Growing up, I didn't have many non-Muslim friends, not because I didn't want to be friends with kids who didn't belong to my faith but I simply didn't know many children who were Hindu, Christian or Buddhist. However, one of my close childhood friends was a Christian. For several years, she was my closest friend. But we fell out of touch after I changed my school. Invention of Facebook was some 15 years away, and not everyone had a phone at home or in their pocket in those days. I have often tried to look her up on Facebook but with no luck as of yet.
Jenny was my only close non-Muslim friend when I lived in Bangladesh. I do not feel comfortable using the term “non-Muslim” to describe my friend, but I am using it here because I deem it necessary for this article. After I moved to the United States, this scenario changed for good. America has given me friends from all major world religions -- Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Baha'ism, and of course, Islam. I count my blessings every time I think that I have friends belonging to various faiths and walks of life. My interactions with these people have enriched me as a person; these friendships continue to teach me that “we are humans first.”
Life abroad has taught me that there is so much we can learn from each other, but we make no effort to try mostly because we refuse to open our minds and accept other people for who they are. We want everyone to be like ourselves! As a result, we learn little from the people around us. Not only that, this refusal also feeds into our already prejudiced notions about other people, cultures and faiths. And it's a very dangerous attitude to have.
I believe that if someone respects my religion, I should respect their religion, too. I may not agree with their religious beliefs, but I have no right to disrespect them and their faith. As the saying goes, to each his own.
I know how it feels to belong to the minority. When in the United States a Muslim man, woman or child is harassed or humiliated because of their faith, it hurts me. It hurts me and makes me sad and mad even though I know that most Americans do not hold fear, hatred and prejudice against Islam and its followers. But minority members tend to be more sensitive about race and religion than people belonging to the majority. It's only natural, and because it's natural it's important for the majority to protect the minority groups and be sensitive towards their faiths and values. I feel it's the responsibility of the majority to give the minority a sense of belongingness.
A man may belong to the majority in his own country, but he may or will certainly belong to the minority when he steps outside his country's border. Those who have traveled outside their own countries may know this very well. When you travel to a new country, you know that you are a minority in that country because of your race, religion, language and/or nationality. It may sometimes even give you a feeling of aloofness; you feel that you don't belong to this place. It's not a good feeling. And if you ever experience this, it may help you realise how important it is to protect and respect the people who do not form the majority in your country.
We live in a globalised world, where it's necessary to accept the fact that there will always be people different from you. But our differences should not push us away from each other but remind us that this world is beautiful because it is so diverse. Just think how boring it would be if all people, countries and cultures were homogenous!
By Wara Karim