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
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
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
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