If an initiative for recognizing the identities of atheists takes place in a region where religion has a major role in daily life, that obviously attracts a good deal of attention. The demand of atheists for respect of their identities and rights in Iraq, a country where 97% of the population are Muslims, is being monitored closely in world media. Looking at this group of people, who have concerns regarding the recognition of their atheistic identities in Iraq, what could be said in regard to the viewpoint of Muslims on non-Muslims?
First of all, when observing the universe, the existence of a Creator is apparently conceived. However, in certain circumstances a person may sink into a depressed mood and may experience a collapse in his way of thinking. Atheism is generally the result of such despondence. Pessimism, hopelessness and mainly a lack of love; thinking that he is not loved by anyone and he cannot have feelings of affection for others trigger that gloomy mood seizing him. Therefore approaching atheists with love, and making them realize that they are respected is substantial in communicating good morals to them. It should not be forgotten that ignorance as a result of a lack of knowledge and disinformation lies at the basis of hatred and intolerance; for that reason, adopting an approach based on compassion should be sought for with patience. Prophets have never forced people to accept belief throughout history and they have always communicated their invitation to religion with love and compassion, and by clearly showing their respect for the other party.
There are many examples in the history of Islam showing how Muslims have lived in peace with non-Muslims. In fact, this embracing spirit has been most influential in the spread of Islam, contrary to the compulsory mindset. At a time when Jews were oppressed and persecuted in every part of Europe, they lived the golden age of their culture under Muslim rule in the Andalusian Umayyad Dynasty. The progress achieved between the years 711 to 1031 AD in Spain is considered to be the Renaissance of Jewish culture. Following the downfall of the Andalusian Umayyad Dynasty, when Jews were deported from Spain, it was again the Muslim Ottoman State that came to the aid of the Jews and settled them in security in its own land.
There could surely be people thinking that the status of atheists are different than that of Jews and Christians, who are recognized to be the People of the Book by Muslims. However, while there were only rare examples of Muslims in European cities like London, Paris and Hamburg 150 years ago, non-Muslims were able to live throughout the Ottoman Empire at ease including the Druze, Zoroastrian, Shaman and Pagan communities. None of these people were compelled or forced in terms of religion.
It should never be forgotten that freedom of religion and thought are the indispensable principles of contemporary democracies and what is more, a fundamental human and civil right. It is an obligation to protect freedom of religion, thought and expression; these rights are the most significant rights of individuals in legal terms, regardless of their religion, nationality or race. In the religion of Islam, this freedom given to people in regard to their beliefs are stated in many verses like "There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned” (Surat al-Baqara, 256) and “You have your religion and I have my religion” (Surat al-Kafirun, 6).
Atheists are a group representing a belief that is present not only in Iraq, but in every other part of the world. The historical texts belonging to Ancient Greece from the 5th Century BC mention atheists. In the early period of Indian culture, the "Carvaka" school, which developed as an opposite conviction to theism dating from the 6th Century BC, is perhaps one of the oldest atheistic traditions. Some atheists may object to the description of atheists as a belief group, however, believing in the existence of a Creator or being in denial of a Creator is a matter of belief. And encouraging the free expression of beliefs is a tenet that needs to be advocated at all times because having the appearance of belief despite one’s disbelief would demonstrate that person is a hypocrite. To force someone to say he has belief in a certain idea by applying compulsion and coercion would eventually lead that person into hypocrisy and attain a more prejudiced view of that thought.
If we are to answer the question we asked at the beginning; actually we have never come across such a low-tolerance approach against non-Muslims in the Islamic world as we now see in our day, especially when compared with past conduct in the history of Islam. Moreover, another trend gaining more popularity by the day among Muslims is their confrontation not only with non-Muslims, but also with all the other Muslims who do not think like themselves; this trend is seen both culturally and politically.
In truth, a faithful person may consider his way of living or conduct the only proper way for attaining the good pleasure of God and he is entitled to his religious opinion; but at this point, he should never forget that God is the only power to judge the counter party, since God commands us to approach all of humanity with love and respect regardless of their ideas or beliefs. Therefore, remembering that not people, but only God is to judge people will play an important role in establishing peace all over the world.
Islam is a religion of refinement and civilization and Muslims are responsible in representing this beautiful and enlightened spirit. Otherwise, we may not criticize people if they have not attained adequate knowledge of Islam and therefore recollect the savagery they see in the headlines of newspapers or on television; the image of a community that does not want to interact with the remaining human race and never appreciates the modern world in their insular way of living. Indeed, much of the recent conversations and criticism made in relation to Islam is generally in this vein. Having said that, beyond all these discussions, the richness of Islamic Civilization stands in truth as a historical fact. Those who have faith in God, and those who are in disbelief or suspicion, may all live together in peace in this world. Without doubt, closing channels of communication by force would not bring about a positive result for the future of our world.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Fair Observer: