The fact that a vast majority of individuals who inhabit our planet tend to stick to the religious beliefs of their parents is beyond dispute. A relatively small number do switch faiths: some because they find the new message appealing, some because they discern greater opportunities, some because of troubled backgrounds and some because contrived circumstances force them to. Those who get disillusioned for any reason tend to join the ranks of the atheists or agnostics.
Adherents of each religion feel that they are exclusively on the right path and the more radical one is, the more he believes in this assumption. Any thinking person is bound to ask himself why the religion or sect he is born into is alone correct and why all others are wrong. If there is one standard answer as to the correctness of one single belief, all thinking minds should have converged on to the same conclusion. As things stand today, the most brilliant minds per capita can be said to be those of the adherents of the Jewish faith, with Christians being a distant second.
The entire Muslim world has just produced two Nobel prize winners in the scientific field, one of whom Dr Abdus Salam, is largely shunned in his own country because of his religious beliefs, namely that he belonged to a sect that has been declared beyond the pale of Islam. On the face of it, it appears fallacious to assume that we lesser minds have reached the correct conclusion about our belief while a universally-recognized genius like Dr Salam could not.
Why exactly do people believe that their religious belief alone is correct? The answer is simple: the assumption of its correctness is drummed inside their heads since birth and the less inquisitive one is by temperament, the more readily one takes it for granted.
So what should a person conscious of his religious and individual obligations do? The foremost thing is that, regardless of one’s own beliefs, one should never mock the beliefs of others nor think of them as lesser mortals, for if they in turn start thinking the same of him, the end result would be mutual abuse and perpetual warfare. An adherent of a religion that stands for peace cannot be expected to provide a trigger for incessant fighting.
The next important aspect which follows on from the above is to treat everyone, regardless of gender or social status, with respect. This would also enable due justice, which is the bedrock of every rational belief system, to be dispensed across the board with an even hand.
Thirdly, utmost stress should be laid on obtaining and disseminating knowledge, without which the creation of a just and equitable society is inconceivable.
Fourthly, never get into a sectarian trap. Sectarian boundaries, wherever established, demolishes the age-old dividing line between right and wrong.
Jihad has regrettably become a much abused word in today’s world, with radicals citing it as a pretext for unbridled bloodletting and decapitation of those not felt to be conforming to their own rigid set of beliefs. Jihad essentially refers to a struggle for self-improvement leading to the overall betterment of society. In its militaristic form, it is a weapon of last resort, after all else fails, and undertaken when grave injustice has been meted out to a community. Acts of aggression are forbidden and war, when resorted to, should be undertaken with compassion, with the rights of non-combatants, the elderly, women, children and even flora and fauna being duly respected.
Religious obligations can be broadly divided into two major categories, the rights due to God and the rights due to one’s fellow men. The rights due to God are a personal matter, to be judged by God alone. Societal obligations can be enforced by the state without discrimination, but only if the established rights of others or of the community as a whole are violated. No one should however be allowed to take the law into their own hands; any civilized society should be suitably geared to furnish justice to all without discrimination.
An individual should thus endeavour to become a useful member of society by doing what is right, supporting what is just, respecting the rights of others, struggling against injustice and standing up for the rights of the oppressed. That is all there is to it. The bottom line is that no established religion is intrinsically flawed; it is how one practices it that matters.