One Year Since My Father’s Death – Reflections on: TV, Music, Food, Religion & Sufism

On January 13 2012, my late father, may he rest in peace and light, died of cancer. We know that one in three of us will get cancer some time in our life – it’s a scary prospect but one we must acknowledge. My dad, unfortunately, first got cancer when he was about 41 or 42, which is pretty young. Age, however, is irrelevant: kids get cancer these days.  Continue reading

Twitter, Facebook, Food, Life and God

Today is probably the first time in about a year where I have had hardly anything to do. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sitting around doing nothing, Tweeting, Facebooking and grazing like a cattle, you know, searching the fridge every 25minutes. Instead I’ve occupied my mind with fairly useful activities: reading and thinking. Here are some random thoughts from today, some arbitrary but others perhaps intuited from something deeper. Continue reading

All Hype For Palestine But Nothing For Burma

It’s a shame that this could be the first time you’ve heard about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Burma. News coverage on the plight of the Rohingya people – described by the U.N. as “one of the most persecuted people in the world” – has been scant, especially since sectarian violence flared in June. Continue reading

The Quest For Meaning: Belief and Disbelief

Philosopher Roger Scruton argues in his new book The Face of God: The Gifford Lectuers, that “when we hunt only for the cause and never for the reason of things, God disappears from the world” (1). And it’s true: if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will live in a Godless world and, as a result, everything becomes a proof that God doesn’t exist. A believer in God, however, lives in a world where God is omnipresent, and therefore everything becomes a proof for God. This is one of the fundamental reasons why believers and atheists are so diametrically opposed in their worldview.

Believers will often point to the seemingly “miraculous” nature of the universe and its uniformity. The New Scientist has described the universe as “unfathomably uniform”, however, atheists will point to certain aberrations in the universe like the inherent cosmic chaos and killer asteroids, which make it seem as if there is not an all-wise Creator behind this all. This is why scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, an agnostic, once reportedly said: “When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.”

The famous Muslim poet and sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi, once told a parable of an ant creeping along a carpet and complains to God, asking him what is this, these bumps, and strange colours, and patterns, this must have been created just as a meaningless obstacle course, what a futile thing to have made.” However, as Cambridge academic Timothy Winter says: “But of course the carpet maker, looking at it from above, can see the patterns and the purpose of it, and can see that the whole thing is perfect and is good. And God is often like that. We often can’t make sense of the misfortunes because we are two dimensional, we are at ground level, we can’t see what it all means.”

There is a saying in the Islamic tradition that is believed to be God’s words, it says that “I am what my servant thinks of me”. This statement can be understood on many levels but what we can infer from this, is that if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will use the “aberrations” in our universe as further “proof” for the non-existence of God.

The discourse between theists and atheists has been skewed for too long. We vociferously debate with each other not to understand each other, or to come to a mutual understanding, but to attempt to prove each other wrong. Consequently, when we argue, our minds become preoccupied with trying to think of a counter response to what has just been propounded during the debate, instead of rationalising what the other has said.

While theists and atheists can both be as closed-minded as each other, both constantly looking for proofs to further their belief or disbelief, we must understand the plurality of life. There isn’t just one way of understanding things, there are many. There is a reason why we are all different; it is because life can, and should, be approached in many different ways. One of the fundamental misunderstandings of many atheists is that they forget religion has as its purpose to serve the whole of humanity. If this is the case, religion has to serve all the uneducated and stupid people in the world, which is, unfortunately, a large percentage of humanity. This is why, on the surface, religion may seem simple for simple people, when, in fact, it can be understood on many levels; the job of the intellectual should be to discern the profundity of divine revelation and explore the deeper, esoteric meanings.

When we are pushed to our extremes something strange often emanates from within us. Sometimes, when our life is in danger, we call on God. Interestingly, Oxford academic, Justin Barrett, says that research over the past ten years suggests that children are born with an innate disposition to believe in God. However, when we force ourselves to certain extremes, we often go mad, literally. Philosophers of the past have entered into a state of depression or madness because they try to push their mind to an extent that is not possible. Likewise, mathematicians have gone insane trying to understand the concept of infinity. We push ourselves to these extremes for no other reason but to find meaning. Meaning, however, can only be found within the depths of our innermost being, according to Rumi. He once said: “ The universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”

What we are often guilty of doing is trying to fill the void in our lives – a void that occurs due to our inability or unwillingness to find meaning – with something physical. But how can we fill something immaterial with something material? We must recognise that the materialistic idea of consciousness is probably not the correct way to understand who we are. Things don’t always happen purely on the psychological level, they happen on the spiritual level, too. We all know that with every second that passes by, we edge closer and closer to our departure from this world, essentially, we are dying with time.

While we all agree that we must die, we differ on the concept of death. Some of us believe death is just the beginning of eternity, either in the divine Presence or in divine alienation; others believe that death is the end and there is nothing else. Leo Tolstoy once said: “Life is a dream, death is wakening.” While this may or may not be true, we only have limited time to search for any sort of transcendent, ultimate meaning. Journalist Matthew Parris poignantly said in an article in The Spectator that: “If I seriously suspected a faith might be true, I would devote my life to finding out.”

Our existential search for meaning needs satisfying and our perennial search for God will never end. Time is running out, hurry.

1) Into the void, Richard Holloway, page 43, New Statesman, 2 April 2012

Interview With Talib Kweli on US Politics, Hip-Hop, Drake, The Five Percent & The Occupy Movement

Talib Kweli – an internationally renowned American rapper and a celebrity within the hip-hop scene – once said: “I don’t fuck with politics.” Yet, when asked about his views on the upcoming US elections he becomes animated: “Politics is as entertaining as a soap opera. [President] Obama plays an ill political game, if there were no term limits, he would be President for a very long time!” he says. He also expresses his views on the Republican candidates. “Some of the political rhetoric coming out of conservative right in Americasounds like the same thing that set the stage for Nazi Germany.”

Kweli, known for his politically conscious music, has just finished touring the UK with British-born rappers Lowkey and Mic Righteous – also known for their “conscious” lyrics. “I’m not actually that familiar with them,” he admits in his softly spoken voice, perhaps the antithesis of the bravado with which many other rappers speak. “But I’m looking forward to getting more familiar with them.” It is not just his meek voice that stands out, his diction does too. Kweli, the eldest of two sons, grew up in a highly educated household: his mother Brenda Greene is an English professor and his father an administrator at Adelphi University. Isn’t strange, then, that he decided to pursue a career in rap? “My parents are writers and the writers of my generation are rappers,” he says.

During secondary school Kweli met Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey, a Grammy award winning emcee and DJ Hi-Tech, an American producer and rapper. These encounters would prove pivotal to Kweli’s career: in 1998, he combined with Mos Def to release the seminal album Black Star and teamed up with Hi-Tech, to release Train of Thought, both considered hip-hop classics. While the albums didn’t sell millions, they received critical acclaim and earned the respect of many fellow rappers. Now, five solo albums later (although not all of his records lived up to their expectation) Kweli, 36, is married to DJ Eque as of 2009 – and has two children from his former partner Darcel Turner.

Kweli, who insists his name be pronounced “Kwali”, rose to prominence amid the renaissance of Afrocentric, politically motivated hip-hop in the 90s but, since then, there has been an increase in music which – he believes – portrays, “sex and drugs…the gangster lifestyle…and just having a good time.”

“When I first came, hip-hop was about opening people’s consciousness but now even the great lyricists – J Cole, Kendrick Lamar – are rapping more about having fun,” he says. “Kwali” has never had an ostentatious demeanour – the big chains, flash cars and extravagant lifestyle associated with most high-profile rappers doesn’t seem to apply to him. Likewise, his physical features don’t particularly make him distinguishable: he stands at a height of around 5’8 inches and his soft features resemble that of any other Afro-American.

What does he make of the rampant materialism endemic in mainstream hip-hop? “I’m able to differentiate between what an artist creates based on how he grew up and what he creates as an individual. Jay Z the rapper, is different to Sean Carter. The same way as Arnold Schwarzenegger is different to The Terminator. It’s entertainment – I’m not here to judge.”

In a recent radio interview DMX, humorously, talked about why he doesn’t like fellow rapper Drake. What does Kweli think of Drake? “He is a shining example for mainstream artists – he is a really good rapper, singer and he can write, he is like a triple threat.” Many people have criticised Drake and Lil Wayne, both signed to Cash Money, for doing music purely for the money. Kweli disagrees and raises his voice: “I think that’s a very, very unfair, ill-informed criticism. They [the critics] are not really in hip-hop if they think like that. They just listen to the radio and end up getting sick of them and their lyrics. They forget they [Drake, Wayne and Kanye West] come from somewhere – how many people listened to Wayne’s first album? But everybody knows Carter IV.”

Many critics of hip-hop have claimed that it isn’t the “same” and isn’t as “good” as it used to be. Kweli again becomes annoyed: “Why should hip hop be the same? When I was first listening to hip hop in ’87, you had older artists saying this music is shit. The Cold Crust Brothers didn’t like LL Cool J, now he is  classic MC. They thought he was a young snotty nose punk. People look at things in their own perspective. If we could all see through the same eyes we would welcome new artists.”

Unlike many of Cash Money’s artists, Kweli’s music has always been synonymous with truthfulness and honesty. His views on the current political climate in America reflect this honesty. “A lot of American’s are greedy and selfish so they only want to listen to these messages [from the Republicans]. He describes these messages as “moronic,” “stupid,” “ignorant”. Kweli then speaks about the problems in American society. “The education system isn’t geared so that we know anything that goes on in the world; it doesn’t set you up to be part of the world either. The reason why America is having a crisis in education, science, and finance, is because we’re not prepared to deal with a world that is interconnected.”

One political movement Kweli has taken an interest in is the Occupy protests. Kweli says that he grew up in a protest culture and believes they are a “natural” part of society. “People aren’t just accepting things as they are; people are peeling layers back and seeing things for how they really are.”

Kweli, like many other black rappers have dabbled in the Five Percent Nation, an American organisation that believes 10% of the world’s inhabitants know the truth of existence, 85% live in ignorance and the remaining five percent know the truth and are determined the spread it. “I’ve got huge respect for the five percent,” he says. “When I was a teenager, I dabbled in the five percent, I also dabbled into Rastafarianism and Islam, I was trying to discover myself. I’m very much in touch with my spirituality now. I don’t claim to follow a particular religion.”

Why has he now disassociated himself from the five percent? “Disassociate is a strong word. I don’t like dogma. Even atheists will disagree with me but there is dogma to atheism, there’s a dogma to the five percent, whether people say there is or not. I would like to take something from every thought process. Nothing turned me off [the five percent] it makes a lot of sense, it makes as much sense as Christianity to me,” he says. “But I’d rather be open to see and receive everything,” he adds.


Why Religion is For Extremists

Human beings, by their nature, are extreme. Religion merely redirects this extremeness into the form of worship. Some people, for example, will follow their religion to the dot – they have a literal interpretation and if someone tells them anything otherwise, they will reject it. Those who are extreme in their religious practises, would arguably be extreme in other ways if they weren’t controlled by their religion. Instead of doing a lot of worship, they would perhaps feel a greater inclination to do that which is bad: maybe become druggies, drunkards, incessant fornicators or whatever. Religion therefore acts as a mechanism to keep a human being under control.

The atheist, on the other hand, will often exert them extremeness by ridiculing those who believe in a Divine entity or a follow religion. The atheist only has their own moral compass to judge right from wrong – but often, they will do good. Many atheists are more ethical than the religious, they are also sometimes more “spiritual” than the religious, but at the very tip of their consciousness, they haven’t realised that they are indeed believers in the ultimate Reality, too – presuming that there is one.

An atheist just said to me: “[Religion] are like bad low-budget movies that demand criticism and ridicule regardless if people get offended.” This is extremism.

What many of us fail to do in our age is delve deep into the intellectual and esoteric meanings of religion. We treat science and philosophy as pursuits of rigorous study, but religion as something simple for simple people. We shouldn’t deny something’s veracity simply because, on the surface, it may appear simple or “ridiculous”.

Religion is therefore a mechanism to rewire one’s personality from one which is purely instinctual, animalistic and profane, into one where we act from our innermost being which is pure and transcendent. Religion forces us to act out certain rituals, and be kind to one another – and threatens us with punishment if we don’t – so that it becomes normal to us. We, eventually, no longer have to be told to do something, it emanates from within us naturally.

Is praying to God useless?

When we are distressed or when we need sudden help, we often call on our Lord. Non-believers sometimes do, too. There seems to be an innate disposition within the human psyche telling us that we are not alone and that there is something above us. However, what we don’t realise is that we tend to call upon our Lord only when we need help, not when times are good.

The reasons behind praying are multifaceted and can be understood on many levels. Indeed at the heart of all the major world religions is the act of prayer, whether it be in the form of mediation or otherwise.

Praying can be seen as an act of gratitude for the blessings we continually receive; or an act of praising our Creator, simply because He is worthy of praise and, in doing so, we fulfill a primary function as human beings; or simply because we, as the creation, feel the innate tendency to worship that which is above us. Simply put: prayer is natural to us.

For Christians, there is no standardised prayer that one must perform but the purpose — like all the other dispensations — is to gain an awareness and closeness to God.

Buddhism — unlike the Abrahamic faiths — does not propound the body/soul dichotomy but teaches us about focusing the mind through deep meditative practises to attain ‘peace of mind’ – quite literally. Meditation is now used by the religious and the non-religious alike and is widely believed to help the human mind find peace and relieve worry and anxiety.

The Islamic tradition is arguably the only dispensation that has a formalised pattern of prayer that one must follow. While it may come across as a mere ritual, the perfunctory nature that many Muslims treat it as is actually abhorrent to God. The prayer, or Salah, is all about having a connection with one’s Lord, attempting to gain experiential knowledge of the Divine and cleansing oneself spiritually in the process.

Salah should begin by one emptying the mind so that full concentration can be given to one’s Lord. The prayer consists of standing, kneeling and prostrating and is therefore a physical activity as well as a spiritual one.

The prayer begins with Allah hu Akbar, God is the greatest – reminiscent of the ontological argument propounded by the Christian philosopher Saint Anselm. One is immediately reminded that there is none greater than He, and while in the state of prayer, is in the complete protection of his or her Lord.

The prostration — an act also performed by Moses (see the book of Numbers chapter 16 verse 4 in the Old Testament) and Jesus (see the book of Matthew chapter 26 verse 39 in the New Testament) — is one of deep symbolic significance. By putting one’s head on the ground, the most important part of the body and the home of the ego, we are effectively disempowering the ego – forcing ourselves to become humble and freeing our mind from the pride that often permeates it. Furthermore, it is believed that when one is prostrating, it is the closest one can be to the Divine – not physically but spiritually.

Hamza Yusuf, intellectual and Muslim scholar, says that has been mentioned in the Islamic traditions that when we prostrate ourselves before our Lord, we are symbolically (and literally) elevating our heart above our mind.

It is never too late to start praying.

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I’m 20: My Life So Far

So I’m 20. Hmmm. It seems as if each year, birthdays become less and less important. But having lived for 20 years now, I want to share some thoughts with everyone.

I have noticed an increased maturity about myself over the last year. It may not be noticeably obvious, but mentally and spiritually I have definitely changed. It’s actually quite weird writing this because I keep using the personal pronoun ‘I’ – a despised term in my vocabulary. I don’t know if I will come across slightly psychotic saying this, but I really don’t like using the terms ‘I’ or ‘me’ – it makes me feel a little egotistical. Recently, I have been becoming more and more selfless. I don’t see myself as anyone important in the grand scheme of things. I’m just another one of God’s small creations in this universe. You and I are merely parts of this creation. Nothing more, nothing less.

I didn’t do anything for my birthday – not necessarily because I couldn’t – but because I didn’t want anything. If I was to get a birthday present, I would have liked to have something like ‘world peace’ or ‘an end to poverty’ you know, something along those lines. Alas, I don’t expect any of those any time soon.

But anyway back to my life. When I was seven, I told my mum I wanted to be a journalist. She was shocked and she replied: “Where did you learn that word from.” I replied: “The journalist that speaks to me in my head told me.” She must have either thought ‘damn it, I have given birth to a deluded child’ or ‘aww he has an imaginary friend.’ Neither really answered her question of where I heard the word ‘journalist’ at such a young age, though. Perhaps I am still deluded…

Anyway enough cynicism. One thing I have learnt in life is that to get what you want, not only do you have to believe you can get it, but you have to work for it. Scientists have long known about the great wonders that can occur from ‘thinking positively’. People can cure themselves from ‘incurable diseases.’

The subconscious is undoubtedly something incredible. So too is the human soul.

I often feel a sense of disquiet – discord even, between my mind/body and my soul. A debate often sparks between the two. The soul, which predates the human body, knows the secrets of the universe and yearns to return to return to its Lord. Mine certainly does. I sometimes feel estranged in this world, feeling a sense of unease about my very existence. ‘Is this my real home’? – I often ponder.

My attitude towards religion has also changed. Mostly because of listening to intellectuals and academics and reading their works. I started reading properly about one and a half years ago – before that I thought reading to be something mundane and tedious. How wrong I was. Reading can have the most profound change on an individual. It can literally liberate the mind and get one to think in profound ways.

So back to religion. I had a very simplistic and regressive perception of Islam. I thought it to be something very literal, and not open to interpretation. How wrong I was again. At the heart of the deeply intellectual and nuanced faith of Islam is a plethora of possible understandings. God knows who is right. And God alone knows our intentions. And it is our intentions that, ultimately, we will be judged. It doesn’t matter what you believe or don’t believe -nobody knows what is in the the heart, what somebody has been conditioned to think, and why a human being acts in the way that they act. Nobody human being has the right to judge.

Many people can’t fathom why some live lives of luxury whilst other live in abject poverty. One woman died last year from drinking too much water in a water drinking competition. At the same time, those in Somalia, as we speak, are dying because they have no water. What sort of world is this? A world without a God? It sounds possible. But once we understand our purpose: to know our Lord, to be vicegerents of this world (helping one another) and to do as much good as possible, everything starts to make more sense.

Life is just a short soujourn. It’s transient and ephemeral. We will all soon be gone and be replaced. So this is why we shouldn’t take anything for granted. Especially your health, money but most importantly, your time.

I await the next 20 years of my life.

*By the way I wrote this in under ten minutes, sorry for any mistakes, grammatical or otherwise.*

Are atheists morally superior to believers?

I just heard a believer in God say: “Let’s be honest, we’re human being right, we’re selfish creatures. I give charity because I want to go to heaven.’ But if he is doing it because he wants to ascend to the delights of the celestial world, but an atheist gives charity out of the goodness of their heart, doesn’t that make the atheist morally superior?

As I elucidated in my post ‘Do we need Religion in the 21st century‘, one of the main purposes of religion is not only to wake people up out of their somnolent slumber, but it trains a person’s ego and helps them redress their innate personality defects. One such innate personality flaw is the predisposition of selfishness. For religious believers, selfishness is sometimes accentuated because of the promise of heaven. But religion is not a one-dimensional, simplistic ideology created to appease people’s fears and desires. It’s a transformative training programme designed to elevate a human being so that they can reach their highest being. True, God does tell people to do good to attain heaven, but God knows our psychology.

If we weren’t given an incentive, human beings, generally, wouldn’t do good. Of course, this is a generalisation, but it applies to many, many people world-wide. Many atheists do good out of the goodness of their heart, and although they may not know it, they may be greatly in-tune with their spiritual side. Others, however, aren’t in tune with their spiritual side and therefore need an incentive to do good. The point is this: by constantly doing good, one eventually learns to do it without much thought, and eventually, they will do good – not because of a reward –  but because goodness will emanate from them naturally. This is the highest state of awareness a religious believer can achieve: when goodness emanates from them naturally.

This is the ultimate purpose of religion: it is suppose to wake a human being up and get them to stop performing religious rituals in a perfunctory manner, but in a way that exudes spirituality.

Why is the world in such a bad state?

From rapists to murders to the gangstas who walk around with permanent wrinkles on their forehead as they look to intimidate others, to girls who walk around in the skimpiest of clothes, to the university student, to every professional and every homeless person, you, me and every other person on this planet- what do we all have in common..? We’re all searching for meaning, for happiness, for love and for peace.

Our soul – which predates our physical body – replied in the affirmative when our Lord asked us the following question in our primordial existence: ‘Am I not your Lord? ‘Yes, we do testify!’ we all said. This primordial covenant is ingrained deep down within our consciousness.

Our descent into this lowly existence caused us to forget our Lord and the covenant. Because most of us lack this intrinsic bond with the Divine, we are in a natural state of agitation and disquietude. We search far and wide in our quest for meaning, and often, we end up lost, in strange places and even more confused.

There can be no world peace if we do not first find peace in ourselves. [click here to read my article on the search for inner peace]

If we look around the world, we can see that some of the most devoutly religious countries are plagued with corruption, whereas some of the most secular, like Finland, don’t suffer from such problems. Hamza Yusuf (pictured left), the American intellectual believes – and so do I –that religion is not the absolute solution per se, but what’s important is a strong middle-class in society and tax laws that help prevent the vast accumulation of wealth to an elite few. This, in turn, prevents wealth disparities; a society can therefore become much more just and secure. Peace and security are synonymous and one often fails without the other.

When poverty and corruption become endemic in a society, seldom is peace attained. Why? Because people are not free. Poverty prevents people from reaching their potential and corruption causes anger and hostility amongst the people.

There therefore needs to be a more just economic system, not one based on capitalism or any other permutation of a system which allows for greed and the neglect for the poor, and not one based on Pharaonic corporate and individual wealth. Economics governs most of our day to day affairs and a just system is imperative. There needs to be some modifications in our use of fractional reverse banking; we shouldn’t sell on debt neither should we exploit people through interest re-payments, for example. By no means am I an economics expert, but these things are two examples of unjust policies.

The way we elect our leaders also needs, perhaps, a rethink. Even though, in the west, we elect our leaders in a democratic fashion, we still find that our leaders often become war-mongers, and, really, are just as bad as the tyrants in the East (just a bit less crude and more sophisticated).

Our leaders, in my opinion, should be people who are asked to become Prime Ministers and Presidents, not those who are determined to become our leaders at any cost. Of course, the leaders we ask should be qualified to do the job, but most importantly, they should be people of honour and prestige. These leaders (hopefully) will be less concerned about the countries’ interests, but the countries’ virtues. And as Socrates believed, if a country is more concerned about its virtues than its interests, its interests will naturally be taken care of.

The paradox of being perplexes even the most profound philosophers: we find it hard to comprehend life. But, really, all the answers we need lie within us. Although intellect is important, it is not everything. The most important thing is to understand and learn who we are, so we can work on our inner state. Once we realize who we are, we can then start to find peace within ourselves. Then, of course, we’ll find peace elsewhere.

Omar Shahid

Follow me: @omar_shahid

Religion Has Failed, But So Has Atheism, Secularism & Capitalism

Let’s face it. The world is in a mess and nothing seems to be working. The reason religion is becoming more and more unpopular and is being replaced by materialistic systems like atheism, secularism and capitalism, is because of religious followers. The ‘followers’ of the world’s major religions can broadly be categorised into two: those who forward a distorted version of their religion, and those who aren’t doing anything to counter the distorted version put forward. Both are just as bad. Religion has failed to tame its followers, atheism has provided a shield of arrogance to atheists, secularism has stripped the world of a moral foundation and capitalism has promoted greed.  

Let me start with the failure of the religious. How can a Christian, Muslim or Hindu or any other religious follower, claim their religion is the correct one without understanding or studying the others? And when I say study, I don’t mean listening to your pastor, Imam or Guru, I mean study the religion yourself.   

Muslims need to understand the time in which they are living, and realise that their religion is compatible with any time and age. Just because it was revealed over 1400 years ago in the desert of Arabia, this does not mean that the religion can’t move with the times. The teachings remain the same, but our understanding of the teachings have to conform with the era in which we live. Muslims need to become more diplomatic, while using rationalism and science to propound their message. Muslims are so concerned about what other people are doing  they often neglect their own character and ego. In the pursuit of denouncing other Muslims – calling them names like ‘kafir’ (non-believers) – they often end up renouncing their own faith by labelling people with names they have no right to. My advice to Muslims would be to rectify your own faults before worrying about others.

Christianity, like Islam, is a proselytising religion that calls for the word of God to be spread. But when radical Christians claim Jesus is humanities only saviour, and without believeing Jesus died on the cross for our sins we will end up in Hell, people become profusely put off the faith. I have a Christian friend who once said ‘I can do what I want because the Bible says I’m going to Heaven anyway.’ It is this sort of hubris which is grossly off putting to those of other faiths. Christianity is a great religion which provides hope and exudes love. My advice would be to understand the true teachings of Jesus and understand the Bible in its true context.

The terms Judaism and Zionism have become synonymous, when, in fact, they are the antithesis of each other. The obvious difference between the two is that one is a great religion, which, at its core, has a set of moral principles, and the other, is an ideology bent on ethnic cleansing and the stealing of land. My advice would be for Jews to vehemently disassociate themselves from Zionism (if they are against it) so that the two terms are no longer conjoined.

The less proselytising religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism don’t have the same problems. The only issue is that we hardly hear what these religions are actually about. People need to familiarise themselves with the beautiful teachings of many of the Hindu scriptures like the Bhagvad Gita and with Hinduism’s essential teachings of spirituality and harmony. Most Sikhs are genuine, harmless and devout people who just like to do bhangra and drink alcohol all the time (just joking).  Sikhism, in fact, actually combines many of the best traits from the Islamic and Hindu faith and therefore is profoundly prudent. When one hears the word Buddhism, it naturally commands respect. True Buddhists live a life of sacrifice and peace with themselves and others, but interestingly, remain quiet on the issue of whether there is a God or an afterlife. Furthermore, their scriptures are a deep ocean of knowledge which, after a lifetime of study, will still elude the most erudite of scholars.

When I say religion has a problem, I don’t mean it in a literal sense. I mean the followers of the faith have problems; often quite profound and deeply psychological. The problem arises when the ‘followers’ use their religion as a tool to further their own selfish agendas. People often fight in the name of their religion when they don’t even understand the essence of their religion, and even worse, don’t understand the religion of those whom they are fighting. It’s oxymoronically stupid.  

All religious believers need a more holistic and pluralistic understanding of their religion. We need to understand the essence of our own religions before trying to preach every intricate detail of our religion to others. Often, rationalists, skeptics, agnostic and atheist thinkers claim to be open minded but then assert their open mindedness gives them a natural superiority. The non- religious need to understand that religion is not based on ignorance but on the intellect and it is only the followers who use the former and not the latter.

One humanity.

Omar Shahid

Follow me on twitter: @omar_shahid

What Will Heaven Be Like?

Whether one believes in metaphysical realities is down to one’s own volition, but a religious believer lives their life in order to get to heaven. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other religious traditions may have different names for the other realm, nevertheless it is through understanding our purpose in this existence and living a life of goodness and penitence that one achieves true success. The following description of heaven is my simplified and shortened summary from religious and philosophical texts.  

Because we can’t see heaven- nor have we experienced it- any description of it is somewhat allegorical, in the sense that we can only use human language to describe it, when, really, it is beyond human comprehension. The Greek Philosopher Plato believed that everything in this transient sojourn is a bleak version of what exists in the world of forms- or what many would call ‘heaven’.  We do however, receive glimpses of what exists within the heavenly realm in this life. We have colours like red, blue, green and yellow, but in heaven their will be colours that will be new to us.

After the Day of Judgement when all human beings would have been questioned for their deeds and all matters that were unresolved in this life would have been resolved by our Lord, we will, through God’s justice, enter our final destination. For those who chose to live a life worthy of being admitted into heaven, will have the gates of paradise opened before them, and will run towards their home-you will instinctively know where you live. This home will be a palace, better than Buckingham palace, or should I say, better than all the palaces in this world combined. The ‘bricks’ of your house will be made from gold and silver. Architecture unlike you can imagine.

Men will be reunited with their wives, and will find that their partners are more beautiful than they could ever have imagined. So beautiful in fact, that you could sit their for ‘years’ admiring her beauty, although ‘years’ doesn’t really make sense in a realm which is outside time, space and matter.

There will be flowing rivers beneath your feet, some rivers of water, some milk, and others honey and wine. One can drink from the rivers as much as they want, but it will be purely for pleasure, not necessarily to satisfy the bodily needs. The food will be readily available, you can take anything of the trees, and anything you desire will be yours.

In heaven there are no meetings, no school, no work, no appointments, just an infinite amount of time. We will not be in the bodily form we inhabit now, and therefore our state of mind will be different and wont be subject to the mundane thoughts we currently exhibit.

There is no summer or winter, no sun or moon as such, but will just be the constant light which will emanate from the throne of our Lord.

What form will we take? We will be the height of Adam (approximately 90 yards tall), the age of Jesus when he ascended to the heavens (33) and the men will be as beautiful as the prophet Joseph. The philosopher John Hick believes that once we die, and take on a new form, we will not take on the form we currently inhabit, but we will have this recognition device which will instinctively tell us who people are.

If our inner state is not willing to ascertain the truth of this life then our heart cannot gain experiential knowledge of the divine. The heart has the ability to see things which are not always outwardly manifest and can at times gain a piercing insight into the metaphysical realities. Heaven may seem like a wild fantasy created to appease our psychological needs and something which fills the void in our life.  But even if one doesn’t believe in heaven, one should still live their life as if there is one.

Omar Shahid

Do We Need Religion in the 21st Century?

 Having been brought up in a moderate religious tradition, I have been able to question, ponder and reflect over the purpose of religion. Many see religion as a sort of control mechanism, restricting the followers to blind belief, enhancing prejudice and, essentially, an outdated concept for people who are scared of death; so they choose to invent ideas about: a God, heaven and hell and all other sorts of methaphysical concepts. I, however, believe that religion is essential for society, as well as for the human psyche-and I will tell you why. Continue reading