2018 was a special year for me, not for any extraordinary event, but more so with my expanding appreciation of Islam and Hinduism. March 2018 was the advent of my parish pastoral work in Badin, a district in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. All of the households outside the parish compound in the city are Muslim, while Hindus are more prominent in the villages.
One evening when a car passed outside the mosque during Ramadan, I was surprised to see people queuing. I found out later that they were beggars. Pakistani Muslims takes alms-giving very seriously, especially during Ramadan, which might give some sort of relief to our friends who are relying on the generosity of others. Being an outsider in this country, it is disheartening to see beggars everywhere in Pakistan – and it reminds me that there are also a fair amount of Filipino beggars on the streets, especially in major cities in the Philippines.
In Badin Catholic Clinic there are four on the staff, including a Muslim doctor, Dr Zakir, who is a very kind man. During Ramadan last year, he invited us (four Christians) to come to his house for some refreshments on iftar (the breaking of fast) which we graciously accepted. I met his two sons who also reflect Dr Zakir’s kindness. Generally, it was a good experience and an experience of real fellowship. It was something that means a lot to me. He also occasionally brings food for the staff when they have family occasions like a wedding.
The big feast for Muslims commence on the end of the month of Ramadan, Eid ul-Fitr. There are big crowds on the streets and in the shops, buying gifts and everyone is wearing their newly-made shalwar qameez in an array of colours. All are excited.
I was in the nearby Christian community from the parish a day before Eid ul-Fitr on 14 June 2018 as I had a catechetical program for children. As we were about to end, the children were suddenly rushing to the roof of the house to see the moon in the sky. They were all ecstatic when they saw the moon and the festive mode of the people started. Yes, Christians and Hindus share the joy of Muslims during this feast. The festive atmosphere is just contagious. During Eid ul-Fitr, we went to the Eid Gah (a gathering place for prayer during Eid), people were overflowing the walled ground bringing their own small carpet for their namaz (prayer). I was standing at the back overseeing the crowd and was stunned in silence while listening to the little voice saying to me,
this is a holy ground.
As they moved their bodies in prayer, I found my soul moving with them. It was something like a mystical experience for me, having a sense of being in union with the Muslim community around the world.
However, I don’t want to sound romanticising or even spiritualising these things. I am inclined to believe that it is also worth mentioning that there is a sense of mistrust and fear brewing between Christians and Muslims. I, a Christian in this part of the world, have grown anxious and even overwhelmed at times, by the structures which are very “Islamic” on one hand and “Hindu” to some degree, on the other. The superiority and inferiority complex which is prevalent in many variables is flawed both on scriptural grounds and judicial sense. And while tolerance exists, it is not to a very significant depth. I am convinced that regardless of how we call God, it is the same God who gathers people, not the God who inflicts division and destruction.
In my year and eight months on mission in Pakistan, I have found that it is wonderful to have friends whatever creed they may have. It is fascinating to know and engage them even just in random acquaintances which I found easy to theorize but not much in praxis. Friendships always begin in random acquaintances and the rest will take care of itself as friendship grows gradually. More importantly, in making myself open to any faith tradition,
I have to have a profound knowledge and an enormous trust in God least I end up shutting doors instead of welcoming others wholeheartedly.