By  Afif Sarhan, IOL Correspondent
BAGHDAD – Although their number remains insignificant and most of them hid their identity, the fact that some people are leaving Islam and becoming atheists is a troubling news in conservative Iraq.

“I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when my son told me that his colleague at college told him that his father had become an atheist,” Sheik Abdul-Rassoul al-Rabia’a, a religion teacher at Baghdad University, told IslamOnline.net.

Not only did the father abandon his Muslim faith, he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps.

“I suggested to my son bringing his friend home and talked with him that despite his father’s thinking, he should continue to follow his Muslim heart and never deny his God,” al-Rabia’a said.

Linking that to the non-stop violence plaguing the country since the 2003 US invasion, some Iraqis are becoming atheists.

Most of them have had personal incidents involving either themselves or close relatives.

“Iraq is a land without God or any other kind of major protective superior form,” claims one atheist who declined to be named fearing reprisal.

“We have been forgotten and it is better to think only rationally than emotionally. I left behind my old beliefs because it is the only way to protect my children from any harm that God isn’t being able to do.”

Yasser (not his real name) is grouping up with others who have also renounced their faiths.

“When we first decided to organise ourselves, we were only eight people,” he told IOL.

“And after seven months, our number has reached to 34 but many other groups are being formed countrywide according to my contacts in northern and southern Iraq.

“We believe that today in Iraq, there are at least 220 atheists linked to the groups nationwide.”

Caro (not his real name), 41, also claims their numbers are on the rise.

“Each day we are having more followers and maybe one day we will be able to have our own centre where we will be able to discuss our ideas and nature creation.”

Alien

Iraqis say atheism is just so alien to conservative Iraq.

“If a westerner told me that he doesn’t believe in God, I would keep my mouth shut and never discuss it with him,” says Abdul-Rassoul al-Rabia’a.

“But when I hear that a born Muslim adopted atheism, I feel strong enough to help him find the true path.”

He believes the trend is becoming common in many regions in Iraq.

“No one is guiltier than the Americans who brought such ideas to Iraqis.”

Sara Waleed, 36, religion teacher at a primary school in Baghdad, says sometimes children ask her about atheism and say they heard the word from someone in the family who had become an atheist.

“Our kids today are different from before. They are aware of everything and are growing fast,” she told IOL.

“When I hear this I try to give a lesson that reinforces Islam so that the kids would not forget their origin.”

Yasser recognizes that what he and his friends are doing is alien to the conservative Iraqi society.

“It might be stranger for many people that a man who was raised in a very close Muslim tradition goes against his family and personal beliefs and create a group that doesn’t believe in a major creator.”

He blamed this on the war and its repercussions.

“Violence, religious differences, deaths, hunger, displacement and many other issues made me ask myself where God is,” he said.

Iraq fell into a bloody cycle of violence following the 2003 US invasion, leaving hundreds of thousands killed and maimed.

“I tried to find God during the last years,” says Yasser.

“I realised that he isn’t looking after us and instead we are moving ourselves according to the human nature and not an abstract force.”

But Waleed, the teacher, insists this is no reason to abandon one’s religion.

“I lost two brothers during the war and didn’t stop believing but instead my faith became stronger,” she said.

“I turned to Islam for my personal spiritual comfort.”