I watched and listened with interest as about 35 Muslims began their reverent process of prayer at the noon services in a local mosque. It was during their most sacred season of Ramadan.
They were local businessmen, local laborers, some teens, all like most of us, just seeking to worship God according to the dictates of their hearts, seeking to raise and educate their children, seeking to provide shelter and food for those they love.
As a Christian, I was most welcomed. There were not only warm handshakes but also hugs of mutual respect in an effort to build a bridge of communication and understanding. It felt right. It seemed to be the “American” way of doing things.
We live in a great land and one of the most diverse nations on the face of the earth. It is our strength.
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Unfortunately, in recent months and years, we have witnessed intolerance, bigotry, sectarianism and those who feel they must insist their religion is so superior as to teach their young to model this intolerance and bigotry – and all this by “people of faith.”
The following are excerpts from an email I received following a suggestion that a church youth group might make a trip to a Jewish synagogue and a Muslim mosque:
“Embracing the religion known as ‘Islam’ will be detrimental to the poor souls that see it as the only way. ... I think that embracing the saving faith of Jesus Christ and his message will be more fitting for our Christian youth, as Muslims deny Jesus Christ as the son of God. I don’t apologize for my fear of the radical extremists, and I don’t support tolerance of any ‘religion’ that says otherwise. I’m sorry you are falling for the deceit of this religion. ...”
Christianity, Islam and Judaism each teach love, peace and tolerance. Radicals, outside the norm of these faiths, use them for their own efforts to grab power and commit horrible deeds against humanity, be it ISIS, the KKK or those who use the Jewish faith to excuse the violence against the Palestinians.
Far too many of us have retreated into our enclaves of faith and politics, leaving in the dust any semblance of a universal sense of compassion or our common humanity.
Who of us requested to be born in the United States? Who of us demanded to be born white? Who of us determined to be born into a Christian family? Where then is our right to judge, condemn, hate and vilify those who, at no choice of their own, were born of color, born into Islam, born in Syria, born in India, born on the continent of Africa?
Who, when listening to the cry of a newborn infant, can distinguish its race, religion or national origin? No one.
We are, in a most fundamental way, from the day of creation, human beings, one and all, a family of humankind.
We must learn, before it is too late, to not merely tolerate diversity, we must both celebrate and practice it.
In our extremely polarized world we have become all too accustomed to hearing the deep differences that separate us from each other, at the expense of forgetting the imperatives of living together on a tired and fragile planet.
Compassion literally means “to suffer with.”
This September, my wife and I will travel to Amman, Jordan, to reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters who have suffered horrors beyond our imagination in fleeing ISIS and the wars in their native lands. We will be working with Syrian and Iraqi refugee families.
We go as Christians. Not perfect but wanting to say: “We care. We are a part of you. You are a part of us. You are our brothers and sisters in the family of humankind.”
Albert Einstein said it best: “A human being is part of the whole, called by us a ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to the affection of a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
The writer lives in Princeton.