Q. I have a few questions and I would appreciate if you could answer them. Before that, I would like to give you a brief about me.

I come from a conservative Hindu family. I believe in all faiths and respect all of them. I have visited Temples, Churches, Mosques, Dargahs, Gurudwaras, and Buddhist Monasteries. I visit other places of worship not because I believe in multiple Gods. There is just one God. I want to enjoy and learn how people of different faiths pray to the Almighty. God made man and man made Gods.

I have a few questions and I will be thankful to you if you can answer them for me.

a. Islam never talks ill about other faiths (or religion if you want to call it that). And the same is the claim made by other faiths like Hinduism and Christianity. My question is when no one is trying to outdo one another, why is everyone claiming that their faith is Supreme?

b. My friend who is a Muslim says everyone is born as a Muslim. Then why do so many people convert?

c. Why do different faiths not allow interfaith weddings? Like between a Hindu and a Muslim or between a Muslim and a Christian or between a Christian and a Hindu? Why is everyone so obsessed with their faith?

d. If Allah is so Merciful, why would He punish us on the day of judgment?

e. If Allah is All Powerful, why are so many innocent people getting killed? Why are so many innocent people (of all faiths) who have complete faith in Allah sleeping with an empty stomach?

f. Why should I believe in any faith when I like all faiths simply because of the customs and diversity? I do believe in God and I donít want to attach a name to Him.

I am confused. Please help me to understand.

A. Thanks for your rather interesting questions, the answers that for some lead to Jainist beliefs. Since you already stated that you believe in one God, then let us take it from there. God has given us this world to dwell in, and to control with our freedom of choice. This means that we, as responsible beings, have to accept such custodianship, realizingthat reality is dictated by the necessary results of certain things. The human element, or the tempting of the devil so to speak -- if you wish to speak of the Abrahamic religion devil or our own base desires Ė often gets involved and seeks to claim right for only one set of people. Of course the question might be asked -- as you do ask later -- why does God not intervene to stop this? Why should God? To do so would interfere with the custodianship that we have. Think about it, if your boss says that you are to be the deputy over a certain area, would you want autonomy of have him step in and correct you every time? In that case, what responsibility would you have?

Of course I am answering your questions that I have tried to put as one, from a theological/faith based point of view. The questions you ask are the perpetual ones that for some academics underline the purpose of religion: to understand the mysteries of life. It is what separates religion from science, for there is the element of FAITH that steps in. Some questions we cannot answer, but trust in some answer based on faith, which is why you see so much division regarding the "true" religion claims.

From one Muslim perspective, I can only answer that for me, the term "Muslim" is not one of a religious identity so much as it is that of a spiritual declaration that means I will seek perfection in following a belief that is harmonious with peaceful coexistence, seeking to perfect myself. It is for this reason that the Qur'an applies the term to some prophets of yore, not to "Muslimize" them in the institutional, reified sense of the word, but simply to denote they were good people. This is why the Qur'an denies the absolute exclusivity of any one religion and retorts: "rather whoever turns to God and does good deeds, with God is his/her reward..." The Qu'ran also says that for each among you "We" have made a system and program, denoting that we cannot all have ONE specific practice of religiosity -- that will vary from place to place, people to people.

Your friend who insists on everyone being born Muslim is following a tradition that for him means one thing, for me, means another even if I were to accept it as true. To him, it means a reified Muslim. To me it means one who innately wants to worship God. It is his parents who will teach him that manner of worship, and design him into Jew or Muslim or Hindu or whatever. I have a personal issue with the hadith (Prophetic saying) since it seems couched in polemical terms.

As for the day of judgment: it comes back to the idea of custodianship and responsibility. We have brains and we choose to act. It would be an irresponsible God who will not reserve the right to punish those who knowingly went against divine edicts. As for the innocents who suffer: again I come back to cause and effect. Let us say for example that a bomb explodes within 10 feet of a newborn baby. The laws of science are as such that realistic expectation would determine that the baby be killed -- an innocent has died. Or a baby is conceived by parents who have AIDS, and let us assume for argument that the baby got infected because one or both parents were wanton. Science dictates that the baby ought to be infected also. To ask that in either scenario the innocent be saved is to go against earthly laws of cause and effect. Religionists point out that such innocents will have recompense for having thus unwillingly been made to demonstrate the reality of science. Once we were given custodianship of the universe, we cannot expect God to step in for everything.

Would it be impossible for God? Again, for a religionist the answer is no, but it interferes with the granting of custodianship, which is also why some people resort to theodicy. Some of us say that God works is in mysterious ways. As for Hindus with the concept of Shiva being a destroyer, that to many is something negative, yet this is to view things the wrong way (avidya) -- destruction ensures room for that which is new.

Since as you say, you believe in God, then follow your heart, remaining a Hindu following the idea of Brahman/Bhagwan as Lord and Master of all. Your religion uses a lot of symbolism, and as long as you believe and do good works, seeking no harm, then a Loving and Merciful Divine Being will not let you be unrewarded or forgotten. May God guide us all to stay away from triumphalism and particularism, and instead simply seek perfection by doing good.

Posted November 18, 2007