This article maybe of help to those who are living and working multi-faith and multicultural context.
Awais Mughal-CMS Mission Partner UK
God does not leave his people alone in crisis; He has periodically sent prophets and saints to those in need. Sometimes however, He chooses special people irrespective of faith and cultural difference to support those who need help. As the scripture says; Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverb 3:5-6)
All the good and bad experiences of my life have motivated me to start my quest to collect stories that unite and divide people on the ground of faiths and cultural differences. I was brought up in a Muslim country and my journey of life carries diverse experiences of joy, rejection, and marginalisation. I studied at the Convent School in Pakistan which provided a secure and protected environment for Christian students. That is why Christian students were never mistreated as a result of their faith. As the school had a great reputation for quality of education the number of Muslim students were more than Christian students which enabled me to understand the Muslim faith through my early friendships.
It was only after I started my undergraduate that I started recognising some deep seeded prejudice against Christians in my local community. I took part in conversations where I felt that there was a feeling that my classmates felt that their faith was superior and they felt that the Christians were inferior due to their lower social-economic status. I did not personally face any prejudice during my early education because I was friends with some of my Muslim classmates. However, outside the school doors the circumstances were miserable among those who have never got the opportunity to know each other. Therefore, the chances to accept each other’s differences was zero.
As time moved on, my own experience of education and then working as a teacher convinced me that building relationship is very important for peaceful and harmonious coexistence. I would like to share a true story with you which was told to me recently while interviewing Christian and Muslim women who had worked or working in diverse faith organisations in Pakistan. This story is about hope, faith and goodwill that God desires his creation to share and practice their faith alongside each other.
Last year, I met a Christian woman called Sarah who worked in a Muslim school in Pakistan as the sole employee from a minority faith. She felt as an outsider at the beginning but her humble nature, commitment and hard work helped her to win the respect of some of her colleagues including her Head Teacher. She told me that her father always advised her to avoid discussions about faith because it always drags you into conflict or dispute.
Her personal life also came with a set of complications. She was married with children but after a few years of marriage her husband developed an alcohol addiction and sadly he lost his job. Sarah being a practicing Christian greatly respected the bond of marriage and worked hard to keep her marriage intact. However, things only got worse with time. Sarah took on the sole financial burden and responsibilities to raise her children. She kept herself busy by focusing on raising her daughters, and looking after her husband who most of the time was without job.
After suffering for years she decided to stop giving money to her husband to fulfil his unnecessary demand to buy alcohol. This worsened their relationship and led to verbal and physical abuse. Sarah grew up in a strong faithful Christian family and she was encouraged by the family to never think of divorce.
She described the worst day of her life to me when a man came to her door and asked for the money her husband had taken from him. He threatened Sarah and said that if her husband doesn’t return his money in the next few days he will abduct her daughters. With tears in her eyes she told me that she felt that the whole world collapsed around her; she remembered standing rooted to the spot when she heard the man shouting at her. As a few moments passed she picked up the courage and told him that she will try to arrange something. In this miserable state she went to her school and shared this horrifying news with her Head Teacher who immediately called an emergency staff meeting. Without disclosing Sarah’s secret the Head Teacher told the staff that Sarah is in crisis and needs money immediately. Her colleagues pulled together their own money so that she can repay the money her husband had taken from the money lender.
This story also helps us to reassure our faith that a loving heart has no religious boundary. No matter what way as human being we adopt to reach out God Almighty the one thing that unites us is His love and care he has gifted us. Love and care crosses all the boundaries of difference. As it is written in the Bible that “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs”. Proverbs 10:12
Sarah is an educated woman but she doesn’t have the privilege of having the same protection as other women around the world do. Her sour relationship is a continuous struggle for Sarah but she gains hope from the acts of those faithful people who do not judge others because of difference in faith.
This story has provided some answers to my quest about factors that unites human race. Although the shackles of bigotry are quite strong among Christian & Muslim communities in Pakistan, stories like this keep the hope alive in people’s life where Christians are living in minority.
As the Bible says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. Hebrews 11:1
So, what about communities where people don’t get any opportunity to mix up? The economic divide among various communities especially Christian and Muslim community is enormous which further generates social and religious gaps. My personal theory is that religious or cultural values bring hope to bridge the gaps and allow people to live together as fellow human beings. This story challenges every faithful human being to act on his/her religious values. For Christians their faith, the love of Christ and his commandments are the foundation that transform lives. Let’s share His love to build bridges of hope and good relationship to honour the dignity of humanity.
Note: This is a true story. In order to protect the privacy real name has been changed.