Walk in their life

NW students talk about what religion means in their life.

Meet six students for whom religion is the utmost priority, whether that means abstaining from certain literature, fasting, waking up at 4 a.m. for worship or spending long hours studying text from scrolls dating back to 1312 B.C.

Junior Sunny Dharod began studying Jainism at the age of eight, and has learned that the most important part of Jainism is to be peaceful to all beings. Senior Ibrahim Elandaloussi is a follower of the Islamic faith. His goals as a follower are to accept that he has one God and one God only.Sophomore Kate Tarne grew up in the Catholic church and then switched to the Unity church which emphasizes the personal relationship with God as opposed to a relationship with God through an institution. Junior Noë Agosto is a Jehovah’s Witness and a self-described “über-Christian.” Sophomore Eliot Alpert began his formal study of the Jewish religion at the age of eight and has a unique way of explaining the difference in the way the Christian and Jewish view of Jesus Christ. Junior Amanda Hedrick wants people to know that being Mormon doesn’t mean that her dad has multiple wives, but it does mean that she lives by a strict moral code that doesn’t allow cursing or consumption of caffeinated beverages.

Sunny Dharod: Jainism

Photo by Bailey Kopp

Junior Sunny Dharod practices Jainism, a religion centered around peace and not harming any living beings. Dharod’s sister attended Jain classes about philosophy every Monday, when Dharod was eight years old. His mother then decided it was time for him to learn Jain teachings as well.

“I still remember learning the the first line of Navakar Mantra that day,” Dharod said. “And I still go to those classes every Monday — even now.”

The Navakar Mantra is the most common prayer that Jains recite. Jains worship the supreme spiritual leaders who have walked on the earth.

For followers of Jainism, religion goes far beyond just prayer and worship inside their temple. Their way of life revolves around what they have been taught, and what they believe.

Jains worship 24 idols known as Thirthankaras. The highest of these Thirthankaras is Mahavir. Like the other 23 idols, Mahavir was once human, and became a Thirthankara through his spiritual advancement. Mahavir is a role model to all Jains for his non-violent actions and his detachment from unnecessary things. When Mahavir was 72 he passed away, and his soul reached Moksha, which is the Jain afterlife world. To become spiritually advanced like Mahavir and the other Thirthankaras one must practice in the five key aspects of Jainism. These are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, self control and detachment from unnecessary people, places and things. Pacifism is the most important aspect, and the one Dharod takes most seriously.

“We must not harm or insult any other living beings, directly nor indirectly. This is why we are vegetarians,” Dharod said. “It is wrong to kill animals just for our benefit. All living beings deserve equal chances to live life to the fullest.”

Jains believe in five forms of soul reincarnation. These forms include Moksha, (which is the highest level), angel, human, animal and hell.

“If you behave wisely and non-violently, you will end up in one of the upper worlds. If not, chances are you’ll end up in hell worlds,” Dharod said.

Jain holidays are ways to show that a Jain follower is worthy of advancing spiritually through reincarnation. The most famous Jain holiday is Paryushan, an eight day holiday, in which Jains fast.

“By fasting, we request our God’s forgiveness for all offenses committed during the last year,” Dharod said. “We assure ourselves that we will be nonviolent throughout the next year.”

Another holiday celebrated is Diwali. That is the day when Mahavir attained Moksha.

“All of the Jains in the community get together and conduct prayers to Mahavir’s soul. This shows that we appreciate his non-violent tactics.”

Diwali is also the festival of lights. Jains light up their houses and gather to share food and celebrate the festival of lights.

“I used to think that being religious only meant memorizing prayers and going to the temple. However, I now realize that to be Jain I must always respect everyone and everything,” Dharod said.

Dharod’s religion is one of the most important parts of his life, every day of the week.

“I am pretty serious about Jainism. I pray to our gods everyday, I lead prayers at our temple, but to us, you need to have more than just that to be religious,” Dharod said.
“Being religious means respecting all forms of life. Being religious means minimizing harm to other living beings by practicing the 5 major ethics. Being religious means doing everything we can do to reach Moksha. Being religious means having faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. Being religious means getting rid of negative emotions like pride, anger, deceit and greed. To put it simply, Jainism is more than praying.”

Brady Klein
Ibrahim Elandaloussi: Islam

Photo by Bailey Kopp

The most important month of the Islamic faith is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar. This month is also known as Ramadan, which is the holy month for the Islamic faith. Senior Ibrahim Elandaloussi is one Islamic follower who has participated in Ramadan before.

“Ramadan is a way of remembering and being thankful for what you have,” Elandaloussi said. “In Ramadan we cannot consume anything including any liquids from sunrise to sunset.”

Ramadan is one of the major ways in showing your thankfulness to the Islamic faith. Smaller ways in doing this are daily prayers. Islamic followers normally pray five times a day for three minutes each time.

“Islam’s objective is knowing that you have a creator. Most people stress religion, however, they forget the most important part is being thankful for what you have,” Elandaloussi said.

For Elandaloussi, simply recognizing that Allah is his creator is what Islam is all about. However, many non-Muslims view this religion in a different way.

“Non-Islamic people usually view our religion as violent and anti-American. They think this way because of extremist Muslims. However, if you were to read the Qur’an you would not find a single passage which supports violence,” Elandaloussi said.

Islam does not stress behavior as much as some other religious might. It is simply expected to do good deeds and remember the creator, Allah.

“You also have to fulfill the five pillars to your best ability. The five pillars are believing in one God, pray, fast, donate and travel to Mecca if you are able to.”

These pillars are incredibly important to Islam followers, and are mandatory for any serious Muslims. Each pillar goes more in depth than it would seem. For instance the pillar Shahada.

Shahada is believing in only one God, and that Mohammad was God’s messenger. The Shahada is also a specific statement recited by Muslims in Arabic. Salat is the second pillar, which is praying the five daily prayers. There is one prayer for dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. Sawm is the fasting pillar. There are three types of fasting that the Muslims will do, and the goal of these fasts are to express the Muslim’s nearness to God, and to show how much they depend on him. Zakat is the donating of money by Muslims, compared to how much they earn. It is required for all that can afford to spend 2.5 percent on the poor or needy. Hajj is the final pillar, which is travelling to the holy city of Mecca. Any able-bodied Muslims are expected to go.

Muslims believe that any man or woman can ascend to heaven, regardless of their religion. This is a different way of thinking than many religions.

“Overall, we simply believe it’s about the person rather than their religion. Do good deeds and worship one god,” Elandaloussi said

Brady Klein
Kate Tarne: Unity

Photo by Monica Castellon

When the members walk into the Unity church for their first service of the new year, they receive a piece of paper that will be used to write down all the issues that they have endured that year. Then, as a part of the burning bowl ceremony, a fire is started in a bowl, where the paper is burned in a symbolic release of bad habits, negative thoughts and emotions, and unhealthy relationships. After the paper is burned, each person gets another slip of paper with a word on it — that word is now their focus for the year. Last year, sophomore Kate Tarne recieved a slip of paper that said ‘respect’, which meant that for the new year, Tarne was supposed to focus on the idea of respect, and respecting people as a part of her resolution. The service that follows consists of a ceremony called the white stone ceremony. Entering the church, each person receives a small piece of tile.

“You write your focus on and you keep that with you,” Tarne said. “When we go into meditation, you just focus on what you want your focus to be for the year. It just helps you improve your life and figure out how you want to change your life that year. It’s both a physical ceremony and emotional and spiritual.”
Tarne has not always been a part of the Unity church.

“We started out at a Catholic church,” Tarne said. “Then they got a new priest, and he just had completely different views than the one before. we attended Unity Church of Overland Park, and then we found Unity Temple on the Plaza .”

Although they still view themselves as a Christians, Unity Church members try not to portray themselves as a religion, but rather a spiritual path.

“It’s loosely Christian; I mean, we still talk about God and have Bible passages,” Tarne said. “It’s about learning different spiritual principles. It’s about loving yourself; you can get through anything in life .”

For Tarne, this means that her religion helps her get through any kind of struggle — whether it be day-to-day or something bigger.

“It’s always really motivating and encouraging,” Tarne said. “When I’m going through something hard in my life, and then we go to church, it’s like ‘yeah, I can do this.’”

Tessa Miller
Noe Agosto: Jehovah’s Witness

Photo by Bailey Kopp

“I am an uber-Christian,” junior Noe Agosto said, “We believe that Jesus is the son of God, and God is Jehovah.”

“We are an extreme Christian group, we follow every single amendment in the Bible … we basically live the life of God today,” Agosto said.

Agosto has to refrain from cursing, carry a very friendly and cheerful disposition, and be a missionary looking to lead people to salvation 24/7.

Agosto is a Jehovah’s Witness, a denomination of Christianity that believes in a strict interpretation of the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the soul is the body, and when one dies, the soul goes with the body.

“It is like a flame. If you put out a flame, it just ceases to exist.”

Witnesses also believe in a coming war after Armageddon , and they see it as their principle mission to inform of the people of ways that they can continue living after the war.

Witnesses call their house of worship “The Kingdom Hall,” where Agosto goes on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays to worship and participate in Bible studies.

“On Saturday mornings, we sometimes go door to door talking about the Bible and preaching the good news. A lot of people around the world are indifferent to our message because our message is about helping people get rid of their worldly ways and live an eternal life. People aren’t very responsive to our message.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses choice do not celebrate the major holidays of Christianity. They see the celebrations as more of a pagan ritual than one of a religious nature.

“Of course, when there is a marriage or something else that is a joyous occasion, it is a cause of celebration. Because we value each other, and when something good happens to one of us, we celebrate.”

Witnesses around the world have faced prosecution for their religion, which, along with the belief in a coming Armageddon, includes a refusal of military service, and refusal to salute national flags. Several Supreme Court cases have involved the Jehovah’s Witnesses and First Amendment, most recently, the 2002 case which found that it was unconstitutional for governments to require the Witnesses be granted a permit to go door-to-door distributing pamphlets.

“We have always faced harsh opposition… there are so many myths created today ,” Agosto said.

But, despite any opposition, the Witnesses, especially Noe, will always come knocking, completely undeterred.

Kirk Bado
Eliot Alpert: Judaism

“How do you view Abraham Lincoln?” he asks as he attempts to explain the Jewish view of Jesus. “It is the same idea. He is a guy everyone likes, but he is just a man.”

Eliot Alpert started his faith young. Tradition holds that preparations begin young for their coming of age ceremony, a Bar-Mitzvah for boys when they turn 13, and a Bat-Mitzvah for girls when they turn 12. In third grade, he began preparations for his Bar-Mitzvah, the Jewish ceremony where a young boy becomes a man. At his temple, he began to learn the history of his faith.

The oldest “western religion” by nearly 2000 years, Judaism, has an ornate and rich history. Begun by Abraham in sixth century B.C., when he was promised by God the land of Israel for his future people.

After escaping from slavery in Egypt, the Jewish people received the Torah from God, which would become their Holy Book.

Over half of them still residing in their Holy Land of Israel. These are a people seeped in tradition and order, with intricate ceremonies that commemorate life’s milestones.

For Alpert, the preparations for his largest milestone so far began during his third grade year with a class at his temple every Wednesday. Once there, Alpert learned more about the ceremony, and how to read and recite from the Torah.

Bar-Mitzvah is the ceremony in which a young Jewish boy becomes a man, consisting of a reading from the Torah, the Jewish Holy scrolls, and taking on responsibilities for ones own actions and adhere to Jewish law. But of course, there is much celebration.

Along with being one the oldest religions, Judaism is the oldest monotheistic or one God, religion.

“We believe in one God, and see him as a higher figure.” Alpert said

To honor God, who some Jewish sects call Yahweh, the Hebrew people celebrate holidays that are filled with tradition and reverence.

“For Yom Kippur, we fast for a day and, for Sokkut, we build a small house and place a fruit in it, called a Sukka.” Alpert said

Jews place the Sukka in the house to commemorate the end of the 40 years of wandering after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt into the desert.

One of the principle differences between the Jewish beliefs and those of Christians is how they view the figure of Jesus. Alpert says that his views are shaped by that fact that to him, “ is just a man like you or me.”

It is in this fact that Alpert, along with his fellow Jews, try to find salvation. They seek it not through a figure who walked amongst men, but through themselves.

Kirk Bado
Amanda Hedrick: Mormonism

Photo by Bailey Kopp

For junior Amanda Hedrick, attending church is not just a weekly occurrence, but an almost daily one. Before school, Hedrick attends a church class starting at 5:45 a.m.

“People find it surprising that I go to church every morning,” Hedrick said. “It’s just like having another class before school. six days a week, sometimes seven.”

As a Mormon, Hedrick not only studies the Bible, but also the Book of Mormon, which is one difference that sets Mormons apart from other Christian denominations. The book has a number of original doctrinal discussions on subjects such as the fall of Adam and Eve, the Atonement, redemption from both physical and spiritual death, and the organization of the church.

“Another difference is that we have a prophet living today, just like there were prophets in the Bible,” Hedrick said. “No other church I know of has .”

Prophets play a significant role in Mormon faith and practices.

“They’re the closest thing we have to a God, I guess,” Hedrick said. “They have been chosen by God to be his representative on Earth and so they share God’s will.”

The church receives a lot of criticism for their standards, as well as past practices. One past practice that the church is still receiving criticism about is polygamy.

“I have to clarify that we don’t anymore,” Hedrick said. “It only for a short period of time, and very few people did it.”

Despite the criticism that the church receives, Mormons continue to stand strongly by their beliefs.

“Religion is one of the most important things of my life,” Hedrick said. “ have three things tied for top priority in my life: religion, family and my music. Nothing else comes close to any of those three.”

Mormons are infamous for their high, or as Hedrick puts it, “unusual” standards. Some of the “unusual standards” that are a part of the Mormon religion include no cursing and avoiding addictive substances for the body such as caffeine and alcohol. Most Mormons will not consume caffeine in any form, including tea and coffee, although some will consume soft drinks. It is because of these standards that some people are skeptical of the religion.

“One thing I get a lot is that we are just trying to convert everybody. There are some people that do that, but there no religion that doesn’t do that,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick wishes that people would not see Mormonism by its stereotypes

“We are just trying to share God’s love,” Hedrick said. “And I think that is what I wish people would understand.”

Tessa Miller