Originally published in the Huffington Post
I was born in Pakistan, completed my medical school there and then moved to the United States for higher medical training. I also moved to escape the horrid persecution my Islamic sect — the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community — faces back home. In America, I could enjoy all the freedoms I was denied under Pakistan’s law, most importantly the freedom of speech. I therefore set on to use social media to raise my voice for freedom of conscience world over — and specifically in parts of the “Muslim world.”
During these years of vocal activism, I made a lot of friends and partners. I met Kile, for instance, through a mutual colleague and fellow activist — Qasim Rashid. Kile is an atheist activist, who shares my passion for the promotion of universal freedom of conscience. We are both opposed to blasphemy laws, theocratic rule, apostasy laws, the persecution of religious minorities and the belittlement of outsiders. We stand for freedom of speech, conscience and the press. So while I am rallying in support of atheist bloggers who have been imprisoned in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, Kile is speaking against Pakistan’s Machiavellian second amendment that denies Ahmadi Muslims the right to self-identity.
We both believe that these seemingly peculiar ironies can be harnessed into genuine social change through the connection of our otherwise unrelated groups.
It is precisely for this that we decided to start the group, Ahmadis and Atheists for Freedom of Conscience, on Facebook. Our goal is to get Ahmadi Muslims and atheists together for dialogue and activism, and to create new friendships. Everyone is welcome to join and help us in this important cause. This forum also serves as an opportunity for education. Even though Kile’s atheist comrades pride themselves on being versed in matters of religion, for instance, not many of them know about the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Even fewer know about the community’s zealous advocacy of world peace and championing of universal freedom of conscience.
While Kile is inspired by the unflinching tenacity and hope that my community represents, I am inspired by him actively reaching out to theists to build bridges across the divide.
Despite our common cause, we remain proud of our respective beliefs. Unlike me, Kile does not believe in a God, a holy book, angels, prophets, the afterlife, or much of what can be thought of as “Islamic.” He is also critical of circumcision and veiling. One thing we are not trying to do through this forum is cover up our differences. This is not an attempt to act as if deep, and radical disagreements don’t exist between our communities. Rather, in light of our various divergent beliefs, we are looking for ways to better the world around us. And to do this together is a testimony to the endless possibilities that a strange connection like ours can have.
This connection is important not only to educate atheists and Muslims about each other, but to educate everyone else about us. A recent Pew study showed that Americans view atheists and Muslims least favorably, with only about 40 percent holding positive opinions of either group. Through this forum, we also try to demonstrate to the rest that we are not people to fear, but to love and work with, as we uphold true liberal values in standing for the freedoms of all peoples everywhere. Another similar study demonstrated that most people who have negative opinions of atheists and Muslims have not met one in real life. So, here’s your chance folks.
We are inviting everyone — not just Ahmadi Muslims and atheists — to join us and let us build some novel unity between our untrusted, and often marginalized, groups and to take the fight for universal freedom of conscience a step further.