By Mustafa Akyol
Throughout the Islamic world, there is probably no idea as despised as atheism. For most Muslims, the fact that some people can deny the very existence of the God who created them from nihilo is simply scandalous. Hence, Islamic movements do their best to protect their societies from atheism. Some write rebuttals against atheist philosophers, which is a welcome effort, while others try to censor or ban books, publications or websites that promote atheist views.
In other words, most Muslims seem to think faith in God might be eroded by outside forces, especially those of the “godless” West. However, it might be wiser to be alert about the forces that operate within the Muslim world itself.
I am not speaking of the Westernized secular elites of the Muslim world, as some might presume. Those elites have sometimes been oppressive to the faithful and violated their rights. But oppressive secularism never led to a widespread loss of faith. Quite the contrary, it has often strengthened faith.
The real threat to faith comes within, and from the hands of those who claim to do the greatest service to Islam: Authoritarian Islamists. Their zeal to impose often archaic interpretations of Islam by force on all other Muslims pushes some of the latter away from the faith itself.
A recent article that underlined this trend is authored by Mohamed Abdelfattah, a Cairo-based journalist, and is titled, “Leaving Islam in the age of Islamism.” (Daily News Egypt, Jan. 24) There, Abdelfattah explains how some young Arabs are abandoning their faith all together because of the oppression and irrationality they experience in the name of Islam.
“I’ve decided to put Islam on hold as a religion,” declares, for example, former Muslim Brotherhood activist Osama Dorra. “For the conflict I’ve found between some of its details and what I think is sanity, justice, and logic has reached an inconceivable limit.”
One example of such aversion-triggering Islamist is Yasser Borhamy, a Salafi preacher, who rejects a clear ban on slavery in the constitution because he thinks slavery is not necessarily un-Islamic. Similar voices continuously create shock waves with their terrifying views on women, non-Muslims and rival Islamic sects.
According to Abdelfattah, the Egyptian Islamists’ ascent to power only deepened the problem: their controversial opinions became more visible and more threatening. In his words:
“Islamists themselves have been paying the price of coming out publicly with their archaic and medieval views. For decades, these views were only voiced in underground audio cassettes and cheap booklets when they were long repressed. But as they came to power, they have now realized there is a price tag on every statement.”
The following observation by the Egyptian journalist is also crucial to see for all those who hope to Islamize their societies with state power:
“Islamists rising to power have not yielded their much-awaited fantasized moment of everything-turning-Islamic. Instead, it’s contributing to an unprecedented wave of scepticism, social secularization and atheism.”
All this means that if faithful Muslims are really worried about the godliness of their co-religionists, they should acknowledge that the threat comes from not only the explicit opponents of Islam, but its bigoted proponents as well. A stance against the latter is needed not only for liberty, in other words, but also for Islam itself.