Opinion – The right to have faith vs the right to atheism

By Ahmed Assid

I have received two different announcements via WhatsApp from two different conferences; the first covers the subject on “neo-atheism in relation to psychological and cognitive causes” which is the theme of a recent meeting in Casablanca, while the second covers “Methods to deal with atheists’ suspicions”, which is also the theme for another conference in Tetouan.

Both events were attended by a group of scholars representing political Islam mainstream as well as Islamic law (Sharia’a).

It is unlikely for Islamists to accept “atheism” as a topic for reflection, instead of resorting to anti-blasphemous methods promoting violence and savage provocation. Holding a conference to enable dialogue and debate shall be considered a laudable thing, however, the following remarks are to be disputed:

1) The word “atheism” (in Arabic language) stands for deflection and deviation from law, blindness and misguidance, which are negative connotations created by believers and therefore involve many value judgments, in the sense that they judge others only because they are different, while granting believers the right to claim themselves superior and use negative connotations to describe others, although reality might reflect quite the opposite.

On the other hand, Islamists often confuse “atheism” and “non-religionism” while these two concepts are totally different. “Atheism” is a categorical denial of divinity and metaphysical principles, whereas non-religionism is based on the questioning of existing religions, in the sense that they are very far from convincingly proving the idea of divinity as an absolute transcendent truth that believers claim. Therefore, most non-religious people fail to find a definitive answer to this subject matter, and only emphasize that religions in their popular form, including their paradoxes and contradictions, are human-made.

2) Given their proper names and ideological affiliations, it becomes obvious that most participants are only open to discussing “atheism” from a politicized faith point of view, whereas it would be difficult to understand such subject matter without an objective scientific view, on one hand, and the atheist point of view, on the other hand. Many things can be said about atheists that may not be quite accurate or do not even exist. Hence, the organizers should have thought of inviting a few “atheists” to hear them out and allow them to respond to all “suspicions” that weigh on them. Perhaps talking about “atheists” in their backs is part of the traditions of ancient religious teachings. For instance, “Ibn Al Rawandi”, who is Atheist, wrote 114 books of which we have received none, for most of his readers came to learn about him today only through the reactions of his opponents.

However, we tend to find excuses for Islamists for not establishing a real dialogue, since society where they live does not accept atheists and does not allow them to speak. Besides, it is safe to say that Islamists are responsible, alongside the oppressive authorities, for the miserable situation that has plagued Muslims everywhere by contributing to society’s high levels of ignorance and regimentation, pushing people to not behave accordingly at a time where confusion and turmoil have become more prominent in relation to reflection, civic awareness and dialogue exchange.

3) The term “neo-atheism” seems unrealistic and unscientific, for atheism is neither old nor new, since it is a phenomenon that skipped one generation after the other as much as faith; therefore, it shall always exist in our societies. Perhaps believers in monotheistic religions and other ancient or new religions make up the majority of the world’s population, but their forms of faith and beliefs can sometimes be in complete contradiction. Atheists could be a minority amongst humans, but only one clear idea brings them together.

On the other hand, it is noteworthy that the majority of believers are ordinary people among whom illiteracy and ignorance are widely spread, which is the case in most Muslim countries, in the sense that individuals, regardless of their low level of intelligence, their conscience and their culture, could be believing out of blind mimicry of what exists and what is consecrated in society, while it is difficult to find an “atheist” that follows the same path.

Also, it is hard to come across an “atheist” who does not read books, does not do research and does not care about knowledge, for most atheists are eager to find answers to their questions. Besides, the path to becoming an “atheist” is not simple, for it is not easy for a person to be convinced that there is neither God, nor heaven, nor life after death, while it is very easy for some people to find themselves in a religious society and to follow the traditions of their parents and their ancestors while being reassured by their inherited beliefs without taking any moments of reflection whatsoever.

This is why most religious figures tended to fill up illiterates against scientists, philosophers, poets, writers and atheistic elites, since it is easier to mobilize the common people against the elites on false accusations such as “heresy”, “atheism” and “bad behavior”, although these latters represent society’s finest proportions.

 

4) It becomes clear that the organizers of both conferences make their statements based on two false beliefs: the first is that atheists do not understand religion in the sense that if they did they would have joined the mass of believers and would have entered the “fold of faith”. The second is that atheists suffer from psychological problems because of their uncertainty about the existence of a god and a life after death, therefore we shall lead them to a more rightful path to put an end to their suffering and also for their hearts to find serenity.

In fact, this superficial simplification is the reason behind this whole misunderstanding since it provides data that is in complete contradiction with what believers claim. Atheists do not ignore religion for they have read about it eventually, which means that they have switched from having faith to becoming atheisms after extensive research and knowledge. Also, what distinguishes “atheists” of believers is that their knowledge often exceeds that of a single religion and embraces different religions while conducting studies and making comparison, while Muslims speak only in terms of faith in their religion, with total ignorance towards other religions that they know nothing about, only to prove certain ideas that they keep propagating about other religions though they have nothing to do with their religious texts or history.

Psychologically speaking, believers seem to deal with more problems. Some of whom fall in the great fear of the infamous “torture of the grave” or they keep thinking about their destiny after death to the point of losing sleep (especially women), while others become intolerant to hating their loved ones and isolate themselves from society and the state, and as a result, they espouse terrorism and resort to explosions and crimes. Such illustrative facts and mental disorders, however, are the products of Islamist religious preachers, their sermons and their fatwas (religious opinions), that anyone with a little sense of wisdom would find wrong.

During the protests in Yemen against a movie personifying the Prophet Muhammad, dozens of people were killed and hundreds were injured due to the raging and jostling protesters given the excessiveness of their religious feeling that preachers helped provoke, at a time their true enemy is thousands of miles away (safe from any threat). Isn’t this the mark of a neurosis and a psychological disorder?

It is strange that the way in which Muslims treat unbelievers is similar to the one adopted by “Qurashīs” against the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca, back when they accused him of being mentally disturbed and insane. In the Quran it is said (Your companion is by no means insane). He was accused of madness by his own people because he was different and revealed something that people did not get used to hearing and their souls did not believe.

In reality, it is certain that believers will find themselves in a difficult spot once we start comparing their behavior and their beliefs with those of nonbelievers. In this regard, I would like to share an anecdote that took place during an Egyptian press conference when a psychiatrist was being interviewed by a journalist of the (Muslim) brotherhood, upon which the latter asked the following: “Don’t you think that atheism is a psychological disease?” the psychologist replied sarcastically: “By the way, if a person comes to me and says that he believes in the existence of a person who flew while riding a beast through the seven heavens knocking on each of its doors, I will doubt his mental integrity. “

Beyond the phenomenon:

When we examine this subject matter closely and follow the related debate, we come to realize without much effort that it is not actually about faith and atheism as two separate positions. At this level, we do not need any debate; all we need is everyone to respect the other no matter what their choices are. Most questions cover power, public order and traditions; therefore, we must look for the causes of our problems and our conflicts from a political point of view, not through religions or beliefs, and definitely not based on positions (atheism or non-religion). Those who have organized both conferences acted in this manner because they consider, as politicized actors, that the wave of atheism threatens their interests, given that they are the ones aspiring religious tutelage both in society and State. Besides, it is understood that this tutelage could not be perpetuated without the maintenance of religious evidences in their links with the structures of social relations. This is why the structures of the collective consciousness remain stable around the same constants and axioms that extend from faith to tradition to reach high levels of power. Thus, religious faith, which was supposed to be a personal issue, becomes an essential mechanism for maintaining public order, its supervision and control. Meanwhile, atheism becomes a threat to public order and to those who use religion in the realm of legitimacy and power.

Thus, Islamists’ concerns about atheism come from the fact that they feel responsible for what is happening in reality. In fact, the main factor leading to atheism and the diversion of people from religion is the Islamist religious extremism propagated by Islamists themselves. In the sense that the direct reaction to extremism in religion and its transformation into a coercive and authoritarian public order, both across state and radical groups, is the tendency of individuals to atheism, as had been the case in Europe and still is the case in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan (see our article on the phenomenon of atheism in religious countries).

The Islamist extremist currents and the countries that sponsor them have made a fatal mistake by broadcasting many ancient texts of jurisprudence and religious heritage on the internet, thinking that they serve “enlightenment”, while this has a detrimental effect on the spirit of young people who find the religious matter exposed on the internet with all its contradictions and fragility. This is one of the reasons for the spread of atheism today, for we feel that Muslims do not have a great knowledge of the fundamental religious texts as well as the history of Islam at its debut.

The main problem is that Islamist leaders provoke the wave of “atheism” without thinking of the need to change their way of approaching such matters, because they cannot conceive Islam outside the idea of the state, power, and of course winning at the end.

Today we have a choice! The universal reference to human rights, which has been adopted by the Moroccan Constitution, shall be considered above national law, and shall grant people freedom of conscience and the right to believe or not. In March 2014 in Geneva, Morocco signed without reservation the United Nations Convention on the Respect of Freedom of Conscience and Faith. It is strange that Islamists seek to enjoy their right of conscience and proselytizing, while allowing themselves to criticize others and to incite almost daily to fight them, regardless of the right of the latters to expressing themselves and debating. The solution, in this respect, is to separate religion completely from politics and to consider it as a private personal affair, at which point it will no longer be possible to use in order to feed in vain conflicts between citizens, just as these Citizens themselves will not need to criticize or oppose religion until it is used politically to subject them and deprive them of their right to choose their way of life.

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