Why Modern Atheists Are Mushriks

Around this time last year I wrote an article in which I argued that Muslims who focus on refuting atheism must understand that it is not atheism per se that is attractive to those who renege on Islam.[1] Instead, it is often the case that people adopt atheism because they have been dazzled by the material successes associated with Western modernity and want to join its ranks. They want to belong to the right crowd and appear sophisticated, intellectual, cool, and so on. Since secularism and its logical end station atheism are two key components of Western modernity, it is only natural that Muslims who want some of the prestige of Western modernity to rub off on them become zealous converts to its central dogmas.
I also argued that the priority for Muslims should not therefore be to refute atheism, but rather to unmask Western modernity and show it for what it is. We need to treat the disease rather than merely alleviating its symptoms. Or to use what has become another common metaphor: instead of countering the effects of the blue pill, we need to identify who it is that has been slipping it into our drink so that their company may be avoided. There have been attempts to deal with modernity by way of post-colonial and critical studies, where scholars deconstruct and problematise Western modernity and liberalism. My issue with these approaches is that for their theoretical work these thinkers do not accept or apply a Qur’anic epistemology. These are secular efforts which are rooted in a materialist mindset, and I believe that they end up reinforcing modernity. It should not be a case of the “subalterns”, the “othered”, or “racialised” speaking up against the empire, the whites, or the Islamophobes. It is rather the case of īmān versus kufr and tawḥīd versus shirk. This should be the starting point for our analysis.

As I mentioned in last year’s article, one thing we need to do is to stop referring to modernity as modernity, and instead start calling it what it really is: jāhiliyyah. It is – as it always has been since its inception – a specific form of jāhiliyyah that I have chosen to call Farangism. I argue that Farangism is made up of a mishmash of Judaism, Christianity (specifically Protestantism), and paganism. Those who are interested in the Christian underpinnings of Farangism might very well read Brad S. Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. And those who want to know more about the Jewish underpinnings can read Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century. In this article, I want to elaborate upon my claim that paganism (in the form of materialism) is a constituent part of modernity.

One problem that Muslims have is that we seem to believe that atheism is a completely novel category of kufr that has only been treated in one or two āyahs of the Qur’an, such as 52:35, which ultimately leaves us in the dark when it comes to conceptualising it as a contemporary phenomenon. This error has been made because of a misdirected focus. Atheists should not be defined by what they do not believe, but rather by what they actually believe. If we approach them from that vantage point, it is more correct to primarily understand them as being materialists. And as such, they are actually pagans and thus thoroughly discussed in the Qur’an. Here are some reasons for why I believe that this designation makes the most sense.

Number one: their incessant demand for a material god
Shirk is the concept of worshipping the created instead of or along with the Creator. Or to put it differently: it is the worship of the material instead of or along with He who is beyond the material. Atheists are known to say that they refuse to believe in a god that they cannot see, hear, or touch. They demand proof for His existence, that is, empirical proof; the empirical method is specifically developed to investigate material phenomena. This demand echoes the words of previous unbelievers, including the kuffār of Quraysh, who would say:

“Those who have no knowledge say, ‘If only Allah would speak to us or a sign would come to us!’ The same was said by those who came before. Their hearts are all alike. Indeed, We have made the signs clear for people of sure faith.”[2]

This is a typically pagan mindset, where worship is directed to material gods (i.e. idols that can be heard, seen, or touched).

This argument could be objected to by pointing out that atheists do not actually worship a material god. They are likely only stating a hypothetical and rhetorical claim. Let me offer an example that illustrates why this objection is actually invalid.

Suppose that you are sitting in the mosque during Ramadan at ifṭār time, and are about to break your fast. Joining you is a man whom you have just seen giving ṣadaqah to a poor person, and he tells you that he performed the Hajj pilgrimage last year. After finishing your ifṭār you go and perform your prayers together. Right after the taslīm this man turns to you and says: “You know, the only reason that I don’t believe in Hubal, al-Lāt, al-ʿUzzā, and Manāt is because I haven’t seen these idols. If someone were to roll in the statues depicting them inside the masjid right now, I would bow down to them just like I bowed down to Allah. The only thing stopping me is that there aren’t any existing statues of them in the world. I don’t worship them because they don’t exist anymore.”

Would you accept this person as a monotheist and a Muslim? You actually would not, despite his Hajj, prayer, fasting, ṣadaqah, and the fact that he has not actually worshipped Hubal and the other idols. Similarly, the atheist’s mere claim that he would have worshipped Allah if only He had been a material god – effectively an idol – renders him a bona fide pagan.

Number two: their enslavement to the material system they live under
“Allah sets forth the parable of a slave owned by several quarrelsome masters, and a slave owned by only one master. Are they equal in condition? Praise be to Allah! In fact, most of them do not know.”[3]

You either worship Allah, or you worship things that He has created. There is no other option. You are either a slave to Him, or to a million things other than Him. Paradoxically, the first option entails liberation, whereas the second option means being shackled.

“We have put shackles around their necks up to their chins, so their heads are forced up, and have placed a barrier before them and a barrier behind them and covered them all up, so they fail to see the truth. It is the same whether you warn them or not—they will never believe.”[4]

They are slaves to the state and its institutions, being indoctrinated through the educational system, and sent out to die as soldiers for imagined concepts like the nation. They are slaves to the customs and norms of their societies. They are slaves to their employers and their politicians, and to what the media feeds them on a daily basis. In short, they are slaves to the system to which they belong. Even if a Muslim cannot change the system, at least he gets to stand before his true Master and exclaim: “Allah is greater [than this system and everything else around me].” On the other hand, the materialist-pagan never even gets a break from serving his various masters all day long.

This freedom from servitude of mankind through the servitude of Allah was articulated by a few of the Sahâbah when asked by the Emperor of Persia what had brought them to his lands:

Allah has sent us to take whoever wishes from the servitude of mankind to the servitude of Allah and from the tightness of this world to its expanse and from the injustice of the ways of life [in this world] to the justice of Islam.[5]

Number three: their worship of their addictions
This point is directly related to the previous one. The Farangi pagan is a slave of his addictions. He is addicted to his alcohol, entertainment, technology, pornography, and other vain sources of comfort.

Abū Hurayrah رضي الله عنه reported: “The Prophet said, ‘May he be miserable: the worshipper of the dinār and dirham [i.e. money], and the worshipper of the striped silk cloak. If he is given anything, he is satisfied; but if not, he is unsatisfied’”[6]

He thinks that he is free, as he wastes away all alone in the small cell that he calls home, watching Netflix after being exhausted from work. He comforts himself with the junk food that he cannot stop eating, even as he knows that it is slowly killing him. Take away his Netflix, his junk food, and his pornography, and he will have nothing at all to live for.

“Have you seen the one who has taken their own desires as their god? Will you then be a keeper over them?”[7]

Number four: ancestor/tribe worship
One salient feature of Farangism is the insistence on elevating one’s tribe or ancestors to the status of ṭawāghīt, that is, objects to be worshipped with or instead of Allah. This can assume different forms. The far right will usually talk about “race realism” and invoke differences in biology and intelligence quotient (IQ) levels to justify the worship of the tribe. On the other hand, those who are a bit more tempered will instead talk about “Western values” and invoke their Western civilisation as being the yardstick of truth.

“When it is said to them, ‘Follow what Allah has revealed,’ they reply, ‘No! We follow what we found our forefathers practicing.’ Would they still do so, even if their forefathers had no understanding or guidance?”[8]

The consequences of this for those outside of their tribes have, as evidenced by history, been catastrophic. In fact, the two World Wars tell us that they are even willing to kill each other for this idol of theirs.

Number five: the pagan Greco-Roman historical continuity
In his book In Search of the Sacred: A Conversation with Seyyed Hossein Nasr on His Life and Thought (p. 301-302), Seyyed Hossein Nasr explains this point in elaborate detail:

As Christianity became the dominant religion of the West, after the fall of the Roman Empire—to which it itself contributed—and as it created a new civilization, which is what we call Western civilization, it was not able to nullify completely the influences of the Greco-Roman antiquity and its pagan and antireligious aspects. As you remember, before the rise of Christianity, the late phase of Greek and Roman civilization and cultures present us with the only known case in history before modern times in which you have a fairly extensive, if not complete and total, rebellion against religion. Both the Greek and Roman religions had decayed, and it is in the late Greek period and among the Romans that you find agnostic, or even atheistic and materialistic philosophies that deny any transcendent principle, such philosophies as those of the New Academy, the Epicureans, the Skeptics, and groups like them. Even before the later period of Antiquity there were the Sophists who were a class of principle-less dialecticians against whom Socrates had spoken already, men who were willing to argue in favor of anything because they did not believe in anything. One just could pay them to argue for the truth of anything that one desired. You do not meet that kind of phenomenon in either ancient Persia, India, or China, all of which possessed great civilizations. Although Rome did not have the same strong philosophical tradition as Greece, nevertheless aspects of hedonism, skepticism, and this-worldliness which characterized much of the late Greek culture were also to be seen in Rome. And as the Roman religion became gradually enfeebled, various Eastern religions began to fill this vacuum, including the cult of Isis and Osiris, Mithraism and Manicheanism from Persia, and of course Christianity, which won the day. It won over all of these other religions and eclipsed all the secular philosophies of the day, but it was not able to fully neutralize the negative influence of various existing philosophical and religious movements. There was a great deal of skepticism, naturalism, and rationalism that remained in a latent state and that with the weakening of medieval Christian philosophy and theology manifested itself with fury during the Renaissance.

The only thing that I would amend in Nasr’s analysis is his differentiation between the pagan and the antireligious elements of Greco-Roman civilisation. The materialist and naturalist philosophies were not a departure from paganism. Instead, they were the elite’s articulation of paganism which stood in contrast to the more crude, folk religion form of paganism practiced by the masses. At any rate, the secular humanists of the Renaissance were consciously attempting to revive ancient pagan ideas and culture, which is what they did. The French revolutionaries continued this project, and it is very much alive today, through Farangism. Take as an example someone like the late American novelist and public intellectual Gore Vidal. He was an atheist who admired and wrote about Julian the Apostate, the 4th century Roman emperor who tried to overturn the gains made by Christianity during the time of Constantine and reinstate paganism as a state religion. Julian the Apostate was considered by Vidal to be a sort of champion of the materialist philosophy that Vidal himself advocated for as an atheist. This type of identification was spot on, as Julian the Apostate and Gore Vidal were both pagans.

Number six: the insistence on a ribāwī economy
With the revival of paganism, it was during the Renaissance that banking in the modern sense emerged in rebellion against the revealed law. It appears that there is a connection between the materialist, pagan mindset and the ribāwī economy in which material gains are prioritised over everything else. Indeed, the pagans of old and the pagans of today consider ribā to be an intrinsic part of any country’s economy.

“Those who consume interest will stand on Judgment Day like those driven to madness by Satan’s touch. That is because they say, ‘Trade is no different than interest.’ But Allah has permitted trading and forbidden interest. Whoever refrains—after having received warning from their Lord—may keep their previous gains, and their case is left to Allah. As for those who persist, it is they who will be the residents of the Fire. They will be there forever.”[9]

Number seven: the obsession with nudity and sexual deviancy
It cannot have escaped anyone that today’s materialists seem quite obsessed with nudity and zinā. This is to the point that they have created all sorts of political and activist movements around these causes. For some, their identities and very lives revolve around their preferences in the bedroom. As pointed out by American law professor Steven D. Smith in his Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac, this is nothing new. One finds the following description on the book’s back cover:

Traditionalist Christians who oppose same-sex marriage and other cultural developments in the United States wonder why they are being forced to bracket their beliefs in order to participate in public life. This situation is not new, says Steven D. Smith: Christians two thousand years ago faced very similar challenges.

Picking up poet T. S. Eliot’s World War II–era thesis that the future of the West would be determined by a contest between Christianity and “modern paganism,” Smith argues in this book that today’s culture wars can be seen as a reprise of the basic antagonism that pitted pagans against Christians in the Roman Empire. Smith’s Pagans and Christians in the City looks at that historical conflict and explores how the same competing ideas continue to clash today. All of us, Smith shows, have much to learn by observing how patterns from ancient history are reemerging in today’s most controversial issues.

Just think of the Greco-Roman attitude to “homosexuality” and juxtapose that against the attitude of materialist Farangis like Gore Vidal, Stephen Fry, Christopher Hitchens, and Douglas Murray. After such a period of reflection, the point made by professor Smith should be clear.

Anyone familiar with Islamic history knows that the pagan Arabs insisted on performing ṭawāf around the Kaʿbah while being nude. In contemporary times, you still have pagan Hindu ascetics who walk around nude. Again, this seems to be quite important for pagans of all stripes, to the extent that putting on clothes such as the hijab incenses them.

Number eight: the animosity towards the god of Ibrāhīm
This is something that I find quite telling. You will usually find that atheists, whilst claiming that they do not believe in Him, seem quite angry with the god of Ibrāhīm عليه السلام specifically. They are known to be particularly hostile to those who follow Ibrāhīm and Muhammad عليهما السلام. They have this in common with their Hindutva pagan brethren. On this matter, Al Jazeera reports:

Many members of the so-called “alt-right” – a loosely knit coalition of populists, white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis – turned to India to find historic and current justifications for their racist, xenophobic and divisive views. Using a specific, “white nationalist” brand of Orientalism, they projected their fantasies about a racially pure society onto the Indian culture and in response received a warm welcome from Hindu fundamentalists in India. While an alliance between the Hindu far right and the Western alt-right may appear confounding on the surface, it actually has a long history, going all the way back to the construction of the Aryan race identity, one of the ideological roots of Nazism, in the early 20th century. In the 1930s, German nationalists embraced the 19th-century theory that Europeans and the original Sanskrit speakers of India who had built the highly developed Sanskrit civilisation – which white supremacists wanted to claim as their own – come from a common Indo-European, or Aryan, ancestor. They subsequently built their racist ideology on the assumed superiority of this “pure” race. [10]

It could be objected here that Israel, a nation that claims a connection with Ibrāhīm, is allied with Hindutva-run India. But this is not because the Hindu pagans have an affinity for Abrahamic monotheism. It is actually because the Zionists are doing exactly what the Medinan Jews did: finding a common cause with the pagans through their shared hatred of Muslims:

“Had they believed in Allah, the Prophet, and what has been revealed to him, they would have never taken those pagans as allies. But most of them are rebellious.”[11]

Another objection may be that the pagan Arabs, like the Jews, claimed affinity with and respected Ibrāhīm. Does that not contradict my point here? First of all, I did not say that the materialist pagans of today are entirely identical to the Arab pagans referred to in the Qur’an. They have a lot of commonalities, but without their beliefs necessarily mirroring each other on every single point. That being said, even here there is a clear overlap. Even though the pagan Arabs respected their ancestor Ibrāhīm, this was more a case of tribal pride rather than actual loyalty to the god of Ibrāhīm. In fact, they did not actually like exclusively worshipping Ibrāhīm’s god:

“Yet when Allah alone is mentioned, the hearts of those who disbelieve in the Hereafter are filled with disgust. But as soon as those gods other than Him are mentioned, they are filled with joy.”[12]

Their respect for Ibrāhīm is akin to how today’s atheist French nationalists might respect figures like Joan of Arc, which is not for her religion (which they detest) but for being a symbol of French nationalism.

Number nine: using qadar (determinism) as an excuse
When recently interviewing the aforementioned atheist Stephen Fry, the New York Times gave their article[13] the headline: Stephen Fry Would Like to Remind You That You Have No Free Will. Determinism has become quite common amongst atheists, especially since Sam Harris wrote an entire book about this topic. This was in fact a common belief amongst the pagan Arabs as well:

“The polytheists will argue, ‘Had it been Allah’s Will, neither we nor our forefathers would have associated others with Him in worship or made anything unlawful.’ Likewise, those before them rejected the truth until they tasted Our punishment. Ask them, ‘Do you have any knowledge that you can produce for us? Surely you follow nothing but assumptions and you do nothing but lie.’”[14]

Number ten: the claim that “when we die, we are only bones”
The absence of any belief in the afterlife is a quintessential materialist tenet. This also happens to have been a typically pagan belief shared amongst Arab polytheists as well:

“And they argue, ‘There is nothing beyond our worldly life. We die; others are born. And nothing destroys us but the passage of time.’ Yet they have no knowledge in support of this claim. They only speculate.”[15]

Number eleven: changing the natural order
This altering of Allah’s creation also seems to be a peculiar pagan practice, inspired by Iblīs who has been quoted in the Qur’an:

I will certainly mislead them and delude them with empty hopes. Also, I will order them and they will slit the ears of cattle1 and alter Allah’s creation.” And whoever takes Satan as a guardian instead of Allah has certainly suffered a tremendous loss.[16]

In the case of the Makkan pagans, they would invent certain classifications regarding their cattle:

They say, “These cattle and crops are reserved—none may eat them except those we permit,” so they claim. Some other cattle are exempted from labour and others are not slaughtered in Allah’s Name—falsely attributing lies to Him. He will repay them for their lies. They also say, “The offspring of this cattle is reserved for our males and forbidden to our females; but if it is stillborn, they may all share it.” He will repay them for their falsehood. Surely He is All-Wise, All-Knowing.[17]

It might, at first glance, seem peculiar that a certain type of cattle classification is criticised so severely, but this pagan practice of toying with Allah’s natural order is a serious matter. It has run amok, to the point of being extended to actual human beings. Today you will see them classifying human beings into him, her, they, zie, sie, ey, ve, tey, e, and so on.[18]

Number twelve: eliminating unwanted children
This pagan practice has been severely criticized in the Qur’an:

Lost indeed are those who have murdered their own children foolishly out of ignorance and have forbidden what Allah has provided for them—falsely attributing lies to Allah. They have certainly strayed and are not ˹rightly˺ guided.[19]

It is a common practice in Farangi society, based on materialist, i.e. pagan, morality.

Bonus observation: the common pagan aesthetics
This point is a mere personal observation that does not necessarily demonstrate anything with full certainty. It is not an actual argument, but something I nevertheless felt like bringing up. I, again, find it quite telling that Farangi materialists and other pagans seem to have shared aesthetic sensibilities. After observing the desire for qazaʿ haircuts, the previously mentioned proclivity for nudity, and the flamboyant moustaches and outfits, it is not difficult to conclude that all of this stands in stark contrast to the modesty and simplicity associated with millah Ibrāhīm. Just type in “Aron-Ra” (who is a prominent atheist debater) to Google Images, followed by a search for “pagan priest”, and you will see what I mean.

Conclusion, and a related point
It should hopefully be clear by now that it would be wrong to say that atheism has not been dealt with in the Qur’an except for a few instances. The atheists of today are materialists, and as such they are a type of mushriks whose beliefs run parallel with many of the Arab pagan tenets that have been refuted in the Qur’an. This is why I have referred to Farangism as a hodgepodge of Christianity, Judaism, and, indeed, paganism.

Also, I would like to add a final related point.[20] The idea that mankind can be reduced to our material elements goes back directly to Iblīs. To him, we are mere clay. To the Farangi pagans, we are similarly mere atoms in orbit. We are reduced to our biology and our worth lies in our appearance, how much material possessions we can accrue, how much material items we manage to produce through our industries, and so on. Our spiritual worth does not matter because there is no such thing as a soul or spirit; we are mere clay. The father of materialist reductionism is none other than Iblīs himself.

Source: http://www.islam21c.com


[1] https://www.islam21c.com/islamic-thought/unmasking-western-modernity-farangism-studies/.

[2] Al-Qur’an, 2:118

[3] Al-Qur’an, 39:29

[4] Al-Qur’an, 36:8-10

[5] Ibn Kathir’s al-Bidayah wal-Nihaayah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyya, n.d.), vol. 7, pp. 39-40.

[6] Al-Bukhāri

[7] Al-Qur’an, 25:43

[8] Al-Qur’an, 2:170

[9] Al-Qur’an, 2:275

[10] https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2018/12/13/why-white-supremacists-and-hindu-nationalists-are-so-alike

[11] Al-Qur’an, 5:81

[12] Al-Qur’an, 39:45

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/05/03/magazine/stephen-fry-interview.html?campaign_id=20&emc=edit_wg_20210503&instance_id=30158&nl=watching&regi_id=23546060&segment_id=57125&te=1&user_id=e9d3f5f4cbf0ef1d3e124c45d91e5699

[14] Al-Qur’an, 6:148

[15] Al-Qur’an, 45:24

[16] Al-Qur’an, 4:119

[17] Al-Qur’an, 138-139

[18] https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/

[19] Al-Qur’an, 6:140

[20] The credit for this observation goes to American Muslim activist Shahid King.


Mirza Safwat is a Bosnian-Swedish sociologist and novelist. His interests include Farangi studies in general, and the Islamic movement under Farangi hegemony in particular. You can follow him at https://twitter.com/MirzaSafwat

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