26 April 2015
This morning I gave my twenty-fourth "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester.
I based it on a section of a presentation I am due to make tomorrow to 12 and 13 year old pupils at a school about Islam. Their teacher informs me that the children (who are overwhelmingly non-Muslims) have already covered the basic beliefs and practices of Islam. Accordingly I have built my presentation around explaining what being a Muslim means to me.
As the Thought for the Week is limited to two minutes, I concentrated on the most important point about Islam as I see it, which is our personal accountability to God.
Tomorrow I’ll be facing a challenge for the first time. I’ll be speaking to a class of 12 and 13 year olds at a school in Westhoughton to explain what my religion means to me.
For every religion, it’s very easy to give other people a list of things believers in that religion do.
Jews celebrate Passover, and fast on the Day of Atonement. Christians celebrate Christmas, and mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus at Easter. There are five pillars of Islam, including prayer and fasting during Ramadan.
And so on. This approach treats religions as phenomena to observe. If you go to a church on Christmas Eve, you may observe a midnight mass.
The problem with this approach is you never get underneath the skin. You never find out what it really means to be a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, or a follower of any other religion.
A religion is not just a list of things you do on particular days or in particular situations. If you belong to a religion, it fundamentally changes the way you think about yourself, about the rest of the world, about God and about the meaning of life.
Even when religions have a lot of overlap, as Judaism, Christianity and Islam do, every religion makes you see the world differently. Every religion also has a major impact on how you live your life. The challenge is how to explain to the school children how I see the world, and how that affects the way I live my life.
The single most important point is that I believe one day I will stand before God on the Day of Judgement and have to account for how I’ve lived my life.
This means I can never lie or steal, relying on not being caught out. Even if nobody else notices what I’ve done wrong, I can’t hide it from God.
You can be ethical without believing in God and the Day of Judgement, but if you do, you’re never even tempted to be unethical.