Nadia and Reena grew up in the East London borough of Newham, and were best friends who had known each other since the tender age of 6. Nadia was a Muslim and Reena was a Hindu. Growing up, and they often played at one another’s homes. Through their childhood, religion had never got in the way of their friendship, and they were often at each other’s homes.
Reena was the kindest and most decent person that Nadia had known, and Nadia recalls that if there was ever someone who appeared to appear lonely and left out at school, she would go out of her way to include them. Reena was not particularly religious, but she used to fast during the Hindu festival of Navratri, and pray quite devotedly to the Goddess Durga at that time every year. Similarly, Nadia used to pray and fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
When Nadia was 14 she started to attend religious classes about Islam. One recurring theme which she encountered was about the “evil of idol worship” and that deluded people who indulged in the worship of other than Allah, the One True God, would face eternal hell.
Nadia immediately thought of her friend Reena and felt uncomfortable. She was not sure what to think – would God really punish an otherwise good person in this way?
Without appearing confrontational, she spoke to her Hindu friend about her worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga. Her friend did not get too drawn into a debate, but said that God will not bother about how we conceive him/her, it is the purity of love in our hearts when praying which matters; a very typical Hindu response. She also stated that someone who is an atheist but good towards the world would be judged better by God than a religious person who has malice towards others. Their friendship continued as normal.
A few years later Nadia looked into Islam further and also talked with other Muslims, with the question of the fate of her Hindu friend, Reena, in mind, who she cared about deeply. There was no way of escaping the fact; if Islam was correct, then her friend was going to hell. Idol worship was a sin on par with stealing and rape.
One of Nadia’s Muslim friends, Imran, suggested that Reena would only go to hell if she rejected Islam when Islam was explained to her. Without warning, he took it upon himself to go and talk to Reena about why she shouldn’t worship images, but should only worship the One True God, and that Islam was the only way. He gave her a bunch of pamphlets about Islam and told her to read them. Reena argued back with him, with quite a spirited defence of her own thoughts as to why it was absurd to claim to have the “one true path”. The Muslim guy got quite angry and the argument turned quite heated, and in the process of it Reena found out that it was Nadia who had triggered this “discussion” in the first place by enquiring about whether she would go to hell for worshipping the Goddess Durga during Navratri. Their friendship was severely strained after this incident.
Nadia realised how f**ked up this all was. Islam was making her worry and discuss about her friend going to hell, who clearly was not. Clearly Reena was a far more balanced, level headed, caring and ethical person than Imran, and the world would be better with more religiously liberal Reenas than Imrans who believed they had the one true path.
Nadia decided at this stage that even if Islam was true, she would rather go to hell then attempt to please such a tyrant God who could send decent people to hell for eternity just because they happened to have different beliefs. Nadia sincerely apologised to Reena, and after some time and seeing her sincerity, Reena forgave her.
At present Nadia believes in a spiritual dimension to life, but firmly rejects the type of conceptualisation of God which was given to her in her upbringing and religious education.
This story shows how true friendship between persons of different religions has the power to overcome religious close mindedness and fanaticism.
Names changed to protect individual identities