Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Atheists in Islamic Countries

I found this article in this week's Economist magazine titled No God, not even Allah -- Ex-Muslim atheists are becoming more outspoken, but tolerance is still rare.  I thought I'd share some of the highlights of the piece.
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.
 Is anyone else surprised that the draft constitution of Egypt ignores the Hinduism and Buddhism? It seems the over one billion adherents between the two faiths don't cut the proverbial mustard. To me this doesn't make any sense. I can understand why some Muslims want Jews to be around in Egypt (who doesn't want a ready to persecute scapegoat around?), but Christianity seems to me much more insulting to Islam than the idea of a Hindu god riding around on a giant rat.

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. 
It stands to note that the Arab spring isn't making things any easier on the godless in those countries, either.

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. 
Democracy is often mistaken to mean mobocracy. The sad thing is this confusion is often found in America (though not taken to such an intense degree, thanks to our constitution). For example, when you hear that the majority of people in so-and-so red state have voted against gay marriage please take note that the mob has spoken.
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.
While scientists make progress on a variety of fronts, the religious can't figure out whether or not it's OK to kill apostates? Wait, maybe Muslims should set up a double blind study and publish the results in The Journal of Batshit Craziness?

This is Purgatory.

(Yes, that is one of my chickens in the meme.)


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