Dear Prof. Dawkins,
I am a 30 year old Muslim Indian male. I am a Muslim as much as I am an Indian in the sense that both identities are foisted upon me because of the randomness of my birth.
I was really fortunate to have grown up devoid of the hardcore indoctrination most Muslim Kids have to endure in their formative years. I was, however, taught the basic tenets of Islam – God / Mohamad / Prayers / Hajj / Fasting. I grew up thinking it to be a brave and honorable religion. But, I had never tried to understand all of what Islam was at its core. I hadn't read the Quran or even recited it (a clear distinction I'll get to later). Even without my cognizance of what was written in the Quran, I got the sense that in Islam our relationship with God was grounded more on Fear than Love.
Because of this I had to develop my own private concept of what God was. I really believed that I had a one to one relationship with Him/It/Her. I believed that he'd (using the male gender to make it easier!) listen to my prayers and look out for me and the ones I loved (regardless of their creed). By this stage the only thing “Islamic” about me was that I addressed God as Allah, I went to the Mosque and prayed the way Muslims do (not very regularly) and I would observe fast during the month of Ramadhan. For me prayers were a conversation with God. Incidentally, most of my prayers were “answered” (probably because I tended to pray for intervention when I could easily anticipate a positive outcome to my prayers).
While I did believe in my God, I had come to accept that Religion itself was largely useless and possibly pernicious. Hence, I never held back from living a life I loved because of the restrictions religion imposed on me. This was attested to by my drinking, enjoying bacon and having a Buddhist Girlfriend whom I was madly in love with. I strongly felt that religion was no longer about God. It was about itself. Religion was mostly about filling its own coffers while offering nothing in the form of spirituality. Funnily enough, at this stage I was really ignorant about atheistic philosophy.
So that was where I stood until a few months ago – I loved God, but I disliked Religion.
Then I happened to come across 2 books which changed my life. The first was “God is not Great” by Christopher Hitchens. The second was “The God Delusion”. These two books crystallized what I felt about Religion by pretty much obliterating it. Suddenly, and without my own realization, I had let go of God. I didn't even have to question and torture myself to reach that conclusion. It's like a teenager whose voice breaks post adolescence. It just happened. Subsequently I started watching the various debates Hitchens and Yourself would have with the religious types. I also read Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and that brilliant compilation “The Portable Atheist”.
I have never felt so liberated and enlightened at the same time. The only thing that I felt slightly regretful about was that I can no longer offer consolation to my loved ones when they are in distress (I would previously have said that I'd pray for them). But I have accepted that since I don't want false consolation for myself, I needn't give it to anyone else as well. By letting go of God, I felt a sense of freedom but also an immense sense of responsibility for myself. I realize now that my morals are my own. I am proud of who I am because I know now I do the right thing because it's the right thing and not in anticipation of reward or fear of punishment.
As an upshot of my enlightenment (amalgamated with my sometimes truculent nature) I started taking on people who espoused religion (mainly my Muslim Brethren). However my opponents had the upper hand on me because I was actually still ignorant about Islam. At their behest and also for my own sake I got around to reading the Quran. I think my opponents really believed that I would have a change of heart when I read it. Reading the Quran basically affirmed what Christopher and yourself had been saying about God and Religion. Almost everything in the Quran suggests that it was written by an Arab Male and not by a Supreme Being. Armed with the “knowledge” of the Quran I started taking on my brothers and sisters purely on what was written in the Quran. I could only get blubbering responses from otherwise coherent people. Most of them were either scared or stubbornly reluctant to question their faith.
Having read the Quran, I have a sneaking suspicion that most Muslims follow their faith without actually having read the Quran. They may have recited it. But I don't think they have read it. Perhaps the intrinsic beauty of Arabic as a language leads to the recital of the book being a deeply moving and spiritual experience. The same cannot be said about reading it. I must say that I am thankful if they haven't read it. I will agree with Sam Harris that Islam is not a Religion of Peace. But I will add that Muslims for most part are peaceful. I always thought that the system (Islam) was sound and the adherents (Muslims) weren't. Now I know the opposite to be true.
I would like to call myself an avowed Anti-theistic Humanist! But just recently I have begun to feel that I am more anti-theistic (Hitchens again) than Humanistic. I realize that some part of me is getting a real kick from debating with the believers. I have looked deep inside and concluded that my motivation is to dissuade intelligent people from sacrificing their faculty of reasoning at the altar of faith. I know that I am not confronting them to get sadistic pleasure by offending them. I am confronting them so that they can begin to think about why they believe in what they believe. However my loved ones don't feel that way. I don't think I am getting thru to them. If anything I run the risk of isolating even my most intelligent and lucid loved ones.
I have now taken a vow not to confront anyone, unless they themselves commit the error of airing their deluded views in my presence. There are some people I won't bother confronting at all, especially those who are uneducated or elderly. As for the people who are educated and sensible but still willing to live under the hallucination, I think there is only one cure for them – Science. Most people don't realize that Science is pretty much antithetical to Religion. By exposing people to the wonders of science, like you endeavor with your every fibre, I hope people will realize the falsity of Religion by themselves. I plan to use books like “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan or your own “Devils Chaplain” as an anesthetic before using “God is not Great” or “God Delusion” to extirpate their belief once and for all. In fact my new motto is – “Science is the truth about reality. If you disagree you can F*^# off!”
I wish to thank you Doctor for your unrelenting passion in fighting the darkness of ignorance. I really do thank goodness for your existence. You truly are the hero of the day and a hero for the ages. It is one of my dreams to be able to meet you someday. Thank you.