Ah, religion. One of the notoriously taboo topics of conversation, so someone said. I dunno why said someone decided our core beliefs should not be openly discussed. En tout cas, I tend not to follow the adage. Each religion is a world full of rich stories, fascinating people, and beautiful places of worship, amongst other things. But it seems that ‘religion’ is one of those words that people get stuck within a rigid definition of and cannot let be what it is: a series of symbol sounds that can represent a lot of different images and feelings.
When people learn I studied religion, they tend to think I’m ‘religious’. I’m never sure what the scope of that word holds for them. But whatever I do, say or don’t do, will be looked at within the context of being ‘religious’. * le sigh * So, just to clarify, I will only say that I do not belong to any religious community nor do I subscribe to any religion or perform any ceremonies or rites. Not even for the official religion of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, aka the Pastafarian. Humma Kavula and the Coming of the Great Handkerchief is purdy interesting too. It smacks of what we learned in Intro to Religion at university – that there can be a religion of anything.
When brought down to the basics, religions provide guidance to three questions: who are we? Where are we going? and How do we get there? The sacred texts, the liturgy and ceremonies, the places of worship and sacred spaces, the clothing, the food – everything within the religion is there to provide direction. The head guys – the pope, the shaman, the monk, the priest, the rabbi – help provide context as the leading students of the study of their religion.
If I did have to choose a religion, like, someone was pointing a gun at my head telling me I had to jump in one of those boxes “or else”, and I couldn’t choose all-theism like Chris Martin, I would choose Islam. Despite the negative hype it gets, on paper Islam provides great answers for the 3 questions. It says that we are souls, and our bodies are temporary clothing for our souls, which will one day return to Allah. People have to do as many good deeds as they can while here, as these good deeds will have to be shown to Allah when one leaves this life. As for further instruction/guidance on how to do that, the Quran sets out the five pillars of Islam that are easy to follow: 1 – witness that there is no god but Allah, 2 – pray five times a day in the direction of Mecca, 3 – give to charity, 4 – fast during Ramadan and, 5 – make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once. Some misconceptions: the concept of Jihad is not violent, as the word means struggling or striving and in the Quran usually refers to personal external or internal efforts to be a good Muslim; women are highly regarded and respected, Islam doesn’t force women into marriage, or harems as a man is only allowed to marry more than one woman if he can prove to love them both equally and the same – which should probably be taken more tongue-in-cheek rather than as permission, as this is an impossible feat. Men are admonished from ill-treating women and told to “live with them on the footing of kindness and equity” (Noble Quran 4:19). Regarding the head scarf, whereas some think the custom is imposed upon women, my understanding is that women want to wear it, as a sign of respect and faith and it makes them feel good and safe.
And then there’s the ‘mystical’ dimension of Islam: Sufism. Sufi’s, like the whirling dervishes, are more concerned with striving for the perfection of worship to get closer to Allah, motivated by love. 12th Century Sufi poet Rumi wrote extensively about this love in what is probably THE best collection of love poems, Ever. Plus there’s The Conference of the Birds by Farrid ud-Din Attar, the story is like Coles Notes Lord of the Rings epic and instructive at the same time in terms of how to attain enlightenment.
As for having no gun pointed at my head, I think anything is possible in this universe, and I have spent many an hour pondering the possibilities. Sometimes I wonder if it was just serendipity, maybe we’re here because of some science experiment gone wild – like, a giant species of being created us human biped beings in a petri-dish of sorts in a lab in science class somewhere out there in the universe. The being got a passing grade and let our ancestors loose in the universe when class was done, ‘cuz that’s just what they did. It seems as probable as anything else. I also wonder if, at some point, another species is going to come to our planet, on a picnic kind of stopover. They’re gonna have really big feet and when they go walking around we’re going to be like iiiitty-bitty ants and they are going to squish a lot of people. I like to imagine that I pop up between a couple of well-coifed toes and survive the accidental culling.
As for God, Allah, Yahweh, the Great Spirit…. ultimately, it cannot be denied that we are here and something had to have come first that allowed us to be here. If we are all made of matter, then we are all part and parcel of the same thing, which means we are connected somehow – like string theory. Which reminds me of another thing we learned in Intro to Religion, a cool bit from Christianity; how in the beginning there was nothing and then there was light and dark and everything else. How did all these things come from nothing our Prof had asked? ‘From God’ people started to say. But our Prof smiled slyly and took it back to some basic logic. “Nothing”, he said, “means there are No Things, and all is one”. All was one until things became named, defined and separated. The nothingness was essentially one and contained the whole… which means we all came from the same thing. It’s a great big world with many languages, so it makes sense we would have different words to describe this thing we came from.
Ultimately, as the global community grows, we would all do well to learn more about the worlds’ major religions. Because where one thinks there could be no-thing, every thing might be found.