Hamza Ali Abbasi wants a debate on religion & he invites atheists to come forward and join his forum.
“I became an atheist when I was 14-15 years old. Subsequently, (the actor went on to state), Science actually brought me back towards religion. “
It is very heartening to see a young public figure address a nation of youth who are disenchanted and cynical about the planet we live in. In an age where young people affected by Depression and other forms of Mental Health issues is on the rise – Hamza’s turn towards Islam might actually come as a breath of fresh air.
Those who are struggling have already reached out to Hamza on Twitter:
“I just want to ask one thing. Are you willing to be a mentor for someone who is facing the same questions and is going through same existential crisis you went at the age of 14, 15? Can you guide through it? Regards, An atheist who don’t want to be one but can’t find answers. “
And Hamza replied:
“Yes sure. Email me at email@example.com”
It is admirable that Hamza has the courage to speak his mind on issues that we feel uncomfortable talking about on a public forum. He took the risk of being laughed at, mocked and criticized; that alone requires a lot of courage. For all those who eye him with a critical eye, I have this to say:
1. What happened to Positivity in an age of Cynicism?
Hamza is young, has a sizeable fan following: 2.4 Million followers to be exact. His YouTube Channel hit over 30K subscribers within a day of launching. If he has something positive to add to our very complex, confused and struggling mindset – then why not?
One Twitter user congratulated him:
“Excellent idea yes need a high profile young male like yourself who can address difficult issues and how to tackle it as many are clueless, no idea what is going on or how to tackle the situation and not get anyone offended.”
Hamza, because of his star status, will be able to do what no one has done yet. Reach out to the lower income strata of society through YouTube videos and speak in a language (urdu) that they all understand. Of course, with greater power comes greater responsibility. And this brings me to my next point.
2. To those who say Hamza is not equipped to be an authority on Islam:
“Do we have any shortage of religious scholars in Pak? That now we will listen to you and learn from you. What a joke.” Tweeted another follower.
So here’s the thing, though I agree (and everyone will) that Hamza needs a degree or some sort of Islamic education that certifies him as an authority to talk on the subject, we have in our country – many, and I know many religious scholars, Islamic teachers, authorities on the subject who speak on the topic endlessly. Some of them add great value to the society no doubt, but many have instigated, brainwashed and even misguided the youth into committing heinous crimes and given birth to an extremist mindset – and when have we tweeted against them or about them? To call out those who mislead our youth is our responsibility too and did we fulfill it? NO!
So although it is important to note that we must be cautious here, (we don’t want to encourage anyone and everyone to stand up and announce superior knowledge of Islam), we have already failed our youth by not speaking up when they were fed extremist, fundamental and inflammatory religious thought.
By this premise, if anyone and everyone must be allowed to engage in a debate, a discussion, an exchange on Islam – our youth must be allowed to ask questions and our Ulema, challenged to answer them. Maybe Hamza will be that channel – from youth to Ulema – to get the debate going.
Hamza seems to have the right ingredients – he is young, he is positive, he has come from a position of doubtfulness (atheism) to belief; a position many young people will identify with. How many public figures have had the courage to address this topic? I bet many are listening, but not speaking up, for fear that they will be judged. Well, one man has, and perhaps he needs to be heard rather than scorned.
3. Why should we restrict our talks on religion to our drawing rooms?
This is for those who say:
“Islam ki Jagha Facebook pay nahin, dil mein hoti hai.”
Really? Is this the message we want to give our youth? That we should not talk about religion in public, but only behind closed doors – OR, we should not talk about religion at all? Small wonder young people today are turning to atheism and drugs and alcohol and all sorts of desperate and depraved behaviours that we choose to ignore.
The incidence of Depression is on the rise among our youth and so is the use of Crystal Meth. The list of those who want to visit a therapist is endless, and appointments are hard to get. These behaviours usually occur due to a feeling of helplessness, disconnectedness in society and hopelessness about the future. Perhaps Hamza’s thinking and stance on religion might help channel negativity into positivity. But for that, we must step out of our drawing rooms and bring the debate onto social media, which is where the debate is at. Welcome to the 21st. century.
4. Why Are We Scared of starting a conversation?
Beta don’t argue on religion, it’s a controversial topic. – Have you heard this one?
When a person stands up and says: Acting is not haraam, drawing pictures is not haraam, and forcing women to cover up from head to toe needs to be discussed, we should listen. Why? Because many of us hold these debates in our drawing rooms, but not outside of it. Why? Because we are scared we might not be able to prove our premise, or argue with one more learned than us on religious matters. Doesn’t this give rise to confusion in our youth? When our children are told to live their beliefs, but quietly – they will question if they are even the correct beliefs to live by?
Islam is a religion that is a lifestyle for the majority of Pakistanis. Many of us begin our meals with a Bismillah, ask our children not to lie, to be kind towards the poor, hand out charity, observe Eid, and pray fervently to Allah to ask for his blessings. Then why can we not discuss the grey areas? And why do we discourage our children from voicing their doubts? Questions lead to discussions, and discussions lead to clarifications. And this is the true spirit of any religious thought – to help understand the faith better.
5. Why does anyone who wants to talk on religion become a ‘Maulvi?’
Hamza is being labelled (sarcastically) as a Maulvi by many.
There are 2 issues with this thinking: Firstly, why does anyone who wants to talk on religion become a ‘Maulvi‘? And secondly, why does the word ‘Maulvi‘ take on a negative connotation? Well, for one, maybe the maulvis in our society need to take a long hard look at themselves. Why do people regard them with so much cynicism? And secondly, why do we use this term with negativity?
The first one means that we have lost hope in many of the ‘maulvis‘ who spread religious knowledge because we regard them as ‘fundamentalists’ and we label them as such, and secondly, maybe the maulvis in our society do need a face lift, maybe they are not in touch with young sentiments and therefore, branded as archaic, orthodox teachers who have zero connection with reality?
I for one would like to see a new face of Islam. One that connects with the youth, engages the youth, inspires respect for the religion, and thrives in the spirit that this great belief system deserves. For that, we need to break some moulds. We need young, engaged influencers to talk about the hard issues, the ones everyone discusses in their living rooms, but never on social media. We need to do this with responsibility, sensitivity and a whole lot of courage.
Hamza Ali Abbasi has just started the conversation – he has a long way to go. He must arm himself with knowledge and a deep understanding of the issues he plans to address. But the change does not only need to come from him alone, it needs to come from us too. We must hold him accountable, but we must also listen – because only when we listen can we truly understand and question the place he is coming from.
Shazia likes to pen her thoughts when she feels passionately about a life experience, a person or an event. She is mother to 3 lively boys and along with her husband, attempts to settle in her new country by taking German lessons so she is able to soak in the culture, language and spirit of the region.
“Wake up in the morning, take a deep breath and exhale! Keep on living with a passion that inspires others! “