NAJEEB KAZMI

"I BECAME A FREETHINKER AND A STAUNCH HUMANIST"

 

 Najeeb Kazmi

INTERVIEW WITH NAJEEB KAZMI
BY - Dr. Khalid Sohail

PART ONE…GOD AND RELIGION

1. Do you believe in God? If you do why? 

ANSWER: I do not have any firm opinion on this contentious issue. Actually, my experience stems from my personal journey. Being firmly focused in life on my quest for social justice, human emancipation and an equitable society, such classical issues (which have been discussed time and again, in history by philosophers and always remained a personal percept), had very little place in my life. Firstly there was no room and interest to discuss such issues, as I have considered them irrelevant to my struggle. Having said that, I believe that even if all problems of the world that perpetuate injustice and inequality around us, are solved (if at all), belief in God would still remain a personal thing. Making it short, my answer would be, “I am issue neutral, though open and receptive to all ideas, I believe that at a personal level, outright denial and announcement of disbelief in God, will be totally counter-productive to my mission in life”.  

2.   What are your concept / experience of God? 

ANSWER: I do not have any personal experience of God, with any of my five senses, not even the sixth sense, so what can I say? 

3.  How is your belief system different than the belief system of your family and community of origin? 

ANSWER: My community of origin is basically Pakistani / Indian Shia Muslim. In the early days of my life I was a bit religious of the pragmatic kind, and my father was a dynamic and enlightened person, but his objectivity deteriorated with time, though.

We got disconnected with our home, due to the fact that in our school, college and university days, we stayed away from home. We remained just visitors, twice, thrice in one year.

Coming to the point, when I was quite young (Grade 8 or 9), I regularly started to buy used magazine called “Manshoor” (meaning, Constitution), from the sidewalk bookseller in Karachi. The more I read it, the more I got addicted to it. It was a trade union magazine and represented working class issues. That was probably the turning point in my life, and as I grew up I maintained my interest, in the subject at some level or the other.

My late father and mother, both remained conformist Shia Muslims all their life, something which I never liked to be labelled as. So I remained non-conformist / non-practicing and continued to be so.  

4. How did you become an Atheist / Agnostic / Free Thinker / Humanist? 

ANSWER: Further to what I said earlier, the magazine that acted as a trigger, led to series of further developments in my life. I felt that I needed expression. My ailing, sensitive inner self was looking desperately for an opportunity to search the truth. To make the story short, when I travelled to Lahore to join the university, I was all by myself. This was December 1971 and shortly thereafter, Z. A. Bhutto took power after the fall of East Pakistan. The events that followed were very conducive to my development. I freely discussed issues with intelligent people and my journey towards my own discovery had begun. There was no looking back, as I became a free thinker and a staunch humanist. To this day, I have always been very proud of having discovered my truth. The quest for knowledge is an ongoing thing and each passing moment, provides me with more and more. Even the normal life span cannot encompass the complete evolution of thought.    

5.  Why do you believe in a Religion? 

ANSWER: I have never been at loggerheads with religion. During the early days, my ideological teachers taught me not to unnecessarily discuss religion as according to them (at that time), our struggle should be focused on freeing the peoples from the shackles of exploitation and empowering them through knowledge to become aware how they are being plundered by the feudal lords, neo-imperialists and their lackeys. Clergy, implicitly and explicitly, provide support to the forces of status quo and legalize it through the use of scriptures and what they call the holy injunctions of God.

Times have changed. Now, social issues have been pushed in the background and religious rambling has been brought at the forefront. This is like a turf war between two warlords and gangsters, under the garb of democracy, holy wars, crusades and so on. A huge distraction from our basic issues.

I presume that a time will come when professing a single religion may become unnecessary, but I am not sure, given the nature and in-built insecurity in humans and a huge reality everyone faces, which is called “death”. I feel that there will always be some people who may need the crutches of religion to tread the thorny path of life.

My own belief is that, I do have reservations about religion, however to profess whether I believe or disbelieve is irrelevant, as I consider religion to be a political / social movement (to be read in conjunction with history).  

6.  Why do you practice your preferred religion [Islam / Christianity / Judaism / Hinduism / Sikhism / Native Spirituality etc] as opposed to not any other religious or spiritual tradition? 

ANSWER: I do not practice any religion in my daily life. I only practice objectivity. 

7.  Do you believe in giving Religious Education to children at home and in schools? 

ANSWER: No, I do not. However, I do believe that we should still teach them the universal values of ethics and humanity, with an objective outlook, clearly telling them not be breed any hostility against any particular belief system. 

8.  Why can’t we teach our children different religious and spiritual and secular traditions as part of history and let them decide when they become adults? 

ANSWER: No harm in doing that. Depends on tradition within the household. It is, indeed a good idea. 

9.  What are your views about the relationship between Religion and State? 

ANSWER: Absolute separation of religion and state is what I believe in. This marriage has always proved to be very violent and will eventually fail, and has actually never worked for a very long time. Concrete steps should be taken by the state not to promote any particular religion or school of thought. Loud sermons, use of amplifier and loud speakers even for azaan (like what Muslims do) should be completely banned. There should be no holiday based upon belief system. Even in Canada, if the state likes to call itself “secular”, there is no room for “Good Fridays” and “Easter Mondays”. Even if the majority of people are labelled as believers of a particular faith, the state structure should not accommodate these “faith based holidays”. It appears so funny that “Public Schools” officially cannot arrange prayer, teach theocracy / Christian Mythology etc, but they shut down on holidays which derive its origin from medieval Christianity. Similarly, giving license to establish faith based separate schools (Muslim, Sikh, Hindu etc) are a blatant violation of separation of religion and state. There should be one system of education for all of Canada. If anyone wishes to learn about religion, there could be private lessons, by interested individuals, without public funding. Now Canada is full of mixed institutions of religion and publicly funded education. Eventually, Canada will realize that this is a huge mistake.  

10. Where do you get your guidance about your moral and ethical values? 

ANSWER: In the past, present and in the future, my own conscience is my guide. (Main khud hi apni talaash mein hun, mera koi rahnuma nahin hai). 

PART TWO…LOVE, SEX AND MARRIAGE

11.  Are you single or married? 

ANSWER: Married. 

12.  If you are single is it out of your own choice? 

ANSWER: N/A 

13.  What are your views about celibacy? 

ANSWER: Celibacy in content is sexual abstinence, common in Catholic Nuns / Priests. I do not consider this as a healthy practice. Being sexually active and practicing sex is natural to humans like other instincts.  

14. Why did you get married? Was it an arranged or a love marriage? 

ANSWER: Marriage was like a second instinct in Pakistan. It was a social necessity. This may not be true for other societies. Mine was an arranged marriage, but we had an opportunity to talk and discuss. 

15. Do you believe in platonic relationships between men and women? 

ANSWER: Friendship is fine.  

16. Are you gay or lesbian? 

ANSWER: No, I am straight (per the latest definition) 

16. Have you shared your gay / lesbian lifestyle with your family and community? 

ANSWER: N/A 

17. What was the reaction of your family and community? 

ANSWER: N/A 

18. What do you think of legalizing gay and lesbian marriages in Canada? 

ANSWER: This is a loaded question. While I do firmly believe that every individual is equal before law and has rights, responsibilities and freedoms, including the right to practice any alternate sexual preference. I also firmly believe that no one should be persecuted, looked down upon or discriminated by law, because of his or her sexual preferences. However, redefining the term “marriage”, based upon insufficient information and background information is counter-productive and may have repercussions not yet known to us. I have been told by an experienced Psychiatrist and a friend that the “big book” of psychiatry, probably some kind of “master reference book of psychiatry”, just little more than a decade ago defined “homosexuality” as a cognitive disorder, which was subsequently removed, from the later editions. When you talk to people, they have all tell tales, partly based upon reality and partly upon hearsay.

I would like to compare this situation with other mental deviations (if you will). Wise men of psychiatry, often do not accept giving or injecting medicine as a cure (permanent or temporary) of mental disorders and I have often heard some of them saying that “sending toxins to an area (human brain), for which we as yet don’t know everything is not a very responsible thing to do, except in cases where it is absolutely necessary and as a last resort (not in the best interest of the patient, but possibly to avoid social implications of the issue).  

Having said that, we know that human brain is an area, about which the medical profession, as yet does not know a lot and we do not have sufficient clinical data to support findings and symptoms. In this situation, in my opinion we should wait for better information to be available, and not rush towards any decision like that (alter the meaning of the family). It cannot be compared to the continuously ongoing research on other products, where findings are published and nullified as a function of time. In this particular case, the fallout may be very heavy and it is an irresponsible and premature decision made by vested interest.  

Having said all that, I recommend (in the interim) that laws should be made to effectively protect homosexuals against discrimination and persecution of any kind, being equal citizens of Canada, per the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.   

19.  Do you have a gay or lesbian friend or relative? 

ANSWER: Not to my knowledge. 

20. What do you think different Religions and Scriptures say about gay and lesbian lifestyle? 

ANSWER: All scriptures condemn gay and lesbian lifestyle. Some even award capital punishment.  

PART THREE…BECOMING IMMIGRANTS

21. Are you an immigrant? For how long have you been living outside your motherland? 

ANSWER: Yes, about 15 years. 

22. What do you consider the cultural differences between the two cultures? 

ANSWER: There are huge mainstream cultural differences. However, we have also maintained one cocoon of our own, which is basically the cultural cocoon of our origin.  

23.  How do you deal with your cultural conflicts? 

ANSWER: We are quite familiar with the differences, as we had been exposed indirectly to the “Western” culture. No issues. 

PART FOUR…CREATIVE PERSONALITIES AND EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS

24.  Are you a Creative Person? 

ANSWER: Sort of. More of an ideological kind. (As stated above).

25. How do you express your creativity [write, paint, act or make films or in other forms] ? 

ANSWER: My expression, dissemination of ideas, writing about social and real life issues, activism and voicing my opinion is a vehicle to express my creativity.  

26.  Do you share your Creations with your family and community? 

ANSWER: They are an essential part of my world and I regularly share my creations and ideas with them.

27. What are the reactions of your family and community about your Creative Expressions? 

ANSWER: My wife is very supportive in most part (I hope so), otherwise she has the capacity to make my life miserable….J. About my community…. some agree, some do not and some understand the point but do not believe in pure reason…. we just live around all this mess and hope for the best. 

28.      Did you experience emotional and social problems because of your Creative Personality and Lifestyle? 

ANSWER: Emotional problems, none. Social problems, some, but that is what life is all about. 

29.      How do you cope with those emotional and social problems? 

ANSWER: Jo sunay us ka bhala, jo na sunay us ka bhi bhala.

 

Thank you for sharing your philosophy and lifestyle.  

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