What you need to know:
Challenge. I have challenged people I chat with (especially on social media) to name just one thing God has ever done for people that people themselves cannot do, and I have never had a proper answer.
A common error in prayer technique, tweeted the American man who calls himself God, is sitting around asking for stuff. Most experts agree, the American went on, that a more effective method is getting off your behind and doing something.
I do not know the American’s real name, and I think most people who follow him on Twitter do not either. But one thing about him is indisputable: He is a grotesque parody of God. He mocks prayer like crazy. Several years ago, he fired off this tweet: “Your prayer is important to us. Please continue to kneel. Your request will be taken by the next available angel in around 10 million years.”
Amazingly, he is hugely popular on Twitter, boasting six million followers, many of whom are internationally known and are religious or claim to be religious, which is surprising.
I remembered the American when a (Muslim) friend sent me something via Facebook messenger last week. It was about the coronavirus, which is stealing lives in many places and has triggered panic around the world, leaving entire cities under lockdown and leading to postponement of many international events.
The friend went to great lengths to emphasise that he is not an atheist (as if being one is a crime). Here is what he shared: “Saudi Arabia has banned Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina for Saudi locals because of the #coronavirus... Iran also cancelled Friday prayers. Finally, they have realised prayer does not work.”
The message was a tweet written by Taslima Nasrina, a Bangladeshi-Swedish writer, humanist, physician and feminist. She could not have been more spot on.
The coronavirus is yet another piece of evidence that humans are all ‘atheists’. People do not believe what they say they believe. People are on their own, their own hope, but they do not seem to know.
Saudi Arabia is a deeply religious country. Most of the people in the Persian Gulf nation pray five times a day, 35 times a week, 140 times a month and 1,680 times a year. We don’t even do that with food and sex—which sets the stage for us to begin life.
There are mosques everywhere in Saudi Arabia. Muezzins bellow the call to prayer so forcefully only people who are hard of hearing can miss it. The Saudis will drop everything to go pray once they hear the call to prayer.
But they had to ban pilgrimages because they know perfectly well that if the coronavirus enters their country, Allah is not going to help them. No country is seeking Allah’s help over the coronavirus. He will do and say nothing. That has been the case since time immemorial. Experience shows that leaving everything in God’s hands—and that is assuming he does exist—means you are taking great risks.
Saudi Arabia’s neighbour to the east, Qatar, is another example. Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, is a deeply religious country. During the holy month of Ramadan, Qatari police arrest people who are seen eating in public. No one is supposed to eat in public until the fast is broken in the evening.
Qatar would lead you to think that Allah is in control of everything and that it relies on him to protect its people. In theory, Qatar relies on Allah for many things. But in practice it does not. For example, every single foreigner seeking work in Qatar must go for a medical test at a government health facility, and the main reason is for the authorities to throw out people with infectious diseases such as HIV/Aids and tuberculosis. People with HIV are summarily deported.
There is any number of examples one can cite to show that religious people and religious countries act remarkably like non-believers when they have real challenges to deal with. It is not hard to see why. I have challenged people I chat with (especially on social media) to name just one thing God has ever done for people that people themselves cannot do, and I have never had a proper answer.
Understandably, many of us have substituted Allah with money—because money is the real God that fixes problems. At our workplaces, we have endless fights about promotions, which, in effect, are about money, power, control, etc. We tell people who have problems we will pray for them, but we know that prayer does not work. And none of us wants to go where God supposedly lives. Yet we mock atheists.
The writer is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk