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Back in college, I got one of those forwarded emails about a physics exam with question about hell: whether it absorbs or gives off heat. The brilliance of one student, which prompted the circulation of the email, was reflected in the starting hypothesis.

After concluding that once a soul enters hell it won’t leave, he stated the following: “Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and all souls go to hell.”

He then proceeded to calculate the mass of hell based on that assumption. I was glad to find different versions of that email still floating around. You can find them here, here and here.

This email, which I got when I was 17 or 18, got me thinking about the possibility of being wrong. Not doubting my beliefs, but the fact that we can’t all be right. How the satisfaction that we are right and everybody else is wrong, which is the corner stone of any faith, could sometimes be meaningless in everyday life.

Take the South Park episode about afterlife for example. Supposedly people of all faiths are resurrected but find that they are standing at the gates of hell. They start shouting: I’m (Jewish/Christian/Muslim/etc), I’m right, I should be in Heaven. Eventually they start asking the inevitable question: “Who was right?” A stuttering man looks at some papers and answers: The Mormons, The Mormons were right.

The idea, I guess, was that all those people spent their lives on the sole hope that they’ll be awarded for being right without actually trying to live together.

The point is: it’s all relative when it comes to religion. There’s no point trying to get others to conform to your own ultimate truth. But you can always find common grounds that allow peaceful coexistence.

It’s this, among other encounters, that led me to firmly support the rights of other people to practice things I don’t believe in. Things that might seem ridiculous.  Individual choices. Differences. All these things, as long as there is no harm inflicted on me or others.

Sometimes it needs having your own beliefs dismissed as ridiculous by some people who claim intellectual superiority to empathize with those who face discrimination on a daily basis. I’m grateful I was put in such situations repeatedly, because it prompted me to have a firm stance when it came to violations of individual freedoms, regardless of how I feel about the action/practice in question.

I wrote an article in support f niqab based on this belief for Daily News Egypt. I got a number of mixed responses. I realize that some of those who voiced their agreement with what I wrote might have done so because the issue of niqab wasn’t far off from what we grew up learning in Egypt. Some might not support this theory if the practice in question is new to our society and its customs. Something difficult to stomach.

And even though I might be struggling too, this theory about accepting differences even if it contradicts with our understanding of religion is applicable in all fields. The right for a woman to wear the niqab is the same as the right of another woman to wear a short skirt or a bikini. As much as the first woman doesn’t want anyone telling her to take off the niqab or harass her because of it, the second woman doesn’t want anyone to tell her to put on a longer skirt or harass her because of it.

We don’t live in a perfect world, but we should try.

Here’s part of the article, which disagrees with Rania Al-Malky’s editorial, but she’s the one who suggested I write mine to present all points of view in the paper:

CAIRO: We live in a world with so many gods and sometimes with no god at all. Even those who pride themselves on worshiping the same god do so each in their own way. The many faiths and sets of beliefs render any discussion of what’s religiously right or wrong irrelevant.

But as social animals we don’t live in a perfect world. Reading the news, it’s easy to conclude that humans are intolerant by nature. What makes one society seem as if it’s more tolerant than another is its threshold of accepting differences. Some accept differences in skin color but reject different faiths. Some are more accommodating of sexual orientations than ethnicities, or vice versa.

Each society draws the boundaries of its accommodation and sets limits to its threshold of acceptance. But standing on this fine line — that separates accepting a different set of beliefs or rejecting it on the grounds that it’s too alien from the norm or dismissing it altogether because it’s harmful — is the will to integrate all members in society.

The full article can be found here.