Religion

When the word ‘religion’ is mentioned, because of some conditioning and what it has come to be defined as, I can’t help but think ‘restrictions.’ My body even reacts to the word; I instantly feel closed up, claustrophobic, I could feel it in my chest; breathing becomes shorter and my jaws tense.

Group of people dancing in nightclub, laughing, close-upFor me, the word kills possibilities, like free travel, wearing what I feel makes me beautiful, enjoying some things, doing what at heart feels right, connecting with others from all walks of life (Women, and *men*. Yup, I don’t like the “religious” idea of avoiding intimate relations with men, save the husband, or having to wait until I get married to have heart-to-heart conversations with a man, share dreams with or travel and spend great time together. In fact, most of the men I met recently and whose company I enjoyed tremendously, who I opened up to, and shared parts of myself with, I know I’d never marry or fall in love with. It’s about connecting. “Islam” as we know it, makes me feel these small pleasures, these connections, can be taken away in the name of “haram” or “self-preservation” or whatever).

The word ‘judgement’ also comes to mind. To be religious, in my experience, was to be judged too, by none other than those people who are/were supposed to be pious and God-fearing. In the name of “‘Amr bel ma’rouf” or “nasee7a” or “taqweem” or even duty. All the same.

And suddenly instead of being a moral code, or a moral compass, perhaps a quest to finding peace and the creator of this world, religion becomes a behavioral checklist of what is deemed right or wrong, more often than not from the perspective of those who practice it. And you can’t do a bigger disservice to religion; self-appointed preachers are probably the number one reason people feel alienated in some religious communities. But hey, it seems I’ve been barking up this very same old tree for quite a while now.

The word ‘religion’ now feels like the antithesis not just of freedom, but of spiritual well-being, living life through the heart, to the fullest; feeling, throwing yourself into the world, and making moments count. The worst about those restrictions associated with religion, especially “Islam” (or more likely the thing that it has morphed into these days in this part of the world) is that they’re distracting at best, and at their worst, they drive one away from experiencing life––the path–– with courage and with every fiber of one’s being. It brings fear, and it turns one away from the very thing one feels one must pursue.

And this is why many have recently broke ranks with religion, not just because of hostile sermons, the wrong examples and bad publicity, but because in their core, these people decided they want to experience life, without people reminding them at every corner of ‘harams‘ and ‘inappropriateness’ that seem to go against what their souls are hungry for.

And that’s also why you find many religious people who are not happy; or who pretend to be happy (or force themselves to be happy, and feel guilty when they can’t, or deny their troubles and live in cocoons, or insist they’re happy in an attempt to make the world believe it so they could believe, or worse defend the very thing that makes them unhappy out of fear, guilt, or habit).

Happiness is a spontaneous, simple feeling that can’t be forced; peace is not a feeling that one can talk him or herself into. When I see my cats, for instance, I feel happy. No one has to talk me into “having to feel happy” since pets “should make me happy.” It’s instant; it’s a feeling comfortable with itself, gentle sometimes, and overwhelming in others. And when it comes, it’s never associated with a need to make others think or do certain things. It’s like being in love. In fact, it is being in love. When you’re in love, every person and everything is beautiful.

If religious people in this part of the world “were in love,” this kind of love, they wouldn’t fight and bicker with others, feel superior by virtue of belonging to this or that faith, they wouldn’t find the need to change anyone; love is sufficient. You feel it, and then you start seeing the world differently.

That’s why it was always easy for mystics and prophets, and the enlightened, to be at ease with people (not rejoicing in their praise, and not taking insult when they hurt them); they were in love. You have no time for pettiness when you’re in love.

Trust me, when your soul wants something, is aching for something, there’s nothing that could be done ––including sermons, ‘nice conversations’ or immersion in holy books–– that can shut that up. Back in the day, when I used to feel that ache, some friends used to dismiss this as ‘waswasa‘; ‘the shaytan who wants you to stray from the path.’ That or
(النفس الأمارة بالسوء). I was asked to intensify the rituals; read Quran more regularly, they said, ponder, or do this or that. And in fact it is pondering that finally showed me that the ‘shaytan‘ (not the fantastical creature, but something very twisted inside me, a mixture of disillusionment, good intentions badly placed, conditioning and guilt) that was the thing keeping me on that path, the one my soul knew it was not for me. I also realized that my ‘nafs‘ was the victim there, not the aggressor.  I realized that the light I was looking for was not in ritual, or in books, but it’s inside, perhaps covered by all that.

You can’t shut up the voice of the soul, and you don’t want to, it’s all truth.

I’m not trying to make any arguments here. In fact, I don’t know what I’m doing except sharing what the word ‘religion’ has come to mean for me. “Religion,” as we know it, has become something that makes my soul cringe. But now, I don’t believe it’s my soul I should blame.

In fact, perhaps “religion” owes my soul an apology.

x-meditate

source: lamajigmeessays.blogspot.com

22 thoughts on “Religion

  1. you need to say religion as I know it not “as we know it”, then you need to differentiate between faith and practicing sermons as they are two different things and are not mutual ”by the way, there are no sermons in Islam“, soul has nothing to do with desires as they always manifest themselves very bodily.

    • I don’t *need* to say (or do) anything I don’t want to regarding this one. I wrote the post in the best way I could think of, I said things in the way I feel they should be said, and as a reader you’re free not to like it or agree.

  2. An afterword from myself, the author of this post: Just to be clear to readers, when I say ‘religion’ in any post I’m generally referring not just to the current Islamic religious institution (except in cases when I clearly name that straight on), but to other orthodox religious institutions as well, including the Church for instance. For me, many of these institutions in this part of the world are radical, for reasons that have to do more with application than anything else, it seems, but sometimes revered and holy texts play a part too. But I’m not here to hand down verdicts.

    I choose to talk about my own experience, and I’m only responsible for that. And hopefully, one day, others, whatever their faiths are, and those who have left the faith, revised their approach to it or still cling to it for reasons they know best, can open up and talk about their experience too, honestly.

    My words should not be taken as a pretext to “prove” the flaw of this religion or that, or as a launch pad for blame or as a means to boast about the superiority of one thought over another. At the end of the day, whatever the original thought maybe, if the application or end process are flawed, if questioning is absent, and genuine doubts and concerns are crushed, tabooed, ignored or rebuffed, it doesn’t matter if the thought carries the names of “Muhammad” or “Jesus” or “G-d” or “Buddha” or all of them combined, it still won’t work, not now, not ever. It’s really as simple as that.

    • Thoughts are just thoughts, they can be right or wrong, you can accept or refuse them, but religions are not thoughts, they are the teachings of god given to humanity through his prophets and I mean the three religions Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the others are not religions they are thoughts just as yours; of course billions of people share them to an extent and as thoughts they can be wrong”to me they are wrong, but hey! It is just me”. Even Love which you hold as the ultimate answer to human misery is a thought that has different meaning to different people and has no meaning at all to some, which is true although love is a corner stone in Christianity, in fact the bloody history of Christian behaviors is against love and against Christianity itself. However you are free to believe or disbelieve, but discussing religions as human thoughts is against the very nature of faith, of course you may have no faith in them which is your absolute right; but practicing your right does not make you right.

      • “Religions are not thoughts … but teachings of god” only to those who believe in them.

        Others religions, apart from the three, are “not religions” only to you, in your view, and perhaps some Muslims’; this is not a fact as you make it sound like; it’s merely perspective, and a very refutable one at that. It’s not up to you to decide what constitutes a “religion” or not. So let it be, and have some respect for diversity.

        For some it’s an insult to dismiss their religious systems as “thoughts” unless you choose to generalize and call all religions and faiths thoughts (for the sake of boiling them down to the basics).

        Otherwise, you can’t discriminate and create a subjective checklist for what is eligible to be called a “religion.” Or you can, but then you’d be wrong, by my books, to do so.

        “Practicing your right does not make you right” –> Right back at ya! I hope you practice what you preach😉

        Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

      • I apologize to any reader who felt offended by my comment. I genuinely believe that humans are equals regardless of their faith. No one has a right to judge people according to their faith, only god has this right.
        This however doesn’t mean what they believe is right or correct; every faith on earth claims some kind of heaven and some kind of hell in a lasting hereafter, it also claims that his faithful and true followers are on the right path to heaven.
        this should make anyone wonder where is the real path to heaven if there is any, everyone should be concerned about his well being in the hereafter if it is not a feeble figment of superstition, everyone should evaluate his faith and make absolutely sure that it will put him on the right path, be that path whatever he finds true.
        At all cases one must try to find out, it will do no one any good to take for granted the heresy and myths of centuries of superstitions be that as it may. Some will not believe in god and the hereafter altogether, I petty them as I am sure they will petty me.
        No one can make a checklist of what make a religion; only god can do this, this is why god sent his prophets and gave us his teachings to show us the path to heaven.
        I am now quoting you “this is not a fact as you make it sound like; it’s merely perspective, and a very refutable one at that.”
        This perspective as you put it is the Islamic one “not merely my understanding of Islam” and as such it is irrefutable, By all means do not take my word for it feel free to prove it false yourself and good luck to you, In fact I wholeheartedly invite you or any reader to put the Islamic claim to whatever test he or she can come up with maybe this way you can make sure for yourself that it is really irrefutable.
        Islam is challenging any one to refute its claims and has been doing this for the last 1400 years and will continue doing it regardless of how many years yet to come till the last day of our earth.

      • I’m sorry, but I usually don’t engage in this “it’s irrefutable” because my religion said so. No luck needed, thank you, since it’s pointless to follow this line of thought. It’s the same old “my religion is right cos it says so.”

        Just a little background. I was into theology for a while, and I studied several religions, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and some offshoots like Kabbalah, and a little bit of Sufism, in addition to Hinduism, and my new-found passion Buddhism. I’ve also been a practicing Sunni Muslim for several years, including being a Salafi for a few years. And it’s actually draining to engage in conversations with Muslims who keep repeating the same old arguments for or in defense of Islam. Heck, you actually sound like me around 6 years ago.

        Again, I’m not having a go. You can believe in whatever you wanna believe in. I’m just trying here to communicate to the “faithful” especially among Muslims how people like myself and others are sick and tired; we need a break from all direct and subtle forms of the holier-than-thou one-route-to-God one-religion-to-rule-them-all philosophy. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t even inspire anyone to explore or follow their hearts. In short, it shuts them out … no matter how much you claim this religion or that have refuted God-knows-what for how many hundred/thousand/million years.

        Finally, thanks for your input, and for taking interest in my blog.

      • I was born Muslim but I did not take it for granted, it took me the best part of 6 years to study other religions too before I was satisfied with Islam, and I am not having a go at you or any one, you searched and studied which is more than a lot of Muslims can claim, you found your answers good for you, but it really is a mystery to me how your study and effort did not take you to Islam? However I want you to know that I am not judging you nor holding myself beyond error, but I am holding Quran beyond error.
        Thank you for taking the time to answer me.

      • “But it really is a mystery to me how your study and effort did not take you to Islam?” Well, for one, you don’t know where my studies have led me. Besides, this line sums up what what I really dislike Mr. Ahmed about this blind Muslim confidence: that the only truth is in their religion, Islam … to the point where, when people do their exploration, and choose their own paths, if it doesn’t lead to Islam, then secretly Muslims assume that either the other people’s process is wrong, or that there’s something wrong with them. I find this insulting, and disrespectful of others’ capacity for intelligent judgement. It also undermines people’s spiritual experience, and the intuition and fitra that leads to what is best for *them*. And yes, it might be entirely different from what’s best for you.

        Again, and again, let’s have respect for the diversity of both humans and path. Several paths lead to the truth, and it doesn’t have to end in Islam.

        It’s fair to hold Quran beyond error if you’re a Muslim; absolutely. But it’s also fair for others to hold other philosophies, textbooks, thoughts or religion, beyond error, and still end up in a real or proverbial heaven.

        In fact if you believe in Quran, then you should know that Quran puts a few absolutes; most verses are directed towards “mo2mineen” or the “faithful” in a very general sense (regardless of ideology/religious system), and that the term “islam” itself does not specify religion but an approach to the truth/God/Universe that relies in its core on submission/surrender to that truth, without resistance or distortion. This simple notion refutes anyone’s claim that “Islam” as a religious institution/system (and not as an approach) is the only truth, or that “Muslims” as we define them (those people who believe in the Quran or who follow specific rules tied with specific rituals) are the only ones worth saving.

        For me, this cannot be further away from the reality of things. The God I know does not discriminate or cast people in hellfire based on labels and name tags.

      • Last word to conclude, Islam is all about freedom and actually it is an open invitation for everyone to follow his heart, its true some Muslims can make you hate Islam due to their woefully incomplete understanding of it or their unjustified self esteem, but you should not care about them or anybody including me, but I would wish you to peruse your study of religions and of Islam once more for your own sake.

      • If what I believe now led me to a sense of peace and serenity inside, why should I “pursue [my] study of religions and of Islam once more for [my] own sake”? It doesn’t make sense.

        Mr. Ahmed, please have respect for people’s spiritual experience and judgement of heart. If they end up somewhere that’s different from yours, it doesn’t have to mean that they should re-start their “study and research” in the hope that they end up where you think they should end up. That’s presumptuous, and a bit insulting.

        And here’s a wish from me; accept that people can find peace, beauty, and wisdom in different disciplines, philosophies, and religions. There’s always something there that leads to God, heaven or Nirvana or enlightenment. This is truly what I wish different faith groups would realize: they don’t hold exclusive rights to either God or truth.

        Thank you for following through this discussion. Rebuffing your arguments doesn’t mean that I doubt your good intentions.

    • “This line sums up what I really dislike Mr. Ahmed about this blind Muslim confidence: that the only truth is in their religion, Islam …”

      This confidence is far from blind; it is justified and well grounded. If the truth we are seeking is the truth about god and the hereafter then there is one and only one truth “there is one true god”.

      “I find this insulting, and disrespectful of others’ capacity for intelligent judgment. It also undermines people’s spiritual experience, and the intuition and fitra that leads to what is best for *them*. And yes, it might be entirely different from what’s best for you.”

      You shouldn’t; intelligence has nothing to do with faith; a lot of people are both intelligent and atheists on the other hand a lot of people are both intelligent and believers, moreover what people think is best for them does not apply to faith because it is not a matter of preference; it is a matter of believing or denying. You can believe or deny but either way there is no telling if it is the best for anybody, this remains to unfold after death.

      I do respect diversity and paths, anyone faith is not an insult to me, like wise my faith is not an insult to anyone.

      Anyone has a right to hold his textbook or holy book beyond error, Quran is the only book on earth that claims that it contains no error and god dares anyone to prove the Quran erroneous in anyway.

      You claim that there are so many ways leading to the truth, no there is not; there are so many ways to explore but just one and only one will lead to the truth.

      “The term “Islam” itself does not specify religion but an approach to the truth/God/Universe that relies in its core on submission/surrender to that truth”

      Islam is both term and noun, the term means submission/surrender to the one true god who is the only truth and who created the universe, the noun specifies only one religion god has given to all humanity which is Islam, one continuous religion its creed was taught by every prophet and its final teachings and practice was completed with Muhammad, thus all prophets and messengers of god had the same message “there is one true god” and this makes them and their faithful followers Muslims.

      The name Muslims is a god chosen name for all believers through all ages and it includes all followers of all god sent prophets. This unity of religion and holistic sense in Islam explains the absolutes you mentioned.

      “This simple notion refutes anyone’s claim that “Islam” as a religious institution/system (and not as an approach) is the only truth, or that “Muslims” as we define them (those people who believe in the Quran or who follow specific rules tied with specific rituals) are the only ones worth saving”

      It does not refute anything; the approach can’t work without the creed and you implement the approach through the system, first you have to believe in the one true god then you submit and follow his rules, if the creed is wrong nothing will help or matter.
      All humanity worth saving, this is why god sent his prophets and messengers; this is why we should publish his message. Your definition of Muslims is wrong.
      I already explained that the name Muslims is not specific to the followers of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him; it is the name for all believers of all prophets.

      “The God I know does not discriminate or cast people in hellfire based on labels and name tags.”

      Very true, god doesn’t judge by labels and name tags, he sees our hearts and knows our deeds, he is just and will evaluate every good or evil we do, let us hope he will mercifully look at our hearts and graciously accepts our deeds.

      • The short answer:

        “This confidence is far from blind; it is justified and well grounded.” — Again, for you. Not for everyone🙂

        “You shouldn’t; intelligence has nothing to do with faith; a lot of people are both intelligent and atheists” — I’m not talking about academics. There are different types of intelligence, including spiritual and emotional intelligence, which also lead one to truths.

        “Moreover what people think is best for them does not apply to faith because it is not a matter of preference; it is a matter of believing or denying.” –– This is patriarchal, and self-defeating at best. And if you don’t understand what’s wrong with this sentence, then I honestly can’t help you or discuss this further. What’s fitra then or trusting the heart if it’s not an interpretation of what people think and believe, in their heart of hearts, to be both true and best for them?

        If my faith doesn’t feel right, doesn’t give me peace, or tears me apart inside, then I’d better assume it’s not exactly right, then I’d better be smart about it and question it … and not shut up, numb my senses and tell myself, “hey, I don’t know what’s the best for me.” No. no, I trust my soul to know the truth.

        “Islam is both term and noun, the term means submission/surrender to the one true god who is the only truth and who created the universe, the noun specifies only one religion god has given to all humanity which is Islam, one continuous religion its creed was taught by every prophet and its final teachings and practice was completed with Muhammad, thus all prophets and messengers of god had the same message “there is one true god” and this makes them and their faithful followers Muslims.” — Yes, I agree, more or less, perhaps in much more broader terms than this, but I believe we’re speaking about the same thing.

        “The approach can’t work without the creed and you implement the approach through the system, first you have to believe in the one true god then you submit and follow his rules, if the creed is wrong nothing will help or matter.” — And this is where you and I differ, since I don’t believe that either the creed or the rules are as clear cut or absolute as perhaps you might believe they are. This bit is about preference, faith and scholarship (all three combined), and I don’t think there’s any point in discussing this point if we don’t agree on the premise “approach can’t work without the creed.” We can’t be 100 per cent sure of that; the Quran itself proves it time and again when it boils iman to the bare essentials … in my humble opinion.

        “Very true, god doesn’t judge by labels and name tags, he sees our hearts and knows our deeds, he is just and will evaluate every good or evil we do, let us hope he will mercifully look at our hearts and graciously accepts our deeds.” Can’t agree more, well amen to that.

    • “If what I believe now led me to a sense of peace and serenity inside, why should I “pursue your study of religions and of Islam once more for your own sake”? It doesn’t make sense”

      I do respect all cultures; yes you can find peace, beauty and wisdom through many different ways but not god.

  3. Kudos on this reflection. The best thing you can do is to keep “keeping it real”, and writing this, I think, is doing exactly that. For me, the problem is similar to wanting to send letter to a loved one, but always putting it off because of the infinite amount of time and effort put in ornamenting an envelope that is never going to be good enough. But what of the message, and what of the awaiting lover?

  4. Pingback: Religion: An afterthought | The Pakinam Letters

  5. In the very unlikely event that anyone could prove Islam false (mind you there is no lack of trying), I would only then agree to that wishy-washy “it is just you” of yours.

    “I’m not talking about academics. There are different types of intelligence, including spiritual and emotional intelligence, which also lead one to truths.”

    This “spiritual intelligence” sounds as one of the plethora of terms in parapsychology and metaphysics; these two fields are uncharted and obscure, how can they relate to any religious creed?

    “This is patriarchal and self-defeating at best.” How so? This is what creeds are all about. Any creed at that; you either believe it or you don’t.

    The Arabic word “Fitra” means our creation pattern (innocent, pure, true, free, inclined to right and virtue) it is neither a state of mind nor a guidance system. If you want to see Fitra just look at a baby.

    You trust god in regard to creed. You trust to your heart in regard to practice provided that it is not a command of god and to your best ability you can’t evaluate its rightness.

    “Since I don’t believe that either the creed or the rules are as clear cut or absolute as perhaps you might believe they are.”

    This is a rightful time for me to say “it is just you”. Islam creed is very simple and very clear to anyone.

    It states that we are to believe in: The one true god “Allah” (and none other), his angles, his holy books, his messengers, the Day of Judgment and fate be it good or evil.

    It is as clear as clarity can ever be. Islam rules are not that simple, most of them are straight forward, some are controversial, but there are a lot of studies and opinions explaining the controversial part and we are at liberty to weigh them and follow what we think right (not necessarily to our heart).

    “ ’approach can’t work without the creed’. We can’t be 100 per cent sure of that; the Quran itself proves it time and again when it boils iman to the bare essentials … in my humble opinion.”

    I’ll settle for one or two proves of that, but it beats me what you will submit/surrender to if you do not believe the creed? And why would anyone do that? Not to mention how he can do that.

    • At this stage in the conversation, I have nothing more to add, because I (humbly I promise) believe that what I said in other comments is sufficient to quell all these thoughts that you mention in this last comment — it’s also very partial, it’s almost like you’re stacking one opinion over another. I hate to argue against opinions, they’re too personal for a proper discussion, and they’re not ideas but feelings, and these two are non-negotiable. Suffice to say, I don’t share neither your opinions nor the feelings you expressed about creed, religion and parapsychology which you find obscure. To be honest, some of the statements you wrote don’t make sense to me, and I don’t feel compelled to dissect them at all at this point.

      I think we’ve reached a point where talk is useless. Obviously, you feel strongly about defending Islam, and I gave you enough space to do so. I accept this is how you view it. But even to some Muslims I daresay you’re not making a coherent argument here. It’s not clicking, at least with me.

      I’ve said what I’ve said, and that’s that. I think it’s time for silence; I believe some things are not understood until they are.

      Amituofo😉

  6. Peoples thoughts and opinions are generated by life experiences and knowledge that you have acquired in that field.

    Abuu_Haajar

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