Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Institution Of Religion

My blogger friend Azra, whom i've never met but writes captivating posts and is never afraid to push the envelope, recently wrote about religion and fanaticism. Her post can be found here.

This inspired me to share my own personal opinion on religion, in as brief a manner as I can.
While intelligent debate is healthy and whole-heartedly welcome, please note that my blog is a Bigot-&-Fanatic Free Zone.
I know zealots who know zealots who could hunt you down and stone you to death if you try that shit on my blog!

As mentioned in a previous blog post, i've been fortunate to have an upbringing smothered between a deeply religious Christian grandmother, and an equally religious Muslim grandfather.
My mom is an amazing woman who walked us through this religious maze, showing us kid's that it was a thing of beauty, of love and of tolerance; not something to be feared or be dogmatic about.
Much like the poppy field, it could be admired for it's beauty just as easily as it could be frowned upon for it's narcotic effect.
Religion in my opinion is a thing of beauty.
Something to be treated with the respect it deserves.
And therein lays the challenge.

I learnt at an early age to respect all religions, just as I would expect others to respect mine.
How then was I to agree with some of these religious zealots who only preach hate and fear and detest for anyone who's belief system differed from their own?
Had they not heard of tolerance?
What kind of religion would promote hatred over love, fear over respect, and segregation over unification?

How easy it is to judge and criticize that which we don't understand?
I was seven or eight when I first fully understood being in a Masjid.
I was eight or nine when I first fully understood being in a Church.
The message in both was exactly the same.
Looking beyond the names and labels, and taking out only the lessons to be learnt in the preachings, I honestly couldn't tell the difference between the Masjid and the Church.

So when a guy I knew from the neighbourhood saw me leaving Church one Sunday, and recalled seeing me in the Masjid the Friday before, he called me a traitor. At ten I didn't fully understand what a traitor was, but the venomous way he spat it out when he said it made me instinctively realise it couldn't be a good thing.
True story. It would be eight years later before I saw him again, in a club, with his girlfriend.
I think her name was Thirusha.
Farouk just smiled at me, took his beer and his girlfriend and scuttled off.
Did I mention this was a true story?

A few years ago my mom opened a franchised fast-food outlet.
A popular chicken franchise actually.
Needless to say, the topic of being certified "halaal" needed to be addressed.
She was advised to go with a certain "Halaal Certifying Authority" as they were very prominent in the Muslim community and it would be good for her business.
Good for her business?
Anyways, I 'd rather not mention their name except to say that it rhymes with "BANHA".
About two years later she was in the process of changing her bank, and subsequently needed to change all her debit order details.
"BANHA" hadn't been updated in time and the debit order for that particular month bounced.
Next thing she knew, her store "could no longer be certified halaal".
They based that on a bounced debit-order instead of a site inspection?

Ever since that day, I make it my duty to listen to public announcements of what "BANHA" in their infinite wisdom have deeemed haraam, as the list is updated on a daily basis depending on who's debit order has bounced, and then I go out and buy all those "haraam" products and have a huge illicit feast.
It's my way of saying "Up yours BANHA."

*ok you can start the fatwa and send your henchmen at this point, you religious zealots you!*

I mentioned on Azra's blog, an incident that happened to me whilst still a student a good many years back.
I'm too lazy to re-type so here's the cut-&-paste.

As a student travelling by bus I once came across a fanatic who I befriended with a view to trying to understand him better.
One hot Friday afternoon, with the bus filled to capacity, a pregnant black lady boarded and headed toward the back where we were sitting. There was easily enough space for her between us, but he simply pretended like he never saw her and left his satchel on the seat.
I offered her my seat which she graciously accepted, and when she disembarked few stops later, I asked him why he was such an ass.

His response, and my recollection of it more than 15 years later, still infuriates me!
He said she was an infidel, and he felt no pity on her as she was bringing another infidel into this world!

The gall of those who deem themselves holier than the moderates has forever made me steer clear of their words, their preachings and their company.

I guess what i'm trying to say really, is that we spend so much time arguing over who's right and who's wrong, who's going to heaven and who's going to hell, who's a saint and who's a sinner, that we totally forget to just live and let live.
If there's one lesson i'd honestly love to have my daughter Sabreen learn from me as regards religion, it's that it's more important to be good than it is to be holy; more important to be respectful and tolerant than it is to be pious and religious.