A Few Regret and Remorse
It would be a blatant lie if I say that I was always freethinker, unaffected by the curse of religion because I was not. Even though I consider my life to be quite uneventful and ordinary one, I went through various stages and phases before I managed to reach the state of being free from the oppressive regime of dogmas. I should confess that I was only able to achieve this quite recently becoming an agnostic only about a year or two ago and now it makes me wonder how dense I have been to not realize it at an earlier stage of my life when it was so simple to comprehend this juvenile fallacy. Do I feel ashamed for this late epiphany? To tell the truth, at times yes I do especially when I read about people who were able to decipher this simple puzzle at quite an early age, which I was able to decode at ripe age of 30. And considering that there was no puzzle to start with adds a bit more to the loss of some pride. At times I want to hide behind the idea that I was merely a victim of the system in which I grew up, a casualty of the conformist society, which perhaps not untrue but still might account as a lame excuse for me. I do not mean to undermine anyone who like me arrived at this conclusion in a later stage of life by this statement, but I think a lot of people would agree that once we were able to free ourselves from deceit of religions we all perhaps had wished that only if we could have done this earlier. For me this holds true and it’s a regret that I will have to live with.
A ‘Bad’ Muslim
I was born to Sunni Muslim parents in Pakistan. It was a time around which the dictator General Zia ul Haq had assumed power and had started implementing stricter Islamic laws in the country. The nation from a liberal one was shoved into being somewhat of a theocratic state. Fortunately for me, my parents were not very orthodox Muslims but I would not label them as liberals either. We were the lucky ones in Pakistan who could afford to pay for decent education, which we did receive. Along with that all my siblings and I also received religious education which primarily consisted of recitation of Quran tutored by a Qari (a person who is an expert on the recitation of Quran). Since the recitation has to be in Arabic, hiring a qari as a tutor is quite a normal practice. The primary focus in this was the correct Arabic pronunciation of the words rather than the meaning and context of the content. At that age, books didn’t fascinate me much as they do now and reading a book that was in a language that I still do not comprehend was not a very exciting idea for me. The next step in Islamic education was introduction of 5 daily prayers. This is started from an early age again for obvious reasons. Habits enforced in childhood are hard to get rid of at a later stage. Again, in this area, I was lazy. Prayer times clashed with other activities of mine, like sleeping, sports or television. Partly because of my own lethargy and partly because of leniency of my parents this habit did not actually grow on me. Being lax in these areas didn’t mean redemption for me. On the contrary, it meant that I could never ever be a good human being. Since I still did continue to call myself a Muslim and loosely followed and practiced any ritual that I could conveniently perform I knew from the Islamic teachings that only by being a good Muslim can one become a decent and complete human being. I knew that fires of hell were waiting to roast me for eternity.
In school we were also taught Islamic Studies course, which starts right from preschool and goes on till the undergrad courses. The content of this course remains almost the same throughout and is obviously mandatory to take. It was while studying these courses in school that some questions started to pop up in my head. Mostly they remained in my head as I never dared to ask them to anyone, partly because I was a shy person and partly because I thought they were the wrong questions. Questions like, if everything has to be created by somebody and if god created everything then who created god? How do I know that Islam is the right religion to follow? How come there are no more prophets being sent by god to guide humans to do good? Why do I have study Quran in Arabic which I do not understand? If Islam is the right path why are there so many divisions in it? Why does Islam treat women as lesser and inferior beings? The list went on and on. As I grew older the question started to become more complex but I was still unable to find the answers. However, as a Muslim, I knew they were wrong questions that I should not be asking and all these questions amounted to sin. Unable to stop myself from asking these questions, I started believing that I am inspired by the devil to raise these questions. I started believing that I was possessed by the devil. To ‘redeem’ myself from the Satan, I started praying but the ‘devil’ didn’t seem to go away.
A Lonely Depressed Muslim Teenager
The teen years arrived and brought along the normal curiosities. Realizations about physical changes in self, being attracted to girls, exploring one’s own sexuality would have been part of a normal growing up experience but my Allah didn’t think so. Once again, the devil was residing in me and fuelling these sinful desires which as a ‘good’ Muslim I was supposed to curb. Fighting these desires would make Allah happy with me. These ‘filthy’ thoughts were a test which I had to endure in order to seek the right path. I withdrew into solitude avoiding contact with most people around me. I avoided talking to others, especially girls because Islam considered them root cause of evil deeds. I became an asocial person (which to some extent I still am today) and tried to find solace in religion. But being a ‘feeble’ human and ‘awful’ Muslim I would occasionally succumb to ‘evil’ deeds leading to remorse and regret. I would spent hours at times crying in some secluded corner of my home cursing myself for being born bad. I was not able to overcome this guilt for a very long time, thinking that these sins will continue to haunt me for a very long time.
Allah the ‘Merciful’ Misogynist
The contradiction within me continued to grow. The more I read and studies the religious texts more perplexed I became. I am not allowed to explore the area of sex, for example, but the Prophet was allowed to marry a nubile girl of 6 years and every ‘pious’ Muslim feels fine about that!! There were several other contradictions and peculiarities which started to irk me. Most of them were about the rights and treatment of women. Islam claimed that it had emancipated women like no other social system had done, yet it continued to treat womenfolk as a commodity. The Quran states, that a man can have 4 wives for himself and along with that he can have slave girls! Women captured in war were treated as war booty, distributed among officers and men. They were a degree inferior to men and considered unclean to be around during their monthly cycles. A girl child could get only half the inheritance as a male child and in court of law their testimony is worth half to that of their male counterpart. It seemed women were royally screwed by ‘divine will’. I once again failed to understand that why would Allah hate women so much, which arguably could have been his most graceful and elegant ‘creation’ (i.e. if ‘he’ had actually been there to create anything at all). For a religion that claimed itself to be for all mankind and for all times, such ideas were quite myopic and unjust and I found it hard to digest.
The Apologist Years
I didn’t deviate from Islam at this point as I did consider it still to be the last word of god to mankind. I blamed the interpreters of religion to be at fault and my own limited understanding of Islam. The search for answers was still going on with still no definitive answer in sight. I found books written by both orthodox and liberal interpreters, both providing quite different explanations of different verses, but none were sufficient to satisfy my curiosity. During my undergrad years I met a colorful mix of Muslims at the university I attended. From indifferent followers who were Muslims only because that’s the only religion they were ever taught to apologist who blamed everything on the Jews, Hindus and other ‘foreign hidden enemies’ out to defame the ‘glorious’ religion to firebrand lot who were ready to wage jihad. None of them seemed to question the loopholes and idiosyncrasy in the belief system. To be fair, neither did I mostly because questioning the belief system is not only a taboo, it’s a crime punishable by death. It was during these years that Internet slowly made its way into Pakistan and of course the most fascinating thing about it was that you could interact with people from parts of the world that one might not actually be able to ever visit. I made an email pal on one of the forums I found. She was a girl of my age from a Scandinavian country (I have completely forgotten exactly which country she was from) and was Christian. A few email exchanges later she started asking me about Islam and what Islam says about Jesus. I switched on my Islam preaching mode and starting selling the concept of how wonderful and beautiful Islam is. Surprisingly for me, she knew a little more than I had thought. In fact she had all the questions, which I had and was unable to find the answers myself. The online friendship didn’t last long as in fury I stopped replying to her emails. But it did invoke me to look for the answers that I would find around 7-8 years later.
Jihad Goes Global
I was working in Islamabad at the time when I first read the unbelievable story on BBC website. A plane had struck the World Trade Center, something which was perhaps never thought off before. I saw many of my colleagues jubilant and smiling as if they considered it to be a victory of Islam over the non-Muslims, a concept that fascinates most Muslims around the world. As the global media showed live footage of people desperately jumping off the Twin Towers many Muslims celebrated on the streets. It was disgusting and pathetic display that made me question my own moral values. I shared something common with those who struck the WTC and those that celebrated this event; the bond of religion Islam. These events stripped naked the ‘religion of peace’ to expose its sanction for violence. Historically violence is inbuilt in the tenets of Islam. This was primarily how it expanded to various corners of the globe. The residents of any area occupied and defeated in war with Muslims were given three choices; (1) accept Islam, (2) pay jizia tax or (3) face the sword. And the beauty was that it was always done to please Allah. My limits of irrationality were finally being pushed to the limit. There was something terribly wrong with the way Muslims were thinking and acting, either it was due to some misconceived notion or because of incorrect interpretation of the scripture. Bottom line was that the end results were dreadful for many innocent people. Allah was becoming a bit too demanding now. Admonishing me for having promiscuous thoughts was one thing, but taking innocent lives was way over the top. Allah seemed now like a spoilt little brat who didn’t know when to stop!
God Has Left The Building
The closure to this mundane tale began a little over 2 years. I had at that time moved out of Pakistan to another country in relation to career opportunity. My wife and child accompanied me as well. By this time I did start realizing the fact that religion as we know it has become somewhat irrelevant and it needs to be studied in modern light to make it at par with modern times. I had stopped praying by now or practicing any other rituals. A few months had gone by in the new country when a life-changing event took place. We had an accident in which my wife suffered severe injuries. The doctors were not hopeful for her survivals and they struggled each day to keep her alive. She remained in intensive care for several months and I remained unsure if she is going to make it. It was a terrible period which I was able to make through primarily because of kindness of strangers and support of family. However, lot of people also remarked that this is a test from god. Others said that everything bad that happens to people happens because of their deeds. One Muslim guy answered my request for blood donation by asking me first whether I was a Muslim or not, for he said he would not donate blood to an ‘infidel’. Why would Allah want to test me and for what? So I can pray to him? I would probably be happier with god and perhaps even pray to him had he not destroyed my family in this manner. Every bad event is because of something ‘evil’ I did in my life? Does that mean my wife was almost killed because I masturbated as a teenager? I didn’t think so. It was not just my wife who was on life support now; god too was on life support. A little help during this time came unexpectedly from some atheist blogs, which I discovered, accidently. Though they mostly covered Christian dogmas however, they helped in evolving my own rational thinking. It was primarily through these blogs that I was able to realize the flawed case of religions and the abuses that have been meted out in its name. Rationality finally woke up in me and I realized that it was so obvious all along but I perhaps remained in a state of denial. All my life I had been looking for the right answers in all the wrong places.
I will never be able to forget the day when the concept of god and everything associated with it perpetually died for me. I visited my wife one day in her ICU where, even though in much stable state, she was still under observation. I held her hand and told her that her mother had fallen sick and has been hospitalized. She became visibly upset and asked me to pray to god that she gets well soon. “God can do anything if he wills, right?” she added. I didn’t know how to answer her question. All I knew at that moment was that there is no such thing as god, for her mother had already died a week ago but I never had the courage to tell her this while she was still in unstable condition.
Two years of freedom feels great! Obviously because of various reasons I still remain in the closet, primarily because of the fact that apostasy is punishable by death in Islam. So I feel its better to remain alive and safe rather than being a fool and losing your head (literally). My wife is my only confidant at the moment, even though she herself is still a believer and is slightly perturbed regarding the status of our marriage (since we were married as per the Muslim law and as per Sharia law she cannot be married to an infidel), but that is her problem and not mine. I am fine with the way things are, however my current mission is to try and de- convert her so that we can raise a freethinking child.