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Atheists and Islam

Posted by on Nov. 28, 2012 at 5:08 AM
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No God, not even Allah

Ex-Muslim atheists are becoming more outspoken, but tolerance is still rare

(source)


A MOB attacked Alexander Aan even before an Indonesian court in June jailed him for two and a half years for “inciting religious hatred”. His crime was to write “God does not exist” on a Facebook group he had founded for atheists in Minang, a province of the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Like most non-believers in Islamic regions, he was brought up as a Muslim. And like many who profess godlessness openly, he has been punished.

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.

In reality such punishments are rarely meted out. Most atheists are prosecuted for blasphemy or for inciting hatred. (Atheists born to non-Muslim families are not considered apostates, but they can still be prosecuted for other crimes against religion.) Even in places where laws are lenient, religious authorities and social attitudes can be harsh, with vigilantes inflicting beatings or beheadings.

Many, like Kacem el-Ghazzali, a Moroccan, reckon the only solution is to escape abroad. The 23-year-old was granted asylum in Switzerland after people found out he was the author of an anonymous blog, Atheistica.com. Even in non-Muslim lands ex-believers are scared of being open, says Nahla Mahmoud, a 25-year-old Sudanese atheist who fled to Britain in 2010. “Muslim communities here don’t feel comfortable with having an ex-Muslim around,” she says, noting that extremists living in the West may harass non-believers there too.

Facebook groups for atheists, mostly pseudonymous, exist in almost every Muslim country. Social media give non-believers more clout—but also make them more conspicuous, and therefore vulnerable. But the real blame lies with religious intolerance. In the 1950s and 1960s secularism and tolerance prevailed in many majority-Muslim countries; today religion pervades public and political life. Sami Zubaida, a scholar at London’s Birkbeck College, speaks of increasing polarisation, with “growing religiosity at one end of the spectrum and growing atheism and secularism at the other.”

The rise to power of Islamist parties after the Arab revolutions is likely to make life more miserable still for those who leave Islam. New rulers in Tunisia and Egypt have jailed several young people who have been outspoken about their lack of belief. Such cases occurred before the revolutions, but seem to have become more common. Alber Saber Ayad, an Egyptian Christian activist who ran a Facebook page for atheists, has been in custody since September for “insulting religion”. His alleged offence was posting a link to an infamous YouTube video that caused protests in the Islamic world that month. He was arrested by a Christian policeman: Egypt’s Coptic church does not look kindly on atheism either.

Good news?

The Arab upheavals and the growing number of open non-believers have sparked some debate. In Egypt, Bassem Youssef, a doctor-cum-comedian, has bravely called for discussion rather than hostility. Islam co-existed with pagans and atheists at the height of its power, he writes. Some of the finest medieval Arabic and Persian poets and grammarians were atheists (though several were also famously executed).

Young activists, albeit often exiled, such as Mr Ghazzali, have become more vociferous about their right not to believe in a God. Organisations abroad for former Muslims are increasingly active, too. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, set up by a group of non-believers five years ago, provides refuge for those who have renounced Islam and tries to “break the taboo” about apostasy.

In a move hailed by campaigners, Kuwait’s emir in June blocked a bill to make apostasy a capital offence. Yet seeking secular laws or social tolerance ignores the root of the problem, says Ibn Warraq, the pseudonymous Indian-born author of “Leaving Islam”, a collection of essays by ex-believers, and other books. He lives in exile and has received death threats for campaigning on the behalf of apostates. The prevailing interpretation of Islam, he says, simply cannot tolerate Muslim unbelievers. Arguments for the death penalty are usually based on a Hadith, one of the sayings which, along with the Koran, form the basis of Islamic law: “The Prophet said: whoever discards his religion, kill him.”

Yet other texts have a different message. The Koran’s notably tolerant Sura 109 includes words such as “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” Moderates also note that though the Koran says blasphemers will not be forgiven, it does not mention the death penalty. Some argue that in Islam’s early years apostasy was akin to treason, earning harsh penalties that are no longer acceptable.

Although some Islamic theologians interpret these provisions to mean that apostates will be punished in the afterlife, most see them as ordering that former Muslims must be punished by death. All four schools of Sunni Islamic law teach that male apostates should be put to death, though two say that female renegades should only be imprisoned. A number of leading Islamic figures, such as Egypt’s grand mufti and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Qatar-based preacher, say that the death penalty is deserved if the apostate “subverts society” or “damages Islam”. All agree, however, that repentant apostates should be spared; the time and sincerity needed for such disavowals to count is debated.

Ibn Warraq says that the nub of the problem is that sharia makes atheism the number one sin, ahead of murder. A theological debate on atheism has yet to begin. Public opinion, though variable, tends to the censorious. A 2010 survey by the Pew Research Centre, an American think-tank, found that 84% of Muslims in Egypt and 86% in Jordan backed the death penalty for apostates, compared with 51% in Nigeria and 30% in Indonesia.

Such attitudes may stoke atheist sentiment even as they deter its expression. Ms Mahmoud recalls how her primary school teacher punished her in art class for sketching a picture of Allah, which is forbidden in Islam. With fewer rights than her male peers and annoyed by a ban on studying evolution, she felt pushed away: “These incidents made me gradually refuse Islam until I completely renounced it and became an atheist.”

by on Nov. 28, 2012 at 5:08 AM
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Replies (1-10):
Clairwil
by Bronze Member on Nov. 28, 2012 at 5:11 AM
1 mom liked this

In the interests of fairness, I have posted this to our open forum, and I am going to invite posters from the Muslim Moms group to repond to the article.

I hope this will produce informative and POLITE discussion *frowns at any fellow atheists who might be tempted to be less than courteous hosts*

Clairwil
by Bronze Member on Nov. 28, 2012 at 5:33 AM

A bit of research...

Quoting Clairwil:

In a move hailed by campaigners, Kuwait’s emir in June blocked a bill to make apostasy a capital offence. Yet seeking secular laws or social tolerance ignores the root of the problem, says Ibn Warraq, the pseudonymous Indian-born author of “Leaving Islam”, a collection of essays by ex-believers, and other books. He lives in exile and has received death threats for campaigning on the behalf of apostates. The prevailing interpretation of Islam, he says, simply cannot tolerate Muslim unbelievers. Arguments for the death penalty are usually based on a Hadith, one of the sayings which, along with the Koran, form the basis of Islamic law: “The Prophet said: whoever discards his religion, kill him.

Yet other texts have a different message. The Koran’s notably tolerant Sura 109 includes words such as “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” Moderates also note that though the Koran says blasphemers will not be forgiven, it does not mention the death penalty. Some argue that in Islam’s early years apostasy was akin to treason, earning harsh penalties that are no longer acceptable.

(source)

Volume 4, Book 52, Number 259:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle sent us in a mission (i.e. am army-unit) and said, "If you find so-and-so and so-and-so, burn both of them with fire." When we intended to depart, Allah's Apostle said, "I have ordered you to burn so-and-so and so-and-so, and it is none but Allah Who punishes with fire, so, if you find them, kill them."


Volume 4, Book 52, Number 260:

Narrated Ikrima:

Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn 'Abbas, who said, "Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, 'Don't punish (anybody) with Allah's Punishment.' No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.' "



(source)

Those who advocate the death penalty for apostasy based their reasoning on a hadith which proclaims, "kill whoever changes his religion". But this hadith is open to varying interpretations on several grounds.

First, this hadith is considered a weak hadith with just a single isnad (this means there is only one chain of transmission or narration) and thus according to the rules of Islamic jurisprudence, it is not enough to validate the death penalty.

Second, this hadith is also considered a general ('amm) hadith in that it is in need of specification (takhsis); for it would otherwise convey a meaning that is not within its purpose. The obvious reading of the hadith would, for example, make liable the death punishment on a Hindu or Christian who converts to Islam. This is obviously not the intention of the hadith. According to the rules of Islamic jurisprudence, when a text is interpreted once, it becomes open to further interpretation and specification. Therefore, many scholars interpret this hadith to apply only to cases of high treason (hirabah), which means declaring war against Islam, the Prophet, or God or the legitimate leadership of the ummah.

Third, and most importantly, there is no evidence to show that Prophet Muhammad saw or his Companions ever compelled anyone to embrace Islam, nor did they sentence anyone to death solely for renunciation of the faith.

Clairwil
by Bronze Member on Nov. 28, 2012 at 5:41 AM
Quoting Clairwil:

Young activists, albeit often exiled, such as Mr Ghazzali, have become more vociferous about their right not to believe in a God. Organisations abroad for former Muslims are increasingly active, too. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, set up by a group of non-believers five years ago, provides refuge for those who have renounced Islam and tries to “break the taboo” about apostasy.

They have an interesting archive of testimonies from ex-Muslims about their experiences of leaving Islam.  Here are a few that caught my eye:


Clairwil
by Bronze Member on Nov. 28, 2012 at 5:53 AM
1 mom liked this

Here are some of the comments sent to The Economist, in reply to the article:

_______________________________________________________________________

as a Saudi atheist guy, i've always been worried that one day i'll be lynched or get my head chopped-off for not wanting to be a muslim like my parents, I got my degree in IT and i'm good with OSes (Linux/Windows/BSD) and i'm hoping that i'll get to leave this country as soon as i can.

Living here and being surrounded by religion everywhere is getting to me, sometimes I think i'll slip and say something not so-islamic-like and give them the excuse they need to start messing with me.

_______________________________________________________________________

There's a difference between accepting Islam, and rejecting Islam after accepting it or being born into it. In an Islamic state, no one is forced to convert to Islam (although taxes and social pressures can be considered as an influence), but once conversion is done, or if one is born into Islam, then the act of apostasy is akin to treason and so punishable by death. The "no compulsion in religion" only applies to those who have not yet converted to Islam or were never born into it.

This is the overwhelming majority viewpoint among scholars and the 4 Sunni schools as TE mentioned. And they are backed up by authentic hadith sources such as Sahih Bukhari and Muslim.

Remember, without Bukhari and Muslim (the highest hadith authority), the Quran would not make sense. Verses like "Slay the idolaters" and "Do not be friends with the Christians and Jews" would have no context and would seem unjustified. It is from the Hadith that we can clarify the meaning of "slay the idolaters" - we know from hadith that it's referring to a specific battle in a specific time, and that the Quran isn't mandating a universal killing of non-believers. Do you realize Muslims cannot defend these verses without the hadith?

Also, without hadith, we would not know anything about the prophet or his life; we would also not know how to pray, how to fast, etc. So you cannot dismiss the authentic hadith that Messrs Bukhari and Muslim proposed through a rigorous authentication process (chain of narration, alignment with Quran, number of times mentioned, etc).

And so, here is what Sahih Bukhari says about apostasy:

Bukhari (83:37) - "Allah's Apostle never killed anyone except in one of the following three situations: (1) A person who killed somebody unjustly, was killed (in Qisas,) (2) a married person who committed illegal sexual intercourse and (3) a man who fought against Allah and His Apostle and deserted Islam and became an apostate."

Bukhari (89:271) - A man who embraces Islam, then reverts to Judaism is to be killed according to "the verdict of Allah and his apostle."

Bukhari (84:58) - "There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu'adh asked, 'Who is this (man)?' Abu Muisa said, 'He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism.' Then Abu Muisa requested Mu'adh to sit down but Mu'adh said, 'I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice.' Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, 'Then we discussed the night prayers'"

Bukhari (84:64-65) - "Allah's Apostle: 'During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith) and will go out from (leave) their religion as an arrow goes out of the game. So, wherever you find them, kill them, for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.'"

So, given that the authentic hadiths advocate death for apostasy, with NO contradiction from the Quran, and given that both you and I believe it is a breach of human rights, would you still believe in the religion?

If these types of things in Islam disturb your conscience, then you should follow your conscience and consider doubting Islam. This is what happened with me as well. There are so many things in Islam that just didn't sit well with my conscience, and I used to deny the authority of hadith just like you to keep my faith strong. In fact, most ex-Muslim have gone through the phase of rejecting hadith. But then I realized that without hadith, there would be no Islam.

_______________________________________________________________________

I am one of those ex-Muslims, but I have never been able to come out and declare my decision to leave the religion. I would be disowned by family and friends, and I would possibly be a target for extremists who would feel justified to not only vilify me, but also possibly do bodily harm. I commend those who have the courage, and I hope I can join them one day. At the present, I am keeping it to myself.

_______________________________________________________________________

I was born in Pakistan to Muslim parents and am American, gay and atheist. I have lived in London, Paris and New York. I have had zero problems telling Muslims in America or England that I am not a believer, but I have had a much harder time explaining that to my non-Muslim friends. For some reason, Islam has become an ethnicity, culture and race. Just because you were born in a certain country, look a certain way and have a certain name, people automatically assume you are Muslim, even if you are drinking, eating sausages and making out with another man. We need to finish the bias in our societies and realize that Islam is just a religion that depends on believing and faith. And you can be an atheist despite having an Islamic name, "appearance" (whatever that means as Islam so diverse, but I mean the stereotype) etc

It's just like people who are against hyphenated identities. Yet when they ask where are you from and you say Washington, DC, they are the first to ask "where are you REALLY from," "ORIGINALLY from" etc even if you have no accents and are completely acculturated.

_______________________________________________________________________

I am a practicing Muslim. I have a doctorate in engineering from one of the top universities in UK and I have because of work traveled to most countries in Europe and the Americas.
Unfortunately, the issue of belief in the existence of a God and its consequences from the Islamic perspective is highly misunderstood by many. In Islam, this belief is an intellectual one and not emotional. It is based on the invitation to ones mind to ponder the realities around with the intention of finding the truth behind it whatever it is. That is why in the text of the Quran, you find many verses asking people to focus on the environment around them such as the way the mountains are built to balance the earth, the way that a plant grows from a seed and always the same plant from the same seed, the way that life comes out of life such as when a camel gives birth to another etc. Also, it asks people to look into themselves to see how intricate and complex their own selves as humans are. How the ears, the eyes and the nose are designed etc. The whole point is reach a conclusion that there is no way such complex intricate systems just appeared or evolved. It has to have been engineered by a more powerful being. It is to be noted that people who become Muslims in the west are much more attached and observant than the ones who are Muslims by birth because their parents are Muslims. The reason is that they are brought up as Muslims from a young age and mostly do not go through this step of using intellect as the basis for the belief. Thus, this very strong intellectual basis leads to a much more attachment to rules of Islam and that is natural. If people entered Islam following this pondering and thinking stage on their own with no compulsion, it is very highly unlikely they will leave. So why do some leave? the problem usually is NOT because of the belief, it is to do with what that belief will require as action. Let us not forget that humans are filled with inclinations and desires, Islam came to regulate these desires and needs in the best way possible through a balanced sets of rules. Some people tend to go mostly with their whims and desires in an unbalanced way through life and thus will see that some rules are not tolerable such as no drinking alcohol, or no womanizing, or no gambling or the necessity of praying five times a day and also attend Friday prayer instead of watching that important football match etc. That might lead to the rejection in many instances.
So, is it true that whoever becomes a Muslim then leaves is to be punished by death. Yes it is true and I do not make any apology for that whatsoever because it is a confirmed rule, BUT not in the way it is portrayed. First, many attempts are made to reason with such a person to see why is this happening and to clarify any problems that could have caused such behavior. Only as a last resort is such an action taken. Also, this action is to be ordered ONLY by the head of the Islamic state (which does not exist in ANY parts of the world now). He is the only one who has the authority to order such a thing after following due procedures. No one in our current times has the authority to do anything of the sort, no group, individual, or ruler (since they are actually illegitimate from the Islamic perspective). Unfortunately, the article did not bother investigating this side. The four schools of thought did agree on the punishment but this also is linked with the authority of the ruler of the Islamic state since it is his authority.
Finally, life is about decisions in the end, you either follow other people ideas to reach a decision, or you follow your whims and desires to reach a decision, or you are wise and smart to acknowledge after thinking that there has to be a higher being out there and put some effort to investigate what that means for you which will eventually lead you to Islam.

_______________________________________________________________________

Clairwil
by Bronze Member on Nov. 28, 2012 at 6:35 AM
Quoting Clairwil:

Yet other texts have a different message. The Koran’s notably tolerant Sura 109 includes words such as “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”

Sura 109 has an interesting history.   I just spent some time looking at the background, and here's what I found...


Before Islam, the people of Mecca followed the sort of polytheistic religion that was common throughout the whole of Mesopotamia.   Herodotus says of the Arabs: "They deem no other to be gods save Dionysus and Heavenly Aphrodite … they call Dionysus Orotalt and Aphrodite Alilat" . In Sumeria Allatu or 'goddess' is an epithet of Ereshkigal the chthonic goddess of the underworld. Like El and al-Llah which simply means god, al-Lat 'goddess' could be identified with many female deities, and indeed Allat is identified with Aphrodite-Venus . It is said that when Allat became the goddess of the Nabateans, she bacame al-Uzza the 'mighty one' as she evolved from a local deity into a patron of an expanding culture.

So, anyway, Muhammad spent some time in Mecca, and didn't get on well with one of his uncles (Abd-al-Uzza) and the uncle's wife (Umm Jamil bint Harb) who were polytheists.   Indeed, the uncle once threw the entrails of a sacrificed camel over him, and the wife would regularly dump filth outside his door.   One gets the impression that if the uncle and wife lived in modern redneck parts of America, they'd be the sort of neighbour who'd indulge in sneaking over in the morning, dropping their pants, and taking a big dump on the bonnet of the person's car.  Poor Muhammad!

So, this is the background when Muhammad comes up with the Sura of the Unbelievers, which takes the form of an invocation, telling the reader something they must ask for or say aloud:

English Translation by Muhammad Shameem, Mohammad Wali Raazi and Muhammad Taqi Usmani:

    Say, "O disbelievers,
    I do not worship that which you worship,
    nor do you worship the One whom I worship.
    And neither I am going to worship that which you have worshipped,
    nor will you worship the One whom I worship.
    For you is your faith, and for me, my faith."

English Translation by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall:

   Say: O disbelievers!
   I worship not that which ye worship;
   Nor worship ye that which I worship.
   And I shall not worship that which ye worship.
   Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
   Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.

English Translation by Yusuf Ali:

   Say : O ye that reject Faith!
   I worship not that which ye worship,
   Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
   And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,
   Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
   To you be your Way, and to me mine.


Clairwil
by Bronze Member on Nov. 28, 2012 at 12:03 PM
Quoting Clairwil:

In the interests of fairness, I have posted this to our open forum, and I am going to invite posters from the Muslim Moms group to repond to the article.

Welcome to proud2bmom3, and thank you for accepting the invite.

I'm well aware that you know far more about the hadiths than I do, and look forwards to your explanation of the circumstances (if any) under which an apostate ought to be executed and why different countries seem to differ so much upon interpretation of this point.  Do any of them actually get it correct?  If not, why not?  If many of them get it wrong, why do we not hear more from Islamic scholars speaking with one voice trying to get these laws corrected, if they are resulting in people being killed who ought not to be killed?

I'm sure you'll be sensitive to the fact that that is not just an academic issue for us here in the CafeMom atheists group, since there are moms in the group who do live in these countries and do live in fear.

proud2bmom3
by on Nov. 29, 2012 at 3:25 AM

Thank you for the welcome and for the invite..  

I actually have been trying to read the entirety of the article as well as all the comments on it.. I've been having a really hectic couple of days so I am only able to read bits at a time.. forgive me.. I did however read the final remark in this reply and wanted to offer my apologies and sympathies to  your Atheist sisters who are living in fear in some of the Muslim countries..  Islam should not be forced on any one. .. the controversy over killing an atheist is linked mainly to them originally being Muslim or not.. ie, apostasy, vs atheism in itself. 

I saw that there was quite a discussion about apostasy as well. and I do indeed have much to comment on the issue.. but it might have to wait a bit till I'm able to dedicate the time needed at my computer ... 

I just wanted to pop in, thank you for the invite and introduce myself .. I am an Arab American, born Muslim, mom of three , two boys 15 and 12 and a daughter 9 .. I just moved from Louisiana to Jordan after my father in law had a brush with cancer, we decided to come stay closer to family so they enjoy the grandchildren and our kids can benefit from the experience and language as well.. 

I am the owner of Muslim Moms.  and we welcome any and all moms who have any questions about our faith. I thank you again for inviting me to your  home.. see you soon. 

Quoting Clairwil:

Quoting Clairwil:

In the interests of fairness, I have posted this to our open forum, and I am going to invite posters from the Muslim Moms group to repond to the article.

Welcome to proud2bmom3, and thank you for accepting the invite.

I'm well aware that you know far more about the hadiths than I do, and look forwards to your explanation of the circumstances (if any) under which an apostate ought to be executed and why different countries seem to differ so much upon interpretation of this point.  Do any of them actually get it correct?  If not, why not?  If many of them get it wrong, why do we not hear more from Islamic scholars speaking with one voice trying to get these laws corrected, if they are resulting in people being killed who ought not to be killed?

I'm sure you'll be sensitive to the fact that that is not just an academic issue for us here in the CafeMom atheists group, since there are moms in the group who do live in these countries and do live in fear.


Love and salaam (peace)

 (proud2bmom3 Muslim Moms-- Owner. 

Clairwil
by Bronze Member on Nov. 29, 2012 at 4:19 AM
Quoting proud2bmom3:

Islam should not be forced on any one. .. the controversy over killing an atheist is linked mainly to them originally being Muslim or not.. ie, apostasy, vs atheism in itself.

When, technically, does someone actually become a Muslim?

Would a person be accounted a Muslim just by virtue of being born to Muslim parents, or is there something they have to do?  And, if there is something they have to do, what is the youngest age at which they may do this?

ripemango
by on Dec. 3, 2012 at 9:39 PM

Proud2b, when you have the time I do look forward to anything you have to say on the subject. When I was interested in knowing more about Islam and from a more personal perspective, your group was very kind toward me. Thank you!

Quoting proud2bmom3:

Thank you for the welcome and for the invite.. 


I don't know where the sunbeams end and the starlights begin; it's all a mystery.

robibuni
by on Dec. 3, 2012 at 11:37 PM

I find all of this fascinating! I don't really have much to contribute, persay. In one of my Soviet Union classes (from my days as an undergrad), we discussed Islam due to the Stans being Muslim nations primarily, and we got a crash course in Islam. I loved it. So different from a very Christian Texas. I found myself being one of the few in the class who was interested in the subject and not automatically offended at the idea of Islam (which makes me sad quite frankly, considering this is a school of higher learning, whatever!)

I guess I never really considered what Muslims thought about Atheists as its Christians I deal with on a regular basis, here in Texas...great post! I hope to read more!

proud2bemom3, where in Louisiana did you live? I was born and raised in Shreveport, LA :)

 

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