By Masooma, New Age Islam
08 'December 2018
Close personal relationships between people from different faith backgrounds are an important means for promoting interfaith understanding and inter-community harmony. In addition, they can also be a great way for us to grow personally. Such relationships can provide us opportunities to learn good things from other religious traditions and their adherents, which we can employ in our own life, for our own benefit. That’s something that I’m reminded of after a recent experience.
The other day, three of us friends visited a home of sisters who belong to a religious order that stresses a simple lifestyle while living among economically and socially vulnerable people. Younger members of the congregation take up ‘small’ jobs, such as labouring in a factory or serving in a home for the mentally-challenged. While bringing them an income, their work enables them to interact with ‘ordinary’ people and to live out their faith among them.
The hours we spent with the sisters that day proved to be a great learning experience. We learnt something about their dedication to a life of service to the needy as they shared snippets from their life. One sister referred to her work among people affected with leprosy. Another recounted her close relationship with a couple who survived by begging for alms.
From an interfaith perspective what was particularly significant was that the spiritual path that the sisters were seeking to follow was rooted in service across religious boundaries, the most effective way to win hearts and bring down walls between people from different faith communities.
The sisters had a simple and at the same time joyful lifestyle. They did a lot of work with their own hands. Their day was marked with periods of prayer. The home that they shared, beautiful in its simplicity, was a calm oasis in the midst of the urban chaos, with several trees and plants around.
The warm welcome we received from the sisters, their good cheer and the enthusiasm with which they responded to our queries about their life made our visit truly memorable.
I do not belong to the religious tradition with which the sisters are affiliated, and some of my religious views may differ considerably from theirs. But so what? Our theological differences do not stand in the way of my being able to discern good things in their religious tradition as they seek to live it out and to imbibe these myself to grow as a person. My friendly encounter with the sisters that day (which may form the basis of a long-lasting friendship) opened me to appreciable aspects of their way of life that I could benefit from if I adopted them. These include, for instance:
· Service of the needy, transcending religious barriers, as an integral part of one’s spiritual path and as an effective means for bringing people from diverse faith and community backgrounds closer together.
· A spirituality that should make one cheerful and also open to people of other faiths and backgrounds.
· A materially minimalist sort of lifestyle, which is lighter on the environment and also makes one’s life simpler.
· Living in communion with nature.
· Regular and sustained spiritual companionship and fellowship.
My experience with the sisters that day reinforced my conviction that nothing can quite take the place of close and positive interfaith personal relationships and interactions in helping build bridges between people from diverse religious backgrounds. Such relationships can help us discover goodness in different religious traditions and their adherents and thereby become more appreciative of them. Going further, adopting and practising the good things we learn from them can become a great means for our own personal growth.
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