Walk into a typical muslim household and you would without fail find the following things:
- A big frame with some prayer / verse written in Arabic
- Elderly from the house reading Quran, Namaz or with prayer beads in hand depending on the time of the day
- Strong bukhur smell coming from the diffuser
- Tea and Kebab served on the plate!
Once you start talking to the people in the house, you would often hear statements like “the mother is extremely pious and religious” or “the children are very well mannered and religious”.
While growing up, I always thought that being religious means following the rituals that are expected from you like reading 5 times namaz, fasting during Ramadan, going to Sunday mass, practising Lent, fasting during Navratri, etc. However, growing up increased my curiosity about religion and I started wondering that does reading namaz 5 times a day make me a good muslim?
What Does it Mean to be Religious?
Most of the people would answer, to be religious is to practice a particular faith. However, according to me, for most people, being religious is to practise religion publicly. For e.g. if you are a muslim then being religious would mean “public worship”, i.e. going to mosque, reading namaz in mosque, ensuring you fast in Ramadan so that you are not looked down upon if you happen to meet another fasting muslim during the day. A public worshipper never doubts religion because he / she is programmed to follow the customs and as long as you follow customs, you are sure to be an acceptable religious person in the society.
Unfortunately, most of these people who take pride in calling themselves extremely pious and living on a straight path to heaven, often fail to answer even the basic questions when I ask them related to the rituals they so religiously perform.
I personally feel that our religious identity is being defined by what has been taught to us by our fathers and forefathers. It’s kind of assumed that what they have been believing in is absolutely correct and to ask or even to try and understand is unreligious.
Being curious as I’m, I often ask these pious people “what it means to be religious”. Almost 99% of the times I’m replied with, “following the religious rituals as laid down by the priests, society and culture”. However, answering the question of what it means to be religious demands a literacy in religion, at the least, in order to develop the needed analytical skills for proper understanding of the operative nature of the religious and the spirituality that emanates from these communities.
Being Religious is Not Same as Believing in a Faith
According to me, religion is faith, a faith in a power that gives you hope, strength and courage to live your journey of life. Yes there are certain guidelines that can help you shape up your belief in a more structured way, but still understanding the true meaning of religion is more important than just being a public worshipper.