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Nigerian Family Thinks Man Must be Mentally Ill Because He’s an Atheist

Nigerian Family Thinks Man Must be Mentally Ill Because He’s an Atheist

A Nigerian man is languishing in a local psychiatric hospital after his family decided his coming out as an atheist could only mean one thing: that he’s suffering a mental illness.

The 29-year-old man in question, Mubarak Bala, is being held at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in Kano, a Muslim state in northern Nigeria that adopted Islamic law in 2000. Mr Bala has been held at the hospital since June 13.

The trouble started when Mr Bala decided to tell his family, who adhere to Islam, that he is an atheist. Bala has apparently been open about this fact in the online sphere for a while now, with his biography on the social media site Twitter reading:

“Chemical Process Engineer. I stand for Truth&Justice. Religion insults human conscience &reason, duped me that I hav another lifetime. AgnosticAtheist#ExMuslim

However, Mr Bala’s family were not happy about his publicizing his views. They forced Bala to see a doctor who, unfortunately for the family, declared him to be fit and healthy. Not content with this assessment, the family then reportedly went to see a second doctor. It appears they may have told that doctor that Bala had made some unusual, delusional claims, for instance that he was now a “governor,” among other things. These claims were not made to the first doctor though. The second physician decided that Mr Bala is suffering a personality disorder and Bala was committed to the hospital against his will.

Mr Bala was later able to send out emails to a number of organizations via a smuggled smartphone. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) quotes Bala as writing:

And the biggest evidence of my mental illness was large blasphemies and denial of ‘history’ of Adam, and apostacy [sic], to which the doctor said was a personality change, that everyone needs a God, that even in Japan they have a God. And my brother added that all the atheists I see have had mental illness at some point in their life.”

The IHEU also says that soon after Mr Bala’s committal,  someone posted to his Facebook profile to profess his apparently reaffirmed Muslim beliefs. In subsequent emails to human rights organizations, Mr Bala contends that this post was made from his smartphone while he was sedated by hospital staff, thus proving the intent behind his forced stay in a psychiatric facility: to silence his outspokenness about his atheism.

Mr Bala now has a lawyer who, according to the BBC, is working on obtaining an independent psychological evaluation so that Mr Bala can be freed from the hospital. Sadly, his case is not an isolated one.

Bamidele Adeneye of the Lagos Humanists is quoted as saying: “Kano is a Sharia state and there are many similar cases occurring, where people are forcefully oppressed just because of their beliefs or for conservative religious reasons, or for the ‘honour’ of their family. Often though you only hear about it afterwards, if at all. This is a rare chance to intervene while someone is in dire need and is still alive.”

Mr Bala’s situation is said to be deteriorating, though, with reports suggesting that the medications he is being forced to take are leaving him unwell, and that he may not be getting a proper diet.

We have just recently seen how apostasy laws, those that refuse to accept that people can leave Islam, can be so hostile to human rights. In the case of Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old woman from the Sudan, it was that the courts refused to accept her Christian faith and sentenced her to death because of it. Even now, after that conviction has been overturned, the Sudanese authorities have fought to keep her from leaving the country.

What is interesting in Mr Bala’s case though is that the threat of an apostasy charge, and the resulting death sentence that it can carry, may have meant that his family were actually desperately afraid for him, in particular when he started publicizing his views. As such, they may not have acted not out of malice but out of fear for Mr Bala’s life.

Lawyer Muhammad Bello Shehu offers this insight: “From what I gather from the family, Mubarak started expressing these beliefs six or seven months ago. The father was aware that he had stopping praying and going to mosques for a year now. But when he started tweeting about it and going public, that might have endangered his life and his family. So according to the father, the major reason he took him to the hospital was for his own safety. The way people take religion here means he could have been lynched for making such announcements.”

This demonstrates the terrible power of laws that so heavily restrict what we can, and indeed in this case, must believe in and why it is so important that when we talk about freedom of religion, we are also vocal about the freedom to have no religion at all.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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138 comments

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10:02AM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

Surely he cannot be as sick as those who professed to love their gods but do despicable things to others in the name of religion?!?!!!

11:56AM PDT on Jul 8, 2014

Ain't religion a grand thing... Where is Zeus when you need him! Poor man with a sick brainwashed family!

4:03AM PDT on Jul 5, 2014

Religion - men's excuse to control women and do terrible things in 'god's name'

2:14PM PDT on Jul 4, 2014

Fear, Amy, fear is the origin of religion. Haven't you read the "Lord of the flies"? Or, if you don't like novels, haven't you read Erich Fromm? or "Mass and Power" by Elias Canetti? Most individuals cannot live without masters, chiefs, leaders who tell them how to overcome their fears... And God ist just one more chief or Big Brother... I find it sad, but it is so.

1:17PM PDT on Jul 4, 2014

Religion ruins everything!

4:30PM PDT on Jul 3, 2014

How ridiculous. Why is it so important for every single individual to believe in God? Mankind fundamentally has free will and no one can ever take that away.

2:00PM PDT on Jul 3, 2014

live and let live (as Julia H. says): that’s the way to behave! Yet Christians have learnt this golden principle 19 centuries after Jesus Christ... I hope Moslems learn it faster (Mohammed died 14 centuries ago)!

11:59PM PDT on Jul 2, 2014

This is what is called freedom of religion, or freedom not to believe. We all have a conscience and should be so guided.

3:10PM PDT on Jul 2, 2014

Well, I mustbe too.

10:12AM PDT on Jul 2, 2014

We should ALL be able to believe (and say) what we want whether that is to believe there is a higher power or not.

No skin off my ass if you don't believe or if you believe something else than me.

No one else will be standing by ME on MY judgement day except for me and my Maker. I just wish more people would understand this concept.

I believe due to life experiences I have had, but I have no religious affiliation (even though I was born and raised Catholic - don't even get me started). I can be anywhere to praise my God and I don't need others to believe the same thing I do to make me feel better or to justify my beliefs.

Bottom line - live and let live!

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