I am a Burmese exile taking a near-permanent refuge in New York and Sydney. Here are my essays about Burma and anything else I feel like writing about. And posting the articles I like from selected sites. Bridging Burma to the world this Blog is more of a Politically-Oriented Literary Blog than a Plain News Blog or a Sophisticated Thoughts Blog.
(This post is an email from an expatriate Burmese Engineer working in Europe.)
Egyptian Muslims protesting at Burma Embassy in Cairo.
went to Saudi after high school before university, I was suggested to fill (the immigration forms) as Burmese Muslim like by a Burmese who is a
Buddhist, he was in 30s and I was
19, as he worries I will be harassed.
So he did
but I did not and I filled
in as Buddhist but I did not face harassment as I chose to act rough since I arrived there till I left there from
brewing wine to broadcasting Khin Maung
Toe's songs in merchant marine routes in gulf via radio telephone
channels. I found Saudis are religious people
but I promised myself I will never
go there again.
university, when I was in Egypt where I spent about half a year, I have seen religious people but I thought Egypt is better
than Saudi. But now it seems that
Egypt is going a bit extreme too, it seems it will not recognize Buddhism as a religion.
morons want to teach us about religious tolerance. So next time, if some morons show up
protesting in front of our embassy
in Cairo, Burmese ambassador should tell them, close their fingers make them into bud shapes, put those in their
backs and shove them inside.
for example, demands that people declare themselves as one of six religions; atheism and agnosticism do not
count. Egypt’s draft constitution
makes room for only three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Muslims destroying Buddha Statue in Lucknow.
No God, Not Even Allah:
Outspoken Ex-Muslim Atheists
MOB attacked Alexander Aan even before an Indonesian court in June jailed him
for two and a half years for “inciting religious hatred”. His crime was to write “God does not exist” on a Facebook group he had
founded for atheists in Minang, a province of the world’s most populous Muslim
nation. Like most non-believers in Islamic regions, he was brought up as a
Muslim. And like many who profess godlessness openly, he has been punished.
In a handful of majority-Muslim
countries atheists can live safely, if quietly; Turkey is one example, Lebanon
another. None makes atheism a specific crime. But none gives atheists legal
protection or recognition. Indonesia, for example, demands that people declare
themselves as one of six religions; atheism and agnosticism do not count.
Egypt’s draft constitution makes room for only three faiths: Christianity,
Judaism and Islam.
Sharialaw, which covers only Muslims unless incorporated into
national law, assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. Thus
ex-Muslim atheists are guilty of apostasy—ahududcrime against God, like adultery and
drinking alcohol. Potential sanctions can be severe: eight states, including
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty on their
statute books for such offences.
In reality such punishments are rarely
meted out. Most atheists are prosecuted for blasphemy or for inciting hatred.
(Atheists born to non-Muslim families are not considered apostates, but they
can still be prosecuted for other crimes against religion.) Even in places
where laws are lenient, religious authorities and social attitudes can be
harsh, with vigilantes inflicting beatings or beheadings.
Many, like Kacem el-Ghazzali, a Moroccan,
reckon the only solution is to escape abroad. The 23-year-old was granted
asylum in Switzerland after people found out he was the author of an anonymous
blog, Atheistica.com. Even in non-Muslim lands ex-believers are scared of being
open, says Nahla Mahmoud, a 25-year-old Sudanese atheist who fled to Britain in
2010. “Muslim communities here don’t feel comfortable with having an ex-Muslim
around,” she says, noting that extremists living in the West may harass
non-believers there too.
Facebook groups for atheists, mostly
pseudonymous, exist in almost every Muslim country. Social media give
non-believers more clout—but also make them more conspicuous, and therefore
vulnerable. But the real blame lies with religious intolerance.
In the 1950s and 1960s secularism and
tolerance prevailed in many majority-Muslim countries; today religion pervades
public and political life. Sami Zubaida, a scholar at London’s Birkbeck
College, speaks of increasing polarisation, with “growing religiosity at one
end of the spectrum and growing atheism and secularism at the other.”
The rise to power of Islamist parties
after the Arab revolutions is likely to make life more miserable still for
those who leave Islam. New rulers in Tunisia and Egypt have jailed several
young people who have been outspoken about their lack of belief. Such cases
occurred before the revolutions, but seem to have become more common.
Alber Saber Ayad, an Egyptian Christian
activist who ran a Facebook page for atheists, has been in custody since
September for “insulting religion”. His alleged offence was posting a link to
an infamous YouTube video that caused protests in the Islamic world that month.
He was arrested by a Christian policeman: Egypt’s Coptic church does not look
kindly on atheism either.
Executed Muslim Poet Imadeddin Nasimi (1369-1418).
The Arab upheavals and the growing number
of open non-believers have sparked some debate. In Egypt, Bassem Youssef, a
doctor-cum-comedian, has bravely called for discussion rather than hostility.
Islam co-existed with pagans and atheists at the height of its power, he
writes. Some of the finest medieval
Arabic and Persian poets and grammarians were atheists (though several were
also famously executed).
Young activists, albeit often exiled,
such as Mr Ghazzali, have become more vociferous about their right not to
believe in a God. Organisations abroad for former Muslims are increasingly
active, too. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, set up by a group of
non-believers five years ago, provides refuge for those who have renounced
Islam and tries to “break the taboo” about apostasy.
In a move hailed by campaigners, Kuwait’s
emir in June blocked a bill to make apostasy a capital offence. Yet seeking
secular laws or social tolerance ignores the root of the problem, says Ibn
Warraq, the pseudonymous Indian-born author of “Leaving Islam”, a collection of
essays by ex-believers, and other books.
He lives in exile and has received death
threats for campaigning on the behalf of apostates. The prevailing
interpretation of Islam, he says, simply cannot tolerate Muslim unbelievers.
Arguments for the death penalty are usually based on a Hadith, one of the
sayings which, along with the Koran, form the basis of Islamic law: “The
Prophet said: whoever discards his religion, kill him.”
Yet other texts have a different message.
The Koran’s notably tolerant Sura 109 includes words such as “For you is your
religion, and for me is my religion.” Moderates also note that though the Koran
says blasphemers will not be forgiven, it does not mention the death penalty.
Some argue that in Islam’s early years apostasy was akin to treason, earning
harsh penalties that are no longer acceptable.
Although some Islamic theologians
interpret these provisions to mean that apostates will be punished in the
afterlife, most see them as ordering that former Muslims must be punished by
death. All four schools of Sunni Islamic law teach that male apostates should
be put to death, though two say that female renegades should only be
A number of leading Islamic figures, such
as Egypt’s grand mufti and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Qatar-based preacher, say that
the death penalty is deserved if the apostate “subverts society” or “damages
Islam”. All agree, however, that repentant apostates should be spared; the time
and sincerity needed for such disavowals to count is debated.
Ibn Warraq says that the nub of the
problem is thatshariamakes atheism the number one sin, ahead of
murder. A theological debate on atheism has yet to begin. Public opinion,
though variable, tends to the censorious. A 2010 survey by the Pew Research
Centre, an American think-tank, found that 84% of Muslims in Egypt and 86% in
Jordan backed the death penalty for apostates, compared with 51% in Nigeria and
30% in Indonesia.
Such attitudes may stoke atheist
sentiment even as they deter its expression. Ms Mahmoud recalls how her primary
school teacher punished her in art class for sketching a picture of Allah,
which is forbidden in Islam. With fewer rights than her male peers and annoyed
by a ban on studying evolution, she felt pushed away: “These incidents made me
gradually refuse Islam until I completely renounced it and became an atheist.”