Thursday, 18 October 2007
By Sabria S Jawhar
DURING the past couple of weeks newspapers in the United Kingdom have been full of reports of the trial of Mohammed Hamid, who is accused of recruiting young Muslim men to bomb London's subways and encouraging them to become martyrs. I cringe every time I read these stories because it only further taints the good work of Muslims worldwide.
Lost in these sensational reports that often foment xenophobia among Britons are quiet efforts by Muslims and Christians alike during Eid to bring about peace and understanding between different faiths. I put an emphasis on "quiet." After all, it's been six years since 9/11 and Muslims, Christians and some Jews are still taking tentative steps towards establishing peace and fostering understanding. It's a cliche but so true that it bears repeating: Action speaks louder than words.
Last week, 138 Muslim scholars sent an open letter to Christian leaders calling for greater understanding between Muslims and Christians. The letter was sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and Pope Benedict. The Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan organized the letter campaign. I appreciate these efforts and wait to see what kind of response comes from Dr. Williams and the Pope.
The reality is that these kinds of efforts seem almost timid. I don't want to denigrate the good intentions of these Muslim scholars or what I expect would be a positive reply from Christian leaders. I hope that this opens broad dialogue that puts an end to suspicion and distrust and helps us find common ground in our faith in God.
But if there is ever a time for Muslims and Christians to be bolder in bridging the gap, it's now; during the Eid festivities and the upcoming Christmas holidays.
In the United States, Imams in many mosques open their doors once a month to people of other faiths to visit and learn about Islam. This should be a worldwide effort in which not only mosques are opened regularly to other faiths but our homes as well during Ramadan and Eid. By demonstrating to others firsthand the joy of Ramadan and Eid, non-Muslims will not only respect Islam and what the holidays mean to us but will not be hesitant to join us in celebration. Imagine the progress we can make if on our visits to local parks and playgrounds to spread out our feasts for Eid that our children invite their non-Muslim acquaintances to join them. A strong foundation for tolerance would be established and our children will not feel isolated during their holidays.
By the same token, in a society that is dominated by Muslims, we should demonstrate understanding and respect for non-Muslim holy days. Isn't this a better way of D'awah? Isn't demonstrating tolerance a primary attribute of Islamic D'awah? If we look at the actions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we find that on many occasions he dealt with his Christian and Jewish neighbors with respect, such as providing them with gifts such as meat from a slaughtered sheep. This was a profound example of generosity during a period of extreme poverty.
Last week, the management of New York's Empire State Building, reportedly once a target for destruction by Al-Qaeda, lit the building green to celebrate Eid. The 1,454-foot-tall building already celebrates Christmas, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and the Irish festival of St. Patrick's Day by changing the color of its evening lights. Now the celebration of Eid will join these non-Muslim events annually.
As a Muslim it pleases me and makes me feel good to witness this change. I welcome these changes heartily, but I am also impatient to get on with broader and bolder steps. As the trial of Mohammed Hamid dominates the headlines in the UK, Muslims look to Christian leaders to remind people not to generalize or stereotype Muslims for the actions of a few.