Interview with Arab Atheist

UAE FlagMiddle East Youth website contains an interview with Adel Jalal, a 23 year old business student in Abu Dhabi:

Q: Hi Adel. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: Yes. I’m Adel, a student from the UAE. I love everything about classical Arabic music and I’m addicted to Arabic literature.

Q: Interesting introduction, but I must ask, why do you stress the love of Arab culture so much?
A: I don’t hesitate to describe myself as atheist, but when you describe yourself as such here tell me the first thing that comes to your mind? Probably brainwashed, Satan worshiper, traitor.

Q: True, but that doesn’t really answer the question. Why do you boast about your love of Arab culture, specifically? I noticed that when we first discussed this, you said that you’re an atheist shortly before you tried to convince me that you’re not anti-Arab. Explain to me why you feel the need to do that?
A: Because non-Muslim Arabs are left out. We feel like we have no real space in society, especially in any intellectual field. When I say I’m atheist, people always tell me that I have become traitor. A sell-out. Someone who doesn’t know what it truly means to be “Arab.” Why? Because Arab means Muslim and Muslim means Arab? What does personal religious views have to do with my culture, my past, my identity? An Arab, this is something I am. This is something I take much pride in. Why do people attach my personal opinions to who I am, to my nationality? Does being Arab mean being intellectually identical to every other Arab out there?

Q: Hey, who’s the one asking the questions?! Kidding. I’m very interested in what you’re saying, especially about the left out part, in fact I previously interviewed an Arab Jew who stated just that. It’s a shame really when people aren’t accepting of differences, be it political or religious. So tell me, were you born a Muslim?
A: Yes and raised a Muslim. To be honest this is what drove me against religions.

Q: What do you mean?
A: I mean that religion is everything to a person. Especially when you strictly practice it, it quickly consumes everything you have. If you don’t honestly believe in any religion then you shouldn’t identify yourself as a believer of any religion.

Q: So your choice of being a Muslim has much to do with socialization rather than Islam itself?
A: Precisely. I have a problem with any existing religion that people are forced into. In any normal society there should be a choice, and whatever that choice is, it needs to be respected.

Q: What about Islam? When people learn that you are an ex-Muslim, do they ever imply that you’re anti-Muslim too?
A: Yes even though the connection for me isn’t really there. For a lot of ex-Muslims you will see that they have a major problem with Islam itself most likely due to the societies they live in. My reasons aren’t Islam, in fact I have a bigger problem with Christianity than Islam, and I have no problem with being in a Muslim culture and living around Muslims or being a part of a Muslim family. But I have a problem when someone is offended with my decision of not being a Muslim, and in the Arab world this is a huge problem as I’m sure you know.

Q: Yes, my problem is with Islam being enforced upon people who don’t really accept it but don’t have the balls to say “I don’t want this religion and I don’t respect it.”
A: Exactly and this is what our youth faces today, fear. If they say it they are damned to Hell by not only their families and friends but by society as a whole.

Q: Look at the case of Kareem Amer for example.
A: Yes it’s indeed a very discouraging example of the risks we face if we publicly state anything our society disagrees with.

Q: And that’s exactly why a group of us Muslims are fighting for Kareem despite what he said about Islam … and his main supporters represent Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, and Morocco, so it’s Muslims from all over the Arab world fighting for Kareem. It doesn’t mean we agree with him, it just means that we need to allow these ideas to be stated without people facing harsh consequences, especially a prison sentence!
A: I agree but it’s going to take years for anyone to be really convinced of that. Remember that most Muslims think it’s their duty to silence or kill these types of people; “Kafirs.”

Q: Most Muslims? Come on.
A: Okay, a lot of them.

Q: This is a new generation going through all kinds of experiences… this is the best time ever to start fighting for not only our rights but the rights of others within our communities. Minorities in Arab countries go through a lot and it’s unacceptable. We should be the ones condemning this injustice.
A: Arab Baha’is, now this is a minority that I truly feel for. You know the Baha’i faith is considered a “bullshit religion” here. Most people don’t know what it really is, so throughout the region they lack the most basic rights because people consider them infidels. I think their case in certain countries are worse than that of Jews or Christians.

Q: What do you think about that?
A: I think anyone who attacks others for being different aren’t confident enough to deal with intellectual and religious challenges.

Q: What’s the difference being “careless” and “atheist?” I meet so many people who call themselves atheist when they really mean that they don’t subscribe to any other religion.
A: Yes, for the past two years I used to describe myself as agnostic until I realized that I strongly disbelieve in the existence of any God as there is no real evidence, which is what led me to become an atheist. Religions are all mythical. This is the argument that usually offends others… but I don’t have anything against their views! I’m just saying what I believe and people here go crazy about it.

Q: Yes the problem with us Muslims is that many of us are very emotionally attached… so weird. I’m over-defensive but not obsessively so. My arguments are also entirely emotional and not factual which is really retarded.
A: As long as you respect different people I have no problem with anything you choose to believe in. This level of respect and tolerance isn’t found with ease in our societies.

Q: A lot of Muslims all over the Muslim world would literally kill anyone who disagrees and then they expect progress. In my opinion this isn’t really Islam. By the way, what do you think about Koranic (real) Islam and political Islam?
A: No offense but the fact that there are so many types of Islam only proves that it’s not a real religion but rather one created simply for the sake of social control.

Q: It’s actually very hard to disagree with that when you consider countries like Iran, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, et al, where socio-political instability is being justified as “this is what Islam wants.”
A: It’s a very sad case.

Q: Seriously I don’t get that. There are so many things here being constantly dismissed when religious leaders convince people that this is the Islam that they were born and raised to follow. If they dislike anything about you, what you’re wearing, or what your opinions are, they immediately blame you for being an infidel. And don’t even get me started on justifications of rape.
A: I know, it’s like I can see your hair and I’m very tempted to rape you. Islam gives me that right, it told you to wear a hijab and you didn’t! Now I can rape you and Allah will understand. Heh.

Q: Actually, this is an existing mentality. You find this argument all over. Is it really our fault when men claim they can’t control their raging desires to have sex with any woman who shows her face or hell, even HANDS?
A: My girlfriend is Japanese and she tells me that this same idea exists in their culture too, which is also very male dominant. Of course this is with Geishas, not with hijab. As you know Geishas paint their faces white, and if a man sees a trace of her real skin color, this is considered very tempting! I was surprised when she told me. Whenever we discuss these things it’s really amazing how many similarities we have.

Q: Which goes to show how culture and society aren’t entirely representative of religion.
A: The problem with us is that censorship created a different culture. Even if the government gives you rights to practice any religion freely you will still find trouble fitting in especially if you’re an insider. Like I said with me being an Arab, I feel like I lost 99% of my identity because I’m not Muslim. I know the situation is different in Lebanon and Jordan where non-Muslim Arabs are accepted but with me in the Gulf it’s really different.

Q: Yes Bahrain is the same way. There are many atheists and agnostics here, in Saudi Arabia, in Kuwait, and the Iranians I meet are almost never attached to religion. Many do describe themselves as atheists too as they are strongly against all forms of religion especially if it’s enforced upon them. This is what drives people away from Islam – nobody likes to be forced to believe anything.
A: You will be surprised as to how many people are like me here and feel the way I do but don’t feel comfortable enough sharing these ideas.

Q: And you share them quite comfortably, you even quickly agreed to do this interview, why?
A: To show everyone that Arabs aren’t really what most people say we are especially with regards to our youth. Atheism, converts, apostasy, these are all considered big taboos that’s why we don’t talk about it. People fail to understand us and who we really are when we fail to discuss these things publicly and securely. Everyone thinks we’re so oppressed and that we easily fall for religion or that we are comfortable with our societal and cultural restrictions, but we are so diverse here. Arabs should never be defined as Muslims. We’re all different and fellow Arabs need to learn how to respect this difference instead of trying to make everyone else think the way they do.

Q: Do you find Islam to be a problem that leads to our societal restrictions?
A: Well, a lot of religious Muslims are decent and understand the importance of living in a free and tolerant society. I know that Islam is not our problem. Politics is our weakness and Islam is just an excuse that many of our governments successfully get away with.

Q: Finally, do you consider yourself typical, as in an average young Arab with these types of views?
A: I’m average in every other way except maybe mentally. Well, kind of. A lot of young Arabs like me don’t follow the path of Islam. We only think it’s not average because people don’t talk about it, but it’s so average.

Q: By “don’t follow the path of Islam” you mean they drink alcohol, eat pork, have premarital sex, and do the opposite of what the Koran asks for right?
A: Haha yes.

Q: Hey I’m Bahraini, trust me I know what you mean.
A: It’s ironic isn’t it?

Q: I would say hypocritical, but only if these people still claim to be Muslims… which many do. But if you do all that without subscribing to this religion then why not? Go ahead. And agreeing with you, this lifestyle shouldn’t make anyone less of an Arab. It shouldn’t have anything to do with being an Arab.
A: I actually refuse to drink, have sex before marriage, or eat pork, even if I am not a Muslim anymore. I think it is part of me growing up. But these are decisions that I personally made and am very comfortable with.

Read original interview and comments here

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2 responses to “Interview with Arab Atheist

  1. Its absurd to hear others claim that the only purpose we, as non-believers, have is to destroy religion and society in general. I’m Emirati and I love my country; even though most of them disapprove of me and my beliefs, I still love my country, it’s culture and Middle-Eastern culture in general.
    I’ve went through people trying to force me into admitting that my choices are wrong and should be changed (and I’m not talking about Muslims only). Even when people see me as open, accepting and trustworthy, they turn the other way when they find out my personality; but if they love me (or as they claim) they try to change me.
    Not only am I an Atheist, but I am also Homosexual. What I found shocking among people, especially among my “faithful” straight friends, is that they are more willing to talk about homosexuality than they are over Atheism or Agnosticism; whenever that subject opens, their reactions are always ambiguous.
    I respect my friends and their opinions, but the subject should be discussed more openly so that all stereotypes that revolve around Atheists, Agnostics and non-believers in general are debunked.

  2. Wow!! This is really great to read about atheists in Arab lands. I am from Canada and it is the same here – many who won’t admit to being atheist due to social pressures. In fact, hardly any of the “believers” actually practice their religion faithfully and I bet they would be just as glad to give it all up if they felt free to do so. Family pressures are also a big factor.

    I became atheist when I was 13, after attending church and Sunday school for 12 years, every week. I saw the light, there is no God. What a silly idea, a man in the sky looking out for us as so many humans suffer at the hands of other humans.

    I think most people reject the idea of God, they are just afraid to admit it.

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