Ask Richard: Pakistani Longs to Live Openly as an Atheist

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Dear Richard,

I am 32 Male and a Pakistani Passport holder living in Pakistan, and of course, I am an atheist although I cannot live my life freely as an atheist rather I live here as a slave. I wonder sometime that don’t I have right to live my life as I wish to? Rather than being a hypocrite.

Here in Pakistan if someone with wrong intentions or with wrong beliefs knows that I am an atheist born in a Muslim family then firstly they will kill me in hope of 72 Virgins, secondly there is no law in Pakistan which protects people like me. Please guide me what to do? I at least cant live a life of a hypocrite.

Regards,
Masood

Dear Masood,

Be gentler with yourself. You are not living the life of a hypocrite, you are living the life of a hostage.

Ironically, many of the tactics that religions use to preserve their credibility only serve to undermine their credibility. A religion that cannot retain its adherents by the strength of its own virtues, but must keep them captive on pain of death is nothing more than a despotic system of extortion. Religious beliefs that cannot stand up to simple questioning and scrutiny, but must be protected by laws and customs dictating punishment and execution are beliefs that are decrepit, hollow, and corrupt. A person’s religious faith that must be coddled and sheltered from the slightest suggestion of doubt is a faith that has less strength, less substance, and less significance than a soap bubble.

Most religions use methods of coercion and isolation to keep their grip on human minds. The only difference between them is in the severity of those methods, and that severity has gradually changed as history has stumbled along in its drunken, bloody path. Christianity used to impose laws and customs just as draconian as those you are enduring. Now, for the most part atheists who leave Christianity suffer at worst social ostracizing or shunning. That can be awful, but it’s not lethal.

So being forced to pretend that you’re a devout Muslim on pain of death is not hypocrisy. It’s simple self-preservation. You’re just trying to say alive.

And you must do whatever it takes to stay alive. You cannot hope to be free if you’re dead. You must quietly, cautiously, and patiently work to improve your own situation in small ways, finding safe friends you can trust for mutual support and encouragement.

There is a group called Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics that was featured on this website almost a year ago. Read all of the comments, many of which are from atheists living in or near Pakistan. Some of them talk about difficulties and fears similar to yours, while others report having more hopeful and positive experiences. The group’s original website links have been disconnected, but in the comments I found new ones, and the PAA appears to still be thriving on Facebook with two separate addresses:
http://www.facebook.com/Pakistani.Atheists
http://www.facebook.com/groups/paamail/
Hazrat NaKhuda is apparently the group’s present leader, and you can find his Facebook site here.
Here is a fairly recent article featuring an interview with Mr. NaKhuda titled The Rise of Atheism in Pakistan.

So although your situation is difficult and risky, there is reason for hope, and you definitely have comrades in Pakistan. Find them, communicate with them, build alliances, give each other hope and strength, and work together for a future in which Pakistan will be free from the bondage of forced religion. Even if you might not see it entirely accomplished in your lifetime, you can quietly encourage and add to a foundation of rational, tolerant, open-minded, and inquisitive thinking so that Pakistanis who live after you will have a chance to think and believe as they wish. Knowing that you are contributing to that goal even in small ways will help you to see yourself as a strong, worthy person who is fighting back in a positive way, rather than being a helpless victim.

Some people might suggest that you should use the passport you mentioned and emigrate from Pakistan to some country where you can be free to be openly atheist. But I would not blithely propose that as if it would be an easy thing to do. To leave one’s homeland, family, friends, and culture to become a stranger in a strange land must be a terribly anguishing thing to suffer, and you might even have to avoid living among other Pakistani expatriates, because they might pose a danger to you if they learned that you’re an atheist. If you can accept all that heartbreak and upheaval, then that might be an option for you. Since the beginning of religion, there have been refugees from religious tyranny. My ancestors came to my country for that reason.

I wish that I could offer you more than just some encouragement and a couple of web links. As a human to a human, it is painfully frustrating to be so unable to effectively help you. I am writing from thousands of miles away, within the safety of a country that still enjoys religious freedom. That freedom is constantly being eroded from within by people who would, if they could, create a Christian version of the theocratic nightmare that currently engulfs your country. Your experience is a warning and a spur to remind us to be vigilant and diligent in preserving our liberty.

I hope that someday you will enjoy freedom too. Please be careful, be safe, stay positive, and if you can do so without risk, please write again occasionally to let us know how you are coping.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Marco

    I would strongly advise the writer, if he already hasn’t done so, to create an alternate Facebook account peppered with credible lies so that it cannot be traced to him. I’d go even as far as doctoring a picture of someone else in order to make up a fictitious person (as opposed to lifting someone else picture from google images and have them persecuted if recognized. With photoshop is easy to make composites).

    Safety trumps any other concern in my mind. Yes it would be nice to stand for one’s ideal, but in a society where death is the punishment it’s not a fruitful strategy. I’d rather see a live atheist that has to go to mosque to keep up appearances than a dead one.

    • ministerial

      Seconded.

      Be very careful, Masood.   You might be okay with a dummy facebook account and https://www.torproject.org/.   You might not.

      I would argue against any physical meetups.

      And seriously, drop any self-loathing you have about lying to zealots to keep safe.

  • Santiago

    Keep safe Masood. Maybe with time people like you will find acceptance in your home country. Until then, explore the links Richard suggest and other international forums for support and perhaps to be an agent of change. Good luck to you.

  • Octoberfurst

     I feel so sorry for people like Masood. I am sure there are thousands of other atheists in Muslim dominated countries who would love to be free to proclaim their atheism but can not due to fear of reprisals.  We are lucky to have religious freedom in this country. (However we too have our own extremists who would love to turn this country into a Christian theocracy.)  I just hope Masood stays safe and is able to find trusted like-minded companions to talk to.

    • ministerial

      Lying to zealots is prudent in the U.S. often enough to preclude being smug about our freedom of religion.

  • Hazrat NaKhuda

    Hey Masood contact me on FB . there are thousands other like you including myself who are living in Pakistan. We meet often and act as support networks for each other. 

  • Mike

    Masood, be sure to use your browser’s private browsing mode (in Chrome it is called “incognito” mode) when visiting atheism websites or the facebook account you use for the groups mentioned above. If you haven’t been doing this, then be sure to clear your cookies and browsing history as well (and relevant saved passwords). Stay safe!

  • Mommiest

    My heart goes out to you and others like you, Masood, metaphorically speaking. I hope you stay safe. Your life is worth defending.

    I doubt I would have the courage you have to question the majority beliefs if I were in your circumstances.

    In addition to the other advice here, I would consider seeking out the most rationally religious people you can find (and stand). There must be some who do not support killing anyone who disagrees with them. They may not provide a perfect community for you, but having a few friends who semi-know you is better than having none at all.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Richard, you have given good suggestions and links to
    the writer. He lives in a country where a Sitting Governor was murdered just to
    give clemency to a poor lady who is sentenced to death for blasphemy. Writer lives
    in a country where Christians were burnt alive helpless, a poor retarded man
    was burnt alive just to burn Quran and a child is arrested since many days as
    she committed blasphemy against a weak God and strong law of Pakistan is there
    to protect the God. Even young and beautiful girls from Hindu community are
    abducted and raped and converted to Islam and there is no law in PAKISTAN for their
    protection.

    You should have simply suggested him to either 1. Pray 5
    times a day, 2. Jump from a 10 floor building or 3. Die a terrible death.

    Please refer to Pakistan Penal Code 295.

  • Jelal

    I’m an atheist living in Pakistan too. When I first confessed people didn’t take me serious and told me to turn to god, but after a while they just didn’t care. I wasn’t shunned away and neither did anyone around me turn against me. I don’t think it has anything to do with Pakistan’s law, it’s the people around you who are the problem. Surround yourself with better people and live your life. No need to break your head over politics and whatever

    • Kamil

      Dear Jelal,

      I must say to remain careful, as it takes only one application to the nearest police station or some fanatic Mullah finds out in your neighbourhood, it does not mean that Mullah must be from a Mosque, he could be in your family, friends, workplace etc. You are done.

      Anyway I am wondering how people are accepting you!!! It is a big question for me, really. I again ask you brother to please do not get Vocal.


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