My name is Dania Baig and I am American-born and raised Indian-Muslim. I consider myself lucky in that I have never had to seriously question who I am or the basis of my beliefs. I was brought up in an Indian-American Muslim household, which blends these three sometimes different lifestyles quite well. I went to Sunday school for almost 12 years, and I was able to understand not just the history of Islam and the verses in the Quran, but why Islam makes sense for me. And because of that, I have always felt that my faith is a defining factor in my identity, and one that I am proud of.
Before I continue, I want to clarify something: I believe there is a difference between spirituality and religion. If you are religious, you go through the motions of your religion and practice with other people of the same faith in an organized manner. Spirituality, however, is more abstract. You may think of John Lennon, who sought to improve himself and find his purpose in life through engaging in introspective activities. Just being religious is not sufficient, because without spirituality, religion is hollow and can turn into a catalyst for extremism and hatred.
Life without the drive to better yourself and find your purpose is meaningless. Regardless of your religion or how often you practice, spirituality is a driving force of positivity. The distinction between these concepts is one we understand but are not consciously aware of, and it dictates many of our interactions with others on a day to day basis. Perhaps because of the current political atmosphere, people my age tend to equate being upfront about religion to being conservative.
A study by National Geographic found that the world’s newest major religion is actually no religion at all. That is not to say liberals are right, nor is it to say that they are conversely more open-minded than conservatives. Most people my age believe that they can look beyond religion and see the world from an almost “anti-faith” perspective: one that presents its case through a series of proofs and not beliefs.
Despite the growing reservations about the actual practice of religion, millennials are becoming more and more spiritual— though we may not label it as such. Meditation, mindfulness, and “finding yourself” are all manifestations of spirituality. While older generations anchor themselves with routine practice, we the younger generation do the same with abstract concepts relating to self-improvement. However, the thing we must acknowledge is that neither of these two interpretations of faith are better than one another.
While I appreciate my Sunday school for teaching me about going through the motions of religion and understanding the rules and principles behind Islam, I also owe them for exposing me to altruism: the spiritual aspects of helping others, and being a part of a community. When we pray as a community, we stand shoulder to shoulder, taking on the responsibility of everyone else in the congregation to help one another. Through my religious education, I have learned the importance of going out of my way to help other people in need, to donate to charity, to be a part of philanthropic organizations, and to contribute to my family, community, country, and the world.
What I’m realizing now is that when we have faith that there is a force beyond what we can control – that is, something that we believe has our best interests at heart - we tend to be more resilient: we know that whatever life throws at us is not the end of the world. We become less anxious and depressed when life does not go our way, and we are able to see the bigger picture. When I’m getting a math test back, I instinctively start praying. When our family is going through tough times, when we were sitting next to my grandfather while he was hospitalized, we prayed unrelentingly. It’s the trust we put in someone beyond us to help that gives me confidence in myself and pride in my identity not only as an Indian-American, but also as a practicing Muslim.
When I go through the motions of namaaz (prayers), I do my own form of yoga. When I clear my mind of everything but the verses I recite, I practice mindfulness. When I get up to pray and stay up late to do the same, my established routine makes me more centered, grounded, and self-assured. And throughout the rest of the day, I am able to put my spiritual practice to good use and make myself the best Muslim Indian-American I can possibly be.
Dania Baig is currently a junior in a high school in Chicago. American-born and raised Indian-Muslim, she has always been passionate about social justice issues and feels that it is extremely important to promote intersectionality and equity during these troubled political times.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.