compulsion vs. choice

Although I know next to nothing about Islam beyond the 5 pillars, 
it interests me to no end to read meditations on the celebrations of major religions.

It is now the month of Ramadan, 
and I ran across this in an article in the Huffington post.
I love how it spoke to a concept larger than any one religion.

Last night, one of the haafidh, [someone who has memorized the Quran in its entirety in the original Arabic] recited a verse from the second chapter of the Quran that states La ikraaha fid deen -- There is no compulsion in religion. Aside from the effect the sheer beauty of his recitation had on me, the meaning behind these words themselves was so impacting. In particular there were two things that came to my mind afterwards.
Primarily, faith is a matter of the heart. It's something that exists inside of you. For one to be coerced into "believing" is a violation of this principle because that coercion exists only on the outward part of one's self, not the inward, and then it's not really faith.
Secondly, most of us take our ability and freedom to choose for granted. It's truly a gift and at the same time a responsibility that we sometimes just don't uphold. If you've ever been in a situation where you don't have the freedom to choose, you know how frustrating it can be. The frustration isn't necessarily from being made to do something that you don't want to do or being kept from doing something that you would like to do; rather it's from your inability to do anything about it.
I can choose to live an ascetic lifestyle, but what if I had no choice in being hungry or thirsty? What if poverty was forced upon me? After fasting from 4am til 8pm yesterday, the water that I drank at sunset tasted more refreshing than any water I had drank for a long time and the date that I ate tasted so sweet. What if regardless of whether the sun was up or down, I had nothing to eat or drink at all?
Fasting is supposed to teach me to appreciate everything that I have been given and one of the most precious things that I've been given is the ability to choose. I choose to be selfish or to be selfless. I choose to be harsh or to be gentle. I choose to be offended or to be understanding. There is no compulsion in religion. I choose to make my fasting about me or to make it about others.


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