Omnia Vincit Amor

Day before yesterday was a historic day for a lot of people in America and around the world. Supreme Court of the United States ‘ruled that same-sex couples can marry nationwide, establishing a new civil right and handing gay right advocates a historic victory.’

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It’s amazing to see how the social media is supporting this decision. Google, WordPress, GitHub, Facebook and many more sites are using  the rainbow color to show their support.

I, also, whole-heartedly support this decision and, as a small sign of solidarity, applied the Facebook rainbow filter on my display picture to ‘celebrate pride.’ One of my cousins, in a joking manner, wrote under my picture that it’s haraam. I replied back to him with a line from Hafez’s ghazal:

For dervishes, piety and sensibility make no sense

Coming back to the topic, I think its a great move by SC. I have never written openly about my own views on sexual orientation and identities. I guess it is about time to say a word or two on what I truly believe in with regards to sexual orientation. I think I am bicurious. That I like women is certain. The extent to which I like men is something I am not too sure about. But I definitely have not sealed-off the possibility of liking males.

I’m married, so having a relationship with any other person, apart from my wife, would be tantamount to cheating. My personal ethics would not allow me to do that. If my relationship ever ends, I might consider exploring a relationship with a man. Who knows?

But what I do know for certain is that Islam, as a so-called ‘religion of peace’, has a very hostile attitude towards homosexuality. In fact, Muslims in Pakistan, as I saw from various posts on Facebook, absolutely decry this ‘immoral’ decision made by SCOTUS. Islam explicitly forbids homosexuality.

The most well-known admonition in the Qur’an against homosexuality is presented in the story of Lot. The story is narrated several times in the Qur’an. In the 7th Chapter of the Qur’an, the story is narrated in some basic details from verse 80 to 84. Prophet Lot warned his people about their immoral (homo)sexual behavior. They did not pay heed to him and Allah subsequently destroyed the transgressors.

Apart from the story of Lot, there are several sayings of Prophet Muhammad regarding homosexuality. From the Western standpoint, there is a particularly disturbing Hadith (saying of Prophet Muhammad) which is as follows:

If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.

This Hadith is narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas and is Hadith # 4448 in Book 38 of Sunan Abu-Dawud. With such a damning attitude towards homosexuality, Islam is one of the biggest threats to the LGBTQIA community.

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Today, the famous Pride Parade was held in San Francisco. My aim was to go and attend the parade. However, I was not able to attend it. I, therefore, decided to pen this piece and publish it on my blog as a means to show my support for the LGBTQIA community.

I support freedom of choice in sexual relations and criticize Islam, in the strongest of terms, for its homophobic teachings. May we get to live in a more tolerant and accepting world, free from social, political and religious bigotry. As the National Organization for Women would say:

Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Homophobia’s got to go!

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Joining Ex-Muslims – Part One

On Thursday, June 25, 2015, I officially joined the organization called Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA). I coincidentally stumbled across their website while browsing the website of American Atheists Convention.

I became interested in knowing more about them and applied online through their website. I was contacted by one of the members, who arranged a Skype screening interview with the President of this organization commonly known as MoTheAtheist.

The session lasted for almost 2 hours and we ended up chatting about lots of stuff. I narrated my journey away from Islam and my ongoing struggle with faith. I told him about my academic background (that I have studied science) and the factors that have contributed towards my alleged apostasy.

It’s funny but science only reinforced my religious beliefs and, at one point in my life, I belonged to the Zakir Naik camp. I thought modern science is only re-affirming the claims made by Islam 1400 years ago. What actually shook the core of my beliefs was my exposure to philosophy. If there is one writer who has had a long-lasting impact on my life, it is Bertrand Russell.

17th June 1957, British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970). (Photo by John Drysdale/Keystone/Getty Images)
17th June 1957, British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970). (Photo by John Drysdale/Keystone/Getty Images)

Digressing into the events of the past, I remember reading his book titled “Sceptical Essays” just before starting college. That book, together with my general exposure to philosophy through Internet and a personal incident, which I might narrate in some future blog-posts, radically changed my way of thinking.

I became a skeptic for sometime and realized that any and everything can be doubted including the five senses, science, logic and even reason, which I had, until that point in time, valued the most. With the loss of certainty, however, I realized with certainty that my thinking will never revert back to the pre-philosophy days. This also meant that my religious beliefs especially those pertaining to the rites and rituals of Islam were lost forever.

I could deal with that, I said to myself and this loss of belief in Islamic practices such as praying and fasting didn’t affect me much. It was, however, the loss of belief in God and philosophical questions about the shortcomings of science and logic that perturbed me the most.

The quest for absolute certainty led to an independent formulation of the famous Cartesian maxim: Cogito ergo sum. It also led to what might be considered in Sufi epistemology as “knowledge by presence.”

What was absolutely evident was my capacity to experience. The rest were all inferences and deductions. My task was Spinozian in a sense. I had to construct a coherent picture of reality using the first principles of experiential knowledge instead of linguistic axioms (which Spinoza had used).

Anyway, I’m not sure if what I have just written makes a lot of sense and my personal ambition to reconstruct reality has been lost somewhere in the mists of time.

I did not discuss any of this during my conversation with MoTheAtheist. I have, nonetheless, decided to write all this, so I can, perhaps, have a better understanding of my own-self and see how I have evolved in the last 10 years or so.

I will actually end my blog-post at this juncture. I have emailed MoTheAtheist, to seek his permission, in order to write about the conversation from his side. I believe it is appropriate to do so. I also think that there’s something rather intriguing in a work of art that is shrouded in mystery, that is left hanging in midair.

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It’s like a mysterious character hiding behind a veil in a fiction story, who makes us wonder about his/her/its identity. We long to know the character in full detail yet catch only a glimpse of what the character might possibly be. We continue to remain in the dark even as the story unfolds. As our desire to know the character increases, we begin to form connections, logical and illogical. We try to connect the dots and tie the threads together. We start reading our own interpretations of the character. Whether the character ever becomes known is a question that the author of the story may or may not choose to answer. For us, however, the yearning to know the character is only satiated by our own selves. The character is what we choose it to be. 

To be continued …

Secular Sexual Transcendance

Yesterday marked the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live. Ramadan is the month of fasting, of abstinence and self-control so that a Muslim can get closer to Allah.

While the pious were probably preparing to break their fast, as Iftar time approached, I, as a sinner of the highest order, was co-moderating a discussion called “Secular Sexual Transcendence” at San Francisco’s premier kink cafe: Wicked Grounds.

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Much to my happiness (or, perhaps, the blessedness of Ramadan), I met a man just before the discussion started. He was a Bengali ex-Muslim, a proud atheist and had come to attend our discussion. He believed in religious tolerance and, like myself, was deeply saddened and equally disgusted with the rise of religious fanaticism particularly in the Indian subcontinent.

Bangladesh, like Pakistan, suffers from the poison of religious extremism. Atheist blogger, Avijit Roy’s horrific murder is classic example. I will not go into the details of this matter in this post but will hopefully talk more about it in future posts.

Anyway, getting back to the discussion at hand, we started off with a check-in question, which was very straightforward:

What does the word ‘transcendent’ mean to you?

Different people said different things but a common theme was that transcendent is something extra-ordinary, beyond our everyday, mundane experiences. Obviously, as non-believers, no one attributed the word transcendent to something ‘divine’ or ‘mystical’. In fact, a few people believed that the word transcendence does carry with it religious connotations that are hard to completely dispense.

Talking about the transcendence of sexual experiences, one of the dykes said that for her, physical boundaries with the partner seem to melt in moments of intense sex. She doesn’t know where her clit ends and where her partner’s tongue begins. She also said that there is a telepathy of sorts, a union of mental states with her partner. One of the heterosexual females found this to be a very interesting experience and said that she can never imagine such a feeling as she’s never been with a woman.

For one person, sexual experiences seem to alter the perception of time, which was a fact that some others seemed to have experienced as well. People talked about other experiences that alter one’s perception of time, such a being shot or having a terrible accident or dropping acid.

Lots of other points were discussed but my memory fails me miserably and I took no notes either. Anyway, the first part of the meeting ended around 8 o clock and we took a 10 minutes break before resuming the session again.

The question that kicked off the second half of the meetup was the following:

Given that sexual experiences have a lot in common with what people describe as religious experiences, how can we as secular, non-believers speak about these experiences without thinking about supernatural?

Extending this question more, I asked:

Is there secular language about sexual transcendence that you don’t like to use? If so, why?

This question required a bit of clarification and elaboration primarily because a few people pointed out that sexual experiences are difficult to define in words properly, so any word used to describe these experiences will be inadequate.

Greta Christina explained by saying that she hates the word spiritual with the intensity of a ‘thousand burning suns’ because it’s a vague, slippery term that the theists can well use to describe the super-natural. So, words like spiritual and mystical should best be avoided when characterizing one’s sexual experiences as secular atheists. People chipped in with more words such as holy, sacred, God and infinite that they believe should not be used to describe sexual experiences of the secular folks.

The final question of the evening was about our experiences, if any, of sharing sexual spaces and experiences with believers and the need to communicate with the theists about such experiences.

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Interestingly, people of two different religious backgrounds, Christianity and Islam, spoke about how their respective partners were believers and the how difficult it has been at times to communicate with them. The Bengali ex-Muslim, in particular, said that his wife often refused to share the bed with him, just because of his atheistic views. He said the only recourse left for him is to engage in solo sex. This was indeed appalling and went on to show how religiosity can strain one’s marital relations.

Towards the end of the discussion, I also made a comment that even though it’s a tough challenge, it is our responsibility of sorts to communicate with theists. If we do not do so, then who will do it? Worst case scenario, atheists and theists would end up as being two separate species of human beings, with nothing in common.

I guess this a great challenge for non-believers. Modern skeptics and atheists are the supposed torch-bearers of reason. The onus of developing effective methodologies to counter superstition and irrationality, therefore, lies on the their shoulders. Skeptics, atheists and other such non-believers must need to address this issue in order to create a caring and tolerant world.

Escape from Pakistan

My friend’s cousin was recently shot in Karachi, Pakistan. His name was Saulat Hussain but was also known as Billo Bhai. He was ‘mercilessly martyred  on May 22, 2015 outside his house in front of his 10 year old son.

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My friend was rightly outraged by this horrific killing. She updated her Facebook status:

We grieve. Shattered. Broken. We are all in shock.

Many a times have we cried with our shia brothers and sisters. Many a times have we shared the sorrow. And today it has happened in our family.

We cry and remember the great martyr of all martyrs Iman Hussain (pbuh) and gather strength keeping in mind the events of Karbala.

Billoo Bhai couldn’t enter his own house. He was shot by cowards right in front of his ten year old. How cheap was life for these people? Valueless. They have shattered a big family, all onlooking Billoo Bhai for support.

These killings will not stop. These beasts in human form shall burn in the lowest levels of hell.

The banned, terrorist organization, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan was responsible for his killing, as per SK-Pak News. This mad violence in Pakistan does not seem to be going down. The situation is only getting worse, every passing day. Time and again, Islam seems to be poisoning everything and the government seems to care less. An Urdu phrase has become quite popular since the last few years to describe the abysmal situation of the country. Pakistan se zinda bhaag: escape alive from Pakistan.

In fact, a few years ago, the then Pakistani prime minister, Yousuf Gillani, was informed about a Gallup poll in a CNN interview. During the last 15 seconds of the interview, Becky Anderson said that ‘a third of Pakistanis want to leave the country.’

To this, the Pakistani premier said the following:

And why don’t they leave then? Who’s stopping them?

The interviewer was left speechless. This is the kind leadership Pakistanis have to put up with since quite sometime. When the government is not interested in helping and protecting the citizens of Pakistan and is, in fact, encouraging people to leave the country, what more can possibly be said.

Pakistan is no place for Shias, Ahmadis, Ismailis, Christians, Hindus and any free-thinking, open-minded liberal, who does not subscribe to the puritanical, conservative, state-supported version of Islam.

Islam is a mess that needs a thorough sorting and cleansing. But Islam in Pakistan is more than just a mess: it’s an evil that needs eradication. Until that happens, the only option left is to Pakistan se zinda bhaag.