The mighty and the weak, the rulers and the ruled, we are all dreamers. And we all suffer our dreams.
What if the morning is pale, like a sick moon. The night is crippled too. What difference does it make to me?
Whether its day or night, we are always wide-awake. Or perhaps we are always sleeping. We are running away from the wrath of the city and from ourselves.
Why fear sleeplessness? It is always painful. Even to sleep is to suffer. It is dark, so dark there is no escape from it. It is so dark that any talk of light is welcome, even if it is a lie.
Who has enslaved us? Are we chained by a bewitching eye or imprisoned behind stone walls? Sheharzad, my friend, where are you?
In this quiet night, we are all awake. But no one utters a word. We hear nothing. Not a sound. Not even a sigh. Are we dead? Are we scared? What is it that we dread? There are no travellers in this dark night. We hear no footsteps, not even an echo.
Nobody is up. May they are but they dare not speak. The earth below is solid as stone. And the sky is light-less. Can someone please sneak out, hiding in this darkness, and write a lie on the sky?
That it is morning. That the dark and cruel night is over, it has gone back to its cave. But do I want the night to end, the morning to come? Do I?
In the morning I have to go. I have to go and kill myself. And kill others. I have to kill those who are innocent. I have to kill those who do not deserve to die. But do I care?
I am a lie. A lie written on my memory when I had no memory, when I could not see or think. I still cannot see or think. I am a lie.”
This was my attempt to look into an extremist’s mind. When I shared this with our group, it led to a general discussion on religion. And the question everybody asked was: Can we come to a comfortable conclusion while discussing religion?
One member of the group, Agha, agreed with this description of an extremist. So did Steve.
M. Ansari argued that there’s nothing wrong with religion, any religion. The problem is exploitation, burning a holy book in the name of another, promising paradise to killers.
Saeed said religion was so personal; it should not even be discussed in a public forum.
Foroud believed that religion once provided a legal framework to prevent people from hurting others. Now most countries had their own constitutions.
Rashid referred to a philosopher, Kant, who said the human brain was pre-programmed, the coded information was released slowly over time depending upon the societal and technological progress the mankind achieved.
He argued that despite all religious, ethnic and cultural differences we will see the mankind (unkind?) converge once more in a universal brotherhood. Technological progress is already pointing the way towards greater integration.
The humans face many dualities, which result in anguish. On one hand there is ego, the consciousness and the self. On the other, is the desire to converge but the human intellect is still unable to strike a balance between these two basic needs.
Religion regulates the importance each is to be given. “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day; Give him a religion, and he’ll starve to death while praying for a fish. Do you guys agree with this statement?” asked one commentator.
Ansari argued that religion, as a whole, not to catch a fish in haste and not to take away the share of fellow humans.
Rashid rejected the suggestion that religion was like opium, noting that science evolved from theology. “Religion does have the capacity to provide hope and immortality in
the face of debilitating existential anxieties, in particular the terror of contemplating one’s own death. Is this the basis of our faith in God or gods?” asked another commentator.
Ansari observed that while there was nothing wrong with religion, the way clergy exploited it in the West, caused people to move to secularism. And now the same thing was happening in the Muslim world.
Rashid argued that “we are what we are due to the structure of our brains and concept of God and religion is inbuilt.”
The human brain, he noted, had evolved over time but the inherent message or bias had always been there.
Ansari and Foroud pointed out that when faced with a calamity, humans seek refuge in religion, “like a child clinching to parents when confronting danger.”
Steve argued that one must have faith but people must also learn to live with each other’s faith or the world will be a hell. Agha used one of Mahatma Gandhi’s quotes to illustrate the same point: “If there’s only one location in the sky, shouldn’t all passports be valid for it?”
“War in the name of religion is a social distraction from the true goal, the search for harmony among all faiths.”
“That is the approach of a believer. What about non-believers?” asked a commentator.
“There is no such thing as a total non-believer. The question is who is a true believer? My Answer: We all are,” said Steve.
“Religion isn’t something you advertise. You keep it within yourself and your heart. Advertising it causes trouble and leads you to a destructive path,” said Agha.
“Why debate faiths when in a sense we are all right. If I was born in a Christian family, I would be a Christian too and would have been equally happy with my faith.”
Steve argued that the causes of religious wars were the same as those of non-religious wars, like the World War II: power, politics and domination.
“The problem is we tend to get so distracted with details that we miss the main goodness. We digress, we argue, we suppose, we impose, we interject, we lie … and then say religion says so. We twist things to suit ourselves.”
“Make your own decisions and control your life. Do not allow others to interpret your faith for you,” said Agha.
“It is difficult to find a true non-believer. And it is equally difficult to find a true believer. So where should we go?” asked a commentator.
“The extremists are neither believers nor non-believers. Believers and non-believers are both seekers. They seek more,” someone replied.
“An extremist is stagnant. He believes what he believes in and does not seek more because he is afraid that true knowledge will expose the falsity of his beliefs,” said she, who did not want to be identified.
“Some among the extremists are ignorant and they are misled by those with vested interests. Others interpret their inner violent tendencies for religion. It is a sickness which needs medical treatment.”
“Even educated people can’t set aside their emotions while discussing religion — it is their ego that troubles them and they call it religion,” observed Peerzada.
Ansari quoted from an ancient Chinese manuscript found in a Confucian temple, to make his point.
“In the morning dew as freshly whispering dawn
I recall my humble existence
And feel the river flowing through my veins
Oh, the traveller on the sacred Land
Bow your head for me in the temple of your wisdom
Chant for me in silence and solitude.”
“Once we rise above the curse of ignorance, prejudice, bigotry, hate, tunnel vision and myopia – we’ll start to appreciate religion,” said Z. Syed.
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