Memos from Asia

The Middle East May Actually Be Less Religious Than You Imagine

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People in Istanbul

Many people are not aware that approximately 16 % of the world population is non-religious. We don’t notice, but a big chunk of the population of Europe (the majority in many countries), the majority of East Asian are already irreligious. Interestingly, the richest part of the world with the highest per capita and GDP are more irreligious.

Nonreligious population by country, 2010 (Credit: Pharexia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Middle East sits at the top of all religious issues the world is facing. Today, more than 50% of the world follows religions that originated from the Middle East “(”. If we divide the world into the various cultural sphere, we witness that irreligion is rising exponentially across the culture, irrespective of boundaries. It is also true for conservative Muslim countries with a strict version of Islam. Countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria, UAE, Egypt, etc. are turning increasingly irreligious.

The old established religious beliefs are being questioned and are being supplemented with science, rationality, and the western notion of secularism. The division of church and state is railing cry in a recent protest in Iran and Lebanon.

People are reading and listening to new age atheist like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc. The influence of universities, science, and the increasing scope of humanistic values are making people question the old practices.

Presently, almost all the trends which the middle east is going through, favor the rising irreligious population. Firstly, the internet and social media reduce the stringent anti-religious law in the Middle East to a joke.

People freely watch, share, and interact with irreligious influencers on social media from across anywhere and everywhere in the world. The increasing rate of English speaking makes the audience much more receptive to the scientific literature and commentary on religion. Secondly, rising prosperity in certain reasons results in much more liberal interpretation and following of Islam. The oil-rich nation, due to continuous interaction with the world, has changed in attitude a lot. A nation like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE are turning increasingly atheist. Thirdly, the conflict-prone regions in the Middle East, which are suffering from sectarianism, are turning against Religious belief at a much faster level. Some of the trends in the Islamic state are as follow:


The Shiite regime of Iran should be quite worried as recent research has pointed out that almost 50% of the nation has turned irreligious.

Only 32% consider themselves Shiite. The report claimed a 95% accuracy ( Iran still has stringent capital punishment for leaving religion. Considering, only 38% of people are participating in weekly religious gathering (, religion seems to be losing steam in Iran.


Lebanon is the Middle East, one of the most religiously diverse nations with Christianity, Sunni Islam, and Shia Islam consist of roughly the same population. A growing number in Lebanon are identifying with no religion ( and less than a quarter of the population now define themselves as religious.


Many reports claim that because of increasing sectarian attacks between Shias and Sunnis, a big portion of the Iraqi population now doesn’t identify with any religion.

In a decade or so, the moral of religious people in Iraq has dropped a lot with increasing calls for separation of state and religion coming from all quarters. According to studies being conducted, almost 15 percent of Iraqis now don’t believe in any established religion, and it is growing like wildfire (

Overall the whole Middle East is witnessing a silent ideological revolution, and we may see a much more diverse and secular Middle East in the future.

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