January 14, 2015
In a recent comment on the article, “If There’s One God, Why All The Different Religions?” a reader named Zabi said:
Thank you for writing this article, it has helped me a lot. Right now I’m having a struggle between which faith to choose. My friend says that I’m going to hell because I’m not I don’t believe in Christianity and my mum says that I can’t leave Islam because I have to be in a religion but I don’t trust religion. I pray to God by talking to him every night and apparently I sit on the fence and have to choose but in your insight
Do I Have To Choose A Religion?
Apparently I have to and my heart and just me does not trust it so what would you think?
First, thanks again for your comment and questions, Zabi. I’m glad the article was helpful to you. As I said in my brief response to your comment there, these are very personal issues. You’ll have to make up your own mind. However, since you asked, I would be happy to offer you some of my thoughts, which I hope will be helpful to you.
Here is the quick version:
The most important thing is your relationship with God
Religion is about seeking to know God and to do God’s will.
Islam and Christianity at their best are both beautiful religions.
I would suggest avoiding the fundamentalist wings of both religions.
Belonging to a religion offers a community of people who share your faith.
Not belonging to an organized religious group is an alternative if you are self-motivated and strong in your faith.
Let’s look at these issues more closely.
Your Relationship With God
I’m glad to hear that you pray and talk to God every night. Your relationship with God is the source and foundation for everything else.
God is the one who created the entire universe, and each one of us in it. There is nothing more important in religion or in life than seeking a connection and relationship with God.
No matter what choice you make about belonging to a particular religion, I encourage you to continue your practice of praying and talking to God every day. This, I believe, is one of the strengths of Islam, which many Christians could learn from: the practice of regular daily prayer.
Religion Is about Seeking to Know God and to Do God’s Will
Yes, yes, I know: There are philosophical Buddhists who either don’t believe in God or don’t talk about God. But for most religions, including Islam and Christianity, religion is all about knowing God and doing God’s will.
I’m not a Muslim, and I’m not qualified to expound that religion. However, I do know that in Islam God—or Allah, to use the Arabic word for God—is the centre and focus of the faith. The very word “Islam” means submission to the will of God. It is also related to the Arabic word for “peace.” In Islam, there is nothing more important than knowing and doing God’s will. And I believe that for Muslims who truly know God’s will, Islam is a religion of peace, just as I have been told by Muslim leaders whom I have known personally.
In Christianity, knowing God and doing God’s will is also the center and focus of the faith. Jesus himself stated that the most important commandment is: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30). There is nothing more important in Christianity than knowing and loving God, and doing God’s will. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
So my first response to your questions is this:
Whichever religion is most helpful to you in knowing and loving God, and doing God’s will, that is the religion you should choose. And if either religion is a hindrance to you in knowing, loving, and obeying God, then you should not follow that religion.
Islam and Christianity at Their Best Are Both Beautiful Religions
As I said in the article, “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?” all the (real) religions of the world have the basics needed to know God’s will and find our way to heaven. Here are the basics as I expressed them there:
Love God and love your fellow human beings. Live by the truth, live with compassion. Do not do what is evil and say what is false, but follow God’s commandments and engage in good deeds of useful service for others.
Anyone who reads the scriptures of Islam or of Christianity with love for God and love for fellow human beings at heart will find these things taught there in many ways, and through many examples.
Islam, when practiced with humility and love for God, and love and compassion for our fellow human beings, is a beautiful religion that leads to peace and joy in our families, communities, and nations, and to a blessed and eternal afterlife. Though I am not a Muslim, I consider all Muslims of good will to be my spiritual brothers and sisters. All people who seek to know and do God’s will are children of God.
Christianity, when practiced with humility and love for God and for our neighbour, is also a beautiful religion that leads to peace, joy, and an afterlife of eternal blessedness. What I find most personally satisfying in Christianity is that in the Lord Jesus Christ we can have a direct and personal relationship with God as a divinely human being who has lived among us, and who knows us and loves us personally.
You now find yourself torn between these two religions. If you choose to be a part of either one of them, you can live a good and fulfilling life of seeking to know and do God’s will, and seeking to love and serve your fellow human beings.
Avoid the Fundamentalist Wings of Both Religions
Within every great world religion there is a spectrum of approaches to the religion from fundamentalist through moderate to mystical.
Islam And Christianity Are No Exception.
Fundamentalism involves a strictly literal interpretation of the scriptures of a religion. Fundamentalists insist that people must believe in certain doctrines that they consider to be the correct doctrines of their religion. Anyone who doesn’t accept and practice those doctrines is seen as an outsider and an infidel, or irreligious person, who will go to hell if they do not convert to the correct beliefs.
I know about Muslim fundamentalism primarily from its prominent place in many tragic stories in the news. Any version of religion that leads to slaughter and bloodshed in the name of God is, in my view, a poor and primitive version of that religion. If you choose to remain with the Muslim faith, I recommend that you choose a more moderate, thoughtful, and peace-loving version, and avoid the violent, fundamentalist wing of that religion.
Christianity has its own unfortunate history of violence. Today, Christian fundamentalism relies on various doctrines that are not taught in the Bible. Of course, the Christian fundamentalists themselves will insist that their doctrines are straight from the Bible. They are unaware that these beliefs do not come from the Bible, but were actually invented by various Christian theologians over the centuries. See the article “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach” for some of the biggest non-Biblical doctrines that almost all Christian fundamentalists believe.
Your friend who says that you will go to hell because you don’t believe in Christianity is most likely a fundamentalist or evangelical Christian. These Christians believe that they are the true Christians, but their basic beliefs are not in the Bible, and those beliefs are therefore not truly Christian.
If you do choose to become a Christian, I would recommend that you not become the type of Christian that your friend is trying to get you to be. Instead, choose one of the more mainline, moderate churches, which are more accepting of people who have different beliefs than their own.
For a more Bible-based and genuinely Christian form of Christianity, see the article, “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach.”
Relationships with Family and Friends
One more reason to avoid the fundamentalist wings of Christianity and Islam is that fundamentalism tends to isolate people from family and friends who don’t share their particular beliefs.
Your mother wishes you to remain Muslim. That is very understandable. She loves you, and she has raised you with certain values and beliefs that are important to her. It would be sad and painful for her to see you leave the religion that is so meaningful to her.
If you became a fundamentalist or evangelical Christian of the type that your friend apparently wants you to be, it would be even worse. Not only would you be leaving the religion in which you were raised, but you would be rejecting it as false and wrong. You would be required to believe that your mother (and every other Muslim) will go to hell if she doesn’t become a Christian.
That is a harsh, condemnatory belief. It breaks up families and destroys relationships.
If you do decide to become a Christian, I hope you will choose a form of Christianity that respects the religion of your birth, and accepts your mother and Muslims generally as fellow believers in and followers of God. Then even if your mother may feel some sadness that you are no longer a Muslim, she can at least feel that you have a religion and a relationship with God that does not condemn her religion and her beliefs, and that allows you to continue to have a good and loving relationship with her—assuming she is willing to maintain that relationship with you even if you are no longer a Muslim.
And of course, if you decide to remain a Muslim, I hope you will choose a form of Islam that is broad and tolerant of people of varying beliefs, both within Islam itself and across the many religions of humankind.
Religion Offers a Community of Faith
Do you have to choose a religion? Do you even have to belong to any religion?
Here’s One Thing to Consider:
Organized religions offer a community of people who share your faith.
Not everyone can go it alone. We humans are social creatures. We thrive in community with other people. Some of us are more introverted, others are more extraverted. But we all need some connection with other people.
One question to ask yourself as you consider belonging to Islam or to Christianity is this: In this religion, will you find the kind of support you want and need as you practice your faith?
Since you grew up Muslim, you probably have been involved in some sort of Muslim religious community and practices. Do you find them helpful and supportive of your faith, your belief in God, and your desire to know and do God’s will? If so, then you might want to consider staying with the religion of your birth.
If, however, you don’t find your current religious associations helpful to you in your spiritual life, you may want to consider finding and joining another mosque, church, or religion that does give you the spiritual support and sense of community that you want and need. That will depend on what is available to you in your local area.
If you do go looking for a religion, mosque, or church to belong to, I would suggest avoiding any that give you the hard sell and tell you that unless you join them you’re going to hell. Look for a community of faith that is more broad-minded than that, and that is ready to accept you and support you in your own desire to know God and do God’s will.
What about Not Belonging to a Religion?
These days, organized religion is not for everyone. Sometimes there just isn’t a local congregation that shares your beliefs and values. And attending a place of worship where you disagree with the teachings and don’t find the atmosphere supportive is worse than not belonging to any congregation at all.
However, going it alone is also not for everyone. If you want to maintain your faith in God and your commitment to knowing God and doing God’s will without having a supportive group around you that shares your beliefs and values, you’d better have a strong faith, and be independent and self-motivated in your practices.
It’s easy for people to say they’re “spiritual but not religious,” and end out being mostly just out of touch with God and spirit because they get too busy with the demands of life, and have no regular spiritual practice.
If you do decide not to belong to any particular religion or religious congregation, I would suggest setting aside some regular daily and weekly times to pray, read and study spiritual texts, and engage in other spiritual practices that help you to maintain your connection with God and spirit.
And of course, if you are considering Christianity, I invite you to spend some regular time reading the articles here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life. We offer a deeper, more spiritual, and more Biblical version of Christianity than is found in many of the fundamentalist, evangelical, and traditional Christian churches.
The Choice Is Yours
I hope these thoughts are helpful to you in considering which way to go in your beliefs and religious (or spiritual) practices.
As I said before, these are very personal decisions. Only you can decide whether to be a Muslim, a Christian, or something else, such as not belonging to any religion but following your own spiritual beliefs and practices.
The Most Important Things To Consider In This Choice Are:
What will help you best to know and love God, and do God’s will?
That will help you to love and serve your fellow human beings—including the people you love and care about, and who love and care about you?
Whichever path you choose, if you live a life of love and service to God and to your fellow human beings, you will be walking a spiritual path that leads to heaven.