The growing visibility of nonbelief in the black community is a welcome development especially in challenging the stereotype that conflates being black and being religious. It is pertinent to adequately situate the discourse on Black religiosity/irreligiosity because for too long blacks have largely been associated with religious belief and devotion. The black culture has been conceptualized as estranged from irreligious freethinking elements and sentiments. So, it is worthwhile to recognize trends of irreligiosity and the growing influence and possibilities of nontheism in black communities.
In highlighting the phenomenon of nonbelief, it is necessary to highlight the associated risks and challenges, dangers, and constrains that blur the vistas and visibility of unbelief in the black world. From the Nigerian end of the spectrum, the culture of nonbelief is endangered, and gasping for breath and survival. Competing indigenous, Christian and Islamic faith traditions find in religious infidelity and infidels a common target and enemy. Every religion is hardwired against unbelief and unbelievers.
The danger linked to nonbelief is not because there has been a radical change in the configuration of the black god or an ontological shift in the status of deities. The invisibility of unbelief is not a validation of some black-specific god gene or some culture-specific religious epiphany. Black religiosity is predicated on socialization and cultural orientation that has refused to yield to the demands and dictates of curious, inquisitive, and questioning minds. Black communities have caved in to religious pressures and are being held hostage by surging over layers of violent supplements from believers who are unable to bear opposing views; coercive currents from godly individuals disinclined, or indoctrinated to detest ideas and sentiments critical of their gods or prophets. This climate of acute intolerance and scorched earth hostility towards on belief has led to a dimmed climate of freethought, and a pervasive surface religiosity in the black communities. The god-belief establishment has, out of mischief, instituted a prize for neutralizing nonbelief. The reward of enjoying eternal bliss in the hereafter, with some obvious worldly here-and-now appeals, pleasures rand accessories, has become a life long aspiration of believers. It has turned the godly, young and old, rich or poor, educated and uneducated into qualms-less, desperate questers and coveters, ready and willing to break any law, defy any moral code, breach whatever social norm, violate any form of decency with impunity in an attempt to claim and possess this elusive and illusive bounty.
Even with its enormous potential as an antidote to extremisms and superstition based abuses, nonbelief is facing a severe threat from Islamic theocrats and jihadists that leverage on the suffocation of free thought, and free expression of ideas and beliefs. Islamic orthodoxies seek to maintain absolute control over the lives and conduct of individuals including Islamic outsiders or non-muslims. They have usurped the powers of their immortal deity vesting them on clerics, on Sheikhs, Ulamas, Imams, and other paradise aspiring mortals. They have made the ‘almighty Allah’ redundant and inconsequential in the scheme of things, policing and judging thoughts and morals, everyday conduct including the comments and posts that people make on Facebook and verses of songs that they circulate on social media. They have arrogated to themselves the functions of an all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful superhuman, and decide who lives and who dies. They openly and publicly threaten attack and violence against any real or imagined enemy or offender with impunity. These Mujahideens have wittingly and unwittingly turned Islam into an ideology of terror, hate, and division. They have emptied out the fiath contents of the Shahada, turning lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāhu muḥammadun rasūlu llāhi, and Allahu Akbar, into war songs and an open invitation to mindless violence and bloodletting.
They pronounce fatwas at the slightest provocation; sanctioning anyone whom they judge to have transgressed or deviated from their Allah’s perfect path of speech and expression, belief, and behavior, online and offline. They take the license to feel offended on behalf of their deities, divine messengers and emissaries, and go to the extent of seeking redress and revenge, avenging supposed wrongs, insults, and disrespect using sharia judicial and extrajudicial means and mechanisms as fronts to justify the perpetration of heinous crimes.
Intolerance of nonbelief in Muslim-dominated societies rests on two main pillars- apostasy and blasphemy. Apostasy and blasphemy make doubt, disbelief, questioning, and other associated habits associated punishable offences. Islam uses the weapons of apostasy and blasphemy to hold nonbelief and nonbelievers hostage, and to compel nonbelievers to pretend to believe or risk imprisonment, judicial or extrajudicial murder. Apostates run the risk of being designated as mentally unsound as in the case of Mubarak Bala in 2014. Bala’s family consigned him to a psychiatric hospital when he came out as an ex Muslim. Or Mohammed Salih from Sudan in 2017 who was accused of apostasy but a court acquitted him on the ground that he was mentally incompetent. Islam penalizes and pathologizes apostasy. So as an apostate, one is either a criminal or a mentally sick person.
Blasphemy law makes an expression of nonbelief a crime, not a legitimate exercise. It forces doubting, critical and disbelieving minds to speak or write as if they believe. The Islamic establishment leaves nonbelievers with only two options: Be quiet and remain alive or speak out and die. Blasphemy has made religious disbelievers to live falsely, pretending to believe to avoid being killed (suffer physical death) or being disappeared(suffer social death), as in the case of Mubarak Bala. For nonbelief to be visible and impactful, thoughts and ideas must be freely expressed; individuals must be able to communicate their beliefs without fear of being arrested. Nonbelievers and believers are to be treated with equal dignity and respect.