WORD LID

Fonder atheist alliance in Pakistan: I want to be free!

I am Fauzia, and I am an atheist, ex-Muslim from Pakistan and founder of the Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan. I am here in the Netherlands with my husband as asylum seekers.

Fauzia

I was born and raised in a very religious Muslim family. But circumstances and bad situations like my forced marriage at the age of 16, and sexual harassment and torture by my ex-husband in the name of Islam, raised many questions about religion in my mind. After reading about religions, particularly Islam, I came to the conclusion that religion is nothing but man’s invention to fight reality and impose order.

At that time I lost my faith, and I now only believe in humanity. But that also meant I lost my job. I had my own advertising agency but I lost it. I lost my daughter, and I lost my social life, all in the name of Islam.

My family tried to kill me. My friends do not like to talk and meet with me because they think it’s a sin. Everyone who knows I no longer believe in Islam, from family and friends to people around me, think that if they punish me for this, then Allah will be happy with them.

How can Islam and its believers be tolerant towards non-believers when the Quran teaches its followers war and war and only war? The Quran contains at least 109 verses calling Muslims to war against non-believers. Muslims who do not join the fight are called hypocrites, and are warned that Allah will send them to hell if they do not join the slaughter.

How, then, can anyone say that Islam is a religion of peace? Certainly Islam is claimed to be a religion of peace. But the truth is that Muslims are exceptionally intolerant, and discriminate against those who don’t think like them.

In Pakistan the government, the law and Islamist groups are all totally against freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The Pakistani government has never taken steps to amend or revoke the blasphemy laws because no major party wants to antagonise the religious groups and general public. A large majority of Pakistani people, and all religious groups, support the idea that blasphemers should be punished, and Pakistan’s blasphemy law has become a tool with which to accuse minorities, free-thinkers and apostates.

According to a report published by the Pew Research Center, 82% of Pakistanis favour stoning adulterers and 76% favour the death penalty for people who leave Islam. That says a lot about the doomed future of atheists and non-believers in Pakistan, as well as the doomed future of the country itself. It also says a lot about how ‘peaceful’ Islam is and how pure ‘the land of the pure’ (Pakistan) really is.

The blasphemy law also motivates mob violence, is a tool against the human right to freedom of expression, and is used to persecute minorities. There are many examples in Pakistan, like Asia Bibi, Junaid Hafees and Muhammad Asgar, who have all been in prison for many years on a charge of violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

In an apostasy case, the Lahore high court judge remarked that “Apostasy or conversion from Islam is a serious offence.” And in 2011, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated in Islamabad by his own security guard Mumtaz Qadri, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

One of Mumtaz Qadri’s defence lawyers is now a Lahore High Court Judge, and the defence lawyers assembled under the leadership of Khawaja Mohammad Sharif, former chief justice of the Lahore High Court (LHC). Another former LHC judge was also part of Qadri’s panel.

One of the counsel for the accused, who is also a former Lahore High Court judge, Nazir Akhtar said “Punishing a blasphemer is a religious duty which has to be performed by everyone.” How then can we expect humanity and freedom from this judicial system and society?

In 2014 a Muslim mob beat a Christian couple to death in Pakistan and burned their bodies. This vicious mob killing is just the latest manifestation of the threat of violence which anyone can face in Pakistan after a blasphemy accusation.

Since I started the Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan group, my husband A. Gilani and I have continued to face death threats from our family members – even here in the Netherlands. In early 2015 a court case was filed against me and a warrant issued for my arrest for blasphemy, apostasy and leading a non-believers’ organisation for former Muslims.

At the same time we face a social and moral boycott by our family and society, and even they agree with having us killed. We have lost our children, our family, our friends, our society, our jobs – in short, everything. My daughter is now eight years old, but I have not seen her for the past four years. The court awarded custody to my ex-husband, on the grounds that I had left Islam. And all this is because we want freedom of speech and to live without religion.

Many others like us are suffering in Pakistan, while many are in prison or are discriminated against by society and the government purely because they want freedom from religion, and freedom of speech.

I urge the Dutch government to put pressure on Pakistan, and on other Islamic countries, to end the blasphemy laws. I ask that pressure be put on Islamic governments to make it possible for everyone to have a fundamental right to freedom of expression, and to practise his or her own religion, or no religion at all.

If the blasphemy law continues in existence, then in future we will expect many more Fauzias, many Raif Badawis, Many Tareq Rahims, many Asia Bibis.

Above all, I do not want to be a victim. I want to be a survivor, and I will continue my struggle for all that I believe in.