What is worse than not eating or drinking for several hours a day in countries that have blistering temperatures for an entire month because of a person’s religious beliefs, is perhaps having to do the same to avoid jail. Atheists in Muslim countries often find themselves concealing their lack of faith during Ramadan for the sake of their own safety because atheism is considered blasphemous, a sin for which one deserves to and is likely to be jailed. However, a growing number of non-believers from across Muslim nations are now speaking out about how unfair it is for them to pretend to be abstaining just as much as believers or in some cases, actually do so in fear of being punished for blasphemy.
Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims during which believers are prohibited from eating, drinking, having sex and indulging in other forms of pleasure from dusk to dawn for a period of 30 days. At sunset, the ritualistic fast is broken with large communal feasts being conducted. However, for those in the Middle East and other Muslim nations, renouncing the notion of God and declaring oneself an atheist can lead to grave consequences, a situation that seems rather difficult to cope with during Ramadan, when Muslims are expected to begin their fast and end it as a communal event. Not abstaining along with fellow Muslims may not only lead to one being alienated by friends and family but also attract harsher punishments like death threats from state authorities.
“The constant threat of being caught not fasting, which carries severe punishment of lashings and up to a year in prison, makes one vigilant and worried. Ramadan is like Christmas but you are forced to go to Mass and say your prayers, by law. Ramadan as a cultural event is somewhat pleasant, there is a great feeling of festivity with family gatherings and lots of food. After sunset however, the negative aspect for atheists is the enforcement of fasting and the feeling of self-loathing of having to perform religious rituals when one utterly does not believe in them. I feel stifled. Religion is the only way of life here. It controls every aspect of society. From the laws to the behavior of people, to the way people see and evaluate morality, culture and relationships. I feel it is my humanistic duty to inform, educate and breakdown the myths and superstitions of religion and the damage they cause our societies,” said an anonymous atheist based in Jeddah Saudi Arabia who tweets @mol7d_Arabi.
Another atheist who runs the well-known website Arab Atheists Broadcasting Center said non-believers have to be very careful about the things they say and the way in which they conduct themselves during Ramadan because the slightest doubt can lead to unnecessary interrogations and harassment.
A third person asking to be referred as his alias John Silver said he secretly rebels against the holy month of Ramadan.
“I stay at work without food but every now and then I go to the bathroom to drink water, and when I’m going in the morning to work, I go to a hidden place in the car and take a small sandwich. Should I be found out, I will lose my job and maybe they will arrest me and put me in jail or they will throw me out of the country. I’m originally from Syria.”
Angry and frustrated with the current situation, activists in Muslim countries have started to defy conventions by adopting a more public stance online, a trend that began to emerge during mid-2000s. Organizations like the Arab Atheists Broadcasting Center have been on an ardent mission to translate relevant books and produce educative documentaries so they can make more people aware about atheism.
In at least seven countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Maldives and Mauritania, atheists can be sentenced to death for their lack of faith in God while in other countries like Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh and Kuwait, promoting atheistic views is considered blasphemous. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia passed a new set of laws declaring atheists as terrorists.
Photo Credit: New York Times