Harris Sultan

It’s a question people like me get asked quite a lot; “If you have left Islam, why do you talk about it? Why don’t you just get on with your “Atheistic life”?”

In short, I answer it something like this “It is like saying if you have quit drugs, why do you talk about it? Why don’t you just get on with your drug-free life”? I can understand this might be seen as a tongue in cheek reply and I could get accused of false equivalence but if you actually look at in detail, it is not. The principle here, whether the equivalence is same or not, is still very valid. I actually think the equivalence is perfect because religion has often been compared to psychedelic experiences. In religion you see things that are not there just like when you are under a strong psychedelic experience. You mostly feel good about your faith just like you mostly feel good about your psychedelic experiences. There are a lot of parallels you can draw between religions and drugs.

Apart from the similarities between drugs and religions, there are actually more serious reasons for us, apostates to talk about religions, especially Islam. Like anyone else belonging to any other ideological position, we as human beings like to talk about ideas and counter ideas. Free thought and its expression is now considered one of the most fundamental of human rights. It would not be unfair to credit free thought and its expression for the success of the Western civilisation. The moral evolution of our society is a result of only one thing, that is free thought. Free thought is obviously of no use if it is not expressed. Whenever a free thought is suppressed, stagnation takes over. Just think about it, if you don’t question the status quo, how is your society going to change? If you don’t question the actions of your leader, how are you going to get a better leader? If you are not going to question some of the bad aspects of your society, let’s say treatment of animals, how are you going to change it?

In the wake of 2018 Pakistan General elections, a video of a dog being shot multiple times went viral. Rightly so, there was a huge condemnation of this heinous act by the Pakistani public. Nobody quoted Muhammad’s hadith that all black dogs should be killed (Sahih Muslim Book 010, Hadith Number 3813). The dog in the video was not jet black anyway but I am sure even if it was a jet-black dog being shot by these mischievous men, the reaction would have been more or less the same. I grew up in Pakistan in the 90s when I would see kids throw rocks at stray dogs and the adults would not tell them off. Some 20 years later, we are now seeing more and more people becoming aware of this animal cruelty that is ingrained in our Pakistani psyche. This is the result of free thought which has unfortunately travelled from the Western world to the Eastern world. I don’t care where it comes from, as long as it does eventually come. Now just imagine if Pakistan was run by an Islamist who would have quoted Muhammad’s hadith as dogs should be killed and he would have suppressed everyone expressing his/her concern over this brutal act of animal cruelty. You would not have been able to do anything for the welfare of the animals in Pakistan. Only, free thought and its expression will result in better laws and eventually better treatment of animals. The culprits were actually captured by the KP police within 12 hours and the police was praised for their quick action.

Now, I tell you why we talk about religion as I have mentioned the importance of free thought and its expression. Religious zealots and the religious establishment know that talking about religion is simply an exercise of free thought. This is a dangerous idea to them just like criticism is dangerous to a dictator who wants to hold on to his power. If you were born and raised in Pakistan like I did, you would have heard of this statement; “Don’t think too much because the Satan will lead you astray.” Depending on your family and the character of the person making this statement, you are not necessarily beaten while the orator is making this statement hence it may seem like a harmless comment. But this is a very sinister statement and its worse than beating anyone because it is actively suppressing free thought and all the future evolution of your society. If I said we talk about religion (right or wrong) simply because it is a practice of free thought, it is good enough to talk about it. Islam in principle suppresses free thought and often refers it as “fitnah”. Do you think this outrage of Pakistani people over that dog video will stop there? Obviously not, next they will talk about the brutal slaughtering of sheep, goats, camels and cows in the streets of Pakistan on the festival of Eid-ul-Adha. I witnessed this slaughtering every year when I was growing up in Pakistan. We were desensitised to animal cruelty. I remembered my cousins and I used to eagerly await the slaughtering of our goat, we used to wonder how much of a fight this aggressive goat is going to put up when it is slaughtered. These events disappeared when I moved to Australia and thanks to the Western society, my eyes opened up and I realised there is a thing called animal cruelty. I squirm at the thought of witnessing any living being getting its throat slit over a meaningless festival. The virus of free thought and its expression is spreading in Pakistan and that is good news not just for animals but also for women, minorities and the LGBTQ community.

This is why people like me talk about Islam, we talk about the bad and the evil practices being carried out because of Islam. This is bigger than me, this is bigger than any ex-Muslim. Pakistanis understand the importance of free thought and its expression. If you are a non-Pakistani, you might find it strange when I say that Pakistan is a relatively free country but it’s true. You can openly criticise, borderline abuse your Prime Minister or the President on national TV with no consequences but all bets are off when it comes to religion. Nobody talks about this elephant in the room. In fact, some of the most secular people, people who I think might be atheists are forced to say a good thing or two about Islam. This is the challenge that Pakistani atheists and ex-Muslims like myself have taken on. We talk about religion just to make a point that it is ok to talk about Islam. Yes, the road is not smooth and I have no doubt that I could be lynched by a mob if I openly talked about Islam like I do in the middle of a street in Lahore. Relatively speaking, nothing will happen to me if I started attacking Imran Khan or Nawaz Sharif. So, my fellow Pakistanis, start talking about Islam, start talking about Islam related taboos as we know the only way to change your society for better is free thought and its expression.

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Atheism & Islam