Mr. Richard Dawkins,
I am an Atheist, Anti-Theist, and ex-Muslim.
My name is Arslan shaukat.
A Pakistani National, I speak on my behalf but I also speak on the behalf of those who have been tortured, maimed,and burned in the name of religion in my land of the pure.
It is the duty of those who are in position as prestigious as yours to make our voices heard.
Give me a little chance to be 'me'.
Please post my testimony on your website. As it is , without change of my name.
WHO AM 'I'
ARSLAN: BROODINGS OF A PAKISTANI ATHEIST
What is life? I often think ( As so many others think on any given day). Perhaps we are just protein automatons suffering from an illusion that somehow the unique (is it?) property of consciousness makes us 'superior' to other 'lowly' beings. Well, there is some truth to it. We can introspect and can stand detached from our own meandering life and 'see' ourselves:no doubt that is unique. And perhaps that is what partly makes humans humans.
Another unique character of being human is that we can verbalize, in a structured, understandable manner; the thoughts, ideas , aspirations, fears, premonitions, hypotheses and all other sundry cognitions and emotions that populate the cosmos of our mind. Speech and expression of ideas is special. So special that without it 'we' would cease to be 'we'.
Let me explain a bit.
When we speak and present our ideas regarding any given phenomena; may it be a toilet, a bicycle, a god or a dream that we vaguely remember ; we accomplish a number of things. Firstly, we add to the existing knowledge of that given subject ( whether we are wrong or right is another matter). Secondly, our ideas or thoughts serve as a catalyst (either a good one or a bad one) that speeds up the metamorphosis of the understanding of the subject at hand.
Say, I state that I think there is probably no god (as millions others have stated!) , then I proceed to give my justifications or reasons (whether strong or weak) for holding such a view. The unique thing is that my idea or statement, if it is relatively new or ingenious, will, in most cases, always enrich the existing understanding of the given topic( i.e. Existence of God).
The whole phenomena can be dubbed as a sort of growth of the collection of ideas relating to a phenomena. This growth is further facilitated (well not always), by cognitive, scientific and philosophical tools that assist us in discerning between good and bad ideas. At the end what we have is perhaps knowledge.
So, I believe that behind the understanding of every conceivable entity, there is always, firstly and fore mostly; our ability to speak and present our ideas about a subject.
There is a personal, more intimate reason of why speech is inextricably connected to being 'us'. Speech and expression of ideas by any given person substantiates his/her sense of identity, declares to everyone/everything that He/She is a separate, unique, and disjointed living entity that is different other people. Speech partly defines us. Makes us unique. Without speech and expression, all of us would melt and become mirror images of each other. Speech gives us our identity, gives us 'us' or 'I' or 'you'. That's how fundamental speech is. And that is why I hold the view that without speech and expression of ideas 'we' would cease to be 'we.'
Now,after all this hyperbole, let me be more specific…
I am Arslan Shaukat, 28, a veterinary doctor; now having completed my specialism in Infection and Immunity, I am serving as a temporary research assistant in Leeds university. I am a 'hard line atheist', an anti-theist and an ex-Muslim. I am against Islamic ideology. I have been an active atheist and anti-islamist for more than one year now (debates, presentations, societies, one to one sessions; you name it and I have done it).
Now the interesting bit; I come from Islamic republic of Pakistan. In my country, the punishment of a certain type of speech regarding a certain seventh century self proclaimed prophet is death. Yes! A few English or Urdu words structured in a specific manner uttered in public or private would make a person liable to be put to death.
See Pakistan Penal Code 295; 298 etc. They are available online.
So Ironically, speech and expression of ideas, which I hailed as fundamental to 'human-ness' have a fantastic potential to end a persons life, in a most horrid manner. Only an absolutist, draconian and fundamentally inhuman dogma can accomplish such a task. I am talking about Islam and I am talking about Muhammad.
The Question is, why? Why is it that Islam has, in its core, such aversion to any criticism whether verbal, pictorial or written? Well, let us just say that dogmas that cannot fend themselves from rationality always turn to violence and suppression. Muhammad in his life time facilitated the assassination of people who showed dissent (e.g. Asma bint Marwan; a poetess). Muhammad loathed those who showed dissent and made sure that his adherents showed similar zeal in 'protecting' his dogma. That is the reason why thousands of people get riled up over a freaking teddy bear named Muhammad and that is the reason why scores of poeple die over an allegedly blasphemes cartoon.
But does this mean that individuals like me who are against Islamic dogma should stop speaking. Obviously No.
Many people have asked me, rather to my irritation, why do I Bother. Why do I bother???? I guess the relatively well off Caucasian British individuals who take freedom of expression as a given can never understand why do I bother.
Still, just to touch upon it, I will say that without my ability to speak, I am not 'Me'. As I said in the opening paragraphs, without my ability to express my ideas and without my ability to exist as I see fit I am a 'shell'. A nobody.Those who are born with freedom of speech may never understand this. Speech and expression of ideas makes us who 'We' are. Period.
Freedom is THAT great. THAT precious. THAT priceless.
In my Islamic country, freedom of speech with regards to religion is non-existent. Atheists are neither recognized nor accepted. They have no recourse to justice, jobs. Anti-islamists do not and cannot exist in Pakistan. If there is such a person , he is dead meat. Literally. An anti-Islamist is an enemy of the Islamic state. The Pakistani state has full authority to take his life away . If state fails to act then the non-state elements would certainly make sure that justice is done. Fascinating thing is that anybody can kill anybody on the pretext of 'blasphemy' against Muhammad. For example, during July, August and September of the year 2009; scores of alleged blasphemers had been killed or burned or shot. And I said alleged blasphemers!!! without any evidence….
So here lies the dilemma,
If I speak, for example; If I raise a few points like:
1. If Muhammad was a Mercy for all the world ( Quran: 21:107) and if he is Mentioned first among the greatest Prophets ( Quran 4:163) ), than why did he had to resort to so much violence and bloodshed to achieve his objectives? Couldn't he, as being mercy and greatest and all; come up with better ways to achieve his objectives? What ever happened to preaching through non-violence? Did he really really really had to massacre 700 to 900 Jews of Banu Quraizah? (Sahih Bukhari Volume 5, Book 59, Number 362; Identical to Muslim Book 019, Number 4364).
Why was he inclined towards war? Why?
I am just saying……
2. Why did he had to marry a six old year old and consummate the relationship when she was nine (Ayesha; one of his wives; one out of more than dozen).
Is that a moral example to be followed? Is it?
I am just saying…
Now, by any account, I am not concocting anything on my own; these statements are Islamic facts. Any person can check their validity.
So, If some one raises a few points like these in the Islamic country of Pakistan or any other for that matter , than he/she will be declared a blasphemer. And the fate meted out to such a person is beyond description. To put it simply, If you say stuff like this…than anything goes…literally.
So than again…. going back to that old point…why should I bother…even If I am bothered than why bother soo much.. why not bother a little less. Its my life after all and we are talking about being maimed, burned and shot etc.
In order to answer this , the reader must realize the nature of Islam. This self proclaimed religion is fabulously more than a religion. It presents a complete code of life. Presents to us a full account of how to live, what to do , what not to do , how to govern, how to indulge in commerce, how to interact with others and so on and so forth. Islam encompasses and penetrates each and every nook and cranny of a society. In an Islamic society, there is no escape from Islam. Islam will surround you, engulf you, and in the end gobble you up.
So its not only a matter of being bothered or not bothered about Islam… its a matter of complete and utter self negation.
Say, If I am in Pakistan… and I say (to save my skin) that OK well….I am a Muslim and OK Muhammad was good and OK, well, Islam is good as well. What I would essentially be doing is negating my self. Changing from somebody to a nobody. Becoming a shell. Unbecoming 'me'.Than I would be required to pray, fast, not drink, read quran… and so on and so forth.That is what an Islamic society is and that is what an Islamic society does..
One can object that I am perhaps indulging in dramatics and blowing the issue out of proportion. That I can just keep my mouth shut. Well keeping one's mouth shut is also self negation, by being silent I myself would be endorsing Muhammad and Islam. Also, does anyone think that its humanly possible to keep one's mouth shut indefinitely? And would keeping my mouth shut make me any less anti-islamist?
I am who I am.
So If I speak I am dead. And If I do not speak I am still dead. And here I will leave the matters to the readers…
Here In UK, I am free (well relatively!)
I have chosen to be 'me' and that is why I have already published material that is 'anti-Islamic'..but I often wonder what if someone finds out as all the stuff is in my name…and my name is 'Me'. And once back in Pakistan.. Who will I be? Can I really be 'me'? Can I really be Arslan?
I often think about life, and often marvel at the beauty and the sheer complexity of biological phenomena. But being able to express and speak is perhaps more beautiful than all the fauna and flora out there. So should I let go of it and become ugly?
Well I often think about life….