by M. Ayub Rafique
“In 2011 I founded an organization to counter religious extremism because I too was once a radical extremist.
I come from a highly religious and very rigid background. Although my father is not what one would call a “radical Islamist”, somehow I started leaning towards radicalism. Maybe it was because I visited many mosques and was a passionate teenager. I used to listen to Sipah Sahaba lectures and feel happy when I heard of the attacks on Shias. I was ready to go for Jihad myself so in 2002, after my studies ended, I decided to go serve the Islamic Militants and be trained by them.
Call it good luck or fate but my family did not allow me to leave.
I listened to them, joined college and decided to study further. At college I got involved in student politics & activism and realized I had a passion for it. A radical society with extremist Islamic views in college that I was very involved with gave me an outlet to channel my radicalism.
One day our society got into a fight with another society from college. My so called peers did not take a stand and I was left fighting alone and I was badly beaten up by the other society that day. I felt quite betrayed.
At the same time, I noticed a liberal left society that was also very active in college. I was curious and observed them. They were very friendly people and very loyal to each other and quite welcoming towards me. I was intrigued. These guys were also working against injustice and inequality which was a huge attraction for me. Two things were battling in my mind at this point; I found myself sympathizing with my conservative orthodox mentality and the radical groups and on the other hand I wanted to be part of this leftist group because they were representing Che Guevara who I am extremely inspired by. I found a new way to channel my radicalism via Che Guevara by joining the leftist group. I also became very interested in English and Urdu Literature which really helped shift my mindset.
It was 2005 by then and I was changing; my attitude, my mind, my behavior were all transitioning. Today, I can’t recognize the boy I was in 2002. It is a complete paradigm shift and I have a liberal stance in life now. This has been a decade long journey- ten years of gradual transformation.
What is ironic is that now I face problems from my family. Till I was a radical fundamentalist Muslim, my father had no problem with it! I guess they were okay because if I had died in the name of God they would have resolved to the fact I gave my life for a good cause. They way they saw it, atleast I was not challenging their values and norms so they had no problem- but as soon as I transitioned into a tolerant liberal leftist (and a very active one), they had issues!
“What has been your biggest regret?”
“In regard to regret, I believe if any person is going through a complete transformation like me, they need to learn how to overcome the feeling of guilt. My father stopped talking to me- so there is that guilt. Then there is religious guilt where I am always wondering if I am right in doing this or not? What will happen to me on the day of judgement for my decisions? Will I go to hell or heaven? These are all personal struggles no one can help one with- these are thoughts I needed to resolve on my own and I did.
Like I said my journey has been one of ten years. I have reached a point where I can say I am very happy but at the same time the internal battle is ongoing because I know my parents are not happy with me. I am now living life with a new pattern – a new culture whilst my family is still the same rigid conservative family.
Working for the organization I founded gives me a sense of peace and purpose. This was my way of overcoming the depression I was beginning to feel because no matter what, if you do not have respect from your family, you just don’t feel complete.”