By Raffique Shah
September 28, 2015
Mark you, I am not disrespectful towards religion or religious persons. If I were, I’d be alienated from most of my family, relatives, friends and fellow-citizens, almost all of whom are praying people who belong to one faith or other among the scores that form the tapestry of this cosmopolitan country.
I respect people’s right to believe, just as I expect them to respect my right not to believe.
But I am confused by many things religious persons say and do. As I noted, ours is a deeply religious society, one in which most people pray to God in one form or other at least once a day. Many of my Muslim brethren pray five times daily. In some faiths, devotees pray non-stop for days, as part of rituals. And most religions host communal prayers at least once weekly.
Upon taking up office recently, Prime Minister Keith Rowley summoned clerics from every recognised religion to pray with him at his office. He declared Republic Day a day of prayers and called on the nation to observe it as such.
The day of prayers coincided with the holiest day on the Islamic calendar, Eid ul Adha, when the billion-or-so Muslims around the world prayed and conducted sacrifices.
That ex-Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar did not join him at the convocation at the Savannah does not mean that she and her colleagues did not observe the occasion. She is among the very rare breed, the bi-religious, a practising Hindu and a Baptist. So we can safely assume that one way or other, she was in deep prayers last Thursday.
During her five-year tenure, the lady had often declared national days of prayers, which has been one common feature among almost every Government that ruled the country with the notable exception of Dr Eric Williams’. He did not care much for religion and prayers, although like me, he respected other people’s faiths and practices.
So, with prayers echoing across the country day and night, from the mouths, and hopefully hearts, of the vast majority of citizens, you would think that God, Jah, Allah, Ram, Ogun, the deity by whatever name he is called, would shower blessings of peace, harmony and prosperity on the nation.
I suppose believers would say we are a blessed nation, endowed with rich resources that afford us a decent standard of living. And although there is a significant minority who fan the flames of discord, the nation has been spared the racial and communal explosions we see in so many other countries.
But is that all we get in return for so many faiths, so much prayers?
Why are we burdened with a never-ending cycle of crime, notably cold-blooded murders, that is bleeding us dry, siphoning the lifeblood of the mostly young, though not necessarily innocent, in the society?
Why the callousness towards life, be it infants and toddlers suffering in squalor, the infirm unable to access medical treatment, or the aged having to endure their misnamed “golden years” in abandonment and suffering?
This while the so-called white collar criminals, the godfathers of street crime (the real drug dealers and gunrunners) and pilferers of the public purse, live in luxury, enjoying preferred pews in class-conscious churches, or blessings from imams and pundits for their generous contributions to mosques and mandirs, tainted money all of it.
When, pray tell, will we see any of these demons brought to justice, made to pay for their crimes against country, against humanity?
This is where I return to religion, to the clerics who tell us ask and it will be given, seek and ye shall find.
The whole damn country has been asking, seeking, pleading for the day we can see these purveyors of theft and death and destruction slammed into dank cells that, for centuries, have been the domain of only poor black people, albeit some evil ones.
Instead, we see them walking tall in communities where their guns render them immune from police bullets or prosecution, or being driven in their limousines, untouchables of an elite order.
These contradictions between the biblical Word and Flesh have me confused.
I must confess that Pope Francis’ portrayal of Christ as both the Redeemer and the Liberator is the best thing to have happened to the Catholic Church since the era of Archbishops Camara of Recife and Romero of San Salvador, the latter murdered by the military while administering to the poor.
Still, when 700 Muslim pilgrims are crushed to death as they stone Satan, I retreat into the ranks of those of little or no faith, from whence I continue my ruminations.