The Ongoing Battle of Faiths

Here’s a fact: matters regarding theology and philosophy are simply indisputable.

People believe what they choose to believe, and at times, stick to their beliefs until their very last breath, regardless of how close or how far they are from the ‘truth’. But what is the ‘truth’? Who gets to determine which religion is the right one? Who gets the final say in determining who goes to hell and who goes to heaven? Who knows if heaven or hell exists at all?

Of course, even this is arguable. Certain theologians do believe science and theology can go together – critical thoughts and criticism are crucial in the approach of theology.

However, in communities where religion plays a big role, where culture and behavior are built and set around religion, matters such as these are very sensitive indeed.

You cannot simply ask, “Why do you believe in such and such?” without offending more than a few people.

This gives rise to a significant problem: questions get censored and critical thinking is discouraged.

This indirectly imposes control on the human mind, suppressing curiosity and abolishing any form of criticism. Because of this, certain questions linger in our minds but never leave our mouths, whether in fear of getting answers we don’t want to hear or due to the fear of causing disharmony.

Questions such as “What exactly is organized religion?”, “Why, are the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—despite their common source — so different?”, and “Why do we wage wars and justify killings in the name of religion?”

This is where comparative religion classes come in.

A class in which cognitive bias in the acceptance of religion still exists, but within the borders of intellectual discourse. This is where any questions regarding religion are encouraged and debates on matters of faith can be discussed as well as brought up maturely. An intellectual-based environment where the similarities and differences between religions are not taboo subjects. A safe place where words can flow without suppression and free thought is encouraged.

For those who hail from countries that suppress freedom of speech, this can be the ultimate prize.

Countries with multiracial and multi-religious communities, nonetheless, require a higher level of tolerance and unity to maintain peace. This indeed proves to be a difficult task – countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and even the U.S. are still struggling with racial tensions as well as structural racism.

Thus, understanding the differences in beliefs and cultures is a crucial step in the path towards peace.

From questions as heavy as “Do hijabs oppress or empower?” and “Why do Sunni and Shiites hate each other?” to questions of trivial importance like “Can non-Muslims eat in front of Muslims during Ramadhan?”, these questions can heavily influence the balance of harmony between the people.

Recently, a Malaysian cleric caused an uproar by telling non-Muslims to cover up.

This statement caused controversy as it can directly impact the fragility of peace and harmony, especially now as the debate for the implementation of Hudud and Shariah Law is ongoing. It’s sensitive because non-Muslims have been promised that the Shariah Law and Hudud will not affect them in any way, but the cleric’s statement says otherwise.

It’s dangerous, you see. The line between matters of faith and state must be threaded carefully.

For unity to last long and for people to live in harmony irrespective of differences in beliefs, matters of faith and state must be separated. Personal religious beliefs and faiths should not, in any way, impact the laws of the state. (If you’re a Games of Throne fan, this is equivalent to the separation of the Crown and the Faith.)

Quite simply, “A king who needs God to convince everyone that he is the king isn’t really a king.”

However, for this to happen, we need to accept religious differences and respect each other. This cannot be a reality if we are still bickering about who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s hell-bound and who’s deserving of heaven, who’s pious and who’s not. We cannot move forward to tackling bigger questions if we’re still stuck on debating and arguing about trivial issues – but this can be solved with the implementation of comparative religion classes.

Until we learn to accept our differences, we will never focus on our similarities to achieve our common goals. Until we learn to cooperate irrespective of skin color and beliefs, peace would be nothing more than an illusion.

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