I am not a Muslim

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Just a reminder everyone, I am NOT a Muslim. Just saw a reference to me as a “Muslim guy” on a comment board in regards to evolution vs. creation (pointing to this site as a good read on the topic). I do not regard Islam as an ethno-religion like Judaism or Hinduism. Unlike the latter religions, creed, profession of belief, is a hallmark of Islam. I reject the creed, ergo, I reject the religion and do not identify as Muslim. Over at Sepia Munity I specifically changed my handle to “razib_the_atheist” because I got tired of people assuming I was Muslim from my name (thinking I am a Muslim was not the problem, the problem was that people addressed me as if I held beliefs common to Muslims, which resulted in some bizarre questions , i.e., “As a Muslim, don’t you think you should speak up about the problems with Islam?”). Part of the problem I think with regards Sepia is that many of the people come from a Hindu tradition where there isn’t such a close coupling of creed to religious identity, so my origin as a Muslim is given greater weight than I myself give it. In fact, I have noted that on the internet, where people don’t know me in day-to-day interactions, there is far more emphasis given to my Muslim origin than in my regular life (where people assume I am of Hindu background from what I can tell in reference to consideration for my presumed vegetarianism). For example, several people have assumed that I might identify with civil rights issues in relation to Muslims because of my background, but the reality is that I don’t (above and beyond my general libertarianish concern with such issues). I am not even averse to a legal name change if that is what is necessary to decouple myself from any Muslim identity (as I said, most people assume I’m Hindu despite my name, so I don’t think it is necessary at this point). Also, unlike several acquaintances who are atheists of Muslim background, I do not identify as a cultural Muslim in any way, shape, or form (given Islam’s traditional hostility toward unbelievers who was “born” into the religion, I see no reason that I should evince warm feelings toward the cultures in which it is embedded).

To readers of this weblog this is all likely superfluous, but I wanted this on the record, this isn’t the first time that I have seen a reference to me as a Muslim on a message board. The fact is that on the personal level I am as irritated and offended by people associating me with Islam as a believer as a Muslim would be by an evangelical Christian telling them that they are “idol worshippers” (this happens!). This is an issue where in fact I feel comfortable being in agreement with evangelical Christians, because unlike more “cultural” religious traditions like Judaism, Hinduism or Roman Catholicism, they place primacy on belief and don’t regard personal origin as particularly determinative (“born again” Christians of course must go through an experience of becoming “Christians” as adults, and Baptists reject infant baptism because of their emphasis on the primacy of personal choice).

PS: On my name, “Razib,” it is actually simply a slight tweak on the name “Rajib,” which is a conventional Bengali variant of the name “Rajiv.”

Update: On my name, in kindergarten, my teacher, a naturalized American citizen of Dutch origin, had difficulty enunciating the “j” in my name and switched it to a “z.” My parents call me “Rajib,” as do the rest of my relatives and Bengali acquaintances from my parental generation. Everyone else knows me as “Razib,” though truncation is a common tendency. Occassionally I run into someone who is “in the know” and they can’t help but call me “Rajib,” because that is the variant they are familiar with (if they knew someone named Rajib they invariably can’t help but use that form).


  1. As they say in Belfast, “But are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?”

  2. in that case, i’m a catholic atheist :) not because i think the catholic side has more justice on its side, rather, i suspect that most protestant ulster types who really care about the issue would simply emigrate to great britain and the remnants would not produce a violent indigenous movement.

  3. Razib, 
    Is “Razib” your real first name or is it a pseudonym?

  4. minor OT tech issue: why when you refer to Sepia do you always link to their main page and not the specific post or comment that you are refering to? 
    Sorry to be anal, but I noticed this in the past.

  5. I had always assumed that it had something to do with Genghis Khan and the lotus flower.

  6. I think is a good idea. Razib is a common Muslim, Arabic name, and does not represent you. I recommend you adopt a Cochin Jewish name, like Samuel or Izaak. They are extremely nice and cultured people, speaking old Colonial English, with a passion for cricket. Here in Israel’s ferociously wolf-eat-wolf enviroment they are a bit lost, but everybody likes them.

  7. I don’t think that Catholicism is a “cultural religion”; or, if it is, it is a “multicultural” religion. A person of any nationality can become a Catholic, of course. The fact that Catholicism is more associated with some cultures than others is an accident of history. But there has long been, for example, a small indigenous English Catholic community, which apparently has its own particular religious culture. And there are Russian Catholics and Greek Catholics and so on. 
    It is one of the traditional Catholic criticisms of the Orthodox and Anglican churches that they tend to be merely national churches. To be fair, Anglicanism is as much an African religion today as anything else, because of the British Empire. There are some African kids at my daughter’s Catholic school here in Canberra, Australia, but – as it happens – they are all Anglicans. 
    But, to return to my original point, the very name “Catholic” is intended to imply universality. 
    Best wishes 

  8. Razib is a common Muslim, Arabic name, and does not represent you. 
    Not if Razib is variant of Rajiv which is an Indian name and I think means lotus in Sanskrit. However, sounds like Arabised Indian name with that ‘z’ not found in any Indian languages :-). Looks like he wants dual identities though he doesn’t accept it :-).

  9. Is “Razib” your real first name or is it a pseudonym?  
    it is the name i go by in day-to-day life. 
    you point is well taken. i was going to put “roman catholic” in quotations because it is fundamentally not an ethnic religion. but, operationally in the united states it has become one, in that people have little adherence to the doctrine, but express sentimental cultural attachment to roman catholic liturgy. my impression is that a similar phenomenon has occured in europe and latin america, where catholicism as a practiced day-to-day religion has little salience, but as a cultural totem it is still rather important. my initial impulse was to leave roman catholic off the list, but i though that my point would be more well communicated for those who are not as cognizant of the features of judaism or hinduism. 
    scott, i am not referring to a specific post, but rather a collection of them. consider that people who write a blog entry aren’t always making their decisions capriciously, but have a reason they are doing what they are doing. i have noticed your tendency to ignore this possibility in the past when advising people on how to post. 
    not to be anal about it.

  10. Looks like he wants dual identities though he doesn’t accept it :-). 
    I take back those words after reading the update :-).

  11. I follow manju’s example and take back my mistake. It seems that Rajiv is primarily a Hindu name and not Arabic. My bad.

  12. Razib, everyone assumes because I’m a white American that I must be some variant of Jesus follower. So I think it’s just that most people assume that everyone they meet is religious, and then they assign whatever religion they think is most likely to that assumption.

  13. jacq, that is part of it. but i have been termed a ‘muslim’ by those who know that i am an atheist. i am simply an ‘atheist muslim’ to them.

  14. Yeah, it sounds like those people are mixing up religion and ethnic background.

  15. Just out of interest what part of Bangladesh are you from? 
    you can email me at the email address provided. 
    Thanks Razib!

  16. Rajiv/Rajib 
    Keep your name. It is who you are. I am of both black and indian origin. Most people assume I am only black so they try to impress me with how much they like blacks. Which does not impress me in the least. Because in the same breathe the same person will talk of how they hate indians because indians are taking away jobs. Yet like many not all americans they will mistake a dark indian as black and make the same stupid comment. I say all of this to say .. many americans or non desi are stupid when it comes to things like you pointing out. A muslim can look like anyone .. the sirname your family has says “yes, my tree family is/was of this origin and belife, but that does not mean you are a practicing muslim. is etched in stone that you are a muslim if you are born to a fmaily that was / is muslim? .” think how many Muslim in USA that have come here and on documents have the sirname of CHOUDARY … which as we know is common in areas with jatt populations .. it just tell us where your family came from the background. my great granparents were jatt .. singh and mann (SIKH)i carry neither name and have an american sirname that says when you see it IRISH. does it make me white ?????  
    Be proud of who you are .. do not let people who have become blinded by hate determine how you define you.