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Susan Smalley, Ph.D. Headshot

Peace be with You

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I just finished reading Rory Stewart's "The Places in Between", his journey by foot across Afganistan just months after the Taliban fell. Rory experienced the landscape of Islam in his journey, the rather bell-shaped curve of beliefs perhaps common in all religions. The majority of those (the middle and majority of the bell-shaped curve) welcomed Rory with open arms and hearts, sharing their food, homes, and time, with this stranger. The welcome words of his hosts were always "Peace be with you" and an exchange of altruistic warm wishes were followed by the actions of giving of often the most meager resources available. Along the way, Rory meets the rarer (extremes on the bell-shaped curve) of followers who interpret the Koran differently than the middle, sometimes aggressively, sometimes apathetically. For those extremes, the teachings of Islam manifest quite differently, and we in the West often hear from the voices of the extremes, thus missing the middle majority. I walked away from this book seeing Islam in a very different light. Much like the experience I had when reading "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time", the perception of the world through the eyes of an autistic child, Rory's rendering of the world through the eyes of his numerous hosts across Afganistan, helped me to see how loving the majority of people are who this religion. Funny how the same words "peace be with you" are part of many non-Muslim religions as well. They reflect the altruistic sentiment that arises when intuition - a way of knowing - is experienced and followed (to those followers of major religions, this way of knowing is God). Having just spent a weekend at 'parent's weekend' with my 19 year old son and his friends in their first year of college, I noticed they have adopted a greeting of 'peace' instead of 'goodbye' in their many interactions (cell phones, SMSing, face-to-face meetings) and I'm happy to see that many of that generation seem to be connecting with this altruistic wish on a daily basis. To wish another "Peace" and to embody that wish in all one's actions throughout the day is likely to lead to a Peaceful World, a place full of altruism expressed by the majority, no longer missed due to the cacophony of a minority.