For most of us, our perception of God is based on the concept provided to us as children by our parents, grandparents, the local mawlvi sahib or the teacher of Islamic studies at school. In the minds of many, the concepts have subsequently crystallized into that of the image of an old man in the sky who not infrequently becomes emotional, jealous and angry (probably a projection of our human needs and fears).

It is intriguing to note that whereas we manage to outgrow most of our childhood concepts of events and situations around us, incorporating new experiences as we grow up, our childhood perception of God frequently fails to develop into a more mature one as we grow older. Our perception of God therefore remains childlike even when we grow into adulthood or even middle age.

Throughout our lives, having failed to develop our childhood concept of God, we end up worshipping a concept which is more a creation of our mind, a projection of our human needs and fears, rather than a true manifestation of divinity. This distorted concept is further affected by a multitude of factors which include amongst others, our early upbringing, our relationship with our parents and other authority figures, our socio-cultural environment, intellectual, emotional and moral development etc. It, therefore, should come as no surprise that each individual ends up having his/her own particular individualized perception of God.

Since God cannot be approached through our special senses ie. we cannot see, hear, feel or smell God, it is through the medium of our mind or psyche, that we approach God and if this happens to be a disturbed one, which it often is by factors mentioned earlier, it seriously "contaminates" our real perception of God. An analogy with the human eye may be relevant here. Our eye is the window to the outside world which we can see clearly only as long as the eye remains healthy. We see nothing of the eye itself during this process. Once the eye becomes diseased, it starts showing itself and our vision of the outside world consequently becomes distorted as well. The same applies to our mind so that any aberration in our thinking, psyche and mental outlook prevents us from having a correct perception of God as the mind's own contaminants are polluting the vision of the eye of faith.

The whole edifice of religion is based on the perception of God and if that happens to be a misplaced one the whole structure of religion becomes dangerously shaky. Our everyday practice of religion, I believe, is very much determined by whether our perception of God is that of a merciful, compassionate and loving God or that of a revengeful, jealous and impulsive God.

With different perceptions of God leading to different approaches to religion based on our individual psychological make-up, we are bound to have different interpretations of religious commandments as well. Even when reading Divine scriptures, we may end up drawing seemingly valid conclusions based upon our personal biases and prejudices. I still remember a heated discussion at one of the annual meetings of the American Psychiatric Association some years back when two rabbis were debating about the place of homosexuality. Whereas one, a gay rabbi himself, insisted that this was clearly allowed by Jewish religion, the other vehemently opposed it. Significantly, they were both quoting from the same Jewish scripture.

It is sad to see so much hate and violence being spread around on sectarian basis simply because looking at the same source of religious knowledge, we interpret it differently and then insist that our view is not only the most correct one but that all others are completely wrong to the point of blasphemy. A more mature approach may be to improve our concepts and understanding by also considering other view points and thereby obtaining a broader perspective. Respecting differences and aligning ourselves with other paradigms will add to our knowledge rather than deprive us of our faith and devotion.

Most amongst us tend to lead lives holding onto a "second hand belief" in God which lacks true conviction. Believing in God and knowing God are two quite different concepts. Whereas belief is something that depends upon the information we receive from other sources and becomes threatened when faced with contradictory situations and apparent proofs, "knowing" is a fact which is based upon personal experience of the matter in question. This is akin, for example, to the taste of a delicious fruit. Reading about and gaining information from others and believing what the taste might be is very different from the actual personal experience of tasting the fruit. There is thus a difference between "knowing" and "knowing about" something. Most of us may "know about" God but few are really fortunate to "know" God. And this makes all the difference in one's life. Sadly, most of us are more agnostic than we would like to believe.

_______________