A while ago, my dad and I had a conversation about God and religion. We were in the car heading to the closest donation box in our area but due to traffic, the journey took longer than intended. At first, there was silence. If you ignore the radio, the other cars, and the sounds of chatter coming from pedestrians, that is. It was only when he said “your mum said you don’t pray anymore” that I realised I had been cornered. With a quick glance at the satnav, I noticed he had lengthened our journey on purpose.
I was raised a Muslim. Both my parents pray five times a day and my mum frequents the mosque most Sundays though my dad avoids it because he doesn’t want to deal with “the politics of it all”. However, as stated in a previous post, I had divorced religion years ago but I couldn’t find the words to tell my Muslim-Nigerian parents that I had actively chosen to deviate from the belief system they raised me with.
After trying to devise a plan to evade the question, I finally replied with “I do pray, I just don’t believe in religion anymore”. Half expecting to die, half relieved that I had finally said it, I went into detail about my reasoning behind it. How I no longer conflated God with religion, how religion is a power structure used to control the mind of the masses and how I’d felt closer to God since my divorce from religion.
Growing up, I was surrounded by religion. My family is made up of Muslims, Christians and a few Traditionalists so I was fortunate enough to experience a syncretism of belief systems. All the religious holidays and festivals were celebrated with a bang! Whether it be Christmas or Eid, the whole family turned up and we ate, drank, laughed and exchanged gifts with little reference to the fact that we followed different belief systems.
You see, the idea of religion brought me comfort. A Deity to talk to when I had no one, a companion even in my darkest moments. God was my comfort blanket. Yet even with how appealing this was, a lot of things about religion made no sense to me (most of which I shall outline in a future post). The earliest memory I have of being confused about religion was at six years old. It was Easter and I was at my mum’s uncle’s for the holiday. We went to church and I remember walking in and being scrutinised by the image of a white Jesus. I felt extremely uncomfortable and exposed under the gaze of his blue eyes, all that was on my mind was “why is he white?”. The room was a sea of brown faces of all hues yet the image of their deity looked nothing like them. This was a church in Abeokuta, Nigeria. Yet when I asked, I was told the image was insignificant. It was the belief that mattered.
After this, every question I asked was either never answered directly or left completely unanswered. In some situations, I was even scolded for asking “too many questions”. So I stopped asking and as the years went by, the illusion faded. No religious leader had been able to answer my questions, therefore, religion became an ideology I could no longer stand behind. It doesn’t mean I no longer believe. It simply means I don’t believe in I was taught to.