This essay has been brought to you by the team at the Institute for Rationalizing Islam, which seeks to preserve the reputation of Islam through dialogue.
As Muslims, we have long regarded Atheism as being very much like a cult, whose members are so committed to denying the signs of Allah (swt) that their devotion borders on mental slavery. As a belief system Atheism has long preyed on weak-minded and misguided individuals, very much in the manner of other well-known cults. But a recent scientific poll compiled by Dr. Muhammad Al-Biryani suggests that atheism is now drawing members from a wider section of the population who express their atheism in more diverse manners. This data suggests to us something that was once unthinkable:
Atheism may no longer simply be a cult, but may have in fact now be best classified as a religion!
Of course, there is no doubt that in many ways, atheism still retains the qualities of a cult. There is the mindless obedience and near worship of figures like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, both of whom exercise nearly complete control over all atheists. There is the frequent repetition of standard lines of argument by members of the group, coupled with either the inability or unwillingness to think critically or independently. And of course, nearly all atheists have a hair-trigger when it comes to defending their beliefs against anyone who would criticize them, and have a tendency to band together whenever Atheism- and its members’ identity as atheists- is threatened.
However, we cannot deny that atheism has grown beyond this and now displays some characteristics of a religion. In a primitive sense to be sure, but a religion nonetheless.
For example, there is a deep social component to the atheist experience. Many people join atheism as part of a quest for an identity or a search for meaning, especially when their lives lack other forms of structure or significance. And once a person is a member of atheism, then there are strong social taboos against breaking with the official dogmas of atheism. In fact, we see this very clearly when a member of the atheists may want to recognize the truth in the Qur’an or about Islam, but he is subjected to tremendous social pressure to reject it in accordance with orthodox atheist beliefs.
Further evidence for the “atheism as religion” argument can be found when one considers that atheism has undergone several schisms over the years. Some atheists have started calling themselves “agnostics,” and this has resulted in bitter sectarian disputes between the two groups over what amount to very minor theological differences. Another fundamentalist sect called “anti-theists” or sometimes “new atheists” puts great emphasis on criticizing not only other religions, but even other groups of atheists.
Regardless of the deep divisions with atheism itself, it is clear that all forms of atheism require a deep sense of faith in the fundamental tenet of atheism- that there is no God. Despite the fact that to hold this belief requires the rather ridiculous presumption that the entire universe was created from nothing, all atheists are committed to this belief- at least in public. That is because there are often strong repercussions- ranging from social alienation to outright violence- against atheists who renounce or question atheist beliefs publicly. As a result, there may be many atheists who privately believe in Islam, but who cannot go public with their belief.
But there are also many more atheists who genuinely believe in atheism, due simply to an upbringing where they were not exposed to Islam or perhaps shielded from it by those around them. For many of them, it is simply difficult to think differently than they are used to, because Allah has placed a seal on their hearts.
We must remember, though, that an atheist is already 1/3 Muslim! For a Muslim is one who believes that “There is no god BUT Allah! And Muhammad (pbuh) is His Messenger!” An atheist already believes the first 1/3 of the declaration of faith. With the right exposure, he can learn that the only God is Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger and Prophet.
The notion that atheism is a religion, however, leaves one question unanswered: if atheism is a religion, does that put it on the same plane as Islam? No, it does not.
Islam is not a religion, not in the sense that atheism is. There are many religions in the world. But there is only one that was sent by Allah swt. There is only ONE Islam! Islam is a way of life, and it is the original message of the Creator. It is man’s natural state. It is the religion of the heart, when there is no other impure teaching that impedes its turn towards it.
Islam has been unchanged since the time of the Prophet (saws). True Islam is free from divisions. It is free from compulsion- there is no compulsion in religion! Since the dawn of Islam, no person who has heard the true message of Islam has been anything but a Muslim. It is for this reason that Islam has spread to every corner of the world.
As for atheism, we should respect it just like we respect Christianity, Jewishism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. But at the same time, it is our responsibility as Muslims to speak the truth to them, to not let them get away with falsehood, and to invite them to Islam.
Because if there is truly no God… then who is Allah? And who sent the Qur’an? Atheism has no effective answers to these questions, and that is why we predict that it will slowly decline in popularity as the internet and social media exposes atheists and others to Islamic teachings.