Will the real faithless please stand up?
Pakistan is a mixed bag when it comes to faith – you have your garden-variety Muslims, which come in all shapes, sizes, and flavours of kuffar, and then you have the other minorities that have nothing to do with Islam. If we set aside the debate on which branch of Muslims is more kaffir than the other, we can move onto the real kaffirs – and no, I don’t mean Hindus and Christians, I’m talking about the real faithless: the atheists, the irreligious, the deists, the agnostics and whatnot. They maybe few in numbers but they are lurking about the country. Some of them will tell you who they are and others will hide in the shadows much like Batman does.
There has not been enough focus on how difficult it often is to be faithless. The only mainstream media attention that is given to people that lack an interest in a divine power is when some suicide attack happens and politicians take it upon themselves to announce, “These people are not Muslims! They have no faith! No deen, no iman!” They say that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but having the Taliban put into the same box? That really is no fun. There are no support groups or advice columns on how to deal with being faithless either. What can one do? Where should a non-believer go to find solace?
On the top of the list of problems for faithless is the absence of bad duas and buri nazars. ‘Nazar lagay tere dusman ko’ does not ring as true as it once did. Many times being faithless means that you are being a skeptic about not just a deity but also numerous other things. Anything that resembles Voodoo magic gets the boot. So when an atheist’s mother proudly tells them their dushmans will burn in jahanum, it means nothing. Similarly, you can no longer cure illnesses by riding yourself of someone’s evil eye. When you are living it out pre-pubescent style, the mothers would often lament how their kids got sick because of some aunty or the other getting jealous of everything they had to offer. Then the same mothers would move on to exorcising the evil eye from their bodies. And voila! They would be good as new in a couple of days. This method could work on anything from a small flu to something as grand as chicken pox. But no, the faithless have to rely on modern medication to do the trick. It has zero charisma and enchantment of having an egg waved over one’s body and it costs a good chunk of money too. Bad duas and buri nazars are a product of religion. One either buys the full package or doesn’t buy it at all.
Of course, black magic is also out of the cards for non-believers. When they previously had faith, anything from slipping and falling to failing a test could be attributed to a neighbour, relative, friend – just about anyone under the sun who didn’t like them could be a potential black magic instigator. And it is quite popular. It’s hard to come across one household that doesn’t have a black magic story. Some of them are truly frightening, but none of them ever offer any concrete evidence. You got demoted? It’s your fault. Wife left you? It’s your fault. Your car crashed? It is YOUR fault! You have to take responsibility for anything and everything that happens to you. You are the master of your own faithless ship and if you steer it wrong, you guessed it: it’s your fault. It is a hard, sad, and miserable life for the faithless. If they don’t believe in religion, they can’t have the perks of using things it gave birth to. Black magic is one of those things. You don’t believe in a higher power but you believe in black magic? How utterly and hopelessly ironic!
There’s also the people pleasing aspect of their lives that gets thrown into turmoil. Not only does one have to construct their moral compass from scratch but a pesky part of their brain activates itself where they must question everything. Most people are sensitised from the moment they’re born into accepting certain things, many of which benefit them. Let’s take feminism for example, that doesn’t really fit into religious scriptures, at least not the ones being touted in Pakistan. A non-believer grows up believing that he’s the superior sex as a man and then bam, atheism happens. They’re no longer superior, they’re just a man. It’s not an easy life for the faithless at all. So, before when a non-believer’s ammi would tell them they had two entities affixed to their structure judging their every move, they had to behave. But can they now misbehave? No. Remember the part about being responsible for their own actions? Being faithless really takes the glamour out of life. One gets stuck with all the existential angst and barely ever gets to ravage the all-you-can-eat-life-buffet.
Then there’s the whole business of being nice without any incentive. A faithless person has to be good, not so they can bribe their way into heaven but because they’re a decent human being. And we all know how hard it is to be a decent human being in Pakistan, the species is almost extinct. There are no 72 virgins waiting for them and you’re not going to get multiple rivers of milk when they’re done with life. It is such an absolute disappointment. There are so many people non-believers have been nice to in their lives hoping for some free cookies and then years later they realise that they should have just punched these people in the nose – what would have it cost them, really?
The worst part from all of this is perhaps the fact that no faithless voice really exists. The faithless title has long since been hijacked by people in this country who do have faith, and a disastrous amount of it in fact. Why do they get to walk around with all that faith and still get to be called faithless? Lekin degree degree hoti hai, aur iman iman hota hai; jiska nahi hota, Pakistan mein uska bhi hota hai.