Changing one’s faith is a quantum leap for a person who could face major repercussions such as extradition from the family and community and restrictions on social interactions.
Some people have changed their faith in all period of human history. The reasons are many. Some converted to a different religion because they expected financial, social and cultural benefits; many did so because of a change in their outlook towards life; some because they were looking for a meaning in their lives which they found in the new religion and others changed faith because they were forced to. There are frequent examples of conversions when a person marries another belonging to a different faith.
Christianity and Islam spread throughout the world mainly due to conversion of large populations. This happened because of the religious zeal of those preaching their religion; wars and subsequent victories and campaigns designed to win over the hearts and souls of others. The missionary activities of Christians and the dawah (invitation) processes of Muslims both have been successful in mass conversions in various countries and even within the same country. Christians set up missionary schools and hospitals across the world with the prime purpose of spreading their faith through charitable activities. Muslims have been active in preaching through their tablighi groups. Mass conversions are rare now, but almost every faith and even sects within a religion carries out proselytizing activities. It is quite common to meet a Jesuit or Evangelist seeking to convert passersby in many Christian countries. Delegations of Muslims travel to cities and countries to invite others to their faith. Their activities are not restricted by law, provided they remain within the confines of soft communication and do not resort to violence or force.
Most people are born into their religion and many adopt it because they were raised according to its beliefs and practices. They believe in it without question and carry it forward into future generations. Many who have doubts or queries tend to bury their concerns and often lead their lives without actually practising their religion. Atheism and agnosticism have, in fact, become quite common and worship places have fallen empty as a result.
On the other hand, there are those who find their souls in constant turmoil. Depending on what and how they have been taught, they seek alternate answers. Sometimes they seek guidance from religious scholars, read extensively and discuss the issues with those who would not condemn them and some muddle through their lives, half believing and half doubting.
Adopting a religion other than the one a person is born into is a personal choice. In fact, ideally, people should have the choice to adopt or not their parental religion. This choice is the one given by God. The Quran says: there is no compulsion in religion (2:256). However, coercion still happens. This does not mean coercion by physical threat only: it also means enticing people by the lure of tangible and non tangible benefits. A conversion is legitimate only if people are fully convinced that they really believe in the other religion and that it would offer them the spiritual connection and comfort that they seek. This requires a careful consideration of what the other religion offers, what would be their obligations and what changes would they be required to bring about in their lifestyle. All of this can only be thought through by a person who is mentally and intellectually mature enough to consider the pros and cons of such a huge change.
The writer is a development professional, researcher, translator and columnist with an interest in religion and socio-political issues. She can be reached at email@example.com
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