I think I have, on many occasions, explained that I do not like using the term “religion” all that much. I prefer to substitute it with “spirituality” for very personal reasons. But today, I’d like to explain some of the many reasons why the word “religion” plays little to no role in my life, and why I feel like it is irrelevant.
I can already hear people calling me blasphemous.
Please do not get me wrong, for what I am truly against is not religion, like Islam, Christianity, Buddhism etc. but in fact, “institutionalised religion.” And that does not mean that I am against institutions as well. I do believe that we need some systems of operations and governing in our lives in order to avoid chaos, but I feel like governance in religion is something that should not exist. Isn’t religion supposed to be personal?
All around me, I see people arguing who is right and who is wrong, who will go to Heaven and who will go to Hell. There are Muslims vs. Christians, and to make things worse, even Muslims against other Muslims as well. The situation in Malaysia speaks for itself. The demonising of other religions, including other sects of Islam that is not Ahl Sunnah Wal Jamaah, or even Sunni Syafie for that matter, goes to show that our government is trying to dictate how we practise our religion.
There are far too many people in Malaysia (let alone the world) for us to try to advance one particular theology. Not only is this an offence to the diversity that God has bestowed upon us, but it creates a great divide between our citizens. The world wouldn’t be in peace if we all believed in the same thing; we would be in peace if we had a mutual understanding of our differences.
Which brings me to my next point. The moment someone thinks that their theology is the one and only infallible truth, they immediately hold a monopoly on God. This can be seen when Malaysia banned the use of “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia translated version of the Bibles. Yes, they banned it for theological reasons, but as you can see, this is where the problem comes in.
No matter how differently your theology or understanding of something may be, at the end of the day, we are all parts of the same whole. No one owns God. This is against the idea of a universalistic God. Islam does not own Allah, but Allah owns everything. And if the reason behind the ban is to prevent Muslims from getting confused, than you have to question the faith of your own followers instead of putting them in a bubble. You’re not protecting them, but rather, placing them in deeper ignorance.
Institutionalised religion also promotes blind belief through coercion and fear. You have to think a certain way because someone above you says so. You have to do a certain thing because someone above you says so. But you don’t really understand why you’re doing it. You were raised to not question, but to just follow. And out of fear of the consequences that may come, you blindly agree with everything that is being spoon-fed to you because you were taught to believe that questioning is a sin.
The most heart-breaking thing about institutionalised religion for me is that it also teaches us to judge a man not based on his character and how he treats others, but by the way he dresses. Spirituality has been taken over by superficiality. Institutionalised religion insists on playing God.
Religion is the act of believing in God, and institutions establish a systematic way of doing things. Institutionalising religion then ultimately means establishing a system of how to believe in God. How can this be possible when there are over 6 billion people on Earth? And how could anyone ever think that we are authorised to dictate the spirituality of Man as though we’re God Himself?
It should not come as a surprise to anyone at all that our world is filled with such diverse views. No two people think the same way and whoever thought that it was best to turn us into a monolith should understand that all their attempts are futile.
Why is it so hard for people to agree to disagree with each other without inflicting pain or harm towards the other? Are we that conceited and full of ourselves to think that our opinions and upbringing is the one and only infallible truth? To me, one of the best things to do to honour God is by honouring and respecting the diversity that He has given us on this Earth. We are, after all, a part of His creation.
It’s one thing to be against another religion for holding a different view, but institutionalised religion can cause even adherers from the same religion to go against each other. At the current rate of increasing Islamophobia that is happening across the globe, we need Muslims to unite more than ever now instead of merely denouncing each other for different opinions.
There is no systematic way to live, let alone believe in God. Personal matters of the heart aren’t something Man should meddle with. It is none of our business, and definitely not in our place to judge. This is the reason why it is so important for us to be kind to each other, because we don’t know each other’s stories.
We are all equal before the eyes of God. Just because I don’t think or dress like you, it does not make me more or less of a Muslim.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.
Shafiqah Othman Hamzah