New Age Islam
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Islamic Ideology ( 23 March 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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God and Religious Mask in our Symbolic Society

By Khalid Azhar

What goes through the mind of public officials or politicians who take their oaths of office by placing their hands on a Koran?

There is no article in our laws that require such a practice, nor do any religious texts recommend it. It is what officials in other parts of the world do.

Therefore, the use of holy books exploits religion to win the hearts of the people.

Moving into the real world, are there any statistics that say that piousness correlates with good governance?

Are there any data telling us that corruption tends to decrease when the state is managed by “devout” people who swear an oaths to God and who later actively talking about faith and religious purity?

“I had a colleague,” said a fellow journalist “who looked very pious in the office. He had almost all things needed to symbolize his devotion before the God. He was very disciplined and performed many prayers, to his coworkers’ admiration.”

“But one day, when we had a gathering and met his wife, who was surprised when a friend suddenly complimented her husband for his piety in the office. We certainly were more surprised seeing her reaction. She then told us something different: he was absolutely different at home.”

It is surely none of our business whether someone is religious at home or not. What makes me remember this story is how religious symbols have become a means to represent something differently from how it actually is. This trend continues from time to time.

In 2009, a religious teacher, another close colleague, joked about “a fact about God”.

“God,” he said, “because of His Mighty Forgiveness, will forgive all bad things you do to Him. So, as long as you still have an opportunity to cheat in His name, just do it. Don’t ever worry. He will forgive you and even still will bless you with His paradise. What you need is only to say that you have a piece of faith on Him”

What a joke! This friend himself is a religious and simple figure but logical and rational. He, for example, decides to sell cheap goods with a small amount of profit in the traditional markets after teaching hours rather than to shrewdly lobby the students or parents to take him as their private teacher.

He seems to enjoy his life in simplicity as he enjoys talking about religion with such relief and laughter.

On the other side, the way many of our national leaders use religious symbols seem to be no different from the way soap opera stars or the ones who are keen to be called “celebrities” also use them. Yesterday: they asked for God’s blessing and people’s prayers for their best. Today: they say sorry for the inappropriate attitudes or acts they have done and they clean up their names (or popularity) in the name of God. Tomorrow is another day, a new and different sequence of time with no relation to the past.

This way the celebrities make themselves famous with their affairs and divorces and the politicians or public officials exploit religious symbols to push themselves nearer to the center of the state power. As for many Indonesian people, they look at it all as entertainment to forget the difficult side of their lives for a while if not as a prescription for their own lives.

In this context, we also clearly see our minorities in Indonesia play their parts miserably. They are now more like live puppets or commodities for the people with the masks.

Politicians and state functionaries use them as balls or exploitation objects. Ahmadis are killed and evicted and their homes are confiscated. Churches are burned down.

An Indonesian popular song tells us to “buka dulu topengmu…” or take off your masks . Or Christina Aguilera sings in “Reflection”:

“I am now

In a world where I

Have to hide my heart

And what I believe in

But somehow

I will show the world

What’s inside my heart

And be loved for who I am….”

So, what are we waiting for then? Talking about God, we absolutely should unmask ourselves or we will only be hypocrites. If you are a teacher, like me, stop being a cheater. If you are a president, stop enchanting people with your appearance and please ensure all people here live in peace. Hopefully, God will still forgive us and make us free from cheating.

Lastly, let me tell another story. Jalaluddin Rahmad, a renowned Islamic scholar, joked one day: “When Howard Gardner, the expert of multiple intelligences theory, had been asked to acknowledge spiritual quotient, his answer was, ‘What will be the parameter?’”

“In Indonesia”, someone said, “we have found the parameter. It is tears. The more someone spills tears, the higher his spirituality is.”

In fact: tears spill out during religious services but the effect of spirituality tends to dry up as soon as the tears do. So?

Source: Jakarta Post