It will be an irony for some when I say this: I don’t understand how educated people fall for religious blackmailing and such hoaxes. Some may argue that why do educated people fall for religion at all?
Based on my personal experience, religion is my way of staying connected to my spiritual self, a way for me to constantly update and assess my benchmark of being a good person. In this, if some rituals help you such as the five Muslim prayers, giving charity, fasting, then so be it. Religion is a personal choice for maintaining a balance in my life. Many people seek to fill their void in many different ways, sometimes with the wrong kind. Spirituality cannot be isolated from the human experience; we do not only discover the world around us or outside of us but there is an entire learning experience within us. Philosophy, poetry and many other forms of art emerge from here. In the Islamic world, we have many such artists and scientists to be proud of.
It is only very telling of the crisis in the Islamic world by giving a quick glance and seeing that many cannot recall the names and the achievements of Islamic scholars and artists. The scary aspect is that the basic values that made Islam popular in its infant years are the very traits that have been bargained for. The humility has been replaced with a sense of superiority. While I understand that we take pride in our religion (here, Islam) and we are not ashamed to practice it, it by no means is a license for us to demand others to endorse the same ideology.
This also begs the question: what ideology are you preaching? Do you want people to be humble and honest or is it more important that everyone around you morphs into a generic Islamic look: concealing our faces and hiding behind it?
Many of our experiences in life make us search for a deeper personal relevance in life. Completely understandable. But the unfortunate truth is that many people have used Islam as a very convenient facade. By default, you are assumed to be a well-groomed and learned person by growing a beard and covering your face. This hiding place has been exploited to its limit by people–not just ones we sometimes read about in the news but also in regular people around me.
I remember going for Umrah (a short religious pilgrimage) in Saudi Arabia. I went there seeking a time to relax and let my mind rest and get peace. I went there seeking inspiration from the other pilgrims but I returned with severe disappointment. People are at their worst behaviour in Makkah and Madinah; instead of being kind to the fellow pilgrims, women will pinch you and push you in long queues to enter the mosque in Madinah. People will litter and disrespect the rules of hygiene in Makkah. If you want to understand what is wrong with the Muslim world, just take a glance in these holy places. It’s not Islam that is wrong, it is the Muslims who are damaging a religion because they stopped paying attention to their spiritual growth, basking in the superiority of preaching.
On my Facebook, I face a barrage of Islamic messages–to pray, to be kind to family, to avoid ties with religious foreigners and the most moronic of it all: the religious hoaxes. It baffles me that educated people will endorse these ridiculous photoshopped images of gloom and doom to spread a shock-and-awe message of them vs. us.
There are many ways to describe what I feel: tiring, frustrating, angry. But most of all, there is a sense of despair and sadness. This is not how it should be.
By also wearing the burqa, I have acquired an unwanted, unintentional role in the Battle of Stereotypes. The number of times people take me to be an oppressed woman without a voice, an illiterate and backward woman, is tiring.
But the saddest truth is that Islam is being lost in the rituals which have no meaning if faith is separated from it.