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GEK1045: Introduction to World Religions Semester 1 AY2009/10 Term Paper COVER PAGE


Matric Number: U0900023J

Tutors Name: Adrina (sorry I have no idea how to spell her name)

Tutorial Time: Thursdays, 2-4pm

Question Attempted: Pain is necessary for the meaningful fulfilment of religious obligations. Do you agree? Discuss this question by using at least TWO of the religions we are studying as examples.

What is pain? Religion is today is often propagated with the exclusion of suffering, discomfort and pain, but is that really what religiosity is? Or are these so called negative emotion an integral part of religions in general? This is what will be discussed in this article. There are many definitions of pain out there, but for the sake of this article, we will be defining pain as a feeling of marked discomfort.1 ["pain." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 14 Sep. 2009 <>] Pain comes not simply in the form of extreme torture but also from mild discomforts in various forms of self denial. In order for pain to be subjugated by mankind, we must first be able to associate pain to our personal religious convictions and obligations; this humanizes pain, and makes it bearable, if not only for a higher cause. As such, the role that pain plays in religion is very important. The idea of martyrdom and righteousness are symbolic of pain. With pain comes discomfort, with discomfort, suffering, and with suffering, a sense of fulfilment. This is the essence of our religious obligations. For Islam2 [The Significance of fasting by Ramadan Oasis (2005) > ] and Christianity3 [What is the Real Significance of Fasting by Tony Warren (2001) <>], the idea of denying oneself to draw near to God.

The meaning behind pain Pain is something we all have to endure. Even Buddha himself claimed that life was suffering4 [Pain & Suffering <>]. The idea was pain has been etched into almost all known world religions. It isnt something that is being denied, instead, it seems as if it is being embraced by religious fervour. The idea that an omniscient deity has a greater purpose (Islam and Christianity), and through suffering we are able to draw closer to the spiritual truths of that deity, is something many people today can relate to, something many people today, strive for. So is it possible for one to achieve meaning from any religious practice in the absence of pain? Or is pain too deeply entrenched in each practice, to the point that without it, the action becomes pointless, or insignificant?

Pain #1: Self Denial Fasting is a practice commonly associated with Islam, however, we should not forget that Judaism and Christianity also has numerous instances where fasting is mentioned as a religious obligation. In Islam, fasting, or Swam, occurs mainly in the month of Ramadan, where Muslims unite in their abstention from not just food and water, but also sexual intercourse, of both the mind and body. This form of deprivation is to achieve 3 results, namely, Shukra, Taqwaa and Takbhir5 [Objective of fasting <>].

Shukra is the idea of being grateful, by depriving oneself of basic needs; it allows one to empathise with the poor and needy, to exercise self restraint, Taqwaa, and calls for greater

social involvement where possible. Ultimately, the goal of fasting is Takbhir, the glorification of Allah for His guidance during these hard times.

The hunger pangs that come with fasting makes one give a thought for the destitute that often go for long periods with this exact same feeling. As such fasting provides an opportunity to alleviate the distress of the poor, at least temporarily. Muslims also believe that fasting has numerous health benefits, as it is a method of self purification, which must be accompanied by sincere spiritual pursuits, a cleansing of both the body and the mind. The cutting off of oneself from worldly comforts allows a Muslim to attain a sense of spiritual peace, knowing that he is in devotion to Allah. He will also go through a humanization process especially with the intense kinship experience he has with fellow fasting Muslims. Cleansing always involves a certain degree of discomfort, and this is where pain comes into the picture. The discomfort from the month long fasting is crucial to fulfilling a Muslims personal religious obligations. The Ramadan fast is a spiritual discipline of commitment and reflection and to align Muslims with the need and hunger in the world6 [PODCAST < >]. What about self-denial in Christianity? Do Christians practice this with the same goals in mind, or is there more to their version of fasting?

The Christian perspective on fasting is not entirely different from the Muslim methodology. In fact, they share some common goals. In both cases, believers abstain from nourishment (although different Christians abstain from different foods at different times) and seek to draw closer to God. For Christians, fasting does not necessarily mean not consuming anything for an entire day like their Muslim counterparts. Instead, they can choose a specific

type of fast, depending on the specific goal they want to achieve. Some examples are spiritual healing and deepening their relationship with God.

Ask any Christians today and most will not be able to account a time when they have fasted. Fasting is not compulsory in the Church. It is a voluntary and an act of devotion to God, at a time when it suits you the most, in other words, it is a personal choice. However, similar to Ramadan, there is no doubt that discomfort is a major factor in fasting. The key difference between Islam and Christianity in the area of fasting is that Islam teaches that fasting is a duty, whereas Christianity teaches that it is a delight7[Why Dont Christians fast the same as Muslims <>].

Would fasting be the same if one was not subjected to the pain and discomfort that it entails? I highly doubt so. Without the feeling of deprivation, the sense of reliance on God, then this obligation would not be met, and self denial, would be in denial.

Pain #2: Floored Skin Circumcision is widely practiced in Judaism and Islam. It is the rite of passage where a young boy (8 days old for Jews and variable for Muslims) loses his foreskin in an operation that is seen as a physical mark for God. What makes this operation so significant? In both cases, there is a legitimate reason for circumcision. It is the mark of the covanent. In Judaism, Jews believe that God himself gave Abraham a commandment, to circumcise all in his camp8 [New International Version Bible <Genesis 17:12-14>]. This leads many Jews to believe that it is their religious obligation to obey this commandment, even to the present day. Although the memory of pain that the young boy experiences is forgettable, he still feels it. The act of cutting off the foreskin of the penis is more of a symbolic action of being cut off from the rest of the world, to become a special people, chosen by God. Muslims also believe in the Covanent with Abraham (although it is Ibrahim to them). However, circumcision to them is more of a cultural (and more recently health) practice rather than a religious one, as it is not commanded by Allah.

With the modernization of health science technology, circumcision procedures today are done under local anaesthesia, taking away the element of pain. Does this take the significance away from this notable practice? In biblical times, circumcision was carried out with the full weight of pain on the men at that time, no anaesthesia, no herbs. The pain that young boy felt and the physical mark it left on him was an outwardly reminder of his religious obligations. Indeed, pain or no pain the mark will still be there.

Physically, the lack of pain still entitles the man to the promises of the covanent, but spiritually, the link between him and God is inevitably missing, since he has not gone through the experience that God had intended for his forefathers. The ritual of pain in this case is very significant.

Pain #3: The Day I died Martyrdom. The act of sacrificing ones self for ones faith. A martyr is defined as someone who willing suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion9 [Definition of Martyr <>]. Martyrdom is often associated with the righteous wars of any given religion, be it Hinduism10 [Martyrdom in Hinduism <>] or even lesser known faiths such as the Bahai Faith11 [Winters, Jonah (1997-09-19). "Conclusion: Dying for God: Martyrdom in the Shii and Babi Religions. M.A. Thesis.]. Pain from death. That is the key concept here. These people who are subjecting themselves to death for the sake of their faith are truly accepting pain in their lives. They are willing to suffer now (often under intense torture circumstances) in order to attain their rewards for faithfulness in heaven. Islam promises virgins, wine, wealth, young boys and even streams of purest water for martyrs of the faith12 [Islamic Heaven <>]. Christians too share such a rich reward from God, who promises a great reward for anyone who suffers for the names sake of Christ. Many figures central to the various faiths today are remembered for the suffering they endured in their lives. Their obligation to their God outweighed any worldly obligation, any pain they felt was temporary, to them suffering was needed for the fulfilment of scriptures. What would martyrdom be without pain? Simple. It would be just death.

Conclusion: Pain Vs Suffering In conclusion, pain is indeed an integral part of religion. Many religious practices rely on the fact that discomfort is often felt (some much more than others) throughout the duration of the ritual. From fasting, to circumcision, and even martyrdom. All these practices would surely lose their significance if the element of pain was removed. I hold a personal belief that unless one feels pain for his faith, one is not a true convert. But I have a different view on suffering. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional 13. Indeed, we will all be put through painful trials in our lifetime. Buddha said life is suffering4, but I beg to differ, suffering is a mental and physical response to the inevitable pain in our lives. We might not be able to escape pain, but we can escape suffering, temporarily at least.

References: 1. "pain." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 14 Sep. 2009 <> 2. The Significance of fasting by Ramadan Oasis (2005) < m> 3. What is the Real Significance of Fasting by Tony Warren (2001) <> 4. Pain & Suffering <> 5. Objective of fasting <> 6. PODCAST <> 7. Why Dont Christians fast the same as Muslims <> 8. New International Version Bible <Genesis 17:12-14> 9. Definition of Martyr <> 10. Martyrdom in Hinduism <> 11. Winters, Jonah (1997-09-19). "Conclusion: Dying for God: Martyrdom in the Shii and Babi Religions. M.A. Thesis. 12. Islamic Heaven <>