Last year i was granted asylum in the United States based on my apostasy from Islam and the dangers i face as a result of that in my country of Pakistan.
I lived and studied in Pakistan for the first 22 years of my life at which point I was able to go to Ireland for higher education. My time in Ireland also confirmed my present beliefs in rejection of Islam and organized religion.
I believe it has always been in my nature to be questioning. I remember being very young and going to compulsory Islamic studies classes and being taught that only Muslims can go to heaven, even those who have sinned, and I remember asking the teacher, what about children from all over the world who are not born as Muslim, did that mean they could not go to heaven? The rigid response of the teacher was that I should not question what the Holy Prophet has said.
My thinking much developed after September 11, 2001 when the whole world knew of the terrorism in the United States and throughout Pakistan people rejoiced, hugging and laughing in the streets and exchanging sweets praising what had been done in the name of Islam. This made me literally sick. I remember being in class and a teacher started his lecture with a big smile saying that what happened in the United States was a great day for Islam and a great victory for us. He dedicated his whole lecture to explaining and reciting verses in the Koran to justify the terrorist attacks in the United States. That inspired me in the coming days and weeks to read the Koran more carefully and I was horrified at the violence and intolerance that I felt was expressed and encouraged and demanded in the Koran.
I thought back to our Islamic history lessons on how Islam was spread and I wondered why wars had to be fought to spread Islam and I asked the teacher that question and was told that wars and killings were necessary “to free those nations and people from suppression.” This of course made no sense to me because it was clear to me that Muslim rule in Pakistan was also suppression.
Living in Ireland and interacting mainly with Irish people, I was able to express my non-belief in religions openly and was able to vent my frustration with Islamic culture and society. In Ireland, my beliefs were not extraordinary and were accepted. Discussions of rationality as distinct from religion could happen casually and allowed me to develop my thoughts and to develop a vocabulary in which to express those thoughts clearly to myself and others.
In the years before I permanently returned to Pakistan (that return was in 2010) I was involved in various online forums where individuals were sometimes supportive but other individuals would tell me that my words and thoughts were abhorrent and represented the biggest possible sin and that I should be killed. Many posters would respond to what I had written by writing about the duty to kill apostates such as myself. This was especially true at the beginning of 2010.
Receiving such death threats in response to one’s thoughts is always unsettling and a bit frightening, but at the same time there was anonymity to these online forums which allowed me to feel safe, along with my actual presence in the safety of Ireland. I also hoped that I would be able to extend indefinitely and then permanently my temporary status in Ireland. However, in February 2010 my employment in Ireland having ended I was no longer permitted to remain in Ireland and was forced to return to Pakistan.
Upon my return to Pakistan I continued my participating in these forums where I was repeatedly told that I was an infidel and subject to the death sentence and individuals would write that if they ever came across me they would behead me. While these were anonymous threats directed to me anonymously, I could not ignore the fact that religious extremism and religious intolerance had reached a feverish pitch in Pakistan. I could see all around me constant religious hatred and religious hostility. It was obvious to me every day after I returned to Pakistan in the beginning of 2010 how religious extremists were all powerful and there was no space for any other thoughts.
I remember one day in the summer of 2010 sitting with a rather Islamized cousin of mine that no one in Pakistan can prove that anything is contradictory to the Koran and that means that what is in the Koran is correct. I responded in a friendly way that it was hard for anyone in Pakistan to challenge the Koran because to do so would result in their being stoned or killed so of course nobody would try to challenge the Koran. My cousin agreed that that is just how it should be. This was a small incident but he was after all a close relative and his close-mindedness and his intolerance represented all of Pakistan to me.
I remember at about this time reading an English language translation of the Koran which I did because it made me feel that my rejection of the Koran was correct and justified. I remember a portion of the Koran in which it was said that Muslims are allowed to rape women who are captured as prisoners of war. I looked up that section of the Koran in connection with preparing this asylum statement. It goes as follows:
O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee thy wives unto whom thou has paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possessed of those whom Allah has given the as spoils of war, and the daughters of thine uncle on the father’s side and the daughters of thine aunts on the father’s side and the daughters of thine uncle on the mother’s side and the daughters of thine aunts on the mother’s side who immigrated with thee, and the believing woman if she gives herself unto the Prophet and the Prophet desire to ask her in marriage – a privilege for thee only, not for the rest of the believers – we are aware of that which we enjoined upon them concerning their wives and those whom their right hand possesses that thou mayest be free from blame. (Quran 033.050).
This was stating that rape was condoned. There are of course other sections of the Koran where women are allowed half the shares men have and their witness counts as half. All this was abhorrent to me.
I visited the United States in 2010. During the last days of that visit I was watching Pakistani news and saw that the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, had been killed by his own body guard for reasons of religious intolerance. I watched in utter disbelief as politicians refrained from criticizing the actions of the murderer and in fact the murderer was considered to be a righteous person. When I did return to Pakistan soon thereafter I saw banners supporting the murderer and hailing him as a hero.
At the time I felt I had no choice but to return to Pakistan from my US visit. I had no support network here in the United States. The whole of family obligations was stronger than my fear of persecution were I to express my unorthodox and unIslamic beliefs.
But when I returned to Pakistan I discovered that I simply could not survive there. I could not live the rest of my life being silent or being a hypocrite. I was encouraged in this regard by my uncle who felt the same way. My uncle would say to me that if it was what I want I should leave Pakistan because I should not feel trapped there if all of society denied my basic beliefs.
I know that I do not believe in Islam and I know that I am proud at being what Islam would call an apostate but I also know that I do not wish to die for my beliefs. I have worked hard in my studies and worked hard to give out skills and abilities and I do not wish to die just because of my religious beliefs.
From the safety of the United States I started tweeting in my name and with my photo about my religious beliefs and have shared those beliefs on Face Book.I blog regularly at chatha82.blogspot.com to share my thoughts and feelings about the intolerance of Islam, as well as my Anti-Taliban opinions. A well-known liberal Muslim journalist from Pakistan contacted me directly and suggested that I remove the designation “Ex-Muslim” that I have listed by my online profile. She said it would likely attract danger and negative attention to me and my family.
My school colleagues from Pakistan have responded that my words were rubbish but these school colleagues were perhaps more educated than to have not made explicit threats. Nevertheless, I will be open and I will express my views because that is my right as a human being. Unfortunately, that right is denied me in the Islamic republic of Pakistan where I face the certainty of death for my beliefs and my thoughts.