It is Islamic appreciation week in my college. This brings me back to a time when I was immersed in conversations about Islam, what it means to be Muslim, Islamic human rights, Islamic music and art, and pseudo-Islamic states. I was on a study programme on Islam and Multiculturalism a few months ago, and I loved it.
It was kind of strange, but truly humbling, because I became a minority in my study group. I will always be grateful for this—and for all the criticisms about Singapore, our multicultural sensitivity can only be the first step to something better.
I love religions and I have always loved religions. I love the history of religion, I love the music and the art, and I love my friends who are religious. But I’m an atheist. What made me truly feel like a minority during my study programme was not the fact that I was ethnically Chinese or non-Muslim. Just as we were seeking to understand the nuances of Islam, our Muslim friends continually asked questions about Christianity and the bible. Yet, nobody asked me what it meant for me to be an atheist. It felt like something was taboo, or like I would have nothing to offer them in exchange for their knowledge and culture.
Not having belief in a God or not behaving in accordance to an institutionalised religion does not mean that I have no spirituality, faith or morality. The space where your religion takes up your heart and mind? I have the same space, and it is not empty. I, too, live by a philosophy. I, too, have beliefs and opinions and values, even when they are not anchored in a system or recorded in a book.
Why didn’t my friends ask me about my opinions regarding afterlife? Why didn’t they ask me why I didn’t believe in God? Religion is problematic in our world, especially when it is mixed up in politics. Atheism is not a solution, and I have never thought it would or should be. But neither does atheism point to a lack. It is not uniform. It is not simple. It is not easy. And it most definitely is not an avoidance or negation of religion.
This is not an attack, or a defence. This is merely my take. I have no institution behind my beliefs, but I have my beliefs.