The more I think about it, the more stupid I feel for being scared to admit this, but bear with me.
My name is Sarah Hakani, and I’m religious.
If I haven’t lost you yet, please continue to read why this has been so hard to embrace. Ever since my junior year of high school, I began to notice how much people looked down on religion. I remember sitting around at a table during lunch at my Christian high school, and one of my friends said that she wouldn’t vote for this boy for student body president because he was Christian, and “if someone is still religious in 2011, they definitely aren’t smart enough to be in a position of power.”
I remember making an intentional effort to avoid the word religious after that when describing my beliefs. During this continuous game of Taboo with myself, I adopted new words and phrases to describe my views. Until last week, I would just tell people that I didn’t consider myself religious, but I was still pretty spiritual, and just like, going with the flow. I didn’t want to come off as some uneducated freak that actually practiced a religion.
But last week, I was talking to my 31-year-old cousin about her faith and how that changed after she got married. Her answer disgusted me, not because of what she said, but because of what it made me realize. She told me that after she got married, she saw how childish practicing Islam was and decided to just start “doing her own thing” because she had “grown out of religion.”
Grown out of religion? Really? Even though I had acted like I was above Islam as well, this made my blood boil.
I saw that people like her (and unfortunately, like me) correlated religion with lack of education, young age, and just general foolishness. This mentality is one I have run into numerous times in college, and have been guilty of perpetuating as well. It seems that open-mindedness and religion do not go hand in hand. Equality is not associated with religion. The further in time we get away from the inception of most major religions, the more discrepancies we notice in what the text says and what we may want to see in the world. Individuals criticize many religions for being against homosexuality and favoring men, among other things. These concepts of equality that people are beginning to finally care about more are seen as so separate and different from and at odds with religion, but there’s more than meets the eye than such divides would have you believe.
The Qur’an mentions man and woman the same number of times. Women are given the right to own land, get a divorce, be educated, and many more things that were seen as male privileges at one point. Additionally, as a Muslim woman, I can say that I think that it goes against Islam to be against gay marriage. Some Muslims would undoubtedly disagree with me, but because one of Allah’s 99 names is “Lord of the Day of Judgment,” why not live and let people live how they want (as long as they aren’t harming others) and just leave the rest up to Allah? It is not our right or job to restrict others from doing what they want to do unless we want to assume the role of Allah, which I do not think any Muslim would ever admit to want to do.
Although I do see the qualms people have with religion, I always wonder if their issues are with the religion or what people turn it into and use it for. Of course, this is not something that I can answer. The first example that comes to mind is my religion, Islam. It isn’t necessary to go into details about how this religion has been politicized and used as a means to manipulate people to carry out horrible crimes (like nearly every other major religion in the world). However, I read a quote once that stood out to me about the Qur’an, the actual doctrine of Islam, reading, “If you have read the Qur’an, there is no way you can go about killing someone. If you can justify your crimes with Islam, you do not know Islam.” Of course, politicization of religions leads to the justification of many things that people would never be able to pull off otherwise, but at the core of religions, Islam in particular, I see peace.
Currently, there are more people who graduate from high school and go to college than ever before. As people leave their parents’ homes and are in this new environment where they control their own decisions, many of them don’t practice their religion as much and figure out what they believe without their familial pressure to practice a certain way. I think it is extremely beautiful to be able to learn about so many different types of people, believes, and practices, and maybe eventually stumble upon something that makes more sense to you than what you once believed.
I remember sitting in my freshman dorm with my best friends—a Catholic, a Jew, and a girl who didn’t particularly identify with any faith and was looking for her beliefs. That night, we talked about many similarities and differences between our beliefs, including a whole discussion on how each religion conducts funerals differently. I remember thinking that I liked how Jewish funerals were conducted better because families seemed to have more control over them than Muslim funerals. I do not think that these kinds of discussions hinder my faith, but having them allows me to see and makes sense of what other people believe, which may make more sense to me, challenging me to learn more about my religion and see if I can make sense of it more.
However, I think that many people, including myself, try to shed the label “religious” because of its negative connotations among many educated people today. I see this as a classic problem of people who are open-minded being so stuck in their ways that they start becoming closed off to people who do not share their open mind, or who they may see as a threat to open-mindedness. Sometimes, the most liberal people are the ones who are harshest and least accepting of others. Even I have undoubtedly been guilty of this when I told someone that I did not understand how someone could be college educated in 2014 and not accept homosexuality. But who am I to say that? Where do I draw the line in order to be tolerant of peoples’ opinions even though I disagree with them? I think that as a community who is becoming more educated as a whole, we must be mindful of the fact that if we want to call ourselves tolerant, we must be tolerant towards people who can justify their beliefs regardless of whether we agree or not.