The kingdom’s police forces are actively looking for atheist activist Imad Eddin Habib, 22. Potential charges: creating the “Council of ex-Muslims of Morocco”, and stating: “there is no God but Mickey Mouse”.
The whereabouts of Moroccan student Imad Eddin Habib, 22, are unknown since the evening of April 29. A few days ago, plainclothes policemen interrogated his father at his workplace. They wanted to know whether Imad was supported by a foreign organization, what his goals and motives were… On April 29, they broke into an address that is mentioned on the young man’s ID—only to find out that he doesn’t live there anymore. Informed that he was a wanted individual, the Casablanca paramedical student decided to go underground. It will probably not take long before he resurfaces. Yet, that might be long enough for a solidarity campaign to start.
Imad Eddin Habib is not a criminal—at least not under international law and international treaties on freedom of speech and conscience. The reason why the Moroccan police is after him, is that he’s an outspoken atheist.
In the Islamic kingdom of Morocco, atheism itself is not a criminal offense. “Shaking the Muslim’s faith” is. Under this vague designation, anyone openly criticizing Islam or promoting any other religion can be condemned to a prison term ranging from 6 months to 3 years (Christian missionaries are regularly expelled from the kingdom in virtue of this article.) In other words: when you live in Morocco, you can think whatever you want of religion, but you better keep it for yourself.
These past years, more and more Moroccans claimed their refusal of this religious omerta. The most mediatized case remains that of Kacem El Ghazali, an atheist activist who was granted political asylum in Switzerland, and recently testified before the UN against the persecution he suffered when he lived in Morocco. Local activists for freedom of conscience are increasingly vocal online. In 2009, a Facebook group called Alternative movement for individual freedoms (MALI) called a daylight picnic during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims can eat only before dawn and after dusk (by provision of Morocco’s penal code, it is also forbidden to break the Ramadan fast publicly, under penalty of 6 months in jail). Since then, similar groups mushroomed on Facebook. Most activists operate under aliases, but Imad Eddin Habib is among the few who act unmasked.
In the summer of 2012, Imad founded Masayminch (“We will not fast”), a group vowing to continue MALI’s conversation on freedom of conscience. More than 600 persons signed in. The young man went ahead and posted a picture of himself holding a sign with the bold statement: “I am proud to be an atheist”—the picture got more than 1000 “like”. The Moroccan activist engaged in heated debates, argued passionately, joined international groups such as the Global Secular Humanist Movement, quoted new atheism guru Richard Dawkins, secular arab thinkers Farag Foda, Jamal El Banna and Ahmed Assid… Also, he didn’t shy away from sheer provocation. During the 2012 Ramadan campaign, he went as far as posing, smiling in broad daylight with a scoop of ice cream and a victory sign.
As expected, Imad received tons of insults and a couple of direct death threats. But he received them with a playful, sarcastic spirit. One week ago, he posted on Facebook, in a fake panic tone: “Half of Casablanca wants me dead, help, help! The ambiance is turning shitty”. Then the day after, this highly philosophical question: “when Satan decided to disobey God, who was the Satan who inspired him to do so?”
Aside of silly provocations, Imad also engages in direct activism. On March 23rd, he created the “Council of ex-Muslims from Morocco”, a Facebook group, he says, aiming to “bring together all non-believers, atheists and non-Muslims”. With 400 “like” one month after its creation, the group aims to dock itself to the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, a forum founded in 2008, with a track record of more than half a million discussion posts.
Imad receives tons of insults - and a couple of frank death threats - with a playful, sarcastic spirit. One week ago, he posted on Facebook in a fake panic tone: “Half of Casablanca wants me dead, help, help! The ambiance is turning shitty”
Given his incessant activism, it didn’t take long before Imad was noticed by Hespress, Morocco’s premier news website. In an article dated April 29 and titled “Infidels of Islam: stories of Moroccans who went out of the flock”, the young Casablanca student was presented as “The man who holds a grudge against Islam”. Under Imad’s infamous ice-cream picture, the site quotes him saying: “it just takes an objective reading of the Quran to understand that these are myths invented by humans”. This was not, by all means, his most provocative statement. But Hespress’s large circulation gave Imad an exposure he never had before. A few hours later, the police would knock at his family’s door. As for now, we still don't know whether there is a formal arrest warrant against him.
One of Imad’s latest posts before he went underground was a paraphrase of the Shahada, Islam’s profession of faith, apparently aimed at those who menace him: “There is no God but… Mickey Mouse!” “Immature provocation, only meant to generate a Facebook buzz”, as said an annoyed detractor on Twitter? Maybe. But does this justify the 500+ insults response it received anyway, including a couple of frank death calls? Does it justify a trial, probably followed by a prison sentence?
At the time of this writing (Monday Apr 29, 2013, midnight), Imad is still hiding. But this won’t last long. An arrest could ensue, followed by a trial that is likely to get high media attention, because it would be the first time a Moroccan citizen is sued for atheism. Imad, who comes from a modest background, can’t afford a good attorney. Morocco’s hotshot lawyers usually rush to offer pro bono representation to famed journalists and political dissidents. Would they do the same with someone who took on the ultimate taboo—God? Wait and see.