I first met Farid at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Providence, Rhode Island. I was the newly appointed Executive Minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches. Farid was the leader of Rhode Island’s American Muslim community. During the years that I served the council, Farid and I worked together on many projects. We were both deeply committed to making peace and bringing people of different faiths together to make a difference in our community and in our world.
When I first met Farid, I did not know anything about Islam. As a matter of fact, prior to sitting with him at dinner, I do not think that I ever met with or spoke to a member of that faith community. Farid’s gentle and loving nature immediately impressed me and, over the next several years, I was honored to accept Farid’s multiple invitations to attend many different Muslim gatherings. What I discovered was a community that reflected Farid’s peaceful and gentle nature. Because of him and his community, I know, with great certainty, that those now being labeled as “radicalized Muslims” do not in any way mirror the true nature of the Islamic community. Furthermore, “radicalized Muslims” who engage in terror cannot possibly be followers of that faith. They are an evil distortion of true Islam.
It makes me weep when I hear, far too frequently in these troubled times, ugly, angry, judgmental and sweeping generalizations made about those who practice Farid’s religion. Such vindictive judgments come from the mouths of people who should know better or should, at least, become a bit more acquainted with the Muslim community before spewing forth such venom. Hate what is evil, but do not hate out of ignorance.
For months now, I have stopped at a convenience store to pick up my morning caffeine fix. The cashier at one of the stores I frequent is a native of Pakistan. I cannot say that we are BFF’s, but if there is no line waiting to check out, we have talked, more than once, about his religion as well as about my religion. He is as kind and gentle as Farid. His spirit reflects well the essence of his faith.
The last time I was in the store, nobody was around, so I said to him, “I have wanted to say this to you for awhile and I hope my words do not offend you, but I am so sorry for what is being said about Muslims. It makes me both mad and sad. Please know that I respect you and I respect your religion.”
He said quietly, “Thank you. You are the first person to say anything like that to me.”
I replied, “I am glad that I did. See you the next time in.” Then, I took a sip of my Super Big Gulp caffeine drink and headed off to work.”
One of the most well known stories in my religion is that one night, centuries ago, in the skies above a shepherd’s field, a heavenly host of angels sang of “peace and good will to all.” I have a hunch that those angels did not categorize some as deserving of “peace and good will,” while excluding millions of others based solely upon the actions of an evil few. Please make note that the angels sing of a peace and good will that come down from the heavens to ALL, not only to those of a particular religion or to a privileged few. For those who seek to limit God’s peace and good will only to those of their particular faith, I have to ask, “What do you not understand about the word ALL???”
This Christmas, my prayer is that a sense of calm will descend upon us. I pray that angry, sweeping judgments made about far too many good people will cease and, when those of us who attend church on Christmas Eve sing of peace and good will, we will also seek to do good and live peaceably among ALL who walk God’s great earth. The Divine One, born in a stable in Bethlehem, expects nothing less of us.
John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA