1. In the wake of this class, I find my own Muslim faith strengthened significantly, while now learning to understand and respect the perspectives of others much more. I believe in “Allah” the Arabic name of god. All Muslims believe in one God, and we believe that he has no partners or sons, which is little bit different than what Christians believe in. We believe in all the Messengers and Prophets that had been sent to earth, including Moses and Jesus. We believe in all the holy books that had been sent by god to his Prophets. Prophet Muhammad was the last Prophet and Messenger that god sent to earth. Prophet Muhammad sent the same message as all other Prophets before him did, which is to worship only god. God gave him the Holy Quran as he gave Jesus the Holy Bible and Moses the Torah. As a Muslim practicing the Islamic faith I believe in everything that I mentioned above. Islamic faith got 5 pillars that every Muslim have to believe and do as a part of being a Muslim. Those 5 pillars are: The Creed, which is there is only one god to worship and Muhammad is his Prophet; The Prayers, praying five times a day; Donation to the poor; Fasting Ramadan (a holy Islamic month); and the fifth one is Pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a life time. I still believe all of these things and more are true; the strength of my faith has not wavered. However, I am very glad I know more about other religions, as it helps to place my own in the proper context.
Why do we exist? What is our purpose in life? In the Holy Quran God says “Ina lilah wa ina ilaih rajeoon”, which means that we belong to god and to him alone is our return. I believe that life is a journey, and god gave us our freedom to decide how we want to live it. We got our own choices to make and how we want to spend our time on earth. Not believing in God and living without a religion, we will just get lost on this journey. God is our guide in this journey,
and he gave us the free well to choose whether to follow him or not. I also believe that God gave us two paths to choose from, he gave a choice to take the path to Heaven or to take the path to Hell. It is our choice to decide where we want to go, walking through the right path and making the right decisions in life will lead us to Heaven. At the same time, I have opened my eyes to religious pluralism somewhat; the philosophies of Durkheim and Geertz, in particular, have shown me that religion has a similarly important role in many cultures, and plays a vital societal role. With this in mind, I find myself very comforted, as my faith has a fairly important purpose in my interaction with others in society.
2. If I were to choose what two philosophers I appreciated the most I would say that Durkheim and Geertz may look at the concept of religion with the highest level of respect. According to them, religion is an intensely multifaceted and useful way to examine cultures and societies, and very effective in providing a positive framework for a society. By both identifying symbols and determining their use, Durkheim and Geertz see religion and the sacred as an inexorable part of society. Geertz’ adherence to Parson’s method of analyzing a society places religion on individual, social and cultural levels, allowing for the system of religion to affect different people in different ways (Pals). By taking this functionalist approach, Durkheim-Geertz notes that religion is a way to deal with concerns a society has, and this has a very real value in creating a civilization. I very much appreciate the teachings of Durkheim and Geertz; without infringing on the validity of the religion itself, they manage to explain perfectly that religion goes hand in hand with the way we interact with each other. As my own religion guides me through my life, I understand their perspective that this is what helps me to integrate myself into society; these teachings make me part of a community, and one I am proud of.
In terms of my own views on religion, I would have to say the most objectionable approach lies with Marx-Freud. Their perspectives distinctly favor religion as the aforementioned “opium of the people,” acting almost purely as a system to help mask systemic problems within a society or an individual’s life. Marx believes that religion is a tool used by the elite to fool the poor into thinking their lives are valuable and well cared for, when the opposite is often true (Pals). Freud, at the same time, believes that religion is often used by people to mask uncomfortable truths that they are not ready to face yet (e.g. the inevitability of death, the lack of divine purpose) (Pals). According to them, while religion can be a welcome comfort, it should not be used to mask hard truths in both individual and communal life that must be dealt with. Because my Muslim faith is very close to my heart, I cannot in good conscience endorse those views; I find them extremely cynical and dismissive to those who have deeply-held beliefs to, effectively, mask them as coping mechanisms for a depressed mind. The notion of religion being an inherently negative thing does not sit well with me at all; despite the fact that many bad things have been done in the name of religion, religion also has the potential to heal and help many people in need of salvation and direction. To paint religion as merely a delusion is extremely disrespectful, and I cannot in good conscience endorse that viewpoint. Furthermore, I find the alternative (that religion is hopeless) very cynical and negative, as otherwise life would be purposeless, and society might simply fall apart if we do not have at least something to hold on to.
3. One way in which this class has helped me to understand the greater role of religion in my society has been the concepts of religious pluralism that our discussions and readings have instilled in me. Others may fully believe in the truth of two or more religions; these people fully embrace the mutually exclusive ideas of each religion and consider them valid. Regardless of where one falls in the spectrum, there are many fundamental questions that are asked of religious pluralists – the most important of these being: How does one cope with religious pluralism given the inherent fallacy that no two religions can both be correct?
In Kuwait, where I am from, religious pluralism is something that is not very prevalent; we more or less all follow the teachings of Allah. At the same time, people are much more willing to be lenient about Muslim customs, such as the “hijab” for women (which is optional). People’s comfort level with religious pluralism deals heavily with their willingness to accept conflicting truth-claims; this is evidenced through the interpretation of their own religion. One of the biggest difficulties with reconciling religious pluralism for some is the terminology of each religion; many different religions have similar or differing concepts, all given different labels and sometimes analogous to one another. With this phenomenon, a divide occurs that makes it difficult for some to relate to the traditions of others, making religious pluralism a complex status to achieve in most.
People in Kuwait can be very fanatical about their religion; religion hugely dictates all aspects of politics, art and music. When I was growing up, I did understand the importance of religion in my country’s way of life, but I did not fully understand until this class what it is like for people to create their own ways of life and culture without religion or God as the basis. In Kuwait, it would take a dramatic change for a religiously plural society to happen; Allah is far too deeply ingrained in our society for that to change without major upheavals. At the same time, I do not strictly feel that it is necessary for us to change; we are proud of our heritage, and our relationship with God, and so we are comfortable with our government and our culture helping to serve those ends and enhance that relationship.
This class has helped me understand religious pluralism a lot more, mostly due to the exposure I have had to other philosophers and religions. The fact that we have philosophers who view religions as social constructs helps me, at the very least, to more easily recognize the role religion takes in my own culture and country. In Kuwait, we basically take Muslim practice as a given in daily life; government policies and the way we conduct ourselves are done with a serious attempt to abide by the Holy Quran. I also learned the importance of tolerance; recognizing that most religions have had periods of their history that are rife with violence makes me more fully understand the motivations behind my own people’s beliefs, and that many religions and philosophies fight for dominance.
This realization is why I now carry a greater appreciation for religious pluralism. My country is Muslim and proud of it; there is no reason that should change. That being said, all people need to be more tolerant of others; they must tolerate us, and vice versa. While we form the basis of our lives on the teachings of the Holy Quran, that would be no reason to confront others who do not have the same beliefs, and merely wish to live in peace.
Daniel Pals, Eight Theories of Religion (Oxford, 2006).