It’s Official: It’s Illegal to Be an Atheist in Saudi Arabia

It’s easy to get complacent in my relatively cushy Western lifestyle. I’m a straight, white, cisgendered person living in arguably the most powerful country on the planet. There is a lot going on in my favor. I’m an atheist, but I’m lucky in that so far that hasn’t seemed to matter. I can, more or less, go about my day, shooting my mouth off at the slightest provocation and be relatively secure in the belief that the government isn’t going to sweep me away.

This is a comfortable mind-space to live in, but every now and then I’m reminded that not everyone is so lucky.

Saudi Arabia already isn’t on my top 10 list of countries I want to visit. As a woman, I’m not sure how much fun I’d be allowed to have. But now there is another reason: All atheists are now terrorists in the eyes of the Saudi government.

Gosh. I had no idea I was so nefarious!

The law in which atheists are declared terrorists is part of a wider effort to deal with terrorism, generally, but really it just seems like an opportunity to crack down on political dissidents. Article 1 of the new Decree 44 states that it’s terrorism to “[call] for atheist thought in any form, or [to call] into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which [Saudi Arabia] is based.”

Yikes. I guess the whole “God isn’t real” thing would be questioning the fundamentals of Islam.

One can just imagine the problems this will cause for human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, as if they didn’t have enough to deal with. It truly is another way to squash dissent. For example, Raif Badawi is the co-founder of an online platform designed to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia. As you might imagine, he made some waves when the government found out about him. Badawi was arrested in July 2012 and was convicted of insulting Islam, among other things. Now, a fatwa is on his head:

On March 18, 2012, Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Barrak, a well-known conservative cleric, issued a fatwa declaring Badawi an “unbeliever… and apostate who must be tried and sentenced according to what his words require.” The fatwa ruled it acceptable for a Muslim to kill Badawi as an apostate. Al-Barrak claimed that Badawi had said “that Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists are all equal,” and that even if these were not Badawi’s own opinions but “an account of the words of others, this is not allowed unless accompanied by a repudiation” of such words.

And this was before the new law! Apparently, it’s not even safe to discuss the beliefs (or non-belief, as it were) without an immediate repudiation.

So, I guess no one should be surprised that now it’s officially illegal to be an atheist in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch has said that the language in the new terrorism laws are already used in the court system to prosecute political dissidents and activists. But even though it’s more of the same, it doesn’t mean it’s OK.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

Does that mean the Islam religion is not allowed in Saudi Arabia? All people that believe in God are Infidels...

Melania Padilla
Melania P3 years ago


Troy Grant
Troy Grant3 years ago

Isn't going to hell bad enough?

Tom M.
Tom M3 years ago

This is what any brand of Fundamentalism will eventually breed: absolute intolerance of any dissent.

John W.
.3 years ago

Only in Saudi :-/

Manuela C.
Manuela C3 years ago

So, apparently, I'm a terrorist??

Lisa D.
Lisa D3 years ago

Not that I ever wanted to visit Saudi Arabia, however now I definitely will never travel to this country.. & its not like I would be a welcome tourist either way.. after all I am a woman, I drive, I speak, my relationship with "god" or whatever else you want to call it is very different to theirs, and I don't wear a black veil over my entire body each time I leave the house.

Ruth R.
Ruth R3 years ago

With all the good that the U.S.A. has -- I am thankful for the U.S.A. -- even though there is a need to expose and get rid of the evil and corruption in the U.S.A. or is that in the corporations that have loopholes in their laws.

Hope that the U.S.A. will get better and better to allow the citizens and citizens to be, and visitors the good freedoms that were fought for -- and continue to be fought for though the civil systems and civil means -- in the formation of the U.S.A.

Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

OMG .... I'm glad I'm free to believe what I choose. How do you make someone believe anyway? You can't. You just make them lie about it.

Louise D.
Louise D3 years ago

It is a matter of note that all but four of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis as was Osama bin Laden. The Saudi regime spends billions of pounds each year promoting Wahhabism, one of fundamentalist Islam's most extreme movements. No other religion is tolerated. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah may claim that he respects the right of other religions to worship in private, but this right is not respected in practice. They beheaded 79 people last year for robbery, rape, Witchcraft and drug trafficking; they've no free press, no elected government, no political parties, and the royal family allows the religious police to travel in groups of six, carrying nightsticks and they freely and publicly beat women. A few years ago 17 schoolgirls were forced to burn alive because they weren't wearing the proper clothing. So don't expect them to understanding about atheism.