Pakistan is generally perceived to be a nation populated with rather a lot of religious lunatics, and I do not mean just your average culturally religious individual, but rather people who embrace the medieval idea that murdering those of a different belief is a really good idea, so much so that they act upon that thought.
While it is true, that such individuals do indeed reside there, the real truth is that like everywhere else, most Pakistanis are not that fanatical at all. Belief is not a binary condition – people will hold different ideas and thoughts with different degrees of confidence, and so like everywhere else you will find the complete spectrum that runs from total non-belief all the way through to the violent extreme.
So why all the violence?
The real problem is not that the fanatics are not “true” Muslims, but rather they they are, in the sense that they embrace the words in the Quran quite literally as truth and act upon them. The problem is that the content of the Quran breaks down as follows:
- 52%–Over half is vitriol aimed at infidels.
- 17%–Deal with Allah
- 15%–Deal with believers/non-believers
- 12%–Deal with Day of Judgment
- 4%— Is a good verse. (Do not steal from the poor / Give to the poor etc)
Because the Quran is filled with such bad ideas, it motivates good people to behave in an abhorrent manner within a context where it is all deemed to be literal “truth” and not simply a poetical metaphor. To illustrate this point, here is an actual example …
- A December 2010 Pew poll found that 76 percent of Pakistanis think that apostates (those that leave Islam) should be killed. This is not unique to Pakistan, it is a view that is also endorsed by the majority modern Islamic scholars today.
Luckily most do not act upon this idea, but it does create a climate of considerable fear and also generates a lot of intimidation against any who simply dare to doubt or simply hold a slightly different variation of Islamic belief. Rather sadly a minority do indeed put this thought into action and will reach out violently and strike against all whom they believe to be apostates. This manifests itself as Muslim upon Muslim violence, because it the eyes of one specific group, all others are in fact apostates.
So are there Non-Believers in Pakistan?
Actually yes there are. There is an interesting article (here) all about the Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics, a five-year-old group that advertises itself on Twitter as “a social organization for freethinkers of Pakistan.” Two or three times a month they gather to talk about religion—or rather, about rejecting religion—and about politics.
These are not individuals who just live in the west outside Pakistan, but rather they live in Pakistan and openly meet up. The article explains …
The eight young people who gathered recently at a popular restaurant in central Lahore looked like any others, laughing over samosas with tangy chutney sauce as a table of older ladies in hijab looked on from a nearby table. But the jokes the boisterous twenty-somethings were sharing were about the absurdities of religion, and they weren’t social friends.
Rather, they were members of Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics ..
I gleaned the following insights from that article …
- more than 1,100 people have signed up for Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics on Facebook. “For every member I have now, there are two people who message me saying they would like to join but cannot as they are afraid,”
- the group’s founder is a 30-year-old man who calls himself Hazrat NaKhuda—literally “Prophet of no God.”
- What prompts silence from most Pakistani atheists is fear of family disapproval and the apprehension of being ostracized from society—and the threat of being charged with blasphemy
- The Pakistan penal code has punishment for blasphemy ranging from fines to even death
- Hundreds of people have been imprisoned, forced to leave the country, or even killed by religious fundamentalists. “Every time there’s a blasphemy case in the country that reaches the news, membership is dropped,”
- Pakistan has grown steadily more intolerant since its establishment in 1947. In the 1970s, Ahmadis—a group of Muslims who follow 19th-century religious leader Mirza Ghulam Ahmad—became the first victims of sectarian violence and were declared non-Muslim by the government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto
So how many non-religious people are there in Pakistan?
We have an answer from a 2012 poll. Within the pdf that contains all the details we can learn …
- As many as 16% in Pakistan do not identify as religious … or to translate that into real numbers … 28,600,000 people in Pakistan are not religious, and need to hide that fact.
What is also interesting is that Atheism is also rising.
- In 2005 1% were openly atheist
- By the time of that poll in 2012 that number had doubled to 2%
My point here is not to play the numbers game because of course reality is what it is regardless of the prevailing opinion, we don’t get to vote on what is and is not actually true.
What is actually happening is that as the tide of fanatical belief rises and becomes more extreme, it also motivates many decent honourable people to abandon their moderate beliefs. In other words, the best argument in favour of non-belief is the very existence of the fanatics and their constant stream of intolerance, misogyney, violence and murder.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics have a big day coming up soon. Every April 1st they throw a big birthday party for Allah at an Islamabad ice-cream parlour.
Why that day?
Well, because it is April Fools’ Day of course. They even go as far as having a birthday cake decorated with the words “Happy Birthday, Allah!”, and strangely enough, Allah never turns up to blow out the candles.