You may often notice that when I do refer to God, it is in English. That's my mother tongue, that's what I say.
If you don't know, I was born Greek Orthodox and converted to Islam in order to marry my husband (seems only in Malaysia is this a requirement - something to keep in mind for a point I will make later in this post).
I felt at the time that it was a gross disregard of my personal right to practise whatever religion I was born into, but this was mostly an intellectual injustice. Truth be told, I was never religious in the sense that I would go regularly to church or fast (yes, Christians do do that) and so on. And also, at the time, I believed more in the good of a real act of commitment (via marriage) than the bad of a technicality. After all, I thought, we believe in the same God and I had more trust and faith in my husband being a good man than I did in the religious authority having the kind of faith in its own people to let them believe in their God without being shackled by the religious police.
When my mother first came here, she couldn't find an Orthodox church to attend. She had sufficient gumption to recognise that she wasn't comfortable with the brand of religious practise she had access to in small town KK at the time. She decided that worship was between her and God and that she didn't need to attend the only church she could find, which was Catholic. Even between Christian denominations there are disagreements on how things are done. As an Orthodox, she was very much against the idea that one person can be a mediator between you and God, and even forgive your sins for you on behalf of God. So she prayed at home, and taught us by example that your relationship with God is indeed a private, personal, living experience. It does not need the approval of others, nor does it need the show of worship.
You may understand now, because of this, why I dislike austentatious shows of piety. Piousness is in the action, not in the show of it, or the telling of it. It is why I have a healthy scepticism of religious preachers, and expect that if they put themselves forward as God's advocates, why, they should have exemplary behaviour and act as they should, in a good, godly manner. I dislike anyone telling me how I should behave when it comes to my faith - because ultimately, God will judge me for my actions, not you, whether I did them out of my own choice, or out of being sheeplike or fearful of what others thought of me.
Let me explain something about the Greek Orthodox church. There are some things I do not like, such as the accumulation of wealth, property and so on. After converting to Islam, I have come to appreciate why Muslims do not worship icons. In the Orthodox church, icons are everywhere. People use them to pray or worship, and while the teaching may be that one must not confuse the physical icon with what the icon represents, it is not always humanly natural to make that distinction. Thus, you may find people, in their language and in their actions, speaking as if the icons truly were holy in themselves. However let's not forget that this happens across the board, and is not just a Christian affliction.
I mean, I still come across people who confuse my faith with my race, all the damn time, and they usually aren't Christian, is all I'm sayin'!
Also, as I said, I was not a particularly religious person. Quite spiritual I would say, having a mother who was pragmatically pious, and a grandmother from my father's side who was a priestess within her animistic community. I came to believe that if you truly believe in something, it is true. Thus, if you truly believe in black magic, you are "susceptible" to it. If you believe in the good of people, you tend to see it in others most of the time. If you believe the world is out to get you, nothing will ever go right for you, will it? In other words, when you believe in something, you give it power. If your beliefs are coloured with prejudice, well, you corrupt that something.
Perhaps this was a convenient transmuting of my faith, you might think. I read the bible, maybe 6 times while still a pre-teen. I was never asked to, I just found it fascinating from the word go. It was very mystical, like reading about magic and epic histories. It seemed exciting the way a fiction would be exciting - because it ellicited excitement, horror, thought, laughter, and more from me. But despite this, I got deeper messages than what many people seem to take very literally. It's not so much the magical actions of say, Jesus, that mattered, it was what he taught, and what he represented that really moved me. The wisdom of Solomon, the folly of all the victims of God's wrath... it was all meant to teach something more than what those stories literally meant.
So, you could say that my brand of faith was that I "must be a good person". That God means good. Being good means being as God wants us to be. And for me, that's what they mean when they say, "made in God's likeness" - because I really don't think there's a little bearded blue-eyed man in the sky watching us all like santa claus.
I think there is a being that is a part of all our consciousnesses, and that we know what it is to be good. You might dismiss this as psychobabble, but I think it doesn't stray far from religious teaching at all.
It's when we start taking the poetic, lyrical words of past historians in holy books literally, that we limit the value of those teachings to the opinion and interpretation of the human mind. Which in turn leads to my refusal to be told by another human being, that I am "wrong" about how I believe in my God - is it not enough that I do, to that person who has no real claim over me anyway? To those authoritative figures, you can't say "prove yourself", can you? They become very agitated if their appointed selves get questioned and start throwing out statistics about how much they pray versus how much you pray. In some places, like Malaysia, speaking too loudly against religious authority brings down not only the wrath of God (so they say, and gosh, do so many people just believe them), but the police, the ISA, the fearful others in the community who don't like you to speak too much of change, or change in thinking.
The most I ever "practised" religion was while at school in a very broad-minded Anglican boarding school. We had boarders' church service on Sundays, and I was on the church committee. The Father there was such a hippie that he talked about "warm fuzzies" and "cold scrunchies" when it came to the feelings one gets when experiencing good or bad. His favourite tool of religious teaching was his guitar, and we often ended service with a rousing singalong to songs in english from the judaeic and buddhist cultures, as well as pop songs.
So with all that I have said about my religious upbringing and practise, when it came to having to convert in order to marry, I never felt that I was losing something, losing a freedom, or losing a special bond with God. What I was doing was satisfying a technical, if unreasonable, condition of this country in order to do something which was good.
Good in a great sense.
Deep down inside, I knew that God would not place a condition such as whether it says "Islam" on my IC or not over my decision to marry for love.
I would say, being concerned with inequalities of all kinds, and also being concerned with the petty tyrannies any kind of authority figures like to run over their communities with, I have become much more concerned with my faith, now as a Muslim, than I ever have been.
I admit, I am not well-versed in the koran, nor am I an expert in language or culture, but I do think I can honestly say that I believe very much in the good intrinsic within people. We really are all creatures of God, in the sense that we all naturally, instinctively, care, nurture and protect one another. It's when we let the devils of laziness, cowardice and fear get the best of us, that we really show the awful side of humanity.
Sometimes, there does not even have to be a physical threat. Just the threat of not being accepted. This simple fear of rejection can make people commit acts of violence, acts of cowardice, suicide, contempt and hatred. How many kids at school join in the bullying of a weaker student, because they are afraid that if they stand up for the weaker one, they themselves will become the target.
This is why it doesn't matter if people are malay, chinese, indian, or any "other" (I've been brought up to be proud I fall into that category, rather than run with the nameless flocks!) you can think of: gay, white, black, geek, overachiever, yadayadayada, BORING! Assholes can be anyone from the bank teller to your father to the idiot driver in the street. Rapists can be strangers or family members. Murderers can be immigrants, husbands, politicians.
IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO YOU ARE OR WHERE YOU COME FROM.
If you're a dick, you're a dick.
When it comes to Islam, I would much refer to live by the tenets described in the holy book than by the rules prescribed by the men in authority (why men only, huh? because it's cultural, that's why, it's certainly not limited so in the book's teachings - oh, and that's another way humans transmute the spiritual teachings of a godly nature into something concrete, like religious rules regulated by laws and police: the human need to make things tangible already corrupts what is pure, you might say).
So when one race in one country out of many countries and races under the faith of Islam, decides that they own certain words out of someone else's language - well, that's worse than colonialism and slavery, isn't it? Because behind it all is the threat of being called un-Islamic, and therefore being punishable. Even more than that, it speaks of the need to control, which really speaks of a deep insecurity about identity and faith. If you look at the bigger picture, it explains a lot in this country.
I think most people who do think about their faith, do so wisely, even if they lack the knowledge others might have. They know that above all, violence and intolerance is not a part of being godly.
What I fear is the possibility of a bigger agenda that seeks to reach out to the dissociated and discontented bored. People who want a fight, but don't yet have a real purpose or cause. It frightens me the blindness and stubborn ignorance or inability to listen, not just to others, but to listen to themselves and hear how they show themselves up as ignorant, stupid even. I am seeing it everyday on the net. I fear for my children's safety, even though they are Muslim. They don't look or sound particularly Malay - funny how that should matter right? I mean, we aren't talking about race here... or are we?
Those acts of violence just need one more idiot to push it all over the edge.
Above all else, I value my family's safety and happiness more than appeasing the demands of a few malcontents. I can hear the cries of "why would you leave home?"
Home, and God, is where you find it. You make home. It's not a place. It's you.
If you truly are a believer, listen only to your heart and let the bluster and noise around you die down. Let's not ruin what we have.