Saudi Arabia is not the go-to country when you think of atheism, being one of the world’s most repressive Islamic societies. Turns out we may have them pegged all wrong. A 2012 Gallup poll revealed that there is a similar proportion of atheists in Saudi Arabia as in the United States and parts of Europe, and what’s more, those atheists are being increasingly vocal, despite the threat of violence against them.
Atheists in Saudi Arabia tend to keep a low profile (because beheadings), and because Islamic law is the law of the land, they often maintain a semblance of religious observance in public. Not so online, where they’re skirting danger and expressing their atheism via anonymous accounts. The dual existence makes for some incongruous posting—like the user below, defiantly declaring atheism from Mecca, with the holy Qabaa stone in the background.
I checked the link given for the Gallup poll but found on Pages 9 and 10 of the PDF file that this is somewhat misleading.
From the poll results PDF:
The Religiosity Index represents the percentage of the population who self-describe themselves as a “religious person” in the question worded as: Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?
The Atheism Index represents the percentage of population who self-describe themselves as convinced atheists in the question reported above.
Saudi Arabia ranked as 75% on the Religiosity Index, while the US was 60%, Canada 46%, Australia 37% and at the very bottom Japan at 16% and China at 14%.
Convinced atheists are less common. The Atheism Index is 5% or less for Saudi Arabia and the US. Canada is 9%, Australia 10%, and at the top, China at 47% and Japan at 30%.
I find it hard to believe there are as many atheists in Saudi Arabia as in the US, but that is what the figures say. Anyway, there are amusing photos, which makes it worth looking at. One example:
The following cautionary note is added:
Desecration of the Quran is one of the most extreme acts of blasphemy that a Muslim can perpetrate and has been a trigger for violent reactions around the world. Several days ago, an angry mob burned a Hindu temple in Pakistan to the ground after rumors circulated that a Quran had been desecrated by one of its members.
Some atheists have tried to distance themselves from the offensive campaign, claiming that it’s a false flag operation perpetrated by Islamists or the Saudi security authorities designed to incite anger against atheists and smoke them out into the open.
A counter campaign using the hashtag #BlocktheAccountofHafsatheAtheistFromMecca was also tweeted about 8,130 times in just six hours. On March 20, an Islamic hacker group that advocates for the implementation of Sharia law claimed to have penetrated the accounts of those who started the tearing up Qurans campaign, allegedly discovering that they were foreign agents.