Often, the way individuals relate to and practice a religion changes over the course of their lives. Maham, age 19, explains how her Muslim faith and practice has changed as she has grown older:
When I was fifteen, I was really super-religious actually. Then I fell into this not-so-religious stage—that was between the end of junior year of high school and freshman year of college. I started praying less and hanging out with my friends more. I believe that spirituality is a roller coaster and that you’re going to have your ups and downs, because when you’re up, there’s nowhere to go but down. That’s how life is.
I went down, and now I think I’m heading right back up. I still am not back praying five times a day because of my schedule (I try to pray as much as I can), but I believe that true spirituality transcends ritual worship, so I try to live my life with the philosophy that Islam teaches—of compassion, peace, submission, tolerance, and things like that. I try every day to fight the jihad of personal struggle to become a better person.
That’s what Islam is to me now, more than just praying five times a day. When you’re fourteen, that’s enough. But as you mature, life becomes complicated and harder to categorize as just good and bad. The rules are not laid out in black and white anymore—you find a lot of gray area since you gain more independence as you get older. After all, you start to make your own decisions—some good, some bad—but life has to teach you its lessons somehow.
I do believe in rituals. Like Ramadan is coming up next week. Do I plan on fasting all thirty days? Yes, I do. Those things help me become a better Muslim. There are a lot of things that are taught in Islam, like wearing the headscarf and praying. Just as people eat food four or five times a day to nourish their bodies, prayers nourish the soul four or five times a day. It’s a way for me to meditate. It’s a way for me to tune myself out from the things around me that are bad influences. It’s a way to remind myself of who I am so I have less chances of doing something I’ll regret.
Sara, age 18, feels differently about the rituals and worship practices of her religion than Rebecca and Maham do:
I feel really connected with my Jewish community, but a little less connected to the observance factor of my religion. I don’t keep kosher. I don’t really feel that that’s necessary. When I was little, my whole family would sit down every Friday night and light the Shabbat candles and say the blessings. We don’t do that anymore. Now it’s like, “It’s Friday night. I’m going to go out with my friends.”
I don’t like organized prayer. Every once in a while I go to services, but I appreciate it a lot more when I do my own thing and say my own prayers . . .
When I was younger, I never really thought I was different ’cause I was Jewish. It didn’t occur to me until high school when I started getting really involved with stuff. It’s kind of weird when I really think about it. It’s like I’m just like everyone else, except there’s that little part of me that’s going to be Jewish forever, and that makes me different.
Hesed, age 14, a member of the United Methodist Church, explains how he knows the Christian religion in which he was raised is right for him:
After confirmation [as an adolescent] I was getting stronger in the faith, but I still thought about it and said, “Well, what about other religions? Are they fake? And if they are, why are there millions of Muslims around the world who pray to Allah five times a day? And why are there Buddhists who make Buddhism their faith? Why do I think this one faith is real?”
And basically, to me, I just get a feeling. It’s really hard to explain. Christianity just feels right to me. I go to church, and I see the cross, and we’re at prayer—it feels right. And I can honestly say that I feel the presence of God in that place. And for me, Christianity is the religion where I feel that. To me that’s basically what faith is—to just believe in what you think is right. And this is right for me.
Now I’m really secure in what I believe. And I don’t know if it’s wrong to say it—since I’m a Christian and we’re supposed to go out and save the world and convert people to Christianity—but I truly do believe that there are a lot of people who feel that their religion, whether it be Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, is right for them. And I don’t see anything wrong with that. I’m not saying those are the right faiths, but you just get a feeling when something is right for you.
- How do the young people in this reading experience religious belief and belonging? What can we learn from the similarities and differences in their stories?
- Based on your experiences and observations, what are some other kinds of experiences with religion that are not represented in these four short reflections?
- How would you describe the role, if any, that religion plays in your identity?