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Let Children Choose Their Own Religion

Religion is a personal matter, but we force it upon our children at an early age as a result of which they fail to develop the capability to think logically, writes Aroma Shahid.

We live in a society where it has become a life-threatening exercise to discuss religion. Even if a group follows the same institutionalised religion, it is evident that every individual practices it according to his or her own convenience. They bend the rules as they please and justify their wrongdoings with false interpretations of religious teachings to suit their lifestyle.

For two decades I was mindlessly following the religious teachings that were indoctrinated during my early socialisation. Later in life, I realised that fear was the biggest motivator behind my beliefs and once I let that go, I no longer felt content with the same practices.

Somehow, those practices were as alien to me as the practices of any other religion because I was never made to understand them. Therefore, I could no longer accept them as they were.
I am now hesitant to repeat the process with my children. In our part of the world, religion is forced upon children who cannot even say their own name properly.

We teach them to pray to God and to fear Him when they do something wrong without realising that we are shaping their view of religion according to what benefits us in disciplining them. How can a schoolteacher make them grasp the concept of God and religion at an age where they are learning to perform basic functions like eating on their own, using the toilet, sleeping alone?

Why should we force them to read a language which they cannot understand? And even if we teach them with meanings, the question remains that isn’t it too much for them to absorb at this age?
The belief in God’s existence is a matter that is different to every individual’s own conscience and it is extremely personal. Education must teach children to think critically, to question and find answers on their own instead of forcing them to follow a certain religion.

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Each one of us has their own way of perceiving the world and the mechanisms of life. However, man has always made it his business to make religion a tool for acquiring power.

In a few years when my child attends kindergarten, she’ll be taught to recite the dua before going to bed, the dua before and after entering the washroom, the dua prayer to sleep, the consequences of lying, and going to hell for their sins.

But I am not ready to explain how the reward and punishment system works in Islam to a five-year old. I want to teach my children how religion teaches us love, kindness, generosity, patience, and many other values that are far more important to me.

Religion is lot more than a rules and regulations guideline and Quran is not a portable handbook. I do not agree with force-feeding a bunch of recitations to children who will only feel more distant to religion if they do not feel personally related to it.

Therefore, I believe children should not be taught religion in school until they reach a certain age that allows them to understand the theoretical parts of the coursework that also includes teaching them the historical significance and the moral values of our religion.

Islam has already been attacked for being responsible for terrorism because of the widely popular misinterpretations that portray the religion as aggressive towards non-believers. It might be wishful thinking but Pakistan is in urgent need to let its people follow their religion in peace. We need to highlight values like tolerance and empathy.

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