What do we believe?
Students speak out about God, religion, prayer, faith, heaven and hell.
December 19, 2014
Student beliefs at Terrace
From the devout to the questioning, Terrace's religious views are varied
Beliefs of Terrace
Each morning when senior Toqa Abosabaa gets dressed for the day, she secures a wide scarf, called a hijab, around her face with two pins, concealing her hair and neck from the rest of the world. This religious practice has become a central part of her everyday life.
“When I wear [a hijab] before I leave the house I feel like I’m dressed for a more important reason – like I’m dressed for God and not for people to see me,” Abosabaa said.
To Abosabaa and 57 percent of MTHS students, religion is at least a somewhat significant aspect of daily life. To the other 43 percent, religion is either not very important or simply unimportant.
Based on a scientific survey conducted by the Hawkeye, the largest religious majority at MTHS is Christian Protestant at 36 percent. The next most popular belief is actually the lack of one, as 26 percent of the student population reported to have no religion or religious beliefs.
Junior Mark Nguyen, who identifies as agnostic, attributed this non-religious segment to an increasingly scientific and secular-based society, as well as a lack of concern for religious topics and practices.
Nguyen, like many others, was raised in a Christian family, but said he never really connected with the church’s beliefs and was influenced by a number of different things to take on a mind-set that was more inquisitive and uncommitted to any one religion.
“I never really appealed to the whole ‘god’ idea. I guess it’s my personal beliefs and outside influences, like science, atheism, Buddhism. When I look at the world it’s super complex and [Christianity believes] it’s like this huge concept planned from the beginning by this superbeing. But that’s only one out of thousands of theories,” Nguyen said, explaining how he came to be agnostic.
A majority of students who are nonreligious have strayed from their family’s traditional beliefs, as Nguyen did. Of those who selected “no religion” as their religious preference, 67 percent said that they had differing religious views from their parents.
This is the case for junior Jessica Phung, whose mother is Buddhist. Though Phung identifies as Buddhist, she said that she doesn’t associate with any religion at her core.
“[My mother] isn’t very religious either, but she believes in Buddha. When I ask about the point to religion she always tells me ‘It’s good to have something to believe in,’” Phung said.
It is also true for junior Erik Hogg, whose family tradition is Catholicism. He decided he didn’t believe in the teachings of Catholicism and chose instead to be an atheist.
Hogg believes that religion is a matter of personal opinion, and someone may decide to change that opinion if they find something that convinces them their religion may be false.
“I felt like it was the most reasonable thing to do. I didn’t believe in a lot of the [teachings]. It was kind of ridiculous to me. I had a hard time believing in people sitting on clouds looking down on me, and that people walked on water and split oceans,” Hogg said.
While around 75 percent of students affiliate with or believe in some type of religion, just 63 percent believe in a god. Another 24 percent are unsure about a god’s existence, and the rest are firm in their belief that there is no supreme deity.
These results are similar to Pew Research Center’s study, which examined the beliefs of adults throughout the nation and the state of Washington. The primary difference between students at MTHS and adults in Washington is that a higher percentage of students do not believe in a god or higher being.
Even fewer students believe in heaven and hell than in a god. Some 60 percent believe in heaven and 56 percent believe in hell.
“I think the idea of an afterlife sounds nice, but I would be okay without one. Who is to say that good people go to heaven? Who knows, maybe good people might end up in hell. Everyone living can’t give you the truth and the dead are gone,” Phung said. “The concept of heaven and hell is like the concept of naughty and nice. If you’re good, you’ll go to heaven and get all you wished for for Christmas. If not you’ll go to hell and get coal.”
While 62 percent of students said that their beliefs now are the same as when they began high school, another 24 percent said that they are less religious than when they began high school and the rest say they are more so.
For some, such as non-denominational Christian junior Kaitlyn Anderson, their faith and beliefs are essentially the same as when they began high school, but busy schedules and secular life can get in the way of religious practices.
“I would say it’s getting harder to be more focused on church because this year is really busy for me. I feel like last year and the year before it was easier to go to youth group and be focused on that but now I’m more stressed,” Anderson said.
Abosabaa is one of the 14 percent of students who believes she is more religious than when she started high school. She said that adversity she faced early on ended up driving her closer to her faith.
“Hardships aren’t a bad thing, they remind you what you’re really here for,” Abosabaa said.
Beliefs that students have about religious subjects vary, as do views on the importance of having a religion.
Though religion is not important in Phung’s own life, she understands why it would be important in the lives of others.
“Religion is something that gives hope. Many religious revivals were in times of hardship and if that’s what a person needs to keep living, who am I to criticize? If religion wasn’t important to others it would’ve died out a long time ago,” Phung said.
Nguyen also sees religion as something that is nonessential in his life. He said he doesn’t want to narrow his reliance down to one religion when there are so many uncertainties regarding the subject, but he sees why people do and why faith can become so dominant in one’s life.
“I think hope is one of the big factors because if you believe in a supreme and benevolent god, then it gives you hope that there is someone looking out for you. I guess that hope is there and maybe an answer to the world,” Nguyen said.
This idea of having an answer to the world and its purpose is a common theme with those who have faith.
Abosabaa’s personal experiences with religion attaching meaning to her actions exemplify this to a great extent.
“My religion is actually the reason why I decided to continue trying in school when I was having doubts about what it would give me,” Abosabaa said.
She had been falling behind and “wanted a greater purpose” than just getting a job and having a certain social status. Religion gave her that.
“One of the things Islam clearly points out to us is that we should understand why getting an education is important. It’s not education for the sake of an education, it has to be linked with values and goals. In getting an education you learn more about your life and the universe, and that helps us gain an understanding as to why we’re here,” Abosabaa said.
Gaining deeper faith in her religion also aided Abosabaa to come to terms with wearing her hijab, which she has done since she was an 8-year-old, filled with excitement about being more mature, like her mom.
As she aged, Abosabaa said she wanted to blend in with everyone else and felt like the hijab was a barrier between her and everyone else.
When she came to understand the purpose of wearing a hijab, she became more assured in wearing it and in herself. Her hijab ceased to be a barrier – it became her liberator.
“A lot of people who look at hijabis think that we dress that way because of men, but the real reason we wear it is to put our faith on display. We’re saying ‘I’m not here for display, my body is not for public consumption.’ When I cover my beauty, all you see is my faith and my soul.”
Acceptance and openness
For the most part, people of all different religious backgrounds feel accepted and able to express their beliefs in the MTHS community.
Around 57 percent of students said they feel free to express their religious beliefs while at school and 24 percent said they were not sure.
Abosabaa, who wears her hijab every day as a major part of expressing her religion, says she feels comfortable expressing her beliefs while at school.
“Acceptance doesn’t come from changing yourself for other people, it’s more of an internal state,” she said.
By religion, those who had the highest percentage of respondents answer that they either didn’t feel they could be open about their religion at school or weren’t sure about it were Muslim, Orthodox and Christian Protestant.
Anderson feels that she is allowed to express her religion, but she doesn’t think it is always perceived as acceptable.
“At the beginning of the year I wore this shirt that says ‘church is cool’ and I really like it, but some people were like ‘Why are you wearing that?’ or ‘Is that even allowed?’ They were mostly joking, but they were obviously noticing that I did it. It wasn’t just a normal shirt that said normal stuff, it was different,” Anderson said.
In addition, 82 percent of students say they have never been bullied because of their religion.
Out of the various religious backgrounds, those who practiced Orthodox and Islam had the highest reports of bullying because of their religion. When asked if they had ever been bullied or harassed because of their religious beliefs, 33 percent of those two groups chose “yes.”
Abosabaa said she has never been discriminated against at MTHS and feels accepted here. However, she said she was made fun of once in middle school about her religion.
“In middle school these kids were calling me a terrorist because of social media and 9/11,” Abosabaa said.
Though she said she knew they were kidding, the memory still bothers her.
“It does bother me because I know people at other schools do get harassed and Islam is totally against violence and there’s a really big emphasis for tolerance for other religions. When people go around harassing other Muslims, it is hurtful because we know that the way people portray Islam as a compulsive and intolerant religion isn’t true,” Abosabaa said.
The lack of bullying and harassment of MTHS students because of their religion could be attributed to the fact that students are educated about religions in the public school system.
Abosabaa believes that Terrace students are taught about Islam and “know that it is not a terrorist religion.”
However, opinions about whether or not religion should be taught in schools are varied.
Junior Michael Gincherman, a believer in Judaism, said that in world history class he learned about other religions and how they impacted history, but felt that religious talk in his classes mostly centered on Christianity.
He said that as a Jew, it was hard to participate in discussions and lessons that focused on Christian events or the bible.
Phung’s concern lies primarily with that aspect of bias being pulled into religious education.
“Having religion being taught in school makes me have mixed feelings. Students should be able to make life choices and learn without an extreme bias in curriculum. Bias is unavoidable but students should be exposed to different types of biases and ways of thinking,” Phung said.
Overall, Phung believes that religion should be taught outside of school so people can form their opinions of the world without being influenced by strong bias.
Abdul Ahad, a Muslim religious instructor at the Masjid Umar Al-Farooq Mosque in Mountlake Terrace, is also concerned about the way bias could impact teaching religion in schools and believes the two should be kept separate.
“Personally, I don’t trust [the public school system] to teach religion. [Teachers will] be very biased. [Students] will come out very confused. Topics of religion are very delicate, and you could really mess a person up,” Ahad said.
Ahad said he believes the way public schools teach education is very simplistic, and if people want a more complex understanding of religions they have to do their own studying. Looking into religions oneself can minimize the bias involved in religious education.
Still, Abosabaa said she thinks teaching students at least a basic understanding of what religions believe is important.
“I can see how some people are really against the teaching of religions at school and a lot of schools actually ban it. I don’t think that’s very smart because if you don’t teach about other religions, people are going to get their perspectives off other people’s personal attitudes and beliefs of the religion rather than what it really is. I feel like it’s kind of a dangerous thing to do.”