This fascinating Dutch article (to which I do not have a link, unfortunately) was translated by a facebook friend Leon Korteweg:
My translation (aided by Google Translate) of an article that appeared in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant. Reading and translating this article made me somewhat emotional: I’m delighted by the rise of atheism exactly where it is most needed, which gives me hope, but I’m also saddened by how many victims it takes to make that change happen.
Saturday, 23 May 2015
Author: Eva Lüdemann
Length: 2160 words
Apostasy – Ex-Muslims defy their environment
Atheists are spit on by the Muslim world, and yet, more and more freethinkers emerge. Because of social media. And because of radical Islam.
When Saudi Arabia equated atheism with terrorism last year, Saudi atheists started a campaign on Twitter with the hashtag: #hamlat_tamziq_alquran_fi_saudiyya or #CampaignToRipTheQuranApartInSaudiArabia. Saudis, including @Hafsa1990, who seemed to have a leading role, posten pictures of torn Qurans, under their feet, on the sofa of their home, on the ground et cetera.
“Look what I’m reading!” Aziz sends a photo via a private message on Twitter. From Kuwait City, the image appears. In his hand is the latest book of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Heretic: Why Islam needs a Reformation now. “I don’t always agree with her,” says Aziz (22), ‘but there’s finally someone who acts as the voice of the growing number of ‘heretics’ here.”
Aziz studied International Relations, he is an ex-Muslim and an atheist. “Openly” he says, even though in Kuwait people are regulary put behind bars after accusations of blasphemy. In 2012, Parliament almost unanimously passed a bill to introduce the death penalty for blasphemy; only through a veto of the emir, the law was not adopted.
“I refuse to keep my mouth shut any longer,” says Aziz. He bought the book by Hirsi Ali on Amazon; it’s not available anywhere in bookstores in the Arab world. “I could go and read it on a terrace,” jokes Aziz. “I don’t think anyone would do something about it. Many young people in Kuwait are now discussing openly about Islam and criticising it. The violence of IS is causing growing doubt about the principles of Islam. Atheism is massively increasing. “
Massively maybe somewhat strongly expressed, but social media contain dozens of messages of a similar kind. ‘IS, peace be upon them, achieved more in one year than atheists could have achieved in a million years,” twitters @Hafsa1990 from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Her background picture is a foot in a silver pump trampling a verse from the Quran.
The influential Palestinian blogger and human rights activist Iyad El-Baghdadi predicted at the start of this year a ‘wave of Muslims who abandon their religion, because of the surge of violence by IS’. The British Muslim blogger Omar Shahid wrote: “How ISIS is causing Muslims to abandon Islam”.
In the Middle East and North Africa there are no official figures available on the number of apostates. Save for Egypt, where according to the Dar al-Ifta, the leading institute for Islamic law, 866 atheists live – in a total population of over 84 million people. How the researchers came to that exact number is not clear. An adviser to the Grand Mufti spoke during the presentation of the findings of “a dangerous development that rings alarm bells.” The Egyptian Ministry of Youth and Religion immediately announced the coming of a national project, in cooperation with a team of psychiatrists, to ‘eradicate’ atheism. Atheism is seen as a diabolical mental illness that perverts: an atheist has no morals, he would even fuck his own mother.
The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism in 2012 by the US market research firm Win Gallup International says that a fifth of Muslims in the region self-identifies as ‘not religious’. Surveyed were Iraq, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Gaza and Lebanon. Of the Saudis polled, 5 percent is convinced atheist. In Iraq no ex-Muslim could be found. Egypt, the most populous country in the region, is not included in the study.
And how reliable is it? In the Arab world you can’t walk up to someone to ask if they are a devout Muslim. Giving your opinion about Islam is not without risks, particularly in ultra-orthodox Saudi Arabia, where your beliefs can literally cost you your head: last year, atheism was legally equated with terrorism there. Earlier this year, a man in his early 20s was sentenced to death, because he had posted a video on Keek.com in which he trampled a Quran underfoot and renounced Islam. A Sharia court still leans on the case to see if it was handled in accordance with Islamic law.
Apostate is worse than infidel
In the Muslim world, there is a rule that roughly states: a murtad, an apostate, is worse than a kafir, an infidel. An ex-Muslim is also a threat to the political and religious authorities who legitimise their omnipotence with Islam. “States that are based on religion keep their people locked in a cycle of hope and fear,” wrote the Saudi freethinker Raif Badawi on his Facebook page, after which he was promptly arrested and sentenced to a thousand stick beats.
If you search on social media in English and Arabic for the word ‘atheist’, you’ll soon be unable to keep up with the number of accounts, and everyone seems linked with everyone. On Twitter, they have names like @SaudiAtheist, @ArabHumanist or @DrHeretic. But often they are somewhat more “hidden”, they write the word “atheist” or “ex-Muslim” half in Arabic, half English, sometimes French, and Arabic numerals that represent letters. Or they put hints in their profile text that are recognisable for other atheists. Most of them have two Twitter accounts: one for family and friends, a second for fellow ex-Muslims.
Facebook contains dozens of groups with hundreds, but quite often even thousands of members. They are usually closed groups, the main language is Arabic.
Making contact with the freethinkers is more difficult for one person than the other. “How do I know you are who you say?” “Do you realise that I could be beheaded if I talk to you?” When the ex-Muslim eventually trusts it, a flow of information is released. Some report on their own initiative, they’ve heard through the grapevine that a Dutch [female] journalist is doing research and want to tell their story. “Why do only those religious extremists make the news?”
Compunction seems to be the reason why these Muslims reject their faith. Under the influence of satellite TV, but especially Internet, their beliefs have evolved miles away from what they are told at home, at school and in the mosque. On issues such as the status of women, polygamy, child brides. About hatred of gay people, Jews and other non-Muslims.
Questions of conscience after 9/11
Some of them were confronted with questions of conscience after the 9/11 attacks. Why had Muslims done something so disgusting? And why were so many Muslims happy about all those innocent deaths? The violence in the name of Islam has only increased since, with IS as the latest example.
Supporters of IS are a minority, the majority of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa says IS does not represent Islam, although it gives some part of them satisfaction when IS inflicts defeat upon the West. Others invoke conspiracy theories: IS is a Zionist-American imperialist conspiracy to defame Islam. On the Iraqi state television Iraqiyya TV, a cowboy and a princess with a large Star of David around her neck are the main characters in a show about IS. Palestinian TV broadcasts a variant of this.
There are also those who see IS as a local product, derived from a more rigid and intolerant Islam, an Islam with which they can not identify and they have therefore abandoned. Ex-Muslim Ir@qi@theist articulates what many interviewees say: “The spiritual Islam has been destroyed. Everyone I know is against radical Islam, in all its forms. Previously we were defending Islam. But now, with IS, it’s like constantly excusing a serial killer’s behaviour. I stopped doing it any longer.”
Amongst these ex-Muslims, most call themselves ‘humanist’, and there are women, men, young, old, highly and poorly educated. Ex-Salafists, former students of Quranic schools, housewives, human rights activists, bloggers, young parents. Most are Sunni, but there are also some Shiites amongst them, including an ex-combatant of the Lebanese terrorist organisation Hezbollah. Most pretend they still pray and fast for fear of reprisals from their environment.
Questioning God’s word
Almost all interviewees say they initially thought there was something wrong with them, because they questioned God’s word. Maybe they were mentally ill. And they would certainly go to hell. They tried to become “good Muslims” by delving more and more into Islam, but gradually they got nothing but more questions. And, they say, that was precisely the problem: asking questions is not done. At school you follow the teacher blindly, at home your parents and in the mosque the imam. And the Quran, God’s word, is the last place to ask questions.
“I once asked my mother why Allah has chosen as an Arab prophet and not an African or a European,’ narrates Wael from Jordan via Skype. “She put chili peppers in my mouth and locked me in the bathroom. She said it was her duty as a Muslim to punish me and get back on the right path. I was shocked. If a mother intentionally hurts her child because of a religion, then something is wrong. That feeling has never left [me]. “
All interviewees say that social media have brought them out of their isolation, a way to come out of the closet. The Arab revolutions provided some of them even more self-confidence. “I’m proud to be an atheist!” twitters @QMRtd. The accompanying picture shows a hand holding up a sheet of A4 paper with the text in block letters. In the background the courtyard of the Grand Mosque in Mecca is visible [see photo below].
Immediately after the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, some Egyptian ex-Muslims openly spoke on television about their beliefs. By now, under President Sisi who harshly silences critics of his regime, freethinkers must again operate much more cautiously. It does not stop Ismail Mohamed to continue his talk show al-Bath as-Sawda (“Black Ducks”) on YouTube. Since 2013 he interviews former Muslims from around the region on his show. With first and last name, in Arabic. There are now almost two hundred episodes, the show has more than eight thousand subscribers.
“That can unfortunately not happen here,” says the couple @Hedonistos and @Kaouthar in Morocco. “Our head of state, the king, says that he descends directly from the prophet Muhammad, he legitimises his power that way. If you criticise Islam, you undermine the king.” Yet that is exactly what Imadiddine Habib is doing, even though the authorities regularly threaten to arrest him. In 2004, Habib founded the Council of Ex-Muslims, a Moroccan branch of this international organisation [sic, it’s more like a movement of independent organisations], to which the Dutch Central Committee for Ex-Muslims, founded by Ehsan Jami in 2007, also temporarily belonged [during its brief existence].
According to Habib, tens of thousands of ex-Muslims exist in Morocco and they are everywhere, even within the Ministry of Religious Affairs. “As Islam is now, more and more extreme and without opportunities for pluralism, so intolerant, the religion will destroy itself from the inside.”
Arab governments sometimes make a cautious call for a less radical interpretation of Islam, which also threatens the Arab regimes themselves.
Saudi freethinkers recently laughed their asses off online when the Saudi Grand Mufti warned against religious extremism: Saudi Arabia is, together with Qatar, suspected of being the main sponsor of ultrapuritan Islam, including in the civil war in Syria. “What hypocrisy!”
Can an Islam 2.0 originate? A pluralistic Islam that is not so focused on sacrilege? “For therein lies the problem,” says Sara (19) from Qatar. “We’re all trapped in fear of being bad Muslims, and keep hold of each other to preserve the moral order.”
Sara sees light at the end of the tunnel, like most former Muslims who were interviewed for this article. “The bars are broken,” says sexologist Alya from Egypt. “Since the revolutions, it is brewing everywhere, I am absolutely optimistic.”
Farzazou from Tunis speaks of a ‘fuck you’-mentality. “Especially young people make their own plan, because they have no more respect for any authority whatsoever. They are fed up with the constant social control. Also when it comes to religion.”
It is striking that, like the Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism maintains, relatively the largest number of apostates seems to be in Saudi Arabia, the most orthodox Muslim country. “We suffer the most from fundamentalism,” says Abdul Latif in Jeddah. “Here, in the heart of Islam, the reformation must begin.”