“These days it seems to be difficult for Christians to openly wear crosses and Muslim women to wear hijab (head coverings)”. This comment was part of an Inter-Faith meeting with two speakers, a Christian Minister and a Muslim, where the topic was Community Cohesion. My flow through thought was “What about Muslim men and beards, or Jews and the Star of David or a Kippah (skull cap), or of course a Sikhs turban?”
My natural question is to ask “why is that difficult?” and “why should it be difficult?” The problem seems to be what each of those “symbols” represent ie: the religion of the wearer. So why should that be a problem? Well in my book, it needn’t be. What about respect for the beliefs of another whether that be in Religion or Humanism or Secularism? Surely what matters more is the relationship between one human being and another. At the heart of all sacred traditions the core values seem to be the same: love, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, truth, integrity, honesty and service. These can equally be the values of a non-believer whose aim in life is to help others and be a good person but without these being conducted under a particular “banner”.
When I commented to this effect, both speakers responded from a listening that had heard me say that Religion was the “root of all evil”. I later double-checked with someone and was assured I hadn’t. So having chosen not to pursue it further from the floor at the time, I approached the speakers individually afterwards and immediately both said they had realised as they were saying it, that it was not what I had said! One speaker had hoped I might correct her and the other said he was so used to hearing people offer that argument that he was already on the defensive. “So you were already listening for a criticism?” I said. “Yes” was the response.
Surely that experience is a microcosm of the bigger problem – interpretation. The tendency to listen only from our own framework, or to quote only from our belief system as if it were not only right, but the only truth. I believe that when people of “faith” begin to speak and listen from the space of humanity – one human being to another – it really won’t matter what someone believes in or is wearing, there will just be respect for a difference in approach and a core acceptance that at a much deeper and profound level, we are all as one.
In a disaster does a Christian stop and ask if the person with their leg hanging off is a Muslim? Or a Muslim ask if the person is Jewish? If they did, then I truly would not believe that there is hope for the world. But evidence of such situations thankfully tell a different story. Maybe we need more disasters to catapult us into the experience of compassion and service, where the religion of another is irrelevant. However, it would be good to think we might find a way to that path without drastic interventions. As an Interfaith Minister respecting all sacred traditions, I will continue to hold that vision in my heart.