Discussions on religious issues on talk-shows have become a
common phenomenon. As a Psychiatrist, I often get drawn into
analyzing the form and content of these, which are often
arguments more than mature discussions. Each participant is
found vehemently defending his/her own viewpoint, unwilling to
even examine a different perspective. Since the content is
religious, emotions run high, as a threat to one’s beliefs is
perceived as a threat to one’s self-esteem and identity. The
situation is no different from the plight of the six blind men
who went to examine the elephant. One, who got hold of the
leg, thought it resembled a pillar; another held the ear and
assumed it resembled a fan, and the one examining the trunk
considered it to be a long thick rope.
Discussions involving matters relating to religion between
individuals belonging to varying backgrounds seldom get
anywhere because each is talking from a different paradigm.
Thus, the orthodox clergy has its own concepts, the “liberals”
have their own version and the mystics see from an entirely
different perspective. Yet each claims to hold the ultimate
truth following their brand of the most accurate and pristine
perception of Islam. Most, except perhaps the mystics, go even
further to not only vehemently assert their righteousness and
their sole property rights of the true Islam, they consider
all the others who differ from them in this regard as not only
misguided but worthy of eternal damnation. Nothing short of
that is acceptable to them.
Isn’t it strange that whereas we tolerate different attitudes,
perceptions and tastes when it involves our decisions
regarding dress, food etc, we become completely intolerant
when others exercise their same choice in matters of
perception and understanding of religion?
At times, I find it hilarious to watch discussions on TV
between “scholars” who aggressively defend their own
particular vision of Islam. These “discussions” are more of a
battle between powerful competing egos. It is said that in an
argument there are always three sides to be considered: my
side, your side and the real side. These heated discussions
between individuals, who are full of themselves, also seem to
revolve around these: my Islam, your Islam, and the real
I know of so many decent and noble people who harm none and
are always striving for the welfare of their fellow beings.
They are not very regular in their daily prayers or the yearly
fasts, but feel they are good Muslims because they claim to be
practicing the true spirit of Islam. Yet there are others who
are extremely regular with their prayers, fasts, performing
countless umras and yet lack compassion, tolerance and
forgiveness. They do believe that they are fulfilling all the
commands of religion and are practicing the real Islam.
How can these individuals have a discussion on their religion
when the concepts they have about it are so radically apart?
It is almost as if they are talking about two different
So where does all this lead us to? Should we remain like the
six blind men believing in their own subjective perception of
the elephant or should we, using “parallel thinking”, examine
the subject from all sides, including views and perceptions
different from ours, and thus arrive at a more holistic view
of it? That may still lead us to an imperfect understanding,
but then that is the best we can do as a start.