I try not to write about things I'm unacquainted with, so let me begin by confessing that on this one I don't know what I'm talking about. But, as an atheist, I found myself speculating on what I would do if I were born in a devoutly Muslim country, brought up in that religion, and one day came to the realization that I didn't believe in God.
When someone loses his/her faith, it's both difficult and liberating. On the one hand you're faced with a very different universe. In this one, your most basic support system is gone and you yourself must create the new rules with little help from others. Moreover, the path you've just stepped onto is neither popular nor well-traveled by those around you. Most people you know will very much disapprove of what you've decided, and think the worst of you for having made this terrible choice. On the other hand, all those years suspecting that religion was a sham and that huge numbers of people were settling for a dream instead of reality have finally come to fruition. Now a brave world—the real one—invites you to explore what's actually going on. And it's an exciting existence: one in which there are not necessarily definite answers ("God will reward you if you believe in Him and lead a good life, so even if things are awful when you're alive you'll be happy for all eternity"), but where the only true limits are what we can make for ourselves by our own wide-awake efforts, and the time in which we have to do it starts with the breath we're taking in and ends with the last one we'll let out.
When I speculate what this experience would be like in a Muslim country, I want to emphasize that I've chosen Islam as only an example of the same difficulty that would face anyone who lost belief in their religion if that that religion (be it Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or whatever) was extreme, in complete control of the local environment, apparently unquestioned by everyone, and containing severe penalties for theist doubt or outright apostasy.
So what would I do if I abandoned a belief in an invisible God but was surrounded by people and institutions that made it impossible to talk about this?
Summing it up: I'd be living a lie everyday for the rest of my life.
But, damn it, I think I'd have to do it. Unless I could escape to a situation where Islam couldn't follow, as long as I was to live in a world controlled by Islam I'd have to pretend to be a faithful follower. Doing otherwise would possibly be dangerous, but even at the least it would mean that I'd be devalued in every dealing I had with my fellows.
It might be possible—cautiously, carefully—to find other nonbelievers and relax in their company. One might build up a family of secret-keepers. But that would have its own dangers too: one disagreement and possibilities of blackmail and public exposure arise.
There are Muslim atheists who are working in their countries to change all this. In "Free Inquiry" magazine (published by the Counsel for Secular Humanism) I read about their efforts with wonder. They have to be among the most courageous people on earth, working to accomplish what appears to be a hopeless task. I don't think I could do what they do.
I'm not brave enough.
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"Is Evolution True," July 13, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013