When religion is not an issue

Call me an 'idealist' or a 'dreamer' and I wouldn't disagree because maybe that's what I am.

World conflict is not a crisis I wish to solve as some young Miss Universe aspirant would state with a million dollar smile. It is the steps we take to achieve world peace which I fully stand by.

In recent times, religion and race seem to be the fundamental issue to global unrest. Well, at least this was what I thought until a history lesson early this year. During the class, we learnt of the divide between the Protestants and Catholics during Henry VIII's reign. Then there was the rise of Lutheranism in the Peasant's War in Germany.

A few weeks later, I read an article on the Lebanese Civil War between the Sunnis and Shiites in 1975 and the Sudanese Civil War starting in 1955 between Muslims and Christians.

Mentioned in another class were the crusades between the Muslims and Christians from 1095 to 1303. I have heard numerous times that "history repeats itself" but I never really thought about it.

But in light of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy and terrorist attacks, I see clearly that history does indeed "repeat itself".

It is an endless pattern of wars and deaths, debates and threats, victories and defeats, not only between different religions but within the same religion too. This brought me to the question, "If religion had never existed, would none of this have happened?"

A difficult question indeed. Religion does perhaps contribute to the world's long history of battles and bloodshed. But we are human and it is in our nature to fight anyone who seems a threat.

Religion is a justification used for human conflicts. It will conti­nue for thousands of years more. And thousands after that. But there is always an end. And the most important thing is the passing on of learning to fight for this end to the hands of the younger generations.

You may describe my generation as just a bunch of "techno geeks", and to an extent I guess we are. Sure, we love our time on Facebook and Instagram, but there is something the younger generation has which the older generation sometimes lacks - the ability to respect and recognise the multireligious world we live in.

A poll published in Slate maga­zine some time in May last year showed that from a group of 14- to 24-year-olds, 72 per cent opined that their generation believes in equality more than older people, and 58 per cent believed that as they get older, religious divides will become less of an issue.

Don't get me wrong, I know that prejudices involving religion and race still exist among young people now, but in my own personal experience, I see a great improvement.

I'm a 16-year-old Muslim girl who is growing up in two contrasting cultures. On one hand I live in Malaysia, in an Islamic environment. I have my Quran lessons with my ustazah. I observe Ramadan and I pray in the mosque.

On the other hand, I'm also a boarding school student in Scotland. I attend the school's chapel service every morning. I'm surrounded by my friends, most of whom are Christians. My school is made up of people of all races and all religions. And it's something I'm unbelievably grateful for.

Attending chapel services does not make me Christian. I observe, I listen and I learn. Is that a crime? I don't think it makes me any less Muslim. I learn of the things Christians believe in in order to understand. Opening my eyes to other people's beliefs helps me open my eyes to society.

Religion is a common topic of conversation among my friends and myself. We have a natural curiosity to listen to what others think, and it helps us become more open and respectful.

I've learnt all the stories in the Bible, and I tell my friends of my own Islamic ways. I have atheist friends too, and hearing their opinions lets me see religion from their perspective.

Furthermore, our school also has a club called "Youth Alpha", a group which meets once a week to discuss God, religion and beliefs, all within the relaxed environment of a room full of students and pizza.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and atheists alike approach the talk of religion in a casual manner. Hearing each other in order to learn and understand religion helps us grow up to create a more accepting and less segregated generation. Especially in Malaysia, where religion is considered a sensitive matter, we need groups and societies to help the younger generations realise that religion is a diverse matter that we must accept and respect within our communities.

I am lucky enough to have been thrown into such a multi-­cultural and liberal society where I am able to learn about developing equality in society first hand. I hope others in my generation are allowed to do so too. It is the fundamental issue of our global conflicts which need to be addressed. By passing on the logic and social intelligence to the younger generations, the growing disputes may one day come to an end.

So yes, a "dreamer" and ­"idealist" I may be, but I'm willing to stride towards creating a future where disputes between religions will, to some extent, be eradicated.

Laila Petra is a 16-year-old Malaysian student who believes that religious awareness needs to be taught to the younger generations.

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