Knowing something about Egypt, a country which is far away and boasts one of the ancient civilizations of this world was always on my mind. Recently, I found an anthology of essays written by an Egyptian author of a best seller, ‘Cairo trilogy’ and a Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz. This Anthology, “The meaning of civilization” comprises essays on culture, religion and politics.
One quote in particular, “Religion is neither a science nor a branch of knowledge, it is a spiritual teaching whose essence becomes manifest through social intercourse, behaviour and vision.” is from the essay published on 8th June 1974, ‘Religion and school.’ Even though, this essay particularly talks about the way schools in Egypt were engaged in teaching the Holy Quran in the 70s, this sentence resonated with me.
Drawing a parallel between the religious journeys of Egypt and the Indian sub continent, both have witnessed multifarious changes in religion and philosophy throughout their respective histories. In the case of the Indian sub continent, there were witnessed the glorious ages of Hinduism during the Vedic era, the rise of new ways of life in the form of Buddhism and Jainism, the integration of Parsis and sustained Islamic rule. Not to mention the deep impact the Colonial era also had on the religious equation of this country.
In today’s world, we witness the madness happening around the globe in the name of religion. Religious fanaticism raises its ugly head in every part of the world with various such groups preaching their own brand of extreme religion. Consequently the less fanatic or hardlined individual is clueless as to what his/her religion is all about. We are witnessing a total disconnect from spirituality as we lack a vision as a religious person, religion has now been reduced to a few rituals. The social intercourse through which religions evolved and provided individuals with the opportunity of a fulfilling and spiritual journey, has now halted. This blind ritual-centric behaviour has turned us away from this journey.
I agree with what Mr. Mahfouz is saying, religion is not a subject to be taught at school. It should be handed over to a child from his/her family with proper care and the freedom to be a theologist. One needs to study the religion and their personal relationship with the idea of God. Religion is not something absolute like 2+2 = 4. There is always a study involved, following the interpretation which leads to realisation. I remember the verse from a Marathi abhang by Sant Sohirobanath (18th century saint of Nath Sampraday, from the Sawantwadi area of Southern Konkan, Maharashtra)
संत संगतीने समज, आणून मनी पुरते उमज,
अनुभवावीण मान हालवू नको रे।।
It literally means “first you learn from someone knowledgeable, ponder upon those learnings and don’t accept unless and until you experience the truth behind those thoughts.”
One should follow these steps to understand and believe in something. Religion is not a thing which you should accept blindly. The attitude, “बाबा वाक्यम् प्रमाणं।” (The words of the elders are the ultimate truth) will lead to a disastrous life. So let all of us start being observant, think about the teachings of our elders, meditate and ponder the meaning with a fine tooth comb and then accept whatever is agreeable to you. Let’s try to make religion a spiritual again.
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