What are atheists

Atheism is life threatening

In Bangladesh, his name was on the death list. After five of his friends and associates were murdered, the authorities warned the blogger: "There is nothing more we can do for you." In 2015 Mahmudul Haque Munshi had to leave his country.

He fled first to Nepal, then to Sri Lanka, and then to Germany. When he finally arrived at a reception camp for refugees in Detmold, he could not believe his eyes: some of the residents were also from Bangladesh and were anything but easy to talk to.

"The other day I received 4,500 death threats in a single day on my Facebook page," he says. But that's not all: Munshi's name is now on a so-called "Global Hit List", which lists the names of Bengali refugees abroad who are supposed to be killed.

Escalation: Leader Mahmudul Haque Munshi takes on the police at a rally in Dhaka

Fear of allah

Mahmudul Haque Munshi is being looked after by the Secular Refugee Aid. He is one of the 37 non-religious recognized asylum seekers that the organization has supported since November 2017. And there are more every day.

The fear of death accompanies many refugees as far as Germany. Time and again, the volunteer supervisors of the Secular Refugee Aid, also known as "Atheist Refugee Relief", are busy protecting women in particular from further persecution here in Germany.

"Conservative Muslims criticize women who walk around without a headscarf," says supervisor Dittmar Steiner of the Secular Refugee Aid: "We are actually dealing with assaults, marginalization, threats and violence."

Under police protection: the Iraqi Worood Zuhair

The Iraqi Worood Zuhair experienced this firsthand. The biologist from the city of Karbala receives death threats and is under police protection. "We'll come over in half an hour and kill you," she threatened a male voice on the phone recently. She should stop provoking the Middle East with her secular posts.

The 31-year-old is still plagued by extreme back and leg pain. Because she was beaten by her brother until she lost consciousness. The reason: She had left the house without her father's permission and expressed doubts about her Muslim faith.

Entrusted to the angel of death

The physical and mental abuse left her with deep trauma. "When your own father surrenders your soul to Azrael, the angel of death, it is extremely painful," she said in an interview with DW: "He did it so often. I couldn't take it anymore."

Worood Zuhair is now recognized as a refugee. She manages to talk about her story of suffering and to stand up for other women who have also experienced violence. She supports the work of the women's rights organization "Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq" (OWFI). And she works with the human rights activist Mina Ahadi from the "Central Council of Ex-Muslims".

Around one million people responded to leader Munshi's (right) call and demonstrated against war crimes

The biologist Worood Zuhair from Iraq and the blogger Mahmudul Haque Munshi from Bangladesh belong to the group of refugees who have been and are persecuted for their apostasy from the Islamic faith. For both of them their strife with God was a matter of life and death.

Fight against war criminals

Blogger Munshi drew the ire of Islamists when he founded the Shahbag movement in Bangladesh in 2013. The movement called for those responsible for the war crimes of 1971 to be punished. At that time, Bangladesh was fighting for independence against Pakistan. Around three million people died during the war.

Munshi was a star in his homeland. 500,000 users followed him on his blog, a million people took to the streets when his network "Blogger online activist network" called for protests. "It was wonderful, a dream," says Munshi, and his eyes light up.

But the dream turned into a nightmare. With the mass demonstrations came the death threats. The opponents argued that the movement was un-Islamic and its leaders were atheists. A systematic hunt for Munshi and the leaders of the Shahbag Movement began.

Atheists, a growing minority

The author and women's rights activist Rana Ahmad from Saudi Arabia is a co-founder of the Secular Refugee Aid and looks after many women from her homeland

Even if it looks like this at first glance: The fight of the atheistic refugees is not a fight against Islam. It is a struggle for freedom from religion. A struggle for the right to question doctrines and traditions. A struggle for women's and minority rights, for the right to lead a life without religious rules.

Atheists are still a minority. According to the "Global Index of Religion and Atheism", a Gallup poll from 2012, 13 percent of the population worldwide describe themselves as atheists, in Saudi Arabia and the USA the proportion is five percent, in Germany according to these statistics 15 percent as atheists, in China 47 percent.

The group of atheists is hardly taken into account in German refugee policy. "Origin from a certain country or a certain reason to flee, for example religious affiliation or atheism, do not automatically lead to a protection status", according to an information from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).

"Hang the opponents of Islam": Protest by Islamists in Bangladesh

The first case in which atheism was recognized by the BAMF as a reason to flee concerned the Iranian cameraman Siamak Zare. After a long legal battle, he was officially recognized as a refugee in April 2010, making him the first case in which religious persecution of non-religious people was accepted by the state as a reason for asylum.

So far, the legal and political struggle for the recognition of atheism as a reason for asylum has mainly been driven by foundations that deal with the issue. These include the Giordano Bruno Foundation, Heinrich Böll Foundation and the US organizations "Freedom from Religion Foundation" and "Freedom House".

At the party political level, lobbying in this country is rather slow. At least that's how the International Association of Non-Denominational and Atheists (IBKA) and the Secular Refugee Aid see it. The volunteer supervisor Dittmar Steiner is convinced that this will change. "The number of those affected is increasing," he says. "A year ago it was two to three inquiries a week, now it's between seven and nine a day."