Legal discrimination against atheists is uncommon in constitutional democracies, although some atheists and atheist groups, particularly in the United States, have protested against laws, regulations, and institutions that they view as discriminatory. In some Islamic countries, atheists face discrimination and severe penalties such as the withdrawal of legal status or, in the case of apostasy, capital punishment.
Atheists, or those accused of holding atheistic beliefs, may be subject to discrimination and persecution in many Islamic countries. According to the International Humanist and Ethical Union, compared to other nations, “unbelievers… in Islamic countries face the most severe – sometimes brutal – treatment”. Atheists and other religious skeptics can be executed in at least thirteen nations: Afghanistan, Iran,Malaysia Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
According to popular interpretations of Islam, Muslims are not free to change religion or become an atheist: denying Islam and thus becoming an apostate is traditionally punished by death for men and by life imprisonment for women. The death penalty for apostasy is apparent in a range of Islamic states including: Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Although there have been no recently reported executions in Saudi Arabia, a judge in Saudi Arabia has recently recommended that imprisoned blogger
Raif Badawi go before a high court on a charge of apostasy, which would carry the death penalty upon conviction. While a death sentence is rare, it is common for atheists to be charged with blasphemy or inciting hatred. New regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have jailed several outspoken atheists.
Islam Beheiri sentenced to five years for blasphemy in Egypt
Since an apostate can be considered a Muslim whose beliefs cast doubt on the Divine, and/or Koran, claims of atheism and apostasy have been made against Muslim scholars and political opponents throughout history.
Both fundamentalists and moderates agree that “blasphemers will not be forgiven” although they disagree on the severity of an appropriate punishment. In northwestern Syria in 2013 during the Syrian Civil War, jihadists
Statue of the renowned Arab poet Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri in Ma’arra, North Syria, got beheaded.
beheaded and defaced a sculpture of Al-Maʿarri (973–1058 CE), one of several outspoken Arab and Persian atheist intellectuals who lived and taught during the Islamic Golden Age.
Jordan requires atheists to associate themselves with a recognized religion for official identification purposes. In Egypt, intellectuals suspected of holding atheistic beliefs have been prosecuted by judicial and religious authorities. Novelist Alaa Hamad was convicted of publishing a book that contained atheistic ideas and apostasy that were considered to threaten national unity and social peace.
The study of Islam is a requirement in public and private schools for every Algerian child, irrespective of his/her religion.
Atheist or agnostic men are prohibited from marrying Muslim women (Algerian Family Code I.II.31). A marriage is legally nullified by the apostasy of the husband (presumably from Islam, although this is not specified; Family Code I.III.33). Atheists and agnostics cannot inherit (Family Code III.I.138.).
Several Bangladeshi atheists have been assassinated, and a “hit list” exists issued by the Bangladeshi Islamic organization, the Ansarullah Bangla Team. Activist atheist bloggers are leaving Bangladesh under threat of assassination.
Atheists in Indonesia experience official discrimination in the context of registration of births and marriages, and the issuance of identity cards. In 2012, Indonesian atheist Alexander Aan was beaten by a mob, lost his job as a civil servant and was sentenced to two and a half years in jail for expressing his views online.
In Iran, atheism is not recognised as a belief in a legal sense. The law specifies that all citizens must declare themselves as Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Zoroastrian, with adherents of the latter three religions counted as religious minorities. The four recognised religions provide rights such as applying for entrance to university, or becoming a lawyer, with the position of judge reserved for Muslims only.
Atheists hanged in Iran the charge “Waging war on God.”
The Penal Code is also based upon the religious affiliation of the victim and perpetrator, with the punishment oftentimes more severe on non-Muslims. Numerous writers, thinkers and philanthropists have been accused of apostasy and sentenced to death for questioning the prevailing interpretation of Islam in Iran. The Iranian Atheists Association was established in 2013 to form a platform for Iranian atheists to start debates and to question the current Islamic regime’s attitude towards atheists, apostasy, and human rights.
Atheism is prohibited in Saudi Arabia and can come with a death penalty if practiced.
In March 2014, the Saudi interior ministry issued a royal decree branding all atheists as terrorists, which defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.
Compulsory religious instruction in Turkish schools is also considered discriminatory towards atheists