Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Mohammad Alkhadra: Atheist in Jordan finds safe haven in U.S.

Vol. 35 No. 01 January/February 2018

Nonbelief Relief aids Mohammad Alkhadra to escape potential death 

Nonbelief Relief gave Mohammad Alkhadra $5,000 to help get him safely out of Jordan and to Austin, Texas. He is an American citizen who grew up in Jordan and faced death threats because of his outspoken atheism.

A Jordanian civil engineer and a human rights activist, Alkhadra founded the Jordanian Atheists Group in 2013. He later organized help for endangered ex-Muslims to leave the country.

After receiving the aid from Nonbelief Relief, he messaged FFRF, writing, “Thank you so much. I don’t know where I would be right now without your help.”

Here is his story:

By Mohammad Alkhadra

Muhammad Alkahadra

“Jordanian writer Nahid Hattar killed outside the Supreme Justice Court.” That 2016 headline did not just deliver the shock and sorrow of losing a prominent writer and an atheist in Jordan, it felt that he could have been any of us.

On Sept. 25, 2016, Hattar was killed by three bullets outside the court in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where he was standing trial on charges of insulting God after he shared on social media a cartoon depicting a bearded man lying in bed with two women and smoking, asking God to bring him a drink.

I thought about Hattar’s murder for a long time and I realized that as an atheist in Jordan, just one social media post that attracts local attention is what could be the end.

I was given the Islamic name Mohammad Alkhadra long before I knew I was one. Now, at the age of 25 with five years of being an atheist, the fact of being born in a Muslim family strikes fear in me and fellow ex-Muslims.

It all began with my curiosity: Why would one follow the religion of his family just because he was raised in it? Isn’t it just like the pagans who refused Islam because they thought they were right based on being raised pagans? How do we know what we know?

As my search into becoming a more reasoned Muslim continued, I was baffled by the ability of the faithful to highlight only the peaceful and moral aspect of their faith, while negating what would be considered inhuman in Islamic history and sharia. As I was on the path of learning how to convince people of Islam, I had to first figure out how to convince them of Allah.

But then I watched Richard Dawkins talking about evolution on YouTube. Evolution wasn’t something we really studied in school. I really wanted to know why this evolution theory existed, as it looked like rubbish to me. But I soon realized how uneducated I was, and the deeper I went, the more I believed that the concept of God itself was unreasonable.

I thought I was the only guy in Jordan who came up with this scary concept. I actually cried when I saw a two-hour program on the history of the universe. How small are we in this universe, and how important we think we are to imagine that everything has to revolve around us.

I later found a Facebook group for atheists in Jordan. It didn’t have much activity, and had zero action outside the realm of what we thought was the safe internet. It was a lonely period, where everyone around you is different and you don’t know what would happen if you spoke about your ideas. If everyone who thought like I did kept it to themselves, I would probably be in some country preaching Islam. Or worse, I might have joined those who want to achieve the caliphate.

I started commenting on public posts, and although I did get a few negative reactions, some people contacted me and told me they thought in a similar way. I added them to that group and finally decided that it was time to create a community for us. We no longer had to be alone in real life.

There were 28 of us who showed up. Men and women from all backgrounds, from ages 16 to 45. It was fulfilling that we could actually have a part of our lives where we had like-minded friends — a family of those facing threats of death.

Many of those gatherings happened before I received a call that one member, who had recently joined us, was in danger. He used to be an imam and his appearance on the “Black Ducks” show, run by Egyptian Ismail Mohamed, made him the most well-known apostate in Jordan.

We thought that Jordan, instead of places like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, was a safe haven, but it wasn’t. We got him a safe place to stay and later got him out of Jordan.

We are not Islamophobes, but we are the ones who will be sent to jail for blasphemy or be killed under Islamic law. I chose to speak against this madness in July in London at the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression, the largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history.

The moment I returned from London to the airport in Amman, the police looked at me as if I were smuggling something. Many people are detained by the intelligence service upon arrival for all sorts of reasons. I was afraid it was my turn. Once I was safe at home, I got notices from fellow atheists to delete all messages linking me to them. Everyone was then afraid to contact me because if I got arrested, they thought I would bring down the whole community with me.

I spent the last five years not knowing whether every time I left the house would be the last time. After the speech in London, it was at every moment I wondered that. I then met with a friend who got a message from a U.K. number telling him that Hattar is gone, and soon you will be gone, too. If that was the case for him, what awaits me?

Previously, I had received messages like “We will come cut your family in front of you before we kill you,” but that was a while ago. However, once the video of me speaking at the conference was available, I knew it was only a matter of time before it got shared around enough until someone carried out my death sentence.

And that is why I have sought refuge in the United States.