Real Talk: The Faithful or The Faithless

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The following article discusses topics of a sensitive nature which may be disturbing and/or controversial to some readers. Hence, reader discretion is advised. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author and do not reflect Sunway University’s values. 

In this month’s Real Talk segment, we have decided to talk about “faith”. The topic of faith has always been up for debate as it is empowering and often causes polarization amongst people. While the word “faith” has repeatedly been thrown around in a religious context, we may have overlooked the many layers of meaning and significance to its concept and the implications it brings about. Let us start off by briefly unweaving the concept of faith based on the perspectives of a few religions:

  1. Islam

According to the al-Quran, “Faith” (al-iman) in the Arabic language means to affirm something and to comply with it. Affirmation represents the words of the heart, which is belief, and compliance is shown through the actions of the heart.

In Majmu’ Al-Fatawa 7/638, Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

وَمَعْلُومٌ أَنَّ الْإِيمَانَ هُوَ الْإِقْرَارُ لَا مُجَرَّدُ التَّصْدِيقِ وَالْإِقْرَارُ ضِمْنَ قَوْلِ الْقَلْبِ الَّذِي هُوَ التَّصْدِيقُ وَعَمَلِ الْقَلْبِ الَّذِي هُوَ الِانْقِيَادُ

In order to practice their faith, there are five primary obligations called the Five Pillars of Islam which are: the profession of faith in God and belief in Muhammad (shahadah), devotional worship or prayer (salat), giving to those in need (zakat), fasting during Ramadhan (sawm), and the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during a person’s lifetime if the person is able (hajj). 

  1. Buddhism

According to Buddhism, the word for ‘faith’ in Pali (the language of the original Buddhist texts) is saddhā. It is sometimes translated as ‘confidence’ or ‘trust,’ however the literal meaning of saddhā is ‘to place your heart upon.’ It means to give our hearts over to, or place our hearts upon something. It does not mean rigidly believing in something and being pejorative about opening up to new ideas. Instead, it opens us up to what is beyond our habitual, limited, and egocentric concerns with a genuine confidence in the possibility of our own awakenings.

  1. Hinduism

On the other hand, faith in Hinduism is primarily known as Śraddhā (Sanskrit: श्रद्धा). It is the sum of your values, convictions, and conception of the world. It not only means belief, but also interest, dedication, and application as they are all interrelated. Faith is at the heart of Hindu devotional practices as it sustains your devotion. Furthermore, union or oneness with God can only be achieved through strong faith in God and eagerness to reach Him. Thus, purpose, humility, reverence, and faith is collectively called Śraddhā.

  1. Christianity

Hebrews 11:1, NIV: 

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

According to The Bible, faith is the substance or assurance of things we hope for but have not yet received. The Christian faith is more than just believing in God alone as it also encompasses our behaviour, our actions, and choices. It always begins with reasoning and it is only completed by faithful action and obedience by putting the question to test. Faith is both thinking things through in response to a good reason that something is changing and living in light of that reality. It includes reason to believe that the one calling us to action is trustworthy when we are in the face of circumstances without absolute certainty. This then puts us in touch with the substance or the reality that we’re hoping for.

Atheism & Agnosticism

Some of us grew up sown with the seeds of religious teachings from a young age, whether it be of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam or other religions, and it blooms. In some people, the seeds grow into a different plant altogether. It’s like we’re planting magic seeds within ourselves wherein our growth processes are unique. 

Throughout the growth process, we may identify with different beliefs at different points of time. However, this does not apply to all of us. Some people actually turn out to be unaffiliated to any beliefs.

In accordance with the theme of “Faith” in April, we have decided to explore the concepts of faith to different people, especially of atheists (a person who lacks belief in the existence of God) and agnostics (a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God), since they are widely deemed as a faithless kind in a world where religion and faith are seen as equivalent.

We have gathered several perspectives from our atheist and agnostic friends on their concepts of faith.

Question 1: Do you identify with any religion / do you believe in the existence of God?

A: No I don’t, but I do believe that there is a higher divinity; someone who is watching over us.

B: Identifies as Agnostic.

C: Identifies as Atheist.

D: Identifies as Agnostic. 

E: Identifies as Agnostic.

F: Identifies as Atheist.

Question 2: What is the concept of faith to you?

A: To me, faith is a voice that comes from within our hearts. One that keeps us going and gives us hope in life. 

B: Faith is a broad term. Everyone can have their interpretation. I see “faith” as “trust.” I cannot trust something that we aren’t sure is existent or not. I see the good sides of humanity; therefore, my faith is in human kindness.

C: I believe that everyone has a similar approach of having faith in either someone or something. I do believe that there is a higher power among us, but rather than believing that that higher power is God, my beliefs are leaning more towards how science is actually the true creator of everything we see today.

D: I guess faith is related to believing in and worshiping a particular religion.

E: Faith is strongly believing in an idea or a teaching that is extremely relatable or inspiring to oneself.

F: I think faith is a source of inner strength which promotes one’s well being.

Question 3: Why do you hold this belief?

A: Because from my experience, I realised that everyone has an inner voice in them that can keep them going whenever things get tough, only if they amplify it enough.

B: I believe in science and after thousands of years, I still don’t think we understand science as a whole. Same thing goes for religions.

C: The reason for my beliefs today is that unlike most of the claims that have been made when it comes to religions – no matter if it is Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and many others-  science is actually able to back up its claims by showing visible proof that can be seen with our own eyes. I also can’t bring myself to believe that if there was a God, He would actually allow all the bad things to happen to everyone in the world on a daily basis.

D: I don’t know, I’m not interested in any religion. I’m just living my life, but I respect any religious people as long as they do not harm anyone.

E: Frankly, I’ve been a follower of 3 religions before and although the teachings are great, I’ve never really felt the same things in prayer or rituals as other people feel. I’m spiritual sometimes, but I always find it more comfortable when I’m being spiritual regarding nature or just the unknown. Also, politics and personality clashes with others have debased my religious experiences.

F: I believe that people reap what they sow and it’s not just about “believing” as a concept, it’s also about the effort that transforms your concepts into reality. If one believes that they will be rich without putting in any effort, then it’s merely a concept.

Question 4: How do you maintain hope, especially during bad times, as faith is a big part of the reason people hope?

A: I amplify that little voice. I focus on it. That little voice equals faith. I amplify it as much as I can. 

For example: If I want to give up on something, I know that my mind will naturally come up with 101 excuses to convince me to give up because it knows that I am struggling and our minds are not good with the uncomfortable. Hence, I will acknowledge that the excuses that I have come up with are simply my attempt to convince myself to give up.

Once I am aware of that, I will listen to what my heart truly wants. It is okay to make sacrifices, as long as that is something I want. That voice will remind me so, but it is tiny. So I will have to amplify it, and make it loud.

B: As I have said, I have faith in people, including myself. Thus, to try to keep myself optimistic (emphasis on try), I have faith in myself. I believe that I can get myself through the hardships. 

C: Even though I am an atheist, it is not hard for me to be optimistic even through the bad times. The world works in many crazy ways, but I do not believe that the challenges I go through are tests from God. Instead, it is just the reality of things, whereby it happens to every individual. By learning from my mistakes, I make myself a stronger person whilst gaining experience not just physically but mentally, and it helps to keep my hopes up knowing that I will know what to do when I am faced with a similar situation in the future.

D: I just socialise with my family and close friends when I’m down and talk to them about my issues or I just play games and watch YouTube videos to cheer myself up. It works out really well for me.

E: I guess I try to have faith in myself. Having good basic values and perseverance in life doesn’t need to come from religion as some people may be outwardly religious but are hypocrites when it comes to being a good person. I believe if I am good to others and maintain a healthy mindset, it’s enough.

F: I’m an optimist so I’ll also look at the bright side during bad times. In fact, I appreciate the bad times because life can’t always be uplifting all the time, the downs make life complete. Sometimes, I do allow myself to be sad or negative during the bad times, but I don’t immerse myself in it for long. The companionship of friends and family also help!

Highlighting Ramadan in April 

Awaited by many, April 2021 also happens to be the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. It is a month where Muslims engage in the act of fasting throughout the day, restraining from lustful desires, a month of reflection, devotion, as well as community. 

This is the month where mosques are flooded more than ever by Muslims who join the congregational night prayers in efforts of becoming more faithful believers of Islam. Amongst them are often Muslims who may not have previously expressed their devotion to their religion in an outward or blatant manner and are making renewed attempts at abandoning their worldly desires to form a stronger connection to Islam.

However, their motivation and efforts to overcome their desires and habits are often poisoned by the judgemental eyes of less compassionate Muslims. Jokes about ‘Ramadan Muslims’ have surfaced and stung the sincerity held by these people as other holier-than-thou Muslims can ruthlessly dismiss their efforts and criticise or point out their flaws merely due to their past actions. 

In truth, it is not the place of Muslims to judge whether someone will be “going to heaven or hell,” or whether someone “will be forgiven by God or not,” especially if they do not wrong other people. 

It is true that as Muslims we should strive to be better, but one’s true inner feelings and thoughts as well as struggles are impossible for others to know. Therefore, we should focus instead on practicing compassion and kindess to both Muslims and non-Muslims, which are deeply emphasised in Islam.

Faith and Religion

There are misconceptions regarding the concepts of faith and religion as the two terms are often intertwined with each other. Many people think that faith and religion are the same thing. However, while they may not be adversaries to each other, there is a clear and crucial distinction between faith and religion. Most scholars define faith as highly personal, mysterious, individualistic, and inexpressible. According to Reza Aslan, who is a religious scholar, religion is merely the language that is used to express that faith, which is fundamentally ineffable. Other than that, religion is a belief system consisting of certain sets of rules and regulations based on interpretations of scriptures and can be characterized by different rituals and procedures in their religious practices. These religious traditions have then shaped societies, minds, and cultures that have been passed on for generations.

Furthermore, people often assume that an individual who has faith in God or a transcendent power is automatically a “religious” person. While religion is based on the construct of faith, faith is not always based on religion. Faith may lead a person towards religion, but that does not mean that their faith is reflected and defined by the social and cultural dogmas imposed upon them or that they are always accepted. 

As we come to a conclusion, there is one thing in common that the opposing scales of “The Faithful” and “The Faithless” should have: the presence of doubt. Faith is not about certainty and it is also not the absence of doubt, but instead requires it. Without doubt, we would just resort to taking a blind leap of faith into the cacophonous darkness. If we do not question something, then there is no point in believing it. In our walks of life, we will always meet people who have different religions and faiths from us or a lack thereof. Thus, in the midst of all our contrasting beliefs, what should be emphasized is the importance of making room for compassion and respect and keeping an open mind in fostering honest conversations with each other.

By: Amirah and Lynn Hor

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