By Yoginder Sikand
for New Age Islam
For many years, I
harboured a deep-rooted envy for people who unquestioningly believed in
whatever religion they happened to be born into. Their seemingly unshakable
belief gave them, or so I thought, remarkable confidence, which I sorely lacked
and desperately craved for. How I wished I could have the same uncritical
faith! How I agonized about why my parents had never insisted that I follow any
religious tradition, including their own! Surely, with the sort of commitment
that the ‘born believers’ I knew displayed, weathering the storms that I had to
confront in my life—and there were many—would have been infinitely less
painful. How much suffering I would have been spared—or so I used to think.
Although I tried to
experiment with various religions over the years—not very seriously, I must
admit—I could never arrive at the same state of belief (or what critics would
call ‘blind faith’) as that of ardent ‘born believers’. Lack of sincerity and
commitment was certainly one factor. That it was solace or an end to my inner
suffering, rather than truth, that I was searching for was another. But,
equally, the fact that I simply could not bring myself to believe in and assent
to the absurd, unacceptable and immoral claims, beliefs and tenets of some of
the religions that I sought to engage with ruled out the sort of faith that I
so desperately craved for.
Today, after years of
studying different religions and religious communities, I no longer feel the
way I used to about people with seemingly unshakable belief in the religions
they were born and socialized by their parents into. Indeed, I am now
profoundly thankful to have been spared the ideological brainwashing that
billions of ‘born believers’ throughout history have been—and continue to
True religion, as I
understand it, ought to provide ultimate truths concerning existence, life,
death and beyond and the divine realms. Surely, accessing or realising these
truths should be a matter of ultimate importance for those who claim to be
religious. Nothing else, I presume, would be of greater importance to a sincere
seeker. But, as I have painfully discovered, this is something that the vast
majority of ‘born believers’ are simply not interested in or concerned about at
all. For them, unflinching loyalty to the diktats of the religion they happened
to be born into—even if what their religions teach on a range of issues may be
patently absurd, unscientific or morally reprehensible —is of fundamental
importance. Loyal adherence to the faith that they have inherited from their
parents, rather than the desire to realize the truth as it is, underlies their
Since it is
unquestioning adherence to the faith of one’s parents, rather than an honest
search for truth, that drives the ‘born believer’, one can be sure that had he
or she been born into a different religion instead he or she would have
believed in it with equal passion. Consider the case of a born Christian, who
insists that Christ is the only way to salvation and regards Mohammad as an imposter.
Had the same person been born a Muslim instead, it is almost certain that he
would insist that Islam was the only true religion and that Mohammad was the
greatest prophet. He would also fervently believe that Christians would perish
in hell for what he would consider as their disbelief. Likewise, a born Muslim
might very likely believe that Hinduism is polytheistic nonsense. However, had
she been born into an orthodox Brahmin household instead, she might well have
regarded Islam as wholly false and considered Hinduism as the epitome of truth.
Similarly, a born Muslim might regard the Sikh form of worship completely
unacceptable in the eyes of God and the Sikh custom of leaving one’s hair
unshorn absurd, but it is very possible that had he been born into a Sikh
family instead he would have considered the Muslims’ five compulsory daily
prayers as a tiresome burden and a meaningless ritual and the Islamic practice
of male circumcision as barbaric.
As these hypothetical
examples illustrate, most blind believers are not guided by the quest for truth
at all. Indeed, they are inimically opposed to that very quest. Most such
believers follow their particular inherited religion and claim it to be the
best simply because they were born into it and feel compelled to defend its
teachings (no matter how absurd they may be) at any cost. They have been
socialized into believing that the religion of their parents is the only valid
repository of ultimate or divine truth, or, at least, the most superior one. At
the same time, they are also trained to believe that all other religions are
perversely wrong, wicked and immoral or, at the very least, definitely inferior
to their own. That is why the blind believer can never generously admit the
merits and truths of other religions. If he reluctantly does so, you can be
sure that he still feels compelled to insist (to himself, if not to others)
that his own religion remains the best. Blind belief of this sort is at the
very basis of bloody conflicts in the name of religion the world over.
Blind believers are
psychologically compelled to regard that every word of their scriptures,
prophets, avatars and gurus as absolute divine truths. This belief is not based
on any objective examination of their religions or of the lives of the key
figures of their religious traditions, but simply on unquestioning belief. For
even a shadow of doubt or skepticism to emerge in the minds of such believers
about their religious texts or the personalities of their founding figures is
regarded as the most heinous crime possible—which, they are forced into
believing, will provoke the wrath of the divine. Instigating and instilling
fear of divine punishment for daring to doubt or question is how most religions
manage to maintain their stranglehold on the minds of blind believers.
religious scriptures abound with absurd and unscientific claims, but blind
believers do not dare question them. Some such texts depict a violent,
hate-driven and vengeful God, who drives his followers to declare war on those
who do not accept what they claim is the sole true religion. Others are replete
with stories of deities who engage in adulterous affairs or are habitual
drunkards and rapists. The narratives of the founders and key-figures of
several religious traditions indicate that some of them suffered terrible moral
flaws and were hardly the models of virtue that their followers imagine them to
have been. Some are recorded as having engaged in looting, adultery and rape,
others in incest, murder and widespread slaughter—crimes that would surely have
landed them into jail or into mental asylums had they been around today.
In the face of all of
this, blind believers are often compelled to engage in painful struggles to
retain their faith in their religious traditions. This explains the frantic
efforts they are forced to make to defend, cover-up, explain away or excuse the
absurd claims and immoralities which some of their religious texts themselves
record and even uphold as normative. Had their religiosity been based on the
quest for truth, rather than unquestioning loyalty to the religion they have
been born into and blindly accept, they would have been spared this painful
torment of struggling to defend the indefensible.
True seekers are the
polar opposite of blind believers. A true seeker refuses to be bound by or
unquestioningly accept the religion that his forefathers have cherished, for he
recognizes that this can be a major fetter in his search for truth. Indeed, he
is open to the possibility that most or even every religious tradition,
including the one he was born into, maybe flawed, while at the same time he
recognizes that truth may well be found outside the boundaries of conventional
Unlike the born or
blind believer, the true seeker refuses to seek truth only in what are
conventionally regarded as ‘holy’ scriptures or to be bound and confined by
them. For such a seeker, the whole of the cosmos, including, and most
importantly, his own self, is the arena for discovering and experiencing truth.
What drives the true seeker on is the quest for the truth about the fundamental
questions about the divine and about life and death, and in this search he
refuses to blindly accept anything in any religion—including the one he
happened to be born into—that does not conform to his experience, personal
realization, the confirmed findings of science and the demands of basic
True seekers are
few—and have always been so. The harsh reality is that the vast majority of
people who consider themselves religious are blind believers, almost all
believers in whatever religion they happened to be born into and reared by
their families to believe in. Why this has been so is not difficult to
understand. Parents would like nothing more than their children to believe as
they do, and so insist that they blindly accept their religious beliefs and
practices. This continues over the generations in such a way as to completely
rob children of their right to believe as they want or to seek truth for
themselves. By the time they have grown up, most people have been firmly
brainwashed into an uncritical, robotic acceptance of the religious beliefs of
their ancestors. Even if some of them harbor doubts about these beliefs, few
would dare to voice them for fear of being scorned by their families and peers,
ostracized from their communities, or, in some cases, even killed for their
Believing what one’s
family insists is true is thus the infinitely easier option for most folks. It
spares them the agony of searching for truth, which is a quest that inevitably
entails painful struggle, including against the absurdities and prejudices that
one has been reared on since childhood in the name of religion. How much more
convenient it seems is it to simply acquiesce in the prejudices of one’s family
and unquestioningly accept the religious beliefs that they have clung to for
generations—even if this means being shackled by absurd and unacceptable
beliefs and rituals! For people too petrified of the hurdles that must be crossed
in the search for truth or too lazy to even think of setting out on that path,
blindly accepting the religion one is born into seems a tantalizing option, and
one that is too tempting to be resisted.
But succumbing to this
temptation comes at a very heavy cost—at the cost of truth itself. Remaining
shackled by ignorance, prejudice and burdensome beliefs and rituals is the
heavy price one inevitably has to pay for choosing to be a blind believer,
passively accepting what one has been socialised into believing since infancy
and simply too frightened to contemplate of thinking beyond it or critically
analysing it. Clinging to a belief system simply because one is born into it
clearly indicates, as nothing else can, that such religiosity is in no way impelled
by a quest for discovering the truth—or, to use the language of God-centric
religions, of knowing or realizing God. Inevitably, then, such belief, I
suspect, can never lead one to the truth—or, if you prefer the term, God.
Having realized the
futility of blind belief, no longer do I now envy ‘born believers’ for their
seemingly unshakable faith. I now realize that it is not truth that they seek
or know, but, rather, simply the prejudices they have inherited from their
families in the name of religion which they spend their entire lives
worshipping and defending. How much better, then, the freedom of the path of
the seeker—despite the heavy odds on the way—than the shackles of blind faith,
which I once so desperately craved to be imprisoned by!
Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of
Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore
DearMr. Yoginder Sikand,
What is ‘Truth’? And what is truth about‘Truth’? And about what is this truth required for? And about what is that‘Truth’ required for?
I find all these questions absolutely absurd.And to me all this sounds rather fashionable words to flaunt that ‘see, even Ican dabble in philosophy’.
‘Manavta hi manav ka dharm hai’. That’s it. Isit wrong that elders feed this in child’s mind? And fashionably, is it not‘Truth’? Is anything else is manav’s dharm? May be. All I would say is ‘just goand figure it out’. May be the Truth is ‘Jo jeeta wohi Sikander’ or ‘Winnertakes it all’.
My understanding is that all theseChristianity and Islam and Hinduism and Sikhism or just any other ‘ism’ is notto be taken seriously and I agree that everyone takes it so because they havebeen born to a family who maintained that they were followers of any particularso called ‘religion’ among Christianity or Islam or Hinduism or Sikhism etc. Inyour case since your parents never insisted on any particular tag, you, justlike any other regular child very sincerely followed the footsteps of yourparents. You do not insist on any tag. Had you come up one day saying to dad,‘See daddy so far you never insisted on having any religion, now I feel Ishould have a religion’, then that would have been something like breaking thetrend of following parent’s beliefs and not being a born believer. That way youwould have been a convert and a real ‘Truth Seeker’.
I can say this because I understand thatconverts are the real ‘Truth Seekers’ who go to any extent for it, includingthat of officially converting and facing the wrath of everyone.
ButSir, I found something lacking in your search for ‘Truth’ whatever you may meanit to be but on the basis of what I understood from your particular assertionand then the contradiction therein in the conclusion.
‘Thatis why the blind believer can never generously admit the merits and truths ofother religions. If he reluctantly does so, you can be sure that he still feelscompelled to insist (to himself, if not to others) that his own religionremains the best.’
Havingrealized the futility of blind belief, no longer do I now envy ‘born believers’for their seemingly unshakable faith. I now realize that it is not truth thatthey seek or know, but, rather, simply the prejudices they have inherited fromtheir families in the name of religion which they spend their entire livesworshipping and defending. How much better, then, the freedom of the path ofthe seeker…’
Let me ask you a question.
Don’t you feel that whatever you believe isthe best?
Atleast I know of many atheists who feel themselves superior to non-atheists andthink of non-atheists to be believing in absurdities. A true atheist from myunderstanding of atheism should be questioning his/her own concept of ‘No–God’. If there doesn’t exist a God or Gods, then whyHe/She/He-She/Genderless/Formless, doesn’t exist? He would question this, Iguess.
As for me, please do not assume that I believemy parents beliefs. Since I assume you have not come up to your dad to say that‘what you don’t believe I believe in it or what you believe I do not believe init’, you might not know the real agony to have taken your father head-on. Butsince I have done it, I know how does it feel before that and how liberating itfeels then after.
At least in Islam the best thing is that youcan follow any path of your choice, the other Muslim is going to think you tobe an unbeliever. But from my viewpoint, it doesn’t necessarily make anyoneunbeliever as it cannot be decided by just any.
Mybeliefs are at odds with majority of Muslims and yet I think myself to be aMuslim. All the absurd rituals mean nothing much to me.
Justtoday, a fool who thinks himself too learned updated his Facebook status withthis caricature. I am putting the word ‘fool’ to send you a clear message thatI have my own bias against such atheists who are not atheist in true sense butblind believer in atheism. I’ll explain you the reason once you go through hisfoolish ranting.
hereare two speakers. Speaker ‘A’: ‘If you are a pre-choice you are a baby killer!Arrest somebody’!
Speaker‘A’ again: ‘Gays and Lesbians are unnatural abominations! Stop them fromgetting married’.
Speaker‘A’ again: ‘Atheists are amoral agents of Satan! Put God in schools and courts!Show them we are Christian nation’!
Speaker ‘A’ again: ‘Somebody ban this obsceneart exhibit’!
NowSpeaker ‘B’ says: ‘If you want to believe in God and teach your kids aboutChristianity, that’s your right. Please just let the rest of us make our ownchoices too’.
At this Speaker ‘A’ goes mad and startsshouting: ‘Stop persecuting me! Stop disrespecting my beliefs! Why are youwaging a war against Christianity?’
Ireplied, ‘To you be your Way, and to me mine. But of course Mullas disagree.’
Myresponse was cold-shouldered. It had to be, given his bias. Had he been trueatheist, he would have appreciated the freedom to have any way you wish tohave. But he is a Mullah in garb of atheist and he knew that he cannot agree tolet anyone have his way. Stupid fellow.
Sir,atheism is not easy. You have got to not believe in your very own wisdom.
Onthis forum, mostly you will find Muslims ‘who want a change’ and Muslims ‘whodo not want a change’ argue and also non-Muslims who want to fulfill theirperversion of peeping into Muslim’s world, but you have less probability toencounter someone who having given decades in understanding atheism now knowsit inside out.
Thelate response for your post is because it really doesn’t excite me anymoretalking on this subject and no response from other readers is for anotherreason that here nobody is interested in seeing a ‘War within Atheism or Warbetween Atheism and Theism’ but clearly they are interested in ‘War withinIslam’. Most of the commentators here agree on the subject to be debated anddiffer only in their opinion while some simply like to run down Islam. I thinkyour this write-up is more suitable elsewhere. It however doesn’t mean that itis not of any worth. It only doesn’t fit in here.
Iin person have respect for you and for all your contribution in giving voice tothe ideas of Muslims. I as a Muslim respect you for that and then I respect youas a ‘Truth’ Seeker who just bumped into another ‘Free Thinker’, the one whohas discovered a rule that ‘follow a ‘Truth Seeker’ as long as he continuesseeking it but run away from him the moment he declares that he has found it’.I think I should run away and not reply to you if you insist that all yourconcepts are correct and there is no gunjaaish to find any more perspectives ofthe much seekable and much seeked ‘Truth’.
Whenyou say ‘True religion, as I understand it, ought to provide ultimate truthsconcerning existence, life, death and beyond and the divine realms. Surely,accessing or realizing these truths should be a matter of ultimate importancefor those who claim to be religious. Nothing else, I presume, would be ofgreater importance to a sincere seeker.
Ifound your presumption flawed. I think true religion is the one that teachesyou that ‘Manavta hi manav ka dharm hai’. It doesn’t necessarily dabble innon-sense philosophizing but even if it does, it does no harm unless someMullas- Atheist as well theist Mullahs take it too seriously and then quarrelover it. ‘Alfaaz ke peinchon mein ulajhta nahi daana, Ghawas ko matlab hai nagauhar se na sadaf se’. (Loosely translated : ‘Wise doesn’t get stuck with‘isms’, they have jobs to do.)