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Sunday, June 11, 2006

On Faith & Religion - A Visit to Seidnaya

I’m a faithful Muslim but not a religious one. Spirituality is a very personal privilege under the premise of “take it or leave it”. I don’t judge those who take it or those who choose to refuse it. I only feel itchy and irritated with the extremes. I am awfully annoyed by those who are so pious that they believe that they alone have the keys to the gates of heaven while the rest of humanity will burn in hell. Their opponents who mock religion(s) are also, in my mind, dangerous anarchists. It’s simply my stand that if someone is deeply religious he or she should keep it to themselves and not nag about it. Nagging, in my book, include trying to enlighten, convert, fault, criticize, threaten and terrorize others. It’s also my view that those on the other seat of the seesaw should not spurn, ridicule, disdain, insult, patronize and demean the first crowd.
However, I am a strong believer that all religions, as organized institutions, should stay out of politics and public affairs, clear and simple.


That being said and over with, there have been moments in my life when I’ve felt overwhelmed and snuggled by faith. These moments are not frequent to say the least. I have to be alone or oblivious to those around me. Then, a certain word, uttered; a certain vision, seen; a smell, a tune, a breeze; a loyal dog eying me, a baby giggling, a child laughing, an old man crying, a young man dying; if the vibes are serene, I might find myself floating in a womb of faith.


I reached the Convent of Seidnaya after a climb on a magnificent desert road dotted with vineyards and guarded by imposing outcrops in the surrounding hills and mountains. The convent is perched high on a rock at an elevation of 1415 m above sea level. I was so lucky there were very few people about. When I parked my car at the foot of the stairs, it was the only one. When my pilgrimage ended there were two more. I had the marvelous chance of spending 45 minutes, almost alone, in the splendor and grace of Saint Mary. After entering through the humbling main entrance, I followed a series of mazes to reach the chapel. It was much smaller than I expected.

Inside, a solitary nun was attending the candles. I took to a corner in the small space and was overwhelmed by a feeling of security and peace. I lit up a candle and prayed in silence.The nun asked me where I am from and I told her that I came from Tartous. A woman and her child crawled in. She too lit a candle and sat facing the wall adorned by icons and pictures of the Virgin Mary. She started crying at first and then went into a sobbing fit. I was transfixed and paralyzed with the moment that stretched to the gates of eternity.I came out of my reverie and modestly walked the narrow passageways of the convent. I heard low voice and murmurs echoing on the blessed walls. I glimpsed shadows floating on the charming verandas overhead.
When I walked back to my car, I was still a faithful Muslim but not a religious one, honored to have been in the presence of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ.
Why do both adversaries I’ve mentioned in the beginning refuse to believe that it ought to be this simple? It’s a shame.

12 comments:

Soraya said...

I think in any sacred place we get this high spiritual feeling and peace and soul comfort
Thank u for the lovely writing

Cheers

abufares said...

Soraya,
Thank u for your lovely reading

LouLou said...

I always wondered what Muslims do in Seidnaya and why they bother visiting. I thought it was only curiousity. Thanks to you Abu Fares now I have a better understanding. I agree that the differences do not outweigh the similarities between religions in their true and spiritual form.

abufares said...

Thank you loulou for taking the time to read me. I agree with you 100%

Abdul Rahman Hilmi said...

bismillah
assalamu alaikum

First of all, what do you mean when you say you're a faithful Muslim but not relgious? Faithful as in you will never leave Islam, but not religious as in you don't pray, fast, or pay much attention to what Islam says? By that, allow me to ask, why exactly are you faithful to Islam? Is it just because you're born with it?

Second, about the "nagging". It's one thing to "try to enlighten" and another thing to "threaten and terrorize". If someone saw you doing something wrong and adviced you about it, he's not a terrorist. If he came with a stick and forced you to do what he says, then yes, he is. But that's not what you're saying in your definition of nagging, you're saying anyone who even tryes to inform you of the right from the wrong. For that I see no explaination as to why you despise anyone who comes to advice you other than pure arrogance. Is that not the characteristics of people who refuse to listen to disagreeing views?

As for your statement that religion should stay out of politics, I would like to ask, what is the definition of religion and what is the definition of politics? Is not religion, at least Islam, a set of values and beliefs set down by a spiritual leader, in this case a prophet, as a medium of god? This we aught to agree upon if you are what you claim to be, a Muslim. Now what is politics? Is it not the action of a body to take care of the affairs of its people? At least in a ideal condition? Exactly how can you, as a Muslim, come out and claim that religion should be seperated from politics? In what logic do you come up and say, "I'm a Muslim, I believe in a divine being who sent a message through Muhammad (pbuh) and yet I refuse to believe in that very message"?

If Islam clearly and without doubt said "go left", then as a Muslim, by definition, we go left. If Christianity said "go right" then by definition a Christian would go right. If a Muslim went right and a Christian went left and at the same time, both of them claimed to be followers of their respective religions, then I can only say that they are, to be put plain and simple, hypocrites.

I do apologise for being so straight forward and maybe even 'mean' in my post, but I am really tired of people who take words from the West and start throwing them left, right and center and then consider themselve intellectuals and modernists.

wassalam

abufares said...

Bism Illah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem

Dear Abdul Rahman
Thank you for your comment. I don't think you were harsh or mean, you just spoke your mind. I don't have to agree with everything you said, and of course you don't have to agree with me. Your opinion is much more strict than mine. I don't think you are wrong, but I believe I see more gray shades and colors than you do. Please understand that by not considering your opinion wrong, I don't consider it right either.I didn't learn that from the west, but rather from life and the enviornments I lived in, east, west and everywhere in between. And I'm not an intellectual. I'm just an average person who doesn't agree with you 100%. Religious people and atheists have to accept that we exist. You, too, have to respect that I don't have to interpet Faith exactly like you do. The left and right analogy you made is what I disagree about in principle and the presence of religion in politics and public life. You cannot help but be judgmental and I think that God (the same one who created Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Navajos) is in a better position to do so. There is a middle ground and I belive that I am standing there. I might be wrong and /or you might be "Jalla Man La Youkhte2".
Again thanks for your comment.

Omar said...

Abufares, it's been a while since I commented, I have been overwhelmed with midterms lately, but this is not to say that I wasn't reading your posts.

I'll be honest with you by admitting that you are a much more open minded man that most people, including me. I find myself a bit harsh on religion, rather, on the same religious ppl that you mentioned in your post. This mainly due to that fact that I encountered way too many religious people who tried to impose their way of life on me.

I truly believe that the only way o be religious is to be faithful. The only way you can believe in god, follow 'his' rules, is through faith. Or else, how would someone explain believing in something they have never seen or heard?

I also believe that if god existed he wouldn't care how many times you prayed or what good you have done to people, wouldn't he have better things to worry about?

That being said, I loved Seidnaya, I went their on a school trip, and I can still remember the smell on the incense and the dark, candle lit room the nun was attending.

abufares said...

Omar
I wish you well on your midterms.
We both went through a period when extreme adherents were trying to impose their views on us. In retrospect, it made me stronger. I can't accept faith as a group activity and this is why I state that I'm not a religious person. All forms of organized religion stress my mind without conviction. A group has the inbuilt proposition that a leader is needed. I have no use of a middle man to guide my soul. He might think that he deserves this position because he knows better, but I know BETTER.
I was born a Muslim and I'm proud of my identity. However, I cannot accept not to have my own independent opinion on personal matters. I practice my faith in a subtle yet sincere way which strangely makes me unfit to the masses who are strongly opinionated, one way or another.

qunfuz said...

a beautiful post, Abu Fares

abufares said...

@qunfuz
Thank you for your comment. I wrote this post over 18 months ago and I had to reread it before replying.
I'm glad that I still feel the same way about religion and spirituality. But more importantly, I'm glad you've been here.

Fenella said...

A wonderful, spiritual moment, Abufares. I experienced the same feeling in Delphi...sitting high upon an old stone wall and looking down over the valley, and temples below. The place of the oracle, the place dedicated to the goddess Athena, and other gods and goddesses of an ancient polytheistic religion - absolutely nothing in common with my beliefs. Do you think when we feel this spirituality its faith (as faith is generally accepted to be)? Or is it simply awe...of the height of beauty that humans can achieve when they reach for the heavens? And of the magnificence of the earth itself?

abufares said...

@Fenella
feae...
I have changed in the last 3 years more than I have over the span of my entire life.
My conception of faith in particular as I haven't been religious for a long time. Yet the sense of awe was a result of 2 realizations. One is that people limit themselves to the teachings they received by virtue of their birth. And two that as a person who had embraced his own freedom of the mind I see no harm in spirituality when it serves a higher HUMAN goal. In Sednaya, the crying and praying woman made me realize that she has another version of Hope. And if faith brings hope, which I'm certain it does, then it's a good thing. I wouldn't be able to live without hope. When I was there I was waiting for something to happen. I didn't know what it was. I didnt know how it will ever happen.
But it did and I can only be thankful. To God, the universe, the power within? I don't know but I must be grateful for all the joy and contentment it had brought me.