Yesterday had me thinking about freedom. About what it is, and how it is achieved. And about what it isn’t, and how it is so easily given away. It had me thinking about how often we’re unaware of our chains and how often we realise they are there, but pretend not to notice. We issue excuses, exceptions and denials, “oh, I never wanted to do X, Y or Z anyway”, covering up for cowardice and self-deception. It also had me thinking about how giving up our own freedoms ultimately leads to the denial of those freedoms for others. Given that the theft of freedom from those with the least privilege will hurt the most, the voluntary surrender of freedom by the privileged is an abject failure to stand in solidarity with others. Giving up your freedoms, or pretending they haven’t been taken, isn’t only a dereliction of duty to yourself, but to everybody else. A couple of quotes came to mind:
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Both speak not only to what freedom is, but how to achieve it. Now I know he’ll be mighty bashful being quoted next to MLK and Mandela, but yesterday I also saw a status update from a friend for whom I have a great deal of respect and high regard. It’s a short story from earlier in the day about how he chooses to respond to the social pressure he experiences as a man of Bangladeshi descent who chooses not to fast during Ramadan. Note, “how he chooses”, “chooses not to fast”; these are his choices, that he makes and takes responsibility for. The person most skilful at stealing our freedom and limiting our horizons is usually ourselves. Often, but not always, we can choose more than we might like to acknowledge. It’s uncomfortable, because it’s empowering, and means making decisions, making changes and taking responsibility. But not much freedom comes without responsibility, and so sometimes a choice has to be made: deny yourself freedom to avoid the burden of responsibility, or stand tall, be free, and know that you’re strong enough to carry that responsibility, and that it’s more than worth it. I digress…
The social pressures around fasting can be and, so I was reminded yesterday, are stifling; whilst people in the UK are spared state enforcement and punishment, “community policing” works a treat – the fear that someone else might find out you’re not fasting is very real and very effective. Don’t take my word for it; check out the many threads on the CEMB forum by ex-Muslims forced into starving themselves for 18 hours a day, without any fluids, for fear of what might happen if they get found out (e.g. http://councilofexmuslims.com/index.php?topic=10442.0). If this is the case for generally independently minded ex-Muslims, just imagine the pressure on those who still identify as members of the Ummah. So, given the context, the following is inspiring (though not at all atypical of the chap in question), not only because of his determination to be true to himself, to be free, but for the way in which it’s done – with empathy and compassion.
So, here he is, Imtiaz Shams:
“The importance of being ear(hon)nest,
I know there’re a couple of people on my FB who are, like me, irreligious. Regardless of what you believe or not, here’s a little tip (that I’ve gotta follow too). Yes, coming out as believing / not believing is vital for any change, because it pushes the fabric of truth and gives us a voice. But HOW you do it is equally important, at the very least, if we want to help other people understand. We’re all fighting an uphill battle, and while we’d like it to not be important, it really is.
Just went to my local butchers, have been visiting for a while, they play nasheeds and have halal food. Good people.
Was chit-chatting with a guy, who asked, “how’s your fast going” after I asked him the same question. I said something like “I don’t fast”, and his eyes widened.
But we talked, and I told him my story, how strongly I believed in the science and morality aspects of my previous religion, but over time I couldn’t face what (to me) were the facts and differences. Initially he was very, very shocked, and I could feel other people listening in.
Comes out my local butcher did a 2 year Masters on Comparative Religion in Bangladesh, and after we talked for a while, went from “how could you have done that???” to taking my side when another butcher pulled me up on it, saying that I seem like a good guy and shouldn’t be judged. I then offered to help him with his UK University applications, and we left smiling.
This is also why, even with all the horror stories, especially those that I’ve heard/seen happen to my friends (who also left), there is hope. And it’s so important that we start putting ourselves out there as actually existing, and be strong against any bad stuff and maintain our faith in things changing.”