by Hakim Khatib
Authoritarian regimes and religious institutions in the Muslim majority world see eye-to-eye on the topic of atheism. United by their fear of losing control over their populations and their desire for conformity, consecutive governments have pushed for unfair restrictions on their subjects’ beliefs since their inception. But even in society, non-belief remains a taboo. Should atheists in Muslim majority world become more vocal?
With the increasing number of persecution and punishment cases as well as discrimination campaigns against atheists in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa, another question arises as to whether Islam establishes discriminatory demarcations to atheism or there are other factors that play a crucial role.
Since March 2018, the Parliamentary Committee on Religion in Egypt has been preparing a bill to criminalise atheism in Egypt. This move is one of many Egypt has recently undertaken to combat atheism. The proposed law consists of four articles. The first article defines Egyptian state’s understanding of atheism; the second criminalises atheism and imposes severe punishments upon atheists; the third stipulates that the penalties are lifted when a person abandons his/her atheistic beliefs, and the fourth is that the penalties for atheism prescribed by law should be “very strict”.
As If There Is One Islam
It is not inaccurate to say that there is no one version of Islam that we can speak of. There are different, and sometimes competing and conflicting interpretations of Islam. Therefore, to be speaking of Islam’s tolerance or intolerance of atheism and other religions is more likely to be futile. It is futile because there is no unified definition of Islam that applies to the beliefs of the majority of those who describe themselves as Muslims. Thus, a representative version that encompasses all Muslims is simply a myth.
Thus, a phrase such as “in my version of Islam” is very common in Muslims’ narratives. In this sense, there are Muslims, who tolerate freedom of religion and even protect it, while others trample such freedom under their feet.
In fact, there are several contradicting verses on atheists and nonbelievers in the Quran. There are verses in the Quran such as “there is no compulsion in religion,” which emphasizes the freedom of choice. However, there are other verses in the Quran that argue otherwise such as “fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and his messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the scripture (Jews and Christians).”
While Islam itself does not speak, its scriptures provide precepts for social inclusion and exclusion. It is the task of Muslims to organize and communicate the scriptures in order to bring them to life in a pluralistic society.
Regimes Thrive for Conformity