The World We Found Discussion – Religion

Welcome to the readalong and book club discussion of The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar.  Today we are discussing religion, as presented in chapters 1 through 18 (pp. 1-192) of the novel.  If you have insights to share, but they are based on events that occur later in the book, please note that as the beginning of your comment by typing SPOILER so those who haven’t read on will know to skip your comment. 

Religion is a very important theme that runs through The World We Found.  Laleh and Adish are Parsi, while Kavita and Armaiti are Hindu by heritage, though they don’t necessarily practice the religion.  Iqbal is Muslim and Nishta, now Zola, converted to Islam for Iqbal. 

  1. Armaiti sees religion as a beast to be tamed, rather than something to take comfort in.  Why does she think this?  Have her views become more entrenched now that she is dying?
  2. Adish tells Iqbal he sounds like a fanatic during their discussion.  Iqbal comments that Adish wears the sadra, “the thin muslin-cloth undergarment that Adish wore as a sign of his Parsi faith,” and asks why only Muslims are considered fanatics for being devout.  Is Iqbal correct in his accusations?
  3. Iqbal was willing to convert to Hinduism when he wanted to marry Nishta, yet she is the one that converted to Islam.  Why?
  4. There is no question that Iqbal suffered during the Hindu-Muslim riots in 1993.  Has he become as prejudiced against Hindus as he thinks they are against him?  Does he blame Nishta for what some of her people have done, including what happened to Mumtaz?
  5. Iqbal seems crippled by the weight of his burdens, but are some of them of his own making?  At one point, he admits that he is developing a persecution complex.  Is this understandable, knowing some of what he’s been through?

Please feel free to answer any or all of these questions in your comments, as well as expound on your thoughts on the way religion is presented in the book.  If you’re new to this readalong and would like more information or to see the rest of the discussion posts, please visit my landing page for The World We Found discussion.  Please be sure to check back on Thursday, when we’ll be discussing the theme of control in the first eighteen chapters of the book.

Comments

  1. Religion was the most important and interesting theme in this book.

    1) I think for most of us who have grown up among religious violence, religion is more often seen as a “beast”. I can totally empathize with Armaiti’s feelings. But, the spiritual and peace-inducing aspects of religion are usually felt during times of personal introspection and distress. Armaiti does find some peace in her spiritual realizations of mortality and Life, but she doesn’t attribute that to religion per se- because the definition of religion has a negative connotation to her.

    2. Iqbal is not entirely correct in this case. Although Adish is religiously devout and pious, he doesn’t use religion as an excuse to overlook rationality, empathy, or consideration for people around him – especially his loved ones. He hopes to find comfort from religion and rise above his mundane self. However, Iqbal’s devoutness seems shallow – he goes through the ritualistic motions, but is not true to the underlying principles of the religious tenets. At one point, he realizes that even his religion would not approve of some of his treatments of Nishta/Zoha. Though guilty, he finds religious reasons to justify his actions, and thus find comfort. How Iqbal embraces religion is therefore quite different from Adish.

  2. Religion was the most important and interesting theme in this book.

    1) I think for most of us who have grown up among religious violence, religion is more often seen as a “beast”. I can totally empathize with Armaiti’s feelings. But, the spiritual and peace-inducing aspects of religion are usually felt during times of personal introspection and distress. Armaiti does find some peace in her spiritual realizations of mortality and Life, but she doesn’t attribute that to religion per se- because the definition of religion has a negative connotation to her.

    2. Iqbal is not entirely correct in this case. Although Adish is religiously devout and pious, he doesn’t use religion as an excuse to overlook rationality, empathy, or consideration for people around him – especially his loved ones. He hopes to find comfort from religion and rise above his mundane self. However, Iqbal’s devoutness seems shallow – he goes through the ritualistic motions, but is not true to the underlying principles of the religious tenets. At one point, he realizes that even his religion would not approve of some of his treatments of Nishta/Zoha. Though guilty, he finds religious reasons to justify his actions, and thus find comfort. How Iqbal embraces religion is therefore quite different from Adish.

  3. 1. Armaiti sees religion as a beast to be tamed, rather than something to take comfort in. Why does she think this? Have her views become more entrenched now that she is dying?

    Armaiti saw religion used in horrible ways and her Communist beliefs in college helped her see and understand the way religion was used by power and politicians to manipulate and harm the people. I’m not sure how Armaiti will change as she nears death. I believe to embrace faith, live in faith and take comfort in faith, you must be able to live within the mystery of faith. This is very difficult for people who need to feel in control, and I believe that Armaiti is a person who needs to feel in control. Armaiti may be able to embrace a type of faith in the end. Death forces you to relinquish control and for some people, that is the time in life that they are finally open to the mystery.

    2. Adish tells Iqbal he sounds like a fanatic during their discussion. Iqbal comments that Adish wears the sadra, “the thin muslin-cloth undergarment that Adish wore as a sign of his Parsi faith,” and asks why only Muslims are considered fanatics for being devout. Is Iqbal correct in his accusations?

    I’ll side with Adish on this. Iqbal suffers from religious fanaticism and one of the signs of that fanaticism is that he automatically contextualizes almost everything as a slight to his religion and to himself as a devout person of that faith. I felt that Adish was pointing out the meanness, anger and control that are the hallmarks of a fanatic, religious and otherwise.

    3. Iqbal was willing to convert to Hinduism when he wanted to marry Nishta, yet she is the one that converted to Islam. Why?

    Iqbal mentions that Nishta “had been his first religion,” and I believe that is why he was willing to convert to Hinduism in order to marry her; but the very act of marrying Iqbal caused Nishta’s family to abandon and shun her. At that point, all she had was Iqbal and his family. Nishta probably hoped that it would help her relationship with her husband and his family, and she was most likely, just worn down.

    4. There is no question that Iqbal suffered during the Hindu-Muslim riots in 1993. Has he become as prejudiced against Hindus as he thinks they are against him? Does he blame Nishta for what some of her people have done, including what happened to Mumtaz?

    It seems to me that as opposed to being prejudiced against Hindus, Iqbal seems hurt because of the behavior, real and perceived, of Hindus towards him and other Muslims. Iqbal reminds me very much of the idea, “hurt people, hurt people.” I believe Iqbal lost his idealism and his faith during the riots and has retreated into the safety of “devout” religion. Because of his fear, he wants to grasp, hold and control everything including Nishta. I don’t think he blames Nishta, but I think his fear of loss directs much of his behavior towards her. I remember what Iqbal told Adish to tell to Laleh when they were parting, “Tell her I said no, Adish. Tell her please to not interfere with the only beautiful thing I have left in my life. Tell her I said please.”

    5. Iqbal seems crippled by the weight of his burdens, but are some of them of his own making? At one point, he admits that he is developing a persecution complex. Is this understandable, knowing some of what he’s been through?

    I truly believe that Iqbal is the cause of his own problems. Although I feel deeply for what he has gone through; his current situation seems to be a classic example of a life made miserable because it is lived in bitterness and fear.

  4. 1. Armaiti sees religion as a beast to be tamed, rather than something to take comfort in. Why does she think this? Have her views become more entrenched now that she is dying?

    Armaiti saw religion used in horrible ways and her Communist beliefs in college helped her see and understand the way religion was used by power and politicians to manipulate and harm the people. I’m not sure how Armaiti will change as she nears death. I believe to embrace faith, live in faith and take comfort in faith, you must be able to live within the mystery of faith. This is very difficult for people who need to feel in control, and I believe that Armaiti is a person who needs to feel in control. Armaiti may be able to embrace a type of faith in the end. Death forces you to relinquish control and for some people, that is the time in life that they are finally open to the mystery.

    2. Adish tells Iqbal he sounds like a fanatic during their discussion. Iqbal comments that Adish wears the sadra, “the thin muslin-cloth undergarment that Adish wore as a sign of his Parsi faith,” and asks why only Muslims are considered fanatics for being devout. Is Iqbal correct in his accusations?

    I’ll side with Adish on this. Iqbal suffers from religious fanaticism and one of the signs of that fanaticism is that he automatically contextualizes almost everything as a slight to his religion and to himself as a devout person of that faith. I felt that Adish was pointing out the meanness, anger and control that are the hallmarks of a fanatic, religious and otherwise.

    3. Iqbal was willing to convert to Hinduism when he wanted to marry Nishta, yet she is the one that converted to Islam. Why?

    Iqbal mentions that Nishta “had been his first religion,” and I believe that is why he was willing to convert to Hinduism in order to marry her; but the very act of marrying Iqbal caused Nishta’s family to abandon and shun her. At that point, all she had was Iqbal and his family. Nishta probably hoped that it would help her relationship with her husband and his family, and she was most likely, just worn down.

    4. There is no question that Iqbal suffered during the Hindu-Muslim riots in 1993. Has he become as prejudiced against Hindus as he thinks they are against him? Does he blame Nishta for what some of her people have done, including what happened to Mumtaz?

    It seems to me that as opposed to being prejudiced against Hindus, Iqbal seems hurt because of the behavior, real and perceived, of Hindus towards him and other Muslims. Iqbal reminds me very much of the idea, “hurt people, hurt people.” I believe Iqbal lost his idealism and his faith during the riots and has retreated into the safety of “devout” religion. Because of his fear, he wants to grasp, hold and control everything including Nishta. I don’t think he blames Nishta, but I think his fear of loss directs much of his behavior towards her. I remember what Iqbal told Adish to tell to Laleh when they were parting, “Tell her I said no, Adish. Tell her please to not interfere with the only beautiful thing I have left in my life. Tell her I said please.”

    5. Iqbal seems crippled by the weight of his burdens, but are some of them of his own making? At one point, he admits that he is developing a persecution complex. Is this understandable, knowing some of what he’s been through?

    I truly believe that Iqbal is the cause of his own problems. Although I feel deeply for what he has gone through; his current situation seems to be a classic example of a life made miserable because it is lived in bitterness and fear.

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