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 are hidden.
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.