Moving Faith Communities from Tolerance to Understanding
By Fatema Hasanali
Nearly three hundred people from different faiths participated in an annual Interfaith Mother’s Day Celebration in the city of Orange in Southern California on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Co-hosted by the Huseini Islamic Center and Interfaith Peace Ministry of Orange County, the gathering celebrated Motherhood as a common benchmark to all faiths and provided a wonderful opportunity to share each other’s beliefs, practices and common values. While religious interfaith issues are often discussed amongst faith leaders and academia, this event was a progressive attempt to enhance understanding at a grassroots level. To that end, families of different faiths shared a meal as they passionately conversed about the status of Mothers and the commonality of the honor bestowed upon mothers across all faiths; in particular the Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As Rumi says, “We can’t help being thirsty, moving toward the voice of water. Milk drinkers draw close to the mother. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, shamans, everyone hears the intelligent sound and moves with thirst to meet it.”
Mothers are the spool of thread that tie together children of all faiths, was a common theme by the various faith leaders, who delighted the audience with their profound reflections. Echoing the sentiment in the opening remarks by Dr Hasnain Walji, that a large percentage of the American population had never met a Muslim resulting in a negative perception of Muslims, Rabbi Mark Goldfarb, stated the United States has received a notice of “insufficient funds” when it came to religious and cultural understanding amongst its population.
The iconic presence of the Navy Chaplain in uniform reciting the Qur’an and the beautiful voices of young Americans of all faiths as they proudly proclaimed the Oath of Allegiance, sang the national anthem and recounted the story of Prophet Abraham, provided ample evidence that a truly multicultural society was evolving before our very eyes.
Citing examples of strong, courageous women of scripture, including Ruth, Hazrat Khadeejah and Virgin Mary, Reverend Sarah Halverson confirmed that through historical struggle, women have demonstrated the powerful intention of God despite social stigma to convey love to a humanity. Their examples effectively connect mothers from scripture with mothers today, creating a strong common understanding amongst followers of all three Abrahamic faiths; that women have been empowered by God to demonstrate the value of unconditional love for a common humanity, amid the patriarchal societies that we have lived in.
Shabnam Dewji eloquently elaborated that a mother’s respect in the Qur’an is unparalleled to any other being mentioned, after Allah. The truly special place of mothers in Islam has been vividly described by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). A man asked the Prophet, “ ‘Whom should I honor most?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother!’ ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your father.’” This eminent Hadith resonates the honor and respect Islam holds for women,
Concluding the reflections, Dr Walji stated that motherhood is a universal value that binds all humanity. Etymologically, the mother is central to the Islamic community in a very special way. The Arabic word for mother, “umm,” is the root word for Ummah, meaning the Muslim Community. While many believers hold religious tolerance for their neighboring faiths, few congregations attempt at establishing religious understanding across faiths. All in all, the Mother’s Day event was a proactive exercise in moving faith communities in America from mere tolerance to real understanding.