The ‘What is Islam?’ Podcast brings you a whole new world of understanding Islam and religion through social commentary and analysis.
In this episode, the ‘What is Islam?’ podcast team will answer the hard-hitting question of why religion is important, the role it is meant to play in society and its relevance in the modern day. If you do not think you are religious, then expect to have your worldview positively challenged!
Click below to listen to the full episode, watch the video podcast on our YouTube channel above, or read through an abridged transcript below.
Adeel Ahmad: Peace be upon you all. Welcome to the new podcast series brought to you by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Australia. Muslims who believe in the Messiah, His Holiness Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him). In this series, we plan to look at the religion of Islam critically and explore questions such as the relevance of traditional values and religion in our lives today.
My name is Adeel Ahmed and I am an aspiring doctor and one day dream to fly to space with NASA as a medical doctor. And more than anything, I’m a proud Ahmadi Muslim. Also joining me today are two very learned gentlemen. Firstly, we have Imam Mohammad Hadi, who is a Minister of Religion for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community currently serving in Australia. He is passionate about psychology and demonstrating the wisdom and relevance of Islamic values today. He likes to read and play basketball and soccer in his spare time.
Also joining us is Foad Munir, who is an electrical engineer by day and a youth leader by night. Both of these gentlemen have years of experience working with communities and helping people live better lives. So welcome to both of you to this podcast and I’m looking forward to having this conversation with you.
Adeel Ahmad: And that is that the common understanding is that people today are completely disinterested in anything that resembles religion or any conversation about it. Anything that’s about religion at all, people don’t want to talk about it. Now, first, I want to ask, is that actually the case? And I address this question to Imam Hadi.
Imam Hadi: Well, it’s interesting, really. I remember receiving a similar question from a young man here in Queensland, Australia, and he was quite concerned, really. He asked, how do I talk to people about my faith? How do I talk to people about religion, something that I find so dear to me and so important to me when clearly you can see that people are just not interested at all with anything to do with religion and faith? And I actually stopped him and I said that ‘I wouldn’t even agree with that worldview, to be very honest, because I think it shows a lack of understanding on our part on what religion actually is. I would actually argue that people are still very much interested in religion today because ultimately what Islam teaches us and what Islam describes as religion and you know, Islam doesn’t just talk about itself, but it talks about religions of the past and fundamentally, Islam presents religion as a way of life, a set of principles that you adopt to try and live a fulfilled life.’
And even a cursory glance at today’s society, you’ll see that in actuality, people are very much invested in trying to live a meaningful and fulfilled life. And I mean, they might do it in different ways. And that’s, of course, natural. Human beings have their own tendencies and their own inclinations and their own aspirations. You mentioned how you want to be a doctor or a medical doctor. And also Foad is a medical engineer. I’m a minister of religion. We’ve gone on three different pathways, but ultimately we’re all making an attempt to live a fulfilled life. And ultimately, that’s what religion is about. It’s about trying to live your life to the fullest, live a meaningful life and more importantly, to live your life appropriately, to live well, to live your life properly, to have a well-lived life overall. So if this is what religion is and this is most definitely my understanding of religion and what I see Islam to teach, then I would argue that in actuality people are still interested in religion today just as much as they were in the past. Now, obviously, why they openly speak up against religion is a different matter altogether, and that’s something we can definitely get into further as we continue our conversation.
Adeel Ahmad: Thank you. And Foad, I know that you work with a lot of youth. And I wanted to ask you something similar as well. What is your experience addressing this? Pretty much the same question. Is this actually the world view today, especially within youth, that they don’t really care about religion?
Foad Munir: It’s very interesting what Imam Hadi just touched upon. He basically highlighted how religion is really a way of life.
Whether you take God out of it or whether you denounce organised religion, it’s beside the point. Religion, at the end of the day, is a process, a way to think about things, a way to make sense of this world and I don’t think anybody really has the perfect answer outside of Islam.
Adeel Ahmad: Imam Hadi, you said some very interesting ideas and I actually wanted to ask you a question about it. What is the responsibility of an individual himself to find the right religion, the right thing to follow for himself? And the reason why I’m asking this question is because when someone has a bad experience they see religion in a bad light, the automatic assumption is, that you kind of apply it to everything else, and that’s a very human thing to do and that’s completely fine.
But, so the question again is that what is an individual’s responsibility to actually find the truth? Because at the end of the day, everyone, for their own sake, they should be looking for the truth. So what is their responsibility and what would you want, I guess, all of our listeners to do to find the truth?
Imam Hadi: Well, yeah, that’s very interesting. I think again, it just comes down to balance, doesn’t it? Ultimately I think those people who due to their reasoning, and I think we can simplify this even more, if an individual decides to leave principles which are obsolete, because they’re clearly demonstrated to be obsolete, I think that’s quite healthy. And if that’s what leads one to move from one set of ideas to something which is better than that, so be it. I mean, ultimately, as you mentioned, everyone has a hierarchy of values and it’s important that we climb that hierarchy and within that hierarchy there will be certain ideas and certain values which through the process of natural selection, will beat out other values. And if for that reason, unfortunately, the religion that you’ve inherited from your parents doesn’t live up to that critique and you find yourself not believing in it and moving away from it, I don’t think you should be ashamed of that fact. I think it’s quite a healthy thing to adopt that which is true and that which is right.
Ultimately, it comes down to your intention, isn’t it? I mean, if your intention is to find the best, to find the greatest good, to find and achieve the highest virtue and the highest form of truth. And in Islam, we would describe that as God. Whatever is the highest of the highest, we consider that to be God. And, maybe you don’t need to think of it as God in the initial stage? Maybe that’s something that needs to come later on. It’s a realisation that you have with experience, but at least in the beginning, if your intention is to achieve the best, then you also need to keep yourself open to the truth at every stage of your life, isn’t it?
You can’t just suddenly shut yourself off because if, for example, let’s take a very frank example. I mean, it’s an example that’s given by the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who claimed to be the Promised Messiah, who was foretold by the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him). And he gives a very frank example, and he says that, look, if as a Christian, you come to realise that your beliefs are absolutely nonsensical? And you come to realise that, they’re not really doing anything for you and your worldview and for your progression as a human being. And then you’re provided with a better set of ideals, something which is more in line with your reasoning and your rationale, in line with your human nature and your human psyche, etc., and actually can help you live a better life.
Then if your intentions are pure, you would naturally try to move on and adopt the better values. Right? But if, being stubborn, you decide that, no, I’m going to stick with whatever I’ve inherited, then that is actually a clear indication that, well, your intentions aren’t pure in the first place. And, it could also be argued from a psychological perspective that maybe you’ve succumbed to your ego and you have a bit of arrogance within you to not be able to accept the truth when it’s presented to you.
So I think balance is important. I think it’s healthy to find better ideals and things which are more beneficial for you in your life. But at the same time, when you realise that something might be wrong, you shouldn’t paint everything with the same brush. You’ll be doing a disservice to yourself and not allowing yourself to grow.
Adeel Ahmad: Okay. Well, that’s very well explained. I’ll actually play the devil’s advocate here and I want to ask Foad this question because he especially works with the youth. And the question I want to ask is that as a Muslim or, as a person who follows Islam, you mentioned something earlier that you think is the most practical religion of a practical set of values. So what do you find here that’s very practical? And what would be presented to you, that you would run towards if it’s not Islam?
Foad Munir: So it’s a good question, I would say. But, listening to Imam Hadi, how he explained why the search for truth should go on, I think it’s fascinating that our society, especially in the West, we’re obsessed with science. We claim science as the higher truth. And really what he just explained is in a nutshell, the scientific method. At every given point, you can’t just turn off your brain. You must, whenever you encounter something new, at least investigate, keep your mind open, and whatever understanding or knowledge you have at the time, you use that capacity to make the best decision. And I think that’s really what Islam is in a nutshell. I mean, and to highlight how to highlight the beauty of this religion as well, I would say that’s perfectly in line with our natural tendencies as well.
And to go back to your point about it being a practical way of life. It’s exactly in line with what we actually want to do. I guess the only thing that kind of gets in the way of people at least thinking about religion in an open sense would be just the stigma that’s attached to it now because of the way the information is presented. And I think it’s kind of unfortunate that society places so much emphasis on the self and not really on the collective benefit to the point where I feel like a lot of the time, even as a Muslim, you tend to get affected by that. And, like obviously the society around you has an effect on you as well.
So you can be selfish at times too. And I think that that focus on the self kind of prevents us from investigating what other people might have to say sometimes or, just keeping an open mind. So while we are focusing on self-improvement, at the same time, it’s weird that we shut off our brains to new ideas.
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