I had no religion or should I say I never believed in one. Though born in a Hindu family I had to gratify the god whom I was told is God, but never with my true heart. For my family, which is basically Arya Samaji. Religion, rituals and worship depended upon their own convenience, unlike many Hindu families in India my home never had any proper temple or idols, which were worshipped daily. I had always been adrift from the mainstream Hindu practices and rituals.
Retrospection can lead to the conclusion that I only remembered God or visited a temple nearby when I was in need, which basically arose when exam dates or results were due. Apart from this I do not remember being closer in anyway to the Almighty or having any spiritual bond, in Nietzsche's terminology I was 'areligious'.
I had always been beyond the good and evil of religion and beyond sin and profanity, I just lived a normal life following the 'basic good and bad'. My religious beliefs were always unstable, like those of the polytheists, we tend to divert our faith wherever we feel like, whatever pleases us and we never have a stable or strong faith towards anyone. For some part of my life I had been influenced by Christianity (thanks to my Missionary School) and for some time I have also been a staunch Hindu, neither by practice nor by belief but by the ongoing saffaronization (of India) movement, I was myself an anti-Muslim and thought they were raiding our nation by spreading (or imposing) their beliefs by hook or crook. However these were just the phases of my life, which passed and faded with time and age.
I had Muslim friends at school and I was never prejudiced against them but neither was I very close, however in high school I came in close contact with few of my Muslim friends and we always used to discuss about history, politics and religion, where they used to always clarify the misconceptions widely held my against Islam all over the world (especially after 9/11 and other extremist activities in India) after which I had a reasonably clearer picture of Islam yet I felt it was better not to be bound by any one particular religion. I felt that a human mind and heart should always be like an open window, where he/she should accept the good of every culture, religion or practice. I always found Islam was very strict and rigid and that it forbade an intellectual freedom, which a human mind possesses and wanted to practice. I always judged Islam as a religion of do's and don'ts, given to my lack of knowledge about it. Meanwhile at home, my parents with their growing age were seeking refuge in the cradle of religion and spirituality and it was burdened on me too. What never happened in twenty years of my life was now becoming a phenomenon. We had a temple at home with idols, pictures of gods and goddesses and a sudden fancy of my mother to splurge money on various rituals guided by some astrologers. I was disgusted by it but yet had no other option but to bear with it. As they say whatever happens is for good and God always wills it, all these activities at home made me realize the futility of all these practices. Visiting known temples across India all I found was the marketing of religion and a wide scale commercialization, by spending money you can get an easy entry to the temple, otherwise you had to stand in a long queue. You can make your god happy by spending 1000 rupees for a pooja and more happier by spending 5000. The mercy of god depended upon your ability to spend and for a poor it was impossible to even get a darshan of the deity. It appeared senseless when people poured milk and gheeover the idols while thousands in India die of malnutrition and hunger. The religion was deprived of love, tenderness and gratitude, it was increasingly becoming conditional as days passed. I was not able to see the gratification of God in that religion. I tried to remind my parents of the principles of Arya Samaj, which forbade idol worship and propagated monotheism, but all in vain as the popular beliefs were too big to be shunned in front this fading ideology and to an extent the Arya Samaj itself indulged in rituals.
All this made me frantic, confused and dismayed. My `areligious' attitude was flawed with the sham of following what was being followed at home. There was pomp in all these practices, by doing it you can convince yourself that you are making some gods happy and begetting rewards but the most important essential of any religion was lacking. There was no peace, there was no contentment, no spirituality and certainly no direct association with the Almighty. All these practices are like a vicious circle, which promise you to reach closer to God but they never lead you upto Him as you are always stuck in it.
Ultimately, I ceased participating in all these events and announced to my family not to force me into all this, for three years of my life I never prayed or even saw the face of any temple.
When I started reading about Islam, it was more casual than serious, few links here and there over the internet. Certain courses in college curriculum spoke about Islam or Islamic opinion, this made me curious to read more in this regard, I spent hours online talking to friends who use to tell me about Islam, I read various links, participated in forum discussions and my outlook towards Islam started changing, which was reflected when I spoke with my friends or discussed things with them. Of course this change was not appreciated by them, they warned me against the so-called 'brain washers' whose sole aim was to divert the Hindu to Islam.
When you speak of Islam, you face a lot of criticism. The media propagates many stories. Most of us live under the impression of these tales told by the media. In such a situation it becomes really difficult to find out what the truth is and to stand by it.
All this used to bother me, I felt scared of their disagreement, I felt as if I was cheating my friends and family by doing what they sternly disagree with. But how long can you run away from the truth and avoid accepting it?
When I was reading the Quran, every word of every verse was like a revelation. The words explain the true meaning of God, the ideal way of living a life and there is no question, which could possibly arise in your mind, which the Holy Quran has left unanswered. The Quran is the refuge to all your quests, to all your queries and to all your anxiety.
I was truly convinced by the truth that Islam preaches and that was the moment when all my fears just drifted away, if I had not accepted Islam, then I would have stayed stuck in the complexities of life of the material world where false emotions stop us from doing the right thing. It always takes courage to answer the call and stand against every odd, and as the Quran says:
"Believers, uphold justice. Always bear true witness, even if it be against yourself, your parents, or your relatives and regardless of whether the person against whom you are speaking is rich or poor. God is close to people regardless of their material circumstances. Do not be led by emotion, as this may cause you to swerve from the truth. If you distort your testimony, or refuse to testify, remember that God is aware of all your actions." The Holy Quran, Chapter 4, Verse 135
Alhamdulilah, I converted to Islam and am trying to learn more and more about the Holy Quran and the guidelines of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). InshaAllah I will walk on His path in a better way :).