Muslims embracing atheism often face a lonely journey

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There was a time in his life when Ibrahim Abdallah thought he was the only Muslim-turned-atheist in the world. Then, at a party, he met a fellow Egyptian and former Muslim, and while the other guests danced, they sat and talked.

And talked and talked.

“I was so happy, and so shocked,” Abdallah, 33, said. “We both felt, ‘I am not the only one.’ It was huge.”

Now, several years later, Abdallah is on a mission to create the kind of safe space for questioning Islam and all matters of faith that he wishes he could have had.

Last May, he founded “Muslim-ish,” a support group for questioning and former Muslims that meets under the auspices of Manhattan’s Center For Inquiry, a humanist organization. The group has about 50 members, both cradle Muslims and converts, and meets twice a month in a secret location.

“Most of these people never saw another ex-Muslim before,” Abdallah said near his Midtown office; bringing a reporter to a meeting was considered too dangerous for some members. “These are people who don’t believe anymore and who have no support.”

It’s support they very much need, Abdallah said, because Muslims who abandon their faith face challenges not faced by those who leave other religions. Divorce and disowning are common, as is the threat of physical violence. Some more conservative Muslims believe Islam sanctions the killing of apostates (those who abandon the faith) and blasphemers (those who belittle Islam, the Prophet Muhammad or other Muslims).

Written By: Kimberly Winston
continue to source article at religionnews.com

23 COMMENTS

  1. This is commendable. These former Muslims are literally risking everything for a better future (for the world). There are likely many just lying low and thinking of themselves (which is understandable), but these are clearly different. Each deserves a medal of honour.

  2. When a Muslim become nonbeliever,according to their religion,he/she will be no longer a Muslim! And as directed by their religion an atheist or nonbeliever or converted to other religion should be punished by killing. The person who will kill a nonbeliever will enjoy perpetual lust in heaven!

  3. There must be millions of people born into islam who want out but know that the price of the exit pass is too high. islam is not a religion. It is the systematic coercion of the masses by a criminally dogmatic tribe of self appointed bigmouth politically motivated clerics.

    • In reply to #4 by Os:

      There must be millions of people born into islam who want out but know that the price of the exit pass is too high. islam is not a religion. It is the systematic coercion of the masses by a criminally dogmatic tribe of self appointed bigmouth politically motivated clerics.

      That sounds like a pretty good description of religion to me.

  4. The mistake may be in the use of terms like ex Muslim and former Muslim. Judaism has adapted to the modern world by saying even if you don’t believe in God, you can still consider yourself Jewish because the Jews are a an ethnic group; a race of people.
    Many of the closeted atheist Muslims around the world might be less fearful of facing the repercussions of coming out if they were still able to identify in some way as Muslim, albeit of the non-believing type.

    Because atheism is such an alien concept in many Islamic countries, I would imagine that much of the hostility directed towards apostates is based on the false assumption that if someone no longer wishes to be Muslim, it must mean they intend to become Jewish or Christian. Apostasy equates to defecting to the enemy camp. If atheist Muslims can convince their families and communities that they haven’t rejected every bit of their culture, and even perhaps that they still think Muhammad is kind of okay, they may find more acceptance.

    (I guess this last part is dependent on how people like Ibrahim feel about the Prophet. Is he a figure of contempt or, as many atheist Christians regard Jesus, just some blameless semi-mythical figure who’s been used for centuries as a tool of oppression?)

    Perhaps Maryam Namazie’s organisation could consider renaming itself the Council of Ex- and Non-Religious Muslims.

    I do hope this thread receives responses from some of the people involved. Stuff like this is the reason I joined RDnet.

    • In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

      The mistake may be in the use of terms like ex Muslim and former Muslim.

      Ibrahim’s “Muslimish” sound OK.

      AAllahist?

      Nohammedin?

      NoMo-ist?

      NoMo?

      Isn’tlamist?

    • Katy

      Muslims have never been from one isolated “race” and they are very keen on being every single race bar none so I think your attempt to give the ex-muslims an easy get out clause would never work from any perspective, especially muslim.

      In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

      The mistake may be in the use of terms like ex Muslim and former Muslim. Judaism has adapted to the modern world by saying even if you don’t believe in God, you can still consider yourself Jewish because the Jews are a an ethnic group; a race of people.Many of the closeted atheist Muslims around the world might be less fearful of facing the repercussions of coming out if they were still able to identify in some way as Muslim, albeit of the non-believing type.”

    • In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

      The mistake may be in the use of terms like ex Muslim and former Muslim. Judaism has adapted to the modern world by saying even if you don’t believe in God, you can still consider yourself Jewish because the Jews are a an ethnic group; a race of people.Many of the closeted atheist Muslims around the world might be less fearful of facing the repercussions of coming out if they were still able to identify in some way as Muslim, albeit of the non-believing type.

      That sounds like nonsense to me. Race is a physical circumstance that you are born into – you can’t help it so it is not fair to criticise you on the basis of it. Religion is an IDEA about which you can change your mind according to the evidence that you see, which makes it fair game for comment, criticism, praise, humiliation, and satire. If you conflate the two you just cloud the issue, and that very same confusion is exhibited by those who accuse us atheists of being “racist” whenever we make fun of islam.

      A Jewish publisher once tried to rope Richard Feynman into such fuzzy thinking (the publisher’s reasoning being that although Feynman no longer believed in any god he was still Jewish by heredity), and Feynman rightfully told the publisher to get lost, pointing out that the Jews of all people should know the dangers of basing identity and worth on heredity and breeding.

    • In reply to #8 by Katy Cordeth:

      The mistake may be in the use of terms like ex Muslim and former Muslim. Judaism has adapted to the modern world by saying even if you don’t believe in God, you can still consider yourself Jewish because the Jews are a an ethnic group; a race of people.Many of the closeted atheist Muslims around the world might be less fearful of facing the repercussions of coming out if they were still able to identify in some way as Muslim, albeit of the non-believing type.

      I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Islam is a very worship and ritual-oriented religion. Subtract those things and to Muslims they may as well be atheists because all they have is a pronouncement (the first tenet of Islam) and no actions or deeds (the remaining four tenets) to match which “prove” they believe . It’s hardly about simply “identifying” as Muslim.

  5. The move toward global democracy has left Abrahamic religions in a position that force them to tolerate derision among their ranks. Christianity, because of its forced acceptance of public religious debate, has become the religion of choice for most democratic countries. The purism of Islam still thrives in most countries controlled by dictatorship. Even those countries are rapidly experiencing confrontation from within due to the proliferation of free access to public media.
    It is only a matter of time before the militancy of pure Islam is brought to submission by the preponderance of democratic debate and forced abatement of Islamic doctrine. U. N. support will only hasten its demise. It’s time the world moved more fervently toward global democracy.

  6. In reply to #10 by alaskansee:

    Katy

    Muslims have never been from one isolated “race” …

    Nor have Jews. From Wiki:

    The Mizrahim for example, are a heterogeneous collection of North African, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern Jewish communities that are often as unrelated to each other as they are to any of the earlier mentioned Jewish groups. In modern usage, however, the Mizrahim are sometimes termed Sephardi due to similar styles of liturgy, despite independent development from Sephardim proper. Thus, among Mizrahim there are Egyptian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Lebanese Jews, Kurdish Jews, Libyan Jews, Syrian Jews, Bukharian Jews, Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews, Iranian Jews and various others. The Teimanim from Yemen and Oman are sometimes included, although their style of liturgy is unique and they differ in respect to the admixture found among them to that found in Mizrahim. In addition, there is a differentiation made between Sephardi migrants who established themselves in the Middle East and North Africa after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s and the pre-existing Jewish communities in those regions.

    • Was that you agreeing to the point or just splitting heirs?

      I could find 2 muslims today and be a muslim tomorrow, I can never be a Jew. Does that help? There is no person on this earth, including RD, that the muslims don’t want on their side. Conversely there is no person on this earth, including RD, that can become a Jew because want to and no person that can become a non-Jew if they are Jewish. See how it works? Your idea would not.

      In reply to #12 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #10 by alaskansee:

      Katy

      Muslims have never been from one isolated “race” …

      Nor have Jews. From Wiki:

      The Mizrahim for example, are a heterogeneous collection of North African, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern Jewish communities that are often as unrelated to each other as they are to any of the earlier mentioned Jewish groups. In modern usage, however, the Mizrahim are sometimes termed Sephardi due to similar styles of liturgy, despite independent development from Sephardim proper. Thus, among Mizrahim there are Egyptian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Lebanese Jews, Kurdish Jews, Libyan Jews, Syrian Jews, Bukharian Jews, Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews, Iranian Jews and various others. The Teimanim from Yemen and Oman are sometimes included, although their style of liturgy is unique and they differ in respect to the admixture found among them to that found in Mizrahim. In addition, there is a differentiation made between Sephardi migrants who established themselves in the Middle East and North Africa after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s and the pre-existing Jewish communities in those regions.

      • In reply to #18 by alaskansee:

        Was that you agreeing to the point or just splitting heirs?

        If this was a deliberate pun, I think Eric Idle may have beaten you to the punch. :)

        I could find 2 muslims today and be a muslim tomorrow, I can never be a Jew. Does that help? There is no person on this earth, including RD, that the muslims don’t want on their side. Conversely there is no person on this earth, including RD, that can become a Jew because want to and no person that can become a non-Jew if they are Jewish. See how it works? Your idea would not.

        Actually, you can be a Muslim this very minute if you so choose. You don’t need to go out and find a couple of ‘made’ Muslims to officiate in some sort of ceremony. At least, I don’t think you do.

        You’re similarly mistaken if you think you can never be a Jew: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Converting to judaism

        • Katy,

          My muslim information was from my nephew who had to convert to marry his muslim girlfriend. This was a Mauritius muslim and a Scottish atheist (I think they met in Germany) so with the greatest respect for Wikipedia, we’ll have to assume that the rules vary from place to place and that I am indeed, in this case and many like it, correct.

          The fact that in the rest of the world you can convert sooner just makes my initial point even stronger – your idea would never work.

          As to the Jewish question, anyone can convert to judaism but that doesn’t make you a Jew. Just ask a Jew. You make the point below in your link – Want to be a Jew? Here’s how to be a judaist! It’s like buying a caravan and thinking you’re a Gypsy.

          You’re skating around your point trying to catch me out on irrelevant details without returning to the initial premise. It’s a no go I’m afraid despite your best intentions.

          In reply to #19 by Katy Cordeth:

          In reply to #18 by alaskansee:

          Was that you agreeing to the point or just splitting heirs?

          If this was a deliberate pun, I think Eric Idle may have beaten you to the punch. :)

          I could find 2 muslims today and be a muslim tomorrow, I can never be a Jew. Does that help? There is no person on this earth, including RD, that the muslims don’t want on their side. Conversely there is no person on this earth, including RD, that can become a Jew because want to and no person that can become a non-Jew if they are Jewish. See how it works? Your idea would not.

          Actually, you can be a Muslim this very minute if you so choose. You don’t need to go out and find a couple of ‘made’ Muslims to officiate in some sort of ceremony. At least, I don’t think you do.

          You’re similarly mistaken if you think you can never be a Jew: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Converting to judaism

          • alaskansee,

            I’m not qualified to speak about the many other instances in which you’ve been correct because I don’t know what they are, but I’ll take your word for it if you like. In this case though, I’m sorry, but no. You seem to have got it into your head that there are true Jews and ersatz ones: those who are genetically Jewish and those who convert. Jewish tradition doesn’t support this.

            Wikipedia again, I’m afraid:

            A righteous proselyte is a Gentile who has converted to Judaism, is bound to all the doctrines and precepts of the Jewish economy, and is considered a full member of the Jewish people. They are to be circumcised as adults (different from Brit milah) and immersed in a mikvah should they wish to eat of the Passover sacrifice.

            You’re probably right that my idea wouldn’t work, but not for any of the reasons you’ve so far offered. Thanks for commenting though and keeping this thread alive; I’m still hopeful that some of those involved will show up, although I’m not holding my breath.

  7. In reply to #13 by Dave H:

    That sounds like nonsense to me. Race is a physical circumstance that you are born into – you can’t help it so it is not fair to criticise you on the basis of it. Religion is an IDEA about which you can change your mind according to the evidence that you see, which makes it fair game for comment, criticism, praise, humiliation, and satire.

    What I was getting at is that the line between race and religion is not as defined as many people think. You say it isn’t fair to criticise someone on the basis of the race they were born into, whereas religious people are fair game because religion is just an idea; it’s essentially a life choice which can be rejected at any time.

    According to modern thinking on biology, though, race has no taxonomic significance: all humans belong to the same species, Homo sapiens. Race is therefore only a social construct. Rather like religion. The faith someone is born into is as much a “physical circumstance” as their supposed race. Very few people get to choose their own religion. Ibrahim Abdallah certainly didn’t.

    • In reply to #15 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #13 by Dave H:What I was getting at is that the line between race and religion is not as defined as many people think. You say it isn’t fair to criticise someone on the basis of the race they were born into, whereas religious people are fair game because religion is just an idea; it’s essentially a life choice which can be rejected at any time.According to modern thinking on biology, though, race has no taxonomic significance: all humans belong to the same species, Homo sapiens. Race is therefore only a social construct. Rather like religion. The faith someone is born into is as much a “physical circumstance” as their supposed race. Very few people get to choose their own religion. Ibrahim Abdallah certainly didn’t.

      I didn’t say religious people were fair game. I said religion (the idea) is fair game. There’s a difference: the first is a personal attack, the other is freedom of speech.

      I take your point that the difference between race and religion is not always cut and dried, but I think that religious authorities intentionally try to blur it to protect their ideas from criticism.

  8. I’ve always been highly suspicious of the polling data which shows how many muslims live in each country, especially middle eastern countries. I think that in reality the number of ‘true’ muslims, ei those who have genuinly chosen to follow islam on their own free will, is far lower than the numbers show. I suspect there are a vast amount of people that call themselves muslim and go along with what’s expected of them but if they were free to choose without any pressure or fear, they’d drop it in an instant. I mean, if you’re living in a country where apostacy means certain death you’d have to be extremely brave or extremely stupid to do anything other than follow the herd. There must be a sea of closeted atheists in these countries.

  9. By the way,

    …Want to be a Jew? Here’s how to be a judaist! It’s like buying a caravan and thinking you’re a Gypsy.

    It’s more like reading a Bible and thinking you can be a Christian, or buying a copy of the Qur’an and deciding to become a Muslim.

    • Thanks, my point was that your idea, as nice as it was, wouldn’t work.

      The 2nd half of sentence regarding my correctness only refers to the subject of the sentence (the 1st half) not all the other times I’ve been correct in your absence! Not sure how that was misleading unless you just have the impression that I’m going around being right all the time? I try.

      I don’t think you’ve improved my analogy either, if I read the bible it doesn’t make me a christian, only if I want to be. If I read the Koran is doesn’t make me an islamist, only if I want to be. But christianity is not islam and neither of these is judaism which certainly isn’t Jewish.

      The muslims can’t remember apostasy either when it suits them. Even the quote you pasted in to convince me is clearly not true. Remember “Israel is a secular state.” Ho ho ho.

      Try emigrating to Israel when they don’t need settlers for occupied territories then let me know how Jewish you really are.

      In reply to #22 by Katy Cordeth:

      By the way,

      …Want to be a Jew? Here’s how to be a judaist! It’s like buying a caravan and thinking you’re a Gypsy.

      It’s more like reading a Bible and thinking you can be a Christian, or buying a copy of the Qur’an and deciding to become a Muslim.

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