By its very nature, agnosticism need not cause particular problems in the relationship between people, even if it is disliked. The agnostic has no commitments to observe, other than the call of his heart regarding sincerity. Thus he may attend family gatherings with ease, his presence never an intrusion. In the case of one who adopts another faith the situation is quite different: he has rites and principles he must observe which create difference. I have experienced both scenarios and I am acutely aware which is the most problematic.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that my belief in Islam causes deep unhappiness within my family. Despite suggestions to the contrary, this is a reality I have never denied. Yet doubt is cast on this claim of mine, for I apparently continue to stubbornly cling to my principles. Is this not evidence enough that I am unaware of the impact of my beliefs?
The answer is no. I am acutely aware of the feelings of those around me, but matters of faith—and of the heart—require action. While I am not a good believer and my practice is hugely wanting, I do believe sincerely. My faith is not something that I take lightly, nor is it something that I took on as a choice of fashion. I came down this path because I believe it to be the correct way to worship God. For this reason I cannot turn my back on it to bring ease in my personal relationships.
The heart and our deeds are all that lie between us and our Creator. Only two know what is in our heart and they are God and our selves. Faith or doubt, love or malice, sincerity or hypocrisy: these are known to us and to God alone. For me, the one aspect that recurred time and again was sincerity versus hypocrisy. It was this question that forced me to sit at the back of church and to utter only a few lines of the Nicene Creed for over two years. It was this issue which made the question of faith seem so difficult as I engaged in my search for the truth. In 1997 I was continuously writing about the matter, much to the distaste of friends whose rational minds had long since abandoned belief in God. The following reflects my feelings at the time:
You don’t want to reject their faith, you don’t want to be different, you don’t want to be an outcast; you just don’t have their faith, but at least you’re trying to find it. But it’s so hard to admit that. They prefer to hear that you’re lazy, because that’s not such a disgrace. You’re filled with fear, so you don’t admit openly that you’re completely lost. You’re hoping that someone will pick up on your blatant hints.
Half way through my first degree, I found myself with an intense thirst to find my way in faith. On the one hand I wanted to believe like every other member of my family, on the other I was adamant that sincerity before God was essential. Thus that same piece went on:
…I can listen to the readings, the gospel and a psalm. I can listen to the sermon and learn. But how do you think I feel when we all stand for the Nicene Creed, and all I can say is ‘I believe in one God the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible’? You want me to say it all, but faith isn’t about you, it’s about God. Do you want me to be a hypocrite before God? Of course you don’t. I don’t go to church because I don’t have the strength or the knowledge to claim your faith and I refuse to lie in the Name of God.
Later on, having learnt something of Islam, I expressed similar concerns. I recently came across an old notebook into which I had poured by thoughts as my interest in the Muslim faith grew. Penned over two sides of lined note paper, I found a lengthy answer to a question somebody must have asked me around that time. I had obviously said that I could never be a Muslim and had thus written a series of paragraphs under four headings to explain why: the hypocrite; knowledge of one’s self; true belief; and fear of rejection. Each passage focussed on a matter that troubled me within. Of true belief I wrote:
I must believe: truly and truthfully. Of course I believe in God, our Creator, but the faith through which I should worship Him is still unclear to me. I refuse to have a blind faith; this is obvious, for would I have gone astray otherwise? To be convinced by man of the right path is not enough. The proof should be in the religion itself.
A fellow student, hearing my complaints about my lack of faith, once told me, ‘The problem with you is that you question it. I’d never question it.’ I was never able to accept this view, for I felt that it was important to be able to say what I believe with conviction. I was one who would say, ‘I’m not really sure, I’m confused, I’m lost,’ in contrast to the person who could simply say, ‘I don’t have a reason, I just believe it—it’s just my religion.’ The source of this lies in the heart.