At the 2021 general meeting, as every two years, the board of Atheist Refugee Relief (Säkulare Flüchtlingshilfe e.V.) was completely re-elected.
Mohamed Hisham Nofal was born in 1991 in Giza, Egypt. As an ex-Muslim and LGBT activist, he was already campaigning for individual freedom and human rights there. He gained worldwide notoriety when he was invited to appear as an activist on a talk show on Egyptian TV in 2017. There he tried to explain why he was an atheist and that it was the right of every human being to leave religion. As a result, he was declared mentally ill by the former deputy sheikh of al-Azhar University, belittled by the host, and finally expelled from the studio (video). Because this destroyed his social and professional life, but he also had to fear persecution by the state, he fled to Germany in 2019.
I am 35 years old, lived in Babol, Iran and grew up in a medium religious family. As I grew older, many questions about religion came to my mind, especially about Islam, which was common in my family.
When I started my studies in Khajeh Nasirodin Toosi University (K. N. Toosi), I met many others like me who criticized Islam. As the internet and social media became more accessible, I was able to do more research on basic and critical issues about religion. That was the point when I understood that Islam is so co-constructed to control and dominate people and has no answer to basic questions. In my country, there are two types of atheists:
“The hijab stands for empowerment and liberation – as a symbol of feminism.” With this slogan, the veil (hijab) is celebrated in the Western world as an expression of women’s rights and in campaigns, such as the so-called “World Hijab Day.”
This statement, which I first heard when I came to Europe, is radically different from the propaganda promoted where I grew up – in Iraq. There, power is attributed only to men, while women must be obedient. Gender equality is seen as a sign of social corrosion. Thus, feminist movements are suspected of seeking to destroy society.
This contrast in perception made me curious. Why does the religious symbol of the hijab represent such contradictory values in two different societies?
For this reason, I decided to do an interview with Maryam, a feminist activist living in Iraq, to learn more about the women’s rights situation in a country where the wearing of the veil is very prevalent.
Uka was born in Indonesia and currently lives in Germany. She defines herself as a secular liberal and actively promotes human rights and personal freedom.
A few months ago, France was confronted with the horrific barbaric murder of the teacher Samuel Paty. He was trying to stimulate a discussion among schoolchildren on the subject of freedom of expression on the basis of the well-known Muhammad cartoons. He paid for it with his life.
Atheist Refugee Relief moved into its first own office at Stadtwaldgürtel 89 in Cologne on January 1, 2021. This was made possible by funding from the Deutsche Postcode Lottery. The office serves as a contact point for refugees who are not religious. It offers the opportunity to discuss confidential matters in a safe environment. To ensure further processing, funds continued to be provided for computers and software, as well as other items such as furnishing the office.
My name is Mostafa Mostafania. I lived in Rasht, Iran, and grew up in a non-religious family.
I had many questions about Islamic teachings and why they are so different from people’s daily lives. In addition, my studies in physics and mathematics had changed my view of the religion. Since I also studied Islamic philosophy and law about 10 years ago, my view of the religion changed and I left it.
While still in Iran, I learned about the concept of atheism and found it to be exactly in line with my own thoughts. After I left the university, I criticized religion more and more and propagated atheism. I collaborated with many self-confident people and used social media to share my thoughts with the others.
Amed Sherwan posted this photo montage of a kiss with activist Mohamed Hisham in front of the Kaaba in Mecca on Facebook and Instagram. This was reported en masse by fundamentalist Muslims from all over the world, whereupon both profiles were blocked.
The Field Report of the Stanford Social Innovation Review reports about the work of the Säkulare Flüchtlingshilfe e.V. It describes the difficult situation of atheist refugees in Germany.
On top of the personal crises that come with what they have experienced and their new reality of life, there is the threatening situation in the initial reception centers. There, they continue to be exposed to the same Islamists from whom they seek protection here. Author Priti Salian illustrates the work of Säkulare Flüchtlingshilfe (Atheist Refugee Relief), an organization that assists people from this group, which is hardly perceived by the general public, in starting their new lives and ensures their safety.
Adel is a refugee from Iraq. He writes about the beginning of the Atheist Refugee Relief Stuttgart and his new life in Germany.
Adel, why and how did you come to Germany?
Even as a youth in Iraq I had my doubts about religion or let’s say I had questions, but in the Muslim world one must not question religion and certainly not criticize it. I found it strange that we should worship a God who always threatened us with hell. Everything revolved around Allah. He also dominated our private lives. By the time I started studying medicine, faith clashed with the theory of evolution. I had the opportunity to go on the Internet and then read about evolution and human rights. I had to hide my thoughts, because there were a few people with whom one exchanged ideas, but always under aliases. The vice squad was watching out, and I was aware that I was playing with fire.
Social control is already very strong in all Muslim countries. Again and again I toyed with the idea of fleeing to a country that respects human rights, because it was becoming increasingly difficult to suppress my secular thoughts. But you don’t leave your family and friends just like that. I knew I had to leave my old life, 26 years old, behind and start a completely new life. I did not know how it would be. I had never experienced living in a free country before.
Since I began to understand the world around me, I have always felt uncomfortable being surrounded by traditions, monotonous everyday life and rules.
I loved to express myself differently. I gave myself to daydreaming and writing stories to get rid of my boredom (most of it was in my head). This was my mental escape and a coping mechanism.
There was a time when I wondered why I was neglected? Why was I treated badly, but never as badly as when I was expressing my secular beliefs? I was even treated worse than at the age of 15, when I was clinically diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, after the first symptoms appeared at 14.
And I mention this because there is a huge stigma and injustice here in Saudi Arabia. This is not the way to talk about people in the family who are considered “physically challenged”, “crazy” or “retarded”. They are downright hushed up. Instead of receiving support, they are insulted, belittled and abused, as they are perceived as a burden and daily annoyance. They are seen as a punishment or test from God. In addition, these people are not marriable, which puts them under further pressure. So the parents are frustrated and take out their resentment on the children concerned, since their very existence damages their “family honor”.