It is always a sensitive undertaking to question human behaviour or practice that is based on religious beliefs. Indeed, it can frequently be a most dangerous exercise to proceed along such a course.
Wars whose foundations have been built on religion have been fought from a time stretching even before those battled in Mesopotamia. Through the ages there have been the Muslim Conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries, the Christian Crusades of the 11th and 13th centuries, the Wars Of Religion of the 16th and 17th centuries; and on and on it has gone, and forever shall go.
The eternal conflict in the Middle East is no closer to resolution, even when the current players grow long in the tooth or return to dust, only to be replaced by other religious believers. Perpetually in the recesses of their minds, beliefs play an integral part in the conflict between Jews and Muslims; Muslims and Muslims.
We decry no one’s religion and would willingly give succour to all those who pursue their worship of a higher being or entity than themselves. We believe that one should be able to practise one’s religion within the laws of the land without fear of discrimination or victimization.
But we are also cognizant of a question once put to British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who, when asked if he would die for his religious beliefs, responded: “Of course not. After all, I may be wrong.”
There is a school of opinion that the certainty with which some fundamentalists hold fast to their religious beliefs exposes their lack of understanding of philosophy; indeed, of life.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once opined that there are no facts, just opinions and interpretations. He implied that all of our beliefs are clouded by our biases. Sociologists have long observed that all civilizations are grounded in mythologies, and the further one goes into a people’s past the more far-fetched the mythology gets.
Democracies, of which Barbados is a thriving example, allow for the practice of religion, as well as the repudiation of the same. In each instance, the rights of the believer and the non-believer are assured by the rule of law.
In essence, while God, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Jehovah, or Jah, may rule from above, and has great influence on what occurs on Earth, the reality is that man rules on Earth. He rules mainly by laws and by sensible stipulations that provide important cogs in not only the rule of law, but also an assurance of orderly society.
This brings us to the storm in the teacup that has come to the fore with respect to citizens or residents of Barbados seeking to avail themselves of social services but wanting to use religious beliefs or practices to conduct their affairs outside the boundaries of the law or sensible stipulations. Recently, there has been a case of a Muslim woman objecting to removing her hijab while seeking to have a photograph taken for a National Identification Card, passport and driver’s licence.
We consider it ludicrous to even debate the efficacy of attempting to take a photograph for facial identification when the face cannot be seen. We consider it quite ridiculous for any state agency to keep official picture identification of citizens when their faces cannot be discerned.
Whether there was a specific law or not governing the taking of photographs for official documents, the stipulation that requires the face to be seen makes complete sense in the interest of record-keeping, the protection of individual citizens and the rule of law.
Of course, each religious practitioner should maintain his or her right not to remove hijab, scarf or apron that fits into any specific religious practice –– whether real or mythological. However, any state authority also should reserve the right not to take a photograph under circumstances that do not fit its respective stipulations.
The equation is simple –– if you desire passport, driver’s licence, National Identification Card, et al., comply with the laws or sensible stipulations governing the acquisition of such. To do otherwise, as we view it, is to abdicate one’s right of access to that document.
It is often ironic that whether it is the travelling Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, scientologist, or other worshipper, such individuals comply with whatever stipulation –– enshrined in law or otherwise –– that procures their entry or stay in a foreign land. If there is a restriction on weight carriage, there is compliance; if liquids cannot be conveyed, there is compliance; if place of stay is required to be divulged, there is compliance; if there is a request to remove shoes, there is compliance.
However, at home, we often split hairs in the name of religion, in assumed acquiescence to an omnipotent, omniscient ethereal being that presumably knows our heart, for a cause that brings neither his name nor place in our existence into question or disrepute.
Would one really die for that?