Atheism in Egypt sparks concern
The Shaikh of Al Azhar, Ahmad Al Tayeb, recently sounded a warning over the spread of atheism in Egypt. The authorities have now promised a drive against godlessness.
The leading Islamic cleric declared on Egyptian state TV:
Atheism is no longer a marginal issue. It has become one of the many challenges facing the country. There are agencies and institutions in the country concerned about this issue.
According to this report, the shaikh’s warning has apparently prompted the Egyptian government, struggling to rejuvenate an ailing economy and keep defiant Islamists under control, to turn their attention to the reported spread of scepticism.
The ministries of Waqfs (Religious Endowments) and Youth have said they will launch a nationwide campaign to tackle atheism.The planned drive – aimed at younger Egyptians – will be spearheaded by “moderate” clergymen, psychologists, sociologists and political specialists.
Said Amnah Nuseir, a professor of Islamic Creed at the Islamic Al Azhar University:
The spread of atheism is linked to extremism. Young people are turned off by militant clergymen who keep day and night telling people they will be condemned to hell in the hereafter. Thus, those preachers have portrayed Islam as a religion that knows no mercy. This is completely alien to moderation of Islam.
Concern about the rise in atheism is not limited to Islamic authorities. Clerics in the country’s minority Christian community are worried too.
Addressing a groundbreaking conference on atheism last week, Bishop Beshui Helmy claimed that the unrest experienced by Egypt since the 2011 ousting of president Hosni Mubarak was the main reason for the trend. Helmy, the secretary-general of the Council of Egypt’s Churches, a non-official ecclesiastical body, said:
When revolutions take place in any society, they lead to a sort of fake freedom. They prompt man to rebel against everything seen as classical and traditional.
After revolting against the political regime, attention is turned to rebellion against the family’s authority and then the religious authorities represented by clergymen. Some people believe that as long as the ruler of the country is deposed, why not depose the chief of the world too.
Helmy also blamed high unemployment rates, disillusionment and “dominance of materialism” for the spread of atheism.
Atheism is the issue of the hour after the January revolution.
There are no official figures about atheists in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country of 87 million people. However, their number is estimated at around two million.
Egyptian atheists can face up to five years in prison for “contempt of religion”.