05/06/2013 07:59 am ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

Face to Faith: The Muslim Next Door

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The Tony Blair Faith Foundation believes respect and understanding of religion is central to securing a sustained peace in the fast-moving and modern 21st entury. The Foundation works to manage the tensions arising when different faiths and cultures are thrown together, and combats those who seek to distort religion for violent ends.

Face to Faith is the Foundation's global programme for high school students. Using facilitated video conferences and a secure online community, the programme empowers young people (currently in 20 countries around the world) to learn directly from each other in dialogue, to respect, not fear difference, and become true global citizens.

As part of our commemoration of U.N. Interfaith Harmony week, we asked our students to write a blog about their "Friend of a different faith or belief," reflecting upon what they had learned from that relationship, about the other person and themselves. Two hundred and thirty students from seve countries across the world wrote, filmed or recorded a blog for this competition, and the best were selected by Huffington Post Senior Religion Editor, Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush.

For more information, please go to the Foundation's website and follow on Twitter: Tonyblair_TBFF
and @Face_to_Faith.

The chance for befriending a person from a different faith knocked at my door -- literally -- as our next door neighbor, who belongs to the Hindu religion, married a woman from the Islamic religion. Well now everyone can understand why I said literally knocked at the door because we came to know about it only when one day she knocked at our door to ask for some help regarding a plumber's contact number to mend some leakage in her house. I should be very frank while writing the incident as I was shockingly surprised to know that she is the wife of our neighbor and her name is Nazmeen. Why I reacted in such a manner was because it was difficult to digest how a marriage could have taken place in two different faiths and maybe this was the reason that made a generally big fat Indian wedding to a quite hush-hush affair. For two to three days after that, the only discussion in our family was how life must be going inside the closed doors with the elderly parents accepting a muslim daughter-in -law. This made me so curious about her that I started looking for a chance to meet her in person, but that proved difficult as she was a working woman busy form morning till night. I had luck my way when one day I met her at a near by shop looking for cosmetics. I extended my helping hand in a field in which I am sure as a teenage girl I have expertise. I can't tell what I was expecting may be that she will speak in a different language or accent or whatever but when she started speaking I was disheartened (indeed) that she was speaking just like any other person: perfect Hindi and a mix of English.

Maybe she judged by looking at my face and smiled and asked why was I staring at her, I also told her about my thoughts. She offered me to come to her house and have a chat with her on a Sunday. I gladly accepted but sadly my parents were not very enthusiastic about this. But I went to meet her and the first eye opener was the warmth with which she spoke to everyone in the house not only her own husband. I could clearly see the hesitation in the eyes of her in-laws, but she was very confident of herself. The next half an hour spent with her never made me realize even for a single moment that I was speaking to someone with a different faith. I noticed a saying hanging on the wall of her room: "God the Most High has revealed to me that you should adopt humility, so that nobody oppresses another, nor one should hold himself above another." She told me that this is an Islamic preaching and she likes it a lot and thus keeps it with herself.

From then on, we met on several occasions and I also observed her gradual acceptance by the entire neighbourhood and her own in-laws. I also got a chance to interact with her on her faith while preparing for a video conference. She happily told me stories from her faith. I was right in guessing that she must have faced rejection by her family on her choice of marriage. She told me sadly that her relatives believe that by providing her with the freedom to get higher education and work outside home, her parents paved the path of her self destruction as a result of which she married a Hindu boy. But she told that the marriage was only a result of mutual understanding, liking for each other. She shared with me that she will never force any of her kids to follow any particular religion but the religion of respect and tolerance. She was disheartened to see people having apprehensions about the longevity of their marriage just because they belong to two different religions.

Once, she quoted a saying from her religion -- "The strong one is not he who knocks out his adversary; the strong one is he who keeps control over his temper" -- while facing hostile treatment from some of our block residents. I liked it and use it in school whenever the need arises. She celebrates all Hindu festivals (like Diwali, Holi and Durga Puja) with equal zest and faith, although at times I feel that she is left alone in celebrating her own religious festivals. So this time all of my friends decided to bring some gifts for her on Id and also go with her to offer prayers in mosque. I can't tell you how happy she was to get some more company than her own husband.

After knowing her, I realized that humans are humans first, and then religious followers. If it is difficult for the older generation to accept such things then a least we the younger generation should make efforts in bridging the gap by showing us our support for such inter-religious unions.

Nazmeen has not tried to change the religious beliefs of her new family nor has her new family tried to do so, if common man is so understanding I wonder where the problem arises? For our entire building, she is one of us. I narrated to her an incident of my school, where I was facing problems with one of the girls who would always stay a step ahead in whatever I did, she told me that in Islam the Prophet preaches, "Avoid jealousy for this destroys good deeds as fire destroys wood." I could visualize myself as the wood and the pangs of jealousy actually burning my capabilities and since then I keep a check on it just by reminding myself of her lines.

Being her friend has helped me in understanding the religion which I considered as alien. I realized that every religion teaches us to be tolerant and respectful to others. Yes, I am different from her in the manner that I am more liberal as compared to her, she is a bit conservative in her dressing and I feel that she could easily be more open. After interacting with her, I pray that women in India are not oppressed by their families under the pretext of religion. When we sit together we are just two women, not two different religions, all our problems are almost similar, our talk is on mutual topics and we enjoy each other's company very much. I thank God for giving me such a good friend through whom I learned that every religion teaches us to be good humans.

I am a 16-year-old girl who believes in no one religion but in the goodness of all religions, for me religions take a back seat, what matters is the humanity. Am I sounding too great...every one of my friend thinks so but I am like that only and I wish I could make more and more youngsters feel like me. I study in Darbari Lal DAV Model School, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi, India and I wish to become a doctor and serve the society. Living in a joint family, I've gathered so much support and my elders have taught me the essence of my religion. But when I explore other religions I don't find them any different. I love meeting people, knowing them and becoming a face to faith member and my school has given me exactly that opportunity. Writing can be called a hobby closest to my heart and this blog has provided me a platform to write a story which has really changed my perceptions about a religion.