Dhaka, Bangladesh
Defining religion

Defining religion

By Amin Valliani

RELIGION has remained a living topic in almost all ages. Many have discussed religion in different ways; some have even made religion a topic of acrimonious debate. Karl Marx has declared religion to be the opium of the people. He mentioned this while writing a Critique on Hegel's Philosophy of Right published in Paris in February 1844. As a result of his writing, some Europeans developed misconceptions about religion while others confined it to special occasions such as childbirth, marriage, death etc. Marx's work also inspired the foundation of many communist regimes in the 20th century where religious practices were discouraged officially until these regimes ended in the 1990s. In the Western concept of modernity, religion has been marked as primitive, backward, obsolete and incompatible with the progressive style of modern life. The motto has been: no religion, no doctrine, no creed and no restricted way of life. History is replete with examples of people negating or rejecting religion while others have manipulated religious teachings. Religion is an inner state. In the past, wars have been fought, women degraded, children sacrificed and people enslaved, declared infidel, imprisoned, exiled or killed in the name of religion. Sometimes wrong and strange interpretations of religion have become the cause of fatalism, intolerance, fanaticism, superstition, internal bickering, isolation from society and even suicide. In April this year, multiple murders reportedly committed by a shrine custodian and his accomplices in Sargodha presented a potent if disturbing example of how religion is wrongly used in society, raising questions about the efficacy of religious beliefs. A desire for political power and money has lured many to use religion as a tool of earning thus abusing, misusing and misinterpreting religious teachings. Many individuals have constructed religious theories to suit their wishes. Sometimes religion is used by despotic rulers for authoritarian purposes, forcing people into undue submission. In 1492, when King Ferdinand established his rule in Spain, he considered himself the champion of the Christian faith, expelling Jews from Spain and forcing Muslims' conversion to Christianity. At times, the so-called religious leaders and scholars empowered the states, rulers, warriors and politicians etc to carry on with their brutalities while the true leaders who abstained were treated badly. For example, in the last stages of Umayyad rule, Ibn Habaireh, the governor of Iraq, offered Imam Abu Hanifa the office of chief justice which he declined. On his refusal, he was subjected to ill treatment. Again in the Abbasid era, the caliph Abu Jaffer Mansoor called him to Baghdad and offered him the post of chief qazi which Abu Hanifa similarly declined. Therefore, he was put in detention where he ultimately died in 767 AD. Oppressive rulers have given their narratives and counter-narratives about religious teachings, forcing people to toe the state line in the name of religion. Many rulers have used religion to legitimise their acts of gaining power. Muslim kings and sultans claimed to govern people with divine sanction. They declared themselves Zil Allah (the shadow of Allah) on earth in order to pursue their self-interest. Seventy years of Pakistan's history also bear witness to the use and misuse of religion. Certain business houses, traders, soothsayers and mystics have also made religion a tool of exploitation while some others have used religion to fulfil their desire of overcoming their enemies. In spite of all this, religion is a vital force that guides people's lives towards the truth. It is as relevant today as ever before. The ultimate goal of every religion is to explain the purpose of human life to make it meaningful. Religion basically is an inner state which propels one to seek the meaning of life. Life's journey starts with birth and ends with death, it is not meaningless. True religion helps us to understand the meaning of life through reflection. It helps us build character, manage crises, confront malignant influences and change the course of life socially and spiritually. It inspires us towards goodness and equality of all human beings before the Ultimate Being. Without religion, a human is like an animal having no purpose or goal in life. In its essence, religion is simple. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th US president said that "...when I do good, I feel good, when I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion". It requires people to do good, create peace and harmony on earth and feel accountable before the Creator for all commissions and omissions. It is something spontaneous in human nature. Allah has created humankind as per His nature which is based on pure religion (deen al-khalis). The Holy Quran warns: "O you who believe! Take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport. ..." (5:57).

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