By Sheesha He, New Age Islam
14 May 2018
She had studied in what were claimed to be some of the best educational institutions in the country and abroad. Over the years, she had developed a deep academic interest in religion. She earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies and went on to do further research in that area—at what were called ‘international centres of academic excellence’.
Soon, she was considered a leading ‘expert’ in her field. She wrote a dozen or so books—on various aspects of religion and religious identity. She was regularly invited across the world to speak at academic conferences, all expenses paid. She taught at several so-called ‘top-notch’ universities in different countries. She received generous fellowships and research grants for her work. Reading, writing and talking about religion became a lucrative career for her, through which she managed to tot up a fairly comfortable bank balance. Paid well to do what she loved doing, her life, as she would put it, was ‘one long paid holiday’.
But holidays must come to an end some day. And that’s what happened with her. Over the years, but unknown to anyone else, she had been struggling with many dark emotions, which she sought to bury deep inside. She tried to escape from them by keeping herself extra-busy with her academic work. No one could have guessed this—the harsh reality that lay behind her ever-smiling face—but pretences can’t last very long. One day, she had a nervous break-down and was rushed to the hospital.
It took her quite a while to be able to function reasonably well. Not long after her two-month stay at the hospital she made a drastic decision. She quit her job! Suddenly, she felt she just couldn’t bear to read even a paragraph of an academic book on religion (or on any other subject for that matter) again!
She sold off her house and, taking along a few possessions, shifted to a spiritual centre in the mountains. Here, amidst the quiet and in the company of spiritually-minded people, she was able to reflect on her life and think about what she wanted to do with whatever remained of it.
One thing that struck her forcefully now was how foolish she had been all these years trying to know about God (and making a living out of it), instead of seeking to know God. To know about God was one thing, but to know God was quite another. It was like the difference between knowing about a country by reading books about it and knowing that country by actually visiting it and experiencing it for oneself. She might have known, from the scores of books she had read, many things about what different faiths said about God, but of what use was that knowledge, she now asked herself, when she did not know God personally? Not once in all those many years that she had spent in the business of academic scholarship about religion had she ever thought of seeking to know God as a living presence in her life. For her, God and religion were matters of mere academic curiosity, writing about which had become her source of livelihood—her long paid holiday. It had never once occurred to pray to God, to talk with Him, to seek His guidance or even to thank Him for His many blessings, including that long paid holiday of hers.
Now, as she reflected on what she had done with her life, she had no words to describe how stupid she had been spending all those years reading, writing, talking and philosophising about God without ever thinking of cultivating a loving, personal relationship with Him.
A related discovery that she made at this time was that while she had accumulated a great deal of academic knowledge about the religions of the world (which had enabled her to build up a fairly large bank balance), it hadn’t led to any inner change in her at all. She hadn’t become any better for all the many things she knew about religion. For her, this had been mere information, which had not resulted in any transformation as far as she as a person was concerned. For instance, she had written several papers on religion, love and peace (complete with footnotes and all!), which she had presented at various international conferences and which had later been published in ‘learned’ journals, but she wasn’t at peace with herself and her own parents and she just couldn’t stand her neighbours! Moreover, despite her abundant theoretical knowledge of religion, she had led what she now recognised to be a very unethical life. Driven by the dogma that her life was hers to do just as she pleased, she had trespassed many a moral boundary in the belief that the purpose of life was to ‘enjoy it to the hilt’. But now, as her life lay about her for her to inspect, she recognised how utterly useless it had all been: this knowing many things about religion without caring to put into practise its ethical teachings in her own life.
The months it took for her to be back on her feet were a period of painful realisation, but they turned out to be among the most rewarding in all her life. Confronting her dark secrets and reflecting on some of the many mistakes she had made hadn’t been at all easy. But at the end of it she was very glad that she went through the process, for two valuable lessons it had helped her learn—the need to develop a close relationship with God, and the need for this relationship to be expressed in the form of an ethical life, lived for a purpose higher than a mere paid holiday.New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism