So here I am, an atheist born into a Muslim family and living in a predominantly secular country. Am I free from any religious oppression and obligations? Oh no.
The fact that the word "Islam" appears on my Egyptian ID card apparently means that I'm confined in an immaterial prison cell for the rest of my days. Due to my imposed religion, I'm being incessantly asked to cease this folly called atheism and to get back to being an obedient little Muslim. I should just flock with the rest of the sheep and quit straying away.
Once a Muslim, Always a Muslim (supposedly)
A few days ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance who was well aware that I'm originally from the Middle East, just like he is. He inquired about my religion and I replied truthfully, since I doubted that admitting to being an atheist would have any important consequences in France. He apparently had trouble wrapping his mind around my answer.
"So are you Muslim or Christian?" he continued, seeming both shocked and confused.
"I don't follow any religion," I insisted, "but I was born to Muslim parents, if that's what you want to know."
I was given a speech about how it was my duty to obey Allah, to conform to Islam and all that blah blah I've heard before. Why do I have this duty? Because I was born Muslim, that's why. That's a sufficient reason apparently.
I could very well have lied and said that I was a practicing Muslim. I certainly have enough sense to say that I'm Muslim when in Egypt, where atheism can provoke a veritable scandal. But here I was, free to express myself without any major repercussions. Why not tell the truth?
Islam is very much like a Clan
This conversation isn't peculiar. I've had quite a few like these. It feels like my life has been predefined. Why is it that I should constantly be reminded that I was born Muslim, as if it were the sole foundation of my life? And why should straying sheep be immediately brought back to order?
Because Islam functions like a clan. You should stay faithful and help perpetuate it. It's a closely intertwined tribe whose conservative rules follow you around in order to suffocate you. Here are a few points which should help illustrate Islam's tribal nature.
Marriage, a Contract set by Faith
First of all, there is marriage. This is a contract which aims to create more faithful little Muslims.
"Do not marry idolatresses unless they believe; a believing woman is better than an idolatress, even if you like her. Nor shall you give your daughters in marriage to idolatrous men, unless they believe. A believing man is better than an idolater, even if you like him." - 2:221 Rashad
Islamic scholars interpret this verse as stating that Muslims should only marry other "believers" (aka Muslims) in order to remain within the tribe and help it expand. Faith is an important factor when choosing a wife or a husband.
Interfaith marriages are permitted in Egypt, but not those between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man. That's because children legally take after their father's religion, as stated in Sharia law.
A Muslim woman represents an opportunity to help the tribe expand, so why let her stray? She must marry a Muslim man, or one who converts to Islam, and raise her children to be Muslims. This is designed to ensure that the Islamic faith will remain undiluted through the ages.
A Muslim man will obligatory pass on his religion, so he can marry whom he pleases. This will inevitably result in Muslim offspring, and will aid in expanding and consolidating the tribe.
Quranic Law: A Daily Ordeal
Now that they made sure that Muslims will never cease to procreate, strong measures are employed in order to keep them in the herd. Basically, Muslims should remain faithful and obedient. Their life purpose is to love and serve God. A Muslim's basic duties consist in recognizing Allah as their sole leader, and Muhammed as his Messenger:
“Your lord has ordained that you must not worship anything other than Him” - Al-Isra 17:23
“Take only what the Messenger gives to you and desist from what he forbids you" - Al-Hashr 59:7
So apparently you should live, eat and breathe Islam. It's an omnipresent part of your everday life.
Apostasy: The Black Sheep who Stray Away
Still not convinced that Islam is a clan which requires lifetime adherence? Consider this fact—you are not allowed to leave it. Apostasy in Islam refers to someone who was born Muslim but who rejects this imposed faith. It can have severe consequences, ranging from general hatred to the death penalty depending on your location. Many consider it a declaration of war on Islam (ahem).
A Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2012 showed that 84% of Egyptian Muslims believe that those who leave Islam should be punished by death. So yes, you should die if you dare not live up to the word printed on your ID card by force: Islam.
Even if your apostasy doesn't make it to the courts, don't worry—your relatives will probably take care of you. Mohamed Hegazy, an ex-Muslim who wanted to be recognized as Christian as he believed that Islam wasn't consistent with his beliefs, received death threats from both family members and prominent Islamic figures.
Not Convinced by Islam
As you can see, Islam functions very much like a clan. You need to stay faithful and to help it grow, or suffer the horrific consequences. The stated religion on my ID card is very much a curse some wicked fairy placed on me shortly after birth.
Atheism is not rebellion or a momentary folly, it's a realization. The law and the general opinion can both try to set obligations and boundaries, but they can't influence my beliefs, or my lack of beliefs. I still have control over my thoughts.