A recent report was published on the situation in Iraq that atheists face.
NBC News interviewed 20 atheists living in Iraq. For their safety, their identities are being kept secret and they are identified by pseudonyms. The focus of the report is how religiously motivated violence in Iraq is generating a "wave of atheism" in the country.
Atheism is technically not illegal in Iraq, but atheists still fear being the target of militias or police. It is illegal to slander or insult any faith in Iraq, and Islam is the country's official religion.
Atheists and agnostics in Iraq have chosen to hide as religious conservatives battle it out for control of the government. Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups are the two notable factions, but there are other smaller ethnic and religious communities as well.
The internet, as with many other religiously dominated countries, offers unbelieving citizens some resources. A Facebook page called Iraq's Agnostics and Atheists has nearly 13,000 likes.
But they must still be cautious. Fadi, one of the atheists interviewed, told journalists, “I am afraid of being discovered — then I would be killed. This may also harm my family, although none of them know that I don’t believe.” Fadi admitted that he must clear his search history on his cellphone and computer frequently, for fear that someone will discover what he reads about religion and faith.
Another nonbeliever, Darwin, was raised in a Shiite family. He used to share his thoughts on religion and science on Facebook under a false identity. "We used to talk about different issues, and exchange information," he said. "I heard militias had started to chase us, and they had the technology and people to track my account." He deleted the page about a year ago after he feared being tracked down.
In 2003, Saddam Hussein's regime was defeated. Since then Shiite Muslim groups have taken over key parts of the government. Then, Sunni resentment and anger towards the Shiites led to ISIS attacks throughout the region. Shiite military groups, largely connected with Iran, helped defeat ISIS in Iraq in 2017.
An Islamist scholar, Ghalib al-Shahbandar, was also interviewed. He is alarmed by the growing number of nonbelievers in Iraq. “A wave of atheism will overwhelm Iraq because of the wrong practices of Islamic parties,” he said. “They are what has forced people to avoid Islam and other religions.”
Many of Iraq's atheists are younger (Fadi is 23 and Darwin is 21), but there are some older nonbelievers, too. Abu Sami, a 52-year-old painter, told his wife he was an atheist five years after they were married.
“At first she refused to stay with me and threatened to tell her parents and ask for a divorce,” Abu Sami said. Over time she realized she would not convince him to change his beliefs.
Abu Sami’s older sons, who are 21 and 17, know their father does not believe in God. His youngest son though, a 14-year-old, still does not know. Abu Sami fears his youngest son might talk to friends and put the family in danger.
Speaking about the dangers of religion, Abu Sami said, “We used to hear that Islam is the religion of peace, but ISIS behaved like monsters, barbarians and even worse. Their God did not tell them to kill prisoners, did not tell them to kidnap, and rape women, did not tell them to take women and children as slaves."
"Is this a peaceful religion? It is not at all, and I do not want to be part of such a religion,” he added.
While I hope that more and more people in Iraq are able to leave their faith, it is unfortunate that it has to be brought about by such an extensive campaign of misery and suffering.
This is the damage done by religion, and some of the people in Iraq are finally seeing that.