The shakable article of faith

tins_paintMichael Jackson is now Mikaeel after the singer embraced Islam. According to the reports, Jackson discussed religion with a music producer and songwriter of his new album, both of whom have converted to Islam. Michael warmed to the idea and the conversion happened.

This is not the first time when we have seen a celebrity converting to another religion. Half of Hollywood has already converted to Scientology and Quaker and back home A.R. Rehman’s conversion was the most visible one in the past few years. A common man also finds his own reasons for such conversions. Sometimes its for money, sometimes its because of the fear of death, sometimes its for love and sometimes its because of unanswered question which the present faith can’t answer.

Leaving aside the topic of Forced Conversions, according to this very elaborate survey done by The Pew Forum, 28% of American adults have left their faith in which they were born in favour of another. If the change of affiliation from one form of Protestantism to another is included, the percentage stands at a staggering 44%. Also the number of people who do not attach themselves to any faith have increased.

So, what is the big deal about changing religion and why do people indulge in the activity? Most of the children who are born to parents practicing a single faith, tend to accept the religion. The children born to parents with mixed religions tend to change their faith to an entirely new one because to the conflicts and confusions in their mind. It is nothing more than a mean of ironing out the complexities into which they were born. The whole idea of changing the religion stem out of the fact that people strive to smooth out their lives. It has more to do with psychology rather than pragmatism. It has more to do with finding an anchor.

I also believe that once a person has converted, he begins to subconsciously unclog his life. For e.g. the person can be a true blue dipsomaniac but might tend to leave the habit after conversion. This is something he could have done without converting but maybe he just needed a driving force. This does not mean that we can ask questions like – “So, would I be better off if I convert to another faith?”. The question should be – “Do I have to convert to another faith to be better off?”. Most of the times, the answer would be No, but as I pointed out earlier, some people do need a strong driving force, specially when their life had been turbulent.

Another aspect which raises its hood after conversions is – “How much does the life of the person change?” You can read the story of five people who converted to Islam here. Yes, the person has to go through a tough process of making the family and friends understand specially when the religions had always been conflicting. Sometimes, when the person converts for love, its hard to make the family understand specially when they realize that its the whole persona which is going to change.

Ofcourse, I must emphasise that I somehow don’t subscribe to the thought process which might lead to a conversion. To me, its something similar to changing your shampoo brand. Its still a shampoo which you are rubbing on your head! I somehow don’t connect to the idea of religion playing such an important part in my life and thus this whole topic fascinates me. I have been to a Church, a Gurudwara and a Temple and I could not find much of a difference. We pray in all of them for a better life. I could not grasp the idea where people stop calling God by a certain name and start calling him by another one. But I would love to meet a convert and understand his point of view.

Have you ever known a person who has converted from one religion to another?

Two interesting links which I found –

The Big Religion Chart

The Psychology of Religious Conversion

34 comments on “The shakable article of faith

  1. I don’t personally know anyone who has converted. But I do happen to know quite a few Atheists. Atheism is quite in nowadays. I think most people take to it not because they don’t believe in God but because they don’t want to do the effort to go to a Mandir, Gurudwara, Church and perform Puja’s at home. It’s basically convenient for them. You’ll see such people rushing to Mandir’s and Gurudwara’s during their exams. However, there are some people who actually don’t believe in the concept of God, and I think that number is increasing.

    And as far as religion is concerned, I believe it’s one’s personal preference. Sometimes you actually believe one religion is better than the other. For example, to some worshipping one Allah would sound more logical than worshipping a number of different God’s. I believe they should be allowed to do what they like. It hardly makes a difference. At the end of the day, the final destination is God and he’s already inside you. Religion is just a way to reach him and mostly all of them preach the same thing.

  2. Amit, I am a Hindu, if I want to go to a Church, Masjid or a Gurudwara and pray there why do I need intermediaries to perform certain rituals. It is between me and God and if He is, what He is believed to be, He will understand my language without the help of a translator. I can pray the way I like to without conversion.

  3. thoughtful post! i think it’s not as simple as using different brands of shampoo though. πŸ˜‰ i mean, faith and religion make up a big part of how the person views the world. just like how some loved ones would question a person’s choice for a spouse, it’s understandable when loved ones voice their concern when a person converts to another religion.

    even bigger than choosing a spouse (something which can be socially undone with a divorce), converting to another religion makes people not just worried if the person will change drastically, but these people are also concerned for the person’s spiritual welfare if they are of the same religion before the person converted.

    in malaysia, it’s okay to convert to any other religion except islam. this is because once you become a muslim, there is no turning back. so if someone wants to marry a muslim, that person has to think really hard if s/he can accept being a muslim for the rest of that person’s life…

  4. I personally think that religions are just instruments of fear and even if they are a path to reach god… it is not that if u are born on one that u have to follow that one only.. u can follow any path or even find a new one… it depends on it. I think agnotism suits me best.. but why do i have to be a part of any mainstream? my ideas are different from each and every one of them.. i’m trying to dig my own underground tunnel here πŸ˜‰

  5. I too don’t know anybody who converted his/her religion after I know them. I personally don’t prefer to know anybody’s religion or caste as I don’t think they are important for me to be with them. For me they are too personal until unless they are good with the society. I too have the same opinion for God like you. The most surprising moment in my life with religion is one of my close friends was officially a Hindu for the sake of ‘xx’ reservations provided by our government but he and his family follows Christianity. I don’t know whom he is trying to cheat but I am not able to ask him as it is out of my limits. I think a person changes the religion as he/her is not satisfied with old religion as it is not able to give his/her wishes. But once the same thing repeats, wont they lose faith on every thing ? What happens after wards ? Will they convert them again or do something else ?

  6. I forgot to mention one thing is that I really believe that the words God & Money are strongly related in present day situation and till these both words are used by people at the same time, even God cant help them πŸ™‚

  7. I do know someone who’s converted but he’s just an acquaintance and i’ve never gotten to talk to him about it, though i’ve heard he just converted ’cause he understood certain aspect of the religion better and so could relate to it hence the conversion. I also have a cousin who follows an other religion from the one we believe in but hasnt converted officially. I think that has a lot to do with his present girlfriend and the general mentality of the people who reside here.

    I have been questioned about my religion on times. I had written about it a while back here

    All said and done, i think its all a matter of choice, what religion we choose to follow and how committed we are to it and everyone has their own reasons and justifications for the same and should be left at that.

  8. When I was a little girl, I wanted to convert to christianity because I loved churches, they were so grand and SILENT and filled with sublime music. I am a sikh and I disliked the crowded gurdwaras, the cacaphony and the mess of a langar. Most of all I disliked the restrictions imposed by sikhism, dont cut your hair etc. A kind of a permanant look of displeasure on the face of the elders.

    But of course, now I know better. I know christianity is not all sublimity, it has its restrictions, cacaphony and bad sides. Sikhism imposes the least restrictions of all religions and the kirtan is alwyas based on ragas and is extremely melodious. The Gurdwaras are beautiful too. The concept of langar is extremely egalitarian.

    Now I think I love being a sikh because of its associations with my childhood, it gives me a feeling of security.

  9. I am basically is not a very religious guy ..
    but i do believe that everything lies in faith … doesn’t matter how he shows it and doesn’t matter what religion he belongs to..

  10. Well the nomenclature which i belong to is quite straight forward. Since its so clear,its hypocrisies too have been very clear to me.I don’t believe in idol worship,i don’t like to go to temples,yet i am a hindu,because what believe as God is the idea from which ,i feel,hinduism originated.We are all born into a faith,but as we grow up,we think it isn’t good enough for us ,quite true,what we believe truly is what we believe only when we believe in ourselves.

  11. Conversions have been going around from a long time. Unless a person is denied his right to live, he can practice any faith he desires to. Keeping oneself away from all faiths means that (s)he isn’t satisfied being attached to any of them; but will never cease to have faith in God, unless (s)he is an atheist. As u have said, conversions are as good as changing shampoo only to those who have faith in the superior being – God. To those who think faith practiced is the face of God, your argument may seem absurd. Nevertheless, a post worth triggering self-introspection for a faith-confused mind.

  12. this is a thoughtful post

    over history
    religion has been linked with power
    be it the roman catholics or islam or syrian christians
    or any others .. it is a way to channel money and more importantly thoughts and create opinions

    Hinduism is a term coined by the westerners and has been among the most passive of religions-ways of life
    and it is polytheism that drives it

    most people find it too complex especially with all the rituals and stuff

  13. @Ish : I even don’t know a single Atheist. 😦 I was one once but that was in those silly college days! I really don’t understand the concept of going to a place to worship. I can do it at my home too!

    @Pr3rna : Yes, exactly!

    @Sulz : Oh! That’s only my point of view. πŸ™‚ And this condition in Malaysia is news to me.

    @Perx : Digging one’s one tunnel is important. No matter what a religion teaches, you should have the ability to take your call.

    @Vijaya Bharat : Yes, people do this all the time for reservations!
    You are right on many points. Although I have never heard of a story where the person has repented after taking such a decision.

    @Karmalove : Yes, its a very personal choice and everyone have their own reasons.

    @Ava : Each religion has its own set of rules. Some people follow them without questioning while some don’t understand them at all. If you ask me, I don’t associate any memories of mine with my religion.

    @Arvind : Yes. Me too! πŸ™‚

    @Vishesh : Yes, very true!

    @Su : Atheism is the in thing now a days. Isn’t it? what really intrigues me is what must a person go through to even think of taking such a bold step.

    @Prax : Thanks. And do you know that there is no way a person can be “converted” to Hinduism?

  14. Nice analysis Amit. The problem happens when people think of religion as an anchor and I guess for people like you and me, the question of conversion will never arise. Because like you said, religion is simply not important enough. I know a few people who have converted, Hindus to Christianity as I was in a convent school and prostelizing used to go on. Both people I know who coverted came from broken homes, although the religion of their parents was the same.

  15. I dont know anybody who has converted from one religion to another. As for whole conversion, religion and God thing I have ranted quite a lot on my blog about the point of it all. So wot do it here.
    As for celebrity conversions, I think among all the reasons u cited one MORE can be a publicity stunt of a “dead” superstar to get some limelight.

  16. I have a friend who is a muslim and to marry her, her boyfriend had converted to Islam.. but we never talked on the line and i think it was more of a formality to do “Nikah”… So no idea at all what makes a person convert to another religion and i fully agree with your point of view…

  17. @ Amit

    That analogy with shampoo is funny but painfully apt. πŸ™‚ And I am surprised after a year or so of knowing me, you say you know no atheist πŸ˜‰ It may be just that until religious people started coming after our throats, atheists were generally quiet about this very private choice, which all religion should be. But there is a very strong and now very vocal corner of the blogosphere where atheists reside.

    Conversion is just about organised religions recruiting people to their cause, and to raise monies, a bit like marketing to find more customers when you are running a business. It involves more than a little bit of ‘spin’ and promises and dreams, whether it is nirvana, 72 virgins, or heaven. Most people know very little about the religions they are born into or the ones they convert to. Some people I know recite the Shiv Chalisa, others recite bits from the Quraan, yet others do hymns. I can recite multiplication tables in my sleep. In sum, it has all been committed to their memories at an age where they could not even begin to understand anything, leave alone question it. At least multiplication tables have some use!

    If you have never met a convert, well, be happy. There is nothing more rabid than a (recent) convert. πŸ˜‰ Nobody else has as big a need to justify his/ her choice to others.

  18. @Nita : Thanks Nita. Yes, some people are so helplessly bound to the whole idea of Religion. Its not that I don’t believe in God, but I can’t put him in compartments. I don’t know if I could be friends with a convert. We would be like apples and oranges. πŸ™‚

    @Reema : Yes, I know your views! πŸ™‚ I don’t think it is a publicity stunt. Specially not after 9/11.

    @Sakhi : That is more unlikely. Generally its the girl who converts. πŸ™‚

    @Shefaly : I was going to use something blasphemous but then curbed the urge! πŸ˜‰
    oh! Ok. Now I know. Even I was one once but then gave it up. πŸ™‚ Yes, I can relate to what you are telling. On one end of the spectrum are people in whom the nitty gritties attached to a religion are so deeply imbibed since birth that even when they gain a level of intelligence where they can understand things on our own, they tend to follow blindly what they have been taught. On the other end are the converts who question it but fall into a similar web later. And then there are those who recite multiplication tables in sleep. πŸ™‚
    And, I’ll take your advice on the last bit.

  19. This is a very nice and interesting post on this topic. I have always wondered about this when people convert. But I believe Religion/faith is one topic that has to be left to the individual to decide on. If he/she has converted for a reason then that reason means a lot more to the converted person than anyone else. So, it is best not to interfere in their decision.

  20. Amit:

    You said to Nita “I don’t know if I could be friends with a convert.”

    If you know any Christian person, they are nearly always converts. In a post on my blog I once listed 9 religions (I think) to which my friends belong. I have amongst friends a Jewish woman who became Buddhist, a Hindu who became Christian, a Hindu who became Buddhist and a couple who are converts to Islam. One woman I know went from Christianity to Baha’i religion. The reason why they remain my friends is because they know two things – not to try and lecture me on their new, new thing; not to try and argue with me on their religious texts because I have almost always read more than they have.

    People do not wear their convert status on their forehead. You will know if they tell you or not at all. A Pakistani Muslim friend’s mama told me that in their grandfather’s generation, half their relatives was Hindu. My friend’s face fell because she did not know this about her own family. She remains my close friend nonetheless but it dulled her enthusiasm for lecturing me πŸ™‚

    Some converts have a valid and painful reason. Hindus have treated their lower castes so badly that we can hardly fault those who convert for buying into the dream of a better, more equal life. Right?

    “I was going to use something blasphemous but then curbed the urge!”

    The good thing with atheists and other reasonable people is that ‘blasphemy’ does not bother them πŸ™‚ Nothing is beyond questioning.

    adj. Impiously irreverent.

    [Middle English blasfemous, from Late Latin blasphΔ“mus, from Greek blasphΔ“mos, from blasphΔ“mein, to blaspheme. See blaspheme.]

  21. Of all the examples given I guess Rehman’s is the only one where his whole family got converted unlike in usual instances. And his happened 2 decades ago. I believe many would not be even aware that he got converted especially those born in 90s.. (just a guess)

    Like you, I do not give much importance or rather thought to it but unlike you I do have memories of being associated with all religions in my teen. I was regular to churches because I liked singing in the choir, I went to Gurudwaras on Sundays because my friend then was Sikh and we used to tag along to each other… In my late teens I was fascinated with the whole funda of keeping Roza for one month during Ramadan so twice I did keep Roza… So, now when I read your article I realize I did all those things because I liked doing that instead of any particular faith towards any of the religions..

  22. @Dinesh : Thanks. Yes, its a very personal choice and its a bold step for anyone who takes it.

    @Shefaly : Sorry for the moderation. I don’t know why but ever since I have modified the CSS, many of the comments go in moderation without any reason. 😦
    I have known Christians but on a purely professional level. Most of my friends are Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims and unfortunately no converts, so basically I don’t know how I would react if one of them come to me one fine day and break the news that he is converting. As you pointed out, it won’t affect our friendship too as long as I am not continuously lectured. πŸ™‚
    Yes, I believe that its a very bold step which anyone would take after an awful lot of pondering.
    And, oh, yes I am completely reasonable till someone says that Angelina is more beautiful than Ash. πŸ˜‰

    @Nikhil : Oh no! Not hard at all. You can call it Nikhilism. Sound good! πŸ™‚

    @Oxy : I was not aware that his whole family got converted! Hmmm…even I have such memories but I have never given them much importance on a “religious” level. They were mostly outings with friends, like going to Bangla Sahib for the halwa! πŸ™‚ That is how I tend to remember them.

    @Idlidosa : Well said!

    @Smita : At the end of the day, yes, you are right! πŸ™‚

  23. Well, My friend’s sister, a Hindu, married a Muslim (Love marriage). Neither of them converted their religions..both are happily married. I have been to temple and church. Would love to go to Gurudwara. I would also like to go to Masjid if I am allowed. God never had a religion. Spirituality has no religion. When you convert your religion you did not understand the basic premise that God has no religion. How then is it gonna change your life in anyway?

  24. Have you ever known a person who has converted from one religion to another?

    My sister. She is now a follower of the Hindu religion. Many here in the West convert to Buddhism or Hinduism, but I have no figures.

  25. @Manoj : Yes. exactly my point. If someone thinks that he has to call God by a different name so that God can hear him clearer(which he was not doing earlier), then that person has lost me completely. I can’t get the logic.

    @Man of Roma : Ok! So did you guys talked about this? Do you know why she took such a bold step(if it is not too personal)?

  26. Well, we didn’t quite talk about the reasons for this conversion. But I know that she was going through a difficult phase on that period of her life and she probably clung to this new faith to find inner peace (which she actually found). It is to be considered that her Christian faith was gone long before (as it often happens in Europe, where religious people are a minority of the overall population, difficult to say whether it is good or not).

    I am not religious neither – being agnostic – but I think that among the reasons why people are/become religious there is this capacity of religion(s) to provide courage, tranquillity of soul, a clear code of conduct etc. I think she needed this help. And she has found it.

  27. well… casius clay and cat stevens converted to Islam and their careers rocketed after that…

    May be MJ got inspired by stevens with the 25th anniversary of thriller coming through.. time to be reborn for him ehh!!

  28. @Aditya : Well, I think its more about an unconscious perception. Our brain starts working in that direction. We know that we have converted for “good”.
    Oh! Yes, maybe he is going to rise like a phoenix! πŸ™‚
    Welcome to the blog, btw! πŸ™‚

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