All Atheists are Muslim!


I know, that title alone grabs the attention doesn’t it? So imagine my surprise when browsing through what’s going on in New York to find something to decide on the day’s program when I came upon it in the FringeNYC show listings. I decided that with a title like that, it’s a must-see. As the show was less than 24 hours away, we couldn’t buy tickets online so we decided to just go to the venue and hope that a few tickets would be available at the theatre. The Cherry Lane Theatre is a quaint little theatre tucked into a picturesque lane in New York’s Greenwich Village. The area teams with theaters and excellent restaurants in which a person can spend many happy a day imbibing culture and various inebriating drinks should one chooses. Arriving at the theatre in plenty of time, we stood in line to get tickets, and even though we were early, there was already another person in front of us. But, as luck would have it, they had only four tickets left when the box office opened! We got the last three tickets which left a few in the queue with disappointment for not making it. That was the last showing in NY too. Lucky 🙂

Zahra_Flyer_NYfringe_HLThe writer and performer, Zahra Noorbakhsh whose parents emigrated from Iran to the US in the 70s, yet just as almost all émigrés, continue to hold on to their origin’s culture in many ways. Them being Muslim, they come with some extra baggage which might not fit very well in their new chosen home, resulting in a number of challenges and heart-wrenching decisions which must be made, or foisted on them to make, in their daily lives and more importantly with their children who have grown up with a tenuous link to their parents’ origin which probably does not extend beyond a romantic notion of them “originally” and “culturally” belonging to that far away land. The children being born and/or raised in the US or Western culture and having been immersed into that culture are no more Eastern than George Bush Jr, who might also enjoy a plate of Chillo Sultani once in a while.

This cultural push/pull cannot be more amplified than when those children choose to have relationships their compatriots view as normal; while to them, it’s an extremely big production, owing not to their parent’s stance on such relationships. This is the dilemma that Zahra found herself in when she chose to have a relationship with a “whitey white Atheist American” and live together. Trying to explain this relationship to her parents, her father mainly, and get their blessing is a journey of hilarity and heart-ache. Add to that the “complication” that she didn’t think of marriage nor wanted it but just wanted them to live together, as people do in the West, and you get a glimpse of the frustration that her parents have been through in trying to come to terms with this reality, and to find even a tenuous way in which they can make this relationship somewhat Islamically sanctified in order to satisfy their own cultural upbringing.

With the amount of immigrations which have taken place from Muslim countries into the West, Zahra’s parents apprehensions are not unique and some people deal with it by internalizing their own anger and frustrations, others get to terms with their reality and let go, while others find these differences so overwhelming that they resort to either quickly marrying off their daughters to relatives from the old country and “nipping the problem in the bud”, or at worst, on discovery of their daughters contradictory behavior to their religion or cultural norms, they kill them – in the name of honor. How they view the murder of another human being, their very own daughter, sister or relative, honorable, is a mind-boggling conclusion.

There is no way that Zahra can address all of these cultural issues in 90 minutes of course; however, putting her own experiences in such a frame allows people to connect with issues most émigrés go through in turbulent silence and allows “foreigners” to be empathetic to their situation through the understanding gained through shows such as “All Atheists are Muslim”.

Here’s a taster:


So how did that assertion that “all Atheists are Muslim” come about then? Well, a non-Muslim man cannot marry a Muslim woman. End of story. Full stop. So how would one go about that? The man must convert to Islam. In Zahra’s case there is an added complication which is that Duncan, her boyfriend, is an Atheist. Her father couldn’t accept that. That is, he doesn’t accept the concept of Atheism in the first place, but found an expedient way around that in stating that Islam is the submission to God, everything else is subsidiary, and as everything is the creation of Allah, if one believes in His creations then they believe in Him. That is, if one believes in gravity, then essentially that is tantamount to “submission” to the will of Allah and thus recognition of Him and His religion; therefore, one who believes in this is necessarily a Muslim! End of that “Atheist” crap! Hence, the ready solution offered by Zahra’s father to enter both of them into a “Seegha” (milcha) or nuptial agreement recognizable by Islam!

Thank you Zahra for being brave enough to give the world a glimpse of what you have gone through, and I hope that through your efforts these thorny issues will be discussed at large to gain good mutual cultural understanding.

  • milter
    25 August 2011

    Well, according to experts in the art of deciphering Islamic texts, alle human beings are borne Muslims.

    From that it should be easy to conclude that anybody who hasn’t yet found a religion to hang his hat on, must still be a Muslim 🙂

  • Steve the American
    25 August 2011


    Since you’re in New York City, may I recommend the pricey steak at Keen’s Chophouse, a historic restaurant which features pipes of celebrities and a playbill from Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot, soaked in his blood?

    I like the Thai spicy wraps at Ambers and the chicken tacos at Caliente Cab Company are the best in America. A shutterbug like you might want to have a drink at Roberts at Columbus Circle, overlooking Central Park with a picture perfect view.

    And really, if you have time, you need to go out to Coney Island on the subway. If you have a car, NYC’s original and now abandoned airport, Floyd Bennett Field is north of Coney Island, maybe a half hour drive. They’re rebuilding big old aircraft in a hangar in the back.

    • mahmood
      25 August 2011

      Thanks for the suggestions Steve, will try to check them out. We passed the Caliente Cab Company in the Village but apart from admiring the car outside, I didn’t give the restaurant another thought until now 🙂

  • M.A.
    25 August 2011

    You’re in my favorite city!! Do yourself a favor and go eat at Kuma Inn, on Bowery and Ludlow. Also try Five Leaves in Greenpoint, at Bedford and Lorimer. You will thank me 🙂

    • mahmood
      25 August 2011

      and mine too! Thanks the suggestion M.A. That’s close to where we’re staying so will definitely have a look.

Traitors abound, or it least this is how the story goes