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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Atheism and Insult

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Words injure. Ideas have consequences. Give Egypt wisdom and strength of character to tread righteously in irreligious waters.

For Charlie Hebdo insists on staying in the headlines. The head of the Azhar called for Muhammad cartoons to be ignored, while a pro-Brotherhood scholar called for demonstrations and international blasphemy laws. Many expressed anger and warned of violent reactions, even as they condemned them.

And perhaps similarly, Egypt jailed a local citizen for being an atheist. He was harassed in his home town and complained to the police, but instead wound up arrested. His father testified against him, and his incarceration will last three years. He is not the only blasphemer in prison, and others are on trial.

God, all rights come with responsibility, and the law regulates limitations. Do you have an opinion on where to draw the line?

Moreover, do you wish mankind to police your honor?

Help Egypt to process these questions, God, protecting good, preserving liberty, for individual and society alike.

Give courage to speak a rebuke. Give humility to win the recipient. Give patience to bear an insult. Give confidence to respond in love.

Give the same to Egypt’s atheists, as to those offended by them. Guide both to what is true and right. Guide all in defining their place.

You are the word, God, how you respond when injured? You are the idea, from which all consequences follow. Help Egypt imitate your character, and in you find strength.

Amen.

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Excerpts

Brief Portraits of Egyptian Atheism

Arabic Atheism

From Egypt Independent, on a very taboo subject in which some have given their full name and testimony:

Those who have come out publicly as atheists have been not only isolated by their friends and families, but also society in general. However, others who turn down their familial religion have faced many worse trials than mere isolation.

Asmaa Omar, 24, who has just graduated the Faculty of Engineering, said that once she revealed her beliefs to her family, they began to physically and mentally torture her. Her father slapped her in the face and broke her jaw. She was not able to eat properly for seven months.

Both her immediate and extended families began to insult her. “You just want to have free relations with boys,” they would say, or “You used to be the best girl in the family,” and “Now you’re a prostitute.”

Some come from a Christian background:

Ayman Ramzy Nakhla, 42, comes from a Protestant background. He worked in preaching Christianity with the church, but then decided to abandon religion altogether. He is now not very much concerned with knowing if God really exists or not.

Nakhla’s father was a priest, and Nakha worked for ten years as librarian in the Theology College of the Evangelical Church, and as an assistant to a priest, which is an administrative position. Ramzy says that this background was the one that actually led him to lose interest in religion, getting so close to the truth of the Church made him decide to leave it.

Others from a Muslim background:

Other atheists say they believe atheism is in fact more moral than the old, rigid moral codes offered by traditional religions.

Omar says her journey began when prominent cardiologist Madgy Yaqoub managed to treat a two-year old relative of hers in open heart surgery. Rahman, the child, had a valve that did not work and another with malformation.

The successful operation led Omar to wonder how a man such as the doctor, who had lived his life saving many children like Rahma, could be thrown to hell for not being a Muslim. Omar found that religions just chose its followers to end up in heaven, and say that other people would go to hell, regardless for whatever good deeds they do in their life.

Omar says she believes in God, but is against all religions. She says she is still looking for Him and is not aware of His truth.

As a result, some mix between the two:

Some atheists, however, still feel without religion, they are missing something. Despite her rejection of religion, Kamel still misses the spiritual side, resorting to Sufism as she attends Sufis meetings and listen to sufi music, especially those of al-Naqshbandi and Nasr Eddin Tobar. She also enjoys listening to Christian hymns and is massively affected by them. She says, however, that this is just a need for spirituality, nothing more.

Kamel goes back to saying that she has not yet reached a final result for her inner conflict.

Indeed, Egypt is changing. Your vote: Is this for better or for worse?
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Personal

Albert Saber: The Brotherhood will Drive the People to Secularism

From Daily News Egypt:

Albert Saber recently fled Egypt on the eve of his conviction to a three year prison sentence for blasphemy. He is of Christian background, but is a public atheist. The following are quotes from the article, do read the whole thing.

How did you decide to become an atheist?

My journey towards this decision was in the period between 2001 and 2005. I had decided that I would not simply inherit religion. Faith here is hereditary; if your parents are Christian, you’re Christian. You have it written on your birth certificate before you can even think. And it is the same for Muslims.

In 2001 I decided to read about other religions. My thinking at the time was that I was born a Christian but I had not actually decided that for myself nor had I considered other religions. I felt like there could be a chance that my religion is the wrong one and that God would punish me for it since I did not seek out all the options first.

I spoke to a lot of people, including religious leaders and clerics from several faiths, I read a lot of books, and eventually I realised that religion was merely a way to find God, but that there were so many different religions, and even inside each religion there were many sects, so why did each claim a monopoly on God? Why did they all claim they were going to heaven and everyone else was not?

The circle then started to get wider. When I first started this journey I felt that religion could be easily disputed but I still believed in the existence of a god, so I had a limit, which was the existence of a creator deity. After reading and researching the issue I started to break out of this limit and think that there might not even be a god at all. I eventually decided that it did not make sense to me and I became an atheist.

Did you face any difficulties in the decision to go public with it?

The Islamists in university subjected me to three assassination attempts.

Their leader and I had a political discussion once on the train and we became friends, I did not know who he was but my friends told me later.

After that I started to gain a reputation for my views that are critical of religion, mostly because of what I said in comparative religion classes. The Islamist youth leader decided that I was too dangerous.

He started sending members of his group after me, they constantly tried to start fights with me so that they could beat me up but I would not rise to their taunts and my friends were also looking out for me.

How, realistically, can Egypt become a secular state, especially in light of Islamist domination of the public sphere?

We have a movement here in Egypt called “secularists” for example and they take to the streets and raise awareness about the issue. I believe in confrontation. I used to debate Muslim Brotherhood members on secularism before the presidential elections.

However, the way to achieve state secularism is through raising awareness. It is the same way we were able to revolt. We raised awareness amongst the people that we are not just silly youth and that our demands were for their benefit. Eventually they joined us or at least stopped opposing us.

Everyone in Egypt is talking politics right now. We should start political campaigns explaining what the word “secularism” actually means. We need to explain separation of religion and state and how the state is an institution and cannot adopt a specific religion. We need to explain things like dictatorship of the majority and how democracy also means protecting the rights of minorities.

Will Muslim Brotherhood rule lead to a religious state, or will it backfire and lead the people to reject religious rule and form a secular state?

I think this has already started. As soon as the Brotherhood appeared openly on the political scene they needed allies such as the Salafis, Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiya, and jihadist groups. They all allied because they speak in the name of religion.

These allies started making a lot of mistakes due to their political inexperience. The people started to reject their domination and move towards secularism. The people are now much more critical of religious leaders and feel that they no longer have a monopoly on religion.

This will lead to a secular state without the people even calling it that.