16 May 2013
Iran is one of seven nations
(Afghanistan, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan being the
other six) where apostasy is legally punishable by death. A stronger incentive not to be counted as
infidel is probably harder to come by. And yet, to date, 3,468 atheists in Iran
have gone to atheistcensus.com to do just that.
To be part of society in Iran,
religious affiliation – Muslim or otherwise - is required: for official forms,
for social inclusion, for just appearing “normal”. Despite the religious appearance, Iran is one
of the top 10 contributors to the Atheist Census, suggesting that atheists do
indeed exist there. It’s just that they
In this context, it was heartening and
harrowing to receive an unsolicited email from an Iranian woman who warmly
thanked the creators of Atheist Census for giving her a forum to be counted. It was notable that she identified herself as
atheist, an Iranian and a global citizen.
She was appreciative, but was not
satisfied with counting herself anonymously. She mentioned that she was going to tell her
“numerous” non-religious friends about the site.
According to the latest statistics on
Atheist Census, 88% of Iranians who took the short, six question survey, were
raised Muslim. They have now rejected
their (former) faith. They are
apostates. The entomology of apostasy
comes from the Greek “apostasia” which means “revolt”. When apostasy is possibly a life and death
situation, it is not hyperbole to say that being counted as an atheist is a
revolutionary act. Perhaps it is even
more so when a woman professes herself as infidel, given the oppression of
women in particular in Islamic countries. This atheist, this Iranian, indeed this global
citizen who was counted in Atheist Census and then took the time to send me an
email, was one woman among the (only) 20% of Iranians who have been counted in
Atheist Census that identify as female.
Often surveys are important to those who
have created them. This short story
shows that some surveys can also be important to those who participate in them.