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Gulf atheism in the age of social media

The Arabian Peninsula is widely known for its strict observance of Islam, but a rising number of Gulf nationals are starting to distance themselves from religious practice.
A Saudi man prepares to login into his Twitter account on his laptop on October 6, 2013 at his office in Riyadh. Despite sitting on the world's largest wealth of oil, Saudis complain their salaries are not enough to make ends meet, and have taken to Twitter demanding better income.    AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE        (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Gulf states have a long association with Islam; after all, the religion was founded in the Arabian Peninsula more than 1,400 years ago. More recently, movements such as Wahhabism and Salafism were also founded here. However, over the past few years a rising number of Gulf nationals have started to distance themselves from religious practice and in some cases started to openly criticize the application of religion in society.

It is therefore ironic that the godfather of modern Gulf atheists was brought up in present-day Saudi Arabia and turned Salafist before embracing atheism. Abdullah al-Qasemi was born in 1907 in Najd, central Arabia, to a conservative family and a strict father. Qasemi traveled to India and across the Middle East following the death of his father before getting his education in Cairo, where he initially defended Salafist teachings, which had him expelled from Al-Azhar University. Qasemi slowly distanced himself from Salafism following the publication of his book They Lie to See God Beautiful.” Qasemi survived two assassination attempts in Beirut and in Cairo for his nonbelief and went on to publish numerous books, including The Universe Judges the God and The Conscience of the Universe before he died in Cairo in 1996. His infamous statement, “The occupation of our brains by gods is the worst form of occupation,” is today widely quoted by Arab atheists.

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