Christmas reminds me of my youth in India. Not that we are Christian. Still, we exchanged gifts with our neighbors, my kids helped decorate the Barnes’ Christmas tree and we had Christmas dinner at the Ademidwaya’s, a Nigerian-American family. And yes, how could I forget! We also hit the malls.
In India, we’d light earthen lamps and firecrackers during Diwali, douse each other in powder colors during Holi, watch the human pyramid’s assemble, and then crumble, at Janmashtimi, all of which are Hindu festivals. At Christmas we made Marzipan sweets with my best friend, Fiona. In America, at Eid-ul Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr, the two Muslim holidays, my kids get gifts from non-Muslim friends who drop in to sample my “Sheer Khorma”.
Faith for me, as a Muslim, isn’t just about getting the rituals right. It’s about realizing that the quality of my relationship with God, is impacted by the quality of my interactions with all mankind, irrespective of background and beliefs. An appreciation of all God’s creatures, is part of what earns me points with the Almighty.
That open-mindedness is something many of us practicing our various faiths in America, have forgotten. Distrust, and vilification of the other, thrives in certain American Mosques and Islamic Schools, just as it does in certain Evangelical churches and Sunday Schools. It’s a demon, those of us in the middle, can slay by stepping outside our intellectual, cultural and social comfort zones.
I believe differences are a good thing. They exist so that we learn from each other. Learn empathy, forgiveness, selflessness, and understanding. Learn how to appreciate those differences. Examine where our own North Pole lies. Learn how to cook foods we didn’t know existed. Learn where a nation lies on the map. Learn of cultures and customs in regions we may never see. Awaken the desire to travel to those corners of the world.
I now know that balls of tamarind and sugar are as much a part of Mexican street candy, as they are a part of my world. I’ve learned how to say “I Love You” in Tagalong. Henna is worn by African women on their hands and feet, just like we do. The Mong, an ancient people whose ancestry can be traced back to at least 4000 years in China, love Hindi movies. And apparently, stories of beggars who cut off their limbs to gain more sympathy, aren’t circulating in India alone. It’s like reading a book, only better because it’s a two-way process.
At dinner, the Ademidwaya’s asked about my Christmas card to them. It contained verses from the Quran about Mary, the best of women and Jesus the Messiah, peace and blessings be upon him. I saw again that relationships beyond borders and boundaries gives us access to understanding each other.
These are ingredients to growth and a richer personality. It’s given me deeper relationships. A life I wouldn’t live any other way.
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