Monday, September 27, 2010

Spiritual Identity


Consider your city to be a huge jigsaw puzzle, with the high-rise apartments, the slums, the landscape, the blue sky and the burning midday sun as the small small pieces of that puzzle. Everyday you wake up to see the sun showering its blessed rays on the tarred roads of Dhaka, and every night you fall asleep with the radiant moon, hanging from the dark velvety sky. All of them following their appointed course, moving from day to day in perfect order. Just like a child’s jigsaw puzzle has a maker, this enormously complex world must also have a Creator, somebody who taught the flowers to bloom in spring, and the clouds to pour down rain on the parched earth. Whatever you call Him, God or Allah or ‘A higher being’, He is there. Even the most unreligious people in the world acknowledge that there is “A supreme power” behind everything that runs on in the universe. Something as simple as the chair that you are sitting on has a maker, then how cannot something as detailed and complicated as a human body not have a Creator?

Many a times people admit to the existence of a God but they consider Him to be like clockmaker, someone who makes the clocks and let them run on their own. But they forget the fact that a clock doesn’t run independently for eternity. It needs to be repaired and replace its batteries, just like this world needs a Cherisher to maintain all the affairs of the world and to restore peace and harmony in the natural ecosystem. If God have had created the universe and let it go by itself then someday you will find the moon up at 10am in the morning and the earth having a head-on-collision with mars, or perhaps your lungs taking in carbon dioxide instead of oxygen!!

Now that we are aware of an active, All-Encompassing God, how do we know what this God wants with us? Just imagine that one day your mother wakes you up in the morning and all you see in front of you is her, crying like a baby. On your insistence, she finally breaks a news to you. She tells you that you are not her own child; she has adopted you and that your real parents had to give you up because of poverty or some other reason. Then, she hands you a letter written by your birthparents years ago that contains a message especially for you. Wouldn’t you feel like reading that letter before doing anything else in the world? Wouldn’t you feel the urge to know what is it that your parents wanted to tell you? Now think about it; your parents didn’t create you. They just brought you into the world. If you were born blind or deaf or dumb, they wouldn’t be able to do anything but mourn. But here you have somebody Who created you in the best of manners and He has left you a message, whether it be the Quran or the Vedas or the Bible. Then, how can we not feel the urgency to read what Our Originator has got to say? In order to know the purpose of our lives, we need to go back to the scriptures, to our roots and re-establish a connection with our God. In simple words, religion is all about realizing the presence of the One who created us and showing our gratitude for His immeasurable bounties upon us. It is to strive and comprehend why we are put here on Earth as human beings and not as animals.
The Quran states in this context: “If Allah took away your hearing and you sight ans sealed up your hearts, who is there other than Allah who can restore it to you. See how variously we explain the signs, yet they turn aside.” (6:46)
In the 21st century, when science and technology is at its pinnacle, one might question, “Why do we need religion?” and others might claim, “Science and religion are contradictory” or “Science is a religion itself”. But no, science and religion go hand in hand; and the only difference between them is that religion is superior to science. Science is always changing every time a new discovery is made, either new things are adding up or old ones are getting eliminated, whereas a true religion always remains unchanged and in the exact same form over the ages. Moreover many scientific facts have been confirmed by the Quran, for instance, the shape and composition of the embryo, the unnatural healing powers of honey, the application of sound waves as a destructive weapon and the list goes on and on. Furthermore, where science increases a person in only knowledge, religion enhances both his morality and knowledge. It is religion that moulds a person into a wonderful human being. This is evident in Michael H. Hart’s book, “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History”, an illustration of the world’s greatest people throughout history. Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him), the last and final messenger from Allah, stands in the first position in the list and is closely followed by Jesus (may Allah be pleased with him) and Budhdha in the 3rd and 4th positions respectively. If religion didn’t add a touch of perfection in people’s life, then why is that all the religious leaders all around the world are held in high esteem? Albert Einstein, ranking second position in “The 100” list made an amazing statement: “My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance - but for us, not for God.” How brilliantly this man has linked morality to spirituality!!

A couple of months ago, I came across the story of an American brother who used to be a thug, an absolutely disgraceful class of the society. He didn’t have any religion and all he used to do was strut around in the corners and alleys of the city, killing one people and robbing the other, taking drugs and getting ‘high’ every now and then and what not. Now, after accepting Islam, he is the one helping to bring these messed-up children out of the vicious circle of crimes, doing a remarkable job by enjoining good and forbidding evil. I can go on giving hundreds of similar examples but in the all the cases this is what religion does: Turns a miscreant of the society into a respectable, upright, responsible member of the society. When a person is aware of the fact that there is someone above him Who is monitoring every single action that he performs and that he will be taken into account and made to pay dearly for all his undesirable deeds, he wouldn’t even dare to do anything other than good. In 1880 the religious moralist Dostoyevsky penned the famous warning that “if God does not exist, then everything is permissible.” Beliefs like such are involved in the exponential rise in crimes and immoral behavior of the people in a society. When you see a boy harassing a passerby lady and hitting a street urchin or a girl walking the streets half-naked, ask him/her if he/she cares about religion in the least. Most likely, the answer will be a NO, and even if they say yes, they are being mere hypocrites because that’s not what religion teaches. To people like such, life has no meaning, To them it is all about eating and partying, fooling around and doing everything that the wretched soul wishes to do. But what happens when all these are over? What happens after we die? Even something as insignificant a pen has some purpose to its life. Will not then human beings have one? We are God’s best creation, then don’t we owe anything to him?
Allah says in His last and final revelation, the glorious Quran, “He gave you all that you asked for and if you were to count the blessings of Allah you will never be able to list them.” (14:34)

According to wikepedia statistics, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, Gallup asked representative samples in 143 countries and territories whether religion was an important part of
their daily lives. Response in Bangladesh was 100% YES!!!!! Even in 2009 it was no lesser than 99%. Rationally speaking, it is not possible that all of these people who voted ‘Yes’ in the poll have a false perception about religion. Spiritual identity must play a very important role for 99% of the population to vote in favor of it. From this data we can also understand that the whole issue of spirituality is something very logical. If it were abstract, there wouldn’t be so many people adhering to it. In fact, logic is what brings a person from atheism to faith or from one faith to a better one. Then again there are other minority beliefs as well such as ‘Scientology’, having a very small number of devotees because of its lack of conviction, clarity and failure to provide a better way of life; thereby making it abstract and deviating from the mainstream religious practices. Over the years people have argued whether religious practice should be individual or collective. If we trace back to the origins of the most popular faiths, we will see that the compilation and application of the religious scriptures were not done by a single person’s effort only, a group of people had always been involved in the process. Similarly today, the purpose of the mosques, temples, churches and pagodas is to uplift the spirituality of human beings by worshipping God on a collective basis rather than alone in their own houses. And when you have so many followers of a religion from all over the world, reading the same scriptures, praying to the same God, following the same faith and doing the exact same things, how can it not be logical?

Most of us don’t know with 100% certainty what will happen to our consciousness after we die except those who know their religion properly. Religion offers hope that this life is but one stage of existence and there is a bigger and vaster world where we will go after our death. One of the chief reasons found why religion played such a significant role in a person’s life was that religion provides what is essentially a security blanket and a sense of certainty in an uncertain world. Many a times when people suffer from depression or are hit by a catastrophe, their only resort is turning to God, because at the end of the day everybody knows that there are certain things over which we don’t have any control and it is only God who can be our savior in these situations, whether they say it explicitly or not. Often people who are taken to rehabilitation centers and prisons convert to some sort of religious practice even if they disbelieved in God previously. This is because during this period of their life they are left in solitude and get enough time to contemplate over their past and the creation of the Universe. Religion is more than just rituals and obligations. It is the food for soul, a means of quenching the thirst for peace and love. Researches show that religion provides a powerful mechanism for anxiety relief. In the West, for example, people who are living a life devoid any religion are more susceptible to suicides than those who follow a particular faith, because for the former life is all about the enjoyment of this transient world and once it ends or gets disrupted, he thinks that his life is over. But for the latter, he has a greater meaning to life and higher goals to achieve rather than sit in a pub every night and throw away wads of money. People often get to the extremes while following the commandments of their religion in an incorrect way. Those without spiritual identity are at one end of the spectrum while those taking religion to levels where it shouldn’t be are on the other. Nonetheless, there is always a middle way that an individual needs to realize and follow.

In the world map, Dhaka city is just a small place. In our solar system, the Earth is like a small blue dot. In comparison to the vast universe, our solar system is like a sand grain and our Earth is probably a microscopic dust particle. And inside that microscopic particle lives us, with our relationships and conflicts, with our loved ones and our enemies, with our problems and solutions, with our successes and failures. It surely is an amazing feeling to know that no matter how small or insignificant you may be compared to all that lies within the Earth and beyond, there is always someone looking at you from above; loving you and caring for you, always watchful of what you do, even when you shed silent tears in the very darkness of night.
Every time I realize how close my Lord is to me, this verse from the Quran reverberates in my mind: “And when my slaves ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then (answer them) I am indeed near to them (by My knowledge). I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls upon Me (alone). So, let them obey Me and believe in Me so that they may be led aright.” (2:186)

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