It is 2:20AM, Eastern Standard Time, and I cannot sleep. I am plagued by the same question every night: How do I raise my children in love and light, in a world of hatred and darkness? I look for answers during the day, but can find none. I only see more evidence of the hatred and darkness that I fear may someday envelope my children, and may already be overtaking me. I feel sometimes as though I must fabricate the love and light, since the world seems to be running painfully low on these precious commodities.
I follow a religion that accounts for up to a third of the world’s inhabitants. It is a religion that, despite it’s size, and ever increasing rate of adherents, is little understood. Misconceptions and misinformation abound, and fear of my religion can be found at every turn. This is nothing new, however. It’s just new to me.
Before I had children, I don’t think that it bothered me to the same degree or intensity that it does now. It’s easy to ignore, or just let things slide when you are the only one affected. It’s an entirely different thing when your children are involved. I love my children with my entire self, and the thought that someone would hate them simply for the way that they choose to pray to God just shakes me to the core. It’s hard for me to fathom, and I refuse to accept it. This leads me to another question that I find myself searching in vain to answer: What can I do to change this?
I love the concept of interfaith dialogues and discussions. I feel that there is great benefit in peaceful and respectful exchanges. We all have something of value to learn from one another, and there is nothing in the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) that says that we cannot engage in such friendly discourses. However, I do feel that interfaith dialogues fail to reach those who need to hear them the most. The majority of people who engage in such discussions are already open-minded, and believe in mutual respect. You generally do not find bigots participating in interfaith dialogues (not honestly participating, anyways). Yet another question pops into my mind: How do we get people to listen when they do not wish to listen?
I try to see the world through the eyes of my children. In doing so, I am reminded by how innocent and sweet children can be. I look back at the moments when I would meet another kid for the first time, and within five minutes, we were “friends.” It didn’t matter where they were from, what religion they were, whether or not they ate meat, etc. All that mattered was that we were both kids, and we both just wanted to have fun and play. Sometimes, I think the answer is simple. Sometimes I think that we just need to try to remember what it was like when we were kids, and we didn’t care about differences.
Hatred is a learned response. No child is born in this world hating. They must be taught to hate. This tells me something of monumental importance: Hatred is not in our nature (the Arabic word is fitra, which means something along the lines of our “natural state”). Hatred goes against our nature. If hatred is a learned response, then it can surely be unlearned. I believe this to be true, and I see evidence in the stories of former bigots reforming themselves, and learning to no longer hate (or rather, I should say “re-learning to love”).
I go through this each and every night, as I lie in bed, staring at the ceiling. Every night, I tell myself that the world is not as dark or bitter as I feel that it is. Every night I try to console myself my reminding myself that there are far more good people than bad. There is more love and light in this world than I sometimes feel. Love and light is all around us.
I may not have the answers to my questions, and I am not sure that I ever will, but I must understand that the world is not filled with darkness. Not completely. And as long as there are people out there striving for the greater good, inshAllah (God willing), it never will be.