In the Middle East, religion is everything. Religion determines your upbringing, your future, and the future of your children. If you are a Muslim woman, you will be expected to marry a Muslim man. If you are a Muslim man, however, worry not: As per usual, this rule does not apply to you. Since Islam is patrilineal, you may marry whomever you want. Or a few! Oh, but wait, are you a Copt? Forget all of the above. You have no choice. Forget about love; You must marry another Copt. After all, the bloodline must be kept pure, right?
One of the first questions anyone asks you is “Are you Muslim or Christian?” Presumably, they want to know what their boundaries are with you, the implications of hanging out in the eyes of society, and how it will be viewed by their peers if you are spotted together.
So what, then, if you don’t fall into any category? What if you don’t believe in God…like, at all?
Should you lie just to fit in? Tempting. But if you were to simply lie, would that not allow the demonization of atheists to exist unchecked in Egypt? If atheists remain invisible forever – and it is a growing population – how can a safe secular space ever be created in a society that is so deeply entrenched in religion?
Imagine life as an atheist in Egypt. Atheism, that is, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a lack of belief or a strong belief in the existence of a god or any gods.” In order to have any future in Egypt, in order to get married and have kids, you will likely be forced to lie about your faith (or lack thereof) to almost everyone. If not for your family, for the sake of keeping your spouse’s family happy.
The only way that atheism will ever be accepted in Egypt is through visibility and education. How will this happen? For one, if the government is truly secular as it claims, it should not mandate that religion be taught in public schools. Parents must teach their children about all faiths. Children must be taught that one can be atheist and moral, that the two are far from mutually exclusive. Because in this chaotic world, if one does not have religion they must create their own ideology, their own moral compass – and thus that world will have rules and ideals.
Atheists do not have their morals hand-fed to them by an imam or a priest. Their morals are usually solid and un-amiable, as they will be the product of independent thought.
You do not need religion to be moral. Look at Scandinavia, which is the least religious region in the world. In Scandinavia, there is dramatically less corruption, people are statistically happier and more peaceful, the school systems are among the best in the world, and all people (regardless of class) receive social benefits including medical care, parental leave of absence, and free education. Shouldn’t religion be striving to attain these ideals? Why isn’t it?
One might argue that the reason Egypt remains poor and suffers from “brain drain”is because society still cherry-picks at science based on what best suits its preconceived religious beliefs and thereby places little value on skills like critical thinking, which are vital to economic growth.
Studies have shown that atheists have higher IQs and as such, get better jobs, and are more successful in their field. In Egypt, critical thinking is not taught, often actively discouraged and even punished. Why would any person, especially one who has managed to self-educate, want to confine themselves to those circumstances?
Also, atheists have better sex.