Why Am I an Atheist? Arab Debates on Faith, Science, and Secularism in the Interwar Period

Meir Hatina*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article sheds light on a neglected episode in the scholarship on Egypt's intellectual life in the interwar period, as well as on the Arab renaissance (Nahda) and its intensive preoccupation with the triangle of religion, science, and secularism. The discussion focuses on a provocative manifesto published in 1937 by an Egyptian writer Ismaʿil Ahmad Adham, which called for a godless universe. Adham's challenge to established religions is framed within a broader historical and intellectual context. It raises the following questions: How unique is Adham's atheism in the Egyptian and Arab writings of his time? What can we learn from the public discussions of his views about Egyptian civil culture in the 1930s and its commitment to a democratic ethos? Addressing these questions from a comparative perspective in both Islamic and European history may contribute much to the understanding of Arab debates about the existence of God.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-48
Number of pages15
JournalComparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 by Duke University Press.


  • atheism
  • enlightenment
  • freedom of thought
  • Islam
  • secularism


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