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Faith, Musings, Rants

Keep Thy Religion to Thyself

A couple of questions to get you thinking and whet your appetite:

When did religion become so important? And more importantly, when did it become a labeling mechanism?

Doubtless some are already expecting the worst out of this piece. Others are probably preparing their retorts and retaliatory arguments. Perhaps there are those who are already drafting the comments in their head in reply to this post.

But first, let me explain what brought this up; I had a very interesting conversation this evening with one of my Christian friends. As it happens, it was one of the most intellectually stimulating conversations I’ve had in a long time. Needless to say, as with all typically thought-provoking conversations, one of the two most referred to topics was raised – religion (the other being politics of course).

Photo credit goes to curiouselement

During our exchange, we became aware of the fact that as little as 15 to 20 years ago, religion had no place in our community. When I say it had no place, I don’t mean it didn’t exist. I mean it existed mostly in the privacy of people’s homes, whereas in public people learned to coexist. Thinking back to my years at school, I realized that in some instances, I could actually know a person for a good while before I ever knew what religion he or she followed. It was never a priority for us to think to ask about a person’s religion, or nationality even. We just accepted everyone as is. One of the things I kept referring to when I left for the UK was my growing realization that we live in a bubble. We are all raised in this bubble where we are what we are because that is just who we are. We don’t question it. We don’t necessarily talk about it. We don’t bring it up. It is what it is.

Going to England changed my perception about many things. The minute I landed there I knew that I was first and foremost identified as a Muslim.

Once that judgment was out of the way, then came the “Where are you from?”

After that, I usually got the “But your accent is American. Where did you learn to speak English?”

Then came the series of whys, hows and what ifs. (i.e. Why do you cover your hair? Why can’t you drink alcohol? What if you only drank one glass? How does one glass make a difference? Why do you believe in God? etc.)

In a matter of mere minutes I had been weighed, measured, and found wanting.

It was a completely alien experience to me, one that I grew accustomed to in the next couple of years. One that, indeed, only made me stronger.

I abandoned my bubble soon after, and became more open to these questions, welcoming their curious inquisitions, and spending hour upon hour debating different topics of religion with them. Some were genuinely curious and were only looking for logical explanations to all these enigmatic beliefs. Others were more snide with their comments, perhaps even downright disrespectful. I strongly believe that tolerance and respect are key to any successful empire, and it amazed me how places that claim to be secular can be anything but neutral to other religions.

This incredibly refreshing experience made me criticize my people at length. I thought it was naïve of us to let our children grow in this bubble, when eventually they were going to go out to the world to have similar experiences. I thought it was naïve to raise them with the ideology of not questioning anything. To ram in their heads the acutely Arabic philosophy of “عيب” and “حرام” (translated into English respectively as wrong and forbidden).

I have not changed my mind. But I have had an epiphany of sorts:

Our bubble, as disadvantageous as it is, has at least made us more accepting.


About smshamma

"I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle, but if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." - Marilyn Monroe


19 thoughts on “Keep Thy Religion to Thyself

  1. love this!

    Posted by Sheena | February 6, 2012, 02:55
    • Thanks Sheena, glad you liked it.

      Posted by smshamma | February 6, 2012, 07:35
    • Of course religion existed!
      Religion is a way of life! It didn’t just pop up from no where!
      &to all those who say why should religion tell you how to live?
      Well why and who put you on this dam earth then?!
      What’s going to happen to you when is die? Or will you just live and find out?


      Posted by Rumi | March 20, 2013, 22:15
      • You’ve obviously completely missed the point of this post, but thanks for your contribution.

        Posted by smshamma | March 20, 2013, 22:27
  2. good job saood…..

    Posted by Ghada Talib Younis | February 6, 2012, 07:49
  3. I think your insights into religion and the labeling process are spot on. It is unfortunate that many people forget the spiritual aspect of religion. It is why I agree with the statement that ‘organized religion is the opium of the masses’. Religion, in whatever form, is intended for the spiritual development of an individual in his/her own subjective way. It wasn’t intended as a universal objective dogma. The way religion is handled in the world today is a sorry state of affairs and lends little faith to its system… ironically enough, since that is what it sets out to do.

    Posted by Samir | February 6, 2012, 12:24
    • Thanks Samir. And I couldn’t have put it better myself, religion is indeed a way of life. It’s as simple as that. Every religion has certain ground rules and laws that people abide with (or not) as is the case with every system in life. My way of life is not necessarily your way of life and vice versa. We shouldn’t sit there judging other people’s religions and labeling them accordingly. We are not in a place to do that. Furthermore, religion is not something to be pushed and forced down someone’s throat, and it shouldn’t be something we advertise and broadcast. True religion lies in the heart. If you believe, then that is all that matters – no matter what it is you believe in.

      Posted by smshamma | February 6, 2012, 14:01

    Posted by Dimah S | February 6, 2012, 15:35
  5. “and it amazed me how places that claim to be secular can be anything but neutral to other religions.”

    Governments are secular. People are passionate.

    Posted by NotAScientist | February 6, 2012, 18:03

    Posted by Dimah S | February 7, 2012, 16:22
  7. I find this; undoubtedly, one of the most interesting topics put on any discussion table (being labelled with a religion that is). There are endless factors that come into play when trying to identify some “label outcomes” (such as Islam is a violent religion that terrorizes other religions and Jews are trying to take over the world; you get the picture). But as for what causes the labelling to begin with can mostly be blamed on globalization.

    A given community is influenced by the thoughts and beliefs of its people; thus, the less information and experience the people within the community are exposed to the weaker their ability to form thoughts and beliefs is. 15 to 20 years ago the majority of the communities if not all were composed of families, co-workers, classmates, and city/town residents. Even the media coverage was more focused on local rather than global news. Therefore, people indeed had little information and experience about the minorities in their communities which eventually weakened their ability to form thoughts and beliefs and subconsciously making them “fear” questioning. Presently, the community bases have considerably expanded that we are now exposed to that much more information and experience (Thanks to the internet and social media). Mix that in a pot with freedom of speech and curiosity and you end up with a lot more questioning and labelling.

    Also, the bigger the community base is; the more “labels” humans need to put on individuals to identify them. Let’s illustrate this with an example. Take 5 balls and color 4 green and 1 yellow. Now pretend each ball is of a different size. Group them in a way to individually distinguish between them. In this situation you may have to divide the balls based on their different sizes to individually distinguish between them. Color in this case was not relevant. Now imagine you have 50 balls of different sizes and colors. You now may have to resort to separating them based on both size AND color. Increase the balls to 1,000 and you may include size, color, texture, and pressure to distinguish between them. Bottom line is that humans subconsciously need to identify or “label” others based on different aspects of their portfolio; the bigger the population of the community is; the more labels will end up on that portfolio. Religion was always part of people’s portfolio, but now with more labels added onto the list; somewhere along the way it’s become more at the top of the list.

    P.S. Being yellow Is wicked


    Posted by eyeonit | February 11, 2012, 13:22
    • Well, first of all, thanks for the very thorough comment. I like the way you explained it, very visual, and of course makes a lot of sense. And yes, that is why we live in a bubble. We leave our bubble, and we are exposed to all these different judgments, mindsets and sets of ideologies that are a lot of times unacceptable in our community. It’s perhaps a natural progression of things. The more globalised we become, the more connected with the outside world, the more holes poked in our bubble. Religion becomes a label rather than a faith. No we are not “terrorists”, we are “freedom fighters”, no we are not “Shi’a”, we are “Sunni” etc.

      15-20 years ago, this wasn’t the case, and it was interesting for me to highlight that aspect. More interesting was the fact that, although I criticized (and still do) the way we were (are?) raised in our countries, I now see a silver lining to it. We are more accepting as a race to other cultures and nationalities because of this “bubble” so-to-speak. This bubble our parents raised us in helped us become more tolerant of others, because it was never a priority for us to know who a person is, where he/she’s from and what they believe in. So as much as I hate to admit it, (and even though I’m quite sure our parents never even thought of it this way when they were keeping us captive in their bubble), but there IS a positive side it.

      Now, however, the situation has obviously changed. Everywhere. These revolutions in the Arab countries, the civil wars of “sunni vs. shi’a”, the war on terrorism and so on. Religion has become a label, simple as that. Which as Samir mentioned in his comment above is a sorry state of affairs and lends little faith to its system, which is ironic since that is what religion is supposed to set out to do – lend “faith”.

      Perhaps you should start a blog. Your little piece in the form of a comment is quite interesting on its own I’d say =)

      Posted by smshamma | February 11, 2012, 18:01
  8. What an interesting conversation that must have been! It really is too bad that religion is so much in the forefront of things these days and that people (not all people) can’t keep it to themselves. I think the thing that makes me most (angry, disgusted, sad — choose one) is the thinking that others who don’t believe the same way are wrong or evil and should be converted or destroyed. It is the extremism, whatever faith we talk about, that is truly destructive. Unfortunately, it is the extremists that garner all the attention.

    Posted by Jeannette Monahan | February 25, 2012, 01:02
  9. Reblogged this on I Got Talent.

    Posted by Mariam & Dimah | March 2, 2012, 12:57
  10. Very interesting subject, thank you for putting up.

    Posted by Oliver Bahl | March 29, 2012, 04:11


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