Skip to comments.The Rise of Atheism in Pakistan
Posted on 01/10/2012 5:29:50 PM PST by SeekAndFind
An increasing number of young Pakistanis 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.
A Facebook group called Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics was launched a few months ago and has already attracted over 800 members. I caught up with the founder of this group, a young Pakistani Technologist operating under the pseudonym Hazrat Nakhuda, in order to discuss this new phenomenon.
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 doesnt 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 cant 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 couldnt 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 dont believe in God but they dont 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 cant.
G: And why do you think its 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 wasnt 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 dont 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.
G: How much of this trend is attributable to political events and the rise of Islamist militancy in the region?
HN: The rise of Islamist militancy has made more closet atheists come out. Has it made more people in Pakistan become atheist/agnostics? No it hasnt. It has in some cases put people on the path to questioning their own faith but not to abandoning it. I find that almost all people abandon faith because of scientific and philosophical arguments rather than geo-political events.
G: How has social media and the internet aided your work?
HN: It is the backbone of everything we do. It is how members interact with each other. All this started out on forums and groups on the social media.
G: What are your plans for the future?
HN: Right now most Pakistanis arent even aware that there is an option to not believe in God; they dont question the existence of God and generally dont believe that Atheists exist. What is more, according to a Gallup poll, 78 percent of Pakistanis believe that a person who leaves Islam should be killed. And finally, Pakistan has very strict blasphemy laws. If I get to change these three things in my life time, I would die a happy man.
-- Ghaffar Hussain is a leading independent counter-extremism expert
Believing in no god is a step up from believing in an evil god.
[ Believing in no god is a step up from believing in an evil god. ]
In a way yes, but they will probably become commies......
Who will still separate heads from necks in the name of the state instead of allah.
It is too much to hope for that the Muslims would become Christians. But I think becoming atheists is a major step in the right direction. A totally secular society such as the Soviet Union will fail, but if Muslims can use atheism to get out of the 7th century, so much the better. If they were the least bit rational, their people would have a better chance in life.
“I believe that when a religion is adopted by a state it stifles progress.”
Off hand, I’m not so sure history shows that to be true in and of itself, but it might depend on what’s meant by progress.
They’re taking the Allah out of Allahu Akbar! Ho could that hurt us?
Not to mention, How?
Sounds to me like an interest in rational thinking is on the rise, given the sprouting of young atheists. I can't imagine that the imams are going to allow this to go very far. Maybe, at this point, they'll just see it as a passing fad, like Americans do.
I actually think this will spread, especially among women who have only known a God that oppresses them and punishes them for their mere existence. This may end up being the philosophy, evne more than basic freedom, that overthrows the Imams. Once that happens, the people of Pakistan will see the Imams as mere people, not as all knowing representatives designated by God to keep them in their place.
One reason why Islamic clerics try to drive out Christians from Muslim-majority areas is because they don't want Muslims who might be questioning Islam to have anyplace else to go, theologically.
Extremism begets extremism.
In central and South America they suffer the “Old Europe disease”, the wealthy truly not enjoying their wealth unless they are surrounded by poverty and squalor. Their champagne and caviar lack flavor unless they can look out a window and see beggars starving in the streets.
But in turn, this breeds deep resentment among the beggars, who see radically egalitarian socialism, to utterly crush the wealthy and impoverish them, as the solution to their own poverty. And this is an equally vile belief, because once a peasant is uplifted by power and wealth, as the new “Jefe”, they behave just as boorishly as the wealthy and powerful they displaced. Same as the old boss.
So in Muslim nations, where the power is oppressive Islam, with pretense that it is a religion, forced on all despite its barbarism and stupidity in the modern world, the reaction is atheism, often socialist atheism. In Arab nations it is Ba’athism.
It is a rejection of Islamic government, where the oppression is just as real, but with less of an Islamic face on it. Same as the old boss, but perhaps less sanctimonious about it.
Yet they do not completely discard Islam in the process, only mitigate it somewhat. Even the Soviets could never quite pull this off, so Islam remains. Perhaps this is because atheism really has nothing to offer people.
In Africa, however, there is a different choice. Millions of black Africans are leaving Islam and becoming Christians, mostly Anglicans. At first, many do so just so they can say they are not Muslims, but Christians. Yet they soon realize that Christianity offers them something that just “not-Muslim” does not. And this is why their departure has turned into a flood.
Could it be the same in Pakistan?
Globally, food prices have been going up. Eventually, more people are going to decide that studying for a marketable skill is a better idea than studying the Qur'an, and the need to hold a job supersedes any duty to pray 5 times a day.
Good luck, young squires. Good luck.
Meet the new boss—same as the old boss. How about Castro following Batista.
Who knows. All I do know is that the Middle Eastern crazies could do with a little Atheism right now. That area is too insane to convert to Christianity and right now they need to take a break from religion.
Very wise, very wise indeed.
I honestly think that in time, there will be a huge conversion, but quite frankly, just not yet. Probably not in our lifetime, but in time Earth will see it’s change for the better. At the moment this is the best possible step in the right direction.
Agreed. This Christian would prefer Pakistan was Atheist rather than Muslim.
Granted that must only be a minority of the Atheists and Agnostics in Pakistan...but it is nothing like the 2,800,000 Christians in Pakistan that are also oppressed and are apparently not as newsworthy.
Lets apply such thinking to mathematics, hmmm:
The nerve of accepting one value for the sum of 2 and 2 and rejecting all others...
To Geography, hmm:
The nerve of accepting that the world is fairly close to a sphere in shape, and rejecting all the other shapes...hmmm.
To astronomy, hmmm:
The nerve of accepting that we only have one moon, and rejecting all the other possible numbers of moons we might have...
I think that reason is not well served by simply presuming instead that there is actually no sum that 2 plus 2 is equal to, no Earth of any kind of shape, and no such thing as a moon...even if some of the particulars about such things were in doubt.