There’s nothing like the death of a parent to smack some sense into you. Or maybe, rather, to smack confusion into you. Or perhaps it’s more like smacking you into realizing
you need to confront the confusion you already had but did not want to face.
My father taught me almost everything I know about religion; i.e. Islam. I did my own readings, of course. I had a phase of about six years while studying medicine in university when I became a bookworm of Islamic knowledge. Just the other day I decided to organize my personal library at home. I thought I’d organize my books according to subject. I came across the books I bought during that time and I was horrified. Besides a number of books that guide one to the best methods of preaching Islam to others, and other books about how to purify oneself to a place of high moral and ethical standards according to Islamic philosophy, there were books such as Leadership and Following in Islam, Dying with Passion, and The Methods of Ideological Invasion. My books were chosen usually as either required or recommended reading by Muslim Brotherhood “sisters” and “brothers” who were mentoring me at the time. It was pounded into my head that one should not stray from books written by certain authors so as not to have my head messed with, basically, by writers following a non-pure path of Islam. And since I was still young, impressionable and pretty much ignorant and incapable of making up my own mind for myself – or so I was made to believe – I was instructed to follow the advice of those brothers and sisters who were more worldly and knowledgeable than me.
Many years later, I now clearly see how cult-like that part of my upbringing was. My head became lazy. I turned into a person who resorts to certain authorities on religion, i.e. Islam, rather than figuring things out with a mind open to all possibilities.
My father was my most trusted authority of all. He spent his whole life studying Islam and doing comparative readings on the world’s religions. He came to conclusions of his own. He talked about his conclusions with me, my brothers and sister quite frequently. When we needed advice on what was right or wrong according to Islamic law, we’d resort first and foremost to our father for guidance. He always had an answer. I didn’t really need to do much homework of my own. My father had already done it all for me.
It’s been awhile now, years really, since I realized that something was wrong with the way I had been approaching religion. Firstly, the only real knowledge I had, if you can call it that, about religion was about Islam. I have hardly any real understanding of other world religions and philosophies. And my understanding of Islam itself is very narrow and stems from a limited number of resources.
Over the past five years, perhaps more, I’ve had questions spinning round and round in my head about Islam, religion, and God. The most I’ve ever really done about those questions is to tweet, Facebook, or blog about them; discuss them with some trusted friends; or experiment a little.
My dad’s death made me come face to face with my own mortality.
No. That’s not it. That’s a load of crap.
My dad’s death meant the loss of my main trusted source on religion. And the realization that it’s about time I grew up and did what my father did and figure things out for myself.
I’m no longer concerned about where a path of spiritual/religious discovery might lead me. This was a major concern of mine many years ago. What if I come to question Islam so much that I feel it’s not the right religion for me? What if I come across another religion that suits me better? What if I continue to like Islam but I come up with my own understanding of it that conflicts with traditional views? What if I start questioning the existence of God? What if I die while going through this process, having doubts about God and religion in my head, and God then sends me to Hell because of it?
But the Qur’an itself encourages people time and time again to think and to question. That’s an integral part of the religion. The thing is, this is frequently interpreted to mean that non-Muslims are required to think and to question until they ultimately realize that Islam is the one true religion. That interpretation doesn’t make much sense to me. In practice, my experience has been that if I myself start questioning and thinking, I’m judged as being a bad Muslim on the verge of disbelief. Why do we Muslims think it’s an obligation of non-Muslims to discover the one true God and the one true religion but we don’t require the same open process of ourselves?
I’m not worried about this anymore. I don’t care what society thinks about my questioning and doubting. It’s my right, my obligation even, to doubt and question and think and arrive at my own conclusions and personal convictions.
The big question is where do I start? I’ve been asking myself this question for years. Years seems to be a recurring theme in the past paragraphs. Damn it! Why is it taking me so long to start working on this?
I’ll tell you why.
First of all, reading religious texts bores the hell out of me. Any religious texts. They are difficult to understand and tedious. There is something that is just WRONG about that. If God expects normal, everyday people, illiterate slightly unintelligent people even, to believe in Him and/or in a certain religion, why would He make the manuals so difficult to understand of one’s own accord?
Someone might answer: that’s why God sent prophets and learned scholars. But even some of the things they say are difficult to comprehend or just simply aren’t very logical.
If there really IS a God, I can’t help but believe that He would have devised a way for a simple-minded person like me to get the information that I need in a way that is suitable for my intelligence level and my aptitude for learning.
For example, I have never been one for learning much through reading and academic study. I learn through doing. And there are so many people out there who are like me. How do I go about discovering religion and God through doing? What do I do? And how do I find the time to do it – whatever “it” is – and still do the other things I need to do like making a living and taking care of my family and myself? How do I go about figuring out God and religion without turning it into a life-long process? I want to be able to find at least SOME answers within a reasonable amount of time! Or is it that God expects us to go through the process itself and not that we need to come to conclusions? But wouldn’t that be cruel of God? Leaving us (well me anyway) in the dark like this? Shouldn’t simple people like me be able to go through a relatively short but important process that allows us to reach at least some convictions of our own that we weren’t brainwashed into believing?
I’m desperate, folks, as I’m sure you can see.
I have some ideas of what I’d LIKE to do to get this process started. I’m not certain I can actually do what I’d like to do, though.
Before I make a final decision on how to start my process of spiritual and religious discovery, I thought I’d throw these thoughts out into the blogosphere. Maybe someone out there has an idea for me that will click.
PLEASE don’t tell me to read books. Just don’t go there.
PLEASE don’t tell me to sit in on religious sermons and lectures. Blah and major nausea.
PLEASE don’t preach to me your own religious thoughts and convictions. As I revealed above, I know all the sneaky methods there are to know about trying to convince others that one’s own thoughts are the one true thoughts.
Be innovative. Be creative. Think out of the box.
Give me some ideas!