Nonbelievers Navigating the Middle East

Let’s Dive In: Picture this – you’re in the Middle East where religion is like the beat to your favorite song, but what if you’re not feeling the rhythm? What if you’re a nonbeliever, an agnostic, or an atheist? Well, in the Middle East and North Africa, or the MENA region, it’s like having a secret identity. You know, like being a superhero without the cape.

Behind the Scenes: A Sneak Peek into Nonbelievers’ Lives

Acting the Part: Imagine a Tunisian lady fasting during Ramadan, not because she’s super into it spiritually, but more to keep up appearances. Or an Iraqi woman who used to rock a hijab until she decided it wasn’t her vibe anymore. There’s even this dude in Egypt, still officially “Muslim” on his ID card, even though he’s not feeling the label.

Juggling Double Lives: Now, the real struggle kicks in. A 27-year-old Tunisian spills the beans, saying she’s leading a double life to avoid daily conflicts. For her, it’s a game – a game of keeping the peace.

Risks and Repercussions: The Fear Factor

Hiding the Real You: Nonbelievers aren’t just sitting around twiddling their thumbs; they’re scouting the internet for like-minded folks. But going digital doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows. There’s still that fear of the unknown, of what might go down if their real beliefs are out in the open.

Blame Game: In the Middle East, where religion is woven into the very fabric of life, not believing is often linked to being seen as, well, kinda immoral. It’s like saying you can’t talk about rights if you’re considered a danger to society. So, people are cautious; society can be pretty harsh.

Arab Spring’s Ripple Effect: A Window of Visibility

Social Media to the Rescue: Remember the Arab Spring in 2011? It wasn’t just about political change; it lit a spark for nonbelievers too. An Egyptian agnostic, Hany Elmihy, grabbed the moment and started a Facebook group for fellow Egyptians without strong ties to religion. But being visible came with a price – insults, threats, and attacks.

Hopes Dashed: Elmihy tried changing his ID card to reflect his true beliefs. No dice. Feeling like a lone wolf, he left Egypt in 2015 and now calls Norway home. Despite having mixed feelings about his advocacy, Elmihy believes it was crucial to let society know that nonbelievers are out there.

Cracking Down and Combatting Atheism

Anti-Atheism Moves: Post-Arab Spring, Egypt saw some counter-moves. The youth ministry teamed up with religious bodies in 2014 to fight atheism. Even Islamic and Christian institutions joined in. The vibe? Atheism might be a sin, but the authorities aren’t there to play belief police.

Freedom vs. Responsibility: Al-Azhar, the big Sunni Muslim learning hub in Cairo, set the record straight. While they think non-religious folks are committing a sin, they’re not there to be the belief police. Abbas Shouman from Al-Azhar makes it clear – nonbelievers have the right to defend their beliefs but not to attack others’.