I was recently introduced to this guy who has recently given up on his Islamic Faith after reading in depth about Islam, it took him around 3 years of continous research and a kind of struggle with different thoughts about whether his faith is geniune or not. I caught him to know more about his journey and to see what is his current position on his Faith … Hope you’ll enjoy the Interview.
Q1. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I was born in a conservative Pashtun Muslim family to well educated parents. I have spent most of my life in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (Province of Pakistan). My educational background is Engineering. Currently I am in the final stages of my master thesis work at a technical university in Europe.
Q2.Coming from KPK, was it difficult for you to reach where you are today ? did you feel that you were being discriminated ?
There are stereotypes on Pashtuns. I kind of like them. Humor is the only thing racist about me. I have friends of other ethnicities and as long as we understand thst it is all in good humor, its fine. But other than that, I haven’t particularly felt discriminated against.
As for was it difficult for me to reach here; I have studied in all kinds of schools. From those operated by army to those operated by religious hardliners to those run by missionaries. F was fortunate that from 8th grade onwards I have studied in places which are of far above average quality when compared to Pakistan overall. I feel i belong to the privileged few who at least had the chance to come this far and have taken it.
Q3. You seem to have lost your faith in Islam recently, would you share with us what happened, how long it took you and what was the trigger point ?
Pashtuns follow predominantly the Deobandi sect of Islam. When I was growing up there, I heard about only Shia and Sunni (by which they meant Deobandi of course). After coming to Europe 3 years ago I realized that there was more to it than I had seen. This prompted me to ask the question whether I was born in the wrong place. I started educating myself about Islam in much more detail.
Soon I found myself identifying with the Salafi school of thought which says that if any idea that cannot be proven in the light of Quran and sahih ahadith is invalid. My influences at that time were Zakir Naik, his late mentor Ahmed Deedat and all the cast of peace TV essentially. I even listened to the wahabi hardliners like Shaikh Tauseef ur Rehman Rashdi and Meraj Rabbani. I used to discuss the intricacies of religion with my friends extensively and eventually influenced some of them to question the doctrines of their birth religion and follow the ‘true path’.
Then one day I bumped into a documentary named ‘Religulous’ by Bill Maher which questions faith in general. This started a whole new line of inquiry for me. I was intrigued that how could someone not believe in a creator god? I was a staunch believer and started looking for more material on disbelief in order to better defend my faith. I found out about the works of guys like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Niel de Grass Tyson and dan dennett. The YouTube videos of thunderf00t and the public access TV show from Austin ‘The Atheist Experience’ piled up even more stuff for me to ponder over.
It was a long drawn affair. I was afraid of hell, I had been promised paradise. Those were the notions hard to let go. By the start of 2013, the atheists who used to talk to me used to tell me confidently that I was on a slippery slope and a guy like me cannot stay a believer for long. And they were right, just over two weeks ago I finally accepted that I was no longer a believer. In face of rationality and evidence, I had no choice but to admit to the flaws in my beliefs. I cannot be hypocritical with myself. It is what it is. I believe no more.
Q4. Whats your current position now ? Do you still believe in God or would you describe yourself as an Atheist rather?
I sometimes pondered about why there is something rather than nothing? I don’t know. But I also know that nobody knows. So why speculate about a big daddy in the sky who supposedly is expanding the universe and creating all those stars and stuff and yet is bothered about whether I believe in him or not. To paraphrase Dawkins, I cannot prove that there is no god just as i cannot prove there is no Santa clause. So, i choose to lead my life as if there is definitely none.
Q5. How did you reach to Saif’s Forum (Debating Islam) on Facebook ? and whats your opinion on such groups / forums on FB ? do you think they are making difference ?
I was spotted on paltalk chat messenger by the facebook user Farida Sheik in a Pakistani political chat room. I was a Muslim then. From the way I talked she reckoned i was unlike the rest. she introduced me to the paltalk ex-muslim community. When I left Islam, I made a Facebook profile with this pseudonym and Farida proceeded to add me to saif’s group.
I think groups like these are important for many reasons. They serve as a community for the old and especially the new ‘de-converts’ so that they may not feel isolated and alone. The borderline believers are tempted to come to these groups to see that it is fine to be a disbeliever. These kinds of groups provide a platform for dialogue and an opportunity to remove the negative stereotypes associated with atheists. They also serve to pressure the hardliners into realizing how silly their position is and that atheists are entitled to fundamental human rights including freedom of speech and freedom of expression. I think that if the star of organized religion is to fade in Pakistan, these groups will have to play an important role in it.
Q6. How hard it is to tell your family and friends about your loss of faith ? do you think you will ever be able to do it and if you did what could be the reaction ?
None of my real friends and family know about it. They will have to know sooner or later. In Pashtun culture, the extended family is an important community in a person’s life. They will ostracize me. My parents and siblings will bear the brunt of ‘badnami’ or dishonour. In extended families jealousy and rivalry also runs high sometimes therefore I can imagine somebody in my extended family reporting me to police. That is why I am keen on not leaving any hard evidence for anybody to bother me with.
I don’t think it will be the same as before with my friends either. All are Muslims and hence they keep their religion above all in principle.
It is a difficult phase; i am trying to forge a new community for me. New friends, new environment which can accept me the way I am. I was thinking of eventually settling down in Pakistan after a few years of work experience in Europe. but now I have decided to stay here permanently. I fell in love with a muslim woman here when I was a muslim. I am greatful that she is the only one in this whole wide world who is close to me, knows about me and accepts me the way I am. I think it is because of her sufi ideals that it doesn’t bother her or maybe it’s the human emotion of love that transcends religious boundaries.
Q7. Is there any chance that you may have understood it wrong and Islam might be the right religion ? Do you think you can ever be a Muslim again ?
I did not leave Islam because I wanted to. I left it because I was compelled by rationality. It took three years of deliberation and study. I have come to realize that organized religion is man made or has evolved alongside man at least. I am out of its folds now. If I go back anytime, it will surely be an indication of mental disability. Other than that there is no chance.
Q8. You got a chance to go out of Pakistan and got exposure to a different way of thinking but how can those who are still living in Pakistan can get their hands on this Rationality ?
It is a very difficult question to answer. allegorically I see Pakistan as a pond in which the fish have no idea about the ocean. I think, it is our job to try and cast doubt in the heads of the believers. Internet is difficult to censor and hence is a great platform for us to engage them. This is also where groups like the one run by saif come in. We have to be the initiators of the conversation and produce material tailored for Pakistani consumption in both English and Urdu. Now internet is not accessible to the whole population but doubts cast in the minds of the few who do, has the possibility of a domino effect upon the rest of the population. To quote thunderf00t ‘internet is a place where religions come to die’ and i think this is the best medium through which we can wage our intellectual crusade.
Q9. A lot of people get worried that if there is no role of Religion in their life, the idea of being good or bad would lose its meaning to them. They ask “why should we do good things if there is no God and there is going to be no day of Qayamat? How are you keeping up with your personality development after leaving Islam and do you think you are a bad person now just because you don’t follow any religion ?
When somebody holds the door open for a stranger coming behind him, he never thinks about doing this for god. morality is intrinsic in human nature. We have evolved the capacity to have empathy. Every one of us has an instinctive sense of fairness within us. We do good to others because we want to be treated the same way by others. It feels good to do good. If somebody thinks that without religion, he will go on killing and raping etc. seriously needs to reconsider his moral compass.
To back it up with ground reality, the secular societies of Japan and Scandinavia are some of the most godless people on earth yet have one of the lowest crime rate. Compare that with Pakistan, India or even the US where religiosity is high and crime is endemic.
Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg sums it up by saying “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
Q10. What message would you like to give to our readers ?
Love your fellow humans, this planet and its inhabitants. This is the only life you’ll ever get. Make the most out of it. its short and finite and this is what makes it worth living.