Secular VIP of the Week: Akbar Ghulam

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Last week the Richard Dawkins Foundation had a visitor in our office in
Washington DC: Akbar Ghulam, a farmer from Pakistan who is the author of
"Faith, Not Religions: A Collection of Essays". After publishing the book
that advocates against religion, he fled his country fearing for his life
and moved to the United States. In an interview he shared his story with us;
one that starts with speaking your mind out online.


RDF: How did you come to write this book?

Akbar Ghulam: In Pakistan, one of my brothers, and I adopted his four
children. I wanted to get them better education, which wasn't available in
small cities such as the one that I lived in. So in 2001, my children
required a computer for school and that's when we got our first computer. I
was excited because we were finally going to be able to be connected to the
outside world.

Akbar Ghulam: The Internet had newly been introduced then in Pakistan. I
asked them to do some research and find a tool to meet and get connected
with people online. We're talking about a time before Facebook or Twitter,
so what they found was discussion forums and I started participating on them
then. I was very excited because I was going to be able to express my
feelings and thoughts. I didn't know how to use the computer very well so
they helped me. I would write my answers, questions, and contributions to
the forums on paper and they submitted them for me. Eventually, I learned
how to do it myself.

Akbar Ghulam: There were doctors, scientists, and professors online: anyone you
can think of was in those forums. I introduced myself as a farmer from
Pakistan and they welcomed me; it didn't matter what my background was.
After a while I'd get comments from them telling me that my contributions
didn't seem to come from a "simple" farmer, especially my thoughts on
religion.

Akbar Ghulam: I loved the discussions we had and to me it was sort of a
challenge to be talking to these people, but I wasn't afraid to speak my
mind and be questioned. Some months later somebody said "What you're posting
on the sites is not worth losing, please get it published!"

RDF: So the book is a collection of thoughts taken from explaining your
worldview to foreigners online?

Akbar Ghulam: Yes, but to be honest when I was posting on the forums I
wasn't aware that my contributions were so important. I wasn't aware that a
book was being slowly created. The book was published in 2004 and it was a
recollection of my posts on different forums, so to speak. It was about God
not being a religious deity. You can believe in God but there is no purpose
for religion. I reject it.

RDF: Were you in danger in Pakistan for having written this book?

Akbar Ghulam: Yes. My book can't be exposed in Pakistan because I would then
be automatically liable to be killed, even my family would be vulnerable.
When the book came out not many people knew about it and after a while I was
advised to best leave the country because I could be labeled as a
non-believer. So all the years after my book was published and until 2012,
when I came to America, my work wasn't widely known or displayed.

RDF: I assume you were raised as a Muslim but now you're an atheist?

Akbar Ghulam: Well, I was raised as a Muslim but I'm not an atheist. I
believe in God but I don't believe in holy books, religion, religious
moralities, nothing of the sort. I think humans have a tendency to believe
in a higher power.
I had to pretend to still be a Muslim during my years in Pakistan after my
book was published.

RDF: What did you do to pretend to be a Muslim?

Akbar Ghulam: I had to go to the Mosque, because in some areas of Pakistan
the towns are so small that people will notice if you stopped doing your
duties and will question you about it. I couldn't have declared that I am a
Muslim no more, I never even verbally told my family that things had changed
for me. They knew that I'm open minded but even telling them that was
dangerous.

RDF: Maybe I'm overly idealistic but I'd like to think nobody is born
wanting to kill other people. People somehow learn that. What are your
insights as to why some Muslims take this view that violence is acceptable?

Akbar Ghulam: It is very clearly written in the Holy Book. One who converts
from Islam to any other religion or no religion must be killed.

Akbar Ghulam: I wrote this book as a human heart. I do believe human hearts
are alike all over the world. So my words could be an expression from
anybody. I think that there is a God but there's no need for religions; if
you're limited to believing in a religious God then you don't really believe
in God. I have a challenge for all religious believers to do point out if
I'm wrong in what I wrote.

RDF: So it sounds like you consider the book an extension of your discussion
with the world, not the end.

Akbar Ghulam: Exactly.

 

You can find Akbar Ghulam's book, "Faith, Not Religions: A Collection of Essays", on amazon.com.

Written By: RDFRS

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14 COMMENTS

  1. I sympathize a lot with Akbar . But I note he says

    I was raised as a Muslim but I’m not an atheist. I
    believe in God but I don’t believe in holy books, religion, religious
    moralities, nothing of the sort.

    The lesson I draw from this is that one should not insist on “atheism” but be content with a sort of deism.

    • I think he supposedly said he is NOT an atheist so he didnt insist on “atheism”

      ‘I was raised as a Muslim but I’m not an atheist. ‘

      or maybe I need to look again or I am mistaken. cheers yo

  2. Akbar Ghulam: It is very clearly written in the Holy Book. One who converts from Islam to any other religion or no religion must be killed.

    Akbar gets it. Nice to see he’s ditched religion, shame about the deism. At least he won’t be doing anything in the name of [insert god here].

  3. Akbar Ghulam is in the classic half-in/half-out woo-world of believing in god, but not religion. He knows religions cause trouble, so he has dumped them. I’m sure he’ll come to realise god doesn’t exist in time. Sometimes that crutch is very hard to shake off.

  4. God as a philosophical concept, and not as the particular religious concept conveyed in the tradition one happens to find oneself in, is so unable to be pinned down and so equally unprovable and undisprovable, that it quite naturally remains as a habitual object of belief in the mind of someone who has rejected the religion in which he or she was raised. The religious gods, including the one god of Abrahamic monotheism, are easily disposed of, for there is no evidence for them; but God as an ontological principle, which informs the belief of the more thoughtful religious, is not so easily dismissed. Someone brought up to believe in it takes much longer to come to see that even this ontological principle explains nothing if there is no independent evidence for it; it serves merely to plug that most basic gap in our understanding between nothing and something. In my own experience it was many years after I had ceased to be Christian that I came to the view that the term ‘God’ referred to nothing. Mind you, the mathematical physicists seem to be saying that nothing created the cosmos; so deism is close enough to atheism for all practical purposes and should not trouble any decided atheists. As Akbar Ghulam maintains, like most of the Enlightenment thinkers of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, it is religion that causes trouble.

    • In reply to #5 by safi:

      Akbar is an inspiration to me in the sense that he is a freethinker. I am a staunch Muslim from Pakistan, and would love to read his book, and challenge his views wherever I possibly can.

      You may not be able to read Akbar’s book on this site, but if you want to challenge atheistic views in general or Islamic views in particular, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome Safi.

      Geoff

      • In reply to #6 by GPWC:

        You may not be able to read Akbar’s book on this site, but if you want to challenge atheistic views in general or Islamic views in particular, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome Safi.

        “atheistic views in general or Islamic views in particular”…
        That was confusing!

        And yes, I want to challenge every view I’ve ever held :)

        • In reply to #7 by safi:

          In reply to #6 by GPWC:

          You may not be able to read Akbar’s book on this site, but if you want to challenge atheistic views in general or Islamic views in particular, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome Safi.

          “atheistic views in general or Islamic views in particular”…
          That was confusing!

          Fair point! What I meant was, if you are a staunch Muslim, then please defend your Islamic views here and challenge our atheistic ones. I see from your profile, you joined the site a year ago, so you probably know what happens here. I’d certainly be interested in a different perspective on stories coming from Pakistan – they are usually – though not always – none too complimentary.

          For example:
          Pakistan court sentences British man to death for claiming to be prophet of Islam or Pakistani boy who died trying to stop suicide bomber is hailed as hero or British doctor in Pakistan arrested for reading from a Koran.

          By the way, I’m not suggesting you go back and comment on these stories, because, as you probably know, once they have disappeared from the front page, they fade very quickly and no one will be following them now. Or you can also start your own thread.

          We’ll be only too happy to “challenge every view” you ever had.

    • In reply to #5 by safi:

      Akbar is an inspiration to me in the sense that he is a freethinker. I am a staunch Muslim from Pakistan, and would love to read his book, and challenge his views wherever I possibly can.

      Welcome to this site, safi. Just as there are all sorts of Muslims, there are all sorts of Atheists. Please keep that in mind if you start to have some discussions (on this site in particular) with Atheists.
      Everything should be on the table for discussion. The only thing that should be respected are living things, and not ideas. If you’re okay with that sentiment, I’d love to challenge you on Islam and have you challenge me on my lack of religious belief.

    • In reply to #5 by safi:

      Akbar is an inspiration to me in the sense that he is a freethinker. I am a staunch Muslim from Pakistan, and would love to read his book, and challenge his views wherever I possibly can.
      Please do not challenge alone. Get all the scholars or at least consult them and I am available. I would be grateful to you, if you do me this favor.

  5. I am glad to know this man has made this journey out of ignorance. I wonder if he will ever take the last step. If he keeps reading at the Richard Dawkins Foundation site, he’s going to find hard not to. Lots of very compelling arguments here.

  6. Safi! Yoo hoo! Where have you gone? Lots of nice, respectful people here would like to engage you. Please come back and tell us more about what you believe or why you think we are wrong in our skepticism. Please don’t be a ‘drive by’ commentator.

  7. I am very eager to be engaged in discussion, debate by all persons who believe in any dogma or religion. Yes, I am not an atheist but if any atheist says, “I believe in God”, then we are on the same platform. I have nothing to teach. Humanism or human values need not be defined by me.The God I believe is to be felt in heart, not preached about, though some one may be inspired by some one. I can not prove the God to atheists but is there any religious scholar to get engaged with me? Yes, I am looking for.

    This God or that God,
    Of turban’s or the cap’s God,
    Of religion’s or the priest’s God,
    Of west’s or the east’s God,
    Which God or whose God?
    Not believe or choose God,
    Temple’s God or Minaret’s God?
    Not of free but hostage’s God,
    Not certain, but uncertain God,
    Of insane, not of sane God.
    Only if God is the God,
    God is not this or that God.

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