Faiths divide, Values unite
Islamic Voice, July 15, 2008

The relationship between ritualism and values is inversely proportional. The more one sees a society engrossed in rituals, putting on the garb of holiness and sanctity, the less respectful it becomes of the values. It grows more concerned with image than character. Rituals often have the tendency of raising a facade, putting on a mask, covering up the real face and robbing the individual or the society off the substance. People of faith, be they Muslims, Christians, Hindus or others, often camouflage their action under ritualism to put on a cloak of sacredness.

Rituals are a tricky business. They have an outward form and infinite capacity to deceive the onlookers. Politicians deploy them as diversionary tactics to expand their appeal among the naive men and women. Spiritual industrialists and the modern-age gurus practice them for multi-billion transactions. Peddlers of dubious and spurious wares survive and thrive on its strength. They have all the element of business what with these gurus flaunting colour, sound, symbols, and flags.

In contrast, values have to be practiced, are difficult to be observed, demand sacrifice, are intangible and therefore take long to be recognized and respected. Shorn of publicity, bereft of impressive array of followers, and devoid of noise, these have to be perceived only through behaviour, dealings, manners, etiquette and one's conduct in private and public. They are not superficial. They have a tendency to be latent, an obsession with subtlety, a passion not to be discovered and shy of being evident.

A cursory glance over the Muslims around the world would convince that over the last few decades, the community has come to betray several outer manifestations of Islamic rituals and symbols. There are more millions who gather for Hajj every year. The number of those who seek forgiveness on the 27th night of Ramadan at the Haram Mosque in Makkah has surpassed the number conglomerating for the annual pilgrimage. Beards have lengthened and hemlines of trousers have gone up. Headscarf has emerged as the universal bond of Islamic sisterhood. More people perform Itikaaf while millions of lambs are sacrificed on Eidul Azha. More rosary beads, miswaks and musallas find buyers. The most ungodly of the nations, China, has made the most of this Islamic religious fervour. They now manufacture and supply the Islamic prayer rugs (often compass studded), tasbeeh calculators, takbir clocks and plastic Ganesha idols in millions and rake up billions of dollars. Similarly, rituals like vaastu, homa, havana, yagya, Ganapathy poojas, grihaparvesham, have found popularity among Hindus. It has become a fetish to indulge in exhibitionism when it comes to matters religious. These manifestations of religiosity that characterise the religion or the religious people, are not unique to Islam or Hinduism alone. All across the globe, ritualism is on the rise.

Lament is that even if underlying piety has not changed that much, religion's role in public life; plainly has. Amid the noisy trumpeting of religious slogans, the lives of people are getting sterile of values. People are eager to make repeat performance of Hajj even by impersonation, beating the rules of legal disability. Just as the acquisition of an American Green Card has become a symbol of the Indian (and, perhaps, elsewhere too) elite, performing Umrah during Ramadan has also emerged as a status symbol. Treatment of an ailing neighbour, marriage of the poor ageing spinster in the back lane, or a child of the housemaid withdrawn from the school owing to lack of resources do not occupy their priority. People do not feel qualms in flaunting Haza min Fazli Rabbi ("I owe it to my Lord's bounty") on mansions raised through ill-gotten wealth. Individuals who find themselves ill at ease while doling out paltry sums for the poor, do not bat an eyelid on sacrificing a dozen goats on the eve of Eidul Azha. Spirit of sacrifice for the needy around does not even touch them. The very Imams who tirelessly pontificate on virtues of retaining the traditional syllabus for madrassas, somnolently make a beeline for admission of their wards in modern missionary-run schools.

We indeed reside in a world that has made a business of religion and rituals. It is a soulless world, sterile of values of integrity, love, compassion, generousity, forgiveness and transparency. Spirit that characterize these rites has vanished into thin air. It is time we addressed the issue threadbare. Rites without values are like form without content, style without substance and body without a soul. Let us be reminded that religions survive by distinctions and differentiation. But values are one and the same all across the substrata of all faiths. In the final analysis, the religions differentiate, but values unite. It is up to us to choose.


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