The curriculum demands I teach Islam, Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Swallows of Kabul. I am an unqualified mess of a man. But Reza Aslan is not. And so I quote No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam:
Religion, it must be understood, is not faith. Religion is the story of faith. It is an institutionalized system of symbols and metaphors (read rituals and myths) that provides a common language with which a community of faith can share with each other their numinous encounter with the Divine Presence. Religion is concerned not with genuine history, but with sacred history, which does not course through time like a river. Rather, sacred history is like a hallowed tree whose roots dig deep into primordial time and whose branches weave in and out of genuine history with little concern for the boundaries of space and time. (xxvi)
I grew up in an evangelical environment that ravaged my future biases against Islam. I was taught of war and abrogration, of rape and “Taqiya.” No faith or beauty from the billions of earthly folk writing poetry and gathering daily on their knees in piety and intentionality. But, of course, institutions inculcate power – much in the same way that my evangelical history prioritized legalism over faith. And so I am reminded of Tolstoy’s confessions:
I understood that faith is not merely “the evidence of things not seen”, etc., and is not a revelation (that defines only one of the indications of faith, is not the relation of man to God (one has first to define faith and then God, and not define faith through God); it is not only agreement with what has been told one (as faith is most usually supposed to be), but faith is a knowledge of the meaning of human life in consequence of which man does not destroy himself but lives. Faith is the strength of life. If a man lives he believes in something. If he did not believe that one must live for something, he would not live. If he does not see and recognize the illusory nature of the finite, he believes in the finite; if he understands the illusory nature of the finite, he must believe in the infinite. Without faith he cannot live…
For man to be able to live he must either not see the infinite, or have such an explanation of the meaning of life as will connect the finite with the infinite.
The absurdity of a personal relationship with the divine keeps me from recommitting, but I am deeply drawn to religion as interpretation. And deeply drawn to examining the multitude of interpretations. And convinced any connection of my own will require a beginning in faith, not religion. However wishy-washy fragile that seems.