Q: I’m a Muslim but not a practicing one, in Uni I took a religions course that introduced me to a lot of controversial stuff about Islam, and I don’t know if I wanna be associated with it any more, what do I do?
A: Religions courses as a whole are quite an interesting experience, they can be enlightening but also, at times, frightfully misleading. Drawing on personal experience, I’ve noticed professors paint the broad brush of Islam over incredibly complex topics. An example would be in a recent class where a professor deemed marriage in Islam as a method of confining women to the household and controlling them; this lecture generalized Islam as an oppressive religion without disclosing the cultural context of the issue, or the various perspectives on the topic. Another example would be when a professor claimed that Muslim women could perform Hajj (a holy pilgrimage) without a Mahram (a man whom a woman cannot marry i.e. a brother, father or son), when asked about his references he referred me to a national geographic documentary about a woman who was deemed a special case by the Saudi government.
Now while the unintentional or ignorant spread of misinformation is an important factor in students feeling spiritually confused, there is also another key contributor; a lack of knowledge on the receiving side. Many students who choose to take religious courses want the grade booster, considering basic knowledge and a somewhat faith-based upbringing enough to pass; but when confronted with controversy or questions we fall short, not only do we fail to answer the questions directed at our system of beliefs, we lose the belief itself. While practicing a religion is important, the real issue arises with the concept of “blind faith” that has developed. Without understanding a faith, without studying Islam and delving into its contents, controversies and issues, we cannot provide justifications or answers for ourselves, let alone others. Often times culture is misconstrued for faith and this is then perpetuated under the name of religion, from issues such as women’s rights to how to implement aspects of Islamic law, culture carries more influence than religion. Due to this lack of religious knowledge and cultural confusion, youth face difficult predicament which can lead to apologetic politics, desertion of faith and in worst case scenarios, extremism.
For students who face the dilemma of what religious courses preach versus what Islam preaches there is a solution. What would you do if you received controversial information about something you loved, such as a celebrity or a company? Research. You would research the controversy, check multiple news sources, and verify the issue yourself. When it comes to faith it is important that we conduct the same research; If a professor uses controversial or potentially misleading information, ask for references. Visit trusted sources for information, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Visit scholarly websites, watch lectures, speak to both religious and non-religious sources. In the end, while following or deserting a faith is up to each individual, it is crucial to exhaust all resources and then create an informed opinion, rather than blindly follow a religion or a professor.
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