Coexist: Students follow variety of religions, explain beliefs

Hinduism: Karishma Shah

Sophomore Karishma Shah is a Vaishnav — one of the denominations of Hinduism.

“The most basic belief is reincarnation,” she said. “Instead of going to heaven or hell, we believe your soul will be removed from your body once you die, and you’ll be reincarnated into another animal or another human.”

As a devoted Hindu, Shah said she spends time practicing her religion when she can.

“I pray a couple times a day,” she said. “On Sundays, sometimes we’ll go to religious events whenever my mom’s close friends will host.”

Shah said she believes her religion is scarcely represented at Blue Valley.

“In Kansas, there isn’t a large population of Hindu Americans, so it can be misrepresented with all the stereotypes,” she said. “A lot of people around here don’t know much about it, but, globally, I think it is represented well.”

Because of the lack of education, Shah said there are many misconceptions about Hinduism, including Hindus having thousands of gods and worshiping the cow.

“One of the main ideas in Hinduism is that all life is sacred and important,” she said. “The reason the cow is important to our religion is because they are seen as nurturing and maternal creatures, and they provide milk. This is also why many Hindus do not eat beef.”

Shah said she learned about her religion because it played a big role in her childhood.

“[I learned about it] through my family, and I went to religious classes when I was younger,” she said. “I still go to them sometimes.”

Shah said it’s important to respect and learn about other religions.

“Hinduism teaches that no single faith is better than another,” she said. “We believe all religions will lead you to a path of enlightenment, and it is important we try to understand all religions.”

Because of her faith-based childhood, Shah said she is close to her religion.

“I was born and raised into it, but the reason I haven’t converted [from it] is because I really believe strongly in it,” she said. “It’s just part of who I am now, and I would never convert because it’s everything to me.”


Judaism: Eli Kahn

Senior Eli Kahn said as a Jew, he believes in one God who created everything and does not believe in The New Testament.

“Originally, I went to a Jewish preschool, so I learned some stuff about Judaism there,” he said. “I learned some of it through my parents, and the rest of it I learned from Hebrew school — I went there from kindergarten until 10th grade.”

Kahn said he doesn’t regularly go to services though he still devotes time to his religion.

“I spent summer 2013 in Israel and partook in various Jewish youth groups that furthered my Jewish identity,” he said.

He said he respects others with differing religions.

“Everyone is different and has their right to their opinion and religion,” he said. “A different background means a different culture.”

Kahn said there are many stereotypes about Judaism, and he wishes more people were educated about the religion overall.

“Stereotypes about Judaism [are] that it’s a bunch of short, hairy men and that all Jews are rich doctors,” he said. “The aforementioned stereotypes are the only thing[s] most people know about Judaism. I really like it when my friends ask me about it because I can explain it and give people a different perception than what they have.”

Kahn said he thinks Judaism is represented well at Blue Valley, especially with the recently formed Jewish Student Union.

“Nationally, especially in America, it’s not represented horribly, but it’s also not represented too well,” he said. “Negative things in the news involving Jews always put a negative look on Jews in general. [Late actor] Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug [dealer] was Jewish, so that put a bad [reputation] on the Jews. Nationally, it’s represented well, but recently, Jews have been under fire all over the world, which is really sad.”

Kahn said his actions in daily life reflect his beliefs.

“I try to be the best person I can be, and I try to be nice and open-minded to everyone.”


Protestantism: Reid Montgomery

Senior Reid Montgomery said he is a Christian who doesn’t identify with a particular denomination.

“Christianity is the acceptance that you can’t do anything to ensure your eternity,” he said. “It’s the acceptance that Jesus died on the cross for us and took our sins, and we can’t do anything but accept that gift.”

Montgomery said although his parents took him to church at a young age, he made the decision to become a Christian on his own.

“I did more research and decided to be a Christian,” he said. “That is important when you’re deciding something as serious as becoming a follower of Christ.”

Montgomery said he devotes eight hours on Sunday with church and youth group to Christianity.

“During the week, it’s every hour,” he said. “[Christianity is] not something you do just when you want to.”

Although he is a devout Christian, Montgomery said he still respects those who have other beliefs.

“I don’t hate other religions or think less of anyone else for believing something different than me,” he said. “You can have a lot of intellectual discussions with those people that you can’t have with people of your religion.”

Montgomery said he has questions about his own religion.

“Just like every religious person, I’ve gone through parts of my life where I was upset with the church or aspects of it. I have strayed away a few times, but I’ve come back stronger each time.”

According to Montgomery, many Christian stereotypes are incorrect.

“People think that Christians are wrong, judgmental or crazy,” Montgomery said. “They would be half right. It’s just like the saying, ‘A few rotten apples don’t spoil the whole bunch.’ Unfortunately, the people who have strong opinions that are hurtful to others are louder than the ones who are doing good.”

Montgomery shared a few tips for people considering becoming Christians.

“You’ll most likely feel outside of your comfort zone when you walk into a church,” he said. “All we really want to do is give you a hug, sit you down, learn about who you are and hopefully lead you to Christ. But, every relationship is a two-way street.”


Islam: Zaynab Jamil

Junior Zaynab Jamil said she practices Islam as a Sunni Muslim.

“My family is Muslim, so I was raised in that environment and religion,” she said. “I like all aspects of it, so I chose to stay.”

Jamil said she believes in monotheism.

“We follow the five pillars of Islam in believing there’s only one god Allah and Prophet Muhammad is his messenger,” she said. “We also believe in fasting in the month of Ramadan, giving charity and going to the pilgrimage in Mecca if you can afford it and if your health allows you to.”

Jamil practices the five daily prayers, attends Friday prayers when she can and reads the Quran.

Further symbolizing her faith, Jamil wears a scarf, called a hijab, on her head.

“It shows people that I’m Muslim and that I like to cover myself,” she said. “The main reason people do it is because it’s asked for us to do it in our faith, and people respect you because of it.”

Jamil said when she first started wearing the hijab, she wasn’t as comfortable with it.

“I was actually really nervous to wear [my hijab] on the first day of school, so I picked up my friend and asked her if she would come with me,” she said. “Nobody really said anything. People complimented me on it, and some people asked why I wore it.”

Although Islam is a religion that relies heavily on faith, Jamil said there are many misconceptions about it, including associating it with terrorists and thinking women are oppressed and forced to practice Islam.

“[Those terrorists] are all of these uneducated people going around thinking they understand Islam,” Jamil said. “They try to justify their horrific actions by saying it’s in the name of Islam. They don’t realize everything they’re doing is prohibited in my religion.”

Jamil said she hopes people will realize Islam doesn’t advocate for brutality or terrorism.

“I wish they knew our religion doesn’t promote violence or hate — it’s actually a really peaceful religion,” she said. “It’s a simple way of life, and it really encourages you to help people and just be a positive person.”


Atheism: Brittany Walsh

Senior Brittany Walsh has chosen her own path in regards to religion — atheism.

“Personally, I just believe that everyone lives life,” Walsh said. “Once you’re done, you’re done. I just think you should do whatever you want, not on the basis that you’re trying to get in to Heaven. You should just do what makes you happy because that’s all you’ve got — one life.”

Walsh said she comes from a family of various religious backgrounds.

“My dad’s Catholic, and my mom is undecided, but she grew up a Jehovah’s Witness,” she said. “Personally, [the idea of religion] just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Although she has support from her close family, she said her extended family tend to not be as open to atheism.

“Some of my other family that are super religious, like my extended family, often think that I’m a bad person because I’m an atheist,” Walsh said.

She said she wishes people were more educated about atheism before assuming things that are not true.

“I think a lot of people think that without religion, you don’t have morals,” Walsh said. “But, I find that to be wrong. There’s a disconnect between the two that not many people realize. You know and have morals regardless of what religion you grew up in.”

Walsh said although she’s a strong atheist, she’s understands people associating with a religion.

“I’m fine with other people having their own different view,” Walsh said. “I don’t dislike any religion — I think it’s interesting learning about them. I just personally don’t agree with any of them.”

Walsh said she now doesn’t care what people think about her and her religion.

“Usually people just kind of make a weird face [when I tell them I’m an atheist],” she said. “The people that aren’t already super religious don’t really care — a good majority of people don’t care. But, of course, there [are] the few super religious people that think it’s bad. I tend to not really care or notice anymore.”


Catholicism: Victoria Roggy

Sophomore Victoria Roggy said she is a devout Catholic. Every week she attends Mass, goes to two different youth groups and prays a Rosary with her family.

Roggy has been Catholic since birth.

“I became even more Catholic around my Confirmation,” Roggy said. “I was learning about my faith more in-depth, and [my family] had discussions all the time about it.”

She said it doesn’t matter what religion you are, but believing in something is important.

“Whether [you’re] Catholic or Jewish or Muslim or whatever else, religion is really good to have because it’s setting your morals,” Roggy said.

Catholicism is different from other Christian denominations, Roggy said.

“All the other Christian churches have branched off from people who have wanted to change the Church,” she said.

She said there are a lot of misconceptions about Catholics, including hating gay people.

“The Catholic Church does not hate gays, and God does not hate gays,” she said. “That’s not what the Church [or] Pope [Francis] says.”

She said people judge Catholics based on the few crazy people who call themselves Catholic but say things the Church doesn’t believe in.

“They’re not looking at the normal Catholics who go to church every Sunday and know what they believe in [and] instead [are looking at] the crazy people who just make things up,” she said.

Roggy said she would have chosen to be Catholic even if she was born into a different religion.

“Most of the things the Catholic Church believes in, morally, I believe in, too,” she said. “It always seems like everything points to

being Catholic.”

Certain beliefs in the Catholic Church affect her political views, and people judge her for them, Roggy said.

“It’s hard to express you’re a Catholic and not get judged for your beliefs,” she said. “My religion affects how I think of issues such as abortion. People get so mad that I’m pro-life, and it’s really frustrating. I think you should be open to people’s views and accept them.”

She said being Catholic means everything to her.

“Catholicism helps me guide my life through ups and downs,” she said. “It gives me a sense of belonging and family.”


Mormonism: Sammy Draper

Sophomore Sammy Draper is a Mormon as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormonism shares many beliefs with other Christians.

“We believe in God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit — not as a trinity, though,” she said. “We believe there’s a prophet on this Earth today and the priesthood is still on Earth.”

She said the general public has many misconceptions about Mormons, including being polygamists, worshiping prophet Joseph Smith and contradicting the Bible. She said pop culture contributes to some of these stereotypes, including the musical “The Book of Mormon.”

“I try not to view [the musical] as too offensive,” Draper said. “I know they don’t really want to offend anyone in particular, but a lot of the stuff they’re saying is not entirely accurate. A lot of people think of [Mormonism] in a joking manner, and we just try to ignore that.”

Draper said she wishes people would make an effort to learn the truth about Mormonism.

“We’re not a cult,” she said. “We have most of the same beliefs as other people [but have] a few different ones.”

Despite the difference in beliefs, she said she supports other religions.

“It’s cool people believe different things and interact with each other,” Draper said. “I support what other people believe, even if I don’t believe it.”

Draper said the Mormons at Blue Valley represent the religion well.

“A lot of students here are Mormon, and [they] are doing a good job of showing our standards and being respectful to people,” she said.

She said she devotes time every day to her religion.

“We spend an hour before school at a place called seminary, which is church class,” Draper said. “Church is three hours, and we have youth group activities on Wednesday nights for about an hour.”

Though she said her time at seminary is a great start to the day, Draper said a special experience involved the Kansas City Missouri Temple.

“We were allowed to participate in a cultural celebration there,” she said. “The prophet of our church actually came to it. We got to meet him, and everything just made sense.”