Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Personal Stories from Faith

Attendees: Raakhee Suryaprakash, Hafsa Badsha, Vaishnavi Pallapothu, Varshaa Balajee, Ayesha Nawab and Kirthi Jayakumar

Point of discussion: Personal Stories from Faith

Date: April 7, 2017

Our third session of Negotiating Religion looked at inviting the participants to share a story from their faith that either helped them add value to their perception of their faith, or value to their religious points of view. This time, we were joined by Vaishnavi and Varshaa, two young women in high school.

Vaishnavi opened the conversation by talking about her belief in Sathya Sai Baba. Being a Hindu and coming from a family that believes in Sathya Sai Baba, Vaishnavi has grown up recognizing that all religions are equal, but at the same time, grew into accepting the miracles that she saw happen around her. For instance, when she had finished her exams in the tenth grade, Vaishnavi wrote a letter to Sathya Sai Baba, asking for his blessings so she scored well. She received a written reply, telling her to have faith in herself and her abilities, and that eventually culminated in her successful results. To Vaishnavi, this was a moment that took her close to faith.

Varshaa talked about how she doesn’t believe in God or religion per se and counts on herself as an atheist. But she seeks reliance on a quote by Krishna in the Bhagawad Gita that her father repeats to her, which says, “do your duty and leave the rest to God.”  While she doesn’t believe in God per se, she looks at the idea of a spirit that exists above us – which, to her, is an extension of her own spirit, and that then warrants that she should believe in herself.

Raakhee talked about how mythology and its stories have always fascinated her, and her religious beliefs have tended to be driven by stories. She believed she was a better Hindu at first in that she never visited temples with prayers for favours or to ask for things, but rather, went for the experience and was attracted to the food, the stories behind the temples and the mythology around it. She has always enjoyed listening to these stories. She also talked about visiting the Emerald Buddha and how it has survived attacks. Recently though, Raakhee sees that she does pray for more materialistic things and has seen them manifest – but overall, she feels that the stories matter to her, and the idea of rituals and togetherness is always moving, for her. She talked about a book titled “Mister God, this is Anna” by Flynn, which moved her to tears for its simplicity and earnestness.

Ayesha responded to that, saying that though she was a Muslim, she always loved visiting temples for the value she attached to the stories that the temples were the hub of. She talked about how she loves travelling – and how coexistence was a seed sown in her when she was very young. Having studied in a Catholic school, she was in an environment where there was mass every Friday, and she studied in an inter-cultural space that was both comfortable and peaceful. She also talked about how when she studied abroad, she understood the importance of coexistence. She was in a house with people from China, from Greece and France, and how, when she went hunting for Halal meat, her compatriot from France would cook it with wine. She realized that the point of it all was to live and let live and coexist in harmony.

Hafsa talked about how her lessons in mysticism made her learn about the Bhakti movement, and the Sufi movement, and how the whole component of negotiating with God and seeking to ask without receiving was vital when one built their relationship. She also referenced reading that if one was praying to God, they were not elevated enough – and that true elevation stemmed from a place where whatever you do, is a prayer. She looked at how some stories in Islam were controversial in the way they were narrated, but overall were very pivotal in understanding things. She referenced the Hadiths, alluding to one particular piece where the Prophet was with a companion who saw a beautiful woman and gazed at her. The Prophet made him turn away – which then drove home the truth that the onus is not on the woman to avoid being gazed at.

Ayesha then talked about a video she did recently on Instagram, questioning the need to impose a ban on a woman’s choice to veil when she went to work. Her question on why we espouse double standards and make a big deal of one’s personal choice in religious insignia then resulted in a troll’s backlash.

Kirthi talked about the story of Savitri and Satyavan and how her pursuit of Yama in order to reclaim Satyavan’s life changed her ideas on a lot of things. Her grandmother’s interpretation of this being a feminist choice, and a choice of compassion where the life of a loved one mattered enough to question death – then made it easy to understand and reconcile elements of her religion. She talked about how, though, portrayals of women in mythology in the way they are interpreted and retold is problematic.