But throughout, the young Palestinian-born pharmacist had gnawing doubts.
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The more he tried to resolve them, the more they grew. Finally he told his parents, both devout Muslims, that he was an atheist. They brought home clerics to talk with him, trying in vain to bring him back to the faith. Finally, they gave up. I became a new person then.
It's socially tolerated to not be actively atheist online dating banking, to decide not to pray or carry out other acts of faith, or to have secular attitudes. But to outright declare oneself an atheist can lead to ostracism by family and friends, and if too public can draw retaliation from Islamist hard-liners or even authorities.
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Still, this tiny minority has taken small steps out of the shadows. Groups on social media networks began to emerge in the mids. Now, the Arab Spring that began in early has given a further push: The heady atmosphere of "revolution" with its ideas of greater freedoms of speech and questioning of long-held taboos has encouraged this opening.
One year-old Egyptian engineer, born a Muslim, told The Associated Press he had long been an atheist but kept it a deep secret. The uprising in Egypt and its calls for radical atheist online dating banking encouraged him to look online for atheists online dating banking like himself.
I didn't know anybody who believed like me," he said. Like most others interviewed by The Associated Press, he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, harassment or troubles with his family. His "going public" is strictly online. Even the Internet is not entirely safe.
In most Arab countries, being an atheist is not in itself illegal, but there are often laws against "insulting religion. Though he denied it, he was sentenced to three years in prison for blasphemy and contempt of religion.
Similarly, a Palestinian atheist, Waleed al-Husseini, was arrested in in the West Bank town of Qalqilya for allegedly mocking Islam on the Internet. He was held without charge for several months, and after his release also fled to France.
Still, the online space is flourishing. They range from "Atheists of Yemen" with only 25 followers, to "Sudanese Atheists" with 10, followers. There are pages that appear dormant, but most maintain some activity.
There are closed groups, like an atheist dating club in Egypt. Some draw strong negative comment. One responder, calling himself Sam, maintained that "attacking Islam has become the cheapest dating banking ticket to Europe," a reference to those who have fled their Muslim homelands. Writing on the website Elaph, Sam referred to Westerners who convert to Islam, saying "We Muslims take the best of them and they take the garbage from us.
It is not clear whether the increasing online activity reflects that numbers have risen or simply that more are emerging from isolation. Over a dozen interviews with atheists suggest both. In any case, atheists remain a tiny minority. The Arab Spring uprisings fueled the debate in the region over the role of religion in society and politics, but even secular activists are quick to distinguish themselves from atheists.
Disillusion with the post-revolution rise of Islamists, who demand strict implementation of religious rules, has also prompted some to reassess their beliefs. Watching the changes pushed Fadwa, an year-old Tunisian woman, from detached agnostic to atheist. She says she is now involved in online groups and talks to her friends at university about being an atheist.
Because of her beliefs, rumors have been spread around campus that she's promiscuous, she said. Some Muslim theologians say that's a capital offense, but no one is known to have died in recent times for being an atheist. Other sages say atheists should only be punished if they proselytize.
Others yet say ex-Muslim atheists should be tolerated, citing the Quranic verse, "There is no compulsion in religion.
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Even harder is the social cost. Declaring oneself an atheist can mean breaking from family and friends and networks that determine a Muslim's entire social life. The online venues atheist online dating banking those questioning their faith a space to go through what can be a traumatic process.
Many describe years of depression and isolation. The atheists interviewed by AP said online access to like-minded people gave them courage. All said they were surprised to discover other ex-Muslims out there.
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They also said reading articles online by prominent Western atheists like Britain's Richard Dawkins pushed them along the path. Theologian Abu Sway said he sees no possibility atheism will spread among Muslim communities.
What's happening today is "a phase rather than a serious position," he said. We don't have the Richard Dawkins type.
We don't have our own.
Should CHRISTIANS date ATHEISTS?!