In early March, I sent an email to a Pakistani blogger, ex-Muslim, and atheist, and vice president of the Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan. One week ago, he replied to me. The original email was for an interview for this Progressive online news platform, Conatus News.
The Pakistani blogger is Ayaz Nizami (an alias name). I sent a questionnaire five days ago. I did not receive a response. Usually, people have lives, roles and responsibilities, needs for random vacations, and time with family and friends, and for recreation. More on this in a bit, but…
Who is Ayaz, though? He is a religious scholar and ex-Muslim. He pursued religious training after standard, mainstream education. He was admitted to an Islamic studies school. He began to doubt the authenticity of the claims of his faith at the time.
I suspect that not being an easy thing to undergo or endure, especially being part of an orthodox religious family. Even with the doubts, he accomplished accreditation in the Islamic studies. He was not only a religious scholar in general, but an Islamic scholar in particular.
As described by the Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan, Mr. Nizami has expertise, based on the Islamic training, in “Tafseer, Principles of Tafseer, Hadith, Principles of Hdith, Fiqh. Principles of fiqh, Arabic language (grammar, vocabulary, and literature), philosophy & logic.”
It is the breadth of a philosophical and theological education with an emphasis on Islamic theology. He claims that the study of Islam, at near the highest level one can safely assume, in addition to the other Abrahamic faiths, led to an interesting conclusion.
That they are not divine, “a mere creation of the human brain and are a bi-product of culture and civilisations in the world especially the Middle East,” Mr. Nizami said.
Upon this realisation, he set out to “educate and enlighten his fellow countrymen and share his findings with them” with a mission to further truth and knowledge without reward. 2012 was an important year for him. He assisted in founding the Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan.
…So I thought little of the delay. Earlier yesterday morning, in Pacific Standard Time, I saw an update via social media about an Ayaz Nizami, a blogger, or writer, jailed for blasphemy and placed into custody in an anti-terrorism cell. What is the criminal charge? Did Mr. Nizami murder someone? Did Mr. Nizami rape someone?
It seemed suspicious. The common knowledge in the educated secular community is bloggers with critiques of religion or religious patriarchs, or practices, can be killed, given lashings, or stigmatised and ostracised in their communities.
So the answer to the latter two questions: no, and no. Answer to the former query: as far as I can tell, he existed as a non-believer, especially an ex-Muslim, with self-confidence rather than acculturated diffidence and spoke out on religion and Islam, and with highly educated, scholarly authority in the relevant subject matter. It was taken as terrorism and blasphemy.
Whether or not the statements are true or not, and whether or not you’re religious or not – and especially if you’re religious take the parable of the hypocrite and the Golden Rule into account, ask, “Should someone be imprisoned on blasphemy or terrorism charges – even threatened with a hashtag hanging campaign (#HangAyazNizami) based on belief, in particular non-belief, in the public arena?”
At root, some subset of Pakistani Muslims are offended, and some non-Muslims. But does this justify the sentiments and the very real consequences on the life of Mr. Nizami? No, and take the footnote about the hypocrite and the Golden Rule into account, I get it.
But if in his situation, if something you did was that offensive, would others be justified in imprisoning or threatening to hang you? I feel offence at the offence around Mr. Nizami. Does this justify blasphemy charges and imprisonment, and public threats of hanging? No, and I would not condone it, as I do not condone the same for the offence – which from that perspective, I can feel sympathy for – felt by some Pakistani Muslims, and others.
All I can say further is what has been expressed before: #FreeAyazNizami – and let us finish that darn interview.