I met Pervez Hoodbhoy in 2001 at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. We spent some hours together. We exchanged ideas on religion and science, and he shared a little of his relationship with the great Pakistani intellectual Eqbal Ahmad. From these all-to-brief discussions I formed an immense admiration for Dr. Hoodbhoy, which I still hold. For I knew at once I was in the presence of a man whose goal was to serve his people as best he knew how. He could have easily been working in a prestigious Western university, living a comfortable lifestyle. Instead he chose to work in an environment which is at times deeply hostile to his cherished ideas on science and humanity. For years now he has been publishing a range of articles carefully advancing his views on science, religion, progress, intellectual freedom, history, and more.
Consider this recent article on science and the Islamic world. These are the words of someone passionate about his subject, yet respectful of people who hold differing views. His appeal is to Muslims who think critically, regardless of their personal religious views. Whether his readers be atheist or devout Muslims, there is something in his writings to seriously reflect on and ponder, which in my mind is a sign of excellent writing. It is in this sense that I think of Dr. Hoodbhoy as a modern Muslim hero. Having placed himself at the service of his people, who are Muslim, he has engaged Islam. He has taken the time to study Islam and its history. Islam benefits from Dr. Hoodbhoy because he poses challenging, vital questions for its followers in a dignified and respectful manner.
I say these things mindful I have till now completely ignored Dr. Hoodbhoy's individual religious views, and in this sense it is certainly deeply presumptuous of me to suggest he is a "Muslim" hero. Yet when I look to his dedication to his cause, pursued not out of a desire for fame or fortune, I cannot help but be reminded of the spiritual yearning for truth and freedom from the bonds of ignorance that exist within every major religion, including Islam. In this spiritual sense he is more "Islamic" than many practicing believers are. If more religious people were to serve their people instead of their intolerant arrogance, their religion and their community would flourish!