By: Hurunnessa Fariad
“Growing up in Semerkant, I remember seeing Muslims and Jewish people living in peace. We were neighbors, business partners, and even had interfaith marriages. Our connection was our pride as Uzbeks.” My father would repeatedly tell me this during my childhood. He would go on to say, “The way Jewish people practice their faith is very close to us Muslims.” His comments didn’t sink deep at that time because I was worried about riding my bike and playing with my friends on the streets of Flushing, NYC. I had forgotten most of the things he used to tell me about his life until I was in my early 30s.
When I was a teen, I wanted to be a pediatrician or a marine biologist. I wanted a career that would, in its purposeful way, help others. My father didn’t give me permission to attend any universities outside the 5 boroughs of NYC and I would always faint at the sight of blood. So, the hopes of becoming a pediatrician or a marine biologist died before high school ended. In college, my history teacher was convinced that I should go to law school. I ended up wearing the hijab during my freshman year in college and then 9/11 happened. I graduated with a degree in English literature and elementary education. And yet here I am working in multi-faith. All along GOD had a plan. I never thought I’d be working in the multi-faith space.
When my family and I came to the United States as refugees from Afghanistan, my mother wasn’t with us. She passed away in Karachi, Pakistan just a few months prior. I was 5 years old and now had to learn a third language in a country I didn’t know and I had to do it without my mother. The one thing which got me through the day was my conversations with GOD. I was always talking to Him. I talked to Him at home, at school, at the park, and at the doctor’s office when my father was sick and needed a translator. There was a constant pain in my life and a void that I was able to fill with my conversations with GOD. These conversations were centered around my mother not being around. I was fortunate enough to learn to pray my five daily prayers at a very young age and so the idea of a greater power and creator had become a part of my reality from the beginning.
I am grateful to live in a country where my religious freedom is protected by our constitution. I can pray as I want to and wear my hijab wherever I go. I don’t have to worry about laws limiting the personal expression of my faith. I was able to do this as a child and now as an adult. Yet as I got older and interacted with people from different faith groups, I realized that the religious freedom which is afforded to all who live in the United States wasn’t always advocated by the very people it protected. Some faith groups only advocate for people of their own faith, some faith groups commit acts of hate-fueled violence towards other faith groups, and some faith groups believe that religious freedom is reserved just for them raise funds to run campaigns that malign other faith groups.
As a person of faith who continues to have conversations with GOD, I am bothered by these injustices. The very GOD that I pray to, also wants others to practice their faith as they see fit; where they are protected, respected, understood, and accepted. How can I only pursue religious rights for Muslims when there are other faith groups which are also being persecuted and violated? When GOD commands me to advocate for them, how can I commit acts of violence towards other faith groups when GOD commands me to protect them? How can I fund smear campaigns against other faith groups when GOD commands me to protect their dignity?
This is what multi-faith means to me. To advocate for others is to worship GOD. To protect others is to worship GOD. To grant and hold dignity for others, is to worship GOD.
GOD states in the Holy Quran: “To each of you, We have ordained a code of law and a way of life. If Allah had willed, He would have made you one community, but His Will is to test you with what He has given each of you. So compete with one another in doing good. To Allah you will all return, then He will inform you of the truth regarding your differences.” (Quran 5: 48) We have been made different as part of GOD’s great design and will. The goodness He expects from us is where our inner peace lies and then radiates to those we have relationships with.
Just as I used to talk to GOD as a small child, trying to understand why certain things were happening in my life, today I continue these conversations with Him but my topics are now centered around helping those of different faiths. This too, is to worship GOD.