The Other Option: Atheism
The State of Islam
by Brad Bematek
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Q: What is atheism?
A: Well, a common definition of
an atheist is someone who does not
believe in god, but I'm even more of
an atheist than that. To me the point
isn't not believing in god. You can
always say, "I don't believe in god,
but I'm going to go to church and
worship god, just to be on the safe
side." Well, I come from a
background of Christianity. I'm a
former Catholic. And I think that the
religion itself is flawed at its basic
premises. Even if there was a god, I
would not worship him. Or her, or it,
or whatever. I just don't agree with
the Christian morality.
Q: What wasit that made you
decide to become an atheist?
A: It was a gradual thing. All my
life, I never was really big on religion.
I just went to church because I always
had; I never really thought about it or
anything. Then I started thinking
about it more. There wasn't really just
one thing that set me off. There was a
gradual process of re-evaluating my
position on religion.
Q: A lot of people say, "Well,
yes I believe in God, butI think
the religious establishment is
corrupt. By replacing these morals
with this structum, they've totally
destroyed what was there."
A: That's actually one of the
things I disapprove of in the Christian
religion. It's totally arbitrary. You can
say, "I don't think the Catholics are
doing it the right way," or, "I don't
think the Baptists are doing it the
right way." Well, who's the final
authority on that? It's all my word
against your word. If you're a Baptist
and I'm a Catholic, you can't prove
that you're right and I'm wrong, or
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Q: Why do you think there is
A: Just the concept of god is
unbelievable. "God created the
universe." Then who created god?
There is no rational argument for the
existence of god. By the very nature
of "god," I cannot prove that god does
not exist. I can't scan the entire
universe and say, "Look, I didn't find
a god! There isn't one." You can
always argue, "He moved on you."
Or, "He does not want to be seen."
Or, "He used his powers to not be
seen." It's putting faith over reason. I
cannot prove that there is not a god,
but that does not mean there is a god.
Until somebody offers me hard-core,
physical evidence, like they have a
picture or something, some sort of
evidence that there is a god, there is
no reason to believe. It's a false
Q: Then you're equating
evidence with the physical. Do
you feel that there is anything
more than a physical existence?
A: I believe in objective reality.
Reality is what we, as humans, can
see. I think human beings use reason
to discover the facts of reality, and
there is no reality above that which
we know of. There is no heaven, no
hell, unless you can prove that there
is. If you can't, then why discuss it?
Q: What constitutes objective
reality? Is objective reality what a
majority of people think?
A: No. Reality is what it is; it's just
there. It doesn't change because the
majority changes its mind... We used
to think that the Earth was the center
of the universe and the sun rotated
around it with all the planets. And
that model, Ptolmey's model, fit all
the evidence of the time. But as we
gathered more evidence, we
discovered that it wasn't. So the
evidence can change. But that doesn't
mean that the Earth was once the
center of the universe, and someone
came along and said it wasn't, and
suddenly it wasn't. It doesn't matter
what a bunch of people thought. The
sun was always the center of the solar
system, and as our technology and
awareness of the universe grew, we
discovered that that's the way it was.
Q: Some people say they've
had a "spiritual experience." How
does thatit in with your objective
A: This ties in with the question of
morality.They use god as their
standard of morality, and they say
'Thou shalt not kill."Now, I think
that's a pretty good rule myself. But
why is it wrong to kill? "Because god
said so." Or why is it wrong to steal?
"Because god said so." That's pretty
arbitrary. What if he didn't say so?
What if I have a "spiritual
experience," and some higher entity
comes to me and says, "Stealing is
right. The Christians are wrong." And
I start my own religion based on this.
How are you going to prove that I'm
wrong? Is there evidence either way?
Something you can point to and say,
"Here! God says it!Stealing is
wrong!" There isn't. My god says.
stealing is right; yours says stealing is
wrong. How do we solve it? We resort
to violence, like in the Middle East.
Q: How do you develop your
morality, without a "higher law"
to fall back on? How do you
decide what's right or wrong? Do
you believe in right and wrong?
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A: Yes, I do think there's right and
wrong, and I think that religion in
general cropped up around the idea
that there is a need for morality. But
they needed a standard for deciding
what's good and what's bad. And their
standard was god, or some similar
entity. My standard of morality is
what is good for human beings in
general. For example, if something
furthers my life, makes it better, I
consider that to be good. If it doesn't,
if it harms me in some way, I consider
that to be bad. It's a simple argument,
based on John Locke and later
developed by Ayn Rand. It's natural
rights, in other words.
Q: Where do natural rights
A: Natural rights come from the
needs of Man. From his very nature.
Q: At first you said that "good"
is what furthers human beings in
general. Did you mean each
person individually, in general? Or
did you mean the common good?
A: No, there is no "common
good" There is no such thing as
"society." That's a false concept.
There are only individuals that
together make up society. You can't
talk about "the good of society"
because society is just a group of
individuals. What's good for the
individual is what's good for society.
Q: On this campus, do you feel
at all alienated from others
because you're an atheist, and,
whether they're practicing or not,
most students believe in one
religion or another?
A: No. If someone is really
obnoxious about it, and tells me I'm
going to be damned to hell or
whatever, there might be some
friction there. But it's not really a
main issue to me, as far as religion
goes, True, I might think that they're
wrong, but I don't consider them to
be evil people that I won't associate
with at all. I don't feel alienated, and I
don't feel much friction.
Q: What's your opinion of
eastern religions, such as
Buddhism, where the idea of god
is not necessarily integral to the
A: I'm not really familiar with
eastern religions, so I don't think I can
really comment on that. I can just say
that, in general, religion's emphasis is
on another world, or reincarnation, or
something else that is not this world.
Your needs for this world are really
not important to them.
For example, as far as I know,
most religions damn sex, or see it as a
necessary evil. Because it gives you
pleasure in this world. I know
Catholics do. That's where the
institution of marriage comes from:
they saw it as a necessary evil, so they
said, "Only sex in marriage." And
marriage is supposed to be a covenant
with god. So that's a way they can
justify having sex, because they know
you need to have it.
My problem with religion in
general is that they take people's
needs, on this Earth, as materialistic
and selfish. That man should want
money, that man should want
material pleasures, they consider crass
materialism, and say that the spiritual
is higher. And I don't buy that at all
Q: Over the last 200 years or
so, belief in religion in general and
in higher law has declined. Do you
think atheism is going to become
more and more pervasive?
A: I hope so, but I also hope that it
will for the right reasons. Although
Christianity has been declining, I
think a secularized version of it has
been on the rise. I think that people
are replacing god with the State
Instead of submitting to god and
god's will, we put the State in there
instead. Hitler did that. I think the
Marxists would do that, except they'd
put the proletariat in as the higher
entity, I guess. I don't think thatjut
atheism, jstnot believing in god, is
the right answer. You need to
understand why the Christian
morality is arbitrary. You need to
understand the need for a rational
morality. Not something that's
arbitrary. If that happens, that'll be
Q: Thanks a lot; I appreciate it
For most Americans, Islam is
a little-understood, even feared,
religion. The cry "Jihad!," in the
sense of "holy war," is the
stereotypical symbol of supposed
Islamic fanaticism. But in the
midst of all the public
students, faculty members and
workers are thriving at Michigan.
Most follow the tenets of Islam
faithfully, all the while striving
to educate the non-Muslim
Because the University no
longer requires that entering
students divulge their religious
affiliation, it is not known how
many Muslim students are
enrolled. The University Religion
and Ethics office says there are
several hundred Muslims on
campus, mostly concentrated in
the graduate schools. The strong
Muslim presence in Ann Arbor
reflects the huge Islamic
community in the Detroit
metropolitan area. With at least
three million adherents
nationwide, Islam is the fastest
growing religion in the U.S.
Like Judaism and
Christianity, Islam is
monotheistic; that is, it holds that
there is only one God, whom the
Muslims call "Allah." Muslims
also believe in all the Hebrew and
Christian prophets, culminating
in the Last Prophet, Muhammad,
who lived in seventh-century
Arabia. Although the term
"Muhammadan" is sometimes
used to refer to a Muslim, the
word is misleading. LSA
sophomore Munirah Curtis
explained why: "A Muslim is
subservient to God, not to the
Prophet. God is the most
powerful. We follow the Prophet
only because God's words were
sent through him."
Shahada, or allegiance to
Allah, is one of the Five Pillars of
Islam. The others include:
praying five times a day (sala);
giving alms to the poor (zaka);
fasting during the holy month of
Ramadan (sawn); and making a
pilgrimage to the holy city of
Mecca, in present-day Saudi
Arabia, once in a lifetime (haj).
First-year LSA student
Hashim Rahman stressed, "Islam
is a full code of life, not just a
religion. If you're a practicing
Muslim, there are rules for
everything you do." These
additional duties are part of
striving for moral and religious
perfection, the fullest sense of
Jihad. Jihad may necessitate
fighting and dying for one's
beliefs, as is widely known, but is
not limited to this.
Other aspects of this
"striving" that set Muslim
students apart from non-Muslims
restrictions, saying, "In Islam,
sex is revered more," and backed
this with the claim that rape is
less frequent in Islamic countries.
Unfortunately, on campus
and off, "most Americans have
wish list of Muslims on a
University meal plan, who now
receive only a 70 percent refund.
Despite popular belief, Islam's
preeminence extends far beyond
the the Arab world. In fact, only
25 percent of Muslims are Arab.
Islam is the dominant religion in
the Middle East, North Africa,
parts of Southeast Asia, and the
South Asian countries of
Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
(Conversely, as the large number
of Arab Christians in the United
States makes obvious, not all
Arabs are Muslim.)
At the University, as in the
rest of the world, Sunni Muslims
greatly outnumber members of
the Shi'a sect. The tension that
often marks relations between the
two groups, whose split dates
back to a medieval succession
dispute, is virtually absent on
campus. In addition, the Nation
of Islam movement, a primarily
American phenomenon viewed
with some mistrust by the
Islamic mainstream, accounts for
many of the conversions to Islam
in the U.S., especially in urban
areas. Curtis, herself Black, said
the Nation "provides support and
of a va
of a re
Road in North
are bans on drinking, premarital
sex, charging or paying interest
on money, and female immodesty.
Traditionally, Muslim women
must cover their hands, face and
feet and wear loose clothing in the
presence of men who are not in
their immediate family. Curtis
said, "Because I cover my hair, I
feel proud of myself; because
when I talk to someone, I know
they're talking to me as a person,
not to my body, to how fat or
thin I am. I think my intelligence
is stressed more, the words that I
But according to Rahman,
"It's really hard. Muslims aren't
supposed to drink, and social life
here pretty much revolves around
drinking." However, he said,
"People think it's cool (that he's
Muslim) or say, 'you have a lot of
willpower'" not to drink or have
sex. He, too, supported the
The Islamic Center of Ann Arbor, located on Plymouth
Campus, is a useful resource for Muslim students.
false stereotypes of Islam, and
they project this onto the
Muslims that they meet. This
does get in the way of true
understanding," said Betsy
Barlow, Outreach Coordinator
for the Middle East Center.
"There are a lot of
misconceptions about the religion
- from pronunciation to
religious beliefs and the role of
men and women. People don't
know much about Muslims.
They think we're all terrorists.
There's a lot of ignorance and
distortion," stated Curtis.
"We need to get rid of the false
images to see each other as
people," added Barlow.
The University does respect
students' need for time off to
celebrate Eid (pronounced "eed"),
the holiday which marks the end
of Ramadan. Full meal refunds
for days of fasting is still on the
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