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Atheist Refugees Doubly Vulnerable

Atheist asylum seekers fleeing persecution for their lack of belief in the dominant religion of their culture are at high risk of danger.

by Scott Jacobsen

As reported by DW, “Mahmudul Haque Munshi’s name was on a hit list in Bangladesh. After five of his friends and associates were murdered, the authorities warned the blogger: ‘There’s nothing more we can do for you.’ Munshi had to leave the country in 2015.”

Often, atheist refugees or asylum seekers will have to travel through several nations simply to find a safehaven. Some have seen what is labelled, purportedly, a “Global Hit List” of nonbelievers or those who left their faith who must be killed.

Many atheist refugees fear being killed by other refugees or those who feel personal resentment for individuals who leave religion.

Especially at risk are those who publicly speak out against religion, becoming the targets of reactionary violence.

One refugee organization devoted to the plight of the non-religious is the Atheist Refugee Relief organization. It has helped 37 nonreligious refugees since November 2017 and continues to do important work for them. 

Dittmar Steiner of Atheist Refugee Relief stated, “We are actually dealing with assaults, exclusion, threats and violence.” 

31-one-year-old Worood Zuhair, a biologist from Karbala, Iraq, stated that she is under police protection and continues to receive death threats because of the lack of personal religious belief. 

“When your own father gives your soul to Azrael, the angel of death, that is enormously painful,” Zuhair told DW. “He did it so often. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Zuhair speaks about the abuse of women refugees, not simply as refugees but in virtue of their criticism of religion and their work for the rights of women within standard human rights frameworks. 

Mahmudul Haque Munshi, founder of the Shahbag movement in his home country in 2013, became a target of Islamists as his movement called for war criminals to be held accountable for their crimes during the Bangladeshi war for independence. 

With a prominent blog and network, Munshi garnered about half of a million followers. There were mass protests in the streets with subsequent death threats directed at him.

Atheists are not the majority of refugees and are not the majority of the world’s population, but atheists are a struggling minority within the global and refugee population. They suffer from fear and ignorance-based stigma held against them by the religious.

According to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), ‘Origin from a particular country or a particular reason for fleeing, such as religious affiliation or atheism, does not automatically lead to a protection status.’

Atheism on the Rise in Turkey

Despite Erdogan’s measures to push Islam, a growing number of people in Turkey are non-religious.

by Scott Jacobsen

There has been a continuous growth in the number of non-religious people in the Turkey, a dramatic development in the theocratic state known for working to keep evolution out of the classrooms.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to push theocratic politics, but the rise in atheism would call into question the effectiveness of the measures he has been imposing.

As reported, “According to a recent survey by the pollster Konda, a growing number of Turks identify as atheists. Konda reports that the number of nonbelievers tripled in the past 10 years. It also found that the share of Turks who say they adhere to Islam dropped from 55 percent to 51 percent.”

The official directorate of religious affairs in Turkey, Diyanet, declared in 2014 that 99% of the Turkish public identifies as Muslim. However, in light of the recent survey data from Konda, this has sparked debated within the country.

Ahmet Balyemez, a 36-year-old computer scientist, states, “There is religious coercion in Turkey… People ask themselves: Is this the true Islam?… When we look at the politics of our decision-makers, we can see they are trying to emulate the first era of Islam. So, what we are seeing right now is primordial Islam… Fasting and praying were the most normal things for me.”

Cemil Kilic, a theologian, considers both statistics correct: 99% of Turks may identify as Muslim, but only do so from a cultural or sociological perspective.

He states, “The majority of Muslims in Turkey are like the Umayyads, who ruled in the seventh century… The prayers contained in the Koran reject injustice. But the Umayyads regarded daily prayer as a form of showing deference towards the sultan, the state and the powers that be… Regular prayers have become a way to signal obedience toward the political leadership… And prayers in mosques increasingly reflect the political worldview of those in power.”

President Erdogan has been in power for almost 16 years, as prime minister until 2014 and then as president onwards.

Ateizm Dernegi, the central organization for atheists in Turkey, has, through its leader, Selin Ozhoken, stated that the desire by Erdogan to produce devout Muslims has, in fact, failed in a number of ways.

Dernegi explains, “Religious sects and communities have discredited themselves… We have always said that the state should not be ruled by religious communities, as this leads to people questioning their faith and becoming humanist atheists.” 

Aggressive versus Gentle Atheism: Which Approach Works Best?

Atheist Alliance of America President Mark Gura and Blog Director Sarah Mills debate trends within the atheist community and constructive approaches.

by Sarah Mills and Mark Gura


Like many people who were once involved in religion, and for whom the experience was less than positive, I became eager to distance myself as much as possible from it. Religion, for me, was synonymous with conformity, mind control, repression, stunted creativity, guilt, and a community that was only as good as your unwavering, unquestioning commitment to abide by its stringent rules. In hindsight, I can appreciate that I might have leapt a bit too far to the ‘other’ side–a reaction, one could argue, that was understandable circumstances considered. Leaving religion meant I could more fully embrace humanity. Where I once excluded people from my life on the basis of faith, I now included them, forming relationships and friendships that were grounded in mutual compatibility and genuine love, rather than perfunctory duty as members of a shared belief system. Where I once formed ties conditional on uniformity of thought, I could now love unconditionally. I could become politically involved, I could stand up for the rights of those I had previously thought sinners simply because of whom they loved, I could occupy myself with the here and now, living fully in the present without self-flagellating in penance for arbitrary sins and in anticipation of an afterlife.

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The Fallacy of Nothing: Can Something Come From Nothing?

Since antiquity, philosophers realized the concept of ‘Nothing’ was inherently nonsensical. How can we approach the Big Bang without factoring in a deity?

by Christopher Hansen

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Something cannot come from Nothing,” before? I would be shocked if you hadn’t, because it is a favorite in today’s culture (predominant among those who contest scientific realities like the Big Bang Theory, i.e. Young Earth Creationists).

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