Richard Dawkins’ bestselling nonfiction book “The God Delusion” has not only been translated into Arabic by Iraqi translator Bassam Al-Baghdadi, but its pdf version has also been downloaded 10 million times, with at least 30 percent of all downloads being made in Saudi Arabia. According to Al-Baghdadi, a resident of Sweden, more than 1,000 downloads took place on the first day itself, immediately after he had uploaded the pdf version of the text, thus making it available for readers online. Apparently, the numbers kept climbing as the translation continued to be shared on websites, forums and blogs of prominent Arab atheists.
In his translation of “The God Delusion”, Al-Baghdadi added the phrase “This book is banned in Islamic countries” right below the title. Naturally, his move prompted unprecedented debate in both Saudi Arabia as well as other Muslim countries. After being accused of conspiring with Zionists to corrupt the youth, Al-Baghdadi started to receive death threats. That is when he decided to close all of his social media accounts and discontinue posting online for a while.
“It is fortunate and wonderful that the banning of books in the Arab and Islamic worlds is no longer feasible in our new age of information. I was able to read the book while I was still in Morocco, where I was born. Some atheist friends even managed to get hold of the book in Saudi Arabia. The dark times of censorship, in which knowledge for the people was confined to carefully curated books and resources, are gone and will never return,” wrote author and activist Kacem El Ghazzali, while explaining how important technology is for today’s generation.
It need not be mentioned how futile attempts have repeatedly been made to hinder the wave of reason, which has slowly but steadily found its way to Arab shores. For instance, Al-Azhar University in Cairo even published a book titled “The Atheism Delusion” to counteract every claim that Dawkins’ book makes.
Speaking to Atheist Republic, Ghazzali claimed even though he had chanced upon Dawkins’ other works during his childhood, his respect and admiration for the evolutionary biologist stemmed from his first reading of the Arabic translation of “The God Delusion”.
“I began to seek out his articles, and his documentaries on YouTube. Reading ’The God Delusion’ made me uneasy at the start. Even though I was by then already a freethinker, free from religious dogma, the book touched me deeply and had a profound influence on the shaping of my thoughts and ideas. The more I read the more I felt that I had a deep agreement with the author, and even a personal connection, as though the book had been written by somebody I knew closely. I felt as if he was speaking my inner thoughts and doubts,” said Ghazzali.
According to him, “The God Delusion” provokes readers to think rationally, so they can shatter misconceptions and rebut longstanding arguments in favor of creationism.
“It was an important milestone in my intellectual journey to freedom, and as big a milestone in my personal life,” he said.
Ghazzali hails from a religiously conservative family and was taken out of school for a year so he could study the Koran and Islamic jurisprudence to fulfill the wishes of his grandfather, who wanted him to become an imam upon growing up. Apparently, it was this intensive study of Islam that resulted in his eventual abandonment of the religion.
“I read ‘The God Delusion’ when I was in high school. The name Richard Dawkins, along with those of other great thinkers, became synonymous to me with rationality and freedom of thought. I admired the concepts of free thought and expression, concepts that Western writers and their readers take for granted but which are taboos and even crimes in the world I came from,” Ghazzali said. “Those who have never lived under such circumstances may find it difficult to understand or appreciate that feeling. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Richard Dawkins, and to others who guided my journey from the hells of religious dogma to the oasis of free thought and enlightenment.”
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