By Mohamed Abdelfattah
What would prompt a former youth member of the Muslim Brotherhood to declare that he is putting his belief in Islam “on hold”? What would convert young people to become not only non-religious but extremely anti-theist following long periods of activism with Egypt’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi club, the Salafis?
What I said may be surprising for many, but not for others. The past several years have witnessed every single young man or woman with a shred of critical thinking to leave the Islamist movement. Starting with the Egyptian revolution and the Islamists’ shameful position against it, young middle class educated members have ever since continued to trickle out.
But this mere organisational friction is not the subject of this article. What I intend to expound on is more far-reaching. It’s about those often-silent people who decided to abandon faith completely as a result of their faithful experiences.
“I’ve decided to put Islam on hold as a religion,” wrote former Muslim Brotherhood activist Osama Dorra in his blog post. “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.”
The young Islamist dropout was courageous enough to come out with these views publicly on his blog. For days comments and shares continued to fuel the discussion. Islamists and their acolytes, who may have one day been shoulder to shoulder with Dorra, were unable to discredit his opinion as simply a fake conspiracy against Islam. Hence, I guess, they were more than cautious not to take him to court.
In any case, Dorra’s “Flying high above religion” blog post was later followed by other articles that suggested more revisionist takes on his initial position.
On the other hand, 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 realised there is a price tag on every statement.
You could now find uncompromising Salafi TV preachers legitimising profanity and insults. Or the more bizarre Yasser Borhamy of the Salafi movement rejecting a clear ban on slavery in the constitution because he thinks slavery is not necessarily un-Islamic. Or take his other comment that Muslims should hate Christians from a Godly point of view. The list can go on and on to illustrate why a youth born into the 21st century may feel alienated by the whole religious establishment.
“Although the Islamist movement managed to reach power, it has been unprecedentedly dethroned from the hearts of many Egyptians,” so lamented Nageh Ibrahim the founder of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya in a recent article in Al-Masry Al-Youm. Several other preachers have said multiple times recently on TV that Al-Da’wa, or proselytising for Islam, has been losing a lot of credibility as a result of politics.
The issue of rising religious skepticism has been noticed by many. It has taken space in much of the local press and several opinion pieces. But it’s been petty stuff. Instead of defending someone’s right to disbelieve, it’s being treated as a problem that needs confrontation. Instead of presenting a seething critique of the most backward and reactionary ideologies, a self-styled intelligentsia is acquiescing to the Islamist framework in its weakest of times.
A growing generation of skeptics and atheists is increasingly coming to the fore. They are regarding religion, in practice, as at worst harmful and at best unnecessary.
Osama Dorra might be one example of a man who came out with his views. But the numerous others that we know very closely in our social circles prefer not to take the heat at the moment.
Islamists rising to power has not yielded their much-awaited fantasised moment of everything-turning-Islamic. Instead, it’s contributing to an unprecedented wave of skepticism, social secularisation and atheism. Young people feeling alienated by every Friday sermon that lacks substance or labels all non-Islamists as heretics and un-Egyptian are moving away from religion and “flying high above.”
“The Arab Spring has shaken our confidence in everything that preceded the revolution. And it has become clear that all the fundamental assumptions our life was based on were not completely sound,” wrote Dorra.
Mohamed Abdelfattah is a journalist and multimedia producer based in Cairo, Egypt. His main news beats are politics, human rights, and criminal justice. In 2011, he won an International Press Freedom Award for his work on police brutality.