My latest stay in Syria proved cathartic to me for more than one reason, especially when it was regarding that of religion. Living alone for so long, immersed in one's own thought and books, can lead to the construction of an internal world which is beautiful in its preciseness, order and logic. This world, contrasted with the foolishness that surrounds us, becomes an ideal to which all is compared. Naturally and for the sake of brevity I have no intention of delving into another blog post on Plato's Theory of Forms. My point is far simpler, perhaps even slightly Aristotelian, and that is that one must recognise that the world we live in is very real, substantial and all around us. In short, you cannot ignore it, and you cannot impose your own vision onto it. It is what it is.
This brings me to the way I've seen many people approach religion in Syria, especially the Islamic religion. My own studies and investigations have always been about finding the rustic heart, the simple beauty, that the first Muslims found in the Qur'an, and of the experiential path to become nearer to the divine. I was never interested in dogma, stale instructions and blind imitation. Yet my visit to Syria proved startling in that many average people seemed to be doing precisely that which I always wanted to avoid. Outwardly, I was carrying out the same obligations as some, and that was enough to warrant a beaming Ma'Shallah from them at my outward piety, amazingly retained even whilst I lived in the midst of what they consider to be the dissolute and immoral West. But I did not approve of the justifications for what seemed like their contrived piety. Religion, like with many people I see from all faiths all over the world, is treated like being a member of a football team. And membership is usually inherited from parents to children. Naturally, there is derision of members from other teams, all taken from literal extracts of some religious text. It was all quite baffling to me. Even more baffling than people who say "Separate Religion From the State" as if that should mean something, and I believe it doesn't.
So what is religion supposed to be? Or rather, what is Islam supposed to be? Well, it's an inward faith, it's about doing right regardless of those who oppose it, and of being more concerned with your own failings and problems than of those in people surrounding you. That doesn't mean you should not resist immorality or support an ethical standard of some sort, but you must always have a balancing act between being a complete moron whom nobody likes, and between being a man whose manner and bearing demands the respect and good behaviour of those around him.
There will always be fools with whom a sound argument is unpersuasive and, half the time, wisdom is about recognising these situations and just saying Salaam. You are not automatically a better person simply because you were born, or have converted, to Islam or, in fact, any other of the serious religions of the world. You are a better person because of your treatment of others, your manners and your principles. My own personal philosophy in my dealings with other human beings around the world is to be like a jar of honey, sweet for whomever decides to taste from it.