Still reeling from the death of Trayvon Martin, the resulting protests and revelations, and stories that abound about people who die every day in this world unjustly, I was shocked to hear of the home invasion of a 32 year old Iraqi mother of five in California last week.
Shaima Al Awadi was beaten nearly to death. She was left unconscious – left to die in her living room. Apparently, her 17 year old daughter, Fatima Al Himidi found her with a note near her body that read “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” And then, finally, she did die.
My heart weeps for that family.
This is a woman who has apparently lived in the United States for the past 20 years. And even if she hadn’t been here for 2 decades– isn’t this a nation born and bred of immigrants? In what universe of madness is it okay that she was bludgeoned in her own home?
So now we are left to ask ourselves – how can we make sure that her death was not in vain?
The answer is: We must do better.
Martin Luther King, Jr. talked of the “fierce urgency of now.” I believe that there is a fiercely urgent need for us to take the time right now to learn about people who look differently than we do, live differently than we might, worship differently than what is familiar to us. Violence is often rooted in ignorance and fear. Ignorance about those who are different than us. How they live. How they worship. We fear those people because somehow, the differences between us may make us less certain about our own place in the world.
Fear, as they say, is False Evidence Appearing Real.
Exposure is the kryptonite of ignorance.
Love and hate can’t occupy the same space.
There must be more people in this world who value diversity rather than fear it. There must be less people in the world who think it is okay to allow their feelings of fear to turn into hateful acts of violence – like taking a tire iron to the head of someone who needs to “go back to their country,” because of their ethnicity, religion, or way of life.
We must do better. Now.
How you say?
In 2010, during My 52 Weeks of Worship, I made a commitment to visit a different place of worship every week – whether that place of worship reflected my religious tradition or not. In one year, I visited 61 churches, mosques, synagogues, shuls, covens, temples and gathering places – located across the US, Mexico, the UK, Nigeria, and South Africa.
With Anglicans and the Amish, Buddhists and Bahá’íans, Catholics and Christian Mystics, Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and Mormons, Scientologists and Seventh Day Adventists, I worshipped, discovered the Divine, and experienced the wild and wonderful ways that different people worship every week.
Many ask me: What did I learn from that journey?
I learned many things.
I learned about courage and humility, witnessed the pure power of silence and meditation, soaked in the kindness of strangers, contemplated the wisdom of approaching every interaction with good intentions and a pure heart, and gave thanks for the blessings of community, family, and faith.
I learned that deep down, most people understand on some level that each of us has the potential to be a villain or a victor, and so seek to fortify themselves through positive worship and uplift, so they can be the best versions of themselves they can be. I also learned some things about stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of another. Almost every week, in sacred spaces around the world, I learned something about someone who lived and worshipped in a way that was different from my way.
Are you interested in doing the same?
Here are a few tips from My 52 Weeks of Worship that might help you take one step in the direction of interfaith dialogue, discussion and understanding.
- Everyone should, at some point in life, go to a place where they totally stick out, and they have no idea what the rules are: Most places of worship have an “All are welcome” approach to worship. Why not have a wild, humbling and unforgettable experience? Pick a mosque, synagogue, temple. Call first, tell them you want to come and visit. Ask what you need to know to feel comfortable visiting (do I need to cover my head? Take off my shoes?) Then spend some time in a place where you may be outside of your comfort zone, but that will allow you to learn something about something you didn’t know or understand before.
- It is quite okay to believe one thing, and stand shoulder to shoulder with people who believe something else: No one is asking you to change what you believe if you don’t want to. But understanding comes from exposure. And if you tap into our common humanity, you might contribute to mutual respect between communities of faith just by your actions.
- If you have questions, there are kind people everywhere who will answer them for you: Be respectful, find someone who is open to teaching you about their beliefs, and ask questions. You would be amazed how open some people are to sharing their beliefs with you if you just ask.
- Approaching any unfamiliar situation with an open heart and good intentions is the best first step: We need more people in this world who are courageous enough to build bridges. To combat hate with love and uninformed trepidation with right action. If not you, then who?
Some people look at breaking bread with people from faith traditions other than their own as “worshipping false Gods” or some other similar form of betrayal or demonstration of doubt. I disagree. I feel strongly that we should challenge ourselves to get past this way of thinking and take small steps toward learning more about others that are unlike us…and that through this process, we can learn more about ourselves.
The journey is worth it.
The time is now, and it’s a fiercely urgent priority.
We must do better.