The story of Mohammed, an atheist from Iraq

Hammoki fled from Iraq to Germany in 2015 and was granted refugee status in 2020. We asked him about his history.

Hammoki, for what reasons did you flee your home country?

Since I am an atheist, my life was in danger. I had to expect to be killed.

How did it come about that you became an atheist?

I come from a liberal family belonging to an old Bedouin tribe. However, my parents have become more and more religious over the years. As a child and teenager I was forced to visit the mosque and observe the Holy Month and Ramadan. Then I began to deal more intensively with questions of faith, and more and more critical questions came to me. After careful consideration, I decided at the age of 18 to turn away from Islam for good. The ubiquitous violence, the lack of freedom, the lack of critical faculties, the entanglement with the state, the understanding of marriage and the strict rules in general have deeply deterred me. I also found no answers to existential questions in Islam as well as in all other religions. For me, facts, realities and science became the basis of my thinking. The poet and freethinker Abu l-Ala al-Ma`arri, who lived 1000 years ago, the author and critic of religion Abdullah al-Qasemi and the social scientist Ali Al-Wardi became sources of inspiration for me.

How was your atheism discovered, how did the threatening situation arise?

First of all, people like me are not threatened in Iraq, but killed immediately. That is why I have not come out of the closet for a long time. However, I was an anonymous member of various religion-critical and atheistic Facebook groups. I was unmasked and received a message on my smartphone under my real name with the message: “We know who you are, we know where you are. We are the soldiers of Omar ibn Al-Qatab.” After the “Arab Spring”, demonstrations against the repressive regimes took place in many states in the Middle East, including Iraq. In the years 2014/2015, I regularly participated with like-minded people in such demonstrations on Fridays in Tahrir Square in Baghdad. We demanded the separation of religion and state, religious freedom and the observance of human rights. Members of the notorious Al Sadr militia also took part in these demonstrations undercover. As a result, we “infidels” were exposed once again, and within a short time, about 30 people from the surroundings of the demonstrators were killed. All this put me in mortal fear.

Couldn’t your family help you?

I do not want to reveal all the details here. Just this much: After the threat I revealed myself to my family and asked for help. This help was denied me. On the contrary: because I did not want to return to Islam, I was declared outlawed by my family, which means that anyone could kill me.
Finally, some family members wanted to kill me themselves. I was also unable to turn to state authorities. The result would have been the same. So the only thing left for me was a quick escape.

You are over Turkey, Greece, Serbia. Croatia, Hungary and Austria to Germany. Was Germany your destination from the beginning?

No, at first I only wanted to go to a secular country. Through research on the Internet I learned about the laws of Germany and so I decided to go to Germany.

How did you fare in Germany? Did you have problems to obtain refugee status?

First I was in Karlsruhe for 2 weeks in a refugee accommodation for the admission, where I had to give my fingerprints.

Then I was sent to an accommodation in Neckarsulm. In this accommodation I had great problems with the Muslims who were also accommodated there, who excluded me and harassed me to the letter. To make matters worse, my papers were lost, so that I had to hand in my fingerprints again in Sigmaringen.

That caused a lot of commotion. Then I had to move again to another accommodation. I filed an application for recognition as a refugee. At the hearing I had no legal assistance. The application was rejected by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Fortunately I was still in contact with an atheist from Iraq, the well-known activist Worood Zuhair. She referred me to the Atheist Refugee Relief in Cologne, from where I joined the Regional Group Stuttgart, in whose meetings I have been participating since then and of which I have been an active member ever since. With the support of the Atheist Refugee Relief Stuttgart and a good legal counsel, I filed a lawsuit against my refusal and got justice. In his reasons for the judgement, the judge stated that I could make both my atheism and the danger that threatens me in Iraq credible. On my return I must count on being murdered by family members, and state protection is also not given. Therefore the refusal of my application is unconstitutional.

You had studied law in Iraq for a few semesters (at the insistence of your family) and worked as a hairdresser. What are your plans here in Germany?

As a hairdresser in Iraq I had an income that I could live on.

Here I first learned German. So far I have reached level B2 and am working on C1. At the moment I am trying to get my diplomas from Iraq (high school diploma, certificate of professional practice) and then I will decide whether I want to study or do a professional training.

What do you like about Germany?

First of all, I think it is good that the law is not only on paper. Moreover, in Germany I can freely say what is on my mind, what I think and believe.

What do you miss from your homeland?

I miss some of my former friends that I had to leave behind in Iraq due to my escape. And of course the places where I grew up happily as a child.

Could you imagine returning to Iraq again?

At the moment there is no question of returning to Iraq. However, should the country at some point transform into a secular, liberal and democratic state, this would be worth considering.

What advice would you give to other refugees here in Germany?

The most important thing is to learn the German language, work towards a goal and accept the German culture. Then integration will also work.

Finally, I would like to say that from the position I have achieved, I will continue to support the work of the Atheist Refugee Relief.

Many thanks for the interview and good luck in the future.

The interview was conducted by Marie-José Süss and Monika Schröder
Atheist Refugee Relief, Stuttgart