Q&A: Shelina Janmohamed on faith and religion

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Thursday, May 4, 2017 - 12:56

We caught up with Shelina Janmohamed, Vice-President of Ogilvy Noor, a branding and advertising consultancy for building engagement with Muslim audiences and author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, ahead of For Good or For Ill? How Has Religion Shaped Society this weekend.

Q. Name three things you think faith can contribute to society.

A. For someone who chooses to observe a faith, there is a compelling faith imperative to make things better, not just for oneself, but for everyone. Faith also asks about the greater good, not just the self. Faith focuses beyond the material on the spiritual, and in ever busier lifestyles, having something to centre your inner self is a valuable asset. Faith is, along with serving a Creator, about serving others. It is the enjoyment – even beyond obligation – of serving others that keeps our societies vibrant and healthy.

Q. Life choices and identities can be a challenge to religious teaching. What advice would you give to people struggling to bridge the gap between their religion and life choices?

A. There's a risk that when people become over-enthusiastic about their own faith they can become zealous and impose it on others. One of the best pieces of advice I ever came across is this: ‘Religion is not about controlling others, it is about controlling yourself’. Religion is a way of assessing the world around you and identifying what you feel your place – and therefore your actions – should be within it.

Q. Do you think religion has a place in education?

A. Absolutely! We are adamant on things like numeracy and literacy, but we also need spiritual literacy! And the manifestation of that are the world's religions. Our children should absolutely learn spiritual literacy so they can navigate their own emotions and inner needs, but also learn to identify what others are experiencing and what they believe. To do that you need to explore how different religions approach these subjects, and how people live their lives accordingly.

Q. Do you think a more secular world would be a better place?

A. We all continue to struggle to find a way of organising our societies that can fulfil our utopian ideals. What was it Churchill said, about the least worst approaches? The problem with today's secularism is that it no longer lives up to the aspiration to create a neutral space where everyone can shine, but rather is obliterating all difference in the goal of an ideal citizen that only represents one way of being.

Q. How do you think religious leaders should approach speaking out against discrimination and violence committed in the name of a religion?

A. Religious leaders should speak out against all discrimination and violence, bearing witness even against themselves – that is certainly the Islamic imperative.

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