Monday, June 23, 2014

Diversity

I miss the call to prayer.  I miss the beautiful sound of singing, calling believers to prayer finding me throughout Malaysia.  It took some getting used to, I won't lie.  Especially when I found myself spending the night especially close to a mosque, the morning call would wake me up at times.  But, I grew to find a lot of peace in the constant reminder to pray.  Even if not from "my" religion, I found at times the call to prayer would remind me that I too, was in need of prayer.  

Fun Fact: I learned this year that the call to prayer is not a recording.  In each mosque, there is a person chanting the call to prayer 5 times a day.
Halal, the regulations Muslims had on their diet (similar to "kosher" for Jews) became something I grew accustomed to observing by default.  "Serve no pork" signs were in the windows of many shops in Malaysia.  Though many Chinese shops served pork, the majority of restaurants I ate at and products I bought in grocery stores were Halal.  Malay food, often called "Makanan Islam" might be some of the most delicious food I've had.  (I could write a blog on the food I miss from Malaysia... but I digress.)

Temples, mosques, and churches weren't uncommon.  As I took the bus into town, I would pass Chinese Buddhist pagodas and temples, a few mosques, and the BCCM KK church as well as the Anglican church.   All together, sprinkled throughout town.  

A Buddhist Temple in Singapore
When I found out I was serving in Malaysia, I had just finished my senior capstone on interfaith reconciliation.  When I learned that Malaysia was as religiously diverse as it was, I was so excited to be a part of dialogues and interfaith efforts.  Reflecting on this year, however, that intentional interaction didn't happen, or at least wasn't incredibly common where I was serving.  However, what I did live among was interfaith cooperation.  Religious diversity is a reality of life in Malaysia.  People are genuinely friends with those of different faiths.  For religious holidays, there were open houses where the host invited their friends of all faiths to be a part of the celebration.  It doesn't scare people that a mosque is being built down the street, because they know Muslims... they have Muslim friends, therefore a mosque is a place of worship and not a threat.  Granted, there are interfaith conflicts, especially within politics, but on the ground, people usually are friends and respect one another. 

The Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
Aside from the people (and the food), the diversity of life this year is what I will miss the most and is what I am more anxious to arrive back to in America.  The pictures I have shared of mosques and temples or stories I have shared of interfaith experiences people have commented on as "beautiful" and "a wonderful experience".  But I wonder what the reactions would be if these pictures I posted and stories I shared were from the US.  It is my fear that the reaction wouldn't be as positive.  Why is there such negativity associated with what is "different"?  And why are "different" experiences only ok when they are far far away?  I think the reason I have seen the temples and mosques, the orange robes of Buddhist monks and the hijabs worn by Muslim women as beautiful and exciting is because it is not a reality where I come from.  People who are not Christian in the US have to down-play their faith.  Muslim women have to get used to not wearing their hijab because of the harassment that comes with it.  Towns put up fights when a mosque is built because the call to prayer violates "city noise ordinances".  Festivals and ceremonies of Buddhism and Hinduism are seem as uncivilized.  And all these feelings and actions are justified because we are "one nation under God."  

A Buddhist Temple in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia
This year has taught me that my faith is what calls me to be loving and welcoming to my neighbor, whoever that may be.  My faith cannot justify discrimination, it just can't.  The discomfort or even dislike I feel when in the presence of someone or something that is new or different is not a conviction of my faith, but a product of sin.  And there have most definitely been times when I have had to work to overcome those feelings of discomfort, they aren't always natural responses.  

It is my prayer that those living in the US, regardless of their faith, can be open with who they are, and loved and welcomed for it.  It is my hope that one day, interfaith dialogue will be seen as unnecessary not because of ignorance but because of rich interfaith understanding and celebration.  It is my dream that people of all faiths can be voices for one another, that faith will be something that unites and not divides.  

I'm coming home, America, and I want to see change.  

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