Navabi speaking at the Secular Conference 2017 in London.
25 December 1983|
|Residence||Vancouver, British Columbia|
|Known for||Atheist activism|
|Notable work||Why There Is No God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God|
Armin Navabi (born 25 December 1983) is an Iranian Canadian ex-Muslim atheist and secular activist, author, podcaster and vlogger, currently living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In 2011, he founded the online freethought community Atheist Republic, a Canada-based non-profit organisation which has hundreds of branches called "consulates" in several countries around the world such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, enabling nonbelievers to interact in societies where irreligion, apostasy and blasphemy are often criminalised and repressed. As an author, he debuted with the book Why There Is No God (2014), and in 2017 he became a co-host of the Secular Jihadists from the Middle East podcast with Ali A. Rizvi, Yasmine Mohammad and Faisal Saeed Al Mutar. In January 2018, the show was renamed Secular Jihadists for a Muslim Enlightenment, with Rizvi and Navabi as co-hosts, which fans can support through Patreon.
Navabi was raised a Shia Muslim in Tehran and was born in 1983. He briefly moved to Germany in 1985 and London in 1986, before returning to Tehran in 1988. His family was liberal and not particularly devout but in school he was taught to believe in a literal hell, and that committing even the smallest sin would get him there. Navabi reasoned that if the afterlife was supposed to last for eternity then this should be everyone's top priority during their life on Earth. Yet he found that few of those around him, though claiming to believe this, did not act like it was of the utmost importance. To avoid hell at all costs before reaching the "age of reason" at 15 (age 9 for girls), he considered suicide, since any sin (including suicide) committed before then supposedly did not 'count', even if this would only take him to the lowest part of heaven. At age 12, Navabi attempted suicide by jumping out of his school window, but was unsuccessful. It left him in a wheelchair for 7 months.
Recovering from his attempt, and feeling bad about distressing his family, Navabi became an even more fervent Muslim, never missing a prayer, never even looking at girls lest he become tempted, and diligently studying Islam. However, the more he learned, the more doubts he developed as the religion appeared to make no sense to him, demanding an incredibly high toll on Muslims' everyday life, and punishing all non-Muslims with eternal torture. Studying other religions provoked his skepticism even further. Reaching out to God to reveal himself and prove that he was real, Navabi received no answer, lost his faith and eventually concluded God was imaginary.
Navabi attended the University of Tehran for about a year. When in college, Navabi initially thought that he might be crazy, being the only atheist he knew. However, when he confided in two of his university friends, revealing his newly developed ideas, they became skeptical about religion within weeks. This encouraged him to look for fellow atheists on the Internet. He didn't want to stay in Tehran, and managed to obtain a student visa for the University of British Columbia. He arrived in Vancouver on 10 October 2004, later becoming a permanent resident and eventually obtaining Canadian citizenship.
While still living in Iran, Navabi founded the group "Iranian Atheists" on Orkut around 2003, to connect with other nonbelievers in his country. He was shocked, surprised and delighted there were so many others like him, and those feelings were mutual: "It felt like coming home to a family you didn't even know you had." After some time, Navabi decided to try and reach atheists beyond the Islamic Republic of Iran, and created the contrastingly named page "Atheist Republic" on Facebook in January 2012. It was followed by the website atheistrepublic.com in 2012, which as of July 2017 received approximately 5 million views per week.
Speaking of the Atheist Republic community on BBC Trending in June 2014, Navabi said: "We want people to realise that they're not alone. We want people to realise they don't have to be ashamed of who they are."
In 2014, Saudi ex-Muslim Rana Ahmad was having trouble in her family, she sought and found the help of Atheist Republic as well as other similar organisations online. When her family forced her to come along with the hajj, she took a picture of herself holding a piece of paper with "Atheist Republic" written on it, while standing inside the Great Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site of Islam. She subsequently fled to Germany, aided by Faith to Faithless.
In May 2017, admins of the Atheist Republic claimed their Facebook page had been shut down three times after what appeared to be a co-ordinated campaign by religious activists. With over 1.6 million likes at the time, it was alleged to be "the most popular atheist community on any social network." Having been restored again, Atheist Republic requested to be exempt from the automatic "unpublication" system that is activated as soon as the page is flagged often enough, which leaves any page vulnerable to be shut down by sheer numbers of opponents.
Malaysian government crackdown attempts
In August 2017, a picture from a gathering of the Atheist Republic Consulate of Kuala Lumpur was posted on Atheist Republic's Facebook page. This stirred up controversy when Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki ordered an inquiry into whether the people in the photograph had committed apostasy, which is illegal in Malaysia, and ex-Muslims can be fined, jailed or sent for counselling. The next day, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim went as far to say that atheists should be "hunted down", as there was no place for groups like this under the Federal Constitution. Atheist Republic members present at the gathering, who reportedly received death threats on social media, were being investigated about whether they had 'spread atheism to Muslims', which has also been outlawed in the country. Navabi asked: "How is this group harming anyone?", warning that such actions by the government damaged Malaysia's reputation as a "moderate" Muslim-majority (60%) country. The uploads sparked violent protests from some Malaysians, who called Navabi an 'apostate', and threatened to behead the Atheist Republic's leader.
Under the pseudonym of "Michael", one of the Kuala Lumpur AR Consulate admins told BBC OS that meetings occur about two or three times a year between people who normally only communicate on the Internet:
When we meet, we just sit down, we get to know each other (...), we have drinks, we eat a bit, and we just talk about our lives, that's it. (...) Of course, it will involve people who are legally Muslims, and atheists, and people from other religions as well. Basically, we want to get to know each other better, and we want to be friends. (...) And so we took a group picture and asked Atheist Republic to post it. Next thing you know, some Malaysian Muslim groups got hold of the picture (...), and made assumptions about Muslims being among those in the picture. [Through the media] it lands at the government, who then act surprised at the existence of ex-Muslims in Malaysia and that something needs to be done. (...) A lot of people, especially those involved in the photos, are now going into hiding, because we don't know what's gonna happen. (...) Of course [I'm afraid too]."
In November 2017 it was reported that the government and the Internet regulator Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission had demanded that Atheist Republic's page and similar atheist pages on Facebook should be taken down. However, Facebook refused to do so, because the pages did not violate any of the company's community standards.
- Navabi, Armin; Hise, Nicki (2014). Why There Is No God. Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 128. ISBN 9781502775283.
- Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith (8 August 2017). "Malaysian atheist group under investigation over alleged Muslim apostate members". The Independent. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- "Atheism is unconstitutional, says Malaysian deputy minister". Today Online. Mediacorp. 23 November 2017. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Wouter van Cleef (7 August 2017). "In Maleisië geldt: gij zult geen atheïst zijn". Trouw (in Dutch). Retrieved 18 September 2017.
- Seth Andrews (15 July 2017). "Armin Navabi: The Poison Pill of Islam (Part 2 of 2)". The Thinking Atheist. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
- "Secular Jihadists for a Muslim Enlightenment". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
- Scott Jacobsen (13 May 2017). "Interview with Armin Navabi - Founder of Atheist Republic". Conatus News. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Seth Andrews (13 July 2017). "Armin Navabi: The Poison Pill of Islam (Part 1 of 2)". The Thinking Atheist. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya (15 September 2015). "Religion and self-harm". Bread and Roses TV. Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Retrieved 18 September 2017. (16:17)
- Poppy Begum (10 February 2016). "Rescuing Ex-Muslims: Leaving Islam". Vice News. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Benjamin Zand (3 June 2014). "The man who says he can 'destroy' evolution - BBC Trending". BBC Trending. BBC News. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Charlotte Sophie Meyn (16 June 2016). "Flucht vor der Religion". Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 13 September 2017.
- Andrew Griffin (11 May 2017). "Facebook repeatedly 'unpublishing' world's biggest atheist page, owners claim". The Independent. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Kamles Kumar (8 August 2017). "Atheists in Malaysia should be hunted down, minister says". Malay Mail. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
- Atkins, Ros (9 August 2017). "What's it like being an atheist in Malaysia?". BBC OS. BBC World Service. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Lesthia Kertopati (8 August 2017). "Malaysia Buru Muslim yang Datangi Perkumpulan Ateis". CNN Indonesia (in Indonesian). Retrieved 27 November 2017.
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