The commentator has a great article today by Ghaffar Hussain. It is all about the rise of Atheism in Pakistan. In many secular countries embracing reason and rationality is generally a safe thing to do, but Pakistan is different. With both a Blasphemy law and also a large percentage of the population willing to murder if you just happen to not embrace their beliefs, only the truly brave take such a stance, yet even in this climate of intimidation, an increasing number of young Pakistani’s are adopting Atheism and openly questioning the existence of a God. Many analysts have attributed this trend to the rise of Islamist militancy in Pakistan as well as access to social media and other technological tools that allow people to share and explore new ideas. I can indeed understand this; because I personally engage with many of them in on-line debates on a daily basis, I’ve seen a change take place in the past year. Muslims are finding that their fanatical beliefs are openly challenged and they quickly discover that their position has no rational basis, and so the status-quo is indeed being shaken up.
In some ways, it reminds me of the social impact of the printing press. Much to the dismay of the medieval religious authorities, it led to the reformation and also gave birth to the enlightenment, and so in a similar manner many are being exposed to reason and are having their religious assumptions challenged.
Anyway, in the article today Ghaffar Hussain catches up with ‘Hazrat Nakhuda’ – the founder of the ‘Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics’ Facebook group. here is an extract …
Ghaffar: What inspired you to launch the Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics group?
Hazrat Nakhuda: Atheist groups and movements are a global trend. PAA is a part of that but it is different. The problem is that most of the groups for freethinkers are in secular countries. In my view the battle for reason, rationality and freethinking doesn’t need to be fought (with urgency) in England, Holland or Canada. It is here, in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia where we need to fight the battle for reason. It is here where the battle will be the most hard-hitting, it is here where reason needs to triumph, and it is here where we can’t afford to lose.
Almost every Muslim-majority country is under-developed economically or socially. I believe that when a religion is adopted by a state it stifles progress. Pakistanis are running 40,000 Madrasas but 30 percent of the children under the age of 5 are malnourished.
We missed our millennium goals to eradicate polio because we couldn’t run the refrigerators that housed the vaccine, but we spent a fortune on the ‘Islamic bomb’.
This country would praise Mumtaz Qadri (the murderer of Salman Taseer), and yet marginalize the only Nobel laureate of the country because he was from minority sect.
If you want to see how much a hindrance religion can be in the progress of a nation, look at Pakistan.
G: What led you to questioning religion and ultimately becoming an Atheist?
HN: I was an Islam Apologist. The thing that got me started was the idea that the reason I was a Muslim was simply because I was born into a Muslim Family.
The nerve to claim one specific religion and one specific God out of hundreds as the real God, and rejecting all others merely because ones parents asserted so, seemed too presumptuous.
That is when I started rejecting and accepting ideas based on arguments rather than scripture. Once you start doing that, it is only a matter of time.
G: Is your approach ontological, scientific or more political?
HN: Initially it was ontological. Now it is more political and scientific.
G: How open are you about your view and your activities in Pakistan?
HN: Within my circle of friends I am very open. My family knows I don’t believe in God but they don’t know that I am in a leading role in such an organization. Obviously I use a pseudonym that alone should tell you how open I can be.
G: Would you say Atheism is on the increase in Pakistan?
HN: It is on the rise. Not as much as I hoped to but it is on the rise. There is a huge amount of closet atheists in Pakistan. For every member of the organization I get an email from five others telling me that they want to join but can’t.
G: And why do you think it’s on the rise?
HN: Why is it on the rise? Well if I had to put forward what I see as the most pertinent reason, it would have to be the internet and social media. We are connected like nothing else. A boy in a small town outside Lahore can watch a lecture by Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Christopher Hitchens. Ten years ago it wasn’t that easy.
Another reason is the fact that Pakistanis are obsessed with trying to prove to the world that Islam is right. When people like that go to online forums to debate other people they get asked questions that, as a born Muslim, they don’t ask themselves.
G: What is the profile of your average member?
HN: The majority of the members are young, between the ages of 16 and 32. Most of them are urban Middle class and Educated; doctors, engineers, computer programmers, lawyers, business persons, artists, and so on. Most of the members also tend to be from the three major cities: Lahore, Karachi & Islamabad.
But we have people from as far away as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). There is also a huge overseas Pakistani population. Interest areas range from politics, economics to domestic issues.
G: What kind of response have you had from Pakistani Muslims?
HN: So far it is encouraging. But there is the odd individual who expresses his desire to behead me.
You can click here to read it all.
So there you have it, there is indeed hope for Pakistan.I do hope you will join me in applauding these brave folks who take a stand in such an oppressive and truly dangerous environment.
The Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics Facebook page is here, so why not join and give them a bit of encouragement.