Containing Atheism, In Saudi Arabia

There’s a piece decrying atheists—
“Contain them!” it opines—
But it’s quite a different story
If you read between the lines…

There’s a very strange article in the Saudi Gazette. On the face of it, atheism is a problem which must be contained:

A number of academics and experts have underlined the need for serious efforts to contain atheism in the Kingdom. Claiming that there is a link between the spread of atheism and extreme religious views, the experts said a moderate image of Islam must be promoted and any doubts youths may have about religion must be addressed in a convincing manner, Al-Madinah Arabic daily reported.

Yes, there is a connection between atheism and extreme religious views, therefore we must do our best to limit… atheism.

Now, I’d have thought extreme religion leads to atheism, but of course I’d be wrong:

Ghazi Al-Maghlouth, professor of Islamic culture at Al-Ahsa University’s Faculty of Shariah, said atheism is not at all linked with religious discourse. It is purely related to the personality of individuals who have some confusion about certain religious doctrines, in addition to having a skeptical mind. They always search for mysteries behind anything and everything and ask questions for which there may not be any clear-cut answers,” he said.

Yes. They have some confusion over questions for which there may not be any clear-cut answers. THis sounds less like “confusion” and more like “understanding”.

According to Al-Maghlouth, even in China, there are three major religions — Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, in addition to atheism. He said that atheism is present in every society in varying degrees. Al-Maghlouth specially referred to the controversial book by the Egyptian philosopher Abdul Rahman Badawi, titled “A history of atheism in Islam.”

In the book, Badawi explains how several Muslim philosopher-scientists and students of the medieval period questioned and often refuted some basic Islamic tenets and eventually became atheists.

So… wait. This article is saying this is a bad thing? That we must prevent people from refuting basic (and clearly refutable) Islamic tenets?

Al-Maghlouth said the media played a great role in promoting atheism in the modern world. “Before the high-tech media revolution, there were atheist tendencies but they did not receive any significant attention. Now, even small atheist elements are receiving wide publicity,” he said while adding that people who are engaged in their own reading and writing are more prone to atheism.

Do you sense the trend I do? Insult atheists by comparing them to philosopher-scientists, people engaged in their own reading and writing, skeptical thinkers regarding questions which have no clear-cut answers?

Oh, I’m not saying the whole article leans that direction. Here’s the closing:

“The fundamental principles of our religion are sublime and candid and they can be easily understood by every man and woman regardless of age. The basic thing is that scholars and preachers have to impart them to the younger generation in a convincing way, without creating confusion and skepticism,” he said.

But for an article nominally against atheism, this is more favorable treatment than we can expect. What’s next, an article–in Saudi Arabia–openly praising atheism?

Yeah, no, I won’t hold my breath.


  1. Trebuchet says

    I’ve read the whole post twice and still don’t understand what they’re saying.

    Of course, in Saudi Arabia anything other than State-Sponsored Wahabi Fundamentalism is an “extreme religious view”.

  2. machintelligence says

    The article seems to have most of the elements of good “spin.”
    * It cannot be an outright lie.
    * You have to be able to say it with a straight face.
    * It should relieve skepticism without arousing curiosity.
    * It should seem profound.

  3. lorn says

    I suspect that some of this more favorable stance is a result of the general historic principle that the smaller the differences the greater the animosity. Saudi Arabia, run by the house of Saud, have long had a agreement among outcasts agreement between the family and the Wahhabi Islam. Wahhabism is vehemently intolerant of other flavors of Islam they are the fundamentalist’s fundamentalist bent on imposing their views on everyone. With particular emphasis on other religious sects within Islam, which they see as perversions of the truth.

    Ironically they are often more forgiving of other religions then their misguided coreligionists. Similarly, because it is so far removed from their own views, they are less likely to see atheism as an immediate threat. Sufism they might want to wipe out, given the opportunity, but atheists …

  4. says

    In my country, more people are claiming to be atheist. 90% of them believes in “nothing” which doesn’t really make them atheist. The most people don’t even know what every meaning contains, they just say something and hope it’ll sound smart or like they know anything about the subject. the difference between now and in the past is that the respect and the knowledge for religion and even the non-religions has decreased which concerns a lot of people and still isn’t clear to the otherrs

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