Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas in Pakistan: lessons in interfaith cooperation



I used to think that “Christmas in Pakistan” was a complete oxymoron. In fact, when I started thinking about taking Christmas off to visit my family in the states, I was afraid to mention it to our Water Division Head, under the assumption that he wouldn’t understand given his Muslim faith. What I quickly learned was a humbling and challenging lesson about interfaith cooperation and the power of shared values.

When I finally approached Shakeel sab, he not only suggested that I take however much time off that I wanted, but he also traveled several hours to his home village in order to arrange a Christmas present (pictured above) for my family, whom he had never met. Speechlessly, I received the gift from him the day before I left, and with tremendous excitement, I presented it to my family a few days later. I’ve honestly never been so proud to give a present.

Through his compassion, Shakeel taught us that love isn't confined by religious beliefs. In essence, he taught us the power of religious pluralism.

In Eboo Patel’s book Acts of Faith, he defines religious pluralism as:
A form of practice cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the well-being of each and all depends on the health of the whole… To see the other side, to defend another people, not despite your tradition, but because of it, is the heart of pluralism.

Before I left for Pakistan, Eboo Patel came to speak to our Acumen class. He shared about his background as a Muslim American from India, and the reasons why he believes the interfaith movement is critical to the future of our world. In his words, “human beings were meant to be diverse, and they were meant to live together… If we let the rights of one group erode, we endanger the very existence of those rights for everybody.”

Several months after Shakeel’s present, during a visit to Gandhi’s memorial in Delhi, my friend Bavidra pointed out one of his favorite quotes, where Gandhi compares the religious tradition into which we are born to a house. He says:
I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible, although I won't be blown off my feet by any. 

Over the past year, I’ve realized that Shakeel (and many of my other friends from Pakistan) have built beautiful houses, with strong foundations but also with enormous windows; my prayer is that the rest of us can learn to do the same.