Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is Religion a Prison? 01-11-11

Religion can imprison or set us free

Mirza A. Beg

Birmingham News, Nov.11, 2001

A small group of people, drawn from many religions, is fasting in Delhi, India. They are fasting in the most Gandhian of traditions, to urge people to think of humanity as a family and to abjure violence. A very dear friend of mine is participating in this protest.

One would think that a group as this would be welcomed by the authorities and all the communities. Think again. They have been harassed and told in no uncertain terms that enough is enough. The problem with groups such as these is that they shun violence of all kinds. They decry individual terrorism for sure, but they condemn state terrorism even more. These thoughts are addressed and dedicated to them.

Religion is on every one’s mind these days, more so than usual. Sept 11th has blasted it on our individual and collective consciousness. The question on all lips is “why”? There are no easy overarching answers. People are trying to find solace and comfort in the confines of their own religion. Some are out to malign every other religion they can pronounce. But it is encouraging that more than a few are making a genuine effort to understand and maybe appreciate faiths other than their own.

My friend and his colleagues are doing selfless work in the way of God, as any truly religious person will define and understand. Unfortunately one of the common maladies of the human mind is to be self-satisfied in the confines of a very narrow construct of one's interest, one's social class and, above all, one's religion. It provides a comfortable cocoon of safety based on ignorance. Ignorance of everything that may rattle our preconceived notions of truth is very comforting. In effect ignorance becomes our strength. Ignorance is perceived to be bliss.

There are a few, whom God has favored to carry the torch, to carry the burden of humane attitude, to look through the sorrows of this worldliness towards the shining city on the hill. Such people rise above their petty selves and enter the world of intellectual and often emotional turmoil. They suffer at the hands of a sanctimonious inward posturing establishment and come out from the confines of tunnel vision to experience the magnificence and munificence of the eternal light, a light that lifts the spirit to a higher plane.

They see what to them is obvious but others refuse to see. Sight is a faculty that all posses but seeing is an art that only a few blessed with. Honing this art is not effortless. It requires sacrifice of time, opening of the eyelids burdened with cultural baggage. People like my friend become the conscience keepers of their religions and their societies. Very seldom are they cherished by the masses, never by the establishment. If and when the establishment adopts them or their creed, it is apt to misuse or misinterpret them.

It is a lonely vigil, but worth it. It is a voyage of a few that I hope in the fullness of time would become a caravan of many. Fortunately, with the wonderful expansion of our access to the sources of learning and knowledge, their creed is expanding at a faster rate than would have been possible just a few years ago.

I hope and pray that in the 21st century it will not be as lonely as it used to be in the 20th. There will be a huge caravan of people like my friend one day not too far in the future. Good works have to be done simply because they are good. Thanks my friend for, being who you are.

Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at

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