promise of legal form of safety.[13]

Meanwhile, some scholars have been opposing the death penalty for apostasies in the Islamic realm. Writers Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed published a book claiming the history and fundamentals of Islam support freedom of religion, and that since the Quran does not explicitly state to punish apostasy with death it is unethical to support capital punishment for non-religious individuals.[14] And although the Quran does not state exactly how apostasy should be punished, it has historically been debated among the Islamic communities. Scholars Rudolph Peters and Gret J.J. De Vries document that some, like the Hanafite lawyers, did argue that under the penal law an Imam should execute the apostasy by a sword; meanwhile female and children have been seen as uniformly by the community as the exceptions to execution.[15]

Prevalence[edit]

Though still uncommon, public acknowledgement of atheism is widely considered to be growing in the Middle East. Youth in the Persian Gulf countries have increasingly been expressing their atheism on the Internet in recent years, despite residing in heavily religious societies.[16] Web and internet has been a popular tool where more than 50 atheist Facebook groups and pages, some with more than 130,000 followers[17], have formed in the last few years especially since the Arab spring.[18] Also, a YouTube channel with over 36 thousand subscribers, called The Black Ducks, is run by the previously mentioned Ismail Mohammed.[19] The channel often conducts interviews with fellow non-believers from within the Arab Middle East, including former imams who left their faith.

Though data on how prevalent atheism is can be difficult to measure where social desirability bias may obscure survey answers, there have been attempts to record potential trends. According to a BBC survey conducted by the Arab Barometer, the non-religious population of the Middle East and North Africa is estimated at 13% in 2019, a rise from 8% in 2013. Arabs are said to be increasingly turning their back on religion.[20]

Relevant Data[edit]

In the 2012 Global Religious Index that rated a country's index based on the percentage of people who identify as religious, with the highest being 96, Iraq came in at 88 and Saudi Arabia at 75. Meanwhile, the Global Atheism Index for the same year show percent of self-identified atheist in Iraq at 0 and in Saudi Arabia at 5. In comparison, the Global Distribution of self-identified atheist was at 13 percent. [21]

In another aspect of BBC New's survey conducted by Arab Barometer in 2013, which was shortly after the Arab Spring, Lebanese citizens have significantly declined in religious beliefs. According to a summary by Arab Weekly, the survey indicates that less than 25 percent of Lebanese identify as religious, but it is not clear how many are particularly atheist. [22]

In 2010 Pew Research study found that in Jordan and Egypt, where 58 percent and 74 percent respectively believe the Sharia Law should be imposed on both Muslim and non-Muslim citizens of their nation, had a high number of people who believe in death penalty for those who abandon their Islamic faith. The study found 86 percent of Egyptians, 82 percent Jordanians, as well as 66 percent from Palestinian Territory surveyed citizens support capital punishment for apostates; also 46 percent Lebanese and 42 percent Iraqis agreed to the capital punishment.[23]

List of Non-Religious Middle Easterns[edit]

  • Armin Navabi Ex-Muslim atheist and secular activist, author, podcaster and vlogger including founder of Atheist Republic
  • Ashraf Dehghani Iranian female communist revolutionaries, and is a member of the Iranian People's Fedai Guerrillas
  • Aramesh Dustdar Philosopher, writer, scholar and a former philosophy lecturer at Tehran University
  • Afshin Ellian Iranian-Dutch professor of law, philosopher, poet, and critic of political Islam. He is an expert in international public law and philosophy of law
  • Carlos Fayt Argentine lawyer and academic. Emeritus Professor at the University of Buenos Aires and Minister of the Supreme Court (of Syrian and Lebanese descent)
  • FM-2030 Belgian-born Iranian-American author, teacher, transhumanist philosopher, futurist, consultant and athlete
  • Hadi Khorsandi Contemporary Iranian poet and satirist. Since 1979, he has been the editor and writer of the Persian-language satirical journal Asghar Agha
  • Shahin Najafi Iranian actor, musician, singer and songwriter
  • Maryam Namazie British-Iranian secularist and human rights activist, commentator, and broadcaster
  • Ibn al-Rawandi Early skeptic of Islam and a critic of religion in general
  • Mina Ahadi Iranian-Austrian political activist
  • Sadegh Hedayat Iranian writer, translator and intellectual, Best known for his novel The Blind Owl
  • Faisal Saeed Al Mutar Iraqi-born satirist, human-rights activist and writer who was admitted to the United States as a refugee in 2013.
  • Bashar ibn Burd Poet of the late Umayyad and early Abbasid periods.
  • Rifat Chadirji Iraqi architect, photographer, author and activist. He is admired as the greatest modern architect of Iraq, and taught at the Baghdad School of Architecture for many years.
  • Sami Michael Iraqi-Israeli author, first in Israel to call for the creation of an independent Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel.
  • Jamil Sidqi al-Zahawi prominent Iraqi poet and philosopher, known for his defence of women's rights.
  • Jim Al-Khalili Iraqi-British theoretical physicist, author and broadcaster.
  • Selim Matar Writer, novelist and sociologist with Swiss and Iraqi nationalities, was born in Baghdad and resides currently in Geneva.
  • Abdullah al-Qasemi, a famous Wahhabi scholar who left Islam
  • Joumana Haddad Lebanese author, public speaker, journalist and women's rights activist.
  • As'ad AbuKhalil Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus.
  • Rabih Alameddine Lebanese-American painter and writer.
  • Ziad Rahbani Lebanese composer, pianist, playwright, and political commentator.
  • Gad Saad Lebanese-Canadian evolutionary behavioural scientist at the John Molson School of Business (Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada) who is known for applying evolutionary psychology to marketing and consumer behaviour.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Adam Withnall (2014-04-01). "Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents - Middle East - World". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-07-23.
  2. ^ Warner, Bill. "Kafir." Political Islam, 17 June 2008. http://www.politicalislam.com/kafir/
  3. ^ Mayer, Ann Elizabeth. "Law and Religion in the Muslim Middle East." The American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Winter, 1987), pp. 127-184
  4. ^ Yearbook of International Religious Demography, 2015.
  5. ^ "KUWAIT 2012 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT" http://photos.state.gov/libraries/kuwait/63599/PDF/irf2012.pdf
  6. ^ BBC News, 24 June 2019. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48703377
  7. ^ "Iraq: Information on the treatment of atheists and apostates by society and authorities in Erbil." Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2013-September 2016. http://www.justice.gov/eoir/file/902671/download
  8. ^ Khader, Jamil. "The irrational hatred of new atheists: A toxic combination of Islamophobic obsession and anti-Palestinian animus."http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/02/irrational-hatred-atheists-150215083020243.html
  9. ^ KHALIL, MOHAMMAD HASSAN. "Jihad, Radicalism, and the New Atheism." New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
  10. ^ Youssef, Nancy. "Meet The Middle East’s Atheist Preacher: In a region increasingly defined by its Islamic fundamentalism, Ismail Mohammed is vocal about his belief that there is no God. And he’s discovering that he’s not alone." The Daily Beast, 14 April 2017. http://www.thedailybeast.com/meet-the-middle-easts-atheist-preacher
  11. ^ a b Fisher, Max (2013-05-01). "Majorities of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan support the death penalty for leaving Islam". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-07-23.
  12. ^ "Iran." The Humanists International. http://fot.humanists.international/countries/asia-southern-asia/iran/
  13. ^ "No God, Not Even Allah; Atheists and Islam." The Economist Nov 24 2012: 67,n/a. ProQuest.
  14. ^ Saeed,Abdullah and Hassan Saeed. Freedom of Religion,"Apostasy and Islam." New York: Routledge, 2004.
  15. ^ Peters, Rudolph and Gret J.J. De Vries. "Apostasy in Islam."Die Welt des Islams, Vol. 17, Issue 1/4 (1976-1977), pp. 1-25.
  16. ^ "Is Gulf youth increasingly drawn to atheism? | The National". Thenational.ae. 2012-08-19. Retrieved 2015-07-23.
  17. ^ http://www.facebook.com/atheistsgotoheaven/
  18. ^ "Arab Atheists, Though Few, Inch Out Of The Shadows". Huffingtonpost.com. Archived from the original on 2014-03-20. Retrieved 2015-07-23.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  19. ^ http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQuI0UMM0WaUXnlyEuo-6Ng
  20. ^ "Poll describes Arabs as moving away from religion, Islamism | AW staff | AW". web.archive.org. 2019-06-29. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  21. ^ "Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism" WIN-Gallup International, 2012.http://www.scribd.com/document/136318147/Win-gallup-International-Global-Index-of-Religiosity-and-Atheism-2012#download
  22. ^ "Poll describes Arabs as moving away from religion, Islamism: Trust in Islamist movements has declined dramatically since the 'Arab spring' revolts." The Arab Weekly, 28 June 2019. http://thearabweekly.com/poll-describes-arabs-moving-away-religion-islamism
  23. ^ "The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society." Chapter 1: Belief About Sharia. Pew Research Center: Religion and Public Life, 30 April 2013. http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-overview/