Atheism in Islam

Zindik (pl. zanadika; abstract zandaka), the term used in Muslim criminal law to describe the heretic whose teaching becomes a danger to the state; this crime is liable to capital punishment ... and to damnation ...

The term was borrowed in the 'Irak from the Iranian vocabulary of the Sasanian administration; ...
Indeed, it appears for the first time in the 'Irak in 125/742, in connection with the execution of Dia'd b. Dirham; ...

The term became a technical one and literary tradition designates three famous writers, Ibn al-Rawandi, al Tawhidi and al-Ma'arri, as the "three zanadika of Islam". But in general use, the term lost its precision and if the official definition of the zindik (a dualist ascetic, then a Muslim who is secretly a Manichaean, according to the caliph Mahdi) is already carelessly applied to the three first men executed mentioned above, it is clear that it does not at all explain the psychology of the three "zanadika of Islam". In practice, the polemics of the conservatives describe as a zindik or "free thinker" any one whose external profession of Islam seems to them not sufficiently sincere (cf. the poet Dj. S.Zahawi in Baghdad or the critic Taha Husain in Cairo). This is the meaning in which it is already used by al-Ma'arri in his Risalat al-ghufran. This meaning denotes the radical doctrines of the free-thinkers, whose chief works, contained in Isma'ili refutations, derive from authors as Eranshahri, Abu 'Isa al-Warrak, Ibn al'Rawandi (K. al-zumurrudh, cf. RSO, xiv. 1933), the great physician al-Razi(K. Makharik al-anbiya) and al-Thughuri, and have been edited by P. Kraus.

The evolution of the term is explained by its political character; it brands the heresy which imperils the Muslim state (this is already clear in the trial of al-Halladj); and as the only crime systematically punished by the Prophet himself by death had been sabb al-rasul, the jurists more and more made zandaka an intellectual rebellion insulting to the Prophet's honour (cf. Ibn Taimiya and Ibn Hadjar al-Haitami).

The stages of this evolution can be brought closer together by summing up the definitions given of the word zandaka by the various Muslim schools.The Hanbalis, according to Khashish (d. 253/867), recognize five sects of zanadika:

mu'attila, who deny the creation and the Creator, reducing the world to an unstable mixture of the four elements;
manawiya (Manichaeans) and mazdakiya who are dualists;
'abdakiya (vegetarian Imami ascetics of Kufa; cf. Massignon, Recuiel ..., p11-12); and
ruhaniya (four ecstatic sects, who seek to free themselves from the constraint of observances and laws by an amorous union of the soul with God, a union denounced as implying identity of nature between the Creator and his creatures; ...) ...

... As to the theologians, the Mu'tazilis at first saw in zandaka an amorous devotion seeking liberation from obligatory duties (cf. Thumama, in al-Baghdadi, Fark, abbr. and ed. Hitti, p. 105), then a tendency to the ibaha of the Khurramiya; Muhji ed-din Ghazzali defines it as a tendency to atheism.

The Sufis were early persecuted as zanadika in view of their doctrine of the divine love (trial in the year 262/875 of Nuri; execution of al-Halladj); ...

- Shorter encyclopedia of Islam, edited by H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers (Cornell University Press: Ithaca NY 1953) p 659

Islam requires that any person who even looks at the echo you are reading to get my message, get offed in a gory pile of blood and gore. "ulhud" is the word for atheist, and it almost means "flesh of satan". If they want me to die without rights or trial, then I will state that even if they have some good ideas, we can do better with reason. - DW 10/31/94

Date: Tue, 6 Aug 1996 14:05:46 -0700
from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 6, 1996


A happily married university professor must divorce his wife because he was thought to have renounced the Islamic religion, a top appeals court in Egypt has ruled. Nasr Abu Zeid, a professor of Arabic was accused by Muslim fundamentalists of writings and interpretations of the Koran which were profane, and resembled "atheism" -- a term used not to specifically refer to a non-theist, but rather to those who do not believe in Islam.

The ruling by the Court of Cassation, the nation's top appeals body, upholds an earlier decision where a judge ruled that Zeid's writings do, in fact, make him an unbeliever. But the professor insists that he is still a Muslim, and continues to accuse religious leaders of quoting the Koran out of context and making historical errors.

Mr. Zeid and his wife, who is also a professor, fled to the Netherland last year; officials declared that should they decide to return to Cairo, the couple would be compelled to separate. But the Zeid case has become a major cause celebre for human rights organizations, some of which expressed shock and dismay at yesterday's ruling. The secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights told the New York Times: "This is a big shock to us. The ruling is a slap in the face of civil society in Egypt and to its development. It is another addition to the backward behavior in Egypt that is working to stop any real development and it strengthens the limitations on freedom of opinion and belief."

Human rights groups immediately called upon Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to overturn the ruling; they also expressed fears for Mr. Zeid's life, saying that the decision would simply encourage the Muslim militant groups who have been fighting to turn the nation into a strict Islamic state, modeled after Iran.

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created 1jun1996, revised 20mar98     |     comments on this site? tpkunesh@atheisms.info