is a word in the English vocabulary, which can carry many
meanings. For some it is a way of life, for others it is
a word that they have come across as they were growing up
and for many it is their entire core of existence.
a word, which encases controversies, hatred, love, fear,
and disbelief--always bringing out some form of emotion.
A small English word yet bearing the burden of defining
who we are. For it is 'religion' that over the period of
history has made man conquer other's worlds in order to
introduce their religion; wage wars to defend their own
religious beliefs and it is religion that has segmented
man into different communities other than countries and
races. The irony however, lies in the fact that mankind
has always wanted to believe in a Power that they can't
comprehend. We, however, despite our denials or our differences
have one thing in common -- the need to pray, to bow, to
search within ourselves and to question science.
me, religion has meant the religions that I have heard about--Islam,
Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. All different
in their own rights and yet all teach the common themes
of love, tolerance, charity and good will.
raised in a very religious home. As far as my memory goes
back, I have seen my parents prostrating towards the West,
fasting during Ramadan, giving Zakat, performing Haj and
trying to abide by the rules of Islam. As I grew older phrases
such as 'we are forbidden to do so by Islam' or 'Allah punishes
those who do so and so'--were common phrases I heard whenever
my parents wished to scare me or imprint a warning in my
head. I am sure all children and youth hear similar reprimands.
my younger days I would pray out of fear and out
of respect to my parents, but I think it was mostly because
I wanted something. All kinds of deals were struck with
Allah 'Two extra rakats of namaz if I
score a 50 on my test' and so on and so forth. I think by
the end of my teens, praying, fasting and trying to follow
the path of Islam were pretty much ingrained within me.
I liked to call myself a modern Muslim girl, without much
thought to all I had been taught, without questioning what
I was being taught. I was too caught up in trying to study,
trying to discover who I was; seeking my happiness.
I must admit that there were times when I would enter my
Nana's room and hear him recite from the Quran. The sweet
tinkle of his voice would make the hairs on my shoulder
stand up. I would rub myself and sit beside him basking
in tranquillity that I did not understand. Still later I
would find myself sitting behind my mother who would say
her prayers and after finishing blow on my chest. I would
leave the room with a sense of having attained super human
powers, for I clung to the belief that with mum's doa no
one could harm me. When I would do something wrong and my
parents would say to me that Allah would not be happy with
something I had done, I would in my child's eye imagine
a stern old face with a beard and worry that he would hurt
me. I would then spend the rest of the day in hiding from
the 'all seeing eye.' As I grew older the face of the old
bearded man ceased to exist, as I realised that Allah had
no faces and instead I banked on the voice I heard within.
abroad was a door opener into the realm of a different world
and a different religion. For the first time I was able
to witness closely the practices of Christianity. I admired
the Westerners, sense of searching for their spirit, for
wanting to reach out and help others. I observed the manner
in which the churches would help the less unfortunate and
the manner in which it was felt that their religion should
be taught to others. It made me take a step back and question
Islam, and I realised that there were a lot of things about
my religion that I did not know. I was often asked about
Islam and I realised I had no answer to many of their questions.
to learn stemmed from the fact that I felt that there was
emptiness within myself spiritually. I pondered many times
on the issues of life and death and wondered what my role
as a human was? The most probing question, I found asking
myself was, how could I live like this--eating, purchasing,
wasting and living in comfort when just stepping out of
my car I am hounded by poverty. I run away from it and close
my eyes to it. What kind of Muslim does it make me?
better when I give the poor something but I know that is
not enough and we can only pray that someday this gap will
cease to exist. There are countless little gestures that
I see my mother performing, which makes me think that there
are still people who are compassionate towards others. I
don't think one becomes a good Muslim just by saying their
prayers. One becomes a good Muslim with their daily actions.
I realise, truly 'kind' are those, who wish never to take
credit for their acts of charity or goodwill. I wish I did
more little acts of kindness, for in that case I would be
a good Muslim, for Islam is about leading everyday in a
state of peace, benevolence and spreading good will to others.
also realised that in this day and age when we are plagued
with terrorism and the lack of respect for human lives;
compassion is also something that needs to be emphasised.
We are quick to point out what we are doing wrong and yet
we are not willing to search within ourselves. Islam is
about learning and yet there are many who follow only a
part of Islam and do not learn about their religion. Sadly,
it is a flaw that exists also within me, for I too only
follow those parts of Islam, which I feel, is convenient
mother once explained to me that the voice I have within
that talks to me, was my soul. I wondered in that case why
it was that I heard two voices, one, which seemed to tell
me all about the negatives and the other which always reminds
me of what I have been taught. When I used to ask ammu
(mother) what would happen to me once I died, for it is
a question all children fear, she would promptly reply,
'Your soul will always live on even when your body ceases
to exist. So you have to be very good to your soul. You
have to make it worthy of reaching its final destination
--Heaven'. I would immediately feel better, kiss my mum
and go hopping out to play. I was safe; I would always live
my journey, there has been occasions when I felt angry towards
my Creator. I have wondered why things have gone wrong.
At those times, I have tried to bank on the small voice,
which I feel is my conscience and which I think is Allah's
way of helping me do the right thing.
those moments when I have questioned Allah, I have been
able to look back sometimes, realise that things did not
go the way I wanted it, because it was not meant for me,
or simply because I was meant to learn something from it.
However, there are times I have questioned why Allah, being
the all powerful, did not stop a cruel man from taking the
life of an innocent or stop a dishonest person from rising
to the top? I am troubled by such thoughts, and I console
myself by saying that we have been given a choice. When
something terrible happens, we as humans exercise our choice
to hurt another and in doing so we banish ourselves from
being a human to an entity that has no place; not here and
certainly not in Heaven.
other day I heard a story from Hadith and it goes something
like this 'If you control your anger then Allah too will
hold back his anger when He sees you.' A simple story and
I found myself thinking about it when I wanted to yell at
the waiter who had given me bad service. When I hear the
vain boastings of people with expensive things, I remind
myself that our Prophet (PBUH) was a pious man with no desire
for worldly possessions. Perhaps these simple stories with
their basic morals are common, we have heard them before
and yet these very stories make me stop and take a moment
and question myself. If not for anything else, at least
for a fraction of my life I will question my actions and
try and be a better human being.
with a new sense of awe that we as human beings have been
given a mind, a soul and a life in this world. We will always,
as long as we are alive, seek for spiritual fulfilment,
some of us will search for it in religion, some of us in
this material world and yet many of us in other forms--but
the search will always be there. Different people seek for
different things, some of us want to be wealthy, some of
us want to be beautiful, some of us want to be successful--whatever
it is, our wants will always push us forward. We will forever
feel the need to pursue our goals. The irony remains however
in the fact that no matter what we attain we can never be
happy, for our fulfilment remains in the simple understanding
and appreciation of the One whom we always feel we can elude.
poets for they have realised the beauty of God and they
have tried to capture an essence of that in their words.
I, as a humble Muslim cannot even attempt to do so. But,
I can end this with a quote from Emily Dickinson who states
that we never wonder if we wear a beautiful face in the
eyes of God. Hence, I remain in fear, in appreciation and
in hope that I will be able to lead a life, which will perhaps
make me a better Muslim--a better human.