“This is my religion”

religion3Whether or not we are believers, we can’t deny it: religion is all around us. It brings people together and drives them apart. Religion is not just about living your life a certain way or being a better person: it’s also a promise that everything is going to be ok. This world we live in, it’s not the end. This is such a huge statement to make, how can we be certain of such a thing?

Religion is embedded in our daily lives: our bank holidays, the food we eat (fish on Friday?), the veiled women we walk past every day, the “Oh My God” we hear and say on a regular basis.

We could say I was raised a Christian (I went to a catholic school, was baptised and took my communion), all that without never really knowing what it actually meant. This was all a bit blurry until I met Sarah. Sarah is a Christian and has taught me that Christianity wasn’t (just) about going to church every Sunday and “being a good person with good moral values”. She taught me it was about getting to know Jesus a little bit more every day.

My good friend Rachid has taught me that Islam wasn’t just about living by a set of rules, it was about living a happier life. That’s a simple fact, but that’s all too important.

And what I’ve learnt from my colleague Anand is that Hinduism is about doing the right thing no matter what and detaching yourself from all materialistic things.

I like to challenge things, and I ask a lot of questions. How can Jesus’ death can save us all? How come you say one thing and my Muslim friend says another? Why do people fight and kill each other in the name of God, who is nothing but caring and loving? Is there one or several Gods? Is there one at all?

Three of my friends accepted to answer my questions and tell us more about their religion. I’ve asked them the same four questions and asked them to provide a quotation. Enjoy.

Meet Sarah. 27 years old. Translator. From London, UK.Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ

Can you define your religion and tell us what it is about?

The heart of the Christian message is summed by this verse in the Bible: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I’ll briefly explain what this means… The Bible says that everyone in the world has turned their backs on God. Instead of living under his loving leadership, we want to run our lives our own way, and God is angry with the way we treat him and other people. God is just and won’t sweep our sin/wrongdoings under the carpet as if they don’t matter, but at the same time he is loving and merciful. This leaves everyone with a dilemma: how can any of us approach a holy, pure God when we’re all sinners? Amazingly, God himself provides the solution. Jesus, God’s own son, died on the cross to take on himself God the Father’s anger at our sin. This swap means that God looks at guilty sinners as people who are completely forgiven and innocent! He also includes them in his family and offers them the gift of eternal life with him.

This offer is open to anyone in the world but to receive it we need to turn back to God and ask him for the forgiveness. The Bible also says that one day Jesus will return to judge everyone. Christians have nothing to fear when they meet Jesus because their sin and guilt is completely dealt with by him. But anyone who continues to reject Jesus and his offer of forgiveness will have to pay the punishment for their sin themselves.

What wrong beliefs do people have?

The main wrong view people have is Christianity is a religion based on merit, i.e. that God will be pleased with you if you do something for him. This could take various forms, e.g. attending church occasionally; attending church every week for your entire life; getting baptised, confirmed, married in a church; giving money to church and/or charity; being a good moral person; having a Christian background; not committing any major crimes; etc.

How did you come to believe in God and what impact has it had on your life?

I became a Christian in my mid-teens having gone to church with my parents ever since I was born. I must have heard who Jesus was and why he died many, many times, but it didn’t affect how I lived in a huge way. When I was about 14, something clicked and I began to understand the significance of Jesus’ claims to be God and why his death was so important. If Jesus really was God, then he had authority over me! And if Jesus did take the punishment for my sins, I wanted to turn back to him and have my sins forgiven! I can remember the night I turned back to Jesus: I asked him for forgiveness and thanked him for dying on the cross for me, and said that I wanted to live under his authority.

Being a Christian has impacted my life in various ways, which all stem from understanding the change that took place in my life when I became a Christian: instead of being separated from God and under his anger, I am now one of his dearly loved children and can approach him at any time as father! I’m really grateful for all he did to make this possible. I go to church, read the Bible and pray because I want to get to know him better, and I want to bring all my behaviour, priorities and decisions under his leadership because I know that his ways are best, even if it’s hard at times.

What do you think your life would be like if religion wasn’t part of it?

I would probably worry a lot more than I do at the moment, e.g. about achievements, success, my appearance, the future. However, I know that to God I am incredibly valuable because he went to such great lengths to bring me back to him, so I don’t need to prove my worth through these other areas. I also don’t need to worry about the future (e.g. jobs, accommodation) because God has promised to provide his children with everything they need. I don’t even need to worry about death because I can know for certain that I will not face God’s judgement because Jesus has taken the punishment for me. Instead, I can look forward to eternal life with him beyond death in a perfect new creation.

And because Jesus will bring in a perfect new creation, I don’t have to be consumed by FOMO now! I can enjoy the things I love like travelling, good food, time with friends, etc. but because I know all these things will be even better in the new creation, I don’t have to cram everything in now!

Sarah’s quote

“Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.” Garrison Keillor

Meet Rachid. 28 years old. Actuary. From Le Mans, Francecoran.

Can you define your religion and tell us what it is about?

There are many ways to introduce Islam, but all of them agree to say that it is a religion of peace. Incidentally, in Arabic, the word “Islam” stands for submission (to God) but it is part of the same ‘word family’ as “Salam”, which means “Peace”.

With regards to the practice, being a Muslim begins with the reading of the Shahadah (Testimony), to accept the truth of Islam. Then we have to pray five times a day, must fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan, give Zakat (regular charity) to the poor, and finally, the Hajj: Muslims must make a pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca (at least) once in their lifetime.

What wrong beliefs do people have?

To me, the three most common wrong beliefs that people have are:

“Women wear a hijab (Islamic scarf) because they are submitted to their husband.” Wrong. When a woman decides to wear it, it’s her own decision, and it’s a sign of submission to God, like eating halal, not drinking alcohol…

“Muslims don’t eat pork because it’s dirty and a source of disease.” Wrong. The reason we don’t eat pork is because it’s an order from God, and we have to obey Him, period. It’s an impure meat, as well as non-halal meat or the meat of a dead animal.

“Muslims are Arabs, and Arabs are Muslims.” Wrong. Only 20% of the 1.5 billion Muslims on earth are Arabs, and many Arabs are Christians, Jewish and even atheists.

Funny anecdote: one day, while I was cooking, a friend of mine seriously asked me: “Do you guys, when you cook, have to orientate the saucepan towards Mecca?” I couldn’t stop laughing.

How did you come to believe in God and what impact has it had on your life?

As my parents are Muslims, I was born and raised a Muslim. I have always believed in Allah. He is with me. Everywhere, all the time. I adore Him, and I fear Him. He helps me cope with my challenges, a lot. I can tell Him about my problems, my concerns, my joys and, unlike people, he doesn’t get bored. It’s quite the contrary. He helps me take everything with philosophy. There is good in the “bad things” that happen to me, to us.

What do you think your life would be like if religion wasn’t part of it?

If Islam wasn’t part of my life, I would probably still have wondered about our existence on earth. As a good mathematician, I would have been confronted with the reality of figures and probability for sure, which would have led me to question the accidental nature of the creation of the universe, the earth, the living. Just like Einstein who believed in God without believing in any religion.

On a concrete level, if I weren’t a Muslim, I would drink, I would most probably smoke, I would have done more stupid things that I actually did… because in a lot of situations, Islam was preventing me from doing all of those things, it was reasoning me. I wouldn’t have all those fundamental principles, I would lose focus. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be married to my wonderful wife, because a Muslim woman cannot get married to a non-Muslim man. Like the yin missing the yang, my life would be incomplete.

Rachid’s quote:

“In a World where people are surrounded by darkness, ignorance and fear, it is a sign of hope to be celebrating Islam’s message of peace and light, and the last great Messenger, born and chosen to deliver them to all mankind.” Cat Stevens

Meet Anand. 27 years old. Project Manager. From London, UK.aaaaaaaa-hindu_god_lord_vishnu_painting

Can you define your religion and tell us what it is about?

What is Hinduism? Tough to answer in just a few words.

To me and a billion others, it is more of a way of life than a religion. A bringing together of cultural, philosophical and spiritual customaries that breathe a foundation of righteousness in our short material lives, that eventually will lead to liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Righteousness, or “dharma” as we call it, is instilled into our lives from a tender age by our elders, teaching us to carry out our duties whilst respecting nature and its complex laws.

“Karma”, which is a law of action and reaction, is what keeps us in check, and regulates us to ensure we reap as we sow.

What wrong beliefs do people have?

The main misunderstanding people outside of Hinduism have is that we have thousands of gods.

We do not.

I’m not entirely sure how to explain this clearly, but I’ll give it my best shot. To break it down simply, we have one supreme godhead known as Vishnu, who uses an “avatar” or reincarnates to descend onto earth each time there is a dilemma which needs resolving, to bring back stability and balance the books so to speak.
The concept of reincarnation is explained better on this site:

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/avatar.asp

The second main misconception is that we are a bunch of cow worshippers. Really?

This is actually laughable. Yes, it’s true that we respect nature and all forms of life, but the idea that we see cows as deities is totally misinterpreted. More information and probably a better explanation can be found here:

http://hinduism.about.com/od/basics/a/hinduism.htm

How did you come to believe in God and what impact has it had on your life?

To a certain extent, I have always believed in the idea or at least the thought that there is someone up there who watches down on us.

I would say that I was fairly agnostic up until the last few years.

I view life as a continuous lesson, right up until we “kick the bucket” and I would say that due to a few significant circumstances so far in life, my beliefs have broadened and I’m also continuously learning new things, not only about religion, but also plenty of other things that are slowly being introduced into my journey.

What my belief does for me is keep me on the straight and narrow. It allows me to make the correct decisions and be satisfied with the outcome.

What do you think your life would be like if religion wasn’t part of it?

“Ifs and buts” as they say. No one can truly know how my life would have turned out to be like without “Sanātana Dharma” (or Hinduism to everyone else).

I’m not saying that everything has worked out perfectly with Hinduism being a part of my life, but I have a very good inkling that I would be totally lost without it. I will leave it at that, as I dislike making assumptions and I may be very wrong. Never assume as they say.

I hope you enjoyed seeing things from my vantage point (if you would like to call it that) and I hope it’s given you a slight insight on what Hinduism is about.

Anand’s quote:

“Keep your ego to one side, and treat every day as another lesson in life.” This is actually from Anand.

Back to me now…

Let me just say one thing: I haven’t picked these three religions because I think they are the only ones worth writing about, but because I had these three people close to me who were willing to share their beliefs. So please don’t feel left out in any way if your religion is not mentioned!

If you want to know more about Judaism, check out this website:

http://judaism.about.com/od/judaismbasics/a/All-About-Judaism-10-Common-Questions.htm

The point of this article was not to answer any existential questions, I just think it’s important to consider other people’s views and be aware of what’s out there! This is also about fighting prejudice and realising that some of our preconceived ideas are wrong. Yes, some people turn religion into a bad thing but let’s not forget what it is truly about.

I will finish on this note: I may not share their beliefs, but let me tell you one thing: all three of these people have the following in common: they are kind, loving, understanding and certainly fun to be around!

A.

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