Monday, October 11, 2004

Losing faith

Had dinner with a Turkmenistan couple the other night. Turkmenistan, if you do not know, is a largely Muslim state that found its independence with the demise of the USSR. But it is also very much a secular country which is now only asserting its cultural heritage and Islamic identity. We had a very good time and the couple was great company. The husband was more gregarious of the two (also more proficient in English) and I learned how he had left his Islamic faith.

So how did that happen? Our Turkmen friend was on a plane en route to London when the World Trade Towers were brought down by Islamist terrorists. Thrown into an emotional turmoil following the horrific event, he questioned how a religion that was supposedly from God could bring death and destruction. His conclusion? God exists but all organised religions are man-made and only result in divisions and conflicts. “I am a freethinker. Why don’t you come and join us?” he announced in a booming voice, a twinkle in his eye, and with arms outstretched.

We talked about Turkmenistan, politics of race, watermelons (they have HUGE ones – put your hands out and make a circle - back home) culture and language (everyone speaks Russian, but, like Malaysia, schools are now introducing the Turkmen language as their medium of instruction) and of course, religion. But I sensed that it wasn’t the appropriate time, having just met them at a friend’s dinner. Some of the usual comments about truth, faith, that religions were all false, spiced up the meal. Admittedly, I’m not so quick on the uptake and only in retrospect am I able to think through what I should have said. Ah well.

I have read and heard about Muslims losing their faith in the aftermath of 9-11. That night I actually met someone who was candid about losing his, and without irony celebrated the loss of what he never possessed in the first place.

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