A story about Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him):
A dying child was once placed in the lap of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Tears flowed from the Prophet's eyes. When he was questioned about crying for the child, the Prophet said: "(Tears are a form of) mercy that God has lodged in the hearts of His servants, and God is merciful only to those of His servants who are merciful (to others).
This Ramadan I have been spending time at different iftars hosted by masjids, community groups and interfaith organizations. I am in fact, heading to one tonight as well hosted by a local Islamic Center to talk about Ramadan and peacemaking. In between these speaking and social engagements, I was invited by a dear friend Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, a Sikh leader in Southern California to join his community in a meditation and gathering to reflect on the recent shooting in Wisconsin.
I put my dates in my bag, kissed my young children good bye and they stayed home with my husband and I drove across town. My body has already been engaging in a form of mourning for the families and prayers for those who lost their lives as a result of this heinous act. Empathy in my heart softens it and I am not able to shake the pain that occupies it.
I am far removed from the scenario in many ways, I am across the country. I am not of the same faith group. Yet somehow,I felt a spiritual duty to make sure I held an internal sacred space to pray for the families who were suffering and to be with the community who had lost fellow members of their faith tradition.
I am praying always that our hearts remain soft, and shocked when hearing such tragic news.
I entered the gurdwara and the familiar smells, sounds and rhythms of the South Asian cultural context came home to me immediately. I was born in Srinagar and our family had long been friends with many people from the Sikh community. The religious differences are there certainly between Muslims and Sikhs. For me, as someone born in South Asia, there are also many nuances of culture, dress and social patterns that were familiar and comforting in this setting.
My colleague, the southern California Sikh leader I mentioned is also a mentor and leader in the world of interfaith relations. After 9/11 when I was at times concerned as a Muslim woman wearing hijab (headcovering), he spoke out clearly and in solidarity with the Muslim community. We've been on panels in places like Jewish temples discussing topics as far ranging as the connection between the mind/soul/body from our different traditions.
Last night, he was a friend who was grieving and I was there as a friend. I came from the calling that in times of need we are a mercy to one another. He asked me to come in front of the gathering and speak a few words. I left the philosophizing regarding political issues to others who are gifted and better equipped to speak on those issues. I was not capable of that level of analysis, I was there simply to bear witness that there were others who were in solidarity with the Sikh community. So I spoke with tears streaming down my face.
My parents have taught me that suffering is not a commodity belonging to anyone person or group. Last night, I was called in as a fellow person and human, and I was thankful for their instruction in recognizing that empathy with another community's pain is not a sign of my own community's weakness. It is a sign of our common humanity and we have an obligation to share in grief and in pain with others, for we must carry it together in order to be motivated to insure that such heinous acts are never repeated.
We went out to eat on the patio in the traditional Sikh sharing of food, the langar meal that is offered to everyone, no matter your background and broke bread with people of all faiths. There was a beauty in this ritual of hospitality that moved me and reminded me that the very night that the tragic event occurred a group of people were joining in a communal spiritual and social endeavor in a holy place. That too is a point that must be honored and mentioned in the story as we speak in interfaith contexts, the acts of beauty that were the focus of this community the night they were targeted by forces of ugliness.
As I said good bye to my friend, he said, "Tonight Najeeba what is needed most are prayers." I thought of that deeply, not words, not retaliation, but prayers. Here was a lesson in my friend's words. So perhaps we begin with tears, prayers and solidarity. For my fellow countrymen, no one deserves what happens and no one ought to suffer through this loss. I was inspired by the many other people of different faith traditions, others who had no faith tradition and the government and law enforcement officials who had shown up to support the community.
So maybe too we begin by making sure we reach out in our local communities to begin to know one another, to speak with our fellow humans who populate our cities. The gesture to embrace one another, especially to reach out to a community who is dealing with loss is something anyone of us can do, however we identify ourselves. Hatred is ultimately not going to win, it does not, cannot and will not.
I am thankful to the community that held me in its embrace for an evening, for the honor of being in the company of people who were strong in their beliefs, warm in a time of tragedy and reminded me that the human capacity to love will ultimately outweigh the human capacity to hate if we join together to make sure it is so.