Faisal Saeed Al Mutar

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar is a writer and human rights activist. I met him at the MIT Secular Society where he spoke in October 2016. Students and Boston residents from many countries including Tunisia, Bahrain, India, and Nigeria met in a classroom for a presentation on global secular movements. Faisal’s talk focused on the challenges atheist activists face and what the US might do to support them, like give visas to secularists who are in danger.

Parts of his talk were harrowing, for example describing the life work of Bangladeshi bloggers murdered in 2015. But his overall tone expressed optimism that freedom of belief and personal expression will increase globally. Afterwards he spent hours listening to students share their experiences and giving them thoughtful advice. His enthusiastic engagement was inspiring to watch.

Faisal was born in Hillah, Iraq and later moved to Baghdad. He survived three kidnapping attempts related to his public identity as an atheist, and his brother and cousin were killed by al-Qaeda in sectarian violence. In 2013 he came to the US as a refugee, and he now lives in New York. His website is www.faisalalmutar.com, and he tweets at @faisalalmutar.

What was an important turning point on your path toward becoming an atheist? Please feel free to share any information from your past you would like to.

Having access to scientific journals and knowledge through the internet, I was raised liberally by my parents. They didn’t impose faith on me. That kept me open minded to look at new data and question the claims of Abrahamic religions to be absolute truth.

What kinds of activism do you do to promote atheist rights?

I am a secularist. I believe that people have both freedom of religion and freedom from religion and are equal under the law. I am also focused on countries with blasphemy laws, because these are the countries where atheists face the most discrimination and sometimes death.

What is a misconception about atheists?

That they are not moral and don’t have a moral compass.

What part of going public as an atheist was hardest for you?

Being under threat of killing, I spent most of my life living in majority Muslim countries which generally have a very negative view of atheism and atheists.

Losing some friends and having to continuously prove yourself to others, because many assume you are immoral.

What part of being an atheist is most rewarding for you?

I guess knowing that this is all I have changed my mind on how to live life.

I am less hateful than most people think I am, because I understand that living with hate is probably one of the worst feelings to have. So the less religious I am, the more appreciative of life and more loving I become.

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar