Reflections on World Interfaith Harmony Week
Prior to becoming a Faiths Act Fellow, I was not aware that a World Interfaith Harmony Week existed. To those of you in a similar position this year, the United Nations launched this campaign in 2011, promoting a range of activities around the world to bring together people of various faith backgrounds to engage in dialogue and discussion. The week’s emphasis on interfaith collaboration is based on shared concepts among religions of “Love of God and Love of the Neighbor” or “Love of Good and Love of the Neighbor”. One entire week of the year is therefore designated for member states to “support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship”, where people are called to reflect upon the tenets of their own religious tradition by giving space and respect to those of others.
The motto of the week brings to mind a song from one of my favorite Bollywood films, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. The song’s title is “Tujh mein rab dikhta hai” which translates to “I see God in you” and fascinatingly, the video that accompanies it includes the highlighted couple in various places of worship, praying in each of the religious traditions. A love of God exists within love of a neighbor; a love of good may be sparked or rejuvenated by observing the love of another.
My grandfather, Papa, was the best Muslim I knew, quite simply because he was the best human being I knew. He took the best care of his family he could and would always end his evening prayers thanking God for each of the many blessings he felt he was showered with, starting from those given when he was a young boy to those received in old age. Papa kept his life simple, his heart pure, and his faith strong, but one quality I never appreciated until recently was his respect for those of different faith backgrounds and openness in engaging with and learning from them.
I so clearly saw God’s beautiful light shine through my grandfather, but he also helped me to realize that goodness, integrity, benevolence, and a genuine and deep compassion for others existed in many more people – those Muslim, those of other religions, or those of none, each offering lessons to learn.
Papa’s nurse in his last few years was a Christian man named Salman. Although we differed in religion and were raised with different traditions, the way Salman cared for my grandfather in his greatest time of need, remaining steadfast, peaceful, and optimistic throughout, reminded me much of the person I would like to be. His patience, need to take care of his family and make them proud, eagerness to learn, about school subjects and life in itself, and want to help ease the suffering of another, reminded me of the Muslim values instilled in me by my own parents. I recognized then God’s grace in sending Salman to care for Papa, but only recently have been able to appreciate the beauty of this story: a young Christian boy caring for an old Muslim man as if he was his own grandfather, in Pakistan, a country where religious discord and tension remain high.
During the course of this past year, I have found myself often amazed, struck, and spiritually rejuvenated in observing the faith, love of God or love of good, of someone subscribing to a different religion or way of life. Some of my most awoken moments have taken place in houses of worship different from my own, as I realized the longing in my heart matched those of others - to love God by loving humanity, to serve God by serving humanity, to make the most of the journey of life in pursuit of good and God, learning and nourishing the soul along the way. This World Interfaith Harmony Week, I hope you take some time to engage with someone from a different faith and allow your heart to open to them, to learn about what inspires them, moves them, and keeps them going when times get difficult. Faith, in all its forms, can be beautiful and I have found that the diversity of the world is one of God’s greatest signs, where a love of the Divine can be fostered and invigorated through observation and engagement with Her creation.
“O mankind! Lo! We havecreated you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.” (Quran 49:13)