Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Fine Line

Recently a painting caught my eye. It was by a very close friend Andaleeb Rizvi. Andaleeb Rizvi is an architect, a journalist, an environmentalist, a nature photographer, a painter from Pakistan. Oh yes she also does not believe in God. She refuses to give an explanation about her work and says that each person viewing the painting should make up his/her own mind.I really liked her wrk, and thought I would share my thoughts on this particular piece with everyone. By the way you can view more of her work at

To some this painting is about women rights in the Muslim world, some others think it is some how related to the recent ban on burqas in France. I think it is about pushing the dogmas of the society.
To me the eyes in the painting represent the society, held beliefs, the status quo, the establishment etc. the color in the eyes red, yellow etc. represent anger, frustration, grief, sadness
The burqa in this picture are the limits set... by the society. Limits beyond which this woman is not supposed to go. The highlighted breasts and bottom of the woman are depictions of her potency, her ability, her capability. Now her abilities (breasts) are pushing the boundaries of the limits (burqa) that have been put in place by the society.
Now the ever watchful eyes of the society are watching this woman defying their ideas, defying limits set by them and they watch in grief and anger. The ground below her feed is fire like golden-ish. That I think means she is walking through hell under the furious eyes of the status quo. But she is walking tall, and moving forward.

Its a story of defiance while remaining within the society. It is a story of pushing the social dogmas and rules without going over the line. That is what most freethinkers do in societies such as ours. We push the limits so that it makes the people of the status quo uncomfortable but keeping in mind our own safety we don't cross the line. We push just enough to start debates to make people question.
It is a fine balance that we have to watch for and that we have to maintain. The hope is that someday, we won’t have to worry about crossing the lines and tossing the burqa away.

What do you think about the painting? Do let me know.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Religion of their Forefathers

“Islamic State cannot allow propagation of any other religion because their religion is false and we are right”. When I hear this I sit back in awe of the belligerent stupidity of this claim. "I will not listen to you because I know you are wrong and I am right and I think you need to be saved". What makes Muslim Mullahs so sure that they are so God damn right? Do Muslim mullahs try to sound self-centered and moronic or does it come naturally to them. To Zakir Naik, "For them what you are saying is 2+2=22".

I get this attitude often among theists, this belief that we are right, everyone else is wrong, our imaginary friend is stronger, our tyrant in heaven is the only one and true dictator, our scripture is holy, everything else fake, our book has scientific evidence, we are better than you, our one soldier is equal to a 100 of yours, we are the chosen ones, we are destined to rule the world, we have God on our side and we have better chics and cuisines.
Why are you right and everyone else wrong?
Because as Muslims (replace with your favorite theist) we believe that we are right?
So you are right because you are a Muslim?

Why are you a Muslim? And how does that make you right?
I am a Muslim because I believe in Allah and The Prophet and The Quran.

Why do you believe in Allah, Mohammed and the Quran?
Because I am a Muslim.

That is circular, you’re a Muslim because you believe in the Quran and you believe in the Quran because you’re a Muslim. Why do you believe in the Quran and why are you a Muslim?
I don’t know, I always was a Muslim. I was born into a Muslim family.

Ahh there it is, you are a Muslim just by chance of birth.
But ….

Would you have been a Muslim if you were born into a Hindu family... you would have been advocating Hinduism and worshiping a blue monkey. Your advocating death for anyone who chooses to think on his own rather than side with his parents religion.
Listen anyone who has been a Muslim would know it is the right religion.

How can a new born know that? Tell me something, Quran criticizes the infidels of Mecca a lot, do you know why? Because according to the Quran "they refused to let go of the religion of their forefathers even when the truth was evident to them". What makes you think you’re not making the same mistake? Who is following the religion of their forefathers and who is making his own mind here? Who is the Momin and who is the Kafir here?

Just sheer chance of birth you have placed a line beyond which human reason shall not pass, after which human intellect shall not develop, above which human virtue shall not aspire. Whatever is beyond those lines is considered an act of treason and is met by the harshest of punishments.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Evolution of Morality

Morals and Ethics! The thing that most theists believe Atheist lack. Where do we atheist get our morals from. There is obviously no divine order to keep us in check then what exactly is there that keeps us from stealing, cheating, killing, raping, marrying six year olds, asking widowed women to perform Sati, introduce slavery, burn free thinking women alive saying that they were witches, killing people who leave our religion. Are we, the non-theist, prone to committing all these acts because we don't fear a tyrant in the heavens, who would fart out stuff we should be and should not be doing? I think morality doesn’t have anything to do with religion or God.

1500 years ago women were not entitled to a share in the family fortune, thousand years ago it was moral to keep slaves, 60 years ago it was wrong for African Americans or for women to vote. Right and wrong vary across time and cultures. What was wrong a thousand years ago is right now, what was right a thousand years ago is wrong now. What is wrong in one society won’t be in another. There cannot be a single complete and comprehensive script that would serve as the moral code of conduct for all time, for all of mankind.

The reason we as humans and some other animals live in groups is to improve the chances of survivability and continuity of the specie. Ants, bees, termites, wolves, herds all have similar reasons, for becoming a part of a group that protects them and also increases the chances of finding food, shelter and the opportunity to reproduce. In such societies; rules, procedures, ethics evolve as a method of restraining individual selfishness and building more cooperative groups.

Morals and Ethics have evolved to their current state. The "evils" of the society cheating, stealing, wars and oppression taught us that these things are wrong because they hinder the establishment and progress of a cooperative and effective group. It wasn't divine intervention. It was evolution of human thought. In order for societies to function it became necessary to put in some guidelines and rules. Societies that refused to set these guidelines failed to grow ("Survival of the fittest"). Members of that society either moved to another society (immigrations/asylum) or fell victim to the law of the jungle. While the societies which were more advanced intellectually survived better than the others.

Each religion has stories of how bad were things before it came, how the region was in lawlessness and then it transformed to save mankind. And also how the people of the status quo were against the religion and changes it brought about. Each religion introduced liberal laws as compared to the times and culture of the era. But as times moved on and so did our understanding of right and wrong, we modified our understanding of right and wrong. Religion on the other hand could not. It was to be rock solid, immovable, unchangeable and uncompromising.

Religion (Islam) made it lawful to marry a minor. It also made freedom of expression (beyond a certain limit) and freedom of leaving religion as offenses. Religion (all) considered same sex marriages as immoral. Modern concepts are different, now more and more people are accepting same sex marriages, it is illegal to marry a minor, it is illegal to have slaves, freedom of expression and freedom to choose ones religion are now considered basic rights.

I never got comfortable with the idea that something is wrong because God says so. Would there be no standard of right and wrong if God didn't write it down for us? Then moral by definition is whatever God commands. Are you really comfortable with that? Do we not have any instinctive, logical thinking behind what is wrong and what is right? Once someone was explaining to me the "justice” of Islam, the "fairness" of Islam in light of the eye for an eye, hand for a hand punishment. She (yes she) was of the opinion that "it makes sense" since a person who has done the crime should feel the pain of his/her victims. Hold on right there, did you read that ... to me the most significant bit of this sentence is "it makes sense".... It makes sense! That is your basis for moral ladies, gentlemen and mullahs. The concept of justice, law and order, moral ethics, crime and punishment is put in place by each society because "it makes sense" not because of some divine doctrine.

An Atheist will do the right thing because it is the right thing. He won’t be doing it because someone told him to do so. Most average theist would be doing the same it is just that they would feel like connecting that with their God.

So am I saying are atheist more moral than theist? No. Is it the other way around? No. Statistics from prison population would indicate that Atheists are more moral and to be honest in a way that makes sense. This would be hard to really know for sure since we are smaller in number and our exact number isn't known since some of us don't identify ourselves as atheist. By my observation an average atheist is mostly better educated and intelligent than your average theist.

I hold that morality doesn't have to do anything with belief in God. It also doesn't have anything to do with the lack of belief in God. Atheists are like everyone else, we are human beings we have greed, we are intolerant at times we are irrational at times. We are still the same as you. Why are atheists seen as immoral by believers? I think it is mostly because most theists are indoctrinated to demonize atheist and hence they seldom get a chance to really get to know an atheist and see how normal she/he is. Religion does not make a person good or bad. Society, upbringing, family, personal character makes a person good or bad.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A nation blinded by hate

It has been over week since the attack on two Mosques in Lahore took place, in which almost a 100 people got killed. The reason I am writing this is because these two mosques belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. For those of you who are not aware what Muslim-Ahmedis are, here is a quick brief. Ahmedis can be considered the most peace loving and broadminded of all the Muslim World. Most of its followers are very highly educated, exhibit excellent work ethic and by far the most tolerant. This might be the only sect in Islam which hasn't to date waged jihad against anybody, it is also the only sect in Islam, whose followers, to my knowledge, haven't committed a hate crime directed against any group. Another sect that would fit the description were the Sufis.

It is also a community which, not surprisingly, is considered Infidels by most the other sects. So much so that in Pakistan a law was passed disallowing Ahmedis to identify themselves as Muslims or call their place of worship as a mosque. The mullah et al of Pakistan hates Ahmedis sometimes even more than they hate the Jews. Tales of heinous crimes committed against this group are all over Pakistan’s history, from 1953 riots of Lahore when the Chief Minister Mian Daultana himself took active part in spreading hate messages to the attack on the mosques last week. Why were they branded as infidels, an award which the world thinks is reserved for the west, the Jews and people like me. Most people believe that Ahmedis do not believe that Mohammed is the last prophet. What would surprise my Muslim (Sunni/Shia) readers is that they do believe Mohammed to be the final prophet. They just believe that the return of Mehdi as prophesized by the Quran has already happened.

It is pertinent to point out here that the first Muslim man to win a Nobel prize ever Dr Abdus Salam was an Ahmedi, but the then President of Pakistan the hard-line military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, refused to shake hands with the scientist. This man is a Nobel laureate, the first and only Pakistani in history to do so. There is a street named after him in Geneva, There are institutes named after him in Italy, but the President of his own country refused to shake his hand. Abdus Salam wasn’t even spared after death. His tombstone read “the first Muslim Nobel Laureate”. But since he adhered to the Ahmediya sect, the local magistrate ordered that the word Muslim be removed leaving behind the rather laughable phrase “The first Nobel Laureate”. Such is the level of hate that has been indoctrinated in the people of Pakistan. Hate seems to have blinded us to the extent that we tarnished, in life and in death, a son of the soil who won the Nobel Prize, who was the pioneer of Pakistan’s Nuclear program, who wanted to receive the Nobel prize in his national dress, a man who singlehandedly sent 500 future scientist from Pakistan for PhDs, a man who refused to hold any other passport than a Pakistani, a man who loved this country deeply … look what we have done to him. I get very emotional when I talk about this man. I have rarely said this, but whenever I hear about what happened to Dr. Abdus Salam I feel ashamed of calling myself a Pakistani.

Coming back to the attack on Lahore, how did the media react to the deaths of Ahmedi Muslims? remember almost a 100 died in a matter of hours. Were there many protests... No. Did we the people of Pakistan stand by our fellow countrymen in their hour of need? … No. Did we push our government to do something about it? No. People did pay lip-service but was anyone really aggrieved? No. Except for some who are seen as "western minded Mosad-backed-RAW-indoctrinated-CIA-funded-Jew-loving-Islam-hating” bloggers like me. We as a nation have let down these individuals. They were attacked, in what probably was the bloodiest act of terrorism in Pakistan, and some people around me started debating if they are Muslims or not. Let me be straight here, we as a nation are psychopaths, we have no honor, we have no modesty, we have no regard for human life, we are hypocrites to the core, we have lost all sense of humanity, we are worse than animals, we as a nation should be isolated from the world. Muslims would cherish people like, Zia, like Osama Bin laden, like the Lal Masjid Terrorists but would taint people like Dr. Abdus Salam. We would ignore what Quiad-e-Azam (Father of the Nation) Jinnah and would laud the person who called him Kafir-e-Azam (Infidel of the Nation).

Two days after the attack, the media spotlight moved away, no religious organization condemned the attack, the government paid only lip service. Here is an example of how a certain Talk Show host condemned the attack, "The attack against Ahmedis (not Muslims) in their place of worship (not mosques) last Friday during a religious gathering (not Jumma prayers) is most unfortunate ... We have religious differences with them"..... stop rewind... "I am not an ahmedi and we have religious differences with them" ... why the hell can't we condemn the killing of a 100 people without giving a disclaimer.

Two days later, Israel attacked a ship, 10 died. Did the media, civil society, religious institutes in Pakistan showed the same indifference over this attack NOOOO... two week earlier people posted "blasphemous" content on facebook did we show indifference over that ... NOOOO. All hell broke loose as we took to the streets, called strikes and everyone was condemning it left right and center. Media gave no... I repeat NO room to air the opinions of those who actually said we were wrong in banning facebook, media gave no room NO room for people who said that our reaction of condemning the attacks on the two mosques in Lahore was deplorable.

But there is hope, in my discussions online I saw many young people come up in forums, blogs, social networks condemning this act in a rightful manner. I saw young journalists raising the issue I just raised now, I am still hopeful that the younger lot will turn out better and we will correct the mistakes of our fathers. I will still hope for and strive for a liberal, secular Pakistan.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Freethinkers in history: Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi

This is the first of what I hope to be a multipart subject of freethinkers in Islamic History.

What is the sort of stuff that is widely attributed to Islam these days? Close-minded, violent, non-tolerant, jihad etc. So called moderate Muslims have little or no voice or they simply choose not to raise their voices. Imagine how Islam would have been like in the 10th century. Imagine how hard it would have been for free thinkers to exist in those times. Well guess what? It appears it wasn't the case according to Abdel-Rahman Badawi, a free thinker from Eygypt, who details how Muslim philosophers and scholars put reason above tradition, evidence above blind belief. And some of them openly criticized Islam, the prophet and Quran. Surprised? So was I.

Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, a Persian Muslim, who lived during the 9th and 10th century, was a physician, alchemist and chemist, musician, philosopher and scholar. He is regarded as the "perhaps the greatest clinician of all times". He was the first to differentiate smallpox from measles. He discovered alcohol and kerosene. Described as the father of pediatrics and was a pioneer in neurosurgery and ophthalmology.

Razi also wrote three books on religion. “The Prophets' Fraudulent Tricks”, “The Stratagems of Those Who Claim to Be Prophets”, and “On the Refutation of Revealed Religions”. Imagine that! Just the title .... Imagine publishing something even close in these days. Sorry Salman Rushdie my man, your Satanic Verses is nothing compared to these.

He was critical of the idea of prophet hood.
"On what ground do you deem it necessary that God should single out certain individuals [by giving them prophecy], that he should set them up above other people, that he should appoint them to be the people's guides, and make people dependent upon them?"

Headline of today "War on Terror". Looking at the various disagreements between religions and the zeal of their followers he said
"there would be a universal disaster and they would perish in the mutual hostilities and fighting. Indeed, many people have perished in this way, as we can see."

Razi doesn't seem to belong to the 10th century. It seems like he is talking about our time, talking about us. You and me! and here is another one.

"If the people of this religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed"

He was a brilliant….. brilliant man. You can't imagine this coming from Muslims even today and this guy lived in medieval times.

Razi believed that people had been conned into believing by people in authority. He believed that this trickery had been continuous over time and as a result people got habituated to their religious denomination. After a while these lies and myths deluded the people so much that it came to the tone of “we head from so and so who was told by so and so ”.

He believed that the existence of a large variety of religions was, in itself, evidence that they were all manmade, saying, "Jesus claimed that he is the son of God, while Moses claimed that He had no son, and Muhammad claimed that Jesus was created like the rest of humanity" and "Mani and Zoroaster contradicted Moses, Jesus and Muhammad regarding the Eternal One, the coming into being of the world, and the reasons for the [existence of] good and evil"

In relation to the Hebrew's God asking of sacrifices, he said that
"This sounds like the words of the needy rather than of the Laudable Self-sufficient One."

On the Qur'an, Razi said:

"You claim that the evidentiary miracle is present and available, namely, the Koran. You say: "Whoever denies it, let him produce a similar one." Indeed, we shall produce a thousand similar, from the works of rhetoricians, eloquent speakers and valiant poets, which are more appropriately phrased and state the issues more succinctly. They convey the meaning better and their rhymed prose is in better meter. ... By God what you say astonishes us! You are talking about a work which recounts ancient myths, and which at the same time is full of contradictions and does not contain any useful information or explanation. Then you say: "Produce something like it?""

All those who claimed to be prophets, from the beginning of the human history, in Razis view, were at worst tortuous and devious and at best had psychological problems.

What do you think happened to this guy? Did he have to apply for asylum in another country? Did he have to remain in hiding? Was he jailed? Were fatwas issued for his head? Did some fanatic assassinate him? ... No. He remained in Iran. He was the Director of the Hospital in the city, a respected scientist, a teacher and a philanthropist. If you want to see more of Razi and other freethinkers in Islamic history then read Freethinkers of Medieval Islam: Ibn Al-Rawandi, Abu Bakr Al-Razi and Their Impact on Islamic Thought (Islamic Philosophy, Theology, and Science)

Next time I am going to dig into Rawandi’s thoughts. I have heard he was more open as compared to Razi and also had to suffer because of it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

My top 10 Athesit quotes

1. "When I was a child, I used to pray to God for a bicycle. But then I realised that God doesn't work in that way - so I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness!" - Emo Phillips

2. "Why should I allow that same God to tell me how to raise my kids, who had to drown His own?" - Robert G. Ingersoll

3. The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality. – George Bernard Shaw

4 . Gods dont kill people. People with Gods kill people. – David Viaene

5. Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a God superior to themselves. Most Gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child. – Robert A Heinlein

6. When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion. – Robert Pirsig

7. Man has always required an explanation for all of those things in the world he did not understand. If an explanation was not available, he created one. – Jim Crawford

8. The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. - Richard Dawkins

9. “Since the Bible and the church are obviously mistaken in telling us where we came from, how can we trust them to tell us where we are going?”

Last but not the least.

10. "Aur Tum Apnay Raab ki Kon Kon si Chawaloon ko Chupaoo Gay"

Will the real Islam Please Stand Up

So, will the real Islam please stand up?
And put one of those fingers on each hand up

TV runs in the background …… Bomb blast rocks through a market in Lahore many are feared dead
Me: When will Muslims actually get some respect for life and property?
Muslim: Surely you don’t believe that these are real Muslims?
Me: Real?
Muslims: Islam is a religion of peace and hence and therefore Muslims can’t do this. This is probably the work of some other force.
Me: Yoda?
Muslim: Who? I don’t know ….is he Jewish?
Me: Which other force do you think is doing this?
Muslim: The Jews, the Americans Allah knows.
Me: But the Taliban accepted responsibility for this.
Muslim: Yes they did but maybe it is some fragment of the Taliban that is being funded by the Americans.
Me: let me get this straight. There are mullahs that are getting money from America to bomb Pakistan
Muslim: Yes.
Me: (I want to ask why? but) So we should kill them. If we are the land of the pious Muslims, we should go after these Taliban who are damaging Pakistan no matter who is backing them up. If you hate the Jews and Americas that much you should equally hate their cohorts.
Muslim: uhhh… ?

Me: You said that these guys were running a proxy war on behalf of the Americans to destabilize Pakistan, so we should go after them and kill them
Muslim: Actually these Taliban are misguided Muslims, we should try and reason with them.
Me: Reason with them? How do you do that?
Muslim: talk to them.
Me: But we tried that it failed.
Muslim: yes because government sabotaged it.
Me: ahh ... no it didn’t the Taliban backed out.
Me: but you have to agree that there is something really wrong with Islam
Muslim: No. Islam is the one true religion
Me: really? How do you explain terrorism, bombs going off and suicide attacks?
Muslim: That’s not real Islam
Me: Subjugation of Women, public lashing?
Muslim: That’s not real Islam
Me: Child marriages?
Muslim: That’s not real Islam.
Me: Blasphemy laws? Let me guess not the real Islam?
Muslim: yeah see you finally see it from our angle.
How many times have you entered into a debate that has ended with this? The problem with Islam is that A would say B is not the real Islam, B would say A is not the real Islam and along would come C who would say neither A nor B are the real Islam. Islam has become this amorphous, fluid, mutilating object, when it comes to debates, whatever aspect you touch you are told that that isn’t it.
The fact is Quran is a very ambiguous to say the least. It contradicts itself a lot. If you talk to the Mullah-apologists regarding this he will say that the wrong kind of muslims …. which means everyone else but him …. misinterpret the verses of the Quran. Some verses are to be taken literally, some are to be taken in context of the verses before and after it, some are to be taken in the context of the situation in which they are revealed, some in the context of the times of the Prophet (marriage to a minor and slavery are explained using this trump card) and yet some have metaphorical meanings and are not to be taken in the literal sense. Here comes the problem, which verse is to be interpreted in which way. Apparently no one knows for sure. Each sect, mullah, militant group, suicide bomber makes up his own mind as how to interpret it. Then there is the hadith, that’s a whole different can of worms that is far more complex in interpretations.
This is the thing that makes Islam amorphous. If the Quran is as complete and as absolute as it is portrayed to be, then why is there room for so much variation? If Allah was all powerful, all knowing, all wise he would have seen the conundrum his words would have caused. Why couldn’t he just say in clear words listen these are the dos and these are the don’ts? Did Allah deliberately cause this confusion, in that case he is a sadistic bastard, or did he not know what this was actually going to cause, not something that would look good on an all powerful creator. Or was it man made and like all religions most of the stuff had to be kept ambiguous enough to allow it to be bent so that the masses can be controlled.
I think Islam needs a proper command and control structure of sorts. Like the Vatican Church, Islam needs a centralized authority that every Muslim adheres to (or two or three for different sects but not more than that). Issues pertaining to incorrect interpretation of Koran can be checked. Just like the Vatican kept some of the rules of traditional Christianity out, this centralized body can keep stuff like jihad, child marriages in check. It would put a leash on Islam and that is precisely what is needed. Get Islam in some solid state.
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