News / Middle East

Egypt's Atheists Struggle to be Heard, Not Jailed

Egypt's Atheists Struggle to be Heard, Not Jailedi
X
December 05, 2013 5:23 AM
In Egypt, key points of difference often revolve around religion. These central questions often leave little room for those who have no religious beliefs. VOA's Elizabeth Arrott has more from Cairo.
Egypt's Atheists Struggle to be Heard, Not Jailed
Elizabeth Arrott
In Egypt, key points of difference often revolve around religion: did the rule of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi threaten to radicalize the deeply conservative country? Will minority Christians find the protection they have so long sought? These central questions often leave little room for those who have no religious beliefs. As Egypt undergoes profound change, atheists are trying to be heard, arguing tolerance could be a true test of Egyptian modernity.

Across Egypt, from the call to prayer sounding from the mosques five times a day, to the sermons of Christian churches, religion permeates daily life.

For most, it is a faith that must be never broken. Leaders of the nation's Christian minority make it almost impossible for Christians to leave the church. For Egypt's Muslims, a Pew Research survey finds nearly 90 percent believe those who leave Islam should be killed.
  • Former Christian Milad Soliman says he became an atheist after he entered university. He still has a small Coptic cross tattooed on his wrist, Oct. 25, 2013, Cairo. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
  • Former Muslim Ismail Mohamed says he has to work at his family's laundromat because it is impossible for him, as an atheist, to be employed anywhere else, Oct. 25, 2013, Cairo. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
  • Former Salafi Muslim Ahmed Hussein did not know what an atheist was until he first opened a Facebook account at the age of 27, Oct. 25, 2013, Cairo. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
  • Former Christian Ayman Ramzi is the lone atheist in his family. His wife and daughter are practicing Christians. He jokes, "They have their church and I have my Facebook." Oct. 25, 2013, Cairo. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)

Recently, four men who believe in neither Islam or Christianity - or indeed any religion - met to discuss the difficulties of being atheist in Egypt. They are well aware of the dangers, but they want to speak out - not against religion, but for their right to not have one.

Ahmed Hussein, from a strict Salafi Muslim family, began to have religious doubts as a teen. He told others only in recent years.

Watch related video of interview with Egyptian atheists:

VOA's Elizabeth Arrott interviews Egyptian atheistsi
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
Elizabeth Arrott
December 06, 2013 2:22 AM
VOA's Elizabeth Arrott interviews Egyptian atheists

Hussein describes how his mother simply collapsed at the news. His sheikh sent him to a psychiatrist, who said he was not insane - just an atheist. His sheikh rejected the diagnosis.

Hussein describes how his sheikh insisted that he suffered the “sickness of doubt.” He believes his sheikh made that up to protect him from the death sentence apostasy can be. The state does not criminalize atheism as such, but its law against “insults to religion” often amounts to the same thing.

The jailing of online atheists led Ismail Mohamed, at the time a moderate Muslim, to explore the subject. He knew little about atheism but the arrests seemed to him unfair.

Mohamed said online research was the first spark to understanding of not just atheism, but science as well. In school, he said, evolution was mentioned, but only to serve religious principles.

For the other two in the group, Milad Soliman and Ayman Nakhla, both former Christians, questions also led to exploration. The Internet opened a new world, bringing together people - their exact numbers unknown - who thought they were alone.

A few days after speaking with VOA, Ismail Mohamed went further - appearing on Egyptian television.

He was pilloried by the host and call-in guests, but his very appearance was a breakthrough. Political analyst and long-time rights advocate Hisham Kassem couldn’t believe his eyes.

“This man, young man, was sitting there confidently making his case. I was sitting there amazed. I never thought I will see this in my lifetime,” said Kassem.

However, there are many hurdles still to be overcome. Ayman Nakhla was among a group of atheists calling for the new draft constitution to be secular - a request rejected out of hand. Political sociologist Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo expects a greater divide between religion and the state in the future, but perhaps not now.

“You need to have the separation of the state and the church [religion], But it needs a lot of education and a lot of enlightenment and I think it is happening already,” said Naklha.

The former Salafist Hussein agrees, and predicts that Egypt's younger generation is already more open to the idea because of their willingness to talk with one another openly, both in person and online.

But even as these four men try to help educate others on the universal right to freedom of thought and belief, their fellow atheists continue to be jailed.

You May Like

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: maggie from: canada
December 06, 2013 1:17 PM
Ok these people are free to believe whatever. I am a Muslim and I am happy in my faith. Neither Islam or Christanity are dangrrous ...people just lack knowledge. Anyways freedom to all.


by: pop from: egypt
December 05, 2013 6:04 PM
Islam is the cancer of this world ... wake up .. I live in Egypt .. for me Christianity is a superstitious like Islam but its not that dangerous .. Islam is so so so so so so dangerous.

In Response

by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
December 06, 2013 1:01 AM
Pop, please do not try to show that only Islam is more cancerous than Christianity, that's a lie! Both religions are equally dangerous, equally evil and furthermore, equally bogus !


by: Muhamad from: Egypt
December 05, 2013 10:59 AM
they call themselves "Atheists" ?? they look like something else to me...


by: Amr Aladdin from: Finland
December 05, 2013 10:30 AM
Proud to have you as friends, guys! Speak up and someday people will not have to leave Egypt for freedom.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid