Religion: An Obligation or a Free Choice?
To the well-trained mind, religion is no more than a personal belief, a path one chooses on free will. Thus, religion should not label nor categorize anyone at any place or time. Having said that, we might face some questions. First of all, if religion is a belief that we choose on free will, then why do we have it as a main subject all through school? Religion is an obligated subject that has been put into the same league as Math and Literature. What if someone doesn’t want to believe in whatever is being taught at Religion class? Does this mean everyone should have the same mindset and believe in the same thing? Is this giving rise to indifference? Does this not kill the purpose of religion? What does this lead youth in our community to? To get a closer and clearer understanding of how this is and what it’s leading to, I have interviewed a few locals on their experience and outcome with this situation.
Zhiyar Khalid, 19, an atheist, tells us a bit about his experience:
What is religion to you?
To me, religion is a broad path. Each side of it is different, and each one of us is free to which side we choose.
Growing up in a Muslim community, were you ever forced to follow the teaching of Islam?
Growing up in this city, with a Muslim family, and going to a public school; I was constantly in a battle of finding out what I wanted to believe and what I was forced to believe. I studied Religion in school for 12 years; memorizing things I didn’t even understand the root or purpose of. I remember in my early teen years, I was so smothered by it, that I tried luring other people into believing what I believed.
When and how was it that you became an atheist? It was in my last years of school, probably after starting high school. It was my 10th grade Religion teacher that encouraged me first. He showed me the true meaning of faith and the true purpose of religion. Despite his own religious beliefs, he taught me that believing is not just following a set of rules and commandments. It is much deeper than that, it is a spiritual and mental vow and commitment that links your actions and thoughts together, and unless you have that, you cannot be a true believer. So I looked back at my religious status, and dug deeper in the history of my religion to realize that this is not a commitment I can make, nor is it one I want to make, because it simply did not satisfy my state of mind. He opened my mind, he was my guiding light, and I am forever grateful for that.
What are your thoughts on this system of teaching religion?
I don’t think it is the smartest move to teach a 6 year-old child who barely knows how to tell the difference between black and white about hell and heaven. This will most likely lead to two obvious conclusions; one is that either they’ll grow up to be completely discouraged and dismissed from whatever religion they were raised in. Or they’ll become blindfolded with religion. Hence, they should be left alone to choose whatever they want to choose after they develop a mature conscience. I am not against any religious beliefs, and I respect all religions equally as long as my own beliefs are equally respected. I just don’t like the idea of people blindly following a religion.
Baida Al-Najjar, 21, a Muslim, gives us her insights about the matter:
What does Islam mean to you?
Islam is life to me and I live and see every moment of every day through Islam.
Were you taught Islamic ideals at school?
Yes, I grew up in Romania and went to an Arabic school. They taught me about Islamic Religion. But my Islamic knowledge doesn’t come from my school, because I was too young to realize or understand anything; it came from my own will to learn it later on in my life.
Has Islam ever been an obligation in your life?
There were few people in my life that tried to fog my mind with lies about Islam; they tried to make it harder and more complicated than how it actually is. But I never took their words for it. I’ve always followed the true teaching of Islam or at least what I believe is true. And whatever I have learned has been through my parents and myself.
What do you think of other religions?
I’m okay with whatever other people believe in because it’s your actions that define you, not what God or what religion you have. Not everyone thinks the same way. It is okay to have differences and flaws; God didn’t make anyone to be perfect. Differences make life beautiful and creative. That’s why I think people should do what they want and follow what they choose to follow. That is what makes a society creative and productive.