Atheism in the Arab world

Moroccoʹs atheists find a home on the Internet

The Internet has made it possible for some to declare and even to promote their atheism by criticising Islam and other religions. Ismail Azzam spoke to some young Moroccans who have left their Muslim faith behind

The subject of atheism in the Islamic world is not new, not least because there have been important figures who declared their atheism in this region over the centuries. Nowadays, however, the growth in social media has opened the way for many young people, not only to declare their atheism, but also to promote such beliefs by criticising religions, notably Islam. They do this even though a good number of them were once followers themselves.

Hicham agNostik, a pseudonym, began promoting his atheist beliefs on the Internet through the chat programme Paltalk before moving to YouTube, where he conducts interfaith dialogues on several of his own channels. He also set up his own website, whilst at the same time keeping a strong presence on Facebook. Later, he became the first Moroccan atheist to publish a pamphlet in the local dialect. Entitled "Memoirs of a infidel", it relates parts of his journey from faith to disbelief.

"Moroccan infidel"

"The Internet has radically changed our lives and influenced our beliefs and the way in which we present them to the world. It played a central role in making public my critical movement away from religion and it allowed me to communicate with people across the world with ease and comfort", agNostik explained to Qantara. In this, he agrees with the popular notion of social media as a means of converting a large number of Muslims to atheism, by making public debate possible, without red lines.

The Internet has not only contributed to the dissemination of atheistic thought through social media, it has afforded "access to reference works and information which were previously available only in large tomes. This has prompted many to question the validity of the religion to which they have belonged since they were indoctrinated as children," agNostik added.

Announcing the first atheist event in Mecca (photo: Twitter/Alarabiy Aljadid)
Atheism is not a new phenomenon in the Islamic world. With the establishment of social networks, however, a large number of young Arabs now have not only the opportunity to declare their atheism, but also to promote such beliefs by criticising religions, notably Islam. They do this even though a good number of them were once followers themselves

Although he currently lives in Canada, agNostik is intent on hiding his true identity. He justifies this on personal grounds, unrelated to his place of abode. He asserts that there are many atheists in the West who hide their religious beliefs because of family, friends, work and other things. This is what makes it difficult to identify the numbers of atheists around the world.

In contrast to agNostik who has focussed heavily on his own experiences, the person behind the digital channel Wake Up! never talks about his personal life. Instead, his videos which he calls "Slap in the face" deal critically with particular topics in Islam, including women's rights, scientific wonders of the Koran and the truth about the Kaaba.

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