A friend once told me about an incident – one of her colleagues, a young man that she worked with chose to convert to Islam. This young man’s mother was devastated at this decision and she just could not comprehend his need to take up a new faith. After telling me about this incident my friend said to me:
“How is converting one’s religion different to switching nationalities? So many people give up on India and move overseas in search of a green card and better life. How is this different?”
This whole episode allows scope for many philosophical debates.
- Is there a need to convert religions when all faiths pretty much show different paths to the same destination?
- Is there a valid reason for the mother to be devastated about this conversion? It could have been a lot worse! Wouldn’t she have been more devastated if he turned out to be a serial killer or rapist?
- Is it right to compare change of religion to change of nationality?
- It is so wrong to convert religions if it makes you happier or gives you peace?
- Do we switch loyalties by moving to another country?
The last one is a very poignant question. Do we switch allegiance by moving countries? There is a saying in Tamil – “Yaadum Oore Yaavarum Kelir” – every land is my land and all its inhabitants are my kin. Man has been nomadic for as long as he has lived and that is a way of life. Just like a bird has to fly, a man has to explore. Migration has always happened and it will always happen. Take India as an example; there are so many racial mixes among Indians that it is impossible to determine what our ethnic origins might be. All these ethnicities have blended beautifully in a huge melting pot called India.
But, I digress! My friend raised this question in the context of the current day trend where the highly educated leave India in search for a better livelihood in other countries. Is this the same as people converting to another religion? Do people forget their country of birth and their origins when they move? As a first generation migrant, I would completely refute this!
I haven’t changed my way of life, my faith, my value system or my loyalties because I’ve moved. Yes there are superficial changes but at the fundamental level, I doubt if I have changed. I cry every time I hear the national anthem, get deeply emotional every time India achieves, cling to nostalgia, carry memories of my beautiful country of birth, follow customs that have long ceased to exist in India and remain a fiercely proud Indian. There is a common saying around where I live that the true test of loyalty is the ‘cricket’ test – and the theory is that our loyalties are with the nationality of the cricket team we follow!! And in the cricket crazy country that I live in every Indian supports India – first generation, second generation … even young Australian Indians! So I can’t see any switch of loyalties as yet.
But I am only a first generation migrant. Will my grandchildren’s grandchildren still live in this country and share my ethos? I look at the large third or fourth generation Indian community in South Africa – their food habits, their faith, their value systems are still Indian but they fail the cricket test. All my South African Indian friends support South Africa! Makes me believe now that ‘Yaadum oore yaavarum kelir’ is a well thought out deeply philosophical line that makes transition easy for all of us migratory birds!
Maybe my friend is right about comparing converting religions to converting nationalities. The switching of loyalties probably does not happen overnight while changing nationalities but it does happen over time. All I can say is that I am relieved that I won’t live to see my grandchildren’s grandchildren ‘fail’ the cricket test J