There are indications that atheism is on the rise in the Arab world. This rise is alarming enough to force many Arabic TV channels to admit it and discuss it in several shows, which is very unusual in media that normally highlights the spread, not the recession of Islam. The spread of atheism across the Arab world is an extraordinary development to say the least, considering that the process of Islamic radicalisation has been going strong, fast and unopposed for decades.
Obviously, the scale of the ‘problem’ is different from one country to another. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia seems to be the country affected most with 5% of the population(1) identified as atheists! That is in the country where Sharia is meticulously implemented and considered by many Islamists as the model to emulate.
In another interesting finding, 12.5% of the Egyptian youths admitted to be atheists. This is according to a poll of 6000 Egyptian youths carried out by Al Azhar, the most prestigious Islamic institution, and reported by Sheikh Ali Goma, the former Grand Mufti of Egypt (2)
This spread of atheism was discussed increasingly in many Arabic TV channels. It was extraordinary to see many young atheists who were happy to appear on television and speak about their experiences without any barriers, coverings or pseudo names! Being raised to believe that any sign of departure from the orthodox Islam is potentially lethal, I am amazed and filled with astonishment at the bravery of those young Arabs.
So, what is happening to the Arabs?
Is there a change in culture?
Is Islam now more tolerant than it used to be?
How do we explain that millions of Muslims can abandon their religion and still live, unharmed, in their Muslim societies?
Islam has not changed
Islam is Islam; it doesn’t change. It is intolerant today just as it has always been. As for the Arabs, it is only natural for them to experience some change in culture especially after what they have been through in the last few decades.
The above studies focused on Arab youths because they are considered ‘vulnerable’. Older people are generally assumed to be immune to the ‘sin’ of atheism because of their wisdom and maturity. Atheism at middle age is not considered a passing phase resulting from ignorance but a blatant anti Islamic act that can not be tolerated.
In the Middle East, societies normally accept the so called “Muslims by name” people. Most parents may struggle with one or more of their children who refuse to observe prayers and fasting. The parents assume the condition to be a temporary phase that many people go through before Allah guides them to the straight path of Islam. The parents may have been through a similar phase of rebellion when they were young. As a matter of fact, many of those who enjoyed a liberal life style and indulged in ‘Islamic sins’ when they were young have surrendered to Islamic control as they aged. They even made efforts to make up for years they ‘wasted’ in the Jahylyia, or the stage of ignorance, as they start to call that liberal phase of their lives.
Such temporary tolerance to young age immorality does not make young atheists completely safe in the Islamic society. Often they are harassed, bullied and physically attacked even by their own relatives or parents. Indeed, those brave atheists who appeared on TV have already been subjected to various degrees of intimidation, harassment and physical attacks. As a matter of fact, they were ill treated and suppressed by their hosts and opponents alike when they appeared on their shows.
The bravery of those young men and women should be admired but they should not become complacent about their safety. All of those young men and women who were happy to reveal their identities were Egyptians who still live in Egypt. None from Saudi Arabia, which is understandable. The political upheaval of the last few years gave the Egyptians an unfamiliar sense of a curious freedom, which the liberals overestimated. The Muslims’ society may experience some swings in its mood depending on the political environment but Islam remains the same. It is paramount in Islam not tolerate offences, criticism or to those who abandon the religion.
Muslims leave their religion because of Islam
Years ago, I predicted in this article (3) that Islam will lose because of the Internet, which poses a formidable intellectual challenge that Islam cannot stand up to. The reports about atheism in the Middle East are interesting but they do not mean a change is imminent. However, they highlight another interesting reason that drives Muslims away from their religion, which is Islam itself.
The faster spread of atheism in Egypt and Saudi Arabia says it all. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule for only one year was all the Egyptians needed to say enough is enough and start questioning the authenticity of their religion. In Saudi Arabia, the ridiculous implementation of Sharia motivated an important slice of the society to question the authenticity of Islam.
Arabic TV and atheism
I watched, on the Internet, a video of a TV show hosting a young atheist and a professor from Al Azhar (4). From the beginning, the host’s introduction and the input of the professor focused on the reasons that make a human go astray in life and become atheist. They assumed atheism is a mental disorder and linked it to social and psychological problems. They embarked on questioning the young atheist to find out what kind of social disorder forced him to choose atheism (and become mad). It was a laughable show where the two Muslims, who believed in a book that teaches the earth is flat and ants (and birds) can speak were questioning the integrity of a man who believed in science and rejects all those inanities.
In another video (5), the host demonstrated the Muslims’ extraordinary bonding with Mohammed. She started by explaining to her audience why, in the previous episode, she asked her atheist guest to leave the studio. Her explanation was something like this: “the guest was an atheist, which was his problem not mine but he also believed that the prophet and Quran’s stories were all asateer (myths)!”
Obviously, that lady believed that atheists, who do not believe in God, still believe in prophets and scriptures!
The Arab media can talk about atheism and atheists. The big fact is that those atheists are actually ex Muslims; people who studied Islam and rejected it, but the Arab media quiver with fear on handling the proper name. Muslims and their media do not like the name ex Muslims because it means rejection (which implies humiliation) of Islam. Atheism is a universal thing based on denying the existence of God, it does not target Islam in particular, therefore, less insulting. It looks bizarre but true that God is secondary in Islam. God is not thought of as a purely Islamic concept because all people have Gods. This is why Muslims are not sensitive to articles, cartoons or jokes that ridicule God. In the West, God has been being ridiculed in books, newspapers and theatres for a very long time but Muslims didn’t care. This is a logical oddity that only fits Muslims, it is how they think and how their scholars teach them.
It has to be said that, on watching ex Muslims on Arabic TV, the debate never moved beyond God’s existence. The ex Muslims find themselves engaged in that philosophical debate about God, probably with the hope that the next question will be about Islam but the debate never goes that far. In the few occasions when it did, as in the example above (4), the guest was forced out of the studio.
With such debates, the Muslim audience get a false impression that Islam won the session, which is another bizarre Islamic deduction: if you can not disprove the existence of God, then Islam is the right religion! I also noticed this pattern of debates here in the West. The Muslims often stick to the issue of God’s existence and the origin of the universe, giving the impression that it is the only objection to accepting Islam.
My advice is: when debating Muslims, leave God alone and focus on Islam.
3) Islam will lose, so will the West