Keeping It on the Down-Low: Nonbelievers Navigating the Middle East

What’s the Deal: In the Middle East, where religion is basically your daily bread, being a nonbeliever is like having a secret identity. Lots of folks in the Middle East and North Africa, or MENA, choose to keep their non-religious beliefs under wraps to avoid the drama – be it social, family, or even government-level drama.

Behind the Scenes: Sneak Peek into Nonbelievers’ Lives

Playing Pretend: Imagine this – a Tunisian woman fasting during Ramadan, not for spiritual reasons but to keep up appearances. Or an Iraqi lady who used to sport a hijab until she decided it wasn’t her vibe anymore. Then there’s a guy in Egypt, still officially “Muslim” on his ID card, even though he’s not feeling it.

Juggling Acts: The struggle is real for many nonbelievers in MENA. A 27-year-old Tunisian spills the beans, saying she’s living a double life to avoid daily conflicts. For her, it’s better to play the game than face the heat.

Risks and Repercussions: The Fear Factor

Keeping It Under Wraps: Nonbelievers aren’t just sitting around; they’re cruising the internet for like-minded souls. But going digital doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows. There’s still a fear of the unknown, of what might happen if their real beliefs are exposed.

Pointing Fingers: The Middle East, known for its rich religious tapestry, often links a lack of belief with immorality. It’s like you can’t talk about rights if you’re considered a danger to society. People are cautious; society’s views can be harsh.

Arab Spring’s Ripple Effect: A Peek of Visibility

Social Media Hustle: 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, seized the moment and started a Facebook group for fellow Egyptians without religious ties. But visibility came at a cost – insults, threats, and attacks.

Fading Hopes: Elmihy tried changing his ID card to reflect his true beliefs. No dice. Feeling isolated, he left Egypt in 2015 and now calls Norway home. Despite the mixed feelings about his advocacy, Elmihy believes it was crucial to let society know that nonbelievers exist.

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 combat atheism. Islamic and Christian institutions even joined in. The sentiment? Atheism might be a sin, but authorities aren’t there to play the belief police.

Freedom vs. Responsibility: Al-Azhar, Cairo’s seat of Sunni Muslim learning, clarified its stance. While they believe non-religious folks are committing a sin, their role isn’t to play the belief police. Abbas Shouman from Al-Azhar emphasizes that nonbelievers have the right to defend their beliefs but not to attack others’.