Sunday, March 24, 2013

and so it goes with God

After what seemed like a night of tossing and turning, I reached for Yann Martel's Life of Pi. It was a impulse purchase made earlier in the day. My biological clock had a religious touch to it, rousing me from sleep around five in the morning daily without fail. To say that I perform the Fajr prayers just as religiously would be an overstatement. You see, waking up at such an hour is always an invitation to deep thought.

Equivalent to staying up past two o'clock in the middle of the night, waking up at five in the morning for me brings about the same effect. I catch myself sweating in anxiety; partially grateful that I'm still among the living yet tinged with despair that I've to live the trails of the day to come. A natural inclination of these predications ultimately lead to me and existansialism.

You see, life's purpose - it's grand design - Has always been a mystery to me. Retrospectively, everything always seems to fall right into place. To a point where it becomes cosmic coincidence. At times, it scares me. At times, it enthralls me with the same wonder a young child gets when he first bends down, chin on the Earth and observes an ant colony for the first time. These moments of introspection always leaves me solemn, slightly drained and moreover filling me with slight dread.

What is my life's purpose in the grand design of things? Are we but a product of random cosmic algorithms? Surely nothing is that volatile but so intricate. This morning, at five, I reached for Life of Pi, words illuminated by a warm glow - I immersed myself in the "story that would make me believe in God."

Almost twelve hours and 428 pages later, I'm silent. Martel's craft of storytelling has left me to my own thoughts, deep and intriguing. While the tale does indeed spread broad wings on the themes of religion and beliefs, it was the final chapter(s) that strike me deepest. Here is where I tell you that if you have yet to read the book (or watch Ang Lee's wonderful adaptation of it), you can choose to stop here due to spoiler details.

At the very end of it all, the main character Pi, presents us with two sides of his survival story. One is with the wondrous details of his co-existence with Richard Parker the Bengal tiger. The second is a nihilistic narration that's stripped of the former's wonder but "real", involving cannibalistic natures. Like the two Japanese men at the end of the book, I struggled. Do I choose to believe in what may seem unbelievable or the believable.
"Which story do you prefer?"
This was the simple question Pi asked at the end.

Like the two Japanese men and the author (who narrated Pi's story), I chose the one where he survived for 227 days with a Bengal tiger. Do I believe in a higher power, the possibility of the impossible? I do. The very fact that my soul reverberates to a belief of higher existence in my introspective moments is proof in itself. The greater question isn't about which story I preferred: it's how I attempt to mesh my reality and factual-bound self with the other part of me that surrenders himself to God.

I struggle with religion not because I don't believe in it - But because in every brush stroke of it I discover, it unravels a deeper knowledge. One I hadn't been aware of, one which doubts my previous beliefs, if only a harsh scratch. Terrifying indeed is that religion is reliant on interpretation. And interpretation is nothing short of abuse in the wrong hands or the uninitiated. Such can be credited to Malaysia's shady religious bodies that has its principles marred by political ambition, rather than independent advisory.

I fear belief. Hell, even a light study into the differences of what makes a Sunni and Shia' Muslim is enough to unseat me to a point of integral discomfort. In what's seemingly left, I only have a moral compass and a steadfast belief of my viewpoint of religion to stand beside. Dare I claim that Christianity, Judaism, Bhuddism and Hinduism is any less of a religion than Islam? No. I dare not. Not because I don't believe in Islam but because interpretation over the centuries have made me doubt authenicity.

When left to human hands, nothing is free from the claws of abuse. Christianity was twisted into a lesser version of itself (if historical analysis is to be trusted). The schism between the various different sects of Islam is proof itself that different interpretations - however well-meaning - happens. So what is the truth?

The truth is what we assimilate it to be; we build our own realities based on our own belief systems. And ultimately, that was the wonderful message I drew from Life of Pi. I'm not as religious as I'd like to be - But I know what's right from wrong. When others press onto me their "beliefs" of what Islam is - I recoil. They come strongly, defensive, as though all others are wrong and make no room for discussion. I may be wrong. What I've practiced all my life, along with millions of others - may be a distorted of the original. But I know this much, morality will surface above all others where religious interpretation fails.

As for my existential search for the truth? I'm still on that journey.

picture credits to James Lake

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