Saif Rahman is another Facebook Friend, bit high profile I would say. He is successfully managing quite a famous Facebook Forum which has attracted almost 6,500 Muslims and ExMuslims for debates. The Forum has a policy of being a Free Speech Platform which makes it little uncomfortable for Muslims.
I caught Saif to ask him what made him lose his faith, the purpose of running this forum and his future plans, hope you will like it …
Interview with Saif Rehman
Q.1: Saif, could you introduce yourself to the readers, a little intro of yourself will do.
Sure, I am an agnostic humanist born in the UK, and of Indo-Pakistani descent. Or if you want a fuller description I am a secular agnostic utilitarian rationalist reductionist humanist with cultural Muslim influences!
I am Founder of CMHA (Cultural Muslims & Humanist Association), Writer of the book “The Islamist Delusion – From Islamist to Cultural Muslim Humanist” and in the online world I am member of the CEMB Council of ExMuslims, on YouTube as ExMuslimUK channel which by the grace of Allah is approaching half-a-million hits, on Scribd as author of the blog ”Why I left Islam for Humanism” with about 50,000 views and on Facebook as admin & founder of a Muslim/ExMuslim-only group called HCMA (Humanist & Cultural Muslim Assoc) Debating Forum https://www.facebook.com/groups/122954901147377/ with about over half of its 6,500 members being Muslims & the remainder are ExMuslim/Cultural Muslims, so it does get interesting at times.
Q.2: You’ve introduced me to a kinda new term called Cultural Muslim, I never heard of that before I knew you. What is this Cultural Muslim and how do you define it?
Hmmm, I’ve always thought it is important to distinguish those that follow religion for the sake of the rituals & sense of belonging, and those that do it because they see some kind of divine guidance though it & are unable to divource the 2.
I still do things like visit my parents during Eid, embrace them in the traditional way, am hospitable towards my guests, greet elders with Salam Alaikum & still even subconsciously say the occasional “alhamdolillah” when I sneeze.
Q.3: For how long you’ve been an ExMuslim and what made you lose your faith?
Leaving Islam was not a simple process that just happened to me overnight. It involved a great deal of carefully considered thought and was more of a development over time.
I regularly fasted, used to pray 5 times a day, I even kept a tally on the wall for the Qaza (late) prayers I had missed in case I forgot to do them later. All in all I tried my best to remain a good Muslim. When I was in my teens I had a lot of questions and there were things in the religion that sat uncomfortably with me.
However I could never rid myself of my doubts.
I felt bad and alone, as I had never come across a Muslim apostate before; there had to be something evil and wrong with me. I kept quiet and became insular and with great sadness, the more I looked into it, the greater my doubts grew.
I thought about this for a long period, as I did not want to disappoint my parents, and more to the point, Allah, by accepting such a reality. But I also felt that just because my parents and previous generations before them may have felt an innate ancestral obligation to follow the religion, I did not necessarily have to do so. After all, they were brought up in a different time and place. I wanted to be convinced by Islam on its own virtues without any precursory prejudice.
I was finally told by one of my religious cousins that in order to be a Muslim we had to accept that everything in the Quran is perfect, and simply our understanding that was limited. I could not keep reinterpreting the scriptures to taste. Otherwise, as you correctly claimed, I had to face the fact that I was not a Muslim.
He was right & the penny finally dropped.
Thus began my journey into objectively investigating Islam, and reading the translation of the Quran cover to cover, along with the history and hadith of Islam to explain parts that were difficult to understand.
I finally decided I could no longer continue this charade, so I accepted it to him & sent him a long letter (which later turned into my blog which I linked earlier) with my reasons, but more reluctantly to myself that I was no longer a Muslim.
From that day my mind was finally set free from my self-imposed exile & I’ve never looked back since.
Q.4: Saif, how is it possible that all religions are nothing but just an illusion? How come billions of people have believed in Religions till today? Is it possible that you may have got it wrong?
Sure its possible I got it wrong, we are all limited by the intelligence & socio-environmental factors that play but that is all I can reasonably go off to make a discerned judgement. However the fact that there are so many contradictory religions tells us that man must have invented some.
Once you make this judgement then it becomes a matter of finding the truth once you sift through the jungle of circular logic & memeplexes & cut through them using logic, reason, evidence & plain common sense.
By the end of this journey it became clear to me that they were all as manmade as each other. Like Picket Fences said, “Religions are like farts. Your own smell ok, but everyone else’s stinks”
Q.5: You’re running a Facebook Forum that supports Free Speech which ultimately means a lot of disrespect for Islam. A lot of Muslims find it unnecessary to mock religion, what’s your logic behind mocking their faith?
Good question & one that I often get asked.
Internet is where religions come to die …
For so long I had been gagged, kicked out of groups because I said something that was ‘off’ message & I thought it was wrong. So how could I remain sincere to others & myself if I did the same in reverse? Everyone’s contribution is valuable, because they make up the real world. A platform that transparently challenges one another’s viewpoints, Muslim, ExMuslim or otherwise, can be the only way forward but is very difficult to achieve without accusations of bias. That’s why a free speech platform, with all its faults, suits us the best.
Regarding the methods used, I think different people use different techniques. I used to think my way was a better way, but with experience I realized there is no right way. For example, being a liberal non-conservative non-authoritarian like myself, I used to think the tactics employed by Ali Sina were totally wrong. But in time I realized even his shock-tactics actually forced some complacent Muslims to read more & eventually question Islam. And even humour helps, and can draw a point that a 1000 lines of reasoned argument might not.
You see we all have a part to play; we are all different as one size never suits all so we need different horses for different courses.
Q.6: You and your group seem to have made a lot of people losing their faith or let’s say putting an end to their already dying faith. You must have made a lot of Muslims your enemy. Do you also get life threats for doing all this?
Its one of the best feelings to see that we helped another person to learn the truth and we have something called a New Murtad Register that regularly gets updated. But yes, it does have consequences, I have received 138 death threats to date but these days it’s like water of a duck’s back & I collect them like Battle Medals of Honour.
Q.7: What do you think is the future of Islam given the fact that Internet and Social Media seems to be playing their role that is beyond the control for Muslims?
It’s the one media that they are unable to control in the slightest but they do try, and their frustrations show. The internet is where religions come to die.
Q.8: Besides this Facebook Forum is there anything else you’re planning in future for this cause?
My next immediate project is to start searching for publishers for my book (incidentally funds are going to charity) to try & get it published & reach as wide an audience globally as possible. Also I want to work more on my CMHA website (Cultural Muslim & Humanist Association) started. Inshallah.
Q.9: Although you’ve been in UK for most of your life, do you still feel you’ve a connection to Pakistan and do you keep yourself updated with the current affairs of Pakistan?
Yes, I feel a connection as I was brought up with many of the Desi customs, culture & even its language. And even though I have lost hope for Pakistan since the Asia Bibi incident & subsequent assassination of Taseer & Bhatti, I still try to keep up with its current affairs. I don’t feel an affiliation with it anymore, nor even the UK for that matter. These days I just feel part of the global human race.
Q.10: What message would you like to give to the educated liberal Muslims?
Keep educating yourself & others! But love life & love people.