I am embarrassed to admit that I have a celebrity crush, not of the Hollywood kind, but the kind that resides in the nooks and spaces of the academia world, and comes out every so often to express their opinion and subtly change the way in which we begin to understand the world.
My first encounter of Reza Aslan was purely by chance when one night scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, someone on my network must have posted a video of him in a brief interview with CNN about his thoughts on some controversial comments Bill Maher’s had made on his talk show, Real Time concerning terrorism and Islam.
It was one those times when randomly clicking on videos didn’t prove to be a complete waste of time. Instead I was enamoured by his articulation of the topic discussed and really what caught my attention was mid way through that interview when asked “does Islam promotes violence?” and he answered simply that Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent.
I’m not one to dive much into politics too much because I am easily drawn into it emotionally and the effects of which doesn’t really serve the higher good of anybody. Once in a while, I peak out from my shell to see what is happening; social media channels would always find its way eventually to my attention. For most of the time, whatever thoughts or conclusions arising from these, I choose to hold them to myself. So then the rest of 2014 happened and I never really went back to it until recently after a series of discoveries that I eventually found myself on this particular road that necessitates my own investigations of my understandings and fundamental beliefs that I was born into and grew up with.
I think anyone who can fearlessly venture into the unknown for the sake of finding the truth, of whatever that may be, who explores into the depths of beliefs within specific religions or freely amongst esoteric ideas about the Universe, and then having the bravery to yet again question, search, and repeat the entire cycle until the heart rests in peace within the chosen belief is absolutely admirable.
I have longed believed it is of little importance whether one belongs to one religion or the other, or not at all. In fact, some of the most memorable conversations I had while in University was with my housemate, an atheist whose beliefs are strongly grounded in science and logic. I knew there is a clear distinction between religion and spirituality, that just because one claims to be the former does not mean they automatically become the latter, equally on the flip side, just because one claims to be ‘spiritual’ does not mean they need to identify themselves under a specific religious institution. It is also obviously quite possible to embody both at the same time too.
And then I found more of Reza’s past media interviews and transcripts saying things like “Religion is not faith. That it’s the language that a community of faith uses to communicate with each other, the ineffable experience of faith. It is the story of faith.” Instantly I’m thinking “Damn, I love this guy already!”
Certainly it helps to have a strong line of academic qualifications backing every bit of his opinions and views but more importantly though, the effort to make these views known to the rest of the world, to offer an alternative way of thinking about a subject that has grown to be so sensitive and controversial that freedom of speech on religion itself could either a) get you disowned by your own family b) punished by your own government or c) all of the above and maybe more (like death!) is timely and much needed.
I don’t know if there will ever come a day when there is no longer a ‘you’ and ‘me’, where John Lennon finally gets his wish after tirelessly imagining his ideal world and singing about it, most probably not. But I think between these upheaval of violence and horrific deaths there is space for hope and faith. In a separate interview he said, “But, what really gives me hope is individuals (…) which is the key to all of this is relationships” which then strikes out to be the exact same message that runs clear through Ramana Maharshi and Jiddu Krishnamurti works, great thinkers who have long left this world way before words like Hamas, ISIS and 9/11 ever meant anything to the people. Finding communion in differing beliefs and faith through acknowledging the values that we share, our struggles, our hopes and aspirations, are almost always the same – that is perhaps where much of my hope resides too lately.
If you find your faith in your parents’ god
Don’t be so quick to point out the flaws in it
You’ve been around and you’ve seen the way that things work
But you need a compass to get around your house
Benjamin Francis Leftwich (Pictures)