I believe there is a universal, supreme force. In terms of Christianity, it’s what you might call more than the seventh heaven. In Hinduism we have this concept. Krishna says: “I am the Lord, I am him but beyond Him”. That “but beyond” is what I believe in: something beyond the world, universe, galaxies, all that. A supreme energy.
When my daughter meditates, she says that she just sees a light and she concentrates on that light. That resonates with me.
We have so many religions in our family: So many ways of praying, so many ways of, say “accessing God”. But something always left me dissatisfied. I wanted to assimilate all of that into one philosophy.
So I started drawing on concepts from the Sufi movements that describe God as their love. The experience of divinity is almost like the experience of having a lover.
I looked at all of the religions in my family and I felt that ritualistically there was something good in all of them. But they had their intolerances and rigidities. And so I didn’t want to be defined. I wanted to be able to make a choice for myself.
Do you know the Sri Aurobindu movement? They talk about the spiritual evolution of man from human to superhuman. And then from the superhuman to the supra-mental so that we are all connected by the supreme conscience.
My secular attitude comes from my maternal grandfather. They ran away from Lahore, Pakistan during Partition. They could have said that they had been driven from their homeland, and they could now have been staunch Hindus. But instead he went the other way. He started to believe that there were great things in the Bible, in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran and from Buddhism. So everyone in the family embraced that philosophy.
And my mother took it a step further. She said that there is one supreme God with many different manifestations. So when we moved to the UK, one of my primary school teaches was a Roman Catholic Nun and she said “there’s a lot of paganism in your religion, don’t you want to become a Christian?” So I said “yes that sounds great!” So I went to my parents and my mother said “for sure, go to church, pray, but what’s wrong with these guys [idols]?” And there were statues of Krishna and so on. And that left such an impression. Because here was a person of authority and religion who was so rigid, versus this other person who was just an ordinary mum, doing her thing, well-educated , open-minded, accepting. And I thought: “well I’m just going to be who I am”
Similarly when my Muslim husband and I were courting, his family had tried to influence him to convert me. I loved ritual and prayer and exploration. So he said “well if you love religion and ritual, there’s nothing like Islam”. But I said “why do I have to make that choice?” And he was fine with that of course.
So my kids now call themselves agnostic. Yet they’re very god-fearing. And they have many symbols: whether a cross or a holy book. They like to engage with the material aspect. I know it sounds contradictory but the things is, if an aunt comes along and says “this medallion from Islam is very powerful and it will protect you” then they’ll say, “okay I’ll take that”. And if someone else says “oh this figure from Hinduism is very powerful”, they’ll say “oh great, I’ll take that too!”.
If I’m forced to identify, I’d say I’m Sikh and Hindu. But only to recognise my heritage. I don’t come from a traditional family so I’ve never felt that anything I have done challenges my religion. So I love my husband’s sister and she really likes certain Islamic rituals. And I always partake fully because I want to show respect to her. And I suppose that challenges my choice not to be defined by any one religion. But it’s okay because those close to you know the truth.