I have been drafting this blog post for what has been months now. Even though this website is my safe space, it’s a little difficult to find the courage to talk about something as controversial as my problems with organized religion. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a traditional and conservative Muslim society. Maybe it’s because in general Southeast Asian communities tend to be unaccepting of ideas that question their norms. Either way, my complicated relationship with Islam is a topic that I have always wanted to talk about but found very few people willing to hear me out.
So, here it goes.
~5 Big Problems With Organized Religion~
For the sake of being transparent, I’d like to point out that all of the problems with organized religion that I am going to talk about here are based on my personal experiences as a brown Muslim woman. And I do not expect everyone to be able to relate to them. Because no brown Muslim woman has had the exact same experiences–we are not monoliths, and the more Muslims you speak to the more you’ll realize the incredible amount of diversity this community has.
This, I suppose brings me to one of the first problems with organized religion: the lack of acceptance of diverse beliefs within the same Islamic community.
1. The Idea That There Is Only ONE Way To Be A Muslim
I cannot count the number of Muslim books that exist on Goodreads and other platforms where the author and their novel received countless negative reviews because the Muslim characters represented in the story were not “Muslim enough” or “Halal enough”.
Laila Sabreen’s incredible debut, You Truly Assumed, for instance, received so many negative reviews claiming it was an “inauthentic Muslim experience”, citing that the characters performed wudu (a ritual Muslims perform before praying) the “wrong way” and even complaining about how dating and physical relationships among Muslim boys and girls were normalized in the book.
Here’s the thing though. There are over 2 billion Muslims in the world. And as surprising as it is, a five-minute conversation between two Muslims will easily reveal that different people perform wudu differently. In my own family: my maternal grandmother believes in one way of performing wudu while my paternal grandmother follows a different method, despite both being Muslims.
For non-Muslim readers who might find this confusing, let me clarify: these differences exist because of the different schools of Islamic scholars that exist, and the lack of clear step-by-step instructions in the Quran. Add to that the fact that different families in different countries tend to follow in the footsteps of what their ancestors had done, and you end up with a community full of people who believe that their way is the right way.
And this is one of my biggest problems with organized religion: the idea that you have to do things in a certain way to be accepted by your community. I mean, surely if it was so important, the Quran, which is considered the final book and the last sacred message from God, would be more specific about these rituals no?
2. The HARAM Police
This brings me to the next one of my problems with organized religion: the constant policing of EVERY THING that Muslims do, specifically things that Muslim women do. As people of the faith, we are supposed to uphold the belief that only God alone has the right to judge us–we are to mind our own business. Even the first chapter of the Quran says this clearly. And yet, in every organized religion, I see people constantly passing judgment on others if they are not doing things a certain way.
Why is it so difficult for people to accept that every individual has a unique relationship with their faith and belief system, and are therefore entitled to observe their religion in their own way?
3. The Idea That God Will Send Me To Hell If I Breathe The Wrong Way
So this heading might be a bit misleading, but bear with me: have you ever heard a religious person–Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, whatever–talk about how we should live in fear of God’s wrath and how we are born sinners and must always bear the burden of not being naturally good or moral?
Because I have and it’s something that never sat right with me. Maybe it’s my upbringing–I remember as a child, my mother used to tell me that God loved me even more than she did, and that God’s love and forgiveness knew no limits. And so, I kind of grew up believing in a God that was kind and merciful and would always be there for me.
It’s nearly impossible for me to imagine a Creator who is full of wrath, who created me and my loved ones just to make us denizens of hell. I understand that this fear of God is to be instilled in our hearts so we are mindful of our actions, but I think this is one of the fundamental problems of organized religion that causes so many divisions among us: we are so hyper-focused on not being a “sinner” that we forget that sometimes, choosing kindness over being righteous might just work out in our favor.
4. Using Religion To Choose Your Moral And Ethical Values
If you need the promise of a peaceful afterlife (or the threat of a painful one) to make you do good things in this life, then maybe you do not deserve heaven. I hate it when people use religion to guide their morals and ethical values because you should not need spiritual incentives to keep you from abusing or cheating other people. You should not be kind to others only out of fear of being punished. Kindness and compassion should come to us as naturally as breathing. Our moral compass should be guided without incentives or threats of the hereafter.
5. Using Religion As An Excuse To Commit Crimes
And this brings me to my final and probably one of my biggest problems with organized religion: when people commit unspeakable atrocities in the name of a higher power whose existence can neither be proven nor disproven. This is probably one of the greatest dangers of organized religion because you cannot logically argue with somebody who believes they have been given some divine right to cause harm to others.
I apologize if this post is too heavy to read for some. But I have been having these heavy thoughts for quite a while now, what with the state of the world at the time of writing this blog post. Strangely enough, I have found many people in my real life who shares these sentiments as me, and it really makes me wonder just how beautiful this world could be if we could all have the capacity to choose kindness over righteousness, acceptance over judgement, and reasoning over blind faith.