Friday, March 25, 2005


Oh, Religion!

The question of religion is so volatile and riddled with emotions that I have been postponing my promise to start discussing it time and again. Now, with the elections in Iraq over and the arena undoubtedly dominated by sect and religion, it seems to be on everybody’s mind. Not just in Iraq but in America too. America is so occupied by its own question of religion, values as well as with Islam. The same is true for many other countries of the world.

World terror and both Muslim and Christian religious fundamentalism are likely to have a large, and an increasingly important, effect on all our lives for decades to come. They are certainly having an enormous effect on my life and the lives of all the people I know!

On top of that, I believe that these serious issues are being blurred, sometimes deliberately, by other undeclared motives and intentions that are almost totally unrelated to its essence. They are of course also being distorted by prejudices on most sides. We need to define and address the problem itself outside ‘power’ considerations, undeclared intentions and, above all, blind hatred that has been feeding on prejudices for more than a thousand years.

It is only fair to bring this question into the open. For a long time, I erroneously assumed that most people are uninformed on many of the important issues regarding Iraq and Islam. Now I believe that more have been misinformed! How that ‘misinformation’ came about is another intricate and complex issue.

The events of 9/11 naturally shook the people of the United States to an almost unprecedented degree. But they also seem to have generated an almost irrational wave of reflexive fear that was put to use to propagate other agenda. I find it sad that that momentous event did not spur most of the American public to do some serious soul searching or seriously attempt to understand. Most seem not to care. All they want is for their government to protect them from further attacks… at whatever cost. To many, it does not seem to matter much at the moment that the route followed may lead to higher risks in the future.

I have to make it clear though that I can only express my own personal point of view in this regard. I am in no way an authority on the subject but I am fortunate that I have mingled with people from all walks of life in Iraq, as well as people from the West, both devoutly religious and atheist as well as the wide spectrum in between.

Perhaps a re-statement of my own personal position on the question of religion may be in order:

I have said before that I am not a religious person in the normal sense of the word… but I have developed a deep respect for religion after realizing the enormous positive conceptual and practical effect it had on the morality of mankind.

In this regard, I frequently find myself enjoying Nietzsche’s insightful ravings about the corrupting effect of religion on mankind’s composition and spirit, its herd mentality influence and so forth… but I cannot agree with him.

I can also see some merit in Marx’s dim view of religion in general; I can understand some of the reasons that led him to his conclusions… but I cannot agree with him on the “opium” thesis either. We have ample evidence now that religious beliefs existed when man was living as a hunter-gatherer long before any exploiting classes existed.

All in all, I believe that the overall effect of religion on mankind was, and in many cases probably still is, beneficial. Most of mankind cannot venture out into the wilderness of uncharted and undefined intellectual moral woods (or deserts!) without a guiding hand, a ‘map’ or an external beacon. It may be even counterproductive to ask most people to do so. Many of the universally in-built values of justice, and sense of right-or-wrong that I sometimes feel are shared by the whole human race seem to be still too frail in most people; they can easily be over-run by more immediate concerns of survival, dominance, benefit… or even convenience.

This is why all those free spirits that have existed throughout mankind’s violent history and who have ventured into uncharted intellectual wilderness are so valuable… as scouts, even though many have erred and the conclusions of some of them have led to disasters. The quest is far from over. But I cannot hold some people’s belief that we are already there against them. For most people, life would be otherwise too chaotic and extremely painful.

Regarding religion, perhaps I can say in summary that my quarrel is not with religion per se, but with many of the “religious” and many of the “religious establishments” of the various religions.

I also sadly believe that most people need some prejudices and some sort of “collective” identity. Look at some of the football supporters! Trivial as this example may sound, I believe it exemplifies one of the major ailments of our societies, with very few exceptions.


This series is no longer directed mainly to America; America, by and large, does not seem to be ready to listen. Yet, America remains a most important player in this arena. The issues and the dangers involved are however of a global concern.

It is not intended as a guide to religion (whether Islam or Christianity). I am not qualified as an authority in either. Instead, they are musings of a concerned person and his journey in wrestling for some decades with the important question of religion in society… as well as a simple outline of the main conclusions reached through this quiet struggle and through observation of the society from the inside.

I will try to restrict myself to Islam and Christianity. The Islam-Jewish conflict is still too volatile for quiet debate and is riddled with politics, a long history of conflict and an enormous amount of injustice and mistrust. I know too little of the Buddhist faith.

This is not a propaganda campaign and I hope that it will not attract propagandists and ‘misinformers’ of any creed. I also know that my words will be read by a number of non-believers. All I ask them is not to dismiss very lightly beliefs held and cherished by several billion people.

Basically it’s a viewpoint.


As far as political/social behavior, you're missing a point. It is our evolutionary based US VS.THEM. My tribe or not my tribe.

It manifests in many ways. Your mention of sports teams is good insight. My favorite sport is the NFL. My team the Bears. Just because that's where I grew up. And in the day their hated rivals I hated. I still like to see SF lose. Not that I knew anybody on any team or they even know I existed.

More personal was my dorm floor in college. We on 11 were cool. Those guys on 7 or 9 were dildos. Of course we were all randomly assigned to these floors. This wasn't race or creed or whatever.

The us/them line is fluid. Chicago racists (plenty) could say appalling things about black people but a love for Payton or Jordan. A black friend shares how there was prejudice against Jamacian immigrants at his school.

It is a lesser part of our biological nature. We usually inherit our religion from our immediate tribe, so there's another split. Hopefully we get the chance to shatter our prejudices in life. Call it spiritual growth. Some, like Dumbo the Puppet President, are still in spiritual kindergarden. And not doing too well on working and playing with others.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

I believe that religions are attractive for different reasons.

I think what has kept Christianity alive for so long is the mystery of Jesus as a Jew and then later as He becomes known as the Christ.

Of course, there was the mystery of the miracles, but if you go back furthur in time, Jesus was a very brilliant young man. He was found talking to scholars at the age of twelve.

In "The Complete Gospels" by John Dominic Crossan, and within his "The Infancy Gospel of Thomas" and this will upset some people-we hear where Jesus as a boy got angry with a boy who bumped into Him and predicted the boy would not go any further. At that moment, the boy died.

I must admit I don't like this passage.

However, whether we believe in this gospel or not, if we add it for sake of understanding, this to me speaks of a mighty powerful being who indeed had something within him that was beyond His control. Thus, there is the mystery behind these left-out Gospels also.

With Islam, I am equally intrigued by the holy Prophet Muhammad because he is portrayed with such realism. It is His humanity I love so much. Like when he holds his granddaughter on his shoulder while he is directing prayers. Or when he cries because a grandchild dies. Or when someone reads to him the Qu'ran and he becomes sad because he knows he will have to bear witness to his community when Judgement Day arrives.

But I am continually awed by his mysteries as well; like of course receiving the message of the Q'uran. I read also where someone predicted he would become a prophet, when he was a mere child. He too was such a special mysterious being because how can someone otherwise have at his hands so many answers to so many of life's questions. It is God's hand that was upon him I am certain.

Anyway, if you can't tell, I personally believe in the holiness of all the prophets.

Just one thing, Abu.

If your wife or child is ever brutally murdered by terrorists, I hope you will use that as an opportunity to do some soul searching of your own, over that recommendation of yours to Americans.

Perhaps then you will realize that nobody who has been the victim of a vicious atrocity should be asked to stop and "soul search" in response to such an event.

Such a request goes against the essence of human nature, understanding and sympathy. Those who ask if are, in a word, inhuman.

1. You have no idea what my personal losses have been. I find it quite presumptuous and frankly insensitive of you to assume anything on this matter.

2. If is in the essence of human nature to react violently to such losses, then are you ready to admit that people who were needlessly killed on this side of the conflict over the past two years are human beings too?

3. If you concede to that, then please consider the numbers. How many people did you lose to terrorism? (3000? 4000?) How many people did Iraqis lose to what they see as terrorists whether criminals or US soldiers? 20,000? 200,000? Remember that most Iraqis blame your administration for letting all those terrorists on their rampage.

4. Following your advice, millions of Iraqis should dedicate their whole lives to the destruction of America and killing Americans. It is in the essence of human nature, isn’t it? Or is it that those people killed as a direct consequence of your attitude are less precious to their loved ones than your own?

5. You may find some comfort in knowing that we too have people who think like you. I think you have been hearing from them. My belief is that you will unfortunately hear more from such monsters in the years to come. Well done!

But then again, I suppose that your assertion that “nobody who has been the victim of a vicious atrocity should be asked to stop and "soul search" in response to such an event” does not apply to us because no atrocities were committed in Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Najaf, etc……….. I suppose those were acts of benevolence in order to save us. Or were they justifiable acts of ‘human’ vengeance because we were responsible for 9/11?

Having said that, I can still vividly remember those Americans who came over to Iraq on the eve of the then immanent invasion in March 2003. One of them was the brother of a 9/11 victim. Listening to him on the BBC, he said he was coming over because he did not want what happened to him to happen to other people. I suppose you think that this man is not human.

May I remind you again that it is only through serious and honest soul searching (as well as through searching for roots and causes) that we can overcome those violent animal instincts.

Well said, Abu Khaleel.

There are twenty of us at my work who agree with you here in America.

We think compassion and cultural sensitivity should be stressed more in schools and churches.

God bless you.

1. Where did I assume anything? I didn't.

2. I didn't say it was the essence of human nature to respond violently to such an event. In fact, humans naturally tend respond to such events by blaming themselves, even when they do not deserve such blame. Which is in fact, why it is vile and inhuman to tell victims to engage in more self-recrimination (which you call "soul searching") in response.

3. Nobody is asking Iraqis to engage in "soul searching" about what they did to deserve terrorist attacks.

4. See above responses to #2 and #3. We don't except Iraqis to respond by becoming terrorists, but neither do we blame them for what happened to them and tell them to engage in "soul searching" about what they might have done to bring it upon themselves. I am, in fact, quite sympathetic towards how they must be feeling. I would never tell anyone who has been hurt to punish themselves further by blaming themselves.

5. Those people you are talking about... they don't think like me. They think like YOU. They think that Amerca needs to be "taught a lesson" so they can learn from "soul searching" after being victimized.

If they thought like me, they would understand why Americans would feel pain and anger. They would understand why it is inhuman to demand "soul searching" from the parents of a murdered child, or the husband of a murdered wife. They would recognize that Americans are people just like anyone else, who are more likelt to respond to such suggestions with even greater anger, and not with compliance. They would realize that saying such things are stupid and counterproductive.

One one more thing ...
I am sure you have attended many wakes in the past two years. I wonder if you would ever consider asking the relatives of the deceased to do some "soul searching" at such a wake, and if you did, what you think their response to you would be.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

I like reading your blog.


I like your blog too!

I've been reading it for some time.

Thank you.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Listed on Blogwise