Popular writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar has been honored with the Richard Dawkins Award 2020.
The award was established in 2003, and is named after English evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
Akhtar received the honor for critical thinking, holding religious dogma up to scrutiny, advancing human progress and humanist values, said an IANS report.
"I am deeply honored to receive the Richard Dawkins Award 2020. I have admired Richard Dawkins ever since I read his first book, ‘The Selfish Gene'. I have since then read every book of his and ‘The God Delusion' is my absolute favorite," said Akhtar.
"To have my name included in the distinguished list of the previous recipients such as Bill Maher and Christoper Hitchens is fulfilment of a dream I had not even seen," he added.
For half a century, Akhtar has been a powerful force for secularism, reason, and human rights, challenging superstition and intolerance through his work in poetry, film, and political activism, according to a press release. Akhtar will receive the award from Richard Dawkins—virtually—in an online event in October.
As a screenwriter, Akhtar has penned some of India’s most popular and acclaimed films, earning multiple awards for screenplays and lyrics. As a poet and social commentator, Akhtar has inspired millions with calls to reject religious fundamentalism in favor of education and equal rights for all. He has been honored by his country with the prestigious Padma Bhushan for “distinguished service of a high order,” and nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
Born into a Muslim family, Akhtar came to embrace science and rationality over religious dogma. Responding to the question of why he considered himself an atheist, he said, “The answer is very simple: because I think.” Still, Akhtar maintains a connection to his community, as a founding member of the anti-fundamentalist organization Muslim Intelligentsia and president of Muslims for Secular Democracy.
“When socio-political situations are created by the people who pretend to be religious and are using religion to get mileage or take some kind of control over a segment of our society, I will protest as I belong to that community,” said Ahktar in 2007. “I may be an atheist but I am an atheist Muslim.”
“As India is being pulled between its secular foundations and convulsions of dangerous religious nationalism, Javed Akhtar’s voice is more necessary and more vital than ever,” said Dawkins, founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science and a member of the New York-based Center for Inquiry Board of Directors. “Akhtar is a bright light for reason, freethought, and atheism in a dark time, and we are delighted to honor him with the Richard Dawkins Award.”
“We are excited to honor Javed Akhtar for his eloquence and courage in the fight against irrationality and superstition,” said Indian American inventor and entrepreneur Vinod Bhardwaj, a member of CFI’s Board of Directors.