After the recent terrorist activity in Mumbai, once again the question of religion has surged and fingers are being pointed. Did the group responsible for the macabre killings have any religious affiliation? Was this a terror attack on a nation or on targeted religious groups? Most of these questions have contorted answers from which it is difficult to extricate notions of state and religion. Once again Islam is caught in the line of fire and it will be a while before accusations and fear subside.
Though few, my childhood and adolescence memory is dotted with incidents of communal and religious violence. Albeit, I was never caught amidst any, it was sad and disturbing reading about such confrontations. I wondered why peace and harmony couldn’t exist between different religious groups. Though not very pious myself, religion still occupies a major role in my life. In India, I imagined that the answers to my questions would always bear biased opinions due to the majority of Hindus around me. In one of my classes for cross cultural studies, we discussed the role of religion in our lives, its underlying influence on the culture of a people and the practice of religious rituals in present times. We discussed different religious ideologies and approached it with the objectiveness the subject requires; it is hard to get this perspective when you are living in a place where the majority is similar to you because of the obvious emotional attachment with the religion closest to you. However, sitting thousands of miles away you can distance yourself enough to be able to enjoy and partake in a social scientist’s outlook. For instance, we talked about secularism in India, yet most of the traditions have religious explanations since Hinduism is the oldest religion prevalent in the country. But it is hard to realize the religious undercurrent of traditions without sufficient separation from them. Most societies have their values rooted firmly in religion and it is hard to extricate the influence of religion from that cultural heritage. These societal values are reflected in the thoughts and actions of its people; thus religion brings people together. Religion, we concluded, was meant to give us a sense of security and belongingness in our society. I found it hard to concur with this supposed sense of security that religion provided, because of the recent acts of terror in the name of religion.
At Carleton, I was invited to join CRU- Carleton Religious Understanding. It is a forum that invites students from different religious affiliations and students in search of a religious affiliation to talk about the position of their religion or just their opinions grounded in sound reasoning on a given question. Students come together to talk about differences in opinions between different religious groups which in turn affects the perspective of a society. This is all done in a manner of conversation and discussion. It was a pleasure for me to see people engage in meaningful conversation and take interest in other religions. It raised the question in mind – why was such dialogue possible at Carleton and not back home. Understandably then, the safe environment that Carleton creates being a college with no religious affiliations is the corner stone of such dialogues. It definitely raises hope. My home at Carleton houses me and three of my closest friends- a Christian, a Muslim and one with no religious affiliation. We share some of our best memories together and religion has played no role in it. We all feel equally welcome at Carleton and are respectful of each other. This may sound like Utopia, but for most Carls it is a reality that forms a common part of their experience.
We live in a global village today and cannot continue viewing incidents such as the recent terror attack in complete isolation. With several countries joining hands and pledging to take action against global terrorism, we simply cannot demonize one people or one religion but instead must realize terrorists do not have a religion. We must go after criminals with determination, good evidence and fair trials, and stop targeting people based on their religious affiliation – purposeful dialogue is needed to ensure global harmony.