Embracing Blasphemy by Ali Malik, 16 February 2021
One morning after assembly we heard chanting and commotion going on outside My college gate. I made my way to out check what was happening and found my uncles with merchants from the local embroidery market announcing that someone had defiled the Quran and thrown its pages all over the market overnight. Within minutes the student union had called for a city-wide “shutters down” strike and we started marching through the bazaars and markets chanting anti-blasphemy slogans and demanding respect for the sanctity of Islam. With every turn we took, every market we marched through I witnessed panic and shopkeepers running around to close their business at our sight from afar.
It was my first direct experience with blasphemy. I could not comprehend the fact that someone had defiled the Quran, a book so pure that you had to perform ritual ablutions to even touch it, a book so divine that even looking at it with love is rewarded let alone reading it, a book so revered that it had to be kept on the highest shelf so no other book may sit higher, a book that was a sacred part of my everyday life from age 5 onwards. The news of blasphemy against Quran angered me enough to leave college for the day, march the streets, disrupt lives of millions, livelihood of thousands, and demand the culprit to be arrested.
Years later, now living in London, I had already lost Islam, but Blasphemy against the Quran was still something that made me extremely uncomfortable. Maybe I was afraid to admit the evolution I had been through, or because I found it impossible to separate the Quran from my childhood, or I simply held remnants of anti-blasphemy teachings of Islam subconsciously. Then one day watching a video of a FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko I found myself cheering for her while she took a chainsaw to a huge cross in a public square in Ukraine and started wondering why I support this women’s rights activist in committing blasphemy against Christianity but feel uncomfortable when it comes to blasphemy against Quran , I felt the need to analyse the inconsistency within me.
If the catholic church condemns women over their demand for reproductive rights, the Quran condemns them for even showing their hair and rejecting or withdrawing consent . If the catholic church instils guilt and shame in people for being their natural self, fulfilling their sexual destiny in a homosexual relationship or for simply being in love, so does the Quran. Why do I still hold Quran in reverence even though I don’t even believe in it and find it to be an oppressive force and a tool to control, guilt, and shame people for engaging in some of the most natural aspects of our being ? That is how I lost the sub-consciously held sanctity of the Quran.
Fast-forward 13 years from that morning at my college in Pakistan marching in a ‘shutters down’ strike against blasphemy, I am an avid blasphemer and recognise its importance. Islam leaves us in stages and apostasy from it isn’t an easy process. Indoctrination into Islam starts right at birth when an imam or muezzin recites a call to prayer in your ear and you’re pronounced a Muslim. You spend hours every day learning Islam from different institutes:
Home- parents take pride if your first words are Bismillah and not mother or father.
School- usually Islamic history and introduction to scripture.
Madrassah- formal Quranic studies, recitation, and Islamic etiquette
Mosque- Informal learning about Islam and Muhammad daily.
Islam also asks parents to make sure their children have started praying from the age of 7 and from 10 onwards it asks parents to force children into it by means of physical violence. By the time you’re an adult, you’ve become well-trained Muslim but rarely a well-educated one. The point I’m trying to make is, Questioning Islam is tough. Doubting Islam can feel like doubting your reality and losing it often means that you’ve also lost the foundation your life and values were built on. But once you’re out of it you discover a new meaning to your life; A life built on embracing yourself, A life where you’re free to be yourself, to be free of the divine guilt that’s often used to kill our curiosity at a young age.
So, whenever you feel like compromising on your curiosity or yourself; Blaspheme! Blaspheme to remind yourself that you’re free! Blaspheme to show the middle finger to all the Islamic teachings that took your innocent questions away from you, blaspheme to challenge the world Because you can.
Blaspheme to show solidarity to those (to our kin) who are in jail around the world for saying words the community around them didn’t want to hear.
A Pakistani ex-Muslim and blasphemer