It was more than a year ago when Mohamed Hisham (also spelled “Hashem” in older articles) appeared on the Egyptian channel Alhadath Alyoum TV (“Egyptian Street”) and spoke openly about his atheism. It was quite a feat considering authorities say there are literally only 866 atheists in the country.
Hisham’s appearance didn’t go over well with host Mahmoud Abd Al-Halim or the former Deputy Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mahmoud Ashour. Both men urged Hisham to see a psychiatrist for his obvious mental illness before he corrupted even more Egyptian youth.
Egyptian TV Host Kicks Atheist Out of Studio, Recommending Psychiatric Treatment pic.twitter.com/tXFyj9GF85
— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) March 2, 2018
HISHAM: I’m an atheist, which means I don’t believe in the existence of God. I don’t believe in Him.
ASHOUR: What? What was that?
HISHAM: I’m an atheist, which means I don’t believe in the existence of God. I don’t believe in Him. That’s what atheism means. I don’t need religion to have moral values or to be a productive member of society.
AL-HALIM: How come you exist in this universe?
HISHAM: Okay, let me explain. There are theories that try to explain our existence. One theory is that God created us. Okay? But there are other theories, with much more evidence, like the Big Bang theory…
AL-HALIM: Speak Arabic! You are in Egypt and you are addressing simple people so don’t use big words for no reason.
HISHAM: I’m using these terms because science is conducted in English.
AL-HALIM: What science are you talking about?
AL-HALIM: You are confused and unreliable. You deny the existence of God and reject our religion and principles…
HISHAM: Is this so bad?
AL-HALIM: Of course! You come here to talk about a certain idea but have nothing to offer! You offer atheism! You offer heresy! I apologize to the viewers for having an Egyptian of this kind on our show. I’m sorry, Mohammad, but you cannot stay with us on the show because your ideas are inappropriate, I’m sad to say. We cannot promote such destructive ideas. You have not uttered a single convincing word.
ASHOUR: Look, dear Mohammad, you need psychiatric treatment. Many young people today suffer from mental illnesses due to material or mental circumstances.
AL-HALIM: It’s like Sheikh Mahmoud says. Have you see a psychiatrist?
AL-HALIM: I advise you to leave the studio and go straight to a psychiatric hospital. You shouldn’t be here. Unfortunately, I cannot let you be here anymore. Please get up and leave, and I will continue the show with Dr. Mahmoud. Unfortunately, your ideas are destructive and bad for Egyptian youth. You set a very bad example for Egyptian youth.
It was painful to watch an atheist being told to dumb things down because a scientific explanation of our origins was too much for “simple people.” Still, you had to tip your hat to Hisham for even taking part in that interview given the backlash and danger he stood to face. And that’s exactly what happened. He was driven out of the country later in the year.
He’s doing okay, though. Hisham just did an interview with Humanists International’s Giovanni Gaetani — without getting interrupted — and he says he’s doing okay. He also forgives those hosts.
“I would like to excuse the host, because the situation was like that his audience would have thought: “Why would you give to this atheist a platform? This means that you are as guilty as him.” That could have had very bad consequences for him, like it happened to another Egyptian host who had hosted a gay person and ended up in jail for this.”
Hisham described how the police tried to investigate him:
… one night the Egyptian Police knocked at his door and searched his house. They even looked at their conversation on Whatsapp, full of atheist and blasphemous content, but didn’t understand what they were reading because everything was in English, even the conversation with his Egyptian friends:
“Police came and even searched my phone. But thankfully they didn’t understand English. My phone was indeed full of atheist material, but I kept everything in English, even my chat with my Egyptian friends. I don’t know who did invent the ritual, but we do it, for two reasons.
One is privacy: if you get in a situation when somebody is reading your messages, it’s harder for them to understand what they are reading, because not many people in Egypt are good at English. The other reason instead is to improve your English.”
Hisham is now living safely in Germany, but he’s struggling to adapt, learn the new language, and find work. Still, he’s alive. That hasn’t always been the case for atheists in predominantly Muslim countries who have been vocal about their godlessness. Be sure to watch the full interview. You can support Humanists International’s campaign to help atheists at risk right here.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)